Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Why Does Iran Wish to Destroy Israel?

Part of the paradigm of accepted international diplomacy as it is presented today, is that Iran wishes to destroy the State of Israel and her people.  This is reinforced by the Iranian regime threatening to do so at every opportunity.  It has become a given fact, and everybody knows and accepts this situation.  It seems strange that there is no significant attempt to question the right of a nation to threaten to destroy another sovereign nation.  But more than this, there appears to be no attempt to understand what drives Iran to wish to destroy Israel.  The desire to conquer another nation, or the land belonging to another nation, is relatively common and can be explained in a number of understandable ways.  The wish to destroy a nation is entirely different, and I cannot recall another case in history where a country has been singled out for destruction in the way that Israel has been in recent times.  The fact that the world seems to allow this, and the fact that there would appear to be no logical reason for it, troubles me a great deal.

It is said that, in order to present the most effective defence against enemies, it is important to understand your enemies, their thoughts and what drives and motivates them.  With that in mind, I have been wondering why it is that Iran wishes to destroy Israel.  Given how common it is to hear Iran's threats of destruction, I expected to find much written and said about this in the literature and the press.  It turns out that it is exactly the opposite, and that there is very little written on the subject.  And I could find no convincing argument that explains why the Iranian regime has the obsession to destroy Israel  So, I have tried to formulate my own views and theories that I am sharing here now.

Many believe that Iran's hatred for Israel forms part of the Arab-Israeli conflict that has typified relations between Israel and the Arab world since the State of Israel was declared in 1948.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In spite of Iran being a Muslim country in common with the rest of the Arab world, it is certainly not an Arab country.  As opposed to the Arab world that immediately launched a war when Israel declared independence, Iran recognised the State of Israel immediately in 1948, and was the second Muslim country after Turkey to do so.  Iran and Israel maintained close diplomatic ties until the revolution in Iran and the fall of the Shah in 1979.

Diplomatic relations were immediately broken off by the Islamist regime of Ayatollah Khomeini after the revolution, and Israel was labelled as the "Little Satan" following in the footsteps of the "Great Satan" which was the USA.  This seems to be the point at which the hatred for Israel really began.  Ironically, and in spite of the hateful rhetoric that emanated from the regime at that time, behind the scenes there was a great deal of close cooperation between Iran and Israel.  Much of this was driven by the 8 year-long war between Iran and Iraq.  Iraq was a common enemy of both Israel and Iran, and this created unlikely ties and reasons to cooperate.  Israel sold Iran vast quantities of arms and ammunition, in return for which Israel received Iranian oil.  It is believed that the Iranian air force continued to operate, after it was initially attacked by Iraq, only because of the assistance received from Israel.  Iran was also delighted when Israel audaciously succeeded in destroying Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981 after the Iranians failed in their attempt to do the same.  The weekly insults and denunciations of Israel at Friday prayers by the Iranian leadership served conveniently to conceal the fact that there were no fewer than 100 carefully hidden Israeli advisers and technicians in Iran throughout the period of the war.

Since that time, Iran's leaders have continued to criticise, insult and threaten Israel at every opportunity.  And nobody has questioned for a moment why this is the case, and what justifies this vilification and extreme sentiment.  It has become a situation that simply forms part of the diplomatic landscape.  Can it be explained by Iran's hatred towards the USA, and the fact that the Israel is seen to be very close to the US?  It is difficult for me to accept that this explains all the public threats and the acts of terror that have been undertaken (and continue to be undertaken) against Israel.  Israel is not the USA's only close ally.  Why have other allies not been threatened for destruction in the halls of the United Nations in the way that Israel has been forced to endure?  And, while sentiment towards the US has wavered with different Iranian regimes (while always maintaining its negative bias), the hatred towards Israel seems unwavering no matter which Iranian president has been in power.  The threats against Israel have been the one pillar of consistency in Iranian foreign policy.  So I find it difficult to believe that this is purely driven by Israel's relationship and friendship with the USA.

