Saturday 13 December 2014

Apologetic No More

Two thousand years of exile from its homeland left numerous effects on the Jewish people.  They  were forced to seek cover and shelter wherever they could, and wherever they would be tolerated.  Anti-Semitism resulted in numerous countries banning Jews from living there and, even in countries where Jews were tolerated, they were frequently banned from living in certain areas, undertaking certain professions and mixing in certain social circles.  This had the impact of creating great resilience and resourcefulness amongst our people, which has certainly contributed to our survival under great hardships.  It  also led to Jews going out of their way to seek acceptance as good upstanding citizens in countries where they have taken shelter over the years.  The attempts by Jews to be accepted as ordinary citizens of their host countries, has seen them become overly eager to be recognised as being as worthy of being accepted as their non-Jewish neighbours.  This, in turn, has given rise to the sense that Jews are somewhat apologetic.  They wish to show themselves to be more patriotic than their fellow compatriots, and also to maintain a low profile in order to avoid attracting unwanted attention or being given the label of "trouble-maker".  Jews who have raised their heads too afar above the parapet were often castigated by their fellow Jews for risking their continued welcome in one host country or another.

The most extreme manifestation of the apologetic Jew was seen during the tumultuous years of the 20th century, particularly in Eastern Europe.  Jews were shipped from pillar to post without any regard for their humanity.  This culminated in the biggest genocide known to mankind, the Shoa.  It was contended by many, that Jews went to the gas chambers like "sheep to the slaughter', an accusation that does great injustice to the massive resistance that was instigated by Jews over the years of the Shoa.  A picture that was widely distributed as representing the plight of the Jews at that time, has also contributed to the view of the apologetic Jew.  The picture, believed to be of young Tsvi Chaim Nussbaum in the Warsaw Ghetto, tells a thousand words.  This was the apologetic nature that many Jews such as Zeev Jabotinsky wished to try eradicate from the Jewish psyche.  Jabotinsky used the example of Joseph Trumpeldor as the new type of Jew for his people to aspire to emulate.

The new type of Jew was born in 1948 with the declaration of independence of the State of Israel, the Jewish state.  With the knowledge that Jews would never again be homeless, there was no longer the need to pander to the host countries in which Jews had lived in fear for so long.  The Jewish army not only defended the safety and security of the Jewish state against the odds, it also protected and defended the rights and existence of Jews wherever they were around the world.  Jewish confidence grew, and the need to be the weak and apologetic Jew was eradicated.

Despite 66 years having passed since this earth-shattering event in the Jewish world, and despite there being clear evidence that the Jewish state has truly given rise to a new type of Jew, we still find evidence of the apologetic Jew in our midst.  Our brave IDF soldiers, true examples to Jews and non-Jews around the world, are the epitome of the new type of Jew.  They volunteer to take on difficult and dangerous tasks to defend our state and our people, they are unafraid to go into battle when called upon to do so, they are as patriotic and proud as any Jew in history, while ensuring that they are humans at all times, even in the heat of battle.  They are everything that Jabotinsky dreamed of, and more.  And yet, this humanity has allowed the old, unpleasant apologetic characteristic to creep back into the psyche of our people.

Never before has an army been built with the strength and determination of the Israeli army.  This army is considered to be one of the strongest in the world, and perhaps even the strongest on a man-for-man basis.  And yet, one of the key characteristics that the army demonstrates, as part of the application of the Jewish values upon which it is built, is also regarded as a key weakness.  The Israeli army has always gone out of its way to avoid civilian casualties, almost at any price.  It is well documented that the Israeli army has called off important military strikes, and changed battle plans at the last minute, in order to avoid civilian casualties.  The enemy has responded accordingly - by fighting entire wars in civilian clothing using civilian neighbourhoods to fire missiles from, and using civilians as human shields.  All of this is done in the hope that Israel may be dissuaded from taking certain actions, due to its principle of avoiding civilian casualties.  And if civilians become involved in the battle despite Israel's attempts to avoid this, the Palestinians stand ready with their access to the international media and social networks, to advertise that Israel targets innocent civilians.  This has led Israel to adapt its way of engaging in battle, in order to be ready to justify every action that it takes and every attack that it launches.

Instead of using the obvious big picture that shows Palestinians using tactics to draw Israel into a battle involving civilians at every opportunity, Israel has become defensive and, dare I say it, somewhat apologetic.  We see movies from the battleground showing pilots calling off critical attacks at the last minute due to the entry of a civilian to the area.  We see Israel spending millions of dollars in developing defensive systems to shoot down missiles that are fired towards its own civilian population, instead of the easier and cheaper option of simply annihilating the location which is the source of the rocket fire.  And when there is a necessity to attack areas that are known to house civilians, Israel uses personal telephone calls and SMS messages to warn civilians to leave the area.  The fact that the Palestinian leadership forces civilians to remain in these areas despite Israel's warnings, never seems to be taken into serious consideration as a crime against civilians despite Israel having to endure huge criticism for its so-called targeting of civilians.  Instead of being recognised for is efforts to act in a humanitarian way, it seems as though these actions attract more criticism.  In turn, Israel has become increasingly defensive about the way in which it operates.  Instead of being proud of what we have achieved on the battlefield and the humanity that we show, Israel is constantly trying to disprove the accusations that are levelled against it and is always concerned about the prospect of having to defend its accusations at the International Criminal Court.  Entire teams of people are deployed to justify Israel's actions to the world in anticipation of the criticism after the fact.  This would seem to be a very defensive position to take, and perhaps even invites criticism.

Israel is a democracy that allows people to use their seats in the Knesset to plot subversive activities against the security of the state, and gives citizenship and social benefits to the families of people who have carried out terror activities against innocent citizens of the country.  It gives free access to religious sites, even to those who come to cause unrest and are open in their desire to eradicate the Jewish state and the Jews who live in it.  The original concept of the Jewish state was to have a democracy, and to allow others to be welcome to live in it in the way that Jews were denied during the period of exile.  Despite having achieved this and a great deal more, Israel is constantly being accused of being an apartheid state.  Israel is the most criticised country at the United Nations Human Rights Council, and is forced to answer to human rights accusations posed by countries that are not democracies, and that kill hundreds of people each year as part of their policy of capital punishment.  Israel finds itself treading carefully in the international community, almost apologetically, to avoid running the risk of being accused and singled out once again.

The unjustified attempts to make a scapegoat out of Israel are clearly fuelled by anti-Semitism.  The plight of the innocent Palestinians, who suffer due to the policies and actions of their own leadership and not because of Israel, has served to effectively make anti-Semitism politically and socially acceptable.  Left-wing groups around the world have united in support of the downtrodden Palestinians, something that is a worthy cause to support.  The Palestinian leadership, who is to blame for this situation, conveniently deflects the blame onto Israel.  This, in turn, provides an open season for those wishing to make anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic comments and actions politically acceptable and even correct.

I am concerned that Israel's over-sensitivity and apologetic response may well be further enabling those who seek to discredit and destroy her.  I often wonder whether it would not be better for Israel to take a tough, unapologetic stand that shows pride in all her actions, while requiring to be held to the same standards as all others within the international community.  Perhaps this would reduce the level of international attack that she is under.  After all, Israel has every right to feel proud of what she has achieved.  She has been at constant war and under constant attack for the 66 years of her existence.  And yet, she remains concerned about not harming the innocent civilians of her enemies.  This must surely be a first in international warfare.  Let us not forget the bombings carried out over Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to name but a few.  Where were the recriminations for those actions, and the actions at the International Criminal Court?  How would those who criticise Israel have responded to 66 years of constant warfare?  I doubt that any other nation on earth would have acted with the same humanity as Israel has, given the same circumstances.

I believe that the time has come for Israel to change its approach in the international community, and for her to be prepared to stand more firmly behind her actions and behaviours.  By being less apologetic, it is my view that the international community will also respond differently.  Being nervous of the international reaction and showing even the slightest doubt about the justification of the actions simply invites attack and criticism.  I hope that Israelis will continue to be very sensitive about all actions and responses to the threats to her security and existence, and will always behave with humanity.  But Israel, and those who live here, should be apologetic no more.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Is the "Jewish State" Bill Really Needed?

