Sunday, 6 November 2022

Israel elections 2022: what the Diaspora should know

Israel’s latest elections appear to have broken the prolonged stalemate between the two ‘blocs’.  I don’t mean ‘left’ and ‘right’ – terms that make very little sense in the current Israeli political context; I don’t even mean ‘doves’ and ‘hawks’; no, I mean the anti-Netanyahu and pro-Netanyahu camps – that’s the only accurate way to describe the two political tendencies that participated in the latest electoral contest.  Were it not for Netanyahu and his legal ‘tzores’, Israel would have had a stable government, without the need for those unprecedented five national elections between April 2019 and November 2022.

While there’s many a slip twixt election results and a coalition government, the victory certainly belongs to the pro-Netanyahu bloc, which garnered 64 seats of the 120 available in Israel’s unicameral parliament – the Knesset.  The anti-Netanyahu bloc won only 51 seats, with the remainder of 5 occupied by the majority-Arab Hadash-Ta’al party – which adopted its usual ‘plague-on-both-their-houses’ strategy (read: they ruled out joining any governing coalition with ‘the Zionists’).

Most Israelis were not surprised; but the results sent a huge tremor in the ranks of the self-described ‘progressives’.  And not just because they signalled the almost complete demise of what some insist on calling ‘the Israeli left’ (that is, Meretz and the Labour Party); but even more so, because of the rise of Religious Zionism, the ‘far-right’ or ‘hawkish’ alliance.

Fair disclosure

Had I participated in these elections, my vote would have gone to National Unity – Benny Gantz’s party.  No, not because of the (rather naff) name; nor because I like its leader – though I think he is a decent guy.  Finally, not because I don’t like Netanyahu.  Though I’ve never been a great supporter, I do think that Netanyahu has, by and large, been a good leader.  Even his most bitter adversaries cannot deny that he has presided over a period of economic growth and prosperity; that he has pursued Israel’s vital interests without engaging in adventurous military conflicts in places like Syria and Lebanon – let alone Iran; that he has somehow managed to expand Israel’s diplomatic reach beyond what many thought possible.  His adversaries will attribute those achievements to luck or circumstance; but if one manages to stay lucky for 12 straight years as Prime Minister of Israel – I for one will nevertheless applaud!

True, Netanyahu hasn’t made peace with the Palestinians.  But if this is the only measure of success, then all Israeli leaders have been failures – so why single out Netanyahu?

Many accuse Netanyahu of dishonesty.  It is true that, in his political dealings, he often broke promises and told lies.  But politics is not a business for the faint-hearted; and if we were to crucify all disingenuous politicians – there’d be a lot of hammering in the great halls of many a parliament.  As for his purported corruption – that must be assessed in a court of law; and that’s all I have to say about it.

So if Netanyahu is such a great guy – you ask – why would you not vote for him?  Well, mainly because he has been in power too long.  Israel needs some new blood at the helm; and she isn’t getting it, because nothing grows well in the shadow of a big tree.  And yes, also because, in his quest for power, Netanyahu has now made some unsavoury alliances.  For all those reasons, Israel must – sooner or later – wean herself from Netanyahu, just as she did in the past from Ben Gurion.

Still, I am not particularly worried about Netanyahu winning again: he is 73 and – unless he has the grace to draw a line himself at a propitious time – nature and a few political vultures will at some point do it for him.

As for the ‘Religious Zionism’ extremists, I have nothing but contempt for them: their way isn’t my way and their Zionism is a very far cry from mine.

Still, I don’t share the ‘gewalt’ atmosphere that some (especially in the Diaspora) dishonestly create around these elections, and that others naively ingurgitate – hook, sink and proverbial liner.

A bit of history

For many, the major ‘item’ in these elections is the meteoric rise of Religious Zionism: led by the ‘far-right enfant terrible’ Bezalel Smotrich and including Itamar Ben Gvir – an extremist and former disciple of Meir Kahane – Religious Zionism more than doubled its parliamentary footprint; it won 14 out of the 120 Knesset seats, becoming the 3rd largest political group.

It is worth examining the history of this party: its first embodiment was T’kuma (Revival), a small splinter of the National Religious Party (known in Israel mostly by its Hebrew acronym – Mafdal).  The latter was formed as early as 1956 and initially leaned left, operating its own trade union and cooperating in coalition governments with the Labour Party.  It increasingly turned right, mainly in reaction to what it perceived as the Labour’s neglect and lack of interest in Jewish faith and tradition.  The founders of T’kuma left Mafdal in 1998, over its perceived ‘softness’.  Between 1999 and 2013 it survived by forming, breaking and reforming alliances with other small parties on the ‘right’ fringe of Israeli politics.  Bereft of real power and influence, the leaders of T’kuma were reduced to attempting to gain some measure of notoriety through political stunts and outrageous statements.  They featured often in the reports of foreign journalists intent on showing extremism in Israel; but most Israelis dismissed them as irrelevant, big-mouth non-entities.

In 2014, the Knesset approved a bill which increased the threshold for entering the parliament from 2% to 3.25% of the votes – meaning that the smallest possible political group represented in the Knesset was 4 members.

The brilliant Israeli political analyst Haviv Rettig Gur described the move:

"The reform passed in the Knesset relatively easily. Its purpose, as articulated by the bill’s sponsors at the time, was to reduce the government’s dependence on tiny, marginal factions and thus increase stability and governability.

There are too many parties jostling around in the Knesset, went the argument. Prime ministers must satisfy as many as half a dozen – in the case of the outgoing government, eight! – separate factions to keep the government alive. A dozen factions might negotiate over any piece of legislation. This complexity and dependence on small parties warped decision-making and was a major source of political instability. Simple governance had been rendered nigh impossible by the sheer messiness of it all."

 At the time, most Israeli political analysts either applauded the move as ‘a step in the right direction’ or dismissed it as cosmetic tinkering, demanding more radical changes.

It was opposed, of course, by the small parties that were likely to be left out of the parliament.

The Arab parties saw the move as directed against them – as they tended to win between 2% and 4% of the votes; they lost no time in calling it yet another ‘racist’ measure aimed at denying Arab Israelis their political rights.  But the increase in threshold was seen as affecting the Jewish far-right even more – those small parties generally won below 3%.  Hence, T’kuma and others on the fringe right called it ‘anti-democratic’ at the time.

The prospect of getting rid of the small far-right parties (and, possibly, to attract more votes from the Arab sector) caused many ‘progresives’ to support the bill.

Haviv Rettig Gur reminds us:

"President Isaac Herzog, then a senior Labor party lawmaker, had proposed an even steeper increase to 5% a few years earlier."

 The increase in parliamentary threshold from 2% to 3.25% should forever be studied as a textbook example of how the Law of Unintended Consequences works in politics.

In the years to come, some of the measure’s fiercest critics were to benefit from it – while some of its supporters would suffer.

The 3.25% hurdle would force more of the small parties to merge or at least form temporary, pre-election alliances.  Thus, the Arab parties (who had so vehemently denounced the higher threshold) formed the ‘Joint List’ – which won 13 seats in September 2019 and 15 in March 2020, becoming Israel’s 3rd largest party.  Conversely, in 2022 the Jewish left (which had mostly supported the bill) failed to unite, which left the hard-left (Meretz) out in the rain, while the more moderate Labour narrowly scraped in, with just 3.69% of the vote.

Ever the wily political operator, Netanyahu understood the significance of the increased threshold: since parties gaining less than 3.25% would not get any seats in the Knesset, fragmentation in the ‘pro-Netanyahu’ camp risked wasting votes and thus pushing his putative coalition below the minimum required majority of 61 in the 120-large parliament.

In 2021, he engineered an alliance between T’kuma (which had meanwhile been renamed ‘National Union’ and was already led by Bezalel Smotrich) and two other tiny parties: Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) and the anti-gay No’am.  Netanyahu assessed (correctly, most analysts would say) that in the absence of such a pact both Otzma Yehudit and No’am would fail to pass the electoral threshold, thus wasting votes for his camp.  Otzma Yehudit was generally seen as the weaker partner in the alliance, which is why Ben Gvir was placed not on the second place (after Smotrich), but only on the third.

As it happened, the new alliances (dubbed ‘Religious Zionism’) won only some 5% of the votes, resulting in 6 Knesset seats.  As we know, Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition, while his opponents from hard-right to hard-left) managed to rise above their huge ideological differences and form a – however feeble – governing coalition.

From irrelevance to ‘victory’

So what caused Religious Zionism to more than double its electoral strength between March 2021 and November 2022 – from 5.12% to 10.83% of the votes, or from 6 to 14 mandates?  It was certainly not its legislative achievements: the party was in opposition and (apart from fiery speeches and annoying stunts) contributed absolutely nothing.

Some – both in Israel and abroad – are eager to ‘explain’ the party’s success so as to show Israelis in the worst possible light.

Esawi Frej (an Arab Israeli politician representing the hard-left Meretz party in the Knesset and Minister of Regional Cooperation in the outgoing government) tweeted:

"14 mandates to Ben Gvir is 14 mandates to hatred of Arabs. The 3rd largest party is racist, Kahanist, violent… it doesn’t want me or my children here. It’s no longer a slippery slope. It’s the abyss itself."

Frej’s post was written in Hebrew, but the text was translated and gleefully re-tweeted in English by Yachad, a self-described ‘progressive’ British Jewish outfit whose raison d’être is ‘criticising’ Israel.

But why would ‘hatred of Arabs’ (assuming that’s what impelled people to vote for Religious Zionism) rise from 5% to almost 11% of the population in just a few months?  And how is ‘hatred of Arabs’ consistent with the quasi-general support for the Abraham Accords, including masses of Israelis eager to visit and do business with some of the newly-accessible Arab countries?