The only explanation that I can offer to this extreme situation is the resurfacing of plain, old-fashioned anti-Semitism.  I use the term "resurfacing" because the Iranians/Persians do not have a long or consistent history of anti-Semitism.  The story of Purim that took place in Persia is a good representation of the relations that Jews and Iranians have enjoyed over the centuries.  While the king of Persia married a Jewess (Esther) and was prepared to take action to destroy Haman and his evil band for their anti-Semitism expressed against Mordechai, the fact was that anti-Semitism was clearly a common thing at that time.  In more recent times the Nazis declared Iranians immune to the Nuremburg Laws as they were considered to be pure Aryans.  In spite of this, the Shah and the Iranian government did not support the anti-Semitism of the Nazis.  With the rise to power of the Islamic extremists in Iran in 1979, we saw the rise to power of extreme anti-Semitism at a regime level.  Ironically, this anti-Semitism was not directed at Jews living in Iran as much as it was directed at Israel.  When Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile in Paris to take up the leadership role immediately after the revolution, he declared, "We recognize our Jews as separate from those godless, bloodsucking Zionists" and he issued a fatwa decreeing that the Jews in Iran were to be protected.  This did not stop Iranian Jews from leaving Iran in large numbers.  The population of Iranian Jewry shrunk from around100,000 at the time of the revolution to around 50,000 in the mid-1980s, to around 25,000 in the mid-1990s.  Less than 10,000 Jews are left in Iran today.  Because of the "protection" afforded to Jews living in Iran, there are those who believe that the hatred that we see coming from Iran is not anti-Semitism, but anti-Zionism.  The problem is that the basis for this anti-Zionism is still unexplained.

In spite of the Iranians not being Arabs, they have enjoyed some ideals in common with the Arabs since the revolution in Iran.  The premise for the Arab-Israeli conflict is pure anti-Semitism.  The Arab world could not accept the notion of Jews living in the Middle East on their doorstep, and resolved to do all to destroy them and their state.  The holy city of Jerusalem has become embroiled in this war as a tool, rather than an end.  It is noticeable that no attempt was made to claim Jerusalem (and its Muslim holy sites) by the Arabs in the period prior to the establishment of Israel.  When the Jews took control of Jerusalem, and even in spite of granting control of the Muslim holy sites to the Waqf Council under the chairmanship of the King of Jordan, the Arab world and the Muslim world rose up to object.  Was their objection in favour of the Muslim holy sites, or was the objection against the presence of the Jews?  Everybody will reach their own conclusion.  What is clear is that Iran has firmly jumped on this anti-Semitic bandwagon.

Iran's brand of Shia Islam has been a huge source of conflict with the Sunni Islam practised by most of the Arab world.  In spite of this fundamental source of disagreement, they have found a common cause to fight against the Jews in Israel, to fight against the existence of the State of Israel and to use the claim of the holy city of Jerusalem for Islam as a means to their end.  The city of Jerusalem seems to be almost the only cause and rallying point that unites all different streams of Muslims around the world.  And, by extension, the fight against Israel, the Jews and the current regime in Jerusalem is equally a common point of agreement between them all.  Although distinct cracks are starting to show in this quest as individual Arab countries come to the realisation that Israel is going nowhere, and understand that cooperation with Israel may be a better option for them than fighting the futile battle of trying to destroy her.

The Iranians are, however, unwavering and unashamed in their battle against Israel and her people.  They continue to sponsor Hamas and Hezbollah, amongst other terrorist groups, that act as proxies for Iran to destroy Israel.  Iran is also responsible for numerous terror attacks orchestrated against Israeli and Jewish targets outside of Israel.  It's quest to build a nuclear weapon that could potentially be used against Israel is clearly a cause that any Israeli government will consider to be of highest priority.   So Iran has clearly not changed its mind, nor given up its desire to destroy Israel in any way.

My problem is that I am still not entirely clear why Iran wants to destroy Israel.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Netanyahu Breaks the Record

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Netanyahu officially became Israel's longest-serving prime minister since the state was created in 1948.  And he could not have reached this historical milestone under stranger circumstances.

Netanyahu has achieved this notable record while currently governing the country without a mandate.  In spite of having been democratically elected to continue to rule the country in the elections in 2015, the most recent round of elections earlier this year did not produce any winners who could secure a mandate to rule.  A such, Netanyahu has remained in office as a caretaker prime minister until the next round of elections take place in September.  Without the support of the majority as required by our democracy.  And it is in this role as caretaker prime minister that he has overtaken David Ben Gurion's previous record of having ruled over Israel for 13 years and 127 days, in spite of the heavy cloud that hangs over his head.  He also holds the record as the prime minister to have the longest uninterrupted term as prime minister (10 years and 110 days and counting).