The Israeli government decided last week to submit the so-called "Jewish State" bill for consideration to the Knesset to be incorporated in the Basic Law.  The decision by the government to approve this law has proved to be enormously controversial, both within Israel as well as by the international community.  There are many questions about whether the Jewish State bill is really needed in Israel at this time, whether the bill is really required at all, and whether the introduction of such a bill will make any difference to the facts on the ground in Israel?

The main purpose of the Jewish State bill is to enshrine in Israel's Basic Law (which acts as a type of constitution in the absence of an official constitution) that Israel is the national state of the Jewish people and that Israel is a Jewish state.  Despite the fact that there are various references in different Israeli laws to the Jewish nature of Israel, and despite the fact that it is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, members of the government have deemed it necessary and appropriate at this time to entrench it in the Basic Law.

While the proposed bill has yet to be passed into law, it seems as though the proposed bill in its current form will not make any difference to the way in which Israel operates.  Israel has always been governed as a Jewish state.  This manifests itself in a number of different aspects of Israeli everyday life.  National holidays are according to the Jewish calendar, the day of rest is Saturday while Sunday is a regular school and working day, Jewish religious law is applicable in certain situations specifically those relating to family matters, and people with one Jewish grandparent are entitled to claim immediate citizenship of Israel under the Law of Return.  None of these aspects of Israeli society will change as a result of the Jewish State bill.  It is anticipated that all matters that relate to the Jewish nature of Israel will continue to apply in the same way as they have applied until now.

Some of the Jewish aspects of Israel have been controversial, in a country that prides itself on its democracy.  There are those who believe that the Jewish nature of the state is a contradiction to democracy, due to the fact that these aspects disadvantage non-Jewish citizens of the state.  Despite the fact that all Israelis, Jewish and non-Jewish, are entitled to vote, are entitled to be a member of Knesset, have the right to freedom of speech and receive state education and health, there are many who feel that the Jewish nature of the state discriminates against those who are not Jewish.  As a counter-balance, non-Jewish citizens are not obliged to be conscripted to the army while young Jewish men and women are mostly required to sign up.  Non-Jews are free to volunteer for military service, and many choose to do so.  The question is whether these points of law, that favour Jews over non-Jews, result in a democracy that is not really democratic?  How does this compare, for example, to affirmative action that has been employed in a number of democracies around the world.  It is contended that favouring one group or race over another, even where this is designed to correct wrongs in the society, is an undemocratic policy.  Does this make the entire country undemocratic?  In cases outside of Israel, employing policies that may be considered questionable on a purely democratic scale, have not resulted in the country's democracy being called into question.  By the same token, it is my view that the Law of Return and the Jewish nature of the state, do not change the fact that Israel is a real democracy,  the only one in the Middle East.

If this is true, why would there be such opposition to formally adopting a Jewish State bill?  Many people believe that the idea of reinforcing the Jewish nature of the state is, in itself, not objectionable.  The problem for them is that the draft bill does not specifically balance this out against the democratic nature of the state.  They object to the bill for its form rather than for its substance.  These objectors wish to see some open statements in the draft bill to reinforce the democracy of the State of Israel, while also confirming the Jewish nature of the state.  For other objectors, their opposition comes to the timing of the introduction of the bill.  Israel is currently experiencing a wave of terror attacks that some are calling the start of the third Intifada.  Israel has been criticised for events that have taken place on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and some have even accused Israel of attempting to change the current modus operandi of the Temple Mount.  The situation is extremely sensitive, and there can be no doubt that the introduction of such a bill at this time contributes to stirring up this sensitive situation.

What is the reason behind Prime Minister Netanyahu's desire to introduce the Jewish state bill at this time?  Perhaps it is about countering the current Palestinian violence and uprising that is being experienced in Jerusalem and other areas.  The prime minister has been known to take unilateral steps against the Palestinians to counter the unilateral steps that the Palestinians take.  I believe that it runs deeper than that.  We know that the peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel are currently stalled on the issue of the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has insisted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas acknowledges this fact before the talks can move forward.  Abbas has failed to do this, and the talks are stalled.  Netanyahu has come under criticism in the international community for this position, and it is presented that this is his own demand that has been made without justification.  By passing this into law, Netanyahu can turn this argument around by saying that this fact is now in Israel's Basic Law.  Failure to recognise this on the part of Abbas is tantamount to denying a fundamental tenet of the State of Israel.  Have the Jewish State law on the books may cause further delays to the peace talks, but may also help to clear the logjam and progress the talks.  Abbas will be forced to turn to his people to say that he has no choice where this is concerned because it is a law of the land, and not a whim of Netanyahu.

The Jewish nature of Israel is undeniable.  This was clear to those who escaped the ashes of the Shoa and found Israel to be the only place that Jews can really feel safe, and it is clear now when anti-Semitism is rife around the world.  Members of other religions have more than one country in which they can to choose to live, that will give them the religious freedom that they desire.   Jews only have one.  It is inconceivable that the Jewish nature of Israel can be denied, in the same way as the democracy of the State of Israel cannot be denied.  The fact that some members of the international community are questioning the concept of the Jewish State bill, is perhaps enough reason to insist that it be passed into law.  We have an obligation to future generations of Jews to ensure that the Jewish nature of Israel can never be denied, not by those who live here and not be those who do not.  Israel will always be the safe haven for Jewish people, and placing this on the law books is a natural extension of the intentions  of the founding fathers of our country as set out in the Declaration of Independence.  It also reflects the views of the majority of those living in Israel, including many of those who are objecting to the introduction of the bill for technical reasons.

I do not believe that balancing the Jewish State bill with statements reinforcing Israel's democratic nature, dilutes the statement of the Jewish nature of Israel.  As such, it seems sensible to balance the statement out in order to gain wider support in favour of the bill.  Those non-Jews who wish to accept these principles upon which Israel is premised, are welcome to live here and enjoy our democracy.  Despite the fact that the bill will change little or nothing on the ground about the way that Israel operates, I personally support having this on the statute books and including it in the Basic Law.  After all, it is one of the fundamental premises upon which the State of Israel was built, and upon which the state continues to be built.  And we should not be ashamed to say so. 

Friday 15 August 2014

Sunday Times Shame

We, as South African Jews, are appalled and devastated by
Israel's assault on Gaza.

This was the headline to a half page advert taken out in the Sunday Times in South Africa on 10 August 2014.  The advert is signed by "500 Jewish South Africans for peace, democracy and human rights in Israel and Palestine", some of whom asked to remain anonymous out of concern that they or their families have faced or may face intimidation or marginalisation by members of our Jewish community.

I read the text of the advertisement carefully a few times.  There are certainly more than a few points that I could take issue with.  The text is worded in such a way to lead the reader to believe that the Israeli actions that are criticised by the signatories, were the first actions taken while the Palestinian actions were retaliatory.  The Palestinian casualties of Operation Protective Edge are mentioned as the headline, followed by Israeli casualties.  There is no context offered that demonstrates that reality of the Israeli attacks coming in retaliation to constant, indiscriminate rocket-fire towards Israeli civilians over a number of years.  Whose statistics show that 70% of the Palestinian casualties were civilians?  This needs to be questioned and verified before it can be used as a statistic to justify a petition of this nature.  Who could be foolish enough to suggest that Israel's actions are "disproportionate"?  Not only does Israel have the right to defend her civilians against the constant barrage of rockets that they have been forced to endure, Israel has the obligation to do so.  Even when discounting the more than 3,000 rockets fired towards Israel during Operation Protective Edge, there are statistics to show that the last 5 years have seen 4,500 missiles fired from Gaza towards Israel.  I wonder what "proportionate" response another sovereign government would deem appropriate under these circumstances.  It seems disproportionate to use this term against Israel, when it is clear that the same threat against another country would be taken care of in a much stronger manner in order to end the threat without a further consideration.