In reality (as I’m sure both Esawi Frej and Yachad know, but choose not to say), the rise of Religious Zionism is the result of a ‘perfect storm’, consisting mainly of two factors.

Firstly, in May 2021 Israelis experienced yet another mini-war with Gaza.  Denied participation in the Palestinian elections (it was widely expected to win them, which is why Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas ‘postponed them sine die), Hamas decided to bolster its credentials as ‘the’ defender of Palestinians by launching a rocket assault on Israel.  This in itself would not have been so traumatic: it happened quite a few times before.

But something completely new happened this time: massive riots by Arab citizens of Israel, randomly targeting Jews and Jewish property.  The riots were particularly violent in the ‘mixed towns’ (i.e. places where Jews and Arabs live together, such as Lod, Ramle and Acco).  In those places, the riots resembled pogroms, with bands of young Arabs attacking passing Jews (two were killed and several others injured), throwing rocks at cars and setting fire to Jewish houses, cars and synagogues.  What’s more, many testified that some local Arab citizens, while not participating themselves in the violence, pointed out Jewish homes and cars to the rioters, who proceeded to attack or burn them.  The Arab riots (and the Jewish ‘counter-riots’ that soon followed) continued for a whole week, forcing the government to impose a state of emergency.

To complete the grim ‘score line’ of this episode of violence: the Arab rioters set 112 Jewish homes, 10 synagogues and 849 cars on fire (as well as an Arab house, which they mistook for being inhabited by Jews).  386 Jewish homes were looted and another 673 damaged.  There were more than 5,000 recorded instances of stone-throwing against Jews.  On the Arab side, 13 homes and 13 cars were burned by rioting Jews and there were 41 recorded incidents of stone-throwing.

It is hard to exaggerate the traumatic effect of these riots.  Imagine cowering in your home with your family, while rioters are already burning houses and cars a few blocks away; imagine driving home from work one evening, your car pounded with large rocks from both sides of the road, while large mobs appear to be baying for your blood.  While only a small percentage of the Israeli population directly experienced the riots, practically all others watched them on television, or on videos circulating on social media.  Israelis have a keen sense of history and the images of Jews experiencing pogroms in their own country were devastating.

Timing is of the essence here, too: the riots started in the evening of 10 May 2021, almost at the same time as 150 rockets were launched from Gaza at random targets in Israel.  They continued while Israel was pounded with hundreds of additional missiles.

To make matters worse, once the riots died down, (on 18 May 2021) Arab Israeli politicians declared a general strike – in support of their ‘brothers’ in the West Bank and Gaza.  This may be a ‘symbolic’ act; but hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews saw their Arab colleagues refusing to come to work (in hospitals, schools, factories and offices), in the midst of a war, in ‘solidarity’ with the enemy.  The strike pulled the rug from under the feet of those (among them the Israeli left) who preached coexistence and insisted that the riots involved only an unrepresentative, violent minority.  Conversely, it bolstered the far-right propaganda, seemingly vindicating their portrayal of Arab Israelis as a ‘fifth column’ ready to act in concert with the country’s existential enemies.  There were Arab voices that publicly condemned the riots; but the general strike drowned them down or rendered them meaningless.

Many of the votes for Religious Zionism are, no doubt, a reaction to the May 2021 riots and to the general strike that followed.  But another factor contributed, as well.

Those who, like me, follow the meanders of Israeli politics would have noticed a significant absence in the 2022 elections: that of Yamina (Rightwards), the party led by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked.  In the March 2021 elections, Yamina won 7 seats.  Although ideologically to the right of Netanyahu’s Likud, Yamina decided to side with the anti-Netanyahu bloc.  It thus enabled that bloc to form a wide governing coalition, including Labour, the hard-left Meretz and the Islamist Arab party Ra’am.  Naftali Bennett initially headed that coalition, as Prime Minister; he later kept his promise and stepped down to enable Yair Lapid (leader of the centrist Yesh Atid/There’s a Future) to assume the premiership, as part of a ‘rotation’ agreement.

But many in Yamina’s right-wing constituency took a dim view of this alignment with the left, seeing it as a ‘crossing of the lines’ and a betrayal of the mandate that the voters gave that party.  So strong was that backlash, that Bennett decided not to run in 2022.  His decision was vindicated when the party of his political partner Ayelet Shaked failed to even come close to the electoral threshold.

Betrayed once and not about to be fooled again, Yamina’s voters (typically religious people leaning right) looked around for a political home.  But, given that Netanyahu had orchestrated an alliance of the small right-wing parties, the pickings were slim.  Some no doubt chose to vote for the religious Mizrakhi Shas, which would explain that party’s rise from 9 seats in 2021 to 11 in 2022; but many more chose Religious Zionism – not necessarily because of its extremism, but because it was the only party left that represented the two aspects that ‘talked to’ these voters: religion and nationalism.

Esawi Frej is wrong – and he knows it: it is not ‘hatred of Arabs’ that propelled Religious Zionism to its apparent prominence.  Many of those who voted for this party did so not because of its extremism, but despite it – in reaction to events that that party neither triggered nor engineered – but simply profited from.

Of course, I’m no naïve: there is, unfortunately, little love lost (and quite a lot of rancour, actually) between Arabs and Jews in Israel.  Frej is no doubt right that Ben Gvir would rather he and his children did not live in Israel.  I suspect that Frej would also prefer ‘the Zionists’ not to have ‘settled’ in ‘Palestine’ in the first place.  Fortunately, neither Ben Gvir nor Frej has any choice in the matter: both communities are there to stay and must find a way to satisfy one’s aspirations without impinging too much on the other’s.

But while many Israeli Jews feel some degree of hostility, fear and mistrust towards their Arab countrymen – that isn’t (as the likes of Yachad want us to believe) ‘racism’.  It is not a conviction that Arabs are racially inferior that’s behind most Israeli Jews’ attitude.  Rather, this is the ‘normal’ resentment caused by 100 years of a conflict beseeched by existential threats and fears, by abominable acts of violence, by denial of humanity, aspirations and history and by outlandish accusations of ‘Nazism’ and ‘apartheid’.

That hostility is akin to the one felt by Brits towards Germans in World War I; not to that propagated by Nazis against Jews in World War II.  There’s an ocean of difference between the two; and those who try to merge them into one problem are either blatantly dishonest, or something is seriously wrong with their moral compass.

While not constituting ‘racism’ and while being understandable in the context of the conflict, the rancour between the two communities remains a bad thing.  We (Jews and Arabs) must strive to rise above it; we must fight those (from either side) who seek to exacerbate it.

I’m an optimist: given how deep, long and hurtful this conflict has been, the levels of hostility are actually surprisingly low.  It might be disturbing to see Arab rioters on the rampage in a Jewish neighbourhood – and Jews ‘responding’ with violence against other, uninvolved Arabs.  But, despite everything, the two communities soon returned to ‘normal’: working in the same hospitals, schools, factories and offices; interacting in a civil – if not very warm and cuddly – manner.  Compare that with what’s happened just a short distance away, in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria; or even in Egypt; and, in the past, in Jordan – and more recently in Iran…

Gewalt – racists on board!

Of course, that does not mean that Smotrich and (especially) Ben Gvir – and some of their supporters – aren’t racists.  I believe they are.  But they learned to dissimulate it, to moderate it just enough to allow them to squeeze below the standard of proof required by law.  Ben Gvir claims that he has no desire to expel Arabs for being Arabs, but only those who are ‘disloyal’ – meaning they engage in or support acts of violence or subversion against the state.  Personally, I doubt he is sincere about that; but in a democracy we cannot stop people from running because of what we suspect they actually think; but only because of what they say and do.  That’s why Ben Gvir (unlike his former mentor Kahane) was declared ‘kosher’ to run.  As the Israeli expression goes, he may be ‘kosher, but stinks’.

But, if this is the situation, should we not be terribly worried?  I mean, Ben Gvir may soon be Public Security Minister – in charge of the national police!

So maybe the likes of Yachad are right to ‘demand action’ from the Diaspora – to ‘save Israel from the Israelis’?  Maybe the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and other bombastically named Jewish ‘leadership’ bodies are right to express ‘grave concerns’?

Well, I think the Diaspora ‘armchair activists’ are all wrong.  I think they talk through their arses, have no genuine understanding of Israel, her history and her politics and, if anything, only do harm.

Some people have short memories: we’ve actually seen this film before.  When the tough-talking Menachem Begin became not just minister but Prime Minister, many warned of an impending catastrophe.  After all, Begin was a former leader of the Irgun – seen as a terrorist organisation in Britain and elsewhere. The same Irgun which perpetrated the bombing of the King David hotel (which, however, ‘happened’ to be the headquarter of the British Army); the organisation that captured two British sergeants and hanged them in retaliation to the hanging of its own captured operatives; the organisation that attacked Deir Yassin.

Begin had been a promoter of ‘Greater Israel’ – including not just the West Bank, but territories on the eastern side of the Jordan River, if and when they were captured (or ‘liberated’).  Yet Begin was the Prime Minister that relinquished 100% of the Sinai peninsula (which constituted some 70% of the territory under Israeli control) in return for a ‘cold peace’ with Egypt.  In the process, he even uprooted Jewish ‘settlers’ – something that ‘the experts’ assessed he’d never do.  Prime Minister Begin (for whom even uttering the term ‘Palestinian’ was anathema) became the first Israeli leader to accept the idea of ‘autonomy’ for the Arab population of the West Bank and Gaza.

Some people never learn.  So, when Ariel Sharon became first Minister of Foreign Affairs and then Prime Minister, we were treated to the same predictions of impending doom.  After all, as a military commander Sharon became famous for his ultra-aggressive actions – sometimes in open defiance of orders.  As a politician, he became a major promoter of settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza.  As Minister of Defence, he presided over the war in Lebanon, which ended with expelling the PLO ‘troops’ far from Israel’s borders – but also with the massacres at Sabra and Shatila.

