The Liberal Democrats are a party that have wrestled with anti-Semitic elements for a l0ng time. From the debacle of Baroness Tonge and her claims that Israel ‘won’t be around forever’ to incredibly disproportionate criticism of anything done by the State of Israel, more recently David Ward MP, who represents Bradford East has struck a new low. Ward has sought to use Holocaust Memorial Day, observed in the United Kingdom on the 27th January, to launch a grotesquely insensitive and inaccurate assault on the Jewish State. How shameful, how typical and how inexcusable.
Sitting down for tea with a dear family friend this evening, I was asked a very interesting question.
‘So why are you so pro-Israel, rather than being pro-peace?’
The question is of course a reasonable one. In a conflict that has a fair share of hardliners on both sides, what use is another person who has picked a side? Well, the truth is, being pro-Israel as I understand it, comes down to being pro-peace.
Over the past few months, every development that has taken place in the Middle East has been greeted with great excitement, as to how it might play in the ‘new’ Arab world, one with emerging democracies and absent many of the strong-men that often had close relationships with the West. No better example of this can be found than the current situation in Gaza, where Israel is taking sustained military action to protect her civilians from the terrorist group Hamas.
In the new Arab world, might there be a different reaction to the usual hate-mongering and gross distortion of facts, now that the seeds of democracy have taken root? Sadly, not. It seems that even in the reborn Middle East, impotent and inconsistent ‘unity’ still trumps reasoned argument.
Before the Arab Spring, and particularly when President Mubarak of Egypt was still in power, Israel could feel considerably more comfortable about the governments that surrounded it. Even if the population themselves of these countries would storm into the streets to protest against Israeli action, the governments were more realistic. In the case of Egypt, Hamas was not seen as a friend until the election of the Muslim Brotherhood to the presidency after the fall of Mubarak. Today, many in the media are suggesting that the predictable calls for Arab and Muslim unity that have come out of Cairo and other Middle East capitals have added significance because of the new government in Egypt. It is suggested that perhaps real action might be taken by the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt in support of Hamas.
The real question, of course, is what on earth Egypt or any other Arab country might do? These repeated statements to the effect of’This will not stand’ have become repetitive to the point of irrelevance, while the Egyptian Prime Minister visiting Gaza for 3 hours only served to illustrate the massive limits in what can actually be done by Arab countries to support Hamas. The reality is that despite the revolutions that swept Mubarak and his friends from power, the fundamentals of power-politics in the Middle East remain. Egypt and other Arab countries are still utterly impotent to stop Israel taking legitimate steps to defend herself. Public opinion of the conflict in the Arab world is perhaps the least relevant worldwide due to the ineptitude of their governments, the lack of compromise in their discourse and the economic and technological backwardness of their state structures when weighed against the Israelis.
The step that can be taken, is to sponsor a half-dozen buses of ‘solidarity activists’ on their drive to the Gaza Strip, which is what the Egyptian government is doing. These buses, which are carrying some supplies (though considerably fewer than the supplies Israel isstill transferring every day into Gaza) are designed to show the solidarity of the Egyptian people with their ‘oppressed Gazan brothers’. As these activists trundle across the Sinai towards Gaza, and hold up actual medical supplies from entering once they get there, they might take a moment to ponder why there was no similar convoy dispatched towards Syria?
The Arab street is united and resolute in its passionate condemnation of legitimate actions of self-defence by Israel, but when it comes to Syria they are as silent as their Leftist European and American allies. Where is the flotilla to Syria, where civilians have been butchered in the thousands? Where is the convoy of solidarity for the Syrians who hide under rubble as Assad and his war machine pick them off villages at a time?
Today, in the new Arab world, society and foreign relations are defined by an impotent and inconsistent sense of unity. In fact, it seems more and more as if the new Middle East is not very ‘new’ at all. Same old impotent inconsistency, different day.