My main objection to this advert is not what is written in the text, or the fact that many of the signatories are not even Jewish despite holding themselves out to be.  My objection is the aggressive way in which it has been drafted, and the fact that it was found appropriate for these supposedly proud Jews to air their grievances against Israel in this public and critical manner.  I respect the fact that people have empathy for innocent civilians, and for suffering brought upon them through no fault of their own.  I even respect the rights of each Jew to have critical views of Israel, and for them to have the right to freely air their views.  My problem is that this advert goes a lot further than these rights to hold independent views, and to freedom of speech.

The signatories to this advert found the necessity to show non-Jewish South Africa that there is a split within the Jewish community, and to demonstrate the extent to which Jews in South Africa oppose Israel.  If they were trying to show their objections to their Jewish colleagues, there are surely different and less damaging ways of achieving this.  By taking out a large advert in a national newspaper read predominantly by non-Jews, I understand that their message of objection to Israel was directed towards a wider audience than simply the Jewish community.  Why is this?  Are they hoping that their business customers and colleagues will see that they are on the anti-Israel list, and therefore continue to give them business support?  Is it because they hope that they may not be shunned by their non-Jewish friends who may otherwise isolate them for supporting Israel?  Are they afraid that the politicians and influencers in the country may assume that they are Israel supporters, and that they may lose their influence and access as a result?  I fail to understand the need to go out and have your name attached to a public statement of this nature.

Anti-Semitism around the world has been fanned by Operation Protective Edge.  Countries around Europe are all reporting substantially increased levels of anti-Jewish (not necessarily anti-Israel) behaviour, and threats to the local Jewish communities are much greater than before.  Chants of "Hitler was right", are being heard and tolerated on streets and squares around the world, including in South Africa.  Jews in the diaspora are clearly under attack.  I don't believe that Operation Protective Edge has suddenly created new anti-Semites who, previously, loved Jews.  Instead, I believe that the environment of vitriol and hatred towards Israel fanned by the latest Gaza operation has made it more acceptable for people to show their anti-Jewish sentiments in public.  Whereas swastikas were reviled and considered to be an attack on humanity over the course of many years following the Shoah, we see them openly advertised and tolerated in public as never before.

The public advertisement in the Sunday Times is a clear demonstration to our enemies of a split within the ranks of the Jewish community.  There may only be 500 signatories to the advert, and many of them may not even be Jewish.  It sends a message, however, of disunity and weakness within our community at a time that we need to be united against the evils of anti-Semitism.  And while this does not require us all to agree with each other on points of substance, and even not on points relating to the way in which Israel chooses to defend herself and her citizens, it does require us to stand together against those who would wish to see the end to all Jews.  And it also requires an appreciation and recognition that Israel, with all her strengths and weaknesses, is the ultimate power in protecting Jews against the forces of anti-Semitism.  There are many anti-Semites who hide their true colours behind anti-Zionism when being anti-Israel is regarded as acceptable, even by "some of my friends who are Jews".

On a visit that I made to the Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam a few years ago, I was flabbergasted to learn how the smart  Nazi machinery was able to manipulate some members of the Jewish community to promote a message within their communities that assisted the Nazis in their cause.  Reading the Sunday Times advert took me back to that moment in Amsterdam when this penny dropped in my mind.  I had the feeling that this advert by Jews in our community was working in a way to assist our enemies to promote their anti-Semitic rhetoric.  I am sure that they cannot believe how this has fallen into their laps.

Former Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski acknowledged Israel's bad points, and summed up the situation for Jews around the world perfectly in a statement that he once made by saying, "If there was another Jewish state, I would advise you to go there.  Israel is the only Jewish state and, therefore, that is where I recommend you should be".  We know that Israel has made many mistakes over the years, and has questions that require answers.  Israel is, however, unrelenting in the way that she fights for her survival, fights for the safety and security of her citizens and fights to protect the rights of Jews around the world.  It would be fitting for Jews around the world to show an element of loyalty to this cause by being selective in the way in which they air their grievances about Israel.  It is acceptable to be critical of Israel's actions, as long as you are sure that you have all your facts right.  It is acceptable to hold discussions and debates (apparently we have some of the country's best debaters on our team) within our community to make their complaints known, and to invite those who disagree to respond.  In my view, it is unacceptable to take out anti-Israel adverts in national newspapers, in a way that weakens the fabric and the security of the Jewish community.  For me, this crosses the line.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Open Letter to Josh Broomberg

The attached picture of Jewish South African high school students has outraged me and many others.   One student, Josh Broomberg, has issued a statement in defense of his actions.  Below is his statement, which is followed by my open letter to him in response to these events:

For those of you reading this, my name is Josh Broomberg. I am the currently the Deputy Head Boy of King David Victory Park and the Captain of the SA National Debating Team.

What follows is my statement regarding the recent controversy over my stand against the human rights abuses currently being perpetrated against the citizens of Gaza.

Firstly, I would like to apologise. It was not intended to create the uproar it has, it was not designed to offend or upset. Because this has occurred, I apologise. But what I will say is this:

I am proud to be a South African Jew, and I am proud to attend a Jewish Day School. I am also a Zionist. I believe in Israel’s right to exist, and her right to defend herself from the threat presented by those seeking to hurt her citizens. All citizens of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza have the absolute right to live in peace and security.

It was with this in mind that I, and my team, chose to take the stand we did. It was not about politics, or about states. It was about humanity. We stand with the thousands of civilians who have lost their lives in the conflict. We stand with a people who do not yet have a state to protect themselves. We stand with the innocents. We stand for two states. We do not stand against Israel. All of this applies to me personally as well.

While I apologise for the hurt we seem to have caused, I do not apologise for standing with Palestine on this issue. This is not because I do not believe in Israel or its people. I do believe in Israel, and I take this stand because I can love and suppoprt the state of Israel but still reject and criticize some of its actions. In fact, I consider it my duty to contribute to the growing worldwide discussion surrounding the desperate need for a quick end and lasting solution to this pernicious conflict.

In my eyes, this criticism is not a betrayal, but actually the only honest and true way to show my patriotism and commitment to Israel, as well as my belief in human rights and the entitlement of all citizens of all countries to those right. To improve, we must criticise.

I will note, explicitly, that our support and sympathy also lies with the innocent Israelis exposed to threat at the hands of terrorists. The conflict is a tragedy for all, and once again, all innocent life is equally valuable.

We took a stand for the thousands and for those without a voice but we do not for a second condone any violence what so ever. We stand for peace.

Most importantly, the issues are complex but we can never let go of the ability to talk and engage with the other side. if we lose this ability we lose our claim to be an enlightened community. We lose what it means to be human.

I am proud to bear the responsibility of continuing the discussion.

Josh Broomberg

Open letter to Josh Broomberg from Anthony Reich

Dear Josh,

I have been following the unfortunate events surrounding your appearance in public with a Palestinian scarf around your neck.  I have also read your statement following these events.  In my view, your statement serves to confuse your position rather than clarify it.  You have managed to get yourself into a very unfortunate set of circumstances.

How can you honestly state that you did not intend to create an uproar or to offend or upset?  How can you say that “it was not about politics, or about states”?  Your apology, based as it is on this absurd statement, is extremely difficult to accept.  What did you think could be interpreted from a boy posing as a representative of KDVP, with a Palestinian scarf draped around his neck?  If you are sincere about standing with humanity, you have numerous other ways to do so.  By choosing this particular “humanitarian” gesture, you are clearly making a statement which is highly charged and highly political.  Perhaps it would be more honest for you to acknowledge that taking a political stand of this nature was a big mistake on your part.

As a former South African living in Israel for the past 16 years, I believe that there are a few important points that you may wish to consider about the conflict between Israel and the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians.   It may surprise you to learn that most Israelis have a great deal of sympathy for the innocent Palestinian civilians, who are probably the greatest victims of this conflict.  Despite this fact, you will not find them parading with Palestinian scarves around their necks.  Doing so demonstrates support for the political cause and for the Palestinian leadership, rather than for the humanitarian difficulties experienced by innocent civilians.  Support for the politicians and their cause is the position that you are clearly taking by your actions.  We pity the Palestinians because of the way in which their own leadership treats them.  Whereas the Israeli civilians under fire have a government and an army that make every effort to protect them wherever possible, the Palestinians do not.  Not only does their leadership not take any action to protect them at all,  their leadership actually uses them against Israel.  This is because they know that Israelis care more about the Palestinian children than they do.  They know that Israeli pilots will rather not release a bomb from their plane if they know that it risks injuring innocent people.  The fact that this decision could cost Israeli lives in the future due to the rocket launch site being used again to launch further missiles, does not enter into their immediate consideration.  Where is your protest against the lack of humanity shown by the Palestinian leaders against their own people?  Where is your acknowledgement of the IDF field hospital that has been set up on the Gaza border to treat Palestinians injured in the conflict?  Where is your protest against the fact that their leaders are preventing them from taking advantage of this treatment, but also not offering alternative methods of treatment?