Yet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was the Israeli leader who unilaterally withdrew from Gaza.  In the process, this ‘darling’ of the ‘settlement movement’ evacuated (forcibly when necessary) every Jewish ‘settler’ from that territory – and (as a sign of further intentions) also from 4 West Bank ‘settlements’.  The ‘extremist’ Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke and became permanently incapacitated before putting in practice his intentions to extricate Israel, one way or another, out of most of the West Bank.

There was also a certain Avigdor Lieberman.  He, too, had the reputation of being a ‘meshugener’ – an unreliable hothead.  Among other things, it was reported that he opined that, in the event of a war with Egypt, Israel should bomb the Aswan Dam.  No more and no less!  His intemperate outbursts directed at members of the Knesset from the Arab parties were (in)famous – and so were his threats directed at anyone who, in his view, incited terror against the State of Israel.  No wonder that his 2016 appointment as Minister of Defence caused trepidation.  Yet Avigdor Lieberman did not start wars and did not get involved in any military adventure.  In fact, his major contribution as Defence Minister was… coming down very assertively in favour of equal rights for LGBT soldiers.

In fact, Israel’s short modern history is replete with ‘colourful’ characters who talked wildly but acted with surprising restraint and prudence.  And on the few occasions that a real extremist came out of the woodwork – such as Meir Kahane in the 1980s – the Israeli political body spit it out.

“Hold on a minute” – I hear you say.  “Netanyahu needs Religious Zionism in order to form a coalition and, then, to remain in power.  They have him by the short and curlies!”

Well, it’s true – at least apparently.  Netanyahu seems intent on forming a coalition with Religious Zionism and the two Haredi parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism.  But ‘seems’ may be the operative word in the sentence above.  He may do what everybody expects him to do – or he may surprise us all.  After all – unlike after the previous four rounds of elections, he now has a clear path to majority.  That, paradoxically, may open a range of possibilities – and few are as adept at playing the political game as Bibi the Fox.

But, even if he does proceed along the obvious route to power, how likely is Netanyahu to – in practice – relinquish some of that power to the likes of Smotrich and Ben Gvir?  True, he needs them; but, in reality, no more than they need him.  They may be extremists – but stupid they’re not: when the inebriating fumes of victory disperse, they will realise (if they haven’t already) that their success is the result of a very peculiar set of circumstances, one very unlikely to occur again.  The next round of elections is likely to see them cut down to size again.  In particular if they are seen to have inflicted yet another round of elections on the people of Israel – after just a few months.  And you can bet your bottom shekel that Netanyahu will make sure they are seen in that light.

That there is no love lost between Netanyahu and either Smotrich or Ben Gvir is the world’s worst kept secret.  Netanyahu has stated in the past that Ben Gvir is not ministerial material.  And while, for obvious reasons, he has recently changed that particular tune, no one believes he also changed his mind; least of all Ben Gvir.  In the midst of the recent elections campaign, a recording surfaced – and the entire country could hear Smotrich disparaging Netanyahu in stark, even vulgar terms.  The entire country could hear – including of course Netanyahu himself.

In fact, Netanyahu has already started to put Religious Zionism in its place.  Several times during the campaign, he made it clear that the major ministries (Finance, Foreign Affairs, Defence) will be under Likud’s control.  More recently – and in response to vague ‘plans’ by Religious Zionism to ban LGBT pride events – Netanyahu made it clear that his government will not allow any worsening in LGBT rights, including no limitations on pride parades.  The Israeli media referred to those signals coming from Netanyahu’s office as “slapping down [his] far-right partners”.

One does not win multiple elections in Israel without learning a trick or two.  If, drunk on their lucky electoral success, Ben Gvir and Smotrich pick a fight with Netanyahu… well, that conflict can only see one winner.  Netanyahu – who has seen off much worthier opponents – will chew them both for breakfast

Let’s not forget: Bezalel Smotrich has been a minister before – he held the Transport portfolio between June 2019 and May 2020.  But – whether he learned some restraint himself or whether because Netanyahu kept him on a short lead – his short stint as minister was utterly unremarkable.

But, let’s leave aside Netanyahu and his great talents or utter lack of scruples – choose one according to your inclination.  Let’s, instead, look at Israel’s track record.  In her 74 years of modern existence, the country has faced tremendous, unparalleled challenges – military, economical, political and social.

Haters will hate, Cassandras will forever prophesise impending doom, and for some people the glass is always half-empty.  But, despite all those challenges, Israel is today not just undefeated militarily, but economically successful, democratic and generally flourishing.  This young country is ranked 19th in the world by Human Development Index – on a par with mighty Japan and higher than France, Italy and Spain; 12th in the world by life expectancy – higher than Sweden, Norway, France and Canada (UK is 29th, USA 46th); the International Monetary Fund predicts that between 2021 and 2027 the Israeli economy will grow at an average annual rate of almost 4.5% – one of the highest in OECD.

Yet some in the Diaspora never seem to see this; or if they do see it, they don’t quite believe it; or if they do believe it – they see disaster looming just around the corner.  Why?  Is it really Israel’s fault?  Or is it the diaspora spirit – forever fearful, forever uncertain, forever plagued by guilt?

Not the rising antisemitism, nor the rampant assimilation...
Are these really "our worst fears"?

It’s time for this worried Diaspora to chill and learn a bit of optimism.  Why not start with that great Hebrew expression:

!יהיה בסדר (It’ll be fine!)

Have a little faith, folks!

Friday, 12 August 2022

Harping About Hebron

One of the most outrageous, blood-boiling aspects of ‘modern’ political culture is the shocking levels of intellectual dishonesty found among people who claim moral high ground as ‘campaigners for human rights’.

I’ve written before about the Israeli group that calls itself ‘Breaking the Silence’.  Let me remind you, in just one sentence:

“Fair disclosure: I despise Breaking the Silence.  It’s not that they hold opinions that are very different from mine; frankly [sigh], a lot of people hold opinions very different from mine!  Much as I disagree with them, these BtS chaps are entitled to their opinion; they are even entitled to promote those opinions and try to persuade others.  But the way they go about it is, in my view, thoroughly anti-democratic and intellectually dishonest.”

I’ve also written (and not in very complimentary terms, either) about the British group which calls itself ‘Yachad’:

“In Hebrew, Yachad means ‘together’.  Nice name; but the reality is, these days, that Yachad is ‘together’ with those who target Jews – and only Jews – for boycott.”

The two groups – Breaking the Silence and Yachad – have been working together for years.  And one of the main areas of collaboration is taking British Jews on indoctrination tours – especially to the city of Hebron, in the West Bank.

Why Hebron?  Not because, as Yachad dishonestly claims, it’s “a microcosm of occupation”.  Quite the opposite: rather than being ‘typical’ – as Yachad and BtS would like people to think – Hebron is the worst place in the West Bank.  That’s because some of the most extreme Israelis live in close proximity to some of the most extreme Palestinians.  Agreements have been implemented, which have by-and-large pacified the area and saved lives.  But those same agreements give duplicitous groups like Yachad and BtS an opportunity to bash Israel.

The advert

So, if that’s been going on for a while, why am I writing about it now?  Well, because after the latest such tour, BtS and Yachad have managed to get some free advertising (I am not convinced that it was indeed free; i.e. that no money or other benefits changed hands; but let’s assume it was) from the pages of Jewish News – a British Jewish outlet associated with Times of Israel.  The author is a certain Lee Harpin and his article is entitled “We must fix this for the settlers, soldiers and the Palestinians”.

So that’s why I write about this now: to take apart this disingenuous piece of anti-Israel propaganda and wipe the floor with it.  Sure, people have the right to criticise my country; but, if they do it with ill-will, duplicity or dishonesty, I have the right to expose those rather unpleasant traits.

The first thing I asked myself as I started to read Mr. Harpin’s piece was: who exactly is ‘we’?  If Harpin were an Israeli citizen writing in Hebrew for an Israeli audience (for instance for Ha’aretz, who may be willing to have him), all would be clear and legitimate.  Israelis (read: people who live, pay taxes, vote and put their arses on the line in Israel) have every right to express opinions and try to persuade other Israelis that theirs are the best opinions in town.  But Mr. Harpin isn’t Israeli; he writes in English for a British audience – i.e. people who live, pay taxes and vote in the United Kingdom.  If they are the ’we’, then it’s entirely unclear why “we must fix” anything at all more than 2,000 miles away from where “we” live.

The article’s strapline is no less ‘interesting’:

“Controversial Israeli group Breaking The Silence attracts increasing numbers of diaspora Jews onto its 'occupation tour' in West Bank cities like Hebron.”

And below, still in bold typeface:

“Israeli human rights groups such as Breaking The Silence (BTS) are reporting an increase in bookings from diaspora Jews for ‘occupation tours’ of West Bank cities like Hebron to witness for themselves the situation faced by Palestinians.”

And again, this time in the body of the article, coming from Danielle Bett, a Yachad spokesperson:

“More and more diaspora Jews are visiting the West Bank…”

Well, methinks thou dost protest too much, Mr. Harpin: much as I scoured the rest of the article, I could find no clue what the reported “increase in bookings” was.  Which is ‘a bit’ odd: self-respecting journalists don’t write vague statements bereft of any substance.

And what exactly is the term of reference for that “increase”?  If it’s 2020 or 2021, then Mr. Harpin must be, technically-speaking, correct – and ethically-speaking beyond contempt.  It’s obvious that, if we compare 2022 with the pandemic years, there was a sharp increase in all travel; not just in “occupation tours” to “West Bank cities”, but also in tourism to Timbuktu and Phnom Penh…

And how many Diaspora Jews is “more and more”?  From 8 to 10 – now that’s a whopping 25% growth; but it would be utterly misleading to report “an increase” based on such insignificant numbers...

