Sunday 25 December 2016

Obama's Final Act of Betrayal

Image courtesy of
After weeks of speculation as to how the US will vote at the UN Security Council when presented with the resolution condemning Israel's policy regarding the so-called "settlements", we now have a clear and unequivocal answer.  In the vote held on Friday, Barack Obama instructed his ambassador to the UN to abstain from the vote at the Security Council.  This action allowed the motion to be carried, with 14 countries voting in favour and 1 country (the USA) abstaining.  Had Obama decided to vote against the resolution, it would not have been carried despite the majority voting in favour.  Because the USA has a veto right at the UN Security Council, it had the power to defeat the motion on its own.  This veto right was not exercised on Friday.

The decision by the USA delegation to abstain from Friday's vote flies in the face of USA policy at the UN Security Council in recent years on the subject of resolutions condemning Israel.  In the words of outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Israel has been the victim of a disproportionate number of resolutions condemning her actions at the hands of various UN organisations.  One could interpret this to mean that Israel has been unfairly targeted by the UN, and unjustifiably singled out for constant criticism and condemnation.  The USA has somewhat redressed this imbalance by exercising its right of veto at the Security Council over the years, and has ensured that the unfair condemnations of Israel are not allowed to stand, at least in that forum.  The most recent example of this was in 2011, when the Obama administration vetoed a resolution that condemned Israel's settlement activity.  The resolution on that occasion was remarkably similar to the one passed by the Security Council on Friday by virtue of the US abstention.  So what has changed in 5 short years, that justified the US turning its back on Israel at this time?

In 2011, there was a great deal more at stake for President Obama.  He had been in office for approximately 3 years, and was already eyeing his re-election with the hope of returning to the White House for 4 more years.  His decision to veto the resolution on that occasion was all about serving his interest at that time, rather than showing what he genuinely felt and believed.  Fast-forward 5 years, and Obama has no political capital to win or lose from the Security Council vote.  He will vacate the Oval Office in less than a month, and this vote has no bearing on his future whatsoever.  The only reason that he would vote in one direction or another, is to reflect his genuine view on the matter.  This view is shown loudly and clearly in a resolution that is one-sided and false in its depiction of the reality.  This is the legacy that Obama and Kerry are leaving on their peace-making efforts over the years, that were presented as being fair and even-handed.

This act puts an entire 8 year presidency into context.  There were many conspiracy theories about what Obama's true position on Israel was.  Was he influenced by the fact that he comes from Muslim heritage?  Was he genuinely sympathetic to Israel's struggle for survival?  Did he understand that the obstacles to peace are numerous, and not only the fault of one party or the other?  He tried to cloud the answers to these questions, and presented himself as a friend of Israel throughout his term in office.  This single act at the end of his presidency, however, has clarified all that has gone before.    While Israel would never wish to oppose the possibility of reaching a genuine agreement with the Palestinians, it has always been important to Israel that any agreement be reached on the basis of mutual respect and recognition between the parties.  This respect and recognition has been sorely missing from the Palestinian side.

The only real purpose that this resolution serves, is to continue to perpetrate the view that Israel is solely to blame for the lack of progress towards peace.  And Israel's policy on settlements is an easy scapegoat to use to illustrate why Israel should be blamed.  If it was true that the settlements are the main obstacle to peace, why was peace not achieved in the period from 1948 to 1967, when there were no settlements to blame.  Not only was peace not achieved, the Arabs were hell-bent on destroying Israel at any and every opportunity.  But now, the settlements are being presented as the only reason for the lack of a peace agreement.  Where is the criticism of the fact that the Palestinians refuse to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, that has a right to live in peace and security?  Or of the fact that the PLO charter continues to call for the destruction of the State of Israel?  Or the continuous terror attacks that Israelis are forced to endure?  These were conveniently ommitted from the UN Security Council resolution, and this emphasizes how one-sided how this resolution really is.

If the resolution served to somehow move the peace process forward or to make a positive contribution the situation, I would be able to understand Obama's decision to allow it to stand on the record.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Instead, it is a pointless finger-pointing exercise that makes little contribution to the creation of a positive environment for peace-making.  And now, it is clearer as to who is pointing at whom.  Obama, your true colours have been revealed.  Shame on you.

Saturday 10 December 2016

The Real Obstacle to Peace

If one believes all that is written in the international media about the current state of the Middle East conflict, it would be easy to reach the conclusion that there is only one obstacle to peace - Israel's policy on the so-called settlements.  According to these accounts, if Israel agreed to uproot its citizens who are living in the disputed areas of Judea and Samaria,  peace would magically break out in the Middle East.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  And the fact that outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry (amongst others) constantly uses the line that the Israeli policy on settlements is the obstacle to peace, is a shameful inaccurate depiction of the situation.

Before suggesting what I think the real obstacle to peace is, it is worth understanding the true legal standing of this disputed land.  Until 1948, the land in Judea and Samaria was under a British mandate in terms of the San Remo conference of 1920.  In 1947, the United Nations adopted a resolution to support the establishment of an Arab state and a Jewish state in the land under British mandate, then known as Palestine.  The Arab world rejected this idea, chiefly because they objected to the establishment of a Jewish state.  Ultimately, the Jewish state was established, and the Arab world declared war on it.  In the aftermath of this war, the area of Judea and Samara came under the rulership of the Jordanian government.  It remained like this for 19 years.  During the course of the Six Day War in 1967, Israel captured this land and put it under Israeli military rule.  This situation continued until 1982, when a semi-civil authority was appointed to oversee rulership of this area under the auspices of the Israeli ministry of defence.  This is the situation until the present day.  What is clear from history, is that Arabs were handed the opportunity to rule over this land on a golden platter in the UN partition plan for Palestine in 1947.  It was rejected by them.  Had it not been rejected, we would not still be arguing over ownership issues today.  In addition, had the Arab world not plotted to try to wipe Israel off the map in 1967, the land would probably still be under Jordanian control.  So now, that Israel has responded to protect the existence of the Israeli state, the complaints are too little, too late.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Arab world is using all at its disposal to bring Israel's name into disrepute in the international community, and to take advantage of the easiest argument to convince others that Israel is the evil ogre in the story.  This, it seems, is the argument of Israel's settlement policy which, according to the current rhetoric, is designed to scupper the prospects of peace ever being established in the region.  Memories are, however, short.  It is already long forgotten that it was the Arabs who rejected the opportunity of two states for two peoples in 1947, and it seems strange that questions are not being asked about why that was.

In my view, the real obstacle to peace is the same one that existed in 1947 when the Arab world rejected the UN partition plan, and the same obstacle that existed for many years before that.  The obstacle is the existence of the Jews, and now, the existence of the Jewish state.  Until this "problem" is resolved, there will never be peace in the Middle East.  And, judging by some of the things that are happening in Syria, there is unlikely to be peace in the Middle East even if the Arab world would succeed in removing Israel.  All actions that are undertaken by the Arabs in the context of "peace" discussions, are done with the intention of weakening Israel's position to the point of destroying her.  This is clearly evidenced by the response to Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.  Until that moment, Israel's rulership over Gaza was held up as an obstacle to peace.  Since Israel withdrew from Gaza, the area has become less peaceful than it was before.  Now it is being used as a springboard to launch further attacks into Israel.  As far as progress towards peace is concerned, nothing was achieved by withdrawing from Gaza.  So why should we believe that withdrawal from settlements in Judea and Samaria will be any different?  The truth is that most Israelis do not believe this, even though the desire by Israelis to achieve peace remains as strong as ever.

Over the years, Israel has made numerous unilateral gestures in an attempt to further the prospects for peace.  Terrorists have been released from prison, money has been paid to the Palestinian Authority, borders have been opened and concessions granted, all in the interests of showing goodwill and positive intention to reach a peace agreement.  In return, Israelis have been killed in terror attacks and Israel has had to fight numerous wars and protect her citizens from ongoing missile attacks.  No meaningful progress has been made towards achieving a peace, or towards peaceful co-existence.  It seems no wonder that the Israeli government is hesitant to make further concessions.  They seem to achieve nothing other than further weakening Israel's ability to protect her right to peaceful existence.

The time has come for the world to stop allowing the Arabs to hide behind the rhetoric that Israel's settlement policy is the obstacle to peace.  More than that, the time has come for the international community to stop repeating and validating this ridiculous position.  I feel sure that, if somebody could give a cast iron guarantee that reversing the settlement policy would allow peace to be reached, Israel would agree to it almost immediately.  It is clear to all concerned, however, even to most of those repeating this line in the international community, that Israel's settlement policy is only being used as an excuse to justify why there is no peace.  It is far from the obstacle that, if overcome, would allow peace to be achieved.