There can be no doubt or argument that Netanyahu has devoted much of his life in the service of the State of Israel.  Nor can there be any doubt about some of his significant achievements during this period.  Credit needs to be given for this.  As can be anticipated with any leader and public official, he has had his notable failures too.  And, as much as he would like to achieve the legacy of having been the protector of Israel during his term in office, it seems that he is likely to be remembered for the scandal that currently surrounds him, irrespective of how it ultimately turns out.  This is a real pity for the longest-serving prime minister in Israel's history.

Along with this record, come many unwelcome and undesirable effects of the length of time that Netanyahu has been in office.  "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."  This quotation by Lord Acton from 1887 seems as relevant now as it was then, and can easily be applied to Netanyahu in recent years.  He has behaved in a manner that indicates his sense of invincibility, that has only been strengthened by success that he has enjoyed at the polls.  The people gave him the power, but it seems as though this has been taken for granted as a result of it lasting for too long.  The feeling that he will have enough public support to rule irrespective of how he behaves, has led him to really test this out with behaviour by him and members of his family that is way beyond what could reasonably be tolerated from an elected leader.  It is no coincidence that other democracies, such as the USA, put a limit on how long the elected leader is allowed to be in office for.  I believe that such a limit is healthy and much-needed in Israel.

In addition to the promotion of unlawful behaviour, the lack of limit on time in office promotes another unwelcome consequence.  This is the lack of incentive to groom new young leaders to assume the senior positions.  In Netanyahu's case, he has done everything in his power to ensure that there are no pretenders to the throne who could possibly cause a threat to his continued rule.  He has no interest at all to ensure that a new generation of leaders is prepared to take over from him when he finally leaves office.  There is a huge chasm in his party and in the country at the moment between the current prime minister and those who may take over from him.  This is surely undesirable and unhealthy.

As a result of his extended term in office and the anti feeling that this has generated against Netanyahu, the upcoming election will ignore the main issues of the day that face Israel.  Instead of focusing on security, economy, education or health care, the election will be all about how to keep Netanyahu in office or, more likely, how to remove him.  The country is currently divided into three camps; those who support Netanyahu at any price, those who would vote for Mickey Mouse if he was a candidate only to remove Netanyahu, and those who feel forced to vote for Netanyahu simply because there is no alternative credible candidate.  This is surely not what our democracy is about.

Now that the record has been achieved and past, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has become Israel's longest- ruling prime minister, the time has come to change the laws to prevent anybody else from surpassing this record.  Democracy is not only about holding elections, it is also about ensuring that the best quality candidates are encouraged to come forward and have an equal chance of being elected on merit.  Our democracy is sorely missing this right now.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Crash But Not Burn

It felt a little like déjà vu on Thursday night.  My mind was transported back to February 2003 when the whole of Israel waited with baited breath as the Space Shuttle Columbia re-entered the earth's atmosphere with the very first ever Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon on board.  Despite feeling immense pride at the amazing achievements made by a tiny country and its first astronaut, the day was not to end well.  The space shuttle burned up during its re-entry to the atmosphere killing all on board in the process.  Ilan Ramon's memory remains a folk legend in Israel.  And so, too, there was disaster last night as Beresheet, Israel's first ever lunar craft, made its final approach to the Sea of Serenity.  Unfortunately another failure along Israel's route to becoming a superstar country in the area of space travel and exploration.  The quest to become only the world's fourth country to safely land a craft on the moon was not achieved yesterday by the Israeli lunar lander.

In spite of another setback for Israel in the field of space exploration, there were so many positive things that came out of Beresheet's trip to the moon that it is really difficult to see it as a failure at all.  Coming at the end of a week that also saw a general election that proved to be very divisive in many respects, it was heart-warming to see how the country and the Jewish world united in support of Beresheet.  Willing it to safely land on the surface of the moon.  Willing Israel to take up an important place as one of the handful of nations to achieve this.  This unified support was in such contrast to the previous few days over the period of the election, and would have seemed impossible only two or three days earlier.  This extended not only to those in Israel, but to Jews around the world.  We could feel a real sense of support from Jews around the world during the time of this project, something that is not taken for granted at all.

