Saturday, 24 October 2020

Hey, Mr. ‘Prominent British Jew’: be a mensch and say “I’m sorry!”

 I know, I know: we are way past Yom Kippur.  But who says it’s only on that one day a year that we must say “I’m sorry”?

As yet another Arab country (Sudan) agrees to normalise relations with the Jewish state, quite a few people owe us all (and to themselves) a heartfelt apology.

Journalists

The decay of journalism is one of the greatest challenges to 21st century democracy.  Real journalists (read: people who value objectivity, have respect for facts and are capable of insights) are becoming rare and far between; those depleting ranks are being filled with political activists for whom ‘journalism’ is a weapon, rather than a vocation.  And the saddest thing is that they can get away with not even having to admit they were wrong; mainly, perhaps, because most people did not pay attention to their pathetic screeches – in the first place.

Zvi Bar’el, for instance, would probably describe himself as a senior journalist.  He sports the rather serious-sounding title of Middle East Affairs Analyst for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz; he even has a PhD in the History of the Middle East.  One of his ‘analyses’ was published a few weeks ago (after the UAE deal announcement), under the assertive title:

“Israel's Deal With the UAE Spells New Conditions for Ties With Arab States”.

Some may say that’s only stating the obvious – and I couldn’t agree more.  But I’m not complaining about the lack of insight – I’ve come to expect that; the problem is that nowhere in his learned article does Analyst Bar’el utter the words: ‘I got it wrong, folks – I’m sorry!’

Because Mr. Bar’el’s previous ‘analyses’ (i.e. before the UAE announcement) were rather radically different.  For instance, the one he published under the no-less sententious title:

“Without Solution to Palestinian Issue, No Arab State Will Seek Relations With Israel”

Mr. Bar’el began that previous ‘analysis’ by quoting Netanyahu’s statement, delivered at the UN:

“Many have long assumed that an Israeli-Palestinian peace can help facilitate a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab World. But these days I think it may work the other way around: Namely that a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world may help facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace. And therefore, to achieve that peace, we must look not only to Jerusalem and Ramallah, but also to Cairo, to Amman, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and elsewhere.”

Ha’aretz’s Middle East Affairs Analyst then proceeded to ridicule Netanyahu for that statement.  No, Arab country, declared our friend Zvi with iron-clad certitude, will “seek relations” with Israel unless the latter first magics up a “Solution to [the] Palestinian Issue”.  Well, the UAE (an Arab country by all accounts, including its name) did.  And two others (so far!) followed.

Hmm… so who looks ridiculous now?  Forgive my French, but I’d say that Zvi Bar’el has made a bit of an ass of himself.  Someone should tell him that, despite the partial homophony, the title of ‘Analyst’ does not derive from the word ‘anal’!

It is a sorry state of affairs when ‘Analysts’ (and journalists in general) are utterly ignorant of what is happening – until the moment it becomes public knowledge.  There were plenty of clues for Mr. Bar’el to pick up.  For years now, Netanyahu has been throwing thick hints about impending peace with the Arab world; so did Trump.  That there was considerable rapprochement was common knowledge.  And, if nothing else, it was clearly spelled out in the latest Coalition Agreement.  No, not the part about ‘annexation’ – leave that one to the hapless ‘analysts’; no, the part that says:

“The Prime Minister and Substitute Prime Minister will act together and in a coordinated fashion to advance peace agreements with all our neighbours and to advance regional cooperation […] all this while aiming to protect the security and strategic interests of the State of Israel, including the need to preserve regional security, uphold existing peace agreements and strive towards future peace agreements.”

The words “peace agreements” feature no less than three times in that one paragraph.  Enough of a clue – you’d think – to pique the curiosity of even a thick, jaded Ha’aretz Analyst.

But ‘journalists’ like Bar’el aren’t attuned to facts or evidence; they are driven by ideology, by beliefs.  According to Mr. Bar’el’s ‘secular religion’, Netanyahu and Trump are perennial liars – never to be believed; Israel’s desire for peace is forever suspect – lip service designed to hide nefarious intentions; and the plight of the Palestinian Arabs is the #1 issue in the whole wide blimming world.  For a certain ilk of pseudo-liberals, the above statements are Gospel – and one does not question scripture!

Now, I don’t wish to be too harsh: valued Middle East Analysts (even those with a PhD and – incredibly, I know – even those writing for Ha’aretz) are of course allowed to make mistakes, just like the rest of us.  But… forgive me if I humbly opine that, besides being a mark of character, admitting one’s mistakes should be a minimum requirement for retaining one’s credibility; if not one’s job.

But let’s stop picking on poor Zvi Bar’el – he is far from the only culprit: pretty much every other ‘Analyst’ (and probably his dog, too) agreed with him.  Until very recently, they all said that, while the Gulf Arab countries did not mind having the political equivalent of furtive sex with the Jewish state, they wouldn’t dreeeeam of formalising that relationship without Palestinian blessing.  And I have yet to hear one of those ‘analysts’ saying the magic words: ‘I was wrong’.

Which brings me to the next category.

The ‘anti-annexation’ activists

Anything involving Israel and the Palestinians is guaranteed to attract a disproportionate amount of attention from ‘activists’ with an axe to grind.  But few things caused such a berserk torrent of unbridled criticism like the ‘annexation’.  Convinced (mainly by their own prejudice) that all Netanyahu ever wanted was to despoil the Palestinians of ‘their’ land, lots and lots of people – from New Israel Fund, Yachad, J-Street and other ‘usual suspects’ to Western European politicians and US Democratic Party senators – came out to ‘express their grave concern’ with ‘the annexation plans’.  After all, as all of them declared (without even bothering to explain why) ‘annexation’ spells the death knell of the two-state solution – doesn’t it?

Even some of the people who are genuinely pro-Israel were baffled.  Why would a previously very cautious Netanyahu suddenly seem so keen to do something ’so radical’?  Well, as many an organisational behaviour consultant will tell you, most people don’t like change: given a choice, they tend to choose the ‘devil they know’; or at least to put off getting acquainted with the new fiend.  To effect a change, sometimes it is necessary to manufacture a crisis…

We know now that the UAE deal has been in the making for many months.  And one does not need a PhD in Middle East History to understand why it ultimately happened.