The peace agenda contains numerous points that require resolution before a peace can be achieved.  These include land borders, the rights of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, the arming of a future Palestinian state and many others.  In my view,  however, there is only one point that is of any real significance in this discussion, and this is the recognition by the Arab world of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.  Until this is resolved, there is nothing further to talk about.

Monday 14 November 2016

Does Israel Really Care That Trump Was Elected?

The US presidential election is thankfully finally over.  The American people have spoken, and Donald Trump will be the next US president.  Now it is time for the Democrats in the US to accept the result and the way in which US democracy works, and to get on with living the next four years as positively as possible.

Many around the world have taken an interest in the election.  Some people have been involved in this almost to the extent that they are involved in their own local elections.  Such is the extent of the global influence exerted by the US and its leader.  Israel has been no exception, with media continually carrying the latest US election stories and Israelis following the stories very closely.  In Israel's case, it is understandable that individual Israelis have an interest in the outcome of the election.  The US is Israel's most important international ally, which is helpful for a country that continues to fight an international battle against those who call for her destruction.  There are many Israelis who believe that the views of the US president could be a great influence on  the safety and the security of the State of Israel.  But how much of a difference does it really make to Israel as to who is sitting in the Oval Office?  Is it possible that Trump could be so much better for Israel's interests than Hillary would have been?  Would Hillary really have been such a disaster for Israel's interests if she had been elected, as many Israelis believe?

Because it is true that Republican presidents have historically been more understanding of Israel's security challenges over the years and have been more supportive of Israel's position, many Israelis assume that a Republican president will automatically be better for Israel than a president representing the Democrat party.  There is certainly some justification to that point of view.  But I am not convinced that one president can really be so much better for the interests of the State of Israel than another.  While I feel that Trump may be a more understanding president for Israel, I am tempering my expectations about how the extent to which he will really be able to help Israel's cause.  In the same way, I am not convinced that Hillary would have been so terrible for Israel, in the way that some of her detractors like to present.

There is no doubt that Donald Trump made some remarks during his election campaign that were pleasing to the ears of many Israelis.  His desire to move the US embassy to Jerusalem would finally bring some international recognition of Israel's rights to Jerusalem as her capital.  His desire to build a wall along the US border with Mexico shows some understanding of Israel's construction of a safety wall in some parts of the country to reduce terrorist attacks.  His comments about keeping tighter controls over Iran have come in contrast to US policy pursued to date, and stand out in criticism of Iran's antagonistic position towards Israel.  But these, and other positive comments, were all simply electioneering rhetoric.  I am sure that Trump understood that many Jews in the US were Hillary supporters, and he wanted to find a way to convince at least some of them to vote for him.  US policy on Israel is a sure-fire way to get US Jews to think twice about who they wish to support in the election, and it is quite conceivable that Trump was using this lever to try to win support.  It is not obvious that any of these desires will come to fruition during his term as president, despite the best will in the world.  Making small things happen takes a huge effort, even if you are president of the US.  There is a constant battle against interest groups and bureaucracy, and President Trump will have his work cut out to make things happen.  We can expect that he will give up on pushing through legislation that he has no particular interest to pursue, especially if the headwinds are strong.  I suspect that the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem falls into this category.

The Obama presidency is regarded by many Israelis to have been one of the toughest for Israel.  President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu did not get along on a personal level, and this relationship characterised the period during which Obama was in office.  The agreement with Iran, which worked against Israel's national interest, is surely a result of his personal lobbying.  Despite this, many positive things were achieved for Israel during Obama's presidency.  The only veto cast by the US at the UN Security Council during Obama's presidency was on a resolution condemning Israel.  The US opposed attempts by the Palestinian Authority to gain membership of international organisations, even during the Obama presidency.  The US supplied Israel with sorely-needed weapons during Operation Protective Edge, and the defence loan guarantee agreement, providing millions of dollars of military aid to Israel, was renewed.  Despite Obama and his criticisms of Israel, Israel somehow succeeded in doing all that was required to protect her national security and to enjoy eight years of growth and relative prosperity.

This all indicates that the presidency, and the relationship between the two countries, is larger than one individual.  It all about national interests and priorities, and these do not change substantially when a new president takes office.  Israel will continue to be the only democracy in the Middle East and, therefore, of major importance to the US's national interests in a highly volatile part of the world.  And the US will continue to be a source of huge support to Israel's economic and defence needs.  Sometimes the relationship will be slightly closer, and at other times less so.  But it will always be important, at least for the foreseeable future.  This is in spite of anybody who may be resident in the White House.  What Israel really cares about is that the US continues to occupy its position of dominance in the international community.

I am sure that President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu will have a closer relationship than the one that existed between Obama and Netanyahu.  This will be good news.  I am sure that Israel will find an ear that is prepared to listen when talking to the Trump administration, so that is also good news.  I am equally sure that Trump will not have a free hand to carry out all of his election promises, so expectations should be tempered.  Overall, indications are good, but we should be cautious to judge things only by results.  Predicting how things will be ahead of time is dangerous. 

If the Obama presidency was bad for Israel, and Israel survived it relatively unscathed, it is fair to assume that Israel can survive almost any president and situation.  I think that Hillary would probably have been better than Obama for Israel, and it may be the case that Trump will be better than both of them.  But Israel will survive and prosper irrespective of who rules the Oval Office.  Israel is simply too important of an ally to the US for any US president to neglect the US relationship with Israel.

It is my hope that Trump will live up to the expectations of those who believe that he will do well for the US and for Israel.  And I hope that all his detractors will be pleasantly surprised as time goes by.  Mainly, I hope that he will maintain the US's position on the global stage.  We will only really be able to judge this in four years time.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

The UNESCO Fiasco That Could Help Israel's Cause

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) decided last week to pass a vote on the issue of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Western Wall and Al Aqsa Mosque in particular.  This was not the first time that such a vote has been passed by UNESCO, and it is unlikely to be the last.  If it was not for the fact that the vote was passed by an organisation that has such broad international representation, and a remit that has an important role in the preservation and advancement of education, science and culture around the world, it would be laughable and difficult to take seriously.

The resolution runs into five pages of condemnations, disapprovals, regrets and deprecations about how Israel (referred to repeatedly in the document as the "occupying power") has violated the "historic status quo" under which the Waqf (referred to in the document as the Awqaf) governs the holy sites.  Israel is accused of using aggression and illegal measures against the Waqf and its personnel, civilians and religious figures, and of using force against and damaging the Al Aqsa Mosque, restricting access to the Temple Mount (not the words of the resolution) via the Mughrabi Gate and preventing the reconstruction of the Al Rahma Gate building.  And, for good measure, there are some condemnations thrown in about military confrontations in and around Gaza and excavations at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem.  The resolution fails to make mention of any Jewish connection to Jerusalem, the Old City and the Temple Mount that is is the holiest site in Judaism.  Instead, it is mentioned purely in Islamic terms.  None of this comes as any surprise to anybody who has been following the votes by UN organisations over the past decade.  They have objectively been very biased against Israel at every level, including the General Assembly, Security Council and other related UN bodies.  Many words of condemnation of this UNESCO resolution have been written, and the Jewish people around the world have demonstrated their disapproval in many different ways.  The thousands who turned up the Western Wall for the Priestly Blessing during the festival of Succot was a sure sign of defiance against the resolution.

In a strange sort of way, I sense that reaction to this resolution may end up helping Israel's cause in the international community, and at UN-related bodies in particular.  Despite the outrage of this vote being passed by 24 votes to 6, with a massive 26 countries abstaining, there are a few positives to be taken from the vote.  While these positive points change nothing about this vote, they do send a message that things could be different in the future.  There are indications that this is the vote that may have broken the camel's back.

Even before the result of the vote was announced,  UNESCO's director-general Irina Bokova was forced to make a statement about how she believes that denying Judaism's connection to Jerusalem (along with the two other monotheistic faiths) harms UNESCO.  The head of UNESCO's executive board, Michael Worbs, said that he hoped that the resolution would not go to a vote.  Clearly, the executive team of UNESCO was embarrassed by the vote of the members of the organisation, and was happy to show this embarrassment in public.  Even the Secretary-General of the UN, who has not necessarily been a great friend to Israel or the Jews during his term, felt the need to speak out against the resolution.  This is a first.  But the positive signs run even deeper than that.

At a previous similar vote in April 2016, the number of countries that voted in favour of the anti-Israel resolution was 33.  Over the course of about 6 months, there were 9 fewer votes in support of a resolution that was substantively the same as the previous one.  This represents progress for Israel, albeit not quite a victory.  The Mexican government decided to fire its ambassador after he refused to obey their orders to support the resolution.  Despite this debacle, the Mexican government stood up after the vote to withdraw its support for the resolution.  The ambassador remained fired, but the u-turn was highly unexpected.