Posted on 19/10/2012
Who amongst us will ever forget the Gaza War 2008-9? The non-stop media coverage, continuous denunciations of the State of Israel? The misinformation and downright lies about grotesquely exaggerated human casualties? The three-week war is seared into the memory of anyone who picked up a newspaper during that period. What a difference three years and a few hundred miles makes. Today, while the Butcher of Damascus continues his campaign of vicious violence against his own people, those armchair security experts who so attacked Israel for defending herself from terrorists, seem oddly silent when it comes to the massacre going on in Syria. Double-standards against the State of Israel, perish the thought.
Posted on 26th August 2012
During the London Olympics, for the first time in a long time, the world was forced to remember the brutal attacks of 1972, when the Palestinian terrorist group Black September launched an unprovoked and vicious attack against unarmed Israeli athletes. The eleven men who were massacred in the Olympic Village and on the tarmac at the airport as the terrorists tried to escape are rightly remembered as innocent victims who deserved so much better. Unfortunately, since the Munich attacks in 1972, West Germany and her unified successor-state has continued in a pattern of cowardice in confronting anti-Semitic terrorism, and threats to the State of Israel. It is time that Germany was held to account.
Der Spiegel, a leading German-language news magazine, has now published a report showing that immediately after the attack, West German officials made efforts to contact Black September and to assure them of immunity from potential justice in return for an undertaking not to carry out further attacks on German soil. Furthermore, not content with offering a carte blanche to terrorists to continue their campaign of violence on foreign soil, Germany offered political advancement for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in return for peace within their own borders. The moral cowardice would be enough to make your blood run cold if it was any surprise whatsoever.
The reality is both West Germany and the current unified republic have shown callous disregard for the security of the Jewish people and the Jewish state despite making frequent references to the ‘historical responsibility’ they have to Israel. By offering discounted submarines to Israel, Germany seeks to absolve itself of moral responsibility for the wider defence of the Jewish state.
There is an undercurrent in German society, particularly among young people and students, that they have had enough of having to pay the price for the Shoah as they see it. They argue that they are in no way responsible for what their grandparents did. In this, they are clearly correct. The difference is how you respond to those crimes that while you are not responsible for, you nonetheless have a deep historic connection to. Within living memory, a German government, supported by large swathes of the population, sought to destroy European Jewry. They came terrifyingly and tragically close to wiping from this earth one of the most ancient, deep and persistent cultures in human history. Their crimes bring a new responsibility to not just all Germans, not just all Europeans, but to all people. That responsibility is clear; the world cannot permit the Jewish people to ever again be so threatened, and cannot allow genocide and such crimes against humanity to happen to any group. Germany has historically, and continues, to shirk that responsibility.
Terror cannot be defeated through caving to the demands of murderers. Responding to the massacre of Jews in Germany by offering political recognition to the terrorists does not bring peace. Only once the criminal thugs have put down their arms, and undertaken never again to target civilians can compromise be mooted. By failing to do this in the case of Black September, who knows how many more terrorist attacks against Israel and Jews Germany promoted. By offering excuses today regarding the behaviour of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, how many more Jews will Germany condemn to death?
It is a question of morality and the character of a nation. Either the German people wish to place their country and their politics in contrast to those who came before, or they do not. How much progress has really been made, if now the killing is simply being outsourced?
Posted on 4th August 2012
Since the onset of the so-called Arab Spring, foreign policy experts have been glued to CNN, Al-Jazeera and social media as regime after regime has crumbled in the face of sustained street pressure in some cases, and outside intervention in others. Surveying the wreckage that has been left by this series of seismic political shifts, the Middle East remains a volatile and unstable place. In this sea of uncertainty, the strongest and most important American ally in the region, the State of Israel, has been left adrift and threatened by uncertainty as the current US administration stands idly by.
Israel has tried to keep a low profile throughout the turmoil that has swept the region. As Islamists were swept to power in Tunisia and neighboring Egypt, the Israelis have largely kept quiet, beyond expressing hope that the new Egyptian President, Mohammad Morsi, will abide by the Egypt-Israel Peace Accord. Following the U.S. lead, Israel has not taken up the cause of those populations facing vicious onslaughts at the hands of their so-called leaders. Even as the Butcher of Damascus continues to use extraordinary violence against his own citizens, Israel has determinably sought not to interfere in the affairs of her Arab neighbors. The upheavals of the Arab world, the Israelis argue, are the business of the Arab world and must be allowed to run their course.