Although we have infinite sympathy for the innocent civilians, we do not feel the same for their leadership.  These are individuals who feel no qualms about allowing their own children to be strapped with explosives in the name of being martyred.  If this is how they treat their own children, how can we expect them to respond to ours?  Whereas they rejoice in the fact that their children have been martyred for the cause, we grieve for each and every Jewish life lost.  Whereas they spend all their foreign aid on building an infrastructure to attack and destroy Israel, even if this means that their children go hungry, we spend our money on building bomb shelters and developing the Iron Dome so that our children will be safe and sound.  Whereas we think twice and three times before taking action that could hurt their innocent civilians, they throw their children in the path of our bombs to gain world sympathy and PR advantage.  And they fire their missiles aimlessly into the centres of Israel’s most densely populated civilian areas.  These are facts that have been proven on more than one occasion.  Whereas we are prepared to take a risk in order to allow them the opportunity to prove that they are sincere about the “two states for two peoples” concept, they use every opportunity to destroy us so that they can have all the land, Jew-free, for themselves.

Please do not be fooled into believing that this is about the “occupation”.  This is about the future existence of a Jewish homeland.  The words in the charter of the PLO and in the Hamas charter, stating that their objective is to completely destroy the State of Israel seem blatant enough.  If they are not, the events in Gaza over the past 9 years should be clear enough for those who are interested to listen.  We all know that the Palestinians only arose and claimed the West Bank and Gaza as a Palestinian homeland after Israel captured these territories in the Six Day War of 1967.  Until Israel had possession of this land, there was never a reason for them to lay claim to it.  When the Israeli government turned Gaza over to them on a silver platter in 2005, we all hoped that times had changed and that they would use the opportunity to build on the two states for two peoples.  Instead of grabbing the chance to really build a state and a future for their people, they have spent millions of dollars and 9 years to build an infrastructure that is designed to attack and destroy Israel.

In wars and conflicts, you cannot support both sides.  You cannot bat for both teams.  At best, you can be a disinterested, objective bystander that takes neither one side nor the other.  More likely, you will take the side of one of the parties in the conflict.  When taking a stand, you are by definition in opposition to the second party to the conflict.  Despite your nice words about believing in Israel’s right to exist and her right to defend herself, you chose to don a Palestinian scarf at a time of war in Gaza.  You cannot sympathise with Israel, and appear with a Palestinian scarf around your neck at the same time.  Your actions speak much louder than your words.  When it came to making a public statement, you chose the Palestinians at the expense of Israel.  Why do you feel that it is acceptable to say that your “sympathy also lies with innocent Israelis exposed to threat at the hands of terrorists”?  Why does your sympathy not lie primarily with innocent Israelis, who have taken the risk time after time to search for the elusive path to peace in our land?  After all, these are your people.  These are the people who will look after you in the event that you may, G-d forbid, find yourself in serious trouble.  When you turn up at Ben-Gurion airport with your parents’ ketuba in your hand asking for citizenship of the Jewish homeland, they will not remember that you appeared in public with a Palestinian scarf.  You will be welcomed home to your ancestral homeland like all other Jews.  The Palestinians, for whom you stood up so brazenly in public, will also conveniently forget your scarf when they are searching for Jews to annihilate in the search for their version of the “final solution”.  Remember that, like you, the vast majority of Israelis seek peace and not war.  Unfortunately, this is a war that we are forced to fight, rather than doing so by choice.  Even when forced into something against our will, our new type of Jew does not shy away from this challenge.  We are brave and willing to do all that is needed to protect ourselves.  We are determined to succeed.  Your actions insult thousands of young men and women of the IDF (including my own sons) who go out of their way to fight a war in the most humane and humanitarian way possible, and whose actions give you the freedom to be a Jew representing your country in debating competitions in safety around the world.

You are most fortunate to have been born into a world that has a Jewish homeland.  I feel sure that your grandparents and great-grandparents would have wished to do all that they can to make you understand what it was like to live in world without one.  This privilege that you have, is also the one that allows you to live in relative safety and security as a Jew in your bubble in Victory Park.  It allows you to have a comfortable life in the knowledge that you have somewhere to fall back to in the event of any emergency.  Beware of taking this for granted.  Anti-Semitism is ever prevalent around the world.  The only force that prevents anti-Semites from destroying the Jews as they tried to do during the Shoah, is the State of Israel.  My recommendation to you is to appreciate, value and protect this huge asset.  Be grateful to those who are prepared to risk and to give their lives in the interests of ensuring that our Jewish homeland continues to exist, and continues to strengthen.  Do not be misled and misguided by those in the international press who confuse you into protecting our enemies at the expense of our Jewish state.  Her actions are not always perfect, and there is a great deal that you can criticise.  But nobody is perfect and no country is perfect.  If you search for faults, you will surely find them.  But be grateful and proud for the wonderful things that have been achieved, and for the way in which Israel gives all Jews around the world the backing to live as proud Jews wherever they are.  Israel will always protect you, and will give you much to be proud about.

Try to envisage for a moment what would happen if Israel unilaterally laid down its arms today, and refused to fire another bullet or missile.  Now try to envisage what would happen if the Palestinians did the same thing.  Which situation do you think is most likely to lead to peaceful coexistence between the parties?

I cannot hide the shame and anger that I felt in seeing you grab your five minutes of fame with that scarf around your neck.  You have shamed yourself, your family, your school and your community in my eyes, and in the eyes of many others.  You have misused your position in an unforgivable way.  I hope that, one day, you will have the huge honour to experience life as Jew in Israel, and will be able to understand the error of your ways.  Only when living here can you really understand the significance of what you have done.  I never wish you to lose your sympathy and support for the weak.  This is a characteristic that Jews have, and should be proud of.  But this should not be confused with the insult that you have dished out to Israel and her people by your actions at this time.  Shame on you.

Anthony Reich

Sunday 3 August 2014

Tunnels of Terror

Operation Protective Edge is already into its 27th day of operations, and the ground operation has continued for more than two weeks.  Israel has lost more than 60 if its soldiers in battles with Hamas, and three civilians as a result of rocket fire into towns and cities.  The Palestinians are reporting that more than 1,500 of their citizens have been killed, including many Hamas operatives and terrorists.

In an operation that has held its fair share of surprises and some really positive reactions from Israeli society, there have been two stand-out features for which the operation is likely to be remembered.  The first feature is the unbelievable protection that has been offered to the Israeli home front by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.  Not only have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives been saved by this miraculous Israeli invention, it has offered the Israeli military commanders and political leaders the luxury of time to make rational and clear-headed decisions in the knowledge that much of Israel continues to go about its daily life in the meantime.  Let us not be lulled into a false understanding that Israeli life has continued without any interruption over the course of this operation.  Despite this fact, Iron Dome has allowed much of the economy to continue to function, and has allowed people to live their daily lives in relative safety.  This has been a true blessing, and the public recognition that has been in evidence for the Iron Dome units and the work that they are doing, is fully justified.