Brazil, which supported the original vote and then spoke out saying that support of the vote was a mistake, chose to support the second vote as well.  They then spoke out again saying that a future similar vote would not be supported by Brazil.  Brazil's actions, and contrary statements are impossible to understand.  It is unclear why the Brazilian government considered that, if the resolution is not worthy of support in the future, it should be worthy of support now.  Brazil's ambivalence, however, is noted with some satisfaction.  There are many theories circulating about why governments like Brazil would choose to support this resolution.  Especially those governments who seemingly do not have an entrenched interest in this matter.  Was money changing hands behind the scenes?  Were political favours being traded?  Are the pro-Palestinian voting trends so entrenched in the international community, that breaking them is almost impossible?  We will probably never know the answer to this question, although speculation is rife.  The thing that has become clear, is that even those countries who supported the vote feel some need to show regret in an attempt to make their public position a little more acceptable.

The resolution in its current wording, not only ignores the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, it ignores the Christian connection too.  The Christian countries which voted in favour of the resolution were effectively supporting this world view as well.  It is inconceivable that Christian countries would promote exclusive Muslim rights to the this holy city and its holy sites.  Perhaps their eagerness to condemn Israel caused them to lose sight of this?  It is no coincidence that it has only been under Israeli rule over Jerusalem that all three monotheistic religions have been allowed free access to their holy sites.  History has shown that Arab or Muslim rule over Jerusalem is tantamount to denying the rights of other religions to their holy sites.  How ironic it is that UNESCO has chosen to castigate Israel for its rule over Jerusalem, when this is the one period in Jerusalem's history that has ensured free access to all who come in peace and security to worship.

We can take some comfort from the fact that fewer countries supported the most recent resolution than the one before.  And also from the fact that some of the thinking personalities in leadership positions spoke out against the senselessness of the rhetoric.  I sense that the tide of opinion against Israel could be turning.  Whereas supporting anti-Israeli resolutions has always seemed easy to do by many in the international community, irrespective of how ridiculous the text was, it appears as though people are now thinking a little more before giving blind support against Israel.  That is an optimistic sign.  The battle is, however, far from won, and many more similar resolutions are expected in the future.  Perhaps members of the international community will see more and more what the truth of the anti-Israel campaign is truly about.

Israel could be standing on the threshhold of a new period in international politics and diplomacy.  A new secretary-general is due to take over leadership at the UN in 2017 that could signal a change in some attitudes.  If organisations like UNESCO are going to insist upon passing ridiculous resolutions like the one discussed above, it may also assist in bring the attention of the international community to the single-minded bias against Israel that exists in UN organisations.  The next organisation on the list would be the UNHRC, which has the dubious distinction of isolating Israel as the only country forced to appear as an item on the agenda of all its meetings to explain its actions.

Dreaming costs nothing.

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Obama's Insult

Image courtesy Financial Times
US President Barack Obama was in attendance on Friday at the funeral of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres, and was invited to eulogise the last of Israel's founding fathers.  Obama's attendance and eulogy was evidence, if any was needed, of Peres's standing in the international community and the circles in which Peres has moved during more than six decades of international diplomacy.  In spite of Peres's persona as an international statesman, his funeral was an intensely personal event for Israel and for members of the Peres family.  This fact seems to have been lost on President Obama judging by the text of his eulogy.

It almost felt as though Obama was trying using his attendance at the funeral to compete with the last US president who attended the funeral of an Israeli statesman just over 20 years ago.  On that occasion, President Bill Clinton created the simple but iconic phrase, "shalom chaver"(goodbye friend), when eulogising late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.  Obama's own attempt at creating an icon of a Hebrew phrase was not simple enough, and fell flat.  Obama's phrase, "toda raba chaver yakar" (thank you dear friend) seemed to be too much of a take on Clinton's original phrase, and seemed much less sincere than the words uttered by Clinton two decades ago.  Even Bill Clinton's own eulogy on Friday of Shimon Peres seemed more sincerely spoken than that of Obama.

Obama had lost his way in his speech, and in the hearts of Israelis, long before the "toda raba chaver yakar" was uttered.  In fact, he had already succeeded in putting a foot wrong in his remarks of welcome, long before reaching the main part of his speech.  As one would expect at such an occasion, President Obama acknowledged members of the Peres family in mourning, Israeli leaders and representatives and other world leaders in attendance at the funeral.  This is where things started to go wrong.  Out of all the foreign leaders, who attended the funeral, President Obama chose to mention only one by name in acknowledging his presence.  That was the name of Palestinian Authority President Abbas whose presence, he said, "was a sign of unfinished business"!

That one comment infuriated me, and many of my fellow Israelis.  Is this what Obama's attendance at the funeral was all about?  To promote his political agenda and highlight his political failings, at the state funeral of one of Israel's founding fathers?  And what did Obama hope to achieve by making this comment?  His ability to achieve anything in Middle East peace-making is long past, as he enters the "lame duck" period of his presidency.  So what positive could have come from this comment?  To me, his comments indicated a lack of respect to those whose hospitality he was enjoying.

Out of all the elected leaders who had accepted the invitation of the Peres family and the Israeli government to attend the funeral, why did Obama choose to single out the one leader who does not enjoy a democratic mandate from his people to rule?  And did he not understand that this was also the leader who has supported waves of terrorist attacks that have been undertaken against Israel and Israelis over the past few months and years?  Even though Abbas may not have personally ordered these terror attacks to take place in the way that his predecessor did, he has provided Palestinian Authority money to the families of terrorists who were killed during the course of their murderous activities.  And he has sent out messages of sympathy and made condolence visits to the families of these evil murderers.  In doing so, Abbas has made clear to his people that such activities are acceptable and desirable.  This, in turn, creates a new generation of terrorists.  So for him to be standing on the hallowed ground of Jerusalem's Mount Herzl at the funeral was already a huge concession in the view of many Israelis, perhaps an unjustified and undesirable concession.  But Obama succeeded in rubbing salt into the wounds by choosing to give credibility and international standing to a man who is most unworthy of this.

What was the unfinished business that Obama was referring to?  He would say that it is the unfinished business of making peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  But the Palestinians show little desire to finish this, and have taken no active and meaningful steps in this direction.  In Israel's view, the unfinished business is that of removing the objective to destroy Jews and the Jewish homeland from the charter of the PLO, and to openly and unequivocally recognise Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.  Until that unfinished business is taken care of, and the support for terrorists is ended, there will be no further business.

There is no doubt that Obama was conscious that his comments would be controversial.  He is well aware of the position that Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken on the issue of the peace talks, and the stand taken by the Palestinians.  These remarks were made with full knowledge that they would cause a reaction, and that they would not be welcome.  This represents an insult to his hosts, and was inappropriate and uncalled for.

The actions by the US president seem consistent with his behaviour towards Israel over the last few years.  During the time of Obama's presidency, the Palestinian Authority has had its status at the United Nations upgraded, been accepted as a party to the International Criminal Court in The Hague and taken on a much higher standing in the international community.  All of this comes despite continuing to fund and encourage terror, and not being willing to recognise the democratic right of the State of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.  Instead of holding the Palestinians responsible for acts of terror and being prepared to criticise this publicly, the US president has continuously castigated Israel for constructing homes in Israeli-ruled territory.

Prime Minister Netanyahu acquiesced to the request by the Peres family to invite Mahmoud Abbas to the funeral, and to seat him in the front row.  His hands were tied in terms of agreeing to grant Abbas permission to enter Jerusalem for the funeral, even though he may have wished to act otherwise.  Obama should have considered this enough, instead of making a more public spectacle of an already uncomfortable situation.  Sometimes less is more, although Obama seemed insensitive to this during his eulogy.

It is somewhat ironic that Abbas's presence at the funeral was also castigated by his own electorate, many of whom considered Peres an enemy of the Palestinian cause.  With so many Palestinians and Israelis joining together in the dislike of Abbas's presence at the funeral, perhaps this should have been a clear enough message to Obama that raising this in public would serve to damage his objectives rather than progress them.  Perhaps this is a clear indication why American peace-making efforts, particularly those driven by Obama, have been so unsuccessful.

Friday 30 September 2016

Open Letter to Maria

Dear Maria,

I have read what you wrote to Amnon when he sought to be your guest via airbnb.  I think that you have really lost a great opportunity to expand your knowledge and understanding of the issues that currently exist between Israel and the Palestinians.  I am sure that hosting Amnon would have been an eye-opener for you.  I wish to take the liberty to explain here what Amnon may have told you if you had been open-minded enough to have him as your guest.

