Thursday, December 16, 2010

Response to "The Gloves are Off"

Dear Sir,

Katie Green’s article addressed to our dear diaspora bretheren, was superb, we wish that we had written it ourselves and couldn’t agree with it more. We have sent it via our British Israel Group mailing list to over 1,000 people, here in the U.K. and many other parts of the globe and we know it will be forwarded to many more thousands. Hopefully, the now notorious Mick Davis himself will also receive it. An achievement? Maybe, but we have a disquieting thought, are these English Jews so embarrassed and ashamed of Israel’s actions as they perceive them, so entrenched in their twisted ideas, so intent on showing how fair-minded they are when it comes to the subject of Israel, that they won’t even take the time to read it? Are their minds so completely made up that they don’t want to be confused with the facts?

We also have another disquieting thought, had we remained in the U.K. and not made aliya to Jerusalem, as we did, over 25 years ago, would we also have become ashamed of Israel and embarrassed by our association with this courageous little country? We would like to think not but who knows, the misinformation that spews out daily from the British media and the BBC in particular, is very powerful and convincing stuff.

Yours sincerely,

Norman & Lola Cohen
Joint Chairmen
The British Israel Group. (BIG)

The Gloves Are Off

By Katie Green 13-12-10

To our Diaspora brethren: When it comes to criticizing Israel, there are areas you cause grave offense, and others where your input is welcome.

For a couple of years now, I’ve thought of writing an article called “The gloves are off.” But I delayed because I didn’t want the gloves to be off, and even if they were off, I didn’t want to be the one to state that they were. But now they are off, and the person who really helped us admit it is Mick Davis, chairman of the UJIA in the UK.

In a recent speech, Davis berated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for “lacking the courage to take the steps” to advance the peace process, adding: “I don’t understand the lack of strategy in Israel.”

He also predicted an “apartheid state” unless Israel is able to achieve a two-state solution.

His remarks caused a furor in the UK Jewish community, with many prominent Jews in public positions defending his remarks, noting that it was high time “that honest and open discussions” about Israel took place in the public arena. Other Jewish leaders were chagrined or irritated, and issued mixed statements, while only a very few – most notably Jonathan Hoffman of the Zionist Federation and Lord Stanley Kalms – professed outright indignation.

Davis’s comments are disturbing because of who he is. As chairman of the UJIA, he has devoted much time and energy to raising funds for Israel. Yet he still used this language in a public forum. This means that a growing desire to openly criticize Israel is moving from the fringes of the Jewish community into the mainstream. This is the new discussion, and arguments about whether it should or shouldn’t be suppressed, are moot. It’s out there and it’s gaining momentum.

I’M ASSUMING that as a UK-born Israeli who has spent 25 years living, working, voting and paying taxes here, I can be part of this discussion. After all, if we’re going to be honest and open, it’s best to get a lot of stuff which hasn’t been articulated on the Israeli side out on the table.

But before I do this, I’m going to say that if your love of Israel is unconditional, if you’ve come to the conclusion that Israelis are pretty much doing the best they can and are paying a high price to do so, you can skip this article.

But if you’re thinking of joining this new chorus of public criticism, here are the two things that I would like to put across to you.

One: There are areas of criticism where you cause grave offense, and others where your input is necessary and welcome.

In the welcome category are issues which affect Jews everywhere, and where I would be glad to see a concerted joint effort and involvement in Israeli affairs. For example, I don’t see the Western Wall as Israeli only but as a Jewish historical and spiritual heritage that concerns us all. I’m increasingly alarmed at the haredi takeover of this site, and would love for women of all denominations to mount a campaign to claim equal and respectable space, freedom of worship and visual access to the men’s section. Similarly, the behavior of the rabbinical courts in matters of marriage, divorce and conversion affect all of us. I think it perfectly legitimate for there to be loud and furious debate on these issues across the globe.

I would also love to get more of your input and expertise for our school systems and community centers. The achievements of Diaspora communities in Jewish education and engagement, communal cohesion and responsibility and religious diversity and creativity could greatly benefit Israeli society, and have indeed already begun to do so.