The fact that Israel became only the seventh nation on earth to send a spacecraft into orbit around the moon, is a huge achievement in itself.  And this was the very first project not sponsored by a national government, making the achievement quite unique.  This is a great response to those who use every opportunity to criticise Israel and to those who wish to destroy her.  This is the way to answer those who accuse Israel of being an apartheid state, and to demonstrate to BDS and its supporters that there is tremendous depth to Israeli ingenuity and huge desire to develop, to build and to make a real difference in science, technology and other fields.  This is the way to show that the Israel that is seen on BBC and CNN and that is castigated at the UNHRC, is not the real face of Israel.  Beresheet is a much truer face and a fairer reflection of what Israel really stands for and what she is truly about.  This shows Israel to be a nation that builds rather than destroying, and this stands in stark contrast to the lack of any positive achievements by many of Israel's enemies.

The attention that this project has drawn to the field of space travel and space exploration in Israel is almost on the scale of the attention drawn to it by Ilan Ramon and his exploits.  Surely, the interest of the next generation is almost assured in the process.  In spite of the slip-up at the final hurdle, young Israelis have been excited by this story sufficiently to ensure that they will be seeking ways of succeeding where Beresheet failed.  In the same way that we did not hear the last of Ilan Ramon when Columbia disintegrated and  he went on to become a household name and a legend, I am sure that we have not heard the end of an Israeli lunar landing.  It seems not to be coincidental that the name chosen for the spacecraft was Beresheet, the first word in the Torah with the meaning of "in the beginning".  Just as the name signifies, this seems to be just the beginning of great things to come.

Huge credit needs to go to the SpaceIL team, to sponsor and president Morris Kahn and to all those involved in the project.  They gave Israel and Israelis a dream and something around which to unite and feel proud.  And they gave thousands of Israeli children the little flame to ignite their interest and their desire and determination to ultimately succeed in the quest to have Israel successfully land on the moon.  This is a huge achievement and a very positive island in a huge sea of negativity that often surrounds Israel.

The Israeli flag and the Torah are on the moon.  They landed there with a crash rather than in the elegant way that we would have preferred.  But they are there to stay.  They may have crashed, but they did not burn.  A marker has been established, and this is certainly not the last that we will hear of Israeli ventures in space.  It is just the beginning.

Friday, 29 March 2019

State Sponsored Anti-Semitism is Rife

Norwegian Attorney General Tor Aksel Busch last week decided that a comment cursing Jews, that was made by Norwegian Muslim rapper Kaveh Kholardi during a concert last year, is not anti-Semitic hate speech but rather legitimate criticism of Israel.  Kholardi made the comment "f*cking Jews" at a family-friendly concert in June 2018 to promote diversity.  It was not bad enough that Iranian-born Kholardi thought it was acceptable to make this comment at his concert.  This has been exacerbated by the fact that two different public officials in Norway have ruled that this comment does not constitute hate speech.  State Prosecutor Trude Antonsen found that,while derogatory and offensive, the remark did not constitute a criminal act.  This may well be the case under the laws of Norway, in which case the laws need some adjustment.  But the fact that the attorney general decided that this constitutes legitimate criticism of Israel, is perhaps more offensive than the original comment.

I am enraged by this decision for a number of reasons.  When a performing artist stands up at a public concert and says "f*cking Jews", it seems to me that his comment is clear and speaks for itself.  The fact that he may say afterwards that he was only joking does not unring the bell or make his statement any more acceptable.  Surely there can be no clearer example of anti-Semitic speech than this statement.  There is no interpretation required, and there can be no accusation that the statement was taken out of context.  Such a statement is anti-Semitic no matter what the context.  It is offensive, unacceptable and illegal in many countries around the world.

Why would anybody believe that this statement translates into criticism of Israel in any way?  Aside from the fact that Israel happens to be a Jewish state, and that many of the Jews there would be extremely offended by the statement, there is no link between this curse of Jews and criticism of Israel.  In my view, criticism of Israel may refer to particular policies of the government or actions of those acting on behalf of the state.  A blanket curse of all Jews in this way has surely nothing to do with legitimate criticism of Israel.  If, for one fleeting moment, I was to accept the fact that this curse was an act of criticism of Israel, could it in any way be considered to be legitimate?  I have my sincere doubts.  Just because I feel that the Norwegian attorney general has acted to embarrass his country and insult me and my people, I would not be justified to say "f*cking Norwegians" as a response.  And I would not do so.  Instead, I would be happier and more justified to say "f*ck Tor Aksel Busch for being an anti-Semite".