Having followed the activities of the BDS movement over a number of years, I wonder whether the movement’s supporters like yourself really understand what BDS is about.  People like you appear to support BDS in the belief that isolating Israel will promote a peaceful solution between Israel and the Palestinians.  Even though your objective is honourable, you are bound to be disappointed by the achievements of BDS.  The BDS movement and its activities are first and foremost directed towards hurting and destroying Israel.  The BDS idea was originally to protest Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria (the so-called “West Bank”) by exposing and boycotting Israeli products produced in these areas.  Instead, the organisation has been hijacked by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic individuals, who try to convince people like you that BDS is an honourable cause that promotes peace.  And this can be achieved by behaving in an anti-Semitic way, just like you did on airbnb.  But all that they are really doing is trying to promote anti-Semitism and hate towards Israel in a politically acceptable manner.

If you are prepared to examine the issue in greater depth, you will discover that the main obstacle to peace is the unwillingness of the Palestinians to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.  This is demonstrated by their refusal to remove from their charter, the objective to destroy the Jewish state. So, if BDS was really an organisation that promoted the idea of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, it would protest against the Palestinians’ stated objective, and against their continued attempts to destroy Jews and the Jewish state.

If you are looking for activists working towards a peaceful solution, you will find that the majority of Jews in Israel are activists working towards a peaceful solution.  There are few Israelis who do not yearn for a more peaceful environment to raise their children, and to find a peaceful way to co-exist with our neighbours.  Don’t forget that Israelis are happy to welcome Arabs, even so-called Palestinian Arabs, into their towns and cities to sit alongside them in coffee shops and restaurants.  As long as they come in peace.  You will find Arabs in every Israeli town and city, in malls up and down the country and working in Israeli businesses.  The same cannot be said for finding Jews in the Palestinian Authority area.  Their areas are “Judenfrei”.  And it is this type of behaviour that the international community and BDS reward by criticising and castigating Israel at every opportunity.  If you are indeed ready to make an exception for activists working for a peaceful solution, Amnon is probably the person that you should make your exception for.  Or any other Israeli who wishes to be your guest.  We all dream about peace, and are prepared to give a great deal to achieve it.

Don’t forget, however, that Israelis are not prepared to seek out peace at any price.  They are not prepared to do it in a way that ultimately ends up destroying the Jewish state.  After all, this is hardly peace.  If the Palestinians were prepared to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, they will find willing partners in Israelis to shake their hands and to find ways to co-exist in peace.  If not, Israelis are unafraid to fight for their rights and for their survival.  We are a tough bunch of people who never give up.

It is unfortunate that BDS has managed to convince people like you that it is fighting for peace, and to cause you to become anti-Semitic in your actions.  The people who are really fighting for peace are not the Palestinians, and not the BDS activists.  They are the Israelis.  If you give them a chance to prove it, you will never be disappointed.  I am sure that you will have the chance to discover this first-hand if you host Amnon as your guest.  And even though you may have been influenced by BDS and by the media in your thoughts and actions, you do need to take some responsibility for the way in which you have treated Amnon.  It is anti-Semitic, bigoted and unacceptable.


Wednesday 31 August 2016

The Unfortunate Olympic Legacy

The Israeli Olympic team has returned from Rio with two bronze medals, both for judo.  This almost equals Israel's best medal haul in any Olympic Games to date.  Twice before Israel has earned two medals although, on the previous occasions, one medal was either a silver or gold.  Unfortunately, however, the most talked-about story in Israel relating to the games has nothing to do with the medals that were brought home.  Instead, the legacy of the Rio Olympics in Israel will always be the handshake that never was.

This of course relates to the judo bout between Israel's Ori Sasson and Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby.  The incident began long before the bout when, we are advised, El Shehaby indicated that he was not willing to fight an Israeli opponent.  He had been encouraged by fans on social media not to fight the Israeli in this bout.  Some reports suggest that the Egyptian authorities forced El Shehaby to partake in the bout, against his will.  This all seems somewhat strange for an athlete at the peak of his career.  It is assumed that the opportuntity to participate in, and excel at the Olympic Games is almost unrivaled as an ambition of any athlete.  The story published in some media says that El Shehaby decided to  retaliate against being forced to participate, and this came in the form of a refusal to shake hands with Ori at the end of the match.  Sasson had been warned of this situation beforehand, but still approached his vanquished opponent at the end of the fight for a handshake that was rejected by the Egyptian.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) intervened and  found that the Egyptian athlete had acted contrary to the rules of fair play and against the spirit of friendship embodied in the Olympic Values.  They issued the athlete with a reprimand.  The Egyptian Olympic Committee punished the athlete by sending him home from the games.  This incident followed the "scolding" issued to the head of the Lebanese Olympic delegation in Rio, after he refused to allow the Israeli team onto their bus that they were due to have shared on the way to the opening ceremony.  And also came after the incident involving the Saudi Arabian judoka who withdrew from a bout, when it became clear that the winner of her bout would have to fight against an Israeli in the next round.

Even though these incidents, particularly the rejection of Ori Sasson's handshake, made news around the world especially on social media, none of them come as a huge surprise to Israelis.  Despite the ideals of the Olympic Movement to promote peace and cooperation between peoples around the world, Israelis have always known that these ideals do not necessarily extend in equal measure to them.  The terror attack at the Munich Olympic Games, in 1972 in which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team and a German police officer were killed, is clear evidence of that.  It is not so much about the terror attack itself - it is well known that terror groups around the world will use every possible way of getting to Israelis to sow fear amongst them.  It is rather about the response by the IOC to this incident.  It is inconceivable that it took until 2016 for the IOC to finally agree to officially honour the slain members of the Israeli Olympic team at a games in any way.  Why would it take 44 years to do this?  Who would have opposed the request made many years ago by the Israeli delegation to officially honour those who were killed?  And why?

It is notable that the most prominent anti-Israel incident at the Rio Games, the incident with El Shehaby, came from an athlete representing a country with whom Israel does have diplomatic relations.  Despite the concept and tradition of the "Olympic Truce" which calls for athletes to be allowed right of safe travel to and from the Games, Israel will expect representatives of countries like Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, with whom there are no diplomatic relations, not to agree to travel on the bus with her athletes.  This is clearly in direct contravention of the Olympic ideals.  But it is more surprising when the greatest protest comes from a so-called friendly country.  While it is noted that the country's Olympic Committee and other official bodies came out against the actions of the individual athlete, it seems as though El Shehaby received a huge amount of unofficial support for his actions from fellow Egyptians.  

Israel and Egypt signed their peace treaty 37 years ago.  More than a generation has elapsed since then, and yet their athletes still refuse to shake hands with Israel's athletes at the Olympic Games.  It is true that the peace has not been a truly warm peace, and there have been awkward times when the peace agreement looked like it was in grave danger.  It is nevertheless a peace treaty between countries that are neighbours, and comes with full diplomatic relations.  Was this refusal from an athlete who was born after the peace treaty was signed, a product of the education that he received?  I cannot imagine one Israeli athlete who would refuse to shake the hand of any opponent, no matter which country they come from.  Even from those countries that are insistent on wanting to destroy Israel.

It is ironic that the Israeli athletes travelling to the opening ceremony were willing to travel with the Lebanese delegation in the way that the organisers had intended.  After all, Lebanon is a country that has been at constant war with Israel for the past 68 years, and has tried to destroy Israel on numerous occasions.  It is even more ironic that the Israeli team had to refuse to be split up and reallocated onto a number of other buses due to security concerns associated with  the team being split up.  With the ramifications of Munich still resonating in their ears, the Israeli team was ordered by their security team to remain together until the organisers laid on an alternative bus in which the entire team could travel together along with their required security escort.  Perhaps the greatest irony of all, is the fact that the security of the entire Olympic Games in Rio was left to a group of 36 Israeli companies to take care of.

With anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment rife around the world, Israeli athletes went to the Olympic Games in Rio to find a relative safe haven from the turmoil.  If everybody adhered to the ideals of the Olympic Movement, this is what they would have found in Rio.  But this was not the case at all.  They found in Rio the same anti-Semitic behaviour that has become openly acceptable in football stadiums in Europe, and in the General Assembly of the United Nations.  And this from  countries with whom Israel has diplomatic relations.  This puts the achievement of our athletes in earning two bronze medals into the proper context.  Kol hakavod!