But there are some in the UK Jewish community who seem increasingly inclined to level criticism in the grave offense category, on the subject of our conflict with the Palestinians, the finalization of our borders and our responses to provocation from Hamas and Hizbullah. On these issues, I believe you have no right to speak at all, mainly because you have not risked your lives and futures, and the lives and futures of your children, for Israel’s security. We may be equals in many things, but in this matter we are not, because we have not invested equally. We are separated by a vale of tears and an ocean of blood, mostly very young blood.

In my particular case, I’m separated from you guys by two Lebanon wars, two Gulf wars, two intifadas, two children who’ve completed army service and a third about to begin, seven general elections, four unsuccessful peace processes and five terrorist organizations operating in my region. So I don’t believe that your understanding of our region is as nuanced as er… mine.

I do see that these security issues affect your comfort level in British society. But the government can hardly be expected to make tough decisions on the basis of that. Anyway, I think we’ve each chosen our level of discomfort.

You chose the UK, so you get to squirm when the BBC reports, as a deliberate lie, that there’s been a massacre in Jenin. My neighbors and I, on the other hand, chose Israel, so we get to send our sons into Jenin, hoping against hope that they’ll come out again. Which they sometimes don’t (or do, but as paraplegics).

This is why the remarks you fling in our direction leave us astonished and dismayed.

We may not make a big deal of it, but we walk in shadow.

The chief rabbi of the UK, Lord Jonathan Sacks, understands this perfectly well. In a recent piece on the United Synagogue website, he wrote that the debate that has erupted over Davis’s remarks is “deflecting us from the real issue,” which is that Israel’s enemies – Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran – refuse to recognize its existence as a matter of religious principle. And as long as this is the case, he says, “there can be no peace, merely a series of staging posts on the way to a war that will not end until there is no Jewish state at all.”
THERE ARE other areas where the offense is not grave, just annoying. Take the issue of African refugees pouring across the border with Egypt in their tens of thousands.

“How can we not, as Jews, have compassion for asylum seekers?” says UK resident Hannah Weisfeld in the Jewish Quarterly. Well, let’s see – the government has just allocated millions of shekels for the construction of a new transit center for these illegal immigrants.

I pay 50 percent income tax, so with the greatest compassion in the world, I’m not sure I want to finance their long-term support. But no doubt, when the numbers in these temporary dwellings have swelled beyond the originally intended figures, and this holding facility becomes nothing more than an overcrowded slum, Hannah will be campaigning for the food and health and shelter of these immigrants, and she’ll be campaigning for me to pay for it.

Last year, my son spent three months of his IDF service on the Egyptian border, dragging the bodies of dead and wounded refugees to waiting ambulances because they’d been shot on the Egyptian side. One Eritrean, faint from hunger and exhaustion, sank to his knees and wrapped his arms around Yonatan’s legs when he discovered he’d reached the Israeli side. This refugee presumably hadn’t listened to CNN or BBC, so he didn’t know that Israel was a hotbed racism and apartheid. He only knew that nobody on the Israeli side would try to kill him, and that he’d get a hospital bed for his wounds and food and shelter for his family, before being released into Eilat to look for a job.

Of course this issue is ethically complex.

It’s just that I find the need of Jews living outside Israel to enlighten me on those complexities incredibly patronizing. What is their investment level in this social and political dilemma? If it’s zero, then that’s what the opinions are worth.

POINT TWO: What is the motivation behind this need for public criticism? This is a very important factor in the debate. I can castigate a friend or sibling if I believe her behavior to be selfish or unreasonable, but if I do so in public, I will only humiliate and wound her. I would be mad to think that making her look ridiculous in front of others, and permanently damaging their perception of her is going to produce good results. In fact, I would only do such a thing if my friend’s wellbeing were not the primary object. I might want to hurt her and put her down for complicated reasons of my own.