The threat of ‘annexation’ did that – and more.  In the words of ‘a White House official’ (quoted by Walla and the Times of Israel):

“We have been talking about this [the Israel-UAE normalisation] for over a year, but the issue of annexation created the atmosphere in which a deal became more attainable.”

This only sounds counter-intuitive to clueless ‘analysts’ and green (and I don’t mean just ‘Green Party’) European politicians.  In Middle Eastern politics, the ‘annexation’ was never an impending ‘catastrophe’; no, it was a brilliant gambit: it provided the Emiratis with the opportunity to ‘save the Palestinians’ and ‘to save peace’ – all while doing what they wanted to do anyway.  As for Netanyahu, he ‘reluctantly agreed’ to forgo something he didn’t really want to do in the first place (except under much more propitious circumstances), in return for peace with Arab world’s rising star.  Both sides achieved not just their purpose – but also found a way to sell that outcome to their domestic constituencies.

But was it really a gambit, I hear you asking?  Or was Netanyahu somehow ‘dissuaded’ at the last moment from putting in practice those nefarious ‘annexation plans’?

Well, what plans – pray tell me?  ‘Annexing’ land (i.e. governing it as part of Israel’s sovereign territory) is a rather large logistic operation.  It involves establishing (or at least re-deploying) government offices, security installations, centers of authority.  At a minimum, it involves re-deploying military assets.  Yet no preparations were made – or even sketched; no plans were submitted for approval; no sites were earmarked, not one army unit was moved.  Not just people in the street, but ministers and military commanders were left wondering what – if anything – was going to be annexed: a few symbolic dunams?  The Jordan Valley?  30% of the West Bank?

Plans?  There were no ‘plans’.  And why do you think that is?

The ‘annexation’ was a manufactured crisis, which enabled UAE leaders to present normalisation as the solution.

As for ‘anti-annexation activists’, none – to the best of my knowledge – has so far admitted they were wrong.  In fact, a few saw fit to express their great relief at the ‘suspension of annexation plans’.  Demonstrating either intellectual dishonesty or – more likely – just sheer stupidity.

‘Anti-racists’

There is more to apologise about than merely going over the top about ‘the annexation’.  A couple of years ago, I happened to have a discussion with a leading activist from New Israel Fund – UK.  We were in a small group and she launched into a rant about ‘the blatant racism’ that – in her view – was taking over the Israeli society; she rather aggressively asked me to condemn it.  I replied that I unreservedly condemn it; I added that, unfortunately, there is indeed despicable racism in Israel – just as there is in the UK, USA and elsewhere.  ‘Oh, no,’ she said with something I can only describe as cold anger.  ‘There is much, much more racism in Israel.’  I wanted to ask her for the evidence behind such grave accusation – but she gave every indication that, if I wasn’t going to admit that Israel was more racist than other countries, she wasn’t interested in any further debate with me.

For years now, it has become fashionable in certain circles to accuse not just Netanyahu, not just ‘the Israeli government’, but ‘the Israeli society’ en-bloc of racism, of callousness and lack of desire for peace, of ‘land theft’ and other sins.

The ‘evidence’ typically consists of ‘Israeli behaviour’ (as narrated and interpreted by the accusers), politicised opinion surveys (with questions the like of which are only ever asked of Israelis) and ‘anecdotal evidence’ – all of which demonstrate ‘deeply-entrenched anti-Arab racism’ and other such base attitudes.

These ‘Israeli attitudes’ are then employed to call for international ‘pressure’ on Israelis – who, as racist warmongers, cannot be expected to make peace of their own volition.

Speaking about opinion polls, however, one was performed after the UAE announcement: it seems that nearly 80% of ‘the Israeli society’ supports the agreement with UAE over ‘the annexation’; less than 17% expressed the opposite view.  In fact, since the announcement, the entire country has been in a celebratory mood.  It seems that, despite their engrained anti-Arab racism and their lack of desire for peace – Israelis dream of traveling to the UAE, of doing business there, of having Emirati Arabs visit and do business in the Jewish state.  Hundreds of Israelis were visible on Twitter, seeking to make friends with the Arabs they purportedly despise out of racial prejudice…

And it wasn’t just people in the street: the much maligned ‘right-wing Israeli government’ voted unanimously in favour of the Abraham Accords – as did parliamentarians representing ‘extreme right’ opposition parties.  In fact, the only Israeli party that voted against peaceful relations with the United Arab Emirates was… the Joint (Arab) List!  Needless to say, none of the ‘peace activists’ criticised the Israeli Arab parliamentarians for that stance.  Pseudo-liberals – as we know – only see faults in Jews.

‘Prominent British Jews’

But there’s somebody else who owes the Israeli public – and their own community – an apology.  A few months ago, 40 ‘prominent British Jews’ wrote a letter to Israel’s Ambassador to London, protesting ‘the annexation’.  So what’s wrong with this, you ask?  Surely British Jews – whether ‘prominent’ or not, are entitled to write to the ambassador of the Jewish state?  Of course they are; but they chose a rather weird way to do it.  You see, if I want to send a letter (whether to an ambassador or to the lovely man who sweeps the street in front of the Embassy, it does not matter), I use the good services of the Royal Mail.  Of course, I’m not ‘prominent’; if I were a bit posh, I might use a courier – or send my personal valet to drop the letter at the Embassy.  But that’s not what our ‘Prominent Jews’ did; no, they published their letter in the newspaper.  Which newspaper, you’re asking?  Why, Ha’aretz of course – what else?! 

And what did they write, these ‘prominents’?  Well, they expressed their “unprecedented level of concern”.  As well as the following ‘analysis’:

“We are yet to see an argument that convinces us, committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel, that the proposed annexation is a constructive step.  Instead, it would in our view be a pyrrhic victory intensifying Israel’s political, diplomatic and economic challenges without yielding any tangible benefit.”

Needless to say, there were other, even saucier passages, all faithfully and gleefully reproduced by other “friends of Israel” – such as The Guardian and the BBC.

