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.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Football Fiasco

More than a few Israelis have been taking perverse pleasure in witnessing the struggles of the Argentinean football team in the world cup tournament in Russia.  Considering their all-star line-up, the Argentinians were expected to make easy progress to the last 16 of the tournament.  And yet, it was not quite how things turned out, even if they did finally achieve this objective.  A draw against lowly Iceland, and a resounding loss to Croatia did not help their cause along the way.  And the unceremonious dumping of the Argentinean team out of the tournament by France in the round of 16 has led many in Israel to consider this to be karma.

The reason for the pleasure taken by Israelis in Argentina's poor performances, is because of the cancellation of the friendly warm-up match that was scheduled to take place between the national teams of Israel and Argentina just prior to the start of the world cup tournament.  Even Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman jumped on the bandwagon by tweeting to congratulate Iceland on their efforts to restrict Argentina to a 1-1 draw.  In this game, one of the world's most famous and decorated players, Lionel Messi, missed a penalty attempt for Argentina that could have won the game for his team.  Liberman found it appropriate to link the unsatisfactory result for Argentina with the cancellation of their game against Israel.

While Argentina's failures in this world cup tournament are difficult to conceal, it is a little disingenuous to claim that their poor form can be attributed to the cancellation of the warm-up game against Israel.  And it is even more disingenuous to blame the Argentineans for the cancellation of this game.  I believe that the blame for this can be laid fimly at the feet of the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Minister for Culture and Sport Miri Regev.

The tradition of Argentina playing pre-world cup warm-up games against Israel goes back to 1986.  In fact, after a warm-up game against Israel before the world cup tournament in 1986, Argentina went on to win the tournament.  After a warm-up game against Israel in 1990, the Argentinean team faltered only at the final hurdle when losing to Germany in the final match of the tournament.  So there are some who consider this warm-up game to be something of a lucky omen for the Argentineans.  And apparently some who consider the cancellation of the game this year to be a poison chalice for Argentina's fortunes.  In spite of all of the emotions surrounding the cancellation of the game, I consider the Argentineans to be entirely blameless for the fact that the game against Israel ultimately did not take place.

The game was set against the backdrop of great efforts on the part of the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement (BDS) to bring discredit and damage to Israel in a public way.  It was clear that the BDS movement was going to jump at this opportunity to put pressure on Argentina to cancel the game in order to use the chance to show that there is public opposition to Israel in every possible way.  And BDS did not disappoint.  What was disappointing, however, was the response to this by the Israeli government.

The game was originally scheduled to be played in Haifa, and was billed as a friendly warm-up game.  In precisely the same way that previous games have been played before.  Sensing an opportunity to make something more of it, Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev succeeded in convincing the Argentineans to agree to move the game to the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, and to bill it as a game that formed part of Israel's celebration of 70 years of independence.  Not only was this contrary to the original spirit of the game, it was a big mistake on the part of the Israeli government.  It was essentially, the first step towards the ultimate cancellation of the game.  I believe that the Argentinean Football Association would have been able and willing to withstand the pressure put on it by BDS and other anti-Israel protesters to allow this game to go ahead as planned in its original format.  Once the game was given a much higher profile and billing and moved to Jerusalem to be part of Israel's 70th anniversary of independence, the Israeli government was inviting attention and ultimate disaster.  In the process, it created a very difficult and unwelcome situation for the Argentinean Football Association.

The record shows that so much pressure was placed on the Argentinean Football Association and its players, that they decided to call off the game.  Players and their families were threatened with death if they chose to go through with the game.  I condemn in the strongest terms the terrorists who think that it is OK to make death threats against the families of football players who are just doing their job in representing family, club and country.  It is clear that these terrorists will stop at nothing in their attempts to bring about the destruction of Israel, even if it means threatening the lives of innocent people.  Of course, their efforts will not succeed.  My sympathy goes out to the Argentinean Football Association and players who were willing to agree to the friendly game in the first place, knowing full well that they would come under immense public pressure for their decision.  I am sure that I would have taken the same decision to cancel the game as they took if I was in their shoes.  Unfortunately, officials in the Israeli government could not sufficiently recognise the effort that friends of Israel are prepared to make by agreeing to play here, despite the obvious negative reaction that they would have to endure.  Instead of lending a hand to support the Argentinean Football Association and its players to feel justified in proceeding with the game, apparently these same government officials felt that it would be appropriate to place even more pressure on our Argentinean friends by moving the game to Jerusalem, and giving it a profile that was never originally intended.

Israel has every right and even a responsibility to assert its sovereignty, and to assert sovereignty over Jerusalem as its capital.  But Israel also has the responsibility to pick its fights, and to choose the appropriate moments to assert this sovereignty.  Israel also has the responsibility to support friends who are prepared to swim against the tide in supporting Israel when popular opinion may not necessarily do so.   These things should not be taken for granted.  The unfortunate reality is that the rules that apply to other countries do not necessarily apply to Israel.  As much as it an unacceptable situation and one that we should all fight against with every fibre of our being, it is nonetheless the reality and cannot be ignored.  It would be negligent for the Israeli government to behave in a way that simply ignores this reality.