Wednesday 17 August 2016

The Historical Entitlement Argument Does Not Work

Image from

The link between the Jews and the land of Israel is undeniable.  The extent to which Jewish history has played itself out in this land makes it inconceivable that a Jewish state could exist anywhere else in the world.  We feel this link every day as we pray to be in Zion and the rebuilt city of Jerusalem, and we experience it every week in our readings of the Torah that mention places that still carry the same names to this very day.  The festivals that we celebrate are frequently associated with particular places in this land, and the graves of our revered forefathers and mothers are within our borders.  Perhaps, most of all, the site of the holy Temple, destroyed almost 2,000 years ago in the city of Jerusalem, remains the holiest site in our religion and culture.  Despite offers to create a Jewish homeland in other parts of the world, Jews through the generations could never have accepted a  Jewish state anywhere other than in the land of Israel.
In spite of this, the international community continues to question the rights that Jews have to be in the land of Israel, and to have their own homeland there.  This forces Israelis into defending why they have the right to state in the land of Israel.  The main argument that Jews use to justify their right to be there, is on the basis of historical links and entitlement.  Typical justifications include the fact that it is written in the Old Testament about the borders of the Jewish state, or that there has been more then 2,000 years of continuous Jewish presence in the land.  This is true despite numerous attempts over the years to expel the Jews from the land of Israel.  It is my view, however, that the ongoing attempts to prove rights to the land by Jews via these avenues, serve to weaken the claim rather than to strengthen it.  Even the act of trying to justify the rights at all represents a weakness in my eyes.

Israel is the only member of the UN whose right to exist is continuously questioned, and whose future existence is openly threatened.  Other members of the UN have no qualms in calling for Israel's destruction, knowing full well that this comes without any consequences.  Without the support of the members of the international community who should speak up against such atrocious threats and behaviour, Israel is drawn into the vacuum and feels the need to defend herself.  While this is a natural response to such vile threats, the act of going on the defensive only goads the bullies into increasing their attacks.  This creates a vicious circle which has no end to it.

Under UN partition plan in 1947, independent Arab and Jewish states were approved to be established in the former British mandate of Palestine.   This was confirmed by a two-thirds majority of states present and voting at the UN General Assembly.  Despite the fact that 13 countries voted against the plan and a further 10 countries abstained, the will of the 33 countries who voted in favour of the resolution was implemented.  This concluded any questions about who would have the right to live in the land, and to set up their state there.  The fact that the Arabs rejected the plan and refused to establish their state as envisaged does not detract from their right to do so, nor from the right of the Jews to do the same.  This was clearly laid down in resolution 181(II) and passed on 29 November 1947.

The justification for a Jewish state in the land of Israel is embodied solely in the UN resolution that presented this right.  Since the moment that the resolution was passed, the arguments surrounding historical entitlement or continuous presence (or anything else) were effectively set aside and became less significant as points in order to prove entitlement.  Perhaps these matters were considered in the extensive work and report issued by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP).  Now that the recommendations of the committee have been accepted, the partition plan approved and the State of Israel established, there is no room to question this any further.  And it is certainly not acceptable to call for the destruction of the State of Israel, a country that was set up by a UN mandate with a two-thirds majority.

By continuing to put forward the argument of historical links and rights to the land, Israelis effectively give detractors justification to ignore the importance of the UN vote.  This negates the vote, and its legal significance.  It also gives  people the opportunity to open all types of debates to negate the historical rights arguments.  Not everybody believes what is written in the Bible, and it is almost impossible to conivince them otherwise.  Similarly, the debate whether or not Jews have really had a continuous presence in the land of Israel.  Facts of history are frequently difficult to prove unequivocally.  This is an argument that can never really be proved or won, in one direction or the other.  It is futile, and shows only that Israelis are happy to reopen this debate that cannot really prove anything in either direction.

The time has come to stop using arguments to justify Jewish presence in the land of Israel, that simply serve to weaken its right.  This is not to say that the historical link is unimportant to the Jewish soul.  On the contrary, this is what drove the Jews to fight so hard for their homeland in this place over so many years.  Now that this homeland is a reality, these arguments are no longer useful as political arguments, and are mostly unhelpful.  Instead, the vote by the international community that legitimised the Jewish homeland in Israel is the one and only relevant argument.  And, while it is true that the map of Israel today is not quite the map that was approved by the UN in 1947, it is equally true to note that the Arab state that was approved in that same UN vote was never accepted.  Instead, the land that was earmarked for the Arab state has simply been used as a springboard to try to destroy the Jewish state.

The Jewish state could never be anywhere else, other than in the historical Jewish homeland.  Now that this has been accepted by the UN and the international community in a legally binding vote, the argument about historical entitlement should be ceased.  It is simply no longer relevant as a political and legal argument, and not helpful to Israel's cause.

Saturday 30 July 2016

The Legacy of Entebbe Lives On

Forty years have passed since the rescue of Jewish hostages was carried out by IDF soldiers at Uganda's Entebbe airport.  A number of events were held recently to mark the occasion, and to remember all that happened in the hijacking of the Air France plane, the separation of the Jewish hostages from the others and the ultimate rescue of the hostages in an astonishing operation by IDF troops.  With a heavy heart, the victims of this hijacking and rescue operation were also remembered and commemorated.  In total, 4 of the hostages were killed as well as the IDF commander of the operation, Lt. Col. Yonni Netanyahu.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose this opportunity to visit Entebbe for the first time, to personally witness the place where his older brother was killed.

Operation Thunderbolt  was renamed Operation Yonatan to commemorate its fallen commander.  With the luxury of hindsight to look back on this operation, the legacy that Operation Yonatan has left for Israel and its security establishment can be assessed.  This rescue mission was undoubtedly one of the most daring and audacious missions of its type during its day, and even since then.  It has been the subject of numerous books, movies and military case studies, such has been the level of interest into the operation.  Besides the audacity and sheer chutzpa involved in pulling off this operation, the tiny details that were taken into consideration and the very short period of time within which all the preparations were made, have served to elevate the mission to legendary status.

The ramifications of this operation in Israel, and in the Jewish world in general, have been profound.  The operation has elevated Israel's secret service, the Mossad, to be afforded greater respect and recognition by lay people and peers in a way that other secret service organisations do not enjoy.  Because much of the work undertaken by secret service organisations, particularly the Mossad, is secret by its nature and is seldom made public, it is difficult to measure the effectiveness and the successes of the organisation.  Operation Yonatan was a visible sign of success, not only for the IDF, but indeed for the Israeli secret service.  It was, after all, the Mossad who were responsible for much of the intelligence-gathering, and who were integrally involved in every step of the operation.  It was one of the few visible successes that the Mossad would be happy to be publicly associated with, and which served to demonstrate its amazing capabilities.  This operation (along with a few others), has given the Mossad the status of a legend in the secret service world.  Israel's enemies know that they should be on their guard to expect the unexpected.  They have learned from this that very little is beyond the Mossad's capabilities.  Not only does the Mossad have the ability to carry out these types of operations, it also has the audacity and fearlessness to do so.  That legend continues to the current day.  Frequently, when crazy and improbable "accidents" occur that impair the work being done by Israel's enemies, the Mossad is the first organisation suspected of involvement.  Despite the automatic suspicion of the Mossad and the close monitoring of its operations, it is extremely seldom that hard evidence can be brought to confirm involvement of Mossad agents in an operation.  Rather than causing the Mossad to operate with impunity or carelessness, it gives the Mossad the impetus to carry out more and greater operations in the protection of the State of Israel and Jews around the world.

The fact that Operation Yonatan rescued both Israeli and non-Israeli Jews has also left its mark.  There is no other country around the world, whose secret service operates to protect the citizens of countries that are not its own.  And yet, this is the hallmark of the Mossad, as borne out by Operation Yonatan, when it comes to the protection of Jews who are not citizens of Israel.  The reason that the hostages were separated in Entebbe as they were, had nothing to do with them being citizens of Israel.  Instead, they were separated on the basis of whether they were Jewish or not.  Exactly as was the case during the Shoah.  Clearly, the Israelis were automatically included in the group of Jews, but they were not alone.  When Operation Yonatan was carried out, it was carried out in the name of all the Jews in the group, whether they were Israeli or not.  This was further evidence from the government of Israel, and from the instruments of the government, that the country stands ready to help Jews from all corners of the earth.  This was cemented into law when the Law of Return was enacted to allow Jews to claim immediate citizenship of the State of Israel, and has been demonstrated in numerous rescue missions of Jews when they were considered to be in danger.  Operation Yonatan was another significant sign of this commitment.

Little has changed over the past 40 years in terms of the threat that confronts Jews, no matter where they happen to be in the world.  We have seen Jews establish a level of comfort in their host countries, only to come under threat again.  The latest wave of violence in Europe, and in France in particular, has certainly been directed against Jews.  It is with pride and confidence that the State of Israel reaches out to these Jews to offer them protection in their homes, but also to offer them a home with greater protection.  And we have seen these Jews take up on this in their droves.  This is, amongst other things, the legend of Operation Yonatan.  Wherever Jews are in the world, the Jewish state will protect them.