Judging by the above emphatic pronouncement, one would be tempted to think that ‘the Prominents’ are all high-level experts in Middle East politics.  But… no, they’re not.  They’re not even Ha’aretz Middle East Affairs Analysts.  Most of them are politicians and businessmen, a few even political activists masquerading as Rabbis.

What is unclear is: why do these people (who live in Britain, pay taxes in Britain, vote in Britain and do not have to serve in the army in Britain) presume to publicly tell Israelis what to do?  I wonder how would they feel if 40 ‘prominent Israeli Jews’ would have published a letter in The Guardian, declaring something like ‘we are still to see an argument that convinces us that Brexit is a constructive step’?

Why do these arrogant pricks think they understand Israel’s needs and interests better than the elected representatives of the Israeli public?  Why do they see themselves as responsible adults, while viewing Israeli leaders (some of whom have fulfilled for many years positions of vast responsibility in government and/or security forces) as little more than children?

Most believed that Netanyahu – the new Genghis Khan, just as reckless, primitive and bent on destruction as the old one – was about to inflict a huuuge catastrophe upon the Jewish state and on the entire Jewish people.  But a cooler, more sober, more ‘anal’ analysis might have concluded that Netanyahu is anything but reckless.  Sure, like Trump, Netanyahu isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.  Hate the man, if you so wish; despise him for his cigars, his ice-cream, his alleged corruption, his spiteful wife or his undeniable achievements.  But reckless?  No, this guy’s a calculated son of a bitch – if ever there was one.  Netanyahu may play for high stakes – but his game is chess, not backgammon: he does not roll the dice.

By and large, the demarché of the ‘prominents’ was no surprise – most of them have said and done stupid, outrageous things in the past.  Unfortunately, this time their ranks included also people like Howard Jacobson, whom I respect.  What possessed you to add your distinguished name to that shameful list, dear Howard?

I know, I know: we are way past Yom Kippur.  But not past redemption, not yet.  It’s not too late.  Please: would you be a mensch and say “I’m sorry”?

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Boris, Shield of Israel

In recent years, Israelis have often been accused of apathy on the question of peace with the Palestinians.  But the putative annexation of/extension of jurisdiction over parts of the West Bank/Judea & Samaria has already shaken things up.  It is subject to fierce debate in Israel.  And so it should be.  True, the current government is the result of democratic elections and the Israeli electorate has been told exactly what they were voting for.  Still, there is nothing wrong with debating the matter again, so that actual intentions are fleshed out and previously unforeseen consequences flushed out.

I will abstain from taking a position here on the topic itself – other than stating that I see legitimate arguments on both sides in that discussion.  The issue is – it is a debate for Israelis to have.  In a perfect world, the Palestinians should also be involved – provided, that is, that they wish to be and that they produce representatives capable of relating to any proposal with anything other than knee-jerk, hysteric rejections.  And, finally, it is only right for Israel to involve the US; because of that country’s decades of (mostly) unwavering support for the Jewish state; because it is the #1 world power; and because it produced the peace proposal that forms the basis of the ‘annexation’.

But, however one positions oneself with respect to the plan itself, it’s hard to understand why it should be anyone else’s business.

Why does everybody (and his lame sister) feel entitled to tell Israel and Israelis what to do?  Some, of course, are motivated by the antisemitic belief that the Jewish state is a threat to the welfare (and even the existence) of the entire world.  Former British minister and Labour Party politician Clare Short, for instance, blamed the failure to decisively tackle global warming on… Israel.  Thus, she opined, the existence of the Jewish state threatened to bring about “the end of the human race”.  More recently, another British Labour MP – a certain nobody called Alex Sobel – opined on Twitter that

“The annexation is a danger to not just Palestinians and Israelis but to us all”.

But then, we all know where that’s coming from.  I guess that’s why the Labour Party is being investigated for its institutional antisemitism.

Things take a different turn when someone who isn’t a complete nobody steps in.  Bestowing on himself a title that can be translated as ‘Defender of Israel’ or ‘Shield of Israel’, on Wednesday British Prime Minister Boris Johnson penned an article – in Hebrew – in one of Israel’s major newspapers.


People may shrug off Mr. Johnson’s uninvited ‘contribution’; but imagine that, in the midst of the Brexit debate, Benjamin Netanyahu would’ve published an article in the Times of London, telling the Brits in no uncertain terms to stop behaving so foolishly.  I have a nagging suspicion that such intervention by Israel’s prime minister would’ve been seen as (to use a British understatement) ‘not entirely welcome’.  Despite the fact that both the EU and the UK are important trade partners for Israel and, as such, Netanyahu might have felt entitled to weigh in.

It is interesting to read Mr. Johnson’s article – if nothing else, it provides a window into the patronising, neo-colonial mindset of so many Western ‘friends of Israel’.

Indeed, Johnson starts by establishing his ‘credentials’; no, not as a fair-minded, justice-loving politician – but as a “supporter and admirer of Israel” – no less.  He even writes:

“I am an enthusiastic defender of Israel.  Few goals are closer to my heart than ensuring that her citizens are protected from the threat of terror and antisemitic incitement.”

You heard that, ye bloody Israelis?  You’ve got nothing to worry about – Uncle Boris will forever protect you from harm.  True, he has yet to deal with those who bullied and humiliated his own country; but worry not – in case of need he will surely deploy his valiant soldiers to defend Israeli lives and dignity.  Especially since he also wrote that

“Our commitment to Israel’s security is firm, as long as I am Britain’s Prime Minister.”

No worries, then, for the next 4 years or so.  Unless, of course, there’s a crisis that brings Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy to power.  Or even Jeremy Corbyn – who seems to still lurk somewhere in the dark recesses of British politics.


But it’s not just Uncle Boris; apparently, his entire country has a proud tradition of valiant Israel-protecting:

“Britain has always stood with Israel and her right to exist in peace and security – like all other nation.”

There are still a few people in Israel who, upon reading this, may scratch their – mostly bald – heads.  People who fought bloody battles against the Arab Legion – an army armed, trained and officered by the British; in 1948, fighting that force cost more Israeli lives than all the other fronts put together.