The second stand-out feature of this operation is the tunnels that have been discovered running beneath the Gazan towns, cities and fields, stretching into Israeli territory beneath the border fence.  While we have heard about Gazan tunnels extensively before today, the references to the tunnels have mostly been in connection with smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border.  These tunnels, we are told, are the lifeline to the Gaza terror organisation and have allowed Hamas to be armed to the teeth in anticipation of an operation like this one.  We also understand that these tunnels have been the source for the incessant rocket fire that Israeli civilians have had to tolerate over many years.  The tunnels from Egypty have provided large quantities of arms and ammunition to Gaza.  Operation Protective Edge has revealed a new type of tunnel.  This is a tunnel that reaches from Gaza into the back gardens of kindergartens, and this is a tunnel that allows those who are intent on attacking civilians to reach their target undetected and in the most frightening and direct way.  Citizens of the south of Israel, hardened after many years of constant rocket fire from Gaza, now have a new fear to confront in the form of tunnel shafts that have been discovered a few hundred metres from the kibbutz where they live.  The reason for this fear is obvious.  These are tunnels that have no possible positive angle to them, and they are designed solely for the purpose attacking innocent men, women and children who simply wish to go about their daily lives.  These are tunnels of terror.

When Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in 2006, there was some hope that this would signal the moment that the Palestinians living there could take control of their lives in the way that they had been claiming to desire for so long.  The terror campaign that had been waged until that moment was justified by the desire for Gaza to be independent of Israeli control and influence, to allow the Gazan population to be masters of their own destiny.  The decision made by then-prime minister Arik Sharon to give the residents of Gaza the opportunity to fulfil this desire, came at a very high price to citizens of Israel, and came against warnings by many of those who believed that Israel was taking the wrong action.  Although I personally still believe that the action of withdrawing from Gaza was the correct one, it is clear that those who warned that this would simply begin a new war in which the citizens of Gaza would advance to lay claim to the rest of the State of Israel, were correct.  The claims that Palestinians wished only for an independent Gaza were proven to be wholly incorrect.  The moment that they had full control over Gaza, they turned their attention to their next target to try to gain control of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the rest of Israel.

The terror tunnels represent a microcosm of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.  While Israel is spending huge resources on developing systems that will defend its citizens,  that will allow them to go about their daily chores even when missiles are raining down, Hamas is spending its resources on building infrastructure for the purpose of attacking and terrorising Israeli civilians.  While Israelis are spending their time, effort and money building a country and an economy that will give a good future for their children and grandchildren, Hamas is forcing its children to protect missiles that are to be used for attacking Israel and Israelis.  It seems inconceivable that a national government is abusing its population in order to pursue a policy of hatred and negativity.  The attacks that it carries out on Israelis will not advance its people in any way.  Gaza may well be a small and densely populated area, but it still represents a piece of land which the Palestinians can use to prove to the world that they have the intention and the ability to build a positive future for its people.  Israel had a similar challenge in 1948 when the UN agreed the partition plan for Palestine.  The land granted to the Jews was small and almost indefensible.  Despite this fact, the Jews have turned Israel into one of the most dynamic countries in the world, and have succeeded in developing an economy and an army that is admired by many around the world.  It provides a vision and a future for the next generation of Israelis, a vision and future that Palestinians do not have.

Hamas claims that the reason for carrying out terror attacks, is because of the "occupation".  They claim that Israel's actions are the reason for their aggression against Israel, and for the lack of hope and future for its younger generation.  Israelis will disagree with this.  There is nothing that Israelis want more, than to live in peace and security with its neighbours.  They would like to give respect to those who live around us, in return for respect being given in return.  Israel took the first step in granting the Palestinians their desire to rule over Gaza.  In return, they have fired thousands of missiles onto Israeli populated areas, and have dug tunnels to be used for the purpose of attacking innocent civilians.  Despite this situation, Israel continues to invest in building a future for its next generation.  Hamas uses its future generations to promote its murderous attacks, and to defend its terror infrastructure.  Turning children into a "shahid' (hero) that is so revered by Hamas and its Muslim extremist colleagues, is contrary to any concept of building a future.

The tunnels are being destroyed, whereafter Israeli troops will probably depart the scene to give Hamas another chance to show its humanity, and build a future for its children.  We live under no illusions that they will seize this opportunity, where they have failed to do so before.  Instead of building tunnels, it is our hope that Hamas will build homes, hospitals, schools and promote economic growth to create a vision and future for its children.  And we hope that this will promote a love and respect for their children, that will exceed the hate that they feel for Israel.

Saturday 26 July 2014

Iron Dome - Blessing or Curse?

There is almost universal recognition of the value of the Iron Dome anti-missile system amongst Israeli citizens.  Watching missiles being shot down out of the sky, which have been fired indiscriminately into the most populated parts of Israel with the purpose of causing death and destruction, is an amazingly impressive and heart-warming sight.  It is difficult not to understand the enormity of the task that Iron Dome is doing, and the thousands of lives that are being saved in the process.   The stark contrast between Israel's investment in defensive systems and Hamas's investment in promoting terror, death and destruction, is difficult to ignore.  Unfortunately, not everybody sees it for the positive force that it is.

In an ironic twist of fate, Iron Dome is also proving to have some negative implications for Israel and her safety.  The fact that Israel has invested so heavily in defending the lives of her citizens, including a substantial investment in the Iron Dome, is causing the current round of operations to look one-sided and unbalanced.  Despite Hamas having fired more than two thousand rockets towards Israel's densely-populated towns and cities in the past two weeks,  "only" three Israeli civilians have been killed as a result of this rocket fire.  This is not due to lack of trying on the part of Hamas. This is all down to Israel taking care of its citizens.  By contrast, a few hundred Palestinian civilians have been killed in the conflict.  This is despite the fact that Israel has taken every precaution to avoid civilian deaths wherever possible.  Many Israeli bombing raids have been called off due to the fact that innocent civilians have been observed in the targeted areas.  This action, perceived as a weakness on the part of Hamas, has given the Hamas leadership the incentive to turn large swathes of the civilian population of Gaza into human shields.  Inevitably, when more civilians are sent into the war zone, more civilians are killed. This serves Hamas's interests.

International opinion seems to ignore defensive and precautionary efforts on the part of Israel, and equally ignores the despicable actions taken by Hamas.  Instead, international opinion counts up the dead bodies in order to decide in which direction it will be swayed.  This has resulted in the international community accusing Israel of a "disproportionate response".  The Hamas leadership has understood this very quickly, and seems to value international opinion and sympathy more than it values the lives of its innocent civilians.  It has decided that dead bodies are good for international public relations, and are more important than preserving the lives of innocent civilians.  They have cynically used this for public relations, to very good effect.  This is a battle that Israel cannot win.  Investing in safety for Israeli civilians means that Israel is losing the moral high ground in the eyes of international community.  The Iron Dome and other defensive measures implemented, are turning the tide of international public opinion against Israel.  Instead of valuing Israel's efforts in defending her citizens, the international community is being fooled by the cynical efforts by Hamas to gain their sympathy and support.

It is horrifying that Hamas seeks sympathy via the death of its innocent civilians, through the glorification of death and using it in the most cynical way possible.  It is even more horrifying that members of the international community cannot see through this for the disgusting behaviour that it is.  Even if these sympathy-seeking tactics are successful, they will never change Israel's approach to valuing life of its own citizens and even of the citizens of its enemies.  Citizens of the State of Israel are enormously proud of Iron Dome, and the wonderful work that it has done in protecting innocent lives.  No amount of sympathy lost as a result of employing life-saving tactics and technologies will change this.

In an ironic way, the Iron Dome has probably saved more Palestinian lives than Israeli ones.  Without the benefit of the Iron Dome protecting Israel, the government and the IDF would have been forced into making much quicker decisions, and ones that are much more far-reaching.  The response to so many rockets fired into Israeli towns and cities causing death and destruction, is likely to have been a much more powerful military and air force reaction to bring the bombimg campaign to an abrupt halt.  The "collateral damage" in terms of Palestinian civilians from such a campaign would have been far greater.  

The value and importance of recognition and support of the international community can never be underestimated.  The actions taken by Hamas to gain this support and recognition have crossed all red lines.  There can be nothing to justify sacrificing the lives of innocent civilians, your own innocent civilians, in return for international sympathy.  It is for this reason that Israel will continue to develop systems to defend its citizens, and Hamas is likely not to do so.  If this comes at the cost of public support and sympathy, so be it.  Israel will never compromise on defending the lives of her citizens.  And the citizens of Israel will never give up on Israel and her defense forces.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Protective Edge or Strong Cliff

The name of the latest operation against Hamas rocket-fire from Gaza is an interesting and meaningful choice.  The Hebrew name for the operation, צוק איתן (tzuk eitan), literally means strong cliff.  One can understand the imagery associated with a cliff that is extremely strong.  One can easily imagine the Sate of Israel risking the threat of collapsing if the cliff does not continue to support it, and the Israel Defense Force (IDF) continuously reinforcing the strength of the cliff to support all that sits above it.  Despite having stood on the edge of the cliff for the past 66 years, the cliff stands as strong as ever.