I speak for myself and many other Israelis when I say that for us, public criticism by UK Jews is suspect. For one, your call for “openness” has escalated at exactly the same rate as the delegitimization and demonization of Israel by the British establishment. This vindictive ostracizing of Israel has resulted in an extreme lowering of comfort levels for the Jewish community, as we’ve agreed. But should it result in your shouting to join that vindictiveness? And if you join in, does it increase your status and respectability in British society? My feeling is that it certainly does. So you’ll forgive me if I doubt the integrity of your backing the shrill accusations of the British government and media.

I actually think this discomfort is an encouraging sign that the heart and soul of British Jewry is in good working order. If British Jews were not viscerally connected to Israel, the feeling would be one of apathy or contempt, not discomfort. But they are connected.

To so many of them, Israel is precious and important. When they land at Ben-Gurion Airport, their hearts are filled with belonging.

This is something we all share, we who live here and we who come to visit. To sever us from this profound recognition and unity in our psyche, to force us to feel that we have no choice but to expunge it, is to cripple us indeed. So my suggestion to you is don’t agree to be crippled. Hold your head high, take it on the chin, fight it like a lion or leave.

Where does that leave us, you and I? I personally would rather we did not go this route.

But if you would like to criticize Israel as much as you like, then I, by the same token, will feel free to criticize you as much as I like. We will call this new way of relating “tough love.”

We will use the two-directional model, instead of Diaspora Jews behaving as if their criticism is a lifesaving antibiotic, which Israel, the ever truculent child, refuses to swallow.

In conclusion, I’d like to invite Jonathan Hoffman, Lord Kalms and Chief Rabbi Sacks to dinner the next time they are in Beit Shemesh. In a crisis, it sure is nice to know who your friends are. As for poor Mick Davis, he will not get even one bite of my fabulous lasagna.

The writer is a filmmaker.

Israel Should Ban All 26 Former EU Leaders

Robin Shepherd – December 11th

European extremism against Israel reached a new low this week with a letter from 26 former top officials to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton calling for sanctions against Israel and the abandonment of a negotiated solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict in favour of a UN-imposed solution if Israel does not stop settlement building by April 2011. Ashton is signalling that there will be no change to current policy for the moment, but the tide in Europe is clearly now turning and the risk is that change along such lines is only a matter of time.

Former EU foreign policy supremo Javier Solana, best known on matters Jewish for suppressing a 2003 (EUMC) report outlining the growing problem of Muslim anti-Semitism in Europe, was among the signatories of the letter which was sponsored by former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and former EU commissioner from Britain Chris Patten. Other notable signatories include Italy’s Romano Prodi and Giuliano Amato, Richard von Weizsaecker and Helmut Schmidt of Germany, Ireland’s Mary Robinson, Spain’s Felipe Gonzalez and Norway’s Thorvald Stoltenberg.

So, what to say about this? Mainly, Israel should stop pussy-footing around — ban each and every one of these people from entering the state of Israel or having any contact with Israeli embassy staff in their countries or anyone else’s. This is important for a number of reasons:

First, the 26 have launched an all out assault on Israel and Israel needs to respond. What European leaders fear more than anything is that they will be made irrelevant. By making this bunch persona non grata and isolating them, Israel will be sending a message that should the EU change tack along the lines the 26 are recommending, it will become as irrelevant to peace making in the Middle East as they are.

Second, Israel needs to make a very public statement against what amounts to a piece of unbridled bigotry. Let us restate the facts: it is the Palestinian side that refuses to negotiate, not Israel. It is the Palestinian side that has rejected two-state peace agreements since 1947 while Israel has accepted them. It is the Arab and Muslim states that refuse to recognise Israel, and not the other way around. The 26 signatories have thrown basic historical realities out of the window in order to sustain and support a bigoted anti-Israeli narrative.

Third, Europe has a long and sordid history of hostility to the Jews and this letter shows that the lessons simply haven’t been learned. The fact that two prominent Germans — former President Richard von Weizsaecker and former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt — are among the signatories is shameful. They should become the first two German leaders since the Second World War to be banned from Israel for hostility to the Jewish people.

Fourth, doing nothing will simply allow the problem to fester and grow. These people have the wind in their sails. Israel needs to take it out of them.