But we don’t have to rely on the memory of Israelis who were of fighting age in 1948; perhaps they don’t remember all that well…  As recently as August 2014, however, the British government led by Conservative leader David Cameron (another stalwart friend of Israel) suspended exports of arms to the Jewish state.  Apparently, Her Majesty’s Government was terribly worried that those weapons might be used against the Palestinians in Gaza.  I don’t understand what gave them that idea! after all, between January and August 2014, Gaza had bombed Israel with only marginally more than 4,000 missiles…

But it’s not all about weaponry.  Apparently, Mr. Johnson’s country also supplied Israel with political and diplomatic ‘protection’:

“Britain often defended Israel, as part of a small minority at the UN, from unjustified and disproportionate criticism.”

That’s sooo important, especially since the UK has a veto at the UN Security Council.  So let’s have a look at some of UN’s more notable resolutions:

-        UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947) proposed the establishment of a Jewish state on part of the Mandate of Palestine.  33 countries voted in favour, 13 against and 10 (including the UK) abstained.  Abstained – in terms of the vote, that is.  The UK did not abstain from a very sustained campaign aimed at sabotaging the implementation of that resolution; a campaign that came very close to succeeding.

-        UN General Assembly Resolution 273 (1949) admitted Israel as a member of the United Nations.  This time 37 states voted in favour and 12 against; 9 abstained, including the UK.

-        On 4 July 1967, the UK voted in favour of General Assembly Resolution 2253 (proposed by Pakistan), which declared ‘invalid’ all “measures taken by Israel to change the status” of Jerusalem.  The “measures”, by the way, were also referred in the accompanying speeches as the ‘annexation’ of Jerusalem.  Plus ça change…

But hey, this is old stuff, ‘innit?  Let’s come a bit closer to our times.  In 2000, having rejected Ehud Barak’s opening peace proposal and even the ‘Parameters’ proposed by Bill Clinton, the Palestinian Authority/PLO prepared a ‘popular uprising’ (read: a series of terror attacks that cost the lives of more than 1000 Israelis – three quarters of them uninvolved civilians).  The UN Security Council ‘responded’ with Resolution 1322/7 October 2000, which condemned

“acts of violence, especially the excessive use of force against Palestinians…”

UK voted in favour of this resolution.  I wonder if Boris Johnson had this in mind when talking about his determination to ensure that “Israel’s citizens are protected from the threat of terror”?  I’m not sure – his memory and attention to ‘detail’ are notoriously feeble…

Indeed, one can hardly find a UN resolution condemning Israel (including those accusing the Jewish state of outlandish ‘violations of international humanitarian law’ and of horrible ‘war crimes’) that the United Kingdom opposed.

But if those pesky Israelis think they only owe Britain their security, they’re wrong.  In fact, writes Mr. Johnson, Britain is responsible for the establishment of the State of Israel, via the Balfour Declaration.

Now, I’m surprised Boris was so modest here.  Because the British Government did much more than issue a declaration; in fact, they solemnly committed, in front of the ‘international community’ of the day, to do everything in their power to establish in the Mandate of Palestine ‘the Jewish national home’.  The only problem – and this is obviously just a small detail – is that, having secured the Mandate in return for that pledge, they almost immediately lost any intention to ever fulfil it.

Anyway: after listing all the reasons why Israelis should be grateful to himself personally and to his country, Boris Johnson informed them that

“The annexation would constitute an infringement of international law.”

That’s interesting because, almost at the same time, Her Majesty’s Government also accused China of infringing international law, by imposing on Hong Kong an undemocratic, draconic law – a ‘law’ that makes all protest… unlawful.  The United Kingdom (which left Hong Kong at the mercy of the Chinese with nothing but ‘international law’ to defend them) reacted very strongly by… offering 3 million Hong Kongers UK residence rights and a route to citizenship.  That’ll no doubt teach the Chinese never again to mess with international law; so I’m thinking: perhaps Boris wishes to also punish Israel by offering UK residence to 3 million Palestinians?  I’m pretty sure that such offer would cause a pretty long queue in front of the British Consulate in Jerusalem…

But what I like about Boris Johnson is his optimism, his ‘can do’ attitude.  Read, for instance, this charming mixture of empty words and hot air:

“There is another way.  Like many Israelis, I too am frustrated that the peace discussions ended in failure.  While I understand the frustration felt by both sides, we must leverage this moment of energy to return once more to the negotiations table and strive towards finding a solution.  It will require compromise from all sides.”

Now, that’s indeed “another way”!  Mr. Johnson’s “solution” is simple (in fact, I’d call it ‘simple-minded’): if we bashed our heads into a brick wall for 25 years and failed to break through – we “must” try for another 25.  And I thought that that brilliant approach ended with Theresa May and the many Parliament votes on the ‘only possible deal’!

*** 

Everybody seems to know better than the Israelis what the Israelis should (and especially shouldn’t) do.

But whether we are in favour or opposed to the ‘annexation’, we Israelis must respond to Mr. Johnson’s well-intentioned and not-at-all self-serving intervention with utmost British courtesy:

We are all very busy right now.  But your call is very important to us.  Please stay on the line and we will answer as soon as we can.  Thank you!

Friday, 29 May 2020

Yachad: “together” with intellectual dishonesty?

The Coalition Agreement which forms the basis of the new Israeli government includes the possibility for Prime Minister Netanyahu to proceed – with US blessing and as part of the new US peace proposal, plus a host of other conditions – with the ‘annexation’ (or ‘application of sovereignty’, however one chooses to call it) of parts of the West Bank/Judea & Samaria.
This has caused controversy both in Israel and among Diaspora Jews – even among staunch Zionists.  Yachad (Hebrew for ‘together’ – a group of hard-left British-Jewish activists who proclaim themselves as ‘pro-Israel’ but rarely, if ever, have anything positive to say about the Jewish state) has been particularly vocal in the campaign against ‘annexation’.  So far – so legitimate; nothing wrong with that.
But legitimacy – along with credibility and respect – evaporates when exposed to crass intellectual dishonesty.
One doesn’t need to lie in order to oppose ‘annexation’; one can campaign – even campaign passionately – without trying to deceive.  Passion is not a licence to cheat.