Certainly, one could not expect Israel, with her litany of security concerns and political isolation to play an active role in ending the violence in neighboring Syria or elsewhere. Any such move would no doubt be seen as ‘Zionist meddling’ and be used for propaganda purposes by embattled regimes. That said, the troubles of Syria are unlikely to remain within the borders carved out by the French colonial masters in the early 20th century. Already, sectarian violence has spilled over into neighboring Lebanon, while in the words of General James Mattis, General Commander of US Central Command, ‘The longer this goes on, the more potential there is for Al-Qaeda”. Syria, already a major state-sponsor of terrorism, may now once again become a key base for violent Sunni extremists, as it was during the U.S. campaign in Iraq. Their primary target is likely to be Israel, but how long until they turn their bombs on U.S. interests in the region?
The Obama Administration has already faced severe criticism for its failure to marshal the forces unleashed by the Arab Spring effectively. From “Leading from behind” in Libya, to handwringing in the face of grotesque violence in Syria, President Obama has not inspired confidence in his handling of this major geopolitical shift. Various Administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have described the violence in Syria as “unacceptable”, yet so far the President has proved unwilling to take serious steps to end the Assad regime, and help contain the fallout of the civil war happening there. This failure to act could have decisive consequences for U.S. interests in the region, as well as the safety and security of the State of Israel.
President Obama has already demonstrated he is not taking a principled stand on the Arab Spring, as illustrated by his acquiescence to the violent tactics of the Bahraini government in suppressing demonstrators on the island kingdom. So if strategic interest and alliances are defining the Obama response to the instability in the region, why has the Administration done so little to protect the State of Israel?
The truth of the matter is that the President has made a strategic calculation; that it is worth sacrificing some of the security of Israel in return for a foreign policy that will not hurt his reelection chances in November. There is little appetite for an American intervention in Syria among the public, but the Commander-in-Chief has a responsibility that goes beyond the latest Gallup Poll. President Obama must do all he can to protect American interests in the region, chief amongst which is the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel. Idly standing by as chaos envelopes Syria and potentially provides a safe-haven for terrorists is not in U.S. interests, and shows callous disregard for legitimate Israeli security concerns.
The Middle East is today crying out for direction, and a clear political framework that addresses the challenges of Syria and other unstable regimes. Instead, the actions of the President represent a tragic failure of leadership. The American people, and their Israeli allies, will be left to pay the price.
Posted on 27th July 2012
Over the past few months, many of us involved in the pro-Israel community have pushed for the International Olympic Committee to hold a minute of silence to remember the Israeli athletes who were murdered in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics held in Munich, West Germany. Not a generation after the horrors of the Shoah, once again Jews were massacred for their religion and identity in Germany, while the world stood shamefully by. Though our efforts to remember the Israeli athletes formally has not been successful, today I will join with Jewish friends, Zionists, Israelis and all who condemn terrorism in remembering those who were so cruelly taken from us.
Every year the Israelis continue to compete in the Olympics is an act of faith. We will remember them.
Posted on 23rd July 2012
When Shaul Mofaz succeeded in ousting Tzipi Livni as Leader of the Opposition, many observers of Israeli politics crowed that ‘the greatest Prime Minister Israel never had’ finally got her comeuppance for indecision, intransigent opposition to Netanyahu and opportunism. They hailed Mofaz as a man who might deliver Kadima as a coherent political party and a true alternative to the leadership of Bibi and Likud. The results of Mr Mofaz’s leadership since March have shown how wrong Livni’s critics were. Kadima, a political party lacking in any governing philosophy or ideological coherence only survived as long as the political giant that was Livni led them. Today, the party has doomed itself to irrelevance and ridicule as Mofaz tries desperately to hold together his MKs from bolting the party.