The notion that anti-Semitism can be justified and made politically correct by dressing it up as legitimate criticism of Israel needs to be opposed as strongly as possible.  It is becoming more and more accepted that anti-Jewish rhetoric and actions are OK because Israel is deserving of criticism.  It is equally common-place that anti-Semitism is expressed as criticism of Israel.  This legitmisation is reinforced when international bodies and representatives of national governments confirm its acceptability.  It should be clear that this is not acceptable, and that Jews and Israel will not tolerate it.  The fact that Israel gets involved in the protection of Jews and Jewish rights around the world, does not justify anti-Semitism being disguised as legitimate criticism of Israel.

Mr. Busch should be ashamed of his position and his statement on this matter.  He is clearly part of the problem, and not part of the solution.  It is shameful that people like him are left to be the guardians and judges of what is hate speech and what is acceptable.  This act requires the Norwegian government to fire him from his position without delay, and condemn him in the strongest possible terms.  The Norwegian government and Norwegian people should be embarrassed of this decision, and they become complicit by not acting to reverse it.

As Jews, we have come to expect anti-Semitic rhetoric from the general public, particularly those who come from backgrounds that typically hold an entrenched and natural hate towards Jews.  In recent years, laws have been enacted to protect us from having to tolerate hate speech, laws that also serve to protect other minority groups.  These laws become a joke if they are left under the auspices of people like Tor Aksel Busch to interpret and implement.  This effectively reinforces anti-Semitism at an institutional and governmental level.  The last time that this happened was in the lead-up to the annihilation of 6 million Jews as part of an anti-Semitic genocide sponsored by states and governments,  This will never be allowed to happen again, in spite of haters like Tor Aksel Busch.

Monday, 4 March 2019

The Polish Dilemma

The recent diplomatic spat between Israel and Poland unfortunately raises a long, ongoing issue about Holocaust denial, and the denial by certain groups of their involvement n the perpetration of acts of genocide against Jews during the Shoah.  The Polish denial is already not new.  Israel finds it has something of a dilemma about how to respond to the unacceptable Polish position.

In early 2018, Poland passed a law that criminalised  any reference to Poland or Poles being involved or complicit in crimes committed during the Shoah.  In particular, the law criminalised use of the term "Polish death camps".  In essence, the Poles have denied that crimes committed on Polish soil during the Shoah were anything to do with Poland or Polish people.  Instead, the blame is being laid squarely at the door of the Nazis and the Third Reich, which occupied Poland at that time.  While the acts and influences by the Nazis is undeniable, there is also little doubt that Poles were complicit in some terrible crimes that were perpetrated in the Shoah against Jews.  This is true both in the death camps and ghettos that were on Polish soil, and in individual events that took place elsewhere.  Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, whose father was killed during the Shoah by Poles, adamantly claimed that "Poles suckle antisemitism with their mothers' milk".  This statement is considered to have significantly delayed the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Poland, but also shows the strength of his hatred towards the antisemitism shown by Poles.

The official Polish position on all that took place during the Shoah in Poland is that it was either perpetrated by the Nazis, or was perpetrated at the instigation of the Nazis.  This effectively absolves Poland and Polish people of any crimes committed against Jews, as the Nazis are blamed even for the crimes committed by Poles.  Why does Israel care about what Poland says now about acts that were committed more than 70 years ago?  Why does Israel feel that it has a dilemma about how to respond to Poland's position on Shoah-era actions?

Antisemitism is increasingly visible and rife around the world.  Much of it is dressed up as anti-Israel activity in an attempt to make it politically acceptable to express in public.  But the age-old antisemitism that was so prevalent in the years leading up to the Shoah and during the Shoah, is very visible again today.  And it is being too easily and broadly tolerated.   Poland is not exempt from this phenomenon, with highly visible signs of antisemitism evident all around Poland.  It is incumbent upon the Polish government to acknowledge and accept the actions of Poles during the Shoah as a platform to oppose it in the current day.  If Israel was to simply smooth over the role of the Poles during the Shoah, this would serve not only to insult the memories of numerous Jews and non-Jews who were killed or abused at the hands of Poles or where Poles were complicit or indifferent, but it would also serve to dilute the fight against antisemitism in Poland in the current day.