Yachad’s misleading newsletter
On 28 May 2020, Yachad’s Director sent a newsletter to the group’s list of contacts.  This is what she wrote, among other things:
Netanyahu is right, annexation is not democratic.
In an interview published today, Prime Minister Netanyahu admitted that Israel will not “apply sovereignty” and give citizenship to Palestinians living in West Bank areas which Israel intends to annex. “They will remain Palestinian subjects if you like,” he said. According to the Israeli Prime Minister’s plan, Palestinians living in annexed areas will live “under [Israel’s] security control” but will not be equal citizens.
Now, let’s go to the interview that Yachad refers to.  Here’s the question and Netanyahu’s response, which the newspaper even provides with the subtitle “A Palestinian enclave”:
Q: Nevertheless, several thousand Palestinians live in the Jordan Valley. Does that mean they will receive Israeli citizenship?
[Netanyahu]: “No. They will remain a Palestinian enclave. You’re not annexing Jericho. There’s a cluster or two. You don’t need to apply sovereignty over them, they will remain Palestinian subjects if you will. But security control also applies to these places.”
Clearly, Netanyahu talks about areas (such as the city of Jericho) that will not be annexed by Israel.  The US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ Plan describes such Palestinian enclaves – areas of Palestinian sovereignty connected to the envisaged State of Palestine by access roads.  Since they live in areas earmarked for the future State of Palestine, the inhabitants of these enclaves are Palestinian citizens, not Israeli citizens.  Conversely, there are also Israeli enclaves in the midst of the Palestinian state; these are connected to Israel through access roads and their inhabitants are citizens of Israel.  Here is the exact wording of the Plan:
The Palestinian population located in enclaves that remain inside contiguous Israeli territory but that are part of the State of Palestine shall become citizens of the State of Palestine and shall have the option to remain in place unless they choose otherwise. They will have access routes connecting them to the State of Palestine. They will be subject to Palestinian civilian administration, including zoning and planning, within the interior of such Palestinian enclaves. They will not be discriminated against and will have appropriate security protection. Such enclaves and access routes will be subject to Israeli security responsibility.
The Israeli population located in enclaves that remain inside contiguous Palestinian territory but that are part of the State of Israel shall have the option to remain in place unless they choose otherwise, and maintain their existing Israeli citizenship. They will have access routes connecting them to the State of Israel. They will be subject to Israeli civilian administration, including zoning and planning, within the interior of such Israeli enclaves. They will not be discriminated against and will have appropriate security protection. Such enclaves and access routes will be subject to Israeli security responsibility.
So let’s summarise: Netanyahu said (emphasis mine)
You’re not annexing Jericho. There’s a cluster or two. You don’t need to apply sovereignty over them, they will remain Palestinian subjects if you will.
Yachad says (emphasis mine)
Netanyahu admitted that Israel will not “apply sovereignty” and give citizenship to Palestinians living in West Bank areas which Israel intends to annex.
Netanyahu clearly talks about territory that Israel will not annex; Yachad says he referred to areas that Israel will annex.  This, without the shadow of a doubt, is twisting Netanyahu’s words.  It’s horribly misleading.  But, worse, I believe it is a deliberate misinterpretation, an attempt to deceive.  Here is why:
  1. The Yachad’s Newsletter does in fact include a link to the text of Netanyahu’s interview. But that link is placed at the bottom of the email, where most readers are likely to ignore it.  In addition, the link is to the Hebrew version of the interview.  But it is reasonable to assume that most of Yachad's audience (British Jews) typically do not read modern Hebrew – or not well enough to fully understand the meaning of what was said.  It would have been honest to place a link to the English translation of the interview (published in the same newspaper) in the actual paragraph.  For instance, by making the word 'interview' itself a link, as I did above, which would have allowed readers to easily access that interview and check for themselves.  
  2. Alterntively, Yachad could at least have quoted the short passage from Netanyahu’s interview, in English translation, just as I did above. Instead, they chose to (mis)‘interpret’ it, cutting and pasting small bits in a way that changed the meaning.  The question is – why?
  3. Yachad knows the situation in the West Bank – they’ve been organising ‘educational’ tours (read: indoctrination field trips) there for years. The city of Jericho and its hinterland are Area A – the part of the West Bank that, since the Oslo Accords, is under the complete control of the Palestinian Authority – with Israel allowed to intervene only in cases of severe security breaches.  Yachad knows very well that the ‘annexation’ refers to parts of Area C, the part of the West Bank where Israel was granted complete control.  I’ve heard the same Director of Yachad delivering a presentation on Oslo and Areas A, B and C.  Much as I’d like to, I cannot believe that she missed the reference to Jericho and its significance.
  4. Yachad are neither stupid nor newcomers to the intricacies of the US Peace Plan – they campaigned against it; they are familiar with Israeli politics and with the positions of the main personalities – certainly Netanyahu. They heard, not so long ago, Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador to London explaining that Israel will indeed offer citizenship to Palestinians inhabiting areas ‘annexed’ by Israel – just as she did when it ‘annexed’ the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.  At the very least, that knowledge should have made Yachad circumspect in reading and ‘interpreting’ that part of Netanyahu’s interview.

Netanyahu has previously explained the extent of his planned Jordan Valley ‘annexation’. The orange patch in the thicker part of the blue area is the Jericho area. This is part of Area A and is not included in the planned ‘annexation’. {Youtube screen capture}
Yachad may point to some Israeli journalists (notably Ha’aretz) who made the same dishonest claim.  But two liars don’t make a truth.  At least Ha’aretz published the original fragment from Netanyahu’s interview, allowing people to judge for themselves, to spot the spin.
Yachad’s Director now has a last-ditch opportunity to be a mensch: she can write to the group’s contacts, apologising – without reservations, without ‘hochmes’, without trying to squeeze further dishonest propaganda from what she will say is an honest mistake.  She should furthermore publish her apology in the Jewish News and Jewish Chronicle – the same newspapers the group often uses to convey their other messages.  She should apologise in situ for the equally misleading social media posts.
If she chooses not to do all that, then the verdict is inevitable.  This is not about ‘annexation’ or Israel – we can agree or disagree on that.  It’s about ethics; it’s about salvaging a remnant of credibility.
Intellectual dishonesty is always off-putting.  But it is never more appalling than when employed by the self-righteous, by those who seek to cover themselves in the noble mantle of morality.  Lies and deceit make shaky rungs on a ladder leading not to high moral ground – but to the depths of moral turpitude.