Tzipi Livni was not a universally popular leader of Kadima. After winning the last general election against all predictions, Livni was passed over to form a government as the Knesset produced a body more conducive to a Likud-led administration. She refused to join the coalition of crooks put together by Netanyahu, arguing with considerable force and foresight that another Netanyahu government would postpone peace and serve primarily the fringe right-wing interests that allow him to operate with a majority. Many on the right of Israeli politics chastised Livni, arguing she was too proud to accept a number two position in a Netanyahu administration. Certainly, there is personal animosity between Livni and Netanyahu, but such personal dislike has not stopped Livni from serving in coalition governments before. In fact, it is her deeply held belief that Netanyahu is not an appropriate man to lead Israel or to seek peace with the Palestinians that prevented Livni from serving in his government. Unfortunately, Livni’s concerns about Netanyahu have been demonstrated to be well founded time and time again.
What of Mofaz, the man meant to deliver Israel from the incompetent leadership of Livni? Mofaz has succeeded in taking Kadima from being a party without a clear direction to a laughing stock. He rushed into office with Netanyahu, bolstering the right-wing coalition in what can only be described as an intensely short-sighted and selfish move. To many, Mofaz’s meteoric rise has been somewhat comic. A man of no particular charisma or competence, taking over the largest party in the Knesset purely on the basis that he is not Tzipi Livni. As Deputy-Prime Minister, Mofaz failed to even vaguely change government policy in any significant area. His signature issue, a replacement for the Tal Law and a reassessment of the military draft, fell flat once Netanyahu made it clear he would not risk alienating his right-wing allies to come to a fair and just resolution of a key threat to Israeli national cohesion. Leading his party out of government in protest was even weaker, as he lacked the votes to even bring down the government. Originally little more than an effort to get his name in the papers and push back against the fact he is unknown, the Mofaz sojourn into the Netanyahu government has left Kadima lacking in any kind of moral authority. Now with no credible opposition candidate to take on Netanyahu at the next general election, Israel is the poorer for Mofaz’s personal ambition.
No longer can Kadima claim to oppose the fundamentals of the Netanyahu government, having supported it formally in votes of confidence. Instead, reports show that as many as a quarter of Kadima’s MKs are negotiating a defection to Likud and Mofaz is left to rant and rave on Israeli television about how Netanyahu is a better politician than he is. This political parody would be amusing if it did not undermine the chances of peace so completely.
During the Third-way Labour revolution of the 1990s, Tony Blair famously predicted that”The New Labour project will only be complete when the Labour Party learns to love Peter Mandelson”. Mandelson, the ‘king of spin’ and architect of the pro-business policies of the reformed Labour Party was derided in many Left-wing circles as a sell-out, a Machiavellian and a closet-conservative. A bastardization of that quote is appropriate today for Israeli politics. The Israeli political structure will only be ready for peace when it learns to accept Tzipi Livni. Livni has shown those with security concerns aligned with Likud that it was possible to stay true to a dream of a strong Israel without abandoning the ability to compromise and make peace. She is a long way from perfect, but unlike Netanyahu and his coalition of crooks, she is actually capable of making peace.
Zionism at its heart is a political movement of impressive values, moving narratives and infinite potential. The Zionist project will never be complete, that is the aspirational nature of this laudable attempt to perfect here on earth a state for the Jewish people. A part of progression for Zionism must be acceptance within its historic homeland. That will only be achieved through bitter compromise and agreement with her Arab neighbours. Currently, there is no partner for peace on the other side of the wall, but the day that there is one, Netanyahu and his ilk will not be the ones to deliver a settlement. If Kadima disappears, subsumed variously into Likud, Labor and a cohort of mini-parties of little consequence, then one is left to wonder, who will be the ones to strike a grand bargain?
Shaul Mofaz has demonstrated what those of us who hesitated before condemning Livni always knew, she was the only thing holding the party together. Kadima is finished now. The process of casting around for a new saviour from the intransigent Likud begins anew.
The failure of the Palestinians to genuinely seek peace with Israel is the great tragedy and moral crime of this conflict. The only greater tragedy that could come to pass, is if the day ever comes that they are prepared to seek a just and lasting peace with their Jewish neighbours, the Zionist movement has nobody but Bibi to lead it in negotiations.
