Category Archives: international relations

Not everything in Israel is complicated

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?

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Wiping countries off maps

israel_mapAlthough I haven’t been there for a couple of decades, Israel is a fascinating place to visit, I feel a connection with it, and it’s on the small list of far-off places I’ll be taking in before I die. So at Bank yesterday, on the Central Line east-bound platform, this promotion from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, which you can click on for a bigger version, caught my eye:

After I’d half-written this I found out that I was not the only person to notice that the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Golan had been brazenly subsumed into Israel and in fact I was slow off the blocks and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism had admitted to a “mistake” this time last week. Transport for London received 600 complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority, 342, and these were upheld. But after a week, the posters are still there.

The strange thing is, if you look really closely at the blown-up version of this bad picture I took (there were staff close-by and you know, it’s not permitted to snap on the London Underground system so I was shooting from the hip) only then will you see faint, skinny white-on-yellow lines demarcating some borders (not the Golan). I think the graphic designer probably understood what white-on-yellow means in the mustardy light of a London Underground platform, and was showing what the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, ThinkIsrael and co-sponsors want shown.

This kind of wishful-thinking, under-carpet-sweeping, white-washing denial is very stupid and very wrong. It’s not the first time somebody played with a map for political reasons, and it won’t be the last.

Press TV, the English language station funded by the Iranian government also pretends the state of Israel doesn’t exist, in keeping with ominous calls to wipe it off the map.

Hamas likes to present a world without Israel, in keeping with its hatred of Jews.

So does (did) the RESPECT coalition, in keeping with Iran and Hamas.

Update: with shameless hypocrisy, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which took the lead in objecting to the Israeli Ministry of Tourism map, also expunges Israel from its map.

I’m not sure these are equivalent, by the way.

The Israeli Ministry of Tourism responded about the poster:

“The map in the London Underground advertisement reflects a map that gives a tourist perspective to the region. It is not to be confused with a political map, but rather the advertisement highlights those areas within Israel which are particularly attractive to the U.K. market”

“Tourism is one of the major engines for economic growth in Israel, benefiting all its residents. 2008 was a record year for tourism in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority and it is hoped that the recent pilgrimage of Pope Benedict XVI to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority will serve to encourage pilgrimages to the Holy Land and bring economic benefits to the entire region”

So Gaza’s going great guns with the tourism then? Pun intended. The only people I know of who are going in there are Hamas supporters, by boat. And how about when BMI flew passengers to the Mediterranean with maps omitting Israel – the Israeli Transport Minister was very assertive about his country’s right to recognition:

“Doing business with Israel has its advantages and disadvantages, but we will not agree to a situation where they hide the existence of Israel but want to do business with Israel”

Along the Central Line you can find other posters promoting Morocco and Dubai as tourist destinations so warm, golden and peaceful that you could hardly imagine that the grave human rights abuses in those countries could exist, or that, for example, Morocco could be involved in an occupation of its own (its promoters wisely steer clear of maps). After all, if you want prospective visitors to forget that they will be visiting an occupying country, you leave the map out.

Of course tourism ministries like to minimise their blemishes and big up their assets. Sadly it doesn’t go without saying that the Israeli Tourism Ministry and co-sponsors are far from the only or worst culprit. But they must face up to the fact that the three smaller regions on that poster, with their vanishingly faint but critically important demarcations, are occupied and settled by ugly force, and that diverting attention from this also involves a pretence that the ongoing oppression of the people who live there does not exist.

Update: Philip Meier reviews  Mark Monmonier‘s book How To Lie With Maps.

Israeli Green Gershon Baskin: will Israelis ever accept the Arab peace initiative

Gershon Baskin  is a former parliamentary candidate for the Israel Green Movement / Meimad and co-director and founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI). He recently revealed that he had been involved in back-channel negotiations with Hamas before Kadima opted for an Israeli incursion into Gaza. He persistently puts up political alternatives to military activity.

In this Open Democracy piece he makes the case for the Arab peace initiative, for which he is a strong advocate, and explains the intensely security-minded world view which is preventing ordinary Israelis from engaging with it.

“Since the initiative has been widely overlooked by Israeli politicians it is certainly worthwhile pointing out its primary advantages and reasons why Israel should accept it quickly before it is no longer relevant. The Arab Peace Initiative was accepted unanimously by all of the member states of the Arab League in March 2002.  On the day that it was presented thirty people were killed and 140 injured – 20 seriously – in a suicide bombing in the Park Hotel in the coastal city of Netanya, in the midst of a Passover holiday seder with 250 guests. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. This attack was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back that led to the ‘Defensive Shield’ Israeli offensive leading in turn to the full re-occupation of the West Bank and the placing of Palestinian President Arafat under siege in the muqata’ in Ramallah. The Israeli mindset, at that time when suicide bombing were a daily event and under the leadership of Prime Minister Sharon was hardly in any mood to consider an Arab peace initiative.