Note: a previous version of this article mistakenly stated that no link to the interview was provided in Yachad's email.  It was – though the link was to the text in Hebrew (a language most British Jews do not speak) and it was included in the 'Read more' section at the bottom of the message, where most people would probably ignore it, as I did initially.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Taking the Mick out of Davis



If I were a rich man,
Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
If I were a wealthy man.  […]
And it won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.
When you're rich, they think you really know!

An absolute giant of Yiddish literature, Sholem Aleichem populated his stories with all the colourful characters of the Eastern European shtetl.  And one of the most convincing is the ‘gvir’: the rich Jew; the parvenu, the village boss who mistakes subservience for respect and trades ‘charity’ for influence and power.

The Jewish shtetl is a thing of the (nostalgic) past; not so the gvir; that tragi-comic character, it seems, still struts around: among us, but not quite one of us.

*** 

Sir Mick Davis is a very rich man.  He made his money in mining (coal, metals, petroleum); but don’t picture him in a hard hat with black on his nose – I suspect that he mines primarily from the comfort of a well-upholstered, directorial armchair.  And I guess he’s put that money to good use: he is an important donor to the Conservative Party (Labour also likes money; but it doesn’t like Jews – let alone rich ones!)  Davis served as Treasurer and – until recently – Chief Executive of the Tory Party.

I know, I know… a miner called Davis… what a cliché!  But no: Sir Mick ‘the Miner’ isn’t Welsh – he’s Jewish.  So, naturally, he also took an interest in the affairs of British Jewry: in 2009, he became Chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council.  How, you’re asking?  Well… previously, the JLC had been led by an elected official: the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.  It looks like Mr. Davis took advantage of a change of guard at the helm of the Board to shoulder aside the new President.  Or (to use the far more delicate language employed by the Jewish Chronicle)
he grasped the reins of its [the JLC’s] executive.
The newspaper commented – perhaps with a hint of irony – that this
may not have been exactly a palace coup but it showed who was boss in town.
Didn't it just!  I should warn you here: irony plays a big role in this story; where are you, Sholem Aleichem, when we most need you?

Mr. Davis first courted controversy in 2010, when he opined (in English and in public) that Israel ‘could become’ an apartheid state.  Some may see quite a bit of irony in that: Mick Davis was born and lived his formative years in Apartheid South Africa.  And… I might be wrong here, but I’ve never seen his name listed among the many South-African Jews who actively fought that appalling regime; unless, that is, one considers immigrating from South Africa to the UK as a brave act of social protest.  If indeed young Mr. Davis omitted to valiantly combat the apartheid in his home country, it must’ve been just a matter of  perspective: it seems it’s easier to recognise (and, consequently, criticise) potential apartheids that ‘may occur’ thousands of miles away; it’s not always easy to spot an actual apartheid operating under one’s very nose.

Mr. Davis’s comments on Israel’s putative apartheid-hood so outraged many in the British Jewish community that a petition was written demanding his resignation from public community positions.  But it was quickly withdrawn, when Sir Mick threatened to let the whole weight of his… err… indignation bear – by threatening to deploy his heavy legal artillery against the poor... err... much less indignant petitioner!  Not, God forbid, that Mr. Davis believes that freedom of speech is for him, but not for others; no, it’s just that, apparently, the petition had ‘misrepresented his positions’…

More recently, Sir Mick has once again become the talk of the (virtual) shtetl: in the cover-page article of the (almost bankrupted, but fortunately freshly resuscitated) Jewish News, he accused “Israeli politics” of “violat[ing] values of the Diaspora”.

I find the article full of (unintended) irony.  So let me read it to you with a running commentary.
Says Sir Mick:
Israel remains surrounded by hostility but its emerging existential threats come from within.
Now, when he’s right – he’s right: the Jewish state is indeed surrounded by enemies: there’s for instance Iran (80 times larger than Israel in area, 9 times in population, 5 times in economic output), whose Holocaust-denying leaders call for Israel’s blood every day – and twice on Saturday.  Leaving aside its nuclear ambitions, Iran has a large, strong and well-equipped military, which is currently busy entrenching itself in Syria, as close as it dares to Israel’s borders.  Another of those borders precariously separates Israel from an Iranian ally: Hezbollah – and its 100,000+ rockets.  To the south, there’s Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad; i.e., tens of thousands of rockets and mortar rounds, some capable of reaching targets hundreds of miles away.  In Sinai (a territory 3 times larger than Israel, which the Jewish state once controlled but ceded in return for peace and security) lurks a very active branch of the Islamic State.  You know – those nice people who’ve recently beheaded, crucified and burned a broad swath of blood and tears through Syria and Iraq.  And that’s before one thinks of threats that currently seem – for whatever that’s worth in the Middle East – less imminent: such as a certain manic dictator with neo-Ottoman ambitions.

Yet Sir Mick has decreed that these are not really existential threats.  ‘The problem’, he seems to preach to those Israelis who face the rockets, the bullets and the knives, ‘the problem is not that they want to kill you.  No, let me tell you what the real problem is: it’s your own suicidal tendencies!’ 

Now, Mick Davis is certainly entitled to his opinion.  It would be good to understand, however, on what specialist knowledge it is based?  Because, although Costa Coffee has hosted many a debate on grand strategy, it doesn’t actually count as an accredited military academy.