In spite of this, we cannot forget that there are more Poles who have been declared "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, than any other nation.  This is a title bestowed upon those who helped Jews in spite of the overwhelming social pressures that influenced them to be antisemitic.  There is no attempt to paint the Polish people as universally antisemitic.  It is important to recognise both right and wrong.  The real dilemma for Israel presents itself in the form of the opposition to this by the Polish government that has an impact on diplomatic relations between the two countries.  Cordial diplomatic relations with Poland have helped Israel to educate many of its younger generation and young leadership by sending them to Poland to witness first-hand the atrocities that were committed at the death camps on Polish soil.  This education process culminates each year in the annual "March of the Living" during which Jews return to Auschwitz-Birkenau with Israeli Air Force planes flying overhead to proclaim "never again".  If this is all that Israel manages to get out of its diplomatic relations with Poland, it is a great deal.  And probably enough to justify maintaining diplomatic relations almost at any price.

The law in Poland has now been changed such that it is no longer a criminal offence to implicate Poland in the Shoah, but now "only" a civil offence.  The denial has been diluted in its severity rather than being cancelled, which is surely not enough.  This denial is unwelcome, and is supporting the resurgence of antisemitism in Poland, Europe and around the world.  The Polish government stands accused, once again, of being complicit to antisemitism.  And, while the Israeli government and officials will continue to speak out on this matter, this opposition is unlikely to be allowed to derail the diplomatic relations between the two countries.  With some justification.

Under current circumstances, I would forego diplomatic relations with Poland to protest their denial.  I would make a statement that requires Poland to recognise the role played by Poles in persecuting Jews, even if this comes at the expense of diplomatic relations with Poland.  I support Prime Minister Netanyahu in his insistence on taking the difficult decision to talk about this during his recent trip to Poland.  Anything less would be a statement condoning antisemitism.  Even though more than 70 years have passed since the Shoah, Poland should be forced to acknowledge the role played by Polish forefathers in this black period in Poland's history.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

There is a growing trend among Jews around the world, particularly within the younger generation, to feel some sort of lack of comfort and embarrassment about Israel's policy towards the Palestinians, and even towards Arab Israelis in general.  Their feeling stems from a view that Israel is responsible for human rights violations against the Palestinians, and they have not been shy to air their protest.  The recent "taking a knee" action by students at Herzliya School in Cape Town, South Africa, during the singing of Hatikva, is just the latest in a long line of incidents where Jewish youth have felt the need to to express the freedom of their choice to openly criticise Israel.  Other incidents have included the Palestinian flag being flown at a Jewish youth camp and the wearing of a "keffiya" Palestinian scarf to make a public protest.  Statistics show that Jewish youth in the US are feeling less connected with Israel than before, and that this disconnection is growing.  I find this a sad and unfortunate phenomenon, and have tried to understand the causes of it.

When the idea of the creation of the Jewish state was discussed and voted upon at the UN back in 1947, there was surprise in certain camps that the UN passed the resolution that effectively created Israel.  While there was clearly political motivation in the votes of some countries and financial motivation that drove others, there was almost certainly a sympathy factor that came into consideration.  In the wake of the Shoah that saw the annihilation of 6 million Jews, the Jewish people at that time were considered helpless victims.  Victims always seem to garner sympathy, no matter how it is that they became victims.  So the Jews were viewed as the victims, and the world did show some short-lived sympathy at that time.  Moreover, the world Jewish community was highly supportive of the Jews living in Israel.  Not only did Jews around the world give their unwavering support to Israel, Israel also allowed Jews around the world to feel a little more pride in being Jewish.

Israel and the Jews living in Israel were determined to shake off their label as victims as soon as possible.  The idea of being supported because of sympathy, rather being respected as equals, never sat comfortably with the Jewish culture.  Instead of waiting for Arabs and anti-Semites to attack and then being forced to respond, there was a determination to build a nation of proud people who were not simply going to wait for the enemy to attack and risk further annihilation.  Instead of a band of amateurs who relied upon the sympathy of others, Israel has built a professional army and built the country into one of the strongest and most respected.  No more victims, no more sympathy votes.  Now, a powerful army and a powerful country that could take on and beat the strongest.  And with it, we have managed to escape the label of victims.  We never wished to garner sympathy as victims.  Instead, we wanted to plant fear in the hearts of those who dare to attack us.  We have finally succeeded in this quest.