The cancellation of the football match was no victory for Israel, despite Miri Regev feeling that she stood her ground and asserted Israel's sovereignty.  Besides denying Israel football fans the opportunity to watch talented footballers like Messi and his teammates, it handed a public relations victory to BDS.  And it left the Argentinean Football Association wondering whether it is worth considering playing against Israel in the future given the unfortunate way in which the events unfolded.  There was a significant lack of support coming from the Israeli government for them.  Surely, the government has a responsibility to do what is ultimately in Israel's best interests?  Sometimes it is better to be smart rather than to be right.

The next test for the Israeli government is going to be the 2019 Eurovision song competition that is due to be hosted by Israel.  There is already a strong body of international opinion that says that this competition should not be held in Israel next year.  And BDS have moved into high gear to support them.  On the other side, Miri Regev is on record saying that she would prefer the Eurovision not to be held in Israel rather than not hold it in Jerusalem.  She may be granted her wish, in the same way as her wish for the football game was granted.  Again, this will not be chalked up as a success for Regev nor for Israel.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Reflecting on Israel at 70

As the festivities of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Independence die away, there is the inevitable return to the reality of everyday living.  Each of us returns to our daily chores of working, studying and taking care of our usual activities.  The threatening protesters are gathered once again on the Gaza border as before.  Iran still continues to threaten to annihilate Israel.  The usual attacks, both verbal and physical are again being perpetrated.  All continues as it was, and little changes.

And yet, this is the beauty of the reality.  Unlike a birthday when the special day lasts only 24 hours until next year at the same time, the celebration of 70 years of independence continues even after the festivities are gone and forgotten.  Because every day in Israel is a celebration of independence.  The reality of the daily grind of life in an independent country is a part of the success.  Not only that, but the 70 years becomes 70 years and a day, and another day, building steadily each moment with greater and greater independence and confidence.

This seems a good moment to reflect, not only on the past and the present, but also upon where things are leading in the future.  To consider that 70 years have not only brought massive growth, development and progress in Israel, but have also allowed for the rebuilding of a nation.  The population has grown from a little more than 800 thousand to almost 9 million in a short 70 years.  The country's infrastructure and economy has grown along with the population to support it, and it has been able to absorb and integrate the large numbers of Jews who have immigrated to Israel over the years.  This is a huge achievement, unrivalled in modern times.  In addition, these 70 years have brought Jewish growth and pride even outside of Israel.  The Jewish people are experiencing one of the greatest periods in Jewish learning in history, something that could not have been dreamt of 70 years ago.  All that Israel stands for and has achieved reaches every corner of the Jewish world, and the non-Jewish world.

The miracle of the survival of Israel against the odds, and against the will of the surrounding Arab countries and their armies has been recounted numerous times and is well documented.  Somehow, it seems that the enormity of this miracle can never be sufficiently emphasized.  There is no logic to explain how it is that the Israelis and Jews still have their state after so many attempts to wipe it off the map.  And this has not been only survival, the 70 years have been enormously productive in terms of the growth, development and ingenuity that have been brought to the state and the wider world.  So many technological advances have come out of Israel that have also made a huge contribution to people around the world.  These have come in so many different fields, including computing, telecommunications, medical, agriculture and many others.  So many Israeli inventions are incorporated into products that are used around the world as a matter of course.  Undoubtedly, one of Israel's greatest inventions has been the Iron Dome anti-missile system.  Not only is this a great military development in its own right, it has afforded Israel the protection that it needs to continue to build and innovate in safety.

The routine in Israel has proved to be part of the joy and success.  Whether it be the routine of another attack to take out weapons that threaten the safety of the state, or whether it be the routine of another Shabbat with the regular smells of chicken soup and the sight of white shirts.  There is also the routine of competing on the world stage in the blue and white in sporting and cultural events, and in showing presence and contribution in the international community in general.

The daily grind that we see in the Jewish state today would have been inconceivable to so many Jews who were sent to their deaths in the years that preceded the founding of the state.  And while the obvious fact that all young Israelis will be called to serve in the military to defend the state is just part of the daily routine, it remains a source of wonder and pride to so many who experienced being a Jew in a world without a Jewish army.  We think about so many who were not spared to see this routine, and who would have rejoiced in it.

Anti-Semitism is again on the rise in the most dramatic fashion.  It is well documented and accepted that Europe is now a hotbed of anti-Semitic activity.  The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe continues to rise each year, and Jews living there are feeling more at risk than ever before in the last 70 years.  The same is true of the USA where anti-Semitic sentiment is dramatically on the rise.  Shining through all of this is the fight by the Jewish state in defence of Jews around the world.

We feel comfort and security in the routine that Israel has developed.  Events are great to celebrate, but the greatest celebration is the return to the status quo.  The new status quo that has only become possible for Jews as a result of the founding of the Jewish state.  And despite all the threats against Israel, against Israelis and against Jews, the routine of Israel incorporates the defence of Jews and Jewish values around the world.  This gives much to celebrate.

As we look forward to the next 70 years, it seems that it will be difficult to rival the achievements of the last 70 years.  The development from almost zero seems astonishing due to the low starting point and lack of resources and support.  And yet, the achievements are clear for all to see.  This provides a huge incentive to achieve similar greatness in the years to come, this time starting from a much higher level.  The routine in Israel is encouraging this, and providing the platform to continue these phenomenal achievements.

Am Yisrael Chai.