On BBC3 tonight Monday 14th November 9-10pm and available for 7 days is Mixed Up in the Middle East in which Reya al-Salahi travels to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Her mother is Jewish, her father is Muslim, and the longer she spends in the region the more complicated the inequality, fear, humiliation, violence and retaliation she observes become. She returns to Oxford with a sense of injustice and a new humility about finding a solution to the conflict.
Much less complicated, in Israel the cabinet continues to turn its back on human rights. We have a National Unity Party (nationalist) MK proposing a bill to force sports team members representing Israel to sing a national anthem containing Jewish-specific lyrics, on pain of expulsion (if that one passed, which is unlikely, the correct response would be for all team members to refuse to sing). Likud (right wing) and Yisrael Beteinu (nationalist) MKs have proposed bills to limit and tax donations to NGOs which seek to influence Israeli policy*. Supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many other senior ministers, these proposals were approved by Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation. If they wanted to minimise “outside interference” in “internal affairs” (the occupation, of course, is not an internal affair) from “foreign” donors (think EU and US) they have sorely misjudged the situation and various world leaders are now making Netanyahu sweat.
There is a fight against the bills from within Likud, 5 ministers leading an appeal. The New Israel Fund, which is organising a letter-writing campaign to Netanyahu, writes in an email that Knesset Speaker Reuvin Rivlin (Likud) said “The new Likud is not committed to the ethics of liberty, to the values of Jabotinsky and of Begin.” Minister Benny Begin (Likud) said “Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Uzbekistan – these are countries that have similar laws to this one … What kind of society are we living in?” British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould has raised objections to the effect that the UK funds many NGOs in many countries without being against their governments.
Rachel Liel, Chief Exec of the New Israel Fund, writes:
“Defending the principles of democracy – equality for all citizens before the law, the rule of law over the will of the majority – this is not easy anywhere. Because of history, geography, demography and “the situation,” it may be harder in Israel than in any other democratic country. And this is precisely why these ill winds blowing through the halls of power pose such a threat, and why this society must be mobilized to resist them – because this country is unusually vulnerable to their force.”
In other news, a secular yeshiva (educational institution focusing on Jewish religious texts) has opened in Jerusalem. Its founders “want to offer courses that study Judaism within a pluralistic environment” and perceive “a strong connection between developing a pluralistic Jewish identity and the ongoing struggle to end the Orthodox rabbinical monopoly on Jewish lifecycle events”.
*These are proposals that anybody who has ever been troubled by the idea of an “Israel lobby” can wholeheartedly endorse – no?