Perhaps the greatest legacy left by Operation Yonatan comes in a much more personal form.  The death of Yonni Netanyahu left a scar on his family, and left a profound mark on a 27 year-old MIT student.  This student was Benjamin Netanyahu, younger brother of Yonni.  In his own words, the death of his older brother, "changed my life and steered it to its current course".  It is tough to judge to what extent the death of Yonni really spurred Benjamin to achieve what he has achieved over the years.  It is possible that he would have risen to be prime minister of Israel and one of the most influential leaders on earth, even without the push that he received from Yonni's death.  But we know about what he has managed to do in rising to be one of the best known and most influential people, and the influence that he has exerted over the years.  And we know that much of this has been with Yonni in mind.  The visit to Entebbe by the prime minister was not only in his capacity as prime minister, but was intensely personal as he mourned at the location where  his older brother and hero met his death.  One could not help wondering what Yonni would be thinking as he looked down on the scene from his seat in heaven.

As we look at the events at Entebbe with the benefit of 40 years of hindsight, the legacy is probably stronger now than it was in the euphoric days that followed the operation.  The strong message sent out by the Israeli government regarding its commitment to protect Jews around the world, and the message sent out by the IDF and the Mossad regarding their ability to do so, are louder and clearer than before.  And the personal impact left on one young student who went on to be one of the world's most recognisable personalities is unquestionable.  If the same set of circumstances presented themselves again, I have no doubt that the response would be no different.  This ultimately proves the greatness of the operation.

Sunday 3 July 2016

Goodbye to EU

Image courtesy
It has come as a surprise to many, especially to me, that the UK has voted to leave the EU.  Apparently, I was not the only one to be surprised.  The UK government has been paralysed by the surprise of this vote.  Even though I knew that the outcome of the referendum was always going to be close, I thought that the undecided voters were more likely to take a conservative view and sway the overall result to opt for the status quo.  In spit of this, the decision to Brexit has been made in an unequivocal manner by a majority of more than a million votes.  The people of the UK have spoken.

Commentators in Israel have been analysing the consequences for Israel of the UK leaving the EU.  The assessments that I have seen have been fairly superficial, and there seems to be no consensus as to whether the UK leaving the EU will be a good or bad thing for Israel.  While the relationship between Israel and the UK is likely to remain unchanged for the foreseeable future, and the same can be said of the relationship between Israel and the EU, I hold the view that the UK's exit from the EU is a very good thing for Israel for a number of reasons.

It is well known and widely acknowledged that the UK and the EU have very different positions on Israel.  While the UK is a friend of Israel's and has done much in the international community to support Israel and encourage understanding towards Israel and the challenges that she faces, the same cannot be said of the EU.  It is somewhat ironic that, while some of Europe's strongest nations hold a supportive view towards Israel. the formal position adopted by the EU as an organisation is so negative.  This position silences the individual countries like the UK who are members of the EU, and whose view is contrary to that adopted by the EU.  As a respected country in the international community, we can expect to hear the UK's voice more loudly in the future.  This is not only on the matter of Israel, but potentially on many other matters as well.  From an Israeli point of view, we very much look forward to hearing an independent UK voice in the international community, rather than the muted and diluted voice that has been drowned out by the EU.

It seems clear to me that the UK vote was substantially influenced by the refugee crisis in Europe last summer, when Europe was overrun with refugees from Syria and north Africa.  While many of the migrants were escaping from war zones and could be classed as true refugees, there was a significant number who were really economic migrants trying to gain access to Europe for a better economic future for them and their families.  And, while this objective is one to be respected and supported wherever possible, it is clear that Europe does not have the ability or economic strength to absorb all of those economic migrants who would like to move there.  The UK has long ago discovered that it is almost impossible to preserve her borders as part of the EU, and to keep unwanted migrants out.  The EU has established EU-wide rules for admission of refugees, and has open borders within the union that allows the free flow of people from one EU member country to another.  What also became blatantly clear last summer, was that the EU rules for admitting refugees have a much greater impact on some member countries than others.  Most of the migrants swarming from Syria and elsewhere into Europe, were determined to make their way to the UK and Germany in particular.  This was not a new phenomenon, as is evidenced by the encampments near Calais in France containing thousands who are waiting for their opportunity to secret their way across the English Channel.  Many EU countries, who carry an equal vote when deciding on matters such as allowing refugees into the union, were not having to bear the consequences of their decision at all.  Instead, the refugees were heading straight to the UK and one or two other countries.  The citizens of the UK found that they had no way of securing their borders against unwanted migrants, while a member of the EU.  The EU was determining this on their behalf.  I see the vote to leave the EU as an exercise of the right to secure borders.  This position will certainly be one that Israel can identify with in the strongest terms.

The decision by the UK to leave the EU seems to be a slippery slope.  Reports suggest that another half a dozen EU members, emboldened by the British vote, are lining up to hold a similar referendum on continued membership of the union.  There can be no doubt that the Brexit decision has weakened the EU as an organisation, and that further referendums and decisions to leave will serve to weaken it even more.  This could perhaps be the beginning of the end of the EU.  If one of the other founding members decides to leave the EU, I predict that this could potentially be a trigger for the EU to disentigrate completely.  Israel will not be heartbroken over such a break-up, if it occurs.  While the EU is a significant trading partner for Israel, the EU has been a political thorn in Israel's side.  Israel would much prefer to allow each EU member to present its views in the international community on an individual basis, rather than have the EU present the view of the majority of members as one single European view.  The larger and more influential European countries are largely supporters of Israel.  Their view is diluted by other smaller and less influential European countries, but whose vote carries equal weight within the EU voting system in determining foreign policy.

Anything that weakens the EU and its standing in the international community, will help Israel's cause.  The EU has been critical of Israel's attempts to protect herself against terorism and attacks against her citizens.  The EU has a strong position within the UN, the Quartet and other international organisations that are active on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but has constantly supported almost anything that the Palestinians say against Israel.  The union has placed significant pressure on Israel to take "confidence-building" steps by giving in to demands being made by the Palestinians.  When these demands are not matched by confidence-building steps by the Palestinians, it feels like Israel is being forced to take unilateral actions that ultimately weaken her position.  The EU has been at the forefront of forcing Israel to take such actions.

The more I think about the result of the Brexit vote, the more surprised I am about it.  And the more convinced I am that this will be good for Israel's situation in the international community.  I admire those UK citizens who made the difficult decision to follow this route, and feel confident that it will ultimately be good for their country, and good for ours.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Staying Unified

Picture from aicvideo
Today is the day in the Jewish calendar that Israelis (and others) celebrate the reunification of the holy city of Jerusalem 49 years ago.  Jerusalem Day is celebrated widely, and nowhere more enthusiastically than in the city itself.

Not only is Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world, it is undoubtedly the most controversial city in history.  According to Wikipedia, the city has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.  And these numbers do not include internal strife, intifadas and terror attacks which persist in the city until today.  Although these events have taken place over approximately 5,000 years, it still seems a great deal for any city to endure, and there are many who wonder why it is that one city should be so sought after that people are prepared to go to such extraordinary lengths to secure control over the city.

For the Jewish people, the answer is quite clear.  The belief is that the creation of the world emanated from the Foundation Stone on Mount Moriah.  This is also the same place that Jacob was ordered to sacrifice Isaac (and then stopped from doing so), and also coincides with the location of of the famous dream of Jacob's ladder.  So it comes as no surprise that King David chose this place to erect his City of David in approximately 1,000 BCE, and that Solomon's Temple was built on Mount Moriah soon after this.  From the moment that Solomon's Temple stood at this site (and possibly even from long before), it took on the undisputed position as the holiest place on earth to all Jews.  The city of Jerusalem is mentioned by name more than 600 times in the Jewish biblical texts, and thousands more times by other names and references.  The centrality of this location and this city to Jews is without rival.  It is highly likely that this centrality is the reason why Jesus, a Jewish boy from Nazareth, found himself in Jerusalem where he was crucified.  This established Jerusalem as a holy city for his followers, later to be known as Christians.  The holiness of Jerusalem to the third monotheistic religion, Islam, stems from an event that took place more than 600 years later.  The Quran tells us that the Prophet Mohammad was taken by Buraq to visit the "furthest mosque" (believed to mean the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem), from where Mohammad was taken to heaven.  This reference is the sole claim that Muslims have to Jerusalem as a holy city (although still not quite as holy as Mecca and Medina), and Jerusalem is not mentioned by name once in the entire Quran.  The scene was set for conflict, disagreement, war, death and destruction surrounding the control of this city, holy to three religions.