Let me be clear: I am very suspicious of journalists (or ‘journalists’) who write in this manner: without numbers to support them, such statements amount to subliminal adverts dressed up as ‘news’ and unethically ‘fed’ to the unsuspecting reader.


If one disagrees with Lee Harpin and criticises his views, one is a 'reactionary'. Well, I'm going to call those in his camp (including Yachad and BtS) 'the harpins'. No, not 'an eye for an eye', just contempt for contempt.


But let’s go back to Mr. Harpin’s latest ‘journalistic’ contribution:

He begins by giving a broad platform to the BtS ‘tour guide’.  That’s Amir Ziv, the group’s so-called ‘Pedagogy Coordinator’ (‘pedagogy’ sounds so much better than ‘propaganda’ or ‘brainwashing’, doesn’t it?  But it is also indicative of a certain attitude…)

After being so vague about the alleged “increase in bookings”, Harpin suddenly decides to be amazingly precise when reciting Amir’s ‘credentials’:

[He] had served three years in the IDF, with the 50th battalion of the Nahal Brigade in Hebron and Gaza”.

Such military track record may sound impressive to Diaspora Jews with no experience of army service.  But most Israelis would shrug: millions of them served in the IDF – the males typically for three years.  Of course, Amir did not spend three years in Hebron and Gaza – that’s just Harpin’s journalistic sleight of hand; no Israeli soldier did: garrisoning and anti-terror activity in the West Bank is just a relatively small part of IDF’s mission.  Like so many Israelis, I also served in Hebron (and Nablus, and Ramallah and a handful of other ‘nice’ places).  In total, I spent there many months, including as a reservist, at the height of the intifada.  I have quite a few stories to tell – but they’re not the kind of stories Breaking the Silence or Yachad are interested in; they’ll never publish my testimony, nor will they invite me to guide their tours.

So, a word of warning: yes, Amir Ziv served in the IDF, like most Jewish Israelis; but no, that does not mean ‘he knows what he’s talking about’.  Amir is an outlier; listen to any of his comrades and you’ll hear a completely different story.

Anyone who ever listened to a Breaking the Silence presentation knows how one-sided their tales are.  But Lee Harpin wants us to believe that dear ol’s Amir gives a balanced, sane account, which also highlights Israeli suffering:

“Standing beside a memorial plaque in downtown Hebron to Gadi and Dina Levi – a couple expecting the birth of their first child, who were killed by a Palestinian terrorist wearing a bomb while they were on their way to pray at the nearby Cave of the Patriarchs in 2003 – Amir opened up about the impact of violence, having recently become the father of a baby girl.

Recalling another Palestinian sniper attack in the same area, which killed a young child, he said: ‘Each death, each attack, each time you see violence… it pushed me further away into the realisation we need to fix this. It won’t stop on its own, we have to end it, for the settlers, and soldiers who come here, and for the Palestinians.’”

You got that?  All Amir wants you to do is to help everybody: ‘settlers’, soldiers and Palestinians.  And how can “we” do that?  Why, by bashing Israel, of course!

Imagine that, after the Manchester Arena bombing, a British political advocacy group told a group of Israeli tourists that they must apply pressure on the British government in order “to fix this” for the benefit of all: innocent kids attending a concert, police, Muslims...  I dare say that the vast majority of Brits (including most British Muslims) would take a rather dim view of such ‘human rights advocacy’.

But this is all just the beginning.  Next, Amir goes on to describe what, in his enlightened opinion, are the two things “we need to keep in the back of our mind about Hebron”: 1) the 1929 massacre and 2) the Goldstein massacre.

The juxtaposition of the two events is an attempt to hoodwink people into believing that they are similar.  Of course, they were both criminal, disgusting acts.  But otherwise, they had nothing in common.

The pogrom

The 1929 Hebron Massacre was a pogrom perpetrated by large mobs of Arabs against the local Jewish community – a community that lived in the city for centuries, alongside their Arab neighbours.  Organised in groups of hundreds of men armed with swords, axes and knives, the Arab rioters attacked Jewish houses, synagogues and businesses, murdering and pillaging.  They were joined by some Arab policemen.  Two local rabbis noted, however, that there were also a score of Arab families who saved Jews by offering them shelter in their homes.

But the only one who actually confronted the murderers and tried to stop them was British Superintendent Raymond Cafferata, the commander of the local police force.  Here's part of his testimony:

“On hearing screams in a room, I went up a sort of tunnel passage and saw an Arab in the act of cutting off a child's head with a sword. He had already hit him and was having another cut, but on seeing me he tried to aim the stroke at me, but missed; he was practically on the muzzle of my rifle. I shot him low in the groin. Behind him was a Jewish woman smothered in blood with a man I recognized as a police constable named Issa Sheriff from Jaffa. He was standing over the woman with a dagger in his hand. He saw me and bolted into a room close by and tried to shut me out-shouting in Arabic, ‘Your Honor, I am a policeman.’ […] I got into the room and shot him.”

A British inquiry later established:

“About 9 o'clock on the morning of the 24th of August, Arabs in Hebron made a most ferocious attack on the Jewish ghetto and on isolated Jewish houses lying outside the crowded quarters of the town. More than 60 Jews – including many women and children – were murdered and more than 50 were wounded. This savage attack, of which no condemnation could be too severe, was accompanied by wanton destruction and looting. Jewish synagogues were desecrated, a Jewish hospital, which had provided treatment for Arabs, was attacked and ransacked, and only the exceptional personal courage displayed by Mr. Cafferata – the one British Police Officer in the town – prevented the outbreak from developing into a general massacre of the Jews in Hebron.”

The British authorities imposed a fine on the entire city of Hebron.  Sheik Taleb Markah, a member of the local Arab Executive Committee, was found guilty of inciting the riots – and imprisoned for two years.  But not before the British judges had to take over the cross-examination of the accused – noting that the Arab prosecutor had no interest in... prosecuting.

The Hebron pogrom was part of the August 1929 anti-Jewish riots, which were incited by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and his Supreme Muslim Council.  They cost the lives of 133 Jews.

Back to Mr. Harpin’s article, which – after providing a brief description of the massacre, notes that:

“For the British Mandate, the massacre was confirmation that Jewish existence in Hebron should be brought to an end. The Jews were removed from the area, and placed to begin with in refugee camps.”

In other words: problem – Jews are massacred by Arabs; solution – ethnically cleanse the Jews!

I wonder if Lee Harpin would write with such royal equanimity if Israel were to apply the same kind of ‘conflict resolution’ methodology?

But there’s more than mere equanimity there: kicking the Jews out of Hebron (and the West Bank, and East Jerusalem) is precisely the ‘solution’ advocated by the likes of Yachad and BtS; as well as by Fatah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad of Palestine.

The ‘Jewish’ terrorist

Now let’s turn our attention to ‘the second thing’ – the event that Amir Ziv tries to ‘sell’ people as a sort of ‘counterbalance’ to the Hebron pogrom.

On 25 February 1994, a ‘man’ called Baruch Goldstein entered an area of Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs employed as a mosque.  He opened fire and murdered 29 Palestinians, before being overpowered and killed himself.

Baruch Goldstein mass-murdered innocent, unarmed, defenceless people.  So why do I claim that his horrific act and the 1929 massacre have nothing in common?

Because – however disgusting – Goldstein’s terrorist attack was the act of one individual.  An act condemned in no uncertain terms by the vast majority of the Jewish population in Israel and the Diaspora – and by the entirety of Israel’s political class.

In the aftermath of the crime, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin telephoned Yasser Arafat to express condolences and his disgust for the "loathsome, criminal act of murder".  In a Knesset speech, he addressed Goldstein and any of his ilk thus:

“You are not part of the community of Israel... You are not part of the national democratic camp which we all belong to in this house, and many of the people despise you. You are not partners in the Zionist enterprise. You are a foreign implant. You are an errant weed. Sensible Judaism spits you out. You placed yourself outside the wall of Jewish law ... We say to this horrible man and those like him: you are a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism."

Then Leader of the Opposition Benjamin Netanyahu also unequivocally condemned Goldstein’s act (no ifs, no buts), calling it a “despicable crime”.

The Yesha Council (the political representatives of Israeli ‘settlers’) called the act "not Jewish, not human".

The Israeli government immediately outlawed Kach, the organisation to which Goldstein belonged.  Several of its members were placed in administrative detention.

The government also appointed a commission of inquiry headed by then president of the Supreme Court, Judge Meir Shamgar.  While describing the massacre as “a base and murderous act, in which innocent people bending in prayer to their maker were killed," the commission found that Goldstein had planned and perpetrated the massacre alone, not telling anyone about his intentions.

The religious establishment in Israel condemned the act with disgust.  The Sephardi Chief Rabbi was the first to suggest that Goldstein should be buried outside the cemetery, saying:

"I am simply ashamed that a Jew carried out such a villainous and irresponsible act"

In condemning the act, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau used the expression ‘khilul HaShem’ "a desecration of God's name".

Rabbi Yehuda Amital of Gush Etzion (an area of Jewish settlement in the West Bank) said Goldstein had "besmirched the Jewish nation and the Torah".

The indoctrination tour continues

Far be it from me to try and excuse in any way the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre.  Like the vast majority of Israelis, I was absolutely shocked by it and am ashamed that a Jew could do something this evil.  I’ll seek no excuse and countenance no forgiveness for the murderer.  May he rot in hell!

But an individual act, however horrific, does not belong in the same category as massacres perpetrated by multitudes.  Especially when the former was condemned in the harshest possible terms by anyone of any consequence in Israel – while the latter was, on the contrary, incited by the Palestinian leadership of the time, and never condemned by the current leaders.