Of course, the State of Israel can and must choose its own policies. But the boycott movement is gathering strength and now has some very prominent allies. Surely a tougher line from Jerusalem is now in order.

Illuminating the Possibilities,0,5941958.story

One lesson of the Carmel fire in Israel is that enlightened cooperation is possible in the tense Middle East.
By Michael B. Oren
December 7, 2010

Hanukkah, which we celebrate this week, recalls the miracle of lights that burned for eight days. Israel, meanwhile, struggled to extinguish a forest fire raging out of control. Fanned by Santa Ana-type winds, the blaze engulfed the Carmel region of the Lower Galilee, claiming 42 lives, destroying communities, and consuming about 10,000 acres and more than 4 million trees. A country that has prevailed through successive wars and terrorist attacks, Israel had never before confronted such a devastating natural disaster. And we could not overcome it alone.

Admitting that was not easy for us. A self-reliant people who are renowned as first responders to disasters abroad — in earthquake-stricken Haiti and Turkey, for example, or in a Congolese village decimated by fire — we are accustomed to offering rather than requesting aid. And yet, as the Carmel fire spread, forcing 17,000 people from their homes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not stand on pride. "We live in a global world," he explained. "We give and receive help, and it's not shameful to ask."

Among the first to answer this call was President Obama. "This is what friends do for each other," he announced at the White House Hanukkah party last Thursday, and personally assured me that the administration would act immediately to "assist Israel in its hour of need." Consequently, the National Security Council headed an interagency task force that worked around the clock to locate and deliver fire retardant and the aircraft to disperse it. Teams of firefighters from across the United States were swiftly dispatched. On arrival in Afghanistan the next day, the president immediately checked on the operation's progress and personally updated the prime minister.

Our European and Mediterranean allies also mobilized their resources. Within 24 hours, Israelis could see Greek, Russian, British and Cypriot helicopters, together with French and Spanish planes, rushing to fight the inferno, while Israeli firefighters were joined by their counterparts from Croatia, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan.

Far more unexpected were the contributions from governments that are often critical of us.

Turkey, despite the strains in our relationship since the Gaza flotilla incident this year, sent two firefighting helicopters with an 11-man team, and fire engines and crews arrived from neighboring Arab countries. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, though still declining to return to peace talks, offered to help without hesitation and conveyed their condolences to the people of Israel. "A firefighter's job transcends borders," a Palestinian firefighter told an Israeli newspaper. "Our job is to save human life regardless of religion, nationality and politics."

Predictably, radicals such as Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh quickly ascribed the fire to "punishment from Allah." Four years after they were pummeled by rockets, Israeli neighborhoods are still targeted by 50,000 Hezbollah missiles, any one of which could ignite an inferno.

But this hatred should not overshadow the outpouring of goodwill and common humanity aroused by the fire. For Israelis, who sometimes feel isolated in the world and misunderstood, the international response to the conflagration gave us the rare opportunity to feel part of a caring global community. And for a Middle East plagued by constant tensions and upheaval, extinguishing the fire illuminated the possibilities of peace.

The victims of the fire — Jews, Arabs and Druze, along with the nation's highest-ranking female police officer, Ahuva Tomer, and Elad Riban, a 16-year-old volunteer — represented a cross-section of Israeli society. They were trying to rescue prison inmates, including convicted terrorists, caught in the blaze's path. Similarly, Israelis from all religious and ethnic backgrounds joined in combating the flames. Consequently, a fire that may have raged for weeks was contained in a matter of days.

Israel is investigating the causes and examining ways to prevent future disasters. We know that our adversaries in the Middle East still strive to cause us harm by unnatural means. Yet among the lessons of this tragedy is that friendship can blossom even in the most scorching conditions. The miracle of this Hanukkah is not that a fire lasted so long but rather that it was extinguished by enlightened cooperation.

Michael B. Oren is Israel's ambassador to the United States.

A Fair Press for Peace

By JPOST EDITORIAL 11/29/2010 06:49

The vast majority of local and international news outlets have so far refrained from reporting at all on Fatah’s hard-line declarations.