The English name for the operation, probably chosen by spin doctors who will have given great consideration to how the world's media will interpret it, is "Protective Edge".  No matter which way one translates the "edge" in "protective edge", it seems to work out in a positive way in depicting the State of Israel in its current state of emergency. The "protective" seems to portray to the international community, that the operation is all about retaliation and protection, rather than being the aggressor.  While this is entirely accurate, it contrasts sharply against the impression of strength that is reflected in the Hebrew name.

How important is the name of  the operation?  Other than providing the press with a way of referring to the operation, does the name really serve any significant purpose?  Does it matter whether it is named something meaningful, or if we simply adopt a system of naming operations in alphabetical order in the same way as typhoons in the Atlantic are named?  The naming of an operation is a significant moment in the conflicts that Israel is constantly battling.  The moment an operation has a name, it is a clear indication to the general public and to the security services  that this operation is more than simply ongoing defensive actions that are part of our everyday lives.  The name becomes equally important.  We wish the name to reflect the tone and atmosphere that will be associated with the operation.   In the case of "protective edge", the names in Hebrew and in English are both significant to their respective audiences.  The message to the people of Israel is, that while we do have the risk of falling over the cliff, we also have the strength to avoid this.  A little stick, and a little carrot.  The message to the international community is that we will do all that we need to protect ourselves, and we will use our edge despite living on the edge.

All of these messages seem to have got through to those who are fighting this battle on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people.  Our soldiers and our politicians understand that we are on the edge of the cliff.  This is how we have survived for the past 66 years, and how we are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.  We live under an existential threat which sees our neighbours continuously and unashamedly trying to destroy us, and wipe us from the map.  Our so-called peace partners in the Palestinian community, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (which currently forms part of Fatah), still have as part of their constitution the objective of destroying the State of Israel.  It is clear that, if we were not to defend ourselves in the strong and determined way that we do, we would not have a state.  In the defense of our country, we are strong and will continue to be strong.  Our young men and women who are drafted to the military in the defense of this country, do an amazing job with a smile and with an understanding of the importance of their role that belies their age. 

We use our edge in every possible way.  In this operation, the Iron Dome has proved to be our edge.  The technology associated with this system is ahead of its time, and has shown itself to be highly effective in protecting the lives of innocent people.  As of the time of writing this article, more than 100 incoming missiles have been intercepted by Iron Dome.  Failure to intercept these rockets could have resulted in hundreds, or even thousands, of death and injuries.

Our edge has also been in the way that we approach the battle.  Hamas insists upon launching missiles, which have no accurate guidance method, right into the centre of the most populated areas of Israel.  By contrast, Israel has been sending pamphlets to the residents of Gaza warning of impending attacks.  Due to the fact that Hamas continues to insist upon conducting its warfare from residential areas, the Israeli army has no choice but to target these areas in an attempt to quell the rocket fire.  Telephone calls and SMS messages are sent to the residents of particular apartment buildings by the IDF to warn them to evacuate the area.  Hamas has advised these residents to remain in their buildings, and to even climb onto the roofs in the knowledge that Israeli pilots are likely to abort releasing missiles on buildings which are inhabited by innocent civilians.

Our edge is also represented in the way that we support our boys and girls in battle.  Our soldiers on operational duty have told of residents bringing food and other suppliers to their units in the field, in order to keep them well fed.  It is also a way for these residents to show appreciation and solidarity with those on operational duty.  No food is too much to make, and no distance is too far to travel to bring the smell and taste of home-made food to battle stations.  With many fathers having been called to reserve duty to serve in this operation, systems at home have moved into overdrive in order to assist wives and children left at home.  The country is doing all that it can to assist and support those who are on active duty at this critical time.

They say that the strength of character of people is brought out during extreme circumstances.  The strength and character of the Israelis who are under fire during this operation, has truly surpassed all expectations.  This is the real strength that is referred to in the Hebrew version of the name.  We are enormously proud of the way in which our army and our people have responded to this crisis.  It certainly bodes well for this operation, and for the future.  The names in Hebrew and Engish both fit well, and perhaps even drive us forward.

Image from

Monday 7 July 2014

Peace for Peace

The shocking news received last week that the bodies of the three missing teenagers were found in a shallow grave near to where they were kidnapped, has left me with a feeling of utter despair.  My heart breaks for the parents and the families of the three young men who will never see them grow to full adulthood.  We mourn for three lives that were taken in a random, unnecessary and evil way.

When news of the kidnapping broke, we all knew deep in our hearts that it could end like this.  We prayed and desperately hoped that the story would somehow end well.  That we would see the boys, once again, in the arms of their parents and rejoice like we did upon the return of Gilad Shalit.  We hoped all of this, despite the concern that we all felt for the safety of Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali.  In this case, however, the smiles that we all hoped to see have turned to tears and despair.  They have also turned to anger, bitterness and calls for retaliation and revenge.

I feel immense mourning and sadness for the murder of three children long before their time.  My despair, however, comes from a different place than the source of my mourning.  I keep thinking about the type of person or people that could have carried out this horrifying act.  Who are they?  Who are the members of their families that support them in these acts?  Who are their colleagues in the organisations that stand behind them and their ghastly murderous acts?  My great despair comes from the reality that these are the people that we have been sitting around the negotiating table with over many years.  These are the people who are being released from our prisons in prisoner exchange deals, only to re offend.

If these were the people that lived in my street, I would probably prefer to move to live elsewhere, in order to escape their vile influence.  The neighbourhood in which I live,  however, is the only one for me.  Instead of moving away, I continue to live where I really wish to be, in the hope that somehow the government will clean up my local area to allow me to live here in peace and security.

The source of my despair comes from the fact that I feel isolated in my fear about the neighbours that I live with.  The international community is forcing me to find a way to co-exist with such monsters, despite their unashamed desire to kill me off.  After I clean up my street by placing such unwanted people in prison in response to heinous crimes that they have committed, the international community thinks that it is acceptable to force my hand to release them.  All of this in the name of creating a better future.  Why can they not understand that releasing murderers, no matter what the reason for their murder, cannot create a better future?  It simply makes it acceptable for the murderers to commit their horrible acts over and over again.  Those who force me to litter my neighbourhood with unwanted individuals seem to understand the need to keep their own streets clean.  Why are we not justified in keeping our streets clean too?

Despite the fact that we are in mourning for three of our children who were murdered by those who were released to kill again, we will not allow ourselves to mourn for the future that we plan to build.  While we would prefer to have a good, peaceful co-existence with our neighbourhoods, we will protect ourselves when this is not the situation.  And we will not allow ourselves to give up on our vision for the future, even if this cannot be achieved right now.  The time has come for us to stand up to the international community and say that we will give peace in return for peace, and we will keep criminals in their rightful place.  If our neighbours do not value the peace that we offer in return for peace, there is no deal to be done.

It is my hope that three innocent lives were not lost totally in vain.  The unity that they brought to the people of Israel and Jews around the world, while we prayed for their safe return, is unparallelled.  Let us hope that this unity will allow us to overcome the obstacles that lie in our way to build a better future for ourselves and our children.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Is the Presidency Worth It?

The vote to elect the 10th president of the State of Israel is due to take place in a few days' time.  President Shimon Peres is nearing the end of his seven-year term, and the Basic Law that governs the term and responsibilities of the president dictates that there is no possibility to re-elect the president once he has completed his term.  For Peres, who is now 91 years old, perhaps this may finally force him into retirement.  It is easy to believe that Peres would seek re-election for a further seven-year term, if the law allowed for it, even at his advanced age.