Unfortunately, the world seems to view situations in binary terms where conflicts are concerned.  Either you are the victim, or you are the perpetrator and the bully.  So, as we managed to escape the label of downtrodden victim, we have increasingly been painted as the bully.  This is in spite of the situation remaining essentially unchanged in that the same Arabs and anti-Semites are still trying to wipe us out only because we are Jews.  The fact that there would be no battle or conflict if they were prepared to live side-by-side in peace instead of trying to wipe us out, seems not to diminish our newly-acquired status as the bully.  And, even though our military activities are solely designed to protect us to allow our people live in peace, this seems not to help to present the situation in its truest light.  The real bullies are now considered to be the victims, even though they are the ones trying to drive the Jews into the sea.  And the real victims are now painted as bullies, even though their only wish is to live in peace and build a positive future for their children.

In order to offer maximum protection to Israelis and to secure the future of the Jewish state, Israel has been forced to be proactive in preventing terrorist activities being perpetrated.  Part of this involves sealing Gaza to prevent terror equipment from entering the area that presents a risk to the survival of Israel.  At the time that Israel withdrew from Gaza, the intention was to allow Gazans to get along with building a positive future for themselves.  Instead, Gaza has devoted its time to finding ways to destroy Israel.  The Israeli government cannot simply stand by and watch this happen, hence the "blockade" that has been imposed on Gaza.  Conveniently, the rhetoric has been twisted to reflect that Gaza justifiably launches attacks against Israel to protest against the blockade.  Apparently, according to a view accepted in international circles, launching hundreds of missiles randomly into populated areas is entirely justified by the need to break free from the "blockade".  The cart has truly been put before the horse.

Just as the world at large views the situation in a binary way, so our fellow Jews around the world are influenced to do the same.  Now, instead of Jews hanging their heads for fear of being singled out and attacked for being Jews, they choose to hang their heads in shame at Israel for being labelled as a bully and transgressor of human rights.  And they insist upon showing their shame in public places in order to be allowed to exercise their right to object to Israel and her policies.  The irony is that this shame is really imposed upon us by outsiders who view Israel as the transgressor, and has been absorbed by Jews who wish to fit in comfortably to their local environments,  Moreover, this view appears to have been adopted by many Jewish educational institutions around the world that have been blinded into accepting the contrary twisted rhetoric about Israel's position in the conflict.

I find it not only unfortunate that the story has been twisted to such a degree that the protagonists have switched roles, it hurts that diaspora Jews find it necessary to be so vocal and public in their criticism of Israel.  While I do not expect that all Jews should blindly support Israel under any circumstances, I do hope that they will express their criticism in a manner that is constructive and useful.  Just as in Israel where each person has more than one opinion on most subjects, I expect that diaspora Jews will also hold a variety of opinions of Israel, not all of them positive.  This is entirely within the realms of what is acceptable.  I don't accept, however, that "taking a knee" is constructive or useful.  And I don't believe that flying a Palestinian flag is constructive or useful.  Instead, it is important to promote the notion that Israel is fighting for its right to exist as a Jewish state, and to protect Jews around the world.  Support for Israel's tactics to survive, wherever it may come from, is welcome.

It may come as a great surprise to many to hear that most Israelis strongly support the idea of a creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.  And that most Israelis are very sensitive to the issue of acting humanely and the issue of human rights.  Most Israelis wish to see Palestinians living constructive lives with a great deal of hope for the future.  There is, however, a condition attached to the support for the Palestinians.  The condition is that the Palestinian state will promote peaceful co-existence with Israel, and allow Israel to survive as a Jewish state along the border of the Palestinian state.  Unfortunately, this condition has yet to be acknowledged and agreed upon.  In the absence of this acknowledgement, it is understood that the objective is to destroy Israel and the Jews.  Until this is agreed, Israel will continue to protect herself and the Jews.  Inevitably, the international community will conveniently use this to promote their criticism of Israel as a violator of human rights.  We should not be sucked into their point of view that is entirely without justification.

We cannot expect Israel's enemies and anti-Semites around the world to ensure that the rhetoric that they are promoting places the horse before the cart.  Their agenda means that this does not serve their purpose.  It would be welcome, however, if at least Jews around the world help to place the story in its correct order, without pandering to the views of those who wish to destroy us.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

What is the Problem with the New Nationality Law?