Today we celebrate 49 years of freedom of the city of Jerusalem.  This freedom extends not only to Jews and Israelis who have administrative control over the city.  It extends to all from the three religions, and others, who come in peace to worship, learn the history and pay respects to the holy city.  But this was not always the case, and is never taken for granted in this conflict-filled city.  Even as recently as 50 years ago, Jews were prevented from entering the Old City of Jerusalem, and approaching the holy site of the Western Wall.  This fact alone is justification for Israel to continue to exert control over the city and its holy sites.

Over the past few years, Jerusalem has put on an annual festival of light as part of the Jerusalem Day festivities.  It is highly symbolic that the city, with such a dark history, has a festival of light to emphasize all that is positive about the city.  I had the good fortune to participate in the festival this year, and it is an experience that has left an impression that will remain with me for a long time to come.  Not only were each of the exhibits creative and interesting, the atmosphere that could be felt around all parts of the city was electrifying (no pun intended).  Thousands of people formed a human chain following the different coloured tracks around the streets of the Old City, and around the walls.  People were drawn to parts of the Old City that they had never visited, perhaps because they were afraid or perhaps just because they were off the beaten track and unfamiliar.  I could not help noticing that people came from all parts of the country, from all walks of life and from all ethnic backgrounds.  Muslims joined with Christians and Jews in celebrating the light of this intriguing city.  I silently wondered as I walked around the thronging alleyways whether the Muslims were not enjoying more freedom now since the Old City is in Jewish hands, than they did when it was ruled by Jordan.  It could only happen under Jewish leadership that the King of Jordan, the same Jordan that denied Jews the right to access its holiest site for 19 long years years, is now the head of the Waqf religious council that has jurisdiction over Muslim holy sites in the city of Jerusalem.

Despite the conflicts and violence that continue in Jerusalem at the current time, the city of Jerusalem has undergone probably one of its most dramatic reconstruction periods in its history over the past 49 years.  While the integrity and the character of the original city has been preserved, the construction of infrastructure and residential and commercial buildings has been astonishing.  The light rail trundles over ancient cobblestones, and modern buildings are built in the Jerusalem stone in keeping with the rest of the architecture of the city, blending in with the ancient walls of the Old City.

Jews have maintained a continuous presence in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem since the 8th century BCE, with the exception of the period between 1948 and 1967 when Jordan brutally forced Jews out.  There were periods when being Jewish in the Jewish Quarter was not easy, but Jews were never willing to give up on this despite any hardship.  The same tenacious spirit is in evidence today.  Jews will not give up on the presence in the Jewish Quarter, and Jews will not give up on the united city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Each time I visit Jerusalem, I wonder what my grandparents and great-grandparents would feel if they saw the ease with which I am able to visit the holiest city in Judaism, and its holiest site, the Western Wall.  I wonder what they would think to see me driving freely around the streets, walking in the market and viewing the Knesset building.  We are indeed a privileged generation to have the immense good fortune to live at this time when we are able to do the things that our forefathers prayed fervently to have the right to do, and who died fighting to do.  When we say Lshana habaa B'Yerushalayim at the end of the Pesach seder, it is not a pipe dream.  It is something that is absolutely achievable.

If the history of Jerusalem is anything to go by, we will be forced to continue to fight to retain Jerusalem as our eternal capital.  It is a fight that most Israelis are prepared to undertake, and a fight that many have already died for.  But this makes us stronger rather than weaker, and our resolve to retain Jerusalem will never diminish.  For now, we bask in the glory of Jerusalem, and we rejoice in our ability to be free as Jews in our holy city.

Saturday 4 June 2016

Rough Justice?

The story of Sgt. Elor Azaria has captured the imagination of many Israelis, and has succeeded in dividing opinions very sharply.  Sgt. Azaria is an IDF soldier in the Kfir brigade, who was on duty near Hebron on a day in February when a terrorist stabbed and wounded another IDF soldier friend of his.  According to the most reliable eye-witness accounts of the story, Sgt. Azaria shot at the terrorist some time after the terrorist had already been neutralised and was under the full control of other IDF soldiers.  The shot fired from Sgt. Azaria's gun resulted in the death of the terrorist.  As a result of this incident, Elor has been court-martialed, and charged with the offense of manslaughter.

The entire episode has played itself out in the public eye.  This is due to the intervention of the human rights organisation Btselem, who miraculously had somebody on the scene to record the events, and decided that it was appropriate to publicly air a video taken of the incident.  The video turns out to have been edited before being publicised, and without full disclosure of that fact.  The act of airing the video in public pushed the matter, and the debate, into the public arena.  The IDF was forced to respond publicly saying that it would investigate the incident, and take actions against the soldier if appropriate.  This, in turn, sparked a great deal of public support for the soldier, explaining that he has been forced to operate in extremely dangerous conditions as a result of the recent wave of terrorist violence in the West Bank and Israel.  It was put forward that his actions should be understood in the context of the situation that has been imposed upon Israel and her soldiers.  Israel's prime minister, minister of defense, chief of general staff and other ministers in government all felt the need to make public statements on the matter in criticising the soldier's actions.  In turn, this drew in the family of the soldier and many others who felt the need to defend him.  The incident degenerated into a classic public free-for-all.

The considerations on each side of the argument are clear, and convincing.  Israel is a country that is constantly under threat from those who wish to destroy her and her people.  This forces all of Israel's citizens to serve in the army as protection against those who desire to reap destruction.  Israel's soldiers are placed in danger's way each and every day.  This is not a normal or acceptable situation, and places enormous stress on young people who serve in the country's military.  Little consideration seems to be given by the international community to this fact.  Instead, Israel's soldiers are constantly under close scrutiny.  Organisations like Btselem ignore the human rights abuses that are inherent in the constant threats to Israel, and they find it only necessary to hold Israel and her soldiers accountable for their reactions in the spur of the moment.  This background forms the basis for the support that Elor has received from the public.  The fact that he was placed in a difficult situation having to protect his country at such a young age, has elicited sympathy and respect for him, and support for his actions.  Elor and his brigade spent many long hours on patrols, knowing that somebody could try to kill them at any moment.  Why should terrorists be afforded human rights, when they have no respect for the human rights of others?  There are many who believe that the fact that this person was trying to kill another individual in an orchestrated terror attack, immediately removes his right to being treated with respect and removes his human rights.  So, for many Israelis, it is inconceivable that a soldier can be tried on charges of killing a terrorist.  This is, after all, the job that soldiers are trained to do.

Despite many indications to the contrary, the IDF has strict disciplinary rules that it enforces.  These rules have been developed to fit with the environment in which its soldiers are forced to operate, and are designed to take advantage of the Israeli culture to extract the most from each conscripted soldier.  The rules are also highly influenced by our Jewish heritage, and the values that come with that.  The IDF's view is that we have the obligation to separate ourselves and our behaviour from those who seek to destroy us, and who behave without compassion or humanity in their quest to achieve this.  Even though the IDF's objective is to protect the people and the State of Israel, this should be achieved in a manner that is true to our cultural and religious teachings.  We should never lose sight of the fact that our soldiers are human beings before they are soldiers.  It is for this reason that the IDF discipline affords human rights not only to soldiers, but also to terrorists and enemies.  When responding to terrorists and enemy fighters, IDF soldiers have strict rules of engagement that are closely policed.  While giving IDF soldiers freedom to do almost anything that is required in the protection of Israeli lives, the rules of engagement strictly forbid shooting anybody unless an order to do so has been given or unless a victim's life is in immediate danger.  Failure to abide by the rules of engagement is taken seriously.  An army that has to counter the threats that the IDF sees daily, is forced to have a zero tolerance policy on operational transgressions.  There is no room for any soldier to have his or her own agenda or ulterior motive while he is in the service of the IDF.  If there is any suspicion that Elor has overstepped the well-kown and highly drilled rules of engagement, the correct action is to investigate the matter and give the soldier the right to defend his or her actions.  If the soldier felt fear or threat at the moment that he fired his shot, or believed that another life was in imminent danger, he will have his opportunity to present this defence.

I feel confident that the court-martial system will allow the charges to be put to the soldier, while also allowing him the opportunity to defend them in a democratic manner.  No external party or member of the public, whether it be Btselem, the minister of defense, the chief of general staff and even the prime minister can, or should pre-empt or interrupt this process.  It is extremely regrettable that this process is being played out in public, and it would be far more effective to allow the IDF to do its job internally in the manner that it is accustomed to doing.  It is clear that the act by Btselem of bringing this into the public domain effectively forced some of our leadership to respond to this in public.  The response, however, to the Btselem accusations was way beyond what was required.  Some believe that this was designed to pander to the international community, rather than considering the impact on the soldier and on the IDF as a whole.  Elor Azaria has become a villain in the eyes of some, while being a hero in the eyes of others.  I regard this act of forcing him into such a high public profile is possibly as stressful as the job that he was doing in the field near Hebron.