The election campaign has attracted public attention for all the wrong reasons.  With the vote for the president granted only to the members of the Knesset, the Israeli public has no direct vote in this election and is relegated to being a mere spectator as the campaigns of the candidates play themselves out.  The public is a spectator with a huge vested interested, as the successful candidate will represent the State of Israel and the general public on the domestic and international stage for the next seven years.  The most recent unfortunate event, is the withdrawal by Benyamin Ben-Eliezer of his name from the list of candidates competing for the coveted office.  He decided to withdraw following the announcement by the attorney-general that an investigation would be launched into allegations that Ben-Eliezer has received illicit funds.  The timing of the allegations were clearly timed to damage his bid for the presidency, an objective that was achieved.  But this was not the only controversy during the lead-up to the election.

Before the final list of candidates was even confirmed, Minister of Regional Development Silvan Shalom suffered a similar public allegation.  He was accused of sex crimes dating back a number of years.  The attorney-general immediately launched an investigation into the allegations, and decided to close the case without taking any further action.  Shalom was effectively cleared of the allegations, but the public damage had been done.  He decided that he could not pursue his candidacy for the office of president under the circumstances.

There has also been controversy surrounding the candidate who currently leads the opinion polls, Reuven Rivlin.  He is the candidate from the ruling Likud party, and the one that you would expect to receive the natural backing of the prime minister and members of the government.  Due to personal clashes in the past, Prime Minister Netanyahu was extremely reluctant to publicly declare support for Rivlin. Only once the final list of candidates was published, and it was clear that the prime minister could not justify supporting any of the candidates, did he finally pledge his support for Rivlin.  This support, hesitant and begrudging as it was, had an unhealthy smell about it.  There are those who believe that the prime minister saw the writing on the wall in terms of an inevitable Rivlin victory, and realised that he could make his life in the future extremely difficult if a president is elected who did not receive his support.  Rather than suffer this situation, he understood that it would be better to publicly support Rivlin.

These allegations and controversies serve to taint the office of president, and not for the first time.  We have the unbelievable situation where a former president is currently serving a jail sentence after being found guilt of rape and other sex offences, some of them committed in the president's residence.  The office of president is considered to be above politics, and that of an elder statesman who keeps himself above the dirt and sleaze that has been associated with politics and public life in recent times.  Apparently, even this is not beyond the presidential office.  If any of the allegations made of the candidates have even the slightest basis of truth, the office of president is tainted.  And if the allegations are entirely without foundation, the office of president is tainted by the fact that people feel justified in using dirty tactics to prevent individuals from attaining the position.

When considering the role that president plays in Israeli society, it makes me wonder whether it is worth having the position at all in light of these shenanigans.  It is a position that is expected to be filled be a squeaky clean individual who is entirely trustworthy, and can proudly represent Israel on the public stage.  This image is being blackened more and more, but those who try to falsely fill the position, and by those who falsely try to prevent people from filling the position.  Even President Peres, who has very high public recognition as having done a good job as president, has come under criticism for being overly political in the job.  Does a person exist in Israel who can truly and honestly fill the position?  I am not sure.

The president has two key powers under the Basic Law.  The first is to call upon the leader of the winning party in a general election to form a government.  The second power is to pardon or commute the sentences of both soldiers and civilians.  The latter power is usually only exercised upon strong advice from a special committee set up to consider the matter.  The president also ceremonially signs bills into law (except those affecting the powers and responsibilities of the president), and has a number of other ceremonial roles, including the appointment of judges to courts and the receipt of credentials from ambassadors posted to serve in Israel.  The ceremonial roles are undertaken on the advice of others, and do not require the president to exercise his judgement or executive powers.  In my view, the role of president could be removed without a great loss to Israeli society or to its democratic nature.  It could also serve to save the treasury a few million Shekels a year in salary and running costs of the office and residence of the president.

It seems as though the type of person that was envisaged as the president of Israel may no longer exist.  The notion of a thoroughly clean and upstanding individual who represents each and every citizen of our country seems now to be only an illusion.  The mere fact that most of the candidates for president are current or former politicians tells a story of its own.  So do we push forward with electing somebody to the office who seems unable to fit the expectation, on the understanding that it is the best we can do?  Or do we abolish an office which seems to have little importance to the daily functioning of the country in our modern day?  It is a question that may be asked about monarchs across Europe, and non-executive presidents in other countries as well.  My vote would be to abolish the office, and clean up the dirty tricks that surround it.

Friday 6 June 2014

What Can We Conclude from the European Elections?

I have observed over the time of the existence of the European Parliament, that the results of European Parliament elections in the European member countries, frequently do not mirror the results of elections in those countries for their local parliaments.  This has provided much food for thought about why this happens.  Is it that the European issues are so substantially different from local national issues that people could choose to vote for entirely different parties?  Could it be that the electorate feels that they can make a statement via their vote for the European Parliament that has little consequence for their everyday lives?

The European Parliament election held a couple of weeks ago is a classic example.  Most of the votes that were cast in the UK went to the UK Independence Party, a party that secured no seats in the last UK parliamentary elections.  David Cameron's Conservative Party was demoted to third place in the European election.   In France, Marine Le Pen's National Front secured the highest number of votes in the European elections, while holding only 2 out of 577 seats in the French National Assembly.  President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party received only the third highest number of votes.  While this is not necessarily the trend in all European countries, it is sufficiently noticeable in a few countries to attract attention and warrant further analysis.

From a Jewish perspective, the most worrying aspect of the results of this European election, is the extent to which right-wing parties attracted support.  Many of these right-wing parties have strong neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic elements to them, something which is commonly known and unashamedly made public.  The reason that these nationalist parties are gaining in support is twofold.  Firstly, many Europeans feel the influx of foreigners to Europe over the past few years, such that immigrants from the Middle East and the Far East are creating an entirely different atmosphere than was previously the case in Europe.  It has also created a security threat in Europe that is unprecedented in recent times.  We all know the realities that we face when travelling by air.  We also know that these security threats are not caused by native-born Europeans (even though some of the terrorists do carry European legitimate passports).  A vote for the nationalists is seen as a vote to oppose the hijacking of Europe, as it has been taking place in recent years.

Of much greater concern, however, is the strength of anti-Semitic feeling evident in Europe, which is drawing people to vote for right-wing parties that promote openly anti-Semitic platforms.  The two right-wing platforms have a link.  The Muslims, who have recently made Europe their home and who threaten the security of the free world, frequently claim to be acting in opposition to Israel.  For many Europeans, the security threat that hangs over Europe and the western world is all Israel's fault.  Many believe that, if Israel was prepared to capitulate to the demands of the Palestinians, all of the world's problems could be resolved.  This gives further fuel to the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist feelings that are on the increase across the continent.  Anti-Semitic attacks are on the increase across the continent, as has been evident in France and more recently in Belgium.  Jewish communities in Europe, that for many years existed without threat or concern, are now under siege.

Ironically, it is precisely this anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that is creating the pressure on Israel to capitulate to the demands and threats of the Palestinians.  If the US administration is prepared to accept a Palestinian unity government that is comprised of an organisation that calls for Israel's destruction and is on official list of terror organisations in the USA, it is easy to see why European anti-Semitic organisations are finding much support and strength.  It is also easy to see why the Muslim community in Europe is gaining in power and strength in their local anti-Semitic activities, and in their anti-Israel activities.  The influence of these organisations should not be underestimated.  As much as Israel will always act independently to protect her safety and her security, Israel needs also to be accepted in the international community in order to ensure that she has a market for the delivery of the amazing array of goods and services that are produced in Israel.  This is a critical leg of Israel's economy to ensure a positive balance of payments.

The open nature of the support for right-wing parties in Europe is of real concern.  It gives greater power to the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel agendas that these organisations are pursuing.  It also reinforces the mistaken notion that Israel is the cause of the lack of security in Europe.  For now, this support is mostly manifesting itself in the European Parliament elections.  The greater danger is that these organisations may also enjoy greater support in the national elections of these countries.  The Israeli government should be planning for this to happen.

