Category Archives: letter

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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Prisoners of Hamas

Human Rights Watch posts a letter to Hamas from Amnesty, B’Tselem, Gisha, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Gaza and others as the imprisonment of snatched 24 year old French-Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, without trial or access to his family approaches its 5th anniversary.

We hear much less about 26 year old Mohamed Abu Muailek, member of a Fatah unit who refused to fire rockets into Israel from the Gaza strip. This unfortunate and courageous man is a dissident on the terms of both Fatah and Hamas, and is unlikely to become a bargaining chip in any negotiations for prisoners’ release:

“They will say that I am a collaborator, and I don’t care much…because these are the basics of a real Muslim: to tell the truth and be a peaceful man—whether it kills him or gives him more life.”

Or BBC journalist Paul Martin, who went to testify on Abu Muailek’s behalf when he was eventually arrested as he feared. Martin himself was arrested on the spot and imprisoned for 26 days threatened with a death sentence. Abu Muailek’s trial is set to conclude in July. Collaboration is one of the most shameful crimes you could be charged with in Gaza. He is held incommunicado, is reported to have been tortured, faces possible execution, and Amnesty are following his case with concern.

Paul Martin’s film, Rocket Man Under Fire, is below. I recommend watching it in full. It is claustrophobic and its perspective of the containment of Gaza as something which, as well as effectively imprisoning all Gazans, also enables Hamas’ net to close around dissidents, is rare and valuable.

As Paul Martin observes, the Arab Spring has not reached Gaza. The only visitors who need not be afraid there are those who do not challenge Hamas.

Workers’ Liberty on understatement in The Guardian

Workers’ Liberty is one of the few groupings on the revolutionary left which is uncompromising on antisemitism as well as on Israeli racism, chauvenism and the occupation. In Solidarity, their paper, members publish an open letter to Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian in response to last week’s editorial on anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

“The problem with all this is that it is so shot through with understatement that it seriously misrepresents the state of things. The demonstrations on Gaza “included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel”? Included? As we reported (www.workersliberty.org/gazademos) the demonstrations were entirely dominated by placards equating the Star of David and the Nazi swastika, Israel with South Africa, Gaza with the Nazi mass murder of Jews, or chants about a “Palestine” stretching “from the river to the sea”.

All the platform speakers, in their varying notes, tones annd degrees, proclaimed the same sort of politics. The one-time British diplomat Craig Murray explicitly called for the abolition of Israel and the rolling-back of Middle East history to before 1948. An SWP organiser on the megaphone at one of the marches was shouting that Israeli Jews should “go back to New York”.

The Guardian says that the left “possibly” subscribes to notions of an all-controlling “Jewish lobby”. Possibly? Moshe Machover came pretty close to saying it outright in the recent exchanges in this paper – and he is one of the most sophisticated of the “absolute anti-Zionists”.

Mr Rusbridger, the core and root of modern anti-Semitism is the denial of Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. That inexorably leads on to a radical political hostility to most Jews alive.

Of course Jews and Israel are not co-terminous. They could hardly be! It is a fact that all but a few Jews — revolutionary socialists, Neturei Karta, etc. — feel connected with Israel, however critically, and however much they abhor such things as the onslaught on Gaza. How could a people with their history not have such attitudes?”

Read the whole thing.

Update – see also Shiraz Socialist, another place on the left which fights antisemitism. Shiraz’s reading of the letter is that the AWL believe anybody objecting to Israel’s existence is a “de facto antisemite”. I think this is a misreading.I don’t thnk AWL are making “automatic” points – they are responding in a letter and missing out a lot of the qualification which would have been possible in a longer piece. For the AWL to write that “the core and root of modern anti-Semitism is the denial of Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself” seems right in the world of the left, from which most contemporary British antisemitism emanates. “The core” because campaigining about Israel has a vigorous galvanising power, makes headlines, gets people out on the street. “The root” since campaiging for Palestinian emancipation which accepts Israel’s existence does not attract such astonishing antisemitism, does not depend on misrepresenting the conflict as a genocide attempt by Israel, nor misrepresent Zionism as some kind of ethnically exclusive expansionist bid for world domination, nor advance conspiracy theories about Israeli control of the media or Israeli tentacles reaching into British government, nor diminish actual and stated supremacist tendencies of many Palestinian factions, instead touting them as ‘the resistance’, nor stridently insist on a single state solution for ostensibly anti-racist reasons without being involved in or supporting any of the coexistence work necessary to avoid a Jewish minority falling foul of racism against it. Meron Benvenisti’s anti-Zionism is one kind of anti-Zionism to take seriously – it is a kind that AWL don’t mean to refer to – this kind does not “deny” but instead reasons. But there’s something singularly dodgy about unpragmatic, ignorant, unworked out, vituperative anti-Zionism which does not acknowledge the fears of ordinary Israelis. And when was the last time you came across any other kind here in Britain?.

The country the Greens voted to boycott

A letter from Andrew White of www.beyondimages.info, some of Israel’s high-level contributions to meeting the global environmental challenge.

Israel and the global environmental challenge

Last week, the UK Green Party passed a resolution calling for a wide-ranging boycott of Israel. The Greens campaign on environmental issues generally, chiefly global warming.

The Green’s move is absurd for the same reason that any boycott motion against Israel is absurd:

  • it reflects a totally one-sided view of a complex conflict;
  • it does nothing to promote coexistence and dialogue;
  • it emboldens the [fundamentalist] Islamist mindset and rejectionism;
  • it reflects double-standards, and is completely counter-productive.

(See Beyond Images Briefing 30, on the proposed academic boycott of Israel, in which we summarised these and several other arguments).

But there’s a strong additional reason why the Green Party’s move is absurd.

Israel is contributing significantly to worldwide efforts to counter climate change:

  • Israel’s solar energy sector is pioneering, and having an increasing international impact
  • Israel is at the forefront of the international drive to combat so-called ‘desertification’ – the steady spread of deserts and the destruction of farmland and forests
  • The UN General Assembly recently adopted a milestone resolution on agricultural development which was sponsored by Israel, and which promotes environmentally friendly agricultural practices internationally, including many devised in Israel
  • Israel’s university research labs are leading the way in clean energy research and innovation
  • Israeli companies are deeply involved in introducing energy-efficient technologies for powering vehicles, factories and other infrastructure
  • Israeli start-up companies such as Water Sheer as well as the national water carrier Mekorot are championing new methods of recycling waste water. They are helping to spread the know how to provide clean drinking water for the world’s poor and vulnerable, again with major environmental and human benefits
  • There are many grass-roots, citizens’ initiatives in Israel (including joint Israeli-Palestinian projects) which promote environmental awareness and changes of lifestyle

There’s plenty more which Israel is doing to help the green revolution on its way.

That’s the country which the Greens have just voted to boycott…