But, as we know, people don’t actually need to have a clue what they’re talking about – they can still talk.  The problem, says Sir Mick, is Israel’s 
own dysfunctional political system.  
And why is that political system so bad?  First, he explains, there are
the hazards of proportional representation.
And I thought “proportional” was actually a positive thing… stupid me!  I thought that it meant that each citizen gets a vote that is worth exactly the same; that the makeup of the Parliament is a true reflection of the views of the electorate, warts and all.  That’s not what ‘first past the post’ delivers. In 2019, for instance, 1 in every 8 Brits (circa 12%) voted for the Liberal Democrats; but, because of the ‘first past the post’ system, that party only has 11 MPs – i.e. a mere 1.7% of the House of Commons.  

In a proportional system, with 12% of the votes they would have gotten, of course 12% of the seats in Parliament – that’s what “proportional” means.

Don’t get me wrong: one can argue about the advantages and disadvantages of either system – till one’s blue in the face; if one donates to the Tories, I suppose that ‘first past the post’ is wonderful – it results in more bang for the buck; if I were to ask Liberal Democrat supporters, they might feel differently.  But is the “proportional representation” any less democratic?

So what is Sir Mick’s beef with Israel’s “proportional representation”.  Well, he tells us:
the outcome is a government the public didn’t vote for, led by a prime minister seemingly driven by holding onto power and propped up by parties who had previously pledged on principle not to govern with him.
So, Mr. Davis doesn’t like the outcome of the elections.  I get that.  I just don’t think that’s a good enough reason to change the system.  No disrespect, Sir Mick!

But why is this new government one “the public didn’t vote for”?  It represents a broad coalition, from left (the Israeli Labour Party) to centre (Blue & White) to right (Likud).  The prime minister will be Benjamin Netanyahu (leader of the largest party, which received 29% of the votes), followed by Benny Gantz (whose party received 27% of the votes).

True, before the elections Gantz promised not to serve in a Netanyahu government.  You caught him there, Mr. Davis, Sir!  He’s a terrible, terrible man – the first politician ever to break a pre-election promise.  I’m sure nothing like that ever happened while you were Chief Executive of the Conservative Party.  (In Gantz’s defence, he may have followed bad examples: before elections, every US president in the past 25 years promised to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.  It took a quarter of a century to find one that actually did – and I doubt you like him much.)

It is, I agree, terrible that Israel has such a “dysfunctional political system”.  It gets people frustrated.  So unlike UK’s wonderfully functional political system; the one that produced a pro-Remain Parliament despite a clear pro-Brexit referendum; plus 3 years of paralysis, a government begging for elections and an opposition courageously opposing them, etc. etc.

Where Sir Mick is right is that Israel will now have (for a while, at least) a Prime Minister who faces “corruption charges”.  Netanyahu stands accused of having traded favours in return for a ‘kinder treatment’ at the hands of a major news outlet.  British politicians would certainly never do anything like that!  Although there were things… I seem to remember quite a few MPs (including ministers and shadow ministers) dipping their hands rather dishonestly into the public purse…  But that’s a different thing altogether!

Oh, I do admire Sir Mick’s principled stance.  In fact, I herewith demand that Netanyahu’s sorry ass be put in prison – if found guilty by a court of law.  It’s just surprising for me to hear rumours that, in the past, Mr. Davis may have taken a less righteous position against alleged corruption by one of his own underlings.  Well, given those false rumours, I’m sure that Sir Mick cannot but agree with me that people (including the Chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council and the Prime Minister of Israel) are innocent, unless proven guilty.

It’s only halfway through his article that Mr. Davis comes to the issue that really awoke his ire: the planned annexation by Israel of parts of the West Bank – in accordance with the latest US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan.
When we talk of existential threats to Israel, then annexation is the genuine article.
That’s, of course, a valid opinion.  Unfortunately for Mr. Davis, it is just the opinion of an outsider.  Sir Mick is not Israeli; he is a British citizen, paying his taxes in the UK.  It is Israeli citizens (i.e., people who live in Israel, pay taxes in Israel, serve in the army in Israel and risk being bombed to smithereens in Israel) that are entitled to decide (as opposed to opine) what constitutes genuine existential threats to Israel.  And a clear majority of those Israeli citizens voted for parties that accepted the US proposal.

But it doesn’t look like Sir Mick is content with ‘just’ an outsider’s opinion:
The keep your wallets open and mouths shut model of Israel-Diaspora relations was viable when Diaspora Jewry saw in Israel’s political leadership an embodiment of its values rather than a violation of them.
The “wallets open” was understood – and not just by me – as a hint.  After all, as the Jewish News says, Sir Mick is not just any outsider; he is
[o]ne of Britain’s biggest philanthropists to Israel.
I just wonder if, when Mr. Davis decided to give whatever he gave “to Israel” (or, more likely, to whatever causes and organisations he finds useful in Israel), he informed people that those donations came with a clear caveat: ‘I pay – I get the say’.  ‘Coz, had he said so to me (I’m Israeli), I would’ve told him to keep his money.  I have no idea what Sir Mick’s experience is with donations to the Conservative Party; but Israel is a sovereign country.

Isn't 'philanthropy' something done without ulterior motives?


Apparently, however, some sovereign countries have duties to set up other sovereign countries.  How else am I to understand Sir Mick’s sententious determination that Israel has a
moral and strategic imperative to extricate itself from ruling over [the Palestinians].
Before I read Sir Mick’s wise words, I rather stupidly thought it’s the task of every nation that doesn’t yet have independence to “extricate” itself from its rulers.  Including by making the necessary concessions and compromises to achieve that goal.  As Jews – and Indians, and Pakistanis – did in 1947.  In Sir Mick’s perfect world, however, it is the sacred duty of Israel to   offer
a tangible alternative on this issue.
Well, a (or, rather, another) “tangible alternative” has just been offered by the US Administration.  It may not be an administration to Sir Mick’s liking; it may not be an “alternative” he likes, or that the Palestinians like.  But, surely, Mr. Davis hasn’t made his millions by walking away from deals, simply because the opening offer wasn’t to his liking.  While the US document unsurprisingly expresses a US ‘Vision’, it also leaves the door wide open for negotiations:
The peace agreement that will hopefully be negotiated on the basis of this Vision should be implemented through legally binding contracts and agreements (the “ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE AGREEMENT”).
In fact, the reputed architects of the ‘Vision’ have gone to great pains to make that clear.  Speaking about the Palestinian leadership in an interview he gave to an Egyptian media outlet, Jared Kushner said:
If there are things they want to change, if they don’t like where we drew the lines, they should come and tell us.
Were they able and willing to make peace, the Palestinian leaders could simply have said ‘We agree with the principle that there should be an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.  Everything else – let’s negotiate.’