Sunday 1 June 2014

How the Palestinian Unity Deal Could Help Israel

On the face of it, the agreement between the rival Palestinian factions to form a unity government is bad news for Israel.  In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately cancelled any possibility of talking about peace talks, and all prospects of reaching any sort of agreement with the Palestinians seem to be lost for the foreseeable future.  The Israeli government has vowed never to hold discussions with Hamas.  The fact that Hamas is effectively being drawn in as part of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the unity government, means that talks with the PA cannot be contemplated.  Hamas could break out of their stronghold in the Gaza Strip, and become much more influential in the West Bank via their participation in the unity government.  This may allow for the expansion of their terror activities into the West Bank, and could provide a new launching pad for the rocket fire that has been prevalent from Gaza over the past few years.  The signs are, however, not all as grim as the above-mentioned picture depicts.  The link-up between Hamas and Fatah could, ironically, bring some benefits to Israel.

As a result of the agreement to form a unity government, Hamas will effectively be drawn into the PA.  In a number of countries around the world, including the USA, Hamas has been outlawed as a terror organisation.  If Hamas is part of the PA, US law will prevent the US government from dealing with the PA and from making financial donations to the PA.  It is well known that the PA has relied heavily upon financial donations made by countries around the world, including the USA.  The unity government is likely to result in less financial donations coming forward  to the Palestinians in general, as a result of Hamas's involvement in the PA.

By linking up with Hamas, an organised which has a much lower level of respect in the international community, Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah organisation can be seen to be showing its true colours.  Abbas has been trying for many years to gain greater international recognition.  Just recently, he made application to a number of UN bodies and international treaties, for the Palestinians to be admitted as full members.  This has caused a stir especially considering that the Palestinians are not an independent state, something that is generally required for admission to these bodies and treaties.  The UN Secretary General will be the one who will have to decide in the case of most of the applications, whether or not to admit the Palestinians as full members.  His decision may be swayed against admitting them, if he will be required to deal with Hamas officials as part of the PA.  This may also reduce the  standing of PA President Mahmoud in the international community, when it is considered that he finds it politically acceptable to link up with a terror organisation as his partner in government.

A new Palestinian unity government with Hamas may also buy time for Prime Minister Netanyahu.  There was a strong view that US Secretary of State John Kerry laid the blame for the failure of the peace talks with Netanyahu.  Now that the Abbas has thrown his lot in with Hamas, the international community may have a lower expectation of Netanyahu in forcing him to be more accommodating in talks with the PA.

The fact that Hamas has decided to come to an arrangement with Fatah and the PA is telling.  Hamas has consistently opposed the idea of negotiating with Israel, and has been highly critical of Mahmoud Abbas for doing so. and for being prepared to recognise Israel's right to exist  Indeed, this has been one of the reasons that Hamas has used for not agreeing to a unity government on previous occasions.  The fact that Hamas has gone back on its principles may be an indication of the weak situation that Hamas finds itself in at the current time.  The friendship that Hamas had with Egypt has evaporated with the overthrow of President Morsi.  Hamas is clearly on the lookout for friends and supporters, and its agreement to enter into a pact with Fatah is a sign of real weakness.

The advantages that the Palestinian unity government (if indeed it ever gets off the ground) will bring to Israel will be short-lived.  There are already signs that US Secretary of State John Kerry is prepared to pander to the unity government, despite Hamas being a terror organisation under US law.  It is clear that the international community will continue to provide support to what is perceived as the underdog, even if this is a terrorist underdog.  Any advantages, however, that  Israel can derive from this situation, even in the short-term, will be welcome.

Monday 21 April 2014

Palestinian Confusion?

An Israeli newspaper has reported that Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, has said that he is considering dismantling the Palestinian Authority.  This was the body that was set up under the Oslo Accords to govern the Palestinians and their affairs in the West Bank and Gaza.  The Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority lost control of Gaza in 2007 when Hamas seized control there.  They have, however, continued to rule over the West Bank, and has been the body officially tasked with negotiating a peace agreement with Israel.  Having been a governing authority for the past 20 years, what would prompt Mahmoud Abbas to take the seemingly extreme step to dismantle it?

I interpret the threat by Mahmoud Abbas to be simply another tactic to attempt to weaken Israel's standing in the international community, and to create embarrassment and difficulty for Israel.  I cannot imagine that a leader that is determined to lead his people to an independent existence in peace and security, would behave in this way.  It is difficult for me to understand how dismantling the Palestinian Authority would serve the purpose of the Palestinian people in their publicly-stated quest to be counted amongst the legitimate nations of the world.

The first leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, was outed as a fraud who did little to further the cause of the two-state solution as envisaged by the Oslo Accords.  Instead, it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he encouraged the intifadas against Israel, organised and financed suicide bombings and other terrorist atrocities committed against Israeli civilians, and negotiated with Israeli leaders in bad faith while being feted as an international leader around the world.  He was also personally pocketing billions of dollars of aid money donated by the international community, which was intended to assist the building of a Palestinian state and help the Palestinian people.  While Mahmoud Abbas does not quite have the same notorious track record, his true intentions as the current leader of the Palestinian Authority and people has not been made clear.  Is he a leader in the mould of Yasser Arafat, whose primary intentions were to destroy Israel and to build a personal empire for himself, or are his intentions more honourable in wishing to build a viable state and nation for his people?  It is true that there has been no intifada under Abbas's watch (despite numerous threats to launch one), and that the level of terror activities has been lower.  We have also not observed negotiations with Israel in good faith to create a long-term peace for the two-state solution.

For those people who promote Abbas as a genuine leader who would be prepared to live side-by-side in peace with Israel under the right conditions, it seems to be difficult to explain why he would take any steps towards dismantling the Palestinian Authority.  While this governing body has not achieved all that was hoped for it when the Oslo Accords were signed 20 years ago, it has undoubtedly achieved a much greater level of independence for the Palestinian people.  If the leaders had pursued this model more honestly, much more may have been achieved.  If, at 79 years of age, Abbas feels he is tired and no longer has the energy and drive to continue to lead this effort, he should stand aside and allow the younger generation to take it forward.  Surely dismantling the model would do more harm than good for the independence of the Palestinian people?

For those who promote Abbas as a true heir of the legacy left to him by Arafat, the act of dismantling the Palestinian Authority is entirely consistent with other attempts to destroy Israel.  In 1948, when the State of Israel was established, Israel's enemies thought that the brute force of the Arab armies would be enough to destroy a Jewish state without any real army.  When it was proved to them that this tactic was not working and would not work, they changed their tactic to waging a "people's" war.  This involved training soldiers to operate under the cover of private civilians, and from civilian areas.  They fired missiles from the living rooms of homes that housed women and children, often using them as human shields, and initiated two intifadas.  While these tactics tested Israel's determination to adhere to moral warfare to the maximum, it has not succeded in testing Israel's determination to exist and to build a state.  When this was shown to be inaffective, a new tactic was employed.  This is to use pressure exerted by the international community and by international bodies to beat Israel into submission and destruction.  The actions at the United Nations in recent years, and particularly in recent months, show clear evidence of this.

The threat to dismantle the Palestinian Authority is entirely consistent with the latest tactic adopted.  By declaring that the Palestinian Authority as an "occupied government", the Palestinians can annul the Oslo Accords.  This would effectively return the rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank to the responsibility of the Israeli government.  Such a move would open a whole new opportunity for the Palestinians to bring their resistance directly to the Israeli government, and to present Israel as a pariah state in the international community.

By building a powerful military machine to defend her existence, Israel has created an unfavourable situation for herself in the international community.  The international community prefers to favour the underdog, and Israel's formidable army means that she is not regarded as such by the international community.  The balance of sympathy has shifted to the Palestinians, in spite of the acts of terror carried out by them, and in spite of the clear links that the leadership has to these acts of terror.  The idea of creating further embarrassment and discomfort for Israel, by forcing the Israeli government to rule directly over the Palestinians in the West Bank, is likely to enhance the situation enjoyed by the Palestinians in the international community.

It is unfortunate that the Palestinians have worked harder to discredit Israel than they have to build their own nation and state.  If they had devoted as much time and energy to positive efforts of building a state as they had to destroying Israel it is highly unlikely that they would be considering the possibility of returning rule to Israel at this time.  While some may regard this tactic as being somewhat inconsistent and confused, what they are trying to achieve seems quite clear to me.