To present the two crimes as similar or equivalent shows, at best, lack of moral compass; and at worst, an intention to deceive.

In describing the Goldstein massacre, Mr. Harpin somehow ‘forgets’ to mention that it was met with wall-to-wall condemnation in Israel; instead, he merely says that it was “condemned globally by Jewish leaders”.  Why?  I suspect this is because Mr. Harpin (like BtS and like Yachad) is intent on portraying Israel as violent, callous, even racist.

That’s why, while ignoring those many condemnations, he decides to focus on ‘stories’ that are selected for their anti-Israel propaganda value:

“On the day of our visit, last month, we counted 64 stones placed on Goldstein’s grave, some almost certainly by visitors earlier that day, who clearly wanted to pay their respects to him.

‘He gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land,’ state the Hebrew words on his tomb.”

Unsuspecting youngsters brought on these indoctrination tours may be fooled into believing that there’s lots of support and approval in Israel for Goldstein and his murderous act.  But there isn’t: as demonstrated in opinion polls, the vast majority of Israelis were disgusted by Goldstein’s unconscionable act.

The harpins’ ‘spiel’ is to highlight the rare exception and pretend it’s the rule.  There is, of course, no reason whatsoever to believe that the 64 stones (or “some” of them) were placed there “almost certainly by visitors earlier that day”.  Nothing, in fact, could be less certain: these ‘visitation stones’ tend to accumulate in time – perhaps for years.  As for the inscription – shameful as I find it – it was worded and paid for by Goldstein’s family and friends; not by the Israeli state, the Israeli government or the Israeli people.

It's true that there are conspiracy theories according to which Goldstein did what he did to prevent a terror attack only he knew about.  It’s also, unfortunately, true that there are a few extremists who – as extremists do – believe in those theories; but to suggest that they’re more than a tiny fringe of nutters despised by the vast majority of Israelis is a form of libel.

In accordance with the law forbidding the construction of monuments dedicated to terrorists, the Israeli police demolished the shrine built by Goldstein's family and supporters.
What was left, in the middle of nowhere, is just the grave itself and the funeral stone, which according to Jewish tradition should never be disturbed. The group around the grave is, by the way, another indoctrination tour, run by B'tselem. It is possible that Breaking the Silence, Yachad, B'tselem et al. bring more 'tourists' to the site than Goldstein's few supporters!

Even more important than what Harpin chooses to write is what he disingenuously chooses to hide: Goldstein’s forlorn grave sits outside any Jewish cemetery.  His family and his few supporters wanted to bury him in Hebron’s old Jewish Cemetery; they were denied.  They then built around the grave what amounted to a shrine: a small plaza paved with flagstones, complete with decorative lanterns, a few benches, etc.  But the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) adopted a law prohibiting monuments to terrorists.  The law was enforced by demolishing the entire structure, except the grave itself and the funeral stone – which in Jewish tradition cannot be disturbed. 

Compare this with the Palestinian Authority, which celebrates terrorists as ‘martyrs’ and names streets and schools after them; and which pays pensions to their families.  Needless to say, this little ‘detail’ is never part of Amir Ziv’s ‘balanced’ presentations – nor apparently did it merit a mention in Lee Harpin’s hatchet job.

We are NOT all Kahane!

But – hold on – doesn’t Israel do the same?  After all, Lee Harpin informs us that

“Earlier on our tour we had stopped in Kahane Park, named after Rabbi Meir Kahane, the ultra-nationalist politician who co-founded the Jewish Defence League, who served a term in the Knesset before being convicted of terrorism, and was assassinated in 1990.”

Firstly – much as I abhor the man – Meir Kahane was never convicted of actually committing an act of terrorism; though he was indeed convicted in the US (and given a 5-year suspended prison sentence, as well as a $5,000 fine) for conspiring to manufacture explosives.  I mention this only to highlight Harpin’s inaccurate ‘journalistic’ style.  Whatever he was found guilty of, Kahane was a racist and should not be lionised.

I've even searched for the 'famous' Kahane Park on the Kiryat Arba Council website. No trace of it...

But here’s the catch: try googling “Kahane Park, Kiryat Arba”; all you'll find is a tweet by... Yachad; and a couple of pictures uploaded by similar organisations.  Better still, go to Google Maps and search for a place called Kahane Park, Kiryat Arba.  You'll be taken, instead, to the Cave of the Patriarchs/Al-Ibrahimi Mosque.  Now search for any other park, including in the West Bank ‘settlements’.  Try for instance the Ze’ev Jabotinsky Park in Ariel; or the Hazon Yosef Park in Betar Illit – both very easy to find, as are dozens of others.  You can even find a park in Kiryat Arba – it's called Technology Park.  Yet you will not find a ‘Kahane Park’ either in Kiryat Arba or anywhere else in Israel.  Officially – and insofar as most Israelis are concerned – it does not exist.

Of course, the town of Kiryat Arba does indeed have a park; and local extremists do indeed call it ‘Kahane Park’.  But that’s where the facts end and the malicious insinuations of Lee Harpin/Yachad/Breaking the Silence take over.

Here’s the truth: there are people in Israel who admire Meir Kahane and think he was a great man.  They tend to be the same people who think Baruch Goldstein was a misunderstood hero.  How many of those nutters are there?  Well, we know that, in the 1984 elections, Kahane managed to attract a whooping… 1% of the votes.  Fast forward 36 years: in 2020, his disciple Itamar Ben Gvir garnered 0.4%.  It’s true that this is still almost 20,000 nutters; but it’s also true that – despite all the harping – the extreme right in Israel gets much less popular support than it does in several European countries.  Even after a century of conflict!

The vast majority of Israelis do not commemorate Meir Kahane.  The harpins' focus on a tiny extremist fringe is deliberately misleading.  It aims to create a false image.  It's a lie.

Bad, bad Israel! Bad, bad Jewish schools!

But let’s go back to Lee Harpin’s text:

“Under the 1997 Oslo agreement, signed by Israel and PLO, Hebron was divided into two areas: H1 and H2. Responsibility for security and civilian matters in H1 – where most of the Palestinian residents of Hebron live (about 115,000 at the time, now about 166,000) – was formally handed over to the Palestinian Authority as was done in all other West Bank cities.

As for H2, Israel retained responsibility for security matters there, and the Palestinian Authority received authority only for civilian matters relating to local Palestinians. About 32,000 Palestinians and 800 settlers now live in H2.”

The Oslo Agreement was, of course, concluded in 1993, not 1997.  The Taba Agreement (sometimes called Oslo II) – in 1995.  Both were signed by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat and neither dealt specifically with Hebron.  What was concluded in 1997 was the Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron.  Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t seen as your typical land-for-peace type of guy, but he was the Israeli prime minister who negotiated that particular agreement – by which Israel relinquished control over the vast majority of the city, handing it over to Arafat.  In return, the latter solemnly promised (again) to rid the Palestinian National Charter of all the passages that denied Israel’s right to exist; to fight terror and prevent violence; to prohibit incitement and hostile propaganda; to combat systematically and effectively terrorist organisations and infrastructure; to apprehend, prosecute and punish terrorists; to confiscate all illegal firearms…  Needless to say, Israel (under the ‘hawk’ Netanyahu) withdrew from every inch of H1; the Palestinian Authority (under Arafat and his successor Abbas) broke every one of its commitments above.  But you won’t hear about that at all from the likes of Harpin, Yachad and BtS!

No, the harpins of this world aren’t really interested in agreements and law – unless as a cudgel to beat Israel with.  They’re interested in ‘human stories’ – provided those make Israel look bad.

“In the city centre we speak with Mohamed Fakhore, a Palestinian business student in his 20s, about life in Hebron under Israeli military control.

‘We want the world to know what is happening here,’ he says. ‘I will be arrested if I step there,’ he says, pointing to the floor five metres in front of him. ‘I have been arrested for this one time before.’

It is heartbreaking to realise Fakhore cannot continue walking alongside us. Strict separation rules mean as a Palestinian is not [sic!] allowed to walk on the same road we all can.

Later, in one [sic!] the few Palestinian souvenir shops still open in downtown Hebron, an elderly store owner, who pours us all coffee, explains that his own wife is unable to visit him at work as a result of the separation policy in operation.

It is, he says, a ‘humiliating’ situation.”

It is mindboggling that the harpins can pretend to want ‘two states’ – but also declare it “heartbreaking” when a border is enforced, separating Israeli-controlled areas from Palestinian-controlled ones.  No, these are not “strict separation rules”, but the provisions of an agreement signed between the parties – with the purpose of reducing friction and disentangling Israel from Palestinian lives.

Apparently the 'strict separation rules' that Lee Harpin complains about aren't quite so strict: here is Mohamed Fakhore having a fun day in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

It is also no doubt “heartbreaking” that the shop owner’s wife cannot visit him at work on the Israeli side of the city; but I wonder: can Jews own and operate businesses in the Palestinian part of Hebron?

Incidentally, Israeli right-wing extremists also don’t like the partition of the city: they’d like to roam freely through all Hebron and cause mischief.  Extremists of all tinges – unite!

But, while imperfect, inaesthetic and a rich topic of hostile propaganda by Harpin/Yachad/BtS, the Hebron Agreement does what it was meant to do: it saves lives and allows the two communities to run their affairs independently – as much as possible in the difficult circumstances created by conflict, violence and the accompanying mistrust.  Don't take it from me --ask the Mayor of Hebron.  His Message (published in Arabic and English on the municipal website) contains of course the obligatory anti-Israel rant.  But ultimately it says:

"Since 1996, the city has witnessed several dramatic developments after the numerous decades of continuous Israeli occupation. Due to the Oslo agreement and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority, the city was liberated and able to embrace a form of security and calm environment. These agreements allowed the Municipal Council to develop a comprehensive management development plan, accompanied by a strategic plan, for the reception of the twenty-first century. Indeed, the Hebron Municipality office, through its own efforts and the support of many friends and partners from around the world implemented a multitude of infrastructure projects, which has had a major impact in promoting domestic and foreign investments in the city. Additionally, it is crucial to achieving the revitalization of the boom in the economic, commercial, industrial, agricultural and urban life."