The Fifth Fatah Revolutionary Council did not have an auspicious beginning. Participants kicked off discussion by giving special honor to Amin al-Hindi, one of the masterminds of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of 11 Israeli athletes, who died earlier this year. What followed was sheer intransigence on the part of the 120-member Palestinian “congress,” which represents “moderate” Palestinian opinions – as opposed to the radical Islamic Hamas, which openly calls for using violence to bring about Israel’s demise.

After two days of meetings in Ramallah this weekend, Fatah, which makes up the backbone of the Palestinian Authority leadership, issued a resounding “no” to compromise, further dimming even the faintest hopes for a negotiated peace with Israel.

The Fatah council derogatorily rejected recognition of “the so-called Jewish state” or any “racist state based on religion.” It reasserted the “right of return” which, if implemented, would facilitate the end of a Jewish majority within the pre-1967 Green Line by allowing about four million Palestinian refugees and their offspring to settle in Israel proper.

Land swaps as part of a peace agreement were ruled out as well. Large settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria, such as Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and other cities located just over the Green Line, consisting of no more than five percent of the West Bank, where about 80% around 320,000 Jews live, must be uprooted and settlers must be expelled, it decided.

“Illegal settler gangs can’t be put on an equal footing with the owners of the lands and rights,” declared the council.

Israeli and US understandings, starting in December 2000 with the “Clinton parameters” and continuing with former US president George Bush’s declaration that any permanent peace deal would have to reflect the West Bank’s demographic realities, were effectively dismissed.

In what sounded more like a battle cry than a declaration, Fatah essentially articulated its intent to do everything short of relaunching an armed struggle to undermine the existence of the Jewish state.

THE FATAH council’s articulation of such an extremist position has far-reaching ramifications for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. That’s why Palestinian affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh’s report on the council’s decisions appeared at the top of this newspaper’s front page on Sunday.

By bizarre contrast, the vast majority of local and international news outlets have so far refrained from reporting at all on Fatah’s hard-line declarations. While news media usually respond quickly and amply to steps taken by Israel that are perceived as potentially detrimental to the peace process, the silent treatment of the Fatah decisions reflects a media norm, in which Palestinian incitement and intransigence is often downplayed or completely ignored.

Just last Monday, for instance, this paper was the first to report on the PA Ministry of Information’s outlandish “study” claiming that the Western Wall, known to Muslims as Al- Buraq Wall, constitutes Wakf property and that “the Zionist occupation falsely and unjustly claims that it owns this wall.” Some other news outlets reported this several days later; others not at all.

Similarly, a survey commissioned by the Israel Project, indicating highly antagonistic Palestinian attitudes toward Israel, barely received media attention when it was released earlier this month.

Two-thirds of Palestinians living on the West Bank and Gaza agreed that “over time, Palestinians must work to get back all the land for a Palestinian state.” Sixty percent said that “the real goal should be to start with two states but then move it to all being one Palestinian state.” Fifty-six percent agreed that “we will have to resort to armed struggle again.”

When news reporters and editors fail to give the proper space to revelations of Palestinian extremism and intransigence, they help perpetuate prejudices against Israel. Not only is skewed journalism a betrayal of the profession and those who rely on it, in this case it hurts the peace process by untenably misrepresenting the imperative for compromise by the Palestinian leadership and their public, thereby dooming hopes for negotiated progress.

Palestinians must come to terms with the legitimacy of Jewish rights to sovereignty in this sliver of land if they are to internalize the need for compromise and thus walk the path to peace. That process of recognition requires the disseminating of an honest narrative by the Palestinian leadership.

And that, in turn, requires the international community to, first, understand accurately the nature of current Palestinian hostility to the notion of a legitimate Israel and, second, to impress on the leadership the need for change.

The extent of the challenge was made perfectly clear over the weekend by Fatah’s Revolutionary Council. Too bad that most of the world has not heard about it.
In response to the great interest Rev. Malcolm Hedding’s reply to Edwin Arrison’s biased and twisted article has generated among BIG subscribers, we are now sending out the Arrison article itself.