The new Jewish nation-state law (also known as the nationality law) was passed by the Knesset into law before the summer break, and now forms part of Israel's "Basic Laws".  In the absence of a constitution, the Basic Laws act in the place of a constitution and are the most fundamental laws on Israel's statute book.  The new nationality law has caused a great deal of consternation amongst many Jewish Israelis as well as amongst Jews living outside Israel, and continues to occupy the pages of Israeli and international press in spite of the time that has passed since it was enacted.  There has also been a great deal of opposition coming from the Druze community in Israel which is an immensely loyal, law-abiding minority group living in Israel.  This Druze opposition has been used by Israel-haters to increase their verbal attacks on Israel.  The main charges against the nationality law are that it is undemocratic, and that it discriminates against non-Jewish citizens of Israel.

The crux of the new law is that it reaffirms a number of facts that are already in place and well known.  These include the fact that Israel is a Jewish state, that the united city of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and confirms the flag and menorah emblem as being the symbols of the state.

Before examining the pros and cons of the nationality law, it is interesting to consider why there was even the need to enact it.  Some people consider the combination of the Declaration of Independence as well as the previous nationality law to have been enough to confirm the fact that Israel is a Jewish state for the Jewish people, that Jerusalem is the capital and to confirm the symbols of state.  In spite of this, there appear to be constant questions surrounding the right by the Jewish people to determine their own destiny in the State of Israel.  The most public of these questions comes in the form of the denial by the Palestinian Authority to acknowledge that Israeli is a Jewish state as part of the peace talks that have been in hiatus for the past few years.  This denial is part of a concerted campaign against Israel, but particularly against Jews.  This is the new form of anti-Semitism that is considered by many to be politically acceptable and correct, because it is directed against Israel rather than Jews.  The fact that the attack is in the form of a denial of the right of Israel to be a Jewish state seems somehow to be lost in the debate.  The status of the city of Jerusalem is also a very public battle in spite of it having served as the capital of Israel since 1948, and in its current form as the undivided city since 1967.

History has supported and recognised the right of Israel to be a Jewish state over many years.  The Balfour Declaration of 1917 spoke about the "establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people".  Of course, the Palestine referred to in the letter by Lord Balfour comprises, in a large part, modern-day Israel.  The Mandate for Palestine passed by the League of Nations in 1922 also spoke about the British government being responsible ".... for establishing in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people".  UN General Assembly resolution 181 (II) passed in November 1947 on the issue of the partition of Palestine spoke about an "Arab State and a Jewish State" being established in then Palestine.  Israel's Declaration of Independence  declared "the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel".  In spite of this, the Palestinians under Mahmoud Abbas still have the audacity to refuse to acknowledge and recognise this.  And members of the international community signal their tacit support for this position by trying to force Israel to return to the negotiating table despite the unwillingness on the part of the Palestinians to give due recognition.  Surely, this is enough reason in itself to warrant Israel restating and emphasising these facts as some that are fundamental to Israel's existence and identity?

This new law changes nothing on the ground in Israel, and discriminates against nobody.  It seems quite normal for countries to have a strong religious basis for the identity and symbols adopted by their countries.  Around 20 countries around the world have crosses, crescents or other religious symbols on their flags and emblems of state.  Those countries are not accused of discrimination because of that.  We have not heard charges of being undemocratic levelled against them because of their flags or symbols of state.  So why should Israel be singled out again?  Because it is the only Jewish state?

The accusation that this law is undemocratic is entirely without basis. The principles of democracy require that each citizen has an equal right to express his free will in a national poll for government.  Once this has been adequately achieved, the majority is entitled to exert its will on the minority.  Israel goes a step further by also granting certain minority protection rights to ensure that the minorities are not entirely trodden on.  Even the new nationality law does not change the democracy of the State of Israel, nor its status as the only democracy in the Middle East.  In fact, aside from making a stronger statement of the obvious and what has been in situ for many years, the new nationality law changes nothing at all.  As Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out in his recent address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, it is ironic that Israel is being accused when other nations have much more serious discriminatory actions to answer for.

Perhaps the strongest organ of Israel's democracy is its independent judiciary.  It seems almost certain that this body will be called in to adjudicate on the new law, and whether it transgresses Israel's democratic and other ideals.  I watch eagerly for this matter to be brought before Israel's Court of Appeal, and the outcome of this case.  I am not optimistic that the court's decision, whatever it may turn out to be, will necessarily change anything about the way in which Israel is viewed in the international community.

Work is still required to convince the Druze community (and other loyal minorities) that the new law does not affect them in any way.  I feel sure that, in time, they will understand this for themselves and that no further explanations will be necessary.