In the absence of such a response, Israel’s ‘duty’ of providing “a tangible alternative” becomes a duty to provide ‘a tangible alternative acceptable to the kind of leadership for whom no alternative was acceptable in the past 100 years’.  I am not as knowledgeable as Sir Mick – but I found no such ‘duty’ in the Torah.  Maybe it’s in the Statutes of Values of the Diaspora that he appears to own.

But the relationship with the Palestinians isn’t Sir Mick’s only imputation towards the Jewish state.  Israel, he intones
must radically improve social mobility within its own society.
And why does he think that Israel has such poor social mobility?  Because
for an OECD country, Israel’s gaps between rich and poor are extraordinary.
Some may view as ironic that a multi-multi-millionaire preaches about narrowing the “gaps between rich and poor”.  But beyond the irony, according to OECD data, Israel has a Gini Coefficient of 0.35.  UK’s is 0.36. Gini is a widely used measure of income inequality: 0 (zero) corresponds to perfect equality, 1 (one) to worst possible inequality – so the lower, the better.  Well, I’d like to think that Sir Mick applies more rigorous research and due diligence to his business dealings than he does to his pronouncements on social issues.  Otherwise, I’d say such sloppiness is… how should I put it… “extraordinary”!

Income Inequality in OECD countries.  Israel in red.  The UK is the 4th bar to the right of Israel.


Next, Sir Mick’s bounces from pseudo-economics back to pseudo-politics:
Israel advocates around the world, of which I am one, boast about the full citizenship rights of Israel’s Arab citizens and their role in Israeli life. However, the MKs those citizens elect are still considered governmentally trayf.
Firstly, on behalf of all my countrymen, I’d like to thank Sir Mick for his unparalleled advocacy.  It’s valiant defenders like him that make us feel so much safer!

However, the rest of the passage is a bit of a spin.  Those MKs are not considered “governmentally trayf” because they are Arabs (indeed, one of them happens to be Jewish); nor because they are elected by Arabs (there are Jews who vote for the ‘Arab List’ and there are Arabs who vote for the ‘Jewish’ parties);  no, the problem is not the ethnicity or religion of those MKs or of their supporters – but the political views that they represent.  It’s about Zionism vs. anti-Zionism, yes – but not just.  The Arab Joint List includes a communist party; a hyper-nationalist party; and an Islamist Party.  Given the record of those ideologies in the region and the world, mainstream Israeli politicians may perhaps be forgiven for not wanting such parties in the governing coalition.

But the issue is more fundamental than that.  In a parliamentary democracy, there is a right to vote, to elect their parliamentary representatives (and be elected as such); I wasn’t aware that there was a right to have one’s representatives included in the governing coalition – whatever their politics.  Are you making up democratic rules as you go along, Mr. Davis?

Apparently, Sir Mick’s list of Israel’s many violations of ‘values of the Diaspora’ also includes the fact that the Jewish state has failed to teach British Jews Hebrew:
How for example, can we nurture a thriving and mutual beneficial sense of shared peoplehood, when so many Diaspora Jews, particularly in the English-speaking world are unable to speak Hebrew, the language of their homeland?
That is indeed a problem – and I must thank Mr. Davis for pointing it out.  Too bad he pointed it out… in English; in a Diaspora Jewish English language newspaper!

And it’s not Israel’s only linguistic and cultural sin.  Mr. Davis also determines that:
Jewish Israelis need more and better education in Arabic and Arab culture. Arab Israelis need more and better education in Jewish culture and history.
Don’t you just looove one that always asks for “more and better” – but fails to even mention what has already been achieved?  To start with, most Israelis (or their parents or grandparents) hail from Arab lands – so Arab culture is hardly unfamiliar to them.  Arabic is part of the curriculum in most Israeli secular schools – at all levels.  True, it is not compulsory to study Arabic – it’s one of the optional languages students can choose to study (and many do).  In recent years, more teachers of Arabic are employed in Jewish schools – no doubt because Mr. Davis has determined that this is the way forward.  Most Arab Israeli parents understandably choose to give their kids an education in Arabic schools – but that education includes the study of Hebrew.

And actually, may I suggest that – before he idly shoots his mouth off again – Sir Mick takes the time and the trouble to watch the excellent Israeli series ‘Fauda’?  It is available on Netflix.  With English subtitles, Sir Mick; no worries!

Don’t get me wrong: Mr. Davis can actually have a say on how Israel looks like – and how she should look like in the future; once he comes to live there, of course.  I’m sure he has enough money to buy himself a decent flat in Sderot!

But, let’s face it – he is unlikely to make Aliyah.  In fact, he doesn’t even envisage such possibility.  He bashes Israel ‘as a Jew’ from the Diaspora.  Why?  A very charitable explanation would be ‘because he cares’.  It’s a very strange way to show it, but hey-ho…

Unfortunately, I am more inclined to believe an explanation that Sir Mick himself let slip at some point:
I think the government of Israel […] have to recognise that their actions directly impact me as a Jew living in London, the UK.  When they do good things it is good for me, when they do bad things, it's bad for me. And the impact on me is as significant as it is on Jews living in Israel.
There are no less than 4 rather emphatic me’s in that short peroration.  It would seem that Mick Davis does care deeply… about Mick Davis!

Well, Mr. Davis Sir, as an Israeli who served for 20 years in the IDF, I am sorry for all the inconvenience that we caused you!

Oh, and… for whatever it’s worth, this Jewish Israeli (of the Ashkenazi variety) loves the Arabic language and culture.  Take for instance this brilliant proverb, which applies so well to you and your hatchet-job of an article:
الكلاب تنبح والقافلة تسير
It means: ‘The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on’.  So long, Sir Mick!

 
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