You won't hear that from Harpin; or from BtS, or from Yachad!

Instead, Harpin’s hatchet job ends with the usual indoctrination ‘spiel’ that BtS and Yachad dish out to unsuspecting, naïve Western kids: there are more IDF soldiers than ‘settlers’ in Hebron (as if Palestinian terror and violence did not exist); an interview with some extremists who ‘want it all’ because ‘it was promised to Abraham’ – as if this is why the vast majority of Israelis want the IDF to stay in Judea & Samaria.

Finally, Harpin gives the floor back to Amir Ziv, who utters the following outrageous lie:

“The bottom line is the Palestinian Authority has the freedom to do what we allow it to do.”

Among other egregious acts, in recent years the Palestinian Authority complained to the International Criminal Court (in blatant breach of its obligations under international agreements it signed), alleging that the IDF committed ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes against humanity’.  Is that something that “we” would allow – if we had the power to stop?  Would we allow PA’s ‘pay-for-slay policy – wages paid to convicted terrorists and subsidies to the families of suicide bombers?  Would we allow the despicable indoctrination to hate and violence that goes on in Palestinian Authority schools?

Let me give you just a couple of examples of this latter phenomenon – arguably the biggest obstacle to peace.

The Year 5 Arabic Language textbook used in Palestinian Authority schools teaches the following:

“Our Palestinian history is brimming with names of martyrs who have given their lives to the homeland, including the martyr Dalal al-Mughrabi. Her struggle portrays challenge and heroism, making her memory immortal in our hearts and minds. The text in our hands speaks about one side of her struggle.”

Touching; except that Dalal al-Mughrabi (a member of Arafat’s Fatah movement) took part in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre.  11 Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists landed on Israel’s Mediterranean shore near Tel Aviv.  The ‘heroic’ Dalal started the day by murdering an unarmed Israeli woman she happened to find on the beach.  She and her mates then proceeded to murder another 38 Israelis (all but one unarmed, uninvolved civilians), including 13 children.

The Islamic Education textbook for the same age group teaches that the Western Wall (which it calls Al-Buraq Wall)

“is part of the western wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the al-Aqsa Mosque, including the Wall, are Palestinian land and an exclusive right of the Muslims.”

Coming back to Dalal Al-Mughrabi: in 2017, the (not very Israel-loving) Belgian government had to freeze funding to the Palestinian Authority when it discovered that an elementary school for girls they funded in the West Bank was named after that 'martyr'.  Nothing like giving little girls a true hero to emulate, huh?

The logo of the Dalal Al-Mughrabi Elementary School for Girls shows her stylised photo superimposed on the map of 'Palestine,' including Israel. The message is clear...

By the way, the school is located in Bayt Awwa, just a few minutes away from Hebron.  But I don't suppose Amir Ziv includes it in his indoctrination tours.  Though it may be a brilliant opportunity to wax lyrical about what "we must fix"

The harpins, of course, are not at all concerned about all this.  Quite the opposite: what really bothers them is

“the one-dimensional pro-Israel teaching [in] Jewish secondary school[s].”

Hmmm… Really?  Do Jewish secondary schools in the UK lionise Baruch Goldstein, calling him a martyr and a hero and encouraging the students to keep his memory immortal in their hearts and minds?  Do Jewish secondary schools in the UK teach that Al-Aqsa is “an exclusive right of” the Jews?  Is there, somewhere in the UK (or the entire world, for that matter, a school named after Baruch Goldstein??

'Intellectual' child abuse

I left the worst for last: arguably the only truly heartbreaking aspect of Lee Harpin’s screech is when he decides to bring his daughter Ruby into it.  Presumably, she is bothered by the fact that her “social media is flooded with ‘Free Palestine’ propaganda”, so she “insisted” to go on that BtS/Yachad indoctrination tour.

Except that, just a couple of paragraphs further on, we find Ruby and her ‘delightful’ dad attending a “Palestine demo”; that is, one of those ‘protests’ at which slogans like ‘Free, free Palestine!’ and ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!’ are par for the course; and where one so often finds flags and symbols of terror organisations alongside antisemitic banners and slogans, some amounting to overt calls for genocide and ethnic cleansing.

As history teaches us, young people are particularly vulnerable to brainwashing and indoctrination.  I’m afraid that youngsters like Ruby belong in the same category as the Palestinian students: both are cynically being used as political cannon fodder by unscrupulous adults with an ideological axe to grind.  If we are ever to stop the bloodshed and make peace, then children and youngsters – both Jewish and Arab – must be protected from this form of 'intellectual' molestation.

Friday, 20 May 2022

And the Wooden Spoon goes to…

As usually while driving, I was listening to LBC (yes, I know: I’m a sad, sad person!)  In truth, I had rather switched off from the annoying chatter and was focusing on driving – when I suddenly heard the words “former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn”.  And indeed, Corbyn’s voice started to unpleasantly scratch my eardrums, as he muddled through his usual ‘spiel’.  It was immediately after the latest local elections and the author of Labour’s most catastrophic electoral defeat in 84 years proceeded to ‘analyse’ the results and volunteer his opinions.  I could almost hear Starmer’s groan and Johnson’s merriment.  Like a bad smell, some people just don’t go away!

A few days later, also on LBC, I noticed that Tony Blair was still around, as well: to Starmer’s sheer despair he, too, was volunteering his advice!

I was reminded about all that, when I recently read an article by Vivian Wineman.  Like the two men above, Mr. Wineman is also a ‘has been’ – though one of much less consequence in the big scheme of things: he was, once upon a time, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

No, don’t feel sorry for me: even a sad person like me does not follow the ruminations of Vivian Wineman.  A friend brought his article to my attention, by posting a link to it on Facebook, under the comment:

“I’m quite ashamed of my Past President. This piece is truly appalling.”

This piqued my curiosity and I proceeded to read Mr. Wineman’s contribution, entitled “Jewish Anti-Zionists Holders of the Wooden Spoon?”  Not all my readers are British, so I feel I should explain: the Wooden Spoon is a symbol of failure – it is mockingly awarded to the side that finishes last in the Six Nations rugby tournament.

But don’t let that fool you: the key part of Mr. Wineman’s title is… the question mark at its end.

True, he jokingly says that he decided to write about Jewish anti-Zionists because

“I and my family have always been attracted by losers…”

(He should’ve told us that before being elected President of the Board!)

In reality, however, his article reads to me (and to quite a few other people I consulted) conspicuously like an attempt to whitewash (or ‘rehabilitate’, or perhaps legitimise) Jewish anti-Zionism.

Why would he do that?  Well, Mr. Wineman was always a ‘progressive’; no, not in terms of shul affiliation, but of political inclination.  He chaired far-left outfits like Peace Now and New Israel Fund and is currently, I believe, an ardent sympathiser of Yachad – a group of activists claiming to be ‘pro-Israel’, but whose only aim seems to be turning British Jews from supporters of the Jewish state into harsh ‘critics’ thereof.

As an aside: it has always been my observation that the only thing ‘progressive’ about far-leftists is their progressive antipathy towards Israel.  As an example, take Peter Beinart: once upon a time, he used to call himself a Zionist, albeit of the ‘liberal’ variety.  Since then, he has ‘progressed’ to non-Zionism, before becoming an ardent anti-Zionist keen on dismantling the Jewish state.  Yachad (who also used to call themselves ‘liberal Zionists’ – albeit not in recent times of course) have not gone so far yet.  (At least not overtly – they’d be shunned by the entire British Jewish community if they did; though their 'spirited defence' of the slogan ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free’ seems to betray their true feelings.)

Yachad and New Israel Fund 'celebrated' Israel's 74th Independence Day by... more 'criticism' of the Jewish state. Now, I'm no expert in physiognomy, but it seems to me that the face in the left bottom corner is Mr. Wineman's. What do you think?

One of the fundamental errors of judgment that such ‘progressives’ make is to imagine that, by dropping early 20th century anti-Zionists into the conversation, they can somehow legitimise the current ones.  That is, of course, ludicrous.  In 1917, one could still legitimately (albeit wrongly in hindsight) argue against what was still a project in relative infancy.  Should a Jewish state be constituted sometime in the future – or better not?  Today, the State of Israel exists.  It is not just a tangible reality, but the home of the world’s largest, youngest and healthiest Jewish community.  Contemporary anti-Zionists do not debate the merits of a future project; they propose to dismantle an existing, sovereign state (and only one!).  They are at best indifferent and at worst hostile to the fate of that community.

But let’s go back to Mr. Wineman and his treatment of anti-Zionist Jews.  He starts by stating the obvious (though he rather tendentiously downgrades it to “generally accepted”):

“Zionism has swept the board inside the Jewish community...”

I find myself forced to agree, for once, with Mr. Wineman.  Not because the fact is “generally accepted”, but because it is well-documented: every opinion poll ever undertaken shows that, for the vast majority of British Jews, Israel is a major (and often the major) component of their Jewish identity.

Mr. Wineman goes on to say that

“If a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for instance, were to stand up at a meeting and say that he does not believe in God, eats ham on Yom Kippur and thinks the Bible contains nothing but bubba mayses- old wives [sic!] tails [sic!], there would be distaste maybe, but nothing further and certainly, no calls for expulsion. If our mischievous deputy were to stand up the next month and declare that he did not believe that there should be a State of Israel or even only that he was a supporter of BDS against it, there would be immediate calls for his censure or expulsion.”