There is no doubt that Israel's young soldiers are forced to endure more stress than other young people of their age, and perhaps even more than professional soldiers in the armies of other countries.  Israel is currently the only country in the developed world that is being forced to fight a war within its borders, and the only country whose very existence is constantly questioned and threatened.  In spite of this fact, the international community seems to hold Israel to standards that are far in excess of the standards expected of other countries.  All of this is extremely unreasonable and even discriminatory, but standing up and shouting about it from the rooftops appears futile.  It does not help Israel secure her future, which is the most important task at hand.

It is thanks to the enthusiasm of those like Elor Azaria that Israel is able to protect herself against the constant threats of destruction.  Israel's young soldiers show incredible loyalty and patriotism when serving their country.  This enthusiasm needs to be allowed to show itself within a very stringent framework.  The framework is not only important for the discipline in the IDF, it is important for our soldiers and our country to retain their humanity.  This is the key difference that distinguishes Israel from her enemies, and is something that we would never wish to lose.  We would never wish to sink to the levels of those who seek to destroy Israel.

It is important now to allow the court-martial to conduct its work according to the rules and democratic principles under which it operates.  No external parties should be allowed to influence this process in any way.  No doubt, the verdict of the court-martial will be received with controversy, whatever its outcome.  We are forced to accept the verdict, and understand that this is the way in which our democracy operates.  Whatever the outcome may be, I feel immensely proud that we are able to retain our humanity even under the most extreme conditions.  And I am proud that we demand this humanity of our soldiers, even if the international community does not acknowledge this.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Lies, Damn Lies and Deligitimisation

"The creation of the State of Israel was fundamentally wrong,  because there had been a Palestinian community there for 2000 years".

"The creation of the State of Israel was a great catastrophe.  We should have absorbed the post World War II Jewish refugees in Britain and America".

These are the words of former London mayor and UK Labour Party member and activist, Ken Livingstone in a recent interview that he conducted with Arabic station Al Ghad Al Arabi.  The fact that Livingstone, or "Red Ken" as he is known by the British establishment, is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic is not new to most of us.  His own Labour Party recently suspended him on accusations of anti-Semitism, along with more than 50 other members of the party.   What is surprising is the fact that a former mayor of a capital city of one of the world's leading and progressive nations, can utter such factual inaccuracies in support of his anti-Semitic rant.  What is perhaps even more astonishing is that so many around the world accept these inaccuracies as fact. and find his open anti-Semitism (dressed up as anti-Zionism) to be perfectly acceptable.

Even though Red Ken was only a babe at the time that the State of Israel came into existence and will probably not be able to remember its details, it is incumbent on a man in his position and who is as outspoken as he is, to get the facts right before taking strong public positions.  Instead, he is using inaccuracies to justify his bias.  If he had learnt the facts, he would know that there was no Palestinian community in 1948, and so there could not have been a Palestinian community for 2000 years.  The concept of a "Palestinian people" or community only arose after the 1967 Six Day War when the Arab countries lost control of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem after trying to drive the Jews into the sea once more.  After they realised that they had little chance of defeating Israel militarily in order to gain control over the land held by the Jews, the notion of a "Palestinian people" was born as a tactic to beguile the world into feeling sympathy for their cause.  This has now translated into an "occupation" of their land, a misconception believed by a vast majority of the world's citizens and used endlessly at the UN and other international bodies to criticise Israel.

It is ironic that he makes a statement that the creation of the State of Israel was a catastrophe.  Why a catastrophe?  Does he believe that peace would have prevailed in this region had the State of Israel not come into being?  In the same interview, Livingstone refers to Libya and Iraq.  In those cases, he tries to blame western intervention for the conflicts that arose in those, and other Middle Eastern countries.  He claims that the west is equally to blame for the rise of Islamic terrorism, which has come about because of western double standards in the Middle East in Livingstone's opinion.  According to him, this is what has been encouraging angry youth to fight alongside ISIS and other terror groups.  Even he is smart enough to recognise that Arab and Muslim groups have fought amongst each other for hundreds of years., and that western intervention was not required to trigger terrorist activities.  We only need to witness the most basic split between Sunni and Shia Muslims to understand this, not to speak of the numerous tribal and political splits in evidence around the Middle East.  Does Livingstone believe that the Middle East would have been more enlightened and more developed without the existence of the State of Israel?  Once again, we have numerous examples to cite where Muslims have failed to capitalise on opportunities to enlighten and develop their countries and their people.  Should this be blamed on Israel?  Can we blame the terror state that has been constructed in Gaza, and funded by foreign aid, on Israel?  The catastrophe that Ken talks about is the same catastrophe that the Palestinians speak about.  It is the catastrophe of the Jews have a free homeland in which they can find self-determination.

It is ironic that Mr. Livingstone thinks that Britain and America should have absorbed all the post World War II Jewish refugees, and their failure to do so caused the "catastrophe" of the creation of the State of Israel.  In reality, it was exactly because of bigoted anti-Semites like Red Ken, that these countries and others refused to accept Jewish refugees, both during the war (when they really needed place to go) and in its aftermath.  Even those who were allowed to escape to western countries were made to feel like they were "guests", who may be sent out at any moment.  The exposure of endemic anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in Britain is not as a result of a recent development.  This manifests itself as a result of decades of institutionalised anti-Semitism in many areas of British society.  Who would believe that, even as recently as the 1980's, some large government-owned companies in the UK had a policy of not employing Jews?  This anti-Semitism has been cleansed by the political acceptability of being anti-Israel.  The anti-Semites finally found a legitimate cause that allows them to openly express their anti-Semitism in the public arena.  Even if they claim to oppose Israel's actions and policies while being Jew lovers.  

It should be clear that anybody who denies the right of the State of Israel to exist, or supports groups who seek Israel's destruction, is an anti-Semite.  This has little to do with the so-called occupation or the rights of the Palestinian people.  There are millions of Palestinians in refugee camps in the region, whose human rights are being denied in a much more systematic way than anything that Israel has ever done.  No criticism is issued about these human rights abuses, or about the abuses by the Palestinian leadership of its own people.  Instead, this has everything to do with the right of the Jews to be masters of their own destiny, and to have the right to protect themselves and their  Jewish homeland.  It can be dressed up as anti-Zionism or support for the Palestinian people, but the real root cause is well understood, and will not hidden from sight.

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is on record calling Hamas and Hezbollah his friends.  And he is the one who has suspended more than 50 members of his party for their anti-Semitic behaviour.  This is evidence of how deep the anti-Semitism in the Labour Party runs.  The fact that those who support groups calling for Israel's destruction are the ones suspending the anti-Semites is ironic.  The anti-Semites have succeeded in galvanising support for hating the Jews and Israel around the issue of human rights abuses against the Palestinians.  This has filtered into the left-wing arm of the Jewish community, giving even greater strength to the mantra that being anti-Israel does not necessarily equal being anti-Jewish.  Each meeting of the UNHRC is forced to discuss agenda item 7 covering human rights violations by Israel.  How does it transpire that, amongst all human rights violators in the world (of which there are many), Israel is the one and only country that is forced to endure a torrent of criticism and abuse at each and every UNHRC meeting?  My contention is that it is rooted in institutionalised anti-Semitism at this organisation, and many others.

Although Red Ken is a classic example of anti-Semitism in its ugliest form, he is unfortunately not the only example.  And he is sufficiently unashamed to be prepared to make public statements in support of his argument that are factually inaccurate and incorrect.  The problem is that, when senior leaders like Livingstone make such statements and contentions, many of their followers believe it without any doubt and this perpetuates the unbridled hatred without cause.

When Livingstone refers to the "catastrophe", we understand what he truly means.  It has nothing to do with the so-called "nakba" or catastrophe that has befallen the Palestinian people.  This could easily have been avoided if they had accepted the Palestine Partition Plan agreed by the UN in 1947, instead of choosing to try to destroy the Jews.  The two-state solution that we continue to fight over today, could already have been implemented at that time.  If this is indeed what the true desire is.  Instead, Livingstone is referring to the catastrophe of the Jews having their right to independence and self-determination, and how much this has served to strengthen the cause and the presence of Jews around the world.  I imagine that he may have described it as an even greater catastrophe had the UK absorbed more Jews in the period after the Shoa as he suggests, and had a greater presence and influence in the UK today.  The mix of strong Jewish presence and influence, along with virulent anti-Semitism was exactly the recipe that brought the Nazis to power, and led to the Shoa and the massacre of 6 million people.  So, while I don't tolerate this form of bigotry from Livingstone and I am happy that there is a State of Israel to call him out and provide protection to Jews against his ilk, I still prefer this form of a catastrophe to the alternatives that Livingstone suggests.