Posted on 4th July 2012
It is the image that in a slower news cycle, would have been front-page around the world. A video shot by a B’Tselem activist shows a Palestinian child walking down the street in Hebron in the Territories, when he is apprehended by Israeli soldiers. After being held for a few seconds, one of the soldiers kicks him violently in the chest, and he is released, running away crying. Before reading anymore of the article, I suggest watching the video which can be seen here: http://www.btselem.org/video/201200629_soldier_kicks_boy
If you are unfamiliar with the situation in the Territories in general, and in Hebron in particular, the video will be shocking. Violence against children is deeply disturbing, and the apparently random nature of this assault makes it even more uncomfortable for those of us who advocate for Israel and defend her in public forums. The Israeli authorities have ordered an investigation into the incident, and from the pictures one imagines it will not be impossible to identify the soldiers responsible.
Visiting Hebron is one of the more dispiriting things one can do. The level of hatred, viciousness and continuous violence that is evident in the city is enough to take away any hope you might have that peace will ever come in that place. As always, however, only the heavy-hand of the IDF is being shown. This clip is not put in the context but rather shown as if Israeli soldiers stand on street corners and randomly assault Palestinian children for sport. Why are there even soldiers there? Why might Israelis have such a violent reaction to a Palestinian child, a little boy?
I have visited Hebron. During my time there I was stoned repeatedly, a large rock was thrown through the windshield of my car and were it not for an IDF provided helmet I myself would have taken several to the head. I saw swastikas painted on walls around the Jewish community, Palestinians of all ages spitting down at Israelis walking below, and a large contingent of Scandinavian ‘peace activists’ running around on a summer vacation from Stockholm preaching to the Israelis about the lessons of the Shoah.
Not just that though.
I spoke to Israeli residents who articulated racist and at times violent views towards the Palestinian population. I saw IDF personnel using considerable physical force to move people aside, clear streets and enforce check-point policy. I witnessed examples of ‘tagging’, where right-wing Israeli youth spray-paint at times disturbing things on the walls of the main thoroughfares regarding Arabs and Palestinians. There was unpleasantness, hatred and horror on both sides.
Hebron is Ground Zero for seeing the reality of the conflict. In 1929 an Arab riot led to the massacre and ransacking of an ancient Jewish community, a scar that is yet to heal particularly in the religious Israeli population. Since its occupation, IDF personnel have been caught in between settlers and Palestinians, and have been forced to use controversial methods to keep the communities separate and protect Israelis.
International criticism of Israeli actions in Hebron are continuous and largely without context or merit. The Palestinian children of Hebron, like the boy in the video that prompted this article, are encouraged by their parents to throw rocks at Israelis. Not just soldiers, but other children and civilians. So what, right? Those stones cause injuries, and occasionally even deaths. They spread fear among the Israeli population and make normal life impossible. They are not the only way the Palestinian children take part in a sustained campaign of violence and aggression designed to threaten the Jewish population of Hebron.
It is like when the media report that a Palestinian teenager has been killed by an Israeli airstrike, and do not mention he was carrying an AK-47 at the time. A youth that has picked up a weapon is no longer a civilian that it is unjustified to use violence against in an effort to subdue them. I am not suggesting lethal force should be used against rock-throwing children, but in the context of this assault on this child, he may have just thrown a rock that blinded a 7 year old Israeli girl as happened just a few months ago. If you are a soldier tasked with defending your fellow citizens, imagine the level of frustration that comes from being confronted with this violence – that does pose a threat – but you are unable to use real force to prevent? Is it a surprise that in this instance a soldier gave the boy a kick to the chest? Is anyone even vaguely surprised? What if that experience leads that child not to go out and throw stones tomorrow, and so not put Israelis in danger, will it have been worth it then? There are so many contingencies, so many unknowns, is it not worth hesitating before condemning? It is to me.
Where were the parents of this child? Those who allow their young children to go out and endanger themselves and others in Hebron are not worthy of the word ‘mother’ or ‘father’. Can any parent reading this imagine allowing your 9 year old go out to throw stones at other people, even encourage it, when you know the potential reaction from the soldiers? These are the values being taught to Palestinian children in Hebron.