A number of Christian members on our mailing list have pointed out that the words, “Finally, a Christian Response,” were a little unfair, for which we apologise. There are indeed, many Evangelical Christians, in all parts of the world who are constantly speaking up for Israel. As an example, our friend Canon Andrew White, better known as The Vicar of Baghdad, stated recently that, “Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Christians are safe.”

We would like to take this opportunity of thanking all of you who read and pass on the BIG articles and to express our appreciation to those of you who respond personally, we very much enjoy getting to know our readership and renewing contact with old friends.

Best wishes,

Norman & Lola Cohen

Joint Chairmen
The British Israel Group (BIG)

Cape Argus 10 Nov 2010
Christians, our calling is to love and aid the suffering Palestinians

FOR MANY years, Christians have, on the whole, accepted the Israeli narrative in the Middle East crisis.

The first reason for this was compassion for those who suffered in the Holocaust, the complicity of many Christians in that genocide and the need not to make the same mistake again.
This position was solidified with the “Jesus was a Jew” narrative. The question is only now being asked about what kind of Jew he was and what kind of prophet he was, but linking Jesus and Judaism certainly cemented the above relationship.

The “Tours to Israel” movement, of course, also helped with Christians going on so called “pilgrimages” (often really just tours to heritage sites). These tours are conducted by Israeli guides and completely ignore the existence of the Palestinian people, let alone the Palestinian Christians.
It must be one of the biggest ironies that the many Christians who have gone to Israel have rarely interacted with Christians there.

For Christians, who have a strong “we who are many are one body” theology, this is particularly shocking. But slowly, Christians around the world are waking up to the fact that besides the dead stones in Israel, there are also living stones – the Palestinian Christians. The “Jesus was a Jew” narrative is slowly being replaced by “Jesus was a Palestinian Jew” narrative.
This view sees Jesus as not only being on the side of the marginalised but having been one of them.
What this means is that the solidarity Christians felt towards the Jewish people during and after the Holocaust was quite correct – but today the suffering Palestinians are the ones needing our support.
This awakening also leads to other awakenings: Christians always thought that this was simply a fight between Jews and Muslims (and often we took the side of the Jews), but suddenly we are realising that there are also Christians involved, and the Christians are Palestinian. But even if there was not one Christian in Palestine, we would still have to ask: whose side is God on? And inevitably we would come to the conclusion that God is on the side of those who suffer.
Some might want to argue that the Israelis are the ones who are suffering, but that is not the truth.
Suddenly Christians are beginning to question their own faith. What do we mean by the elect people of God? What do we mean by the covenant or covenants? How does the Jesus story intersect with what we call the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible? There are even deeper questions to be asked: were the promises to Isaac the same as the promises to Hagar and Ishmael? And are we not really all part of one faith tradition that emphasises truth, justice and love? And if we are, to what extent does the situation in Israel and Palestine conform to these values?

The Christians in Palestine have written what is called the Palestine Kairos document, drawing inspiration from the South African Kairos document of 1985. In it they raise many of the questions above, and call for commitment to a theology that leads to life rather than one that leads to death. They also call for non-violent actions against the state of Israel by the international community. The call by Archbishop-Emeritus Tutu to Cape Town Opera is in line with this wish expressed by the Christians in Palestine. The fact is that if we do not want to see even more violence in Israel and Palestine, we need to call for and support non-violent actions. Failing to do so would only encourage those who are using the tools of violence.

What we also have come to realise is that some Christians (in fact many millions of them, based particularly in the US) have a particular understanding of the Bible – and, in some of their most extreme views, there must be a war in Israel to egg on the Armageddon.

This is partly what is behind the call to invade Iran. This is also what is behind the movement to destroy the environment and consume as much as possible. The attitude is this: why care for the environment if it is going to be destroyed in any case in the above scenario, and this destruction is in any case part of “God’s plan for the world”?

Thank God for the Palestinian Christians who have called us to a theology of life and of love.
The Rev Edwin Arrison is an Anglican priest and Board member of the Centre for Christian Spirituality in Cape Town. Comments can be sent