Is this, as Mr. Wineman would probably claim, an example of how Zionism “has swept the board”?  It sounds rather like a complaint to me.

In fact, the different treatment of the two ‘transgressions’ in Wineman’s ‘example’ is entirely understandable.  Renowned researcher and Zionist activist David Collier put it much better than I could:

“One [rejecting God, eating pork] is a personal choice that affects only him – and the other [anti-Zionism] harms the well-being of millions of Jews living in the Jewish state.”

Perhaps subconsciously, Wineman (who was once educated in a yeshivah) used the English words “censure” and “expulsion”.  They may be taken as translations of the old Hebrew terms kherem  (חרם)and niddui(נדוי) , which are part of the Jewish law and were used in pre and post-exilic Judaism.  These ‘sanctions’ were originally conceived not as punishment for the transgressing individual (such punishment was expected to come from God, rather than from people), but as a prophylactic measure, aimed at protecting the community from the dire consequences of the transgression and from its harmful proliferation.

After conceding that Zionism is widely embraced by Jews, Wineman goes on to claim that

“It was not always so. Just over a century ago in the years leading up to the Balfour Declaration antizionists were in control of the leading streams of British Jewry; the ultra orthodox [sic!], the mainstream orthodox [sic!], Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism.”

In passing: if Wineman wanted to list “the leading streams…” in “the years leading up…”, it seems to me that he should have capitalised ‘Orthodox’, just as he did with ‘Reform’ and ‘Liberal’.  This is not me supporting orthodoxy, but orthography!  Mr. Wineman may also wish to make up his mind whether he wishes to refer to anti-Zionists (as he did in the title), or do away with the hyphen.  Consistency in presentation might eventually result in logical arguments – one never knows!

More importantly, though: isn’t “in control of” a rather weird (and, I’d suggest, dishonest) argument to make?  Why not just say (as others try to claim sometimes) ‘the majority of Jews opposed Zionism’?  Because, as Wineman knows (and, I suspect, tries to hide), that simply would not be true.  We only need to read the following personal account by historian Simon Schama.  Describing British Jewry’s reaction to the Balfour Declaration, Schama writes:

[W]hen the document was made public by the Zionist Federation, my father saw […] singing and dancing erupt in the streets of the East End, from Mile End to Whitechapel. Something propitious, something providential, had happened, but also something against the odds.


That East End street party — ‘a kosher knees-up’, Dad called it, lots of fried fish, cake and shouting — was all instinct and no thought, but then sometimes instincts are the real story. Arthur remembered the ‘Hatikvah’ being sung outside a synagogue close to the family house. A month later the same song brought the crowd to their feet in the Royal Opera House. My father stood outside amid a huge throng beside sacks of the next day’s cabbages.”

But that’s not the story that Mr. Wineman favours.  Instead, he writes

“They also dominated the Jewish establishment.  While often supporting Jewish settlement in Israel they were opposed to any attempt to create a political entity for them there.”

The ‘they’ in the passage above refers to anti-Zionists.  But the word that troubles me is ‘also’.  What else, did the anti-Zionists dominate?  They were part of the establishment, while the Jewish masses by-and-large supported Zionism.

Here’s Schama again, still writing about his father:

“He knew all about the Jewish opposition: anti-Zionists, the grandees of the Anglo-Jewish Association and the Conjoint Committee — Claude Montefiore and those Rothschilds, Leopold in particular — who were on the wrong side of the argument.  He was especially horrified by the public accusation of Edwin Montagu, one of the two Jewish members of the Cabinet (the other was the pro-Zionist Herbert Samuel), that the Balfour Declaration was tantamount to being anti-Semitic, since in Montagu’s eyes it presupposed divided loyalties, especially heinous during the war. Others among the anti-Zionist lobby felt the same way, in particular the historian Lucien Wolf, who had actually been questioned about his true nationality by a policeman in 1915 and never quite got over it.

For my father, the defensiveness of the anti-Zionists was a symptom of the gulf dividing West End Jews from East End Jews. The declaration’s 67 words, he thought, could be boiled down to one — the word “home”, bayit.  It was all very well for the likes of Edwin Montagu to complain that their indivisible sense of a British home was now vulnerable to charges of divided allegiance, but Montagu’s home was manorial: avenues of oak and elm, game birds flushed from the bracken, dropping to Home Counties guns.”

And here is Wineman, still talking about anti-Zionists:

“Their writings, though unsuccessful in the long term, were of high quality.  An outstanding member was Edwin Montagu PC, Secretary of State for India and the third Jew to reach cabinet office in this country.”

Isn’t it sad to see a ‘progressive’ like Mr. Wineman trying to ‘sell’ the selfish machinations of a few ‘Jewish barons’ and community makhers who – then, just like today – ran contrary to what the masses wanted?

Edwin Montagu’s stubborn opposition to the Balfour Declaration is well known.  But the reason his efforts (and those of others like him) were unsuccessful” (not just “in the long term”, but then and there) is that British politicians like Balfour and Lloyd George knew very well that those anti-Zionists were utterly unrepresentative, that they spoke only for a tiny number of privileged Jews.  In fact, Balfour understood that Zionism was being embraced by the Jewish masses – and not just in Britain.  Speaking at a meeting of the War Cabinet in October 1917, he opined that

“The vast majority of Jews in Russia and America, as, indeed, all over the world, now appeared to be favourable to Zionism.”

I’d say it’s ironic that a Conservative politician like Balfour was attuned to the aspirations of the “vast majority of Jews”, while a century later a ‘progressive’ like Mr. Wineman is still more concerned with what “the establishment” wanted.  But then, another ‘progressive’ once said that Zionists like me just don’t get English irony…

I don’t know much about Mr. Wineman’s grasp of English irony (though I don’t suspect him of Zionism).  But as for the rigour of his research… his article causes me great concerns in that respect.  Because, even if we were to ignore the popular feeling, the picture of Jewish establishment’s attitude to Zionism is itself much more complex than the one he paints.

It is not true that that “establishment” (or the leadership of the British Jewish community) was uniformly opposed to Zionism.  Some were – such as Mr. Wineman’s distant predecessor, Board of Deputies President David Lindo Alexander.  Others, however (such as Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz) were dedicated supporters of Zionism.

In May 1917, Lindo Alexander published a letter in the Times, which attacked the main tenets of Zionism.  He admitted (and how could he deny it) that

“The Holy Land is necessarily of profound and undying interest for all Jews, as the cradle of their religion, the main theatre of Bible history, and the site of its sacred memorials.  It is not, however, as a mere shrine or place of pilgrimage that they regard the country.  Since the dawn of their political emancipation in Europe the Jews have made rehabilitation of the Jewish community in the Holy Land one of their chief cares, and they have always cherished the hope that the result of their labours would be the regeneration on Palestinian soil of a Jewish community worthy of the great memories and of the environment, and a source of spiritual inspiration to the whole of Jewry.”

But then

“Meanwhile the committee have learnt from the published statements of the Zionist leaders in this country that they now favour a much larger scheme of an essentially political character.”

And what was wrong with that “scheme”?  Well, Lindo Alexander went on to explain that Jews do not regard themselves as a people and have no national aspirations; they see themselves as just “a religious community”, on a par “with their fellow citizens of other creeds”.  Though in fairness he did assign that opinion not to Jews in general, but only to [e]mancipated Jews” – which we might probably translate in today’s parlance as ‘progressives’.  Plus ça change…

So far, the story of Lindo Alexander and his letter would seem to support Mr. Wineman’s contentions.  But only if we ignore the end of that story: just a few days later, the Times published a rebuttal penned by Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz.  Hertz dismissed the opinions of Lindo Alexander and of his ‘sponsor’ and co-signatory Claude Montefiore as unrepresentative of and inconsistent with

“the views held by Anglo-Jewry as a whole or by the Jewries of the overseas dominions.”

And not just the Chief Rabbi: on 17 June 1917, Lindo Alexander’s letter was formally condemned by the Board of Deputies; he was forced to resign.  So much for Mr. Wineman’s assertion that “immediate calls for […] censure or expulsion” of anti-Zionists are a relatively new phenomenon at the Board!

And so much for his contention that the Jewish establishment” was “dominated” by anti-Zionists.  In fact, Mr. Wineman’s sole ‘example’ of Jewish anti-Zionist (Edwin Montagu) cannot really be said to have been part of “the Jewish establishment”.  As a Member of Parliament and Minister, he was certainly part of the British establishment – but his interest in Jewish community affairs (insofar as those affairs did not impinge on his own) is questionable.

But let’s move on: still speaking about Jewish anti-Zionists (or on their behalf?), Mr. Wineman says:

“On a practical level they saw Zionism as stimulus to antisemitism and as an obstacle to their great project of emancipation.”

While admitting that they were wrong on both accounts, Wineman still informs us that

“The decades following the Balfour Declaration saw the rise of the most frightful antisemitism the world has ever seen. It would be very hard, however, to attribute this to Zionism.”

Now, this is a very misleading way to put it.  If I said, for instance, ‘The years after Mr. Wineman’s Presidency of the Board of Deputies saw the rise of the most frightful antisemitism’ – many an unsuspecting reader may understand, whatever the other protestations, that one event led to the other.

No, it would not be “very hard” to attribute the rise in antisemitism to Zionism – it would be impossible for any researcher endowed with intellectual honesty.  In fact, the opposite has been argued: that the rise in antisemitism (especially in Europe and parts of the Muslim world) lent Zionism credibility as the solution to ‘the Jewish problem’.