But the initiative was once again unanimously ratified at the meeting of the League of Arab States in Khartoum in May 2006 and again in 2007 in Riyadh.”

This piece is good at articulating the circumstances but is as challenged by the task of “bridging this gap in consciousness” as the peace camp is in general. From the middle of the piece:

“This [Arab peace initiative] is almost too good to be true and had it been presented 20 years ago, it might have been received much more positively in Israel. But today, there is no peace camp in Israel anymore. Israeli society has lost its faith in peace.  Israelis no longer dream of getting into their car and having humus for lunch in Damascus. Israelis do not want to visit Cairo or Amman and do not particularly care if Jordanians or Egyptians come to visit Israel. If President Mubarak and King Abdallah II don’t want to come to Jerusalem, so be it.  Israelis no longer believe that giving up territory will bring peace.  The general Israeli interpretation of the ‘territory for peace’ scheme is that we withdrew from areas in the West Bank and created the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat which then attacked us with weapons that we provided for them. In Gaza, which Israel left entirely – withdrawing both settlements and military, we got qassam rockets in exchange.  Whether this reflects what really happened and why is not relevant. This is the way that the overwhelming majority of Israelis understand that reality.  So, in this context, the Arab Peace Initiative is not particularly attractive.”

How to go about building a sense of hope and commitment to pursuing a peaceful solution in a population which perceives existential danger? Put up a different narrative of opportunity and hope.

Read Gershon Baskin’s piece.

Lieberman dumps Annapolis

“Pursuing peace on every front” means something different to Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s new hard-line Foreign Minister, than it does to most people, including the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has pledged to pursue peace. Lieberman, on the other hand, has pledged to continue with Bush’s roadmap but has brushed aside Annapolis on the puny grounds that it wasn’t ratified.

Israel’s Movement For Quality Government launched a petition to disqualify him from government because of an ongoing police investigation – but an ongoing investigation was insufficient reason, said the State Prosecutors Office.

On OpenDemocracy, Daniel-Joseph MacArthur-Seal (!) has just published a security briefing which points out:

“Hamas denied any difference between the two administrations or any of the other “governments of the Zionist entity…. because all of them have killed and slaughtered our people”.

This suggests there is no Israeli government Hamas would negotiate with. Maybe it’s just talk, but Hamas love death and state that they will ethnicly cleanse Palestine of Jews. Lieberman’s type thrives on fear and to a significant extent it is Hamas who are responsible for his power. There are many reasons to suppose that the presence of Lieberman is going to strengthen the pro-war elements of Palestinian politics.  Radicalisation cuts both ways.

Something else a boycott would wreck

The Jerusalem International Oud Festival, of which Jazz news wrote in 2008:

Like previous Festivals, the 2008 Jerusalem International Oud Festival serves as a meeting place between Middle Eastern and other cultures, emphasizing the similarities and differences between them. This year’s Festival travels to Egypt and Iraq, Turkey, Greece and Italy, and for the first time, to Rajasthan in northern India.

It even penetrates the depths of history-to the ancient music of several Jewish communities, from the traditions of Aleppo to those of Persia, nearly forgotten and here given new life on stage; to the days of the Golden Age of Spain and to the meeting between the Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures, which contributed so extensively to large parts of modern culture; to the forgotten traditions of the troubadours of Anatolia; and to the mysticism of Sufism.

The 2008 Jerusalem International Oud Festival continues many of the important traditions of past Festivals: a series of concerts in tribute to the great artists and composers of the Arab world that this year includes a tribute to Abd al-Halim Hafez; and the songs of beloved artists from around the Arab world, from Fairuz and Um Kalthum to Abd al-Wahab and Nazim al-Ghazali. The opening concert of the Festival also continues a tradition: a tribute to Rabbi Yehuda Halevi sung and composed by Etti Ankri, part of a series of performances that will continue in the future, constituting a tribute by contemporary Israeli rock artists to the poets of the Golden Age.

A special emphasis at this year’s Festival will be placed on female artists. Together with a tribute to the three great female vocalists Layla Mourad, Asmahan and Um Kalthum, the Festival will present an assortment of fine contemporary performers: Etti Ankri, Charlette Shulamit Ottolenghi, Maureen Nehedar, Dalal Abu Amneh and Violet Salameh. There will also be a special evening marking the publication of an anthology dealing with the tremendous revolution underway in recent years, affecting the status, the roles and the public voice of women in the Arab world.”