Confronted with such madness, with such violence, the actions of this soldier while still disturbing come in a context that is key to understanding the video itself. The Israeli soldier who kicked that child is not a monster, he is not evil, but he is in an impossible situation that puts an unimaginable level of strain on him and his colleagues. He did not shoot the child or even cause serious harm, the child runs away afterwards with no apparent injury. I am not suggesting this was pleasant, or is not worthy of consideration within Israeli society and through appropriate investigations. That is already happening. What is also happening is it is getting in newspapers thousands of miles away.
Where is the sense in that? Worse acts of police brutality happened across the Western world last night, in every single country which had a major newspaper carry one of these self-righteous editorials. How do you think Pakistanis are treated by the police in Sweden? How do you think North Africans are treated by the police in France?
It would be funny, if it was not so tragic. All focusing on this video does, is pull attention away from the real tragedy, the real crime. That crime is what is happening to Hebron and the population every single day. In a city of such stunning religious importance and cultural significance, bigotry and hatred is making such violence routine on both sides. Where are the editorials about that?
Posted 19th April 2012
Today is Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Memorial Day – and in Israel and across the world people of different religions and backgrounds will come together to commemorate, to remember, to pray and to learn. In Israel a two minute silence has already been observed, with men and women standing to attention across the Jewish state. In a small town in Poland however, a particularly powerful thing is taking place. The March of the Living.
Thousands of Jewish children and teenagers, from Israel and across the diaspora, will march between Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenhau, accompanied by representatives of the Israeli police force, and Jewish leaders from around the world. The March of the Living is the most phenomenal expression of defiance imaginable. It represents the collective Jewish desire to mark not just those who were brutally taken from this world during the Holocaust, but also to remind the world that the efforts to destroy the Jewish people were unsuccessful, and Jews and Judaism continue to flourish today.
All cultures remember tragedies and loss in different ways. In the United Kingdom, poppies adorn every lapel and top for a short time in November, leading up to Armistice Day on November 11th, and Remembrance Sunday immediately following it. The display of national mourning and honour for those fallen is deeply moving. As a national community we come together to remember what was given by those who were called on to sacrifice for Queen and country, and who laid down their lives in a conflict that took sons from every single settlement in the United Kingdom apart from 32. But there is still something fundamentally different about Armistice Day and Yom HaShoah. Although they were largely conscripts, those we remember in November were soldiers, not civilians. World War I and subsequent wars fought by Britain have been fought to protect out national sovereignty and interests, to oppose fascism and bring hope to oppressed peoples, but they have not been wars of individual survival. That is to say, not even World War II represented the possibility of the destruction of every single British citizen. That is the power of Yom HaShoah, that the Jewish people remember the attempt to destroy them not just with reverent silence, though reverent silence they observe, not just with prayers, though prayers they offer, not just with tears, though tears they shed, but with a March of the Living, because no matter what damage was done to world Jewry by the evils of the Holocaust, Judaism and Jews still exist, they live and laugh and love and do all those things that their enemies tried to destroy. What possible action could be taken that would be more life-affirming that this march?
To understand those who march on Yom HaShoah, one must look to their personal histories, with Holocaust survivors among those who march, as well as survivors of the units of the British, American and Soviet forces who liberated the death camps. Many of these people experienced firsthand the full horrors Yom HaShoah is designed to keep in our collective memory. Others have only heard stories, visited the camps and observed their historical reality. Together they form a powerful legion that sends the clearest of messages;
Light will drive out darkness.
Life will triumph over death.
Hope will end despair.
Defiance in the face of such brutality is honour without end.
One of my own personal heroes will always be one of the victims of the Holocaust who did not manage to escape. Anne Frank is perhaps one of the most well known of the victims, and though each life that was lost should be mourned equally, it is her words that still speak to me out of the pages of her diary, decades later:
‘Despite everything, I still believe that people are fundamentally good in their hearts’
The day we stop believing that, will be the day we stop understanding Yom HaShoah and the lessons we must all learn. The March of the Living is the finest example imaginable of what Anne imparts to us in those closing pages. Let the goodness in all our hearts come out.