Let me mention just a few ‘milestones’ that preceded the 1917 Balfour Declaration:

  • In 1840, the blood libel is employed against the Jews of Damascus.  Some community leaders are tortured to death.  The survivors are eventually exonerated, but the population nevertheless perpetrates several pogroms.
  • In 1882, another blood libel case is launched in Hungary.  The accused Jews are eventually acquitted, but the effects of the resulting antisemitic propaganda linger and fester.
  • In 1894 (i.e. 3 years before the First Zionist Congress) Captain Alfred Dreyfus is convicted of treason, after an inquiry and trial with strong antisemitic undertones.
  • In 1909, the British Vice Consul in Mosul remarks:

“The attitude of the Muslims toward the Christians and the Jews is that of a master towards slaves, whom he treats with a certain lordly tolerance so long as they keep their place. Any sign of pretension to equality is promptly repressed.”

  • Between 1821 and 1906, hundreds of pogroms were perpetrated throughout Jewish-inhabited areas of the Russian Empire.  Thousands of Jews were murdered – alongside rapes and other atrocities.
  • In 1910, another blood libel incident takes place in Shiraz, Iran.  In the ensuing pogrom, 12 Jews are murdered, 50 are injured and the entire Jewish quarter is pillaged.

It is these occurrences of pre-1917 “frightful antisemitism” (especially the pogroms in Eastern Europe) that explain the apparently contradictory position of anti-Zionists like Lindo Alexander.  As Wineman himself hints (and as the Times letter proves), they supported the return of Jews to the Holy Land; they only opposed self-determination for those Jews.  Why this ‘nuanced’ stance?  Because of the pogroms and the antisemitic policies of the Russian tsars, Jews were fleeing Eastern Europe in large numbers – and many sought to take refuge in Britain.  That migration resulted in fast increase of Britain’s Jewish population: from 65,000 in 1880 to 300,000 in 1914.  Despite their sanctimonious protestations, the anti-Zionist Jews cared little about the Arab population of Palestine; their major concern was a potential rise in British antisemitism, one they feared might be ‘caused’ by a continued massive immigration of ‘unemancipated’ (ahem!) Eastern European Jews.  Sending those Jews to Palestine was a good solution insofar as it kept them away from Britain; but not if they built a ‘Jewish Home’: that might imply that the Jewish barons were not ‘at home’ in Britain.

After the misleading passage analysed above, Mr. Wineman proceeds to… argue back-and-forth with himself:

“It would be very hard, however, to attribute this to Zionism. Although the ultra orthodox anti Zionists do blame the Zionists and even specific Zionist leaders for the holocaust this argument is not taken seriously outside their circles. Among the lurid accusations made against Jews dual loyalty did not figure very prominently. The antisemitic charge was not that the jews had a loyalty to an emerging political entity in the Middle East but that they had aspirations for world government.”

Needless to say, only a tiny, extreme minority of Charedi anti-Zionists blame Zionists for the Shoah.  By the way, I use the term ‘Charedi’ (חרדי) because that’s how they choose to call themselves.  I don’t think that people (especially ‘progressives’ and even more so former Presidents of the Board!) should presume to label communities by names that are – at best – judgmental: let us remember that ultra-Orthodox (even when it’s spelled correctly) includes an element of censure; it means ‘extremely’ or ‘excessively’ Orthodox and that’s not how the people in question view themselves.

Otherwise, the muddled prose above is only remarkable by its careless presentation. After writing alternatively ‘anti-Zionists’ and ‘antizionists’, Mr. Wineman now decided to call them ‘anti Zionists’.  Jews also become ‘jews’ in the space of one sentence…

As a Yachad sympathiser (or active supporter?) Mr. Wineman simply cannot resist squeezing in a swipe at Israel – even in an article that purports to discuss pre-1917 attitudes.  He sets the scene rather sententiously:

“Political rights are a human entitlement, enshrined in numerous international conventions, not a gift from a merciful government for which the recipients must be duly grateful.”

He then goes on to accuse:

“Ironically the one democratic country where this does not apply is the State of Israel.  Arabs within Israel’s pre 1967 borders are full citizens automatically in accordance with Israel’s admirable constitution, but Arabs beyond those borders are not.”

This goes to show that it’s not just English irony that I don’t get – but some people’s logic, too.  See, I always thought that no democratic country awards its citizenship en-masse to people beyond its borders.  Especially to people who are legally and practically in a state of conflict with that country.  Critics of Israel like to pretend that award of citizenship is a universal requirement for people who are ‘controlled’ or ‘occupied’ by the country in question.  But that requirement is made out of whole cloth.  In fact, while Mr. Wineman’s own country ‘controlled’ or ‘occupied’ for long periods of time people in places like Iraq and Afghanistan – it did not offer them British citizenship.

I suspect that Mr. Wineman recognised the weakness of his own argument.  That’s probably why he decided to suddenly change tack, by focusing on East Jerusalem.  Which, according to Israeli law at least, is within – rather than beyond—the country’s borders.

“Even in East Jerusalem, where Israel has claimed full sovereignty ever since 1967, Palestinians are not automatically entitled to citizenship.”

Technically speaking, Mr. Wineman is right.  Logically speaking, his description of the situation is ‘a bit’ simplistic – not to say economical with the truth.  In 1967, Arab residents of Jerusalem were citizens of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – a country at war with Israel.  Automatically granting them Israeli citizenship would have resulted in an unreasonable situation, in which citizens of an enemy country can elect and be elected to the Parliament (and in principle become members of the government, etc.)

The problem with ‘progressive’ critics of Israel is not that they demand that Israel adopts the most liberal measures ever encountered – and even go far beyond those; it is that they require Israel to do so in the midst of an existential conflict, in complete disregard of its collective safety and the principles of self-defence.  In the mind of ‘critics’ like Yachad and Mr. Wineman, Israel ‘must’ grant Arabs citizenship – even if that would endanger the safety and welfare of her existing citizenry.

Instead of such suicidal acts, Israel opted for a reasonable solution, which sought to balance the rights of Jerusalemite Arabs with those of her extant nationals.  East Jerusalem Palestinians were automatically given the status of permanent residents (תושב קבע).  Contrary to Mr. Wineman’s claim, this status confers – rather than denies – political rights: permanent residents are entitled to elect and be elected in local elections (including for the position of prestigious and powerful position of Mayor of Jerusalem).  Permanent residents have the same civic and social rights as Israeli citizens, including among many other things education, healthcare, income support, unemployment benefits…  The main difference is that, unlike citizens, permanent residents cannot elect or be elected to the Israeli Parliament.

Permanent residency is not something Israel invented for the benefit of East Jerusalem Palestinians; it is a legal status practiced by most democratic countries.  I should know: my legal status in the UK is that of a permanent resident.  I can vote in local elections, but not in national ones.  My resident status will be cancelled if I live in another country for more than two years.  I am eligible to apply for British citizenship (having lived here for more than five years), but the granting of citizenship is conditional upon fulfilling a whole raft of requirements including passing a test for knowledge of the English language, an additional test for familiarity with ‘British customs and traditions’ and proving I am ‘of good character’.  As for the latter requirement, the Home Office warns as follows:

“To be of good character you should have shown respect for the rights and freedoms of the UK, observe its laws and fulfilled your duties and obligations as a resident of the UK.  Checks will be carried out to ensure that the information you give is correct.”

If I apply for British citizenship and my application is approved, I would be granted that citizenship – provided I take the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen or the Pledge of Loyalty to the state.

As it happens, I choose not to apply for British citizenship.  I feel it would be somewhat dishonest – a travesty: while I like and respect the country, I do not identify as British.

East Jerusalem Palestinians are also entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship.  The requirements are similar, though understandably in practice the ‘good character’ part places much more focus on security-related activity.

The PLO considers applying for Israeli citizenship an act of national treason; Hamas probably views it as apostasy.  Yet in recent years an increasing number of Jerusalemite Arabs are applying and being granted citizenship.  I don’t blame them; nor do I blame the ones that choose not to – it is a personal choice.  But nor should sanctimonious hypocrites (ensconced in their soft armchairs in North London) blame Israel for doing only ‘the next best thing’ under very difficult circumstances.

Then, there’s another point of logic: officially at least, Yachad (and, I can only presume, sympathisers like Mr. Wineman) still support the two-state solution, while also claiming that such solution would only be possible with a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.  If that is indeed the desired outcome, why, then, would the inhabitants of the future Palestinian capital be created Israeli citizens??


I’m afraid I saved the worst for last: in his back-and-forth ‘debate’ on whether Zionism was “a stimulus [to] the most frightful antisemitism”, Mr. Wineman manages to casually sneak in the following vile sentence:

“The Zionists did not provoke German antisemitism and were able to work with the Nazis on one aim they both shared,- [sic!] to get Jews out of Germany.”

Sure, we all know about the Transfer Agreement.  But that Zionists ‘shared one aim’ with the Nazis is a sordid, foul claim.  The Nazis wanted to ‘purify’ the ‘Aryan race’ by getting rid of the Jews, while despoiling them in the process; the Zionists wanted to save the German Jews – whom no other country wanted (not even Britain at the time).  This wasn’t selling one’s soul to the Devil, but making a deal (even) with the Devil to save souls.

In theory at least, one can be an anti-Zionist without accusing Zionists of ‘sharing aims’ with the Nazis; in practice, it seems that anti-Zionism always ends up in antisemitism – if it does not originate in it to start with.  That a former President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews should stoop to accusations proffered by the likes of Ken Livingstone and Sergey Lavrov is a matter of immense sadness and deep shame.

A former President cannot, unfortunately, be censored and expelled.  All we can do is to symbolically award him the ultimate Wooden Spoon.  My granddad would have said, face covered with his huge hands: !וואָס אַ בושה – What a shame!  As, I suspect, would his.