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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Musings on Peace, Israel & The Arab Spring

President Anwar Sadat told his Foreign Minister just prior to being the first Arab leader to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state that “we are dealing with the lowest and meanest of enemies. The Jews even tormented their prophet Moses and exasperated their God.” (The Camp David Accords, a testimony. P321 Muhammad Ibrahim Kamel 1986 Quoted from “Palestine Betrayed,” Ephraim Karsh).  Whether Sadat’s assent to Jerusalem and subsequent Peace Treaty with Israel would have ultimately lead to an entirely new paradigm for Jewish-Muslim and Arab-Israeli relationships we will never know.  Because war is more than just an absence of conflict, it is a state of mind.

And it is a state of mind that Sadats’ successor, Hosni Mubarak, never intended to encourage.   When Sadat started down the road to recognition and limited reconciliation with Israel, Vice President Hosni Mubarak was against it and he never changed his mind, or his conduct.  His contemptuous behaviour provided Egyptians with a role model whose negative attributes towards Israelis as Jews would be emulated throughout Egyptian and other Muslim societies from the moment that Mubarak became Egypt’s dictator.  To believe that the Arab Spring might provide hope for a better relationship with the Arab / Islamic world is at best naive and at worse, dangerously underestimating an implacable enemy whose historic baggage of ethnic conflict and theological hate can perhaps, never be sated.

Mubarak was vice-president of Egypt when Anwar Sadat responded to Menachem Begin’s invitation to speak at the Knesset thus precipitating the peace process that culminated in Egypt regaining everything it had lost in War, through Peace. And while, since the signing of that treaty in 1979 Israel has had 32 years of ‘peace’ it has been a peace of undiminished diplomatic confrontation and hate-drenched antisemitic propaganda. Mubarak the General was the implacable enemy of Jews as religious entity and Israeli's as national polity; he opposed Sadat but accepted the peace reluctantly and without a single act of friendship at any point in the intervening years.

I would suggest that this is because Islam views its minorities as no more than a sacrifice to the Islamic extremists within its own societies.  Full peace with Israel will not be realised as long as Egyptians can take pride in the Korans’ baser statements of ridicule, its bigotry, its perception of religious superiority for the Muslim world and its racial superiority for the Arab world.

The Torah, the Jewish Bible portrays acts of violence as time specific acts of necessity or outrageous deeds that violate human decency,  bringing shame to the Jewish people (such as the rape of Dinah and her brothers subsequent revenge against the Canaanites in Genesis 34).  Modern Orthodoxy theologically and therefore theoretically rejects violence and discrimination perpetrated in the name of God by the Hebrews. Most Jews apologetically find excuses for the unpalatable because as a faith, we have always recognised that not even the Decalogue is entirely sacrosanct. The inclination towards peaceful co-existence, cultural pluralism and universal justice are cornerstones of Judaic development even if the modern ultra-Orthodox fundamentalist reaction to persecution and power has created a frightened, reactionary and backward sectarianism that the more mainstream Jewish groups are horribly reluctant to challenge, thus alienating the secular community from their faith. 

But we need each other, because humility is not a natural state of human consciousness and secular belief without a limiting deity is as dangerous a faith as any form of fundamentalism.

Christianity was foundered by men who deliberately downplayed their Jewish roots so that they could conquer Roman society for their religion.  Nevertheless, the Christian Bible is, for the most part, a testament to peace and co-existence even while its leaders exploited its texts to conquer much of the globe and to this day find it easy to make excuses for collaboration and appeasement with Islam.

Only the Muslim Bible, the Koran, seeks to dominate, to annihilate, to control by conquest.  Violence as an act of religious fulfilment; slavery as an act of demonstrable subservience, these are an Islamic patrimony that precludes equality and co-existence. It is this issue that defines the Muslim relationship with Israel and with the rest of humanity.

Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Egypt as religious nations are incapable of respecting the treaties they have signed with their neighbours unless they deliver their neighbours into their respective spheres of controlling influence.  Peace is not a bi-product of adherence to a literary tradition bound in antiquity that is militantly biased towards its own kind with a preoccupation towards global conquest based on a self inflated worldview of its own religious predestination towards dominance.

Israel, like all nations, is a product of settlement and immigration. But it has been a renewed magnet for religious Jews for almost a thousand years.  While secular Jews began their journey to Israel mainly after the 1880’s, many Palestinian Arabs were attracted to Israel, not by history, but by the phenomenal success of renewed Jewish immigration.  Zionism as a mainstream movement has its extremists on the periphery of society, as all societies do. But Zionists from both the left and the right did not assume a land ethnically cleansed of Arabs or non-Jews, nor did they ever expect to expel the minority from its land.  Only the Arabs did this and continue to believe that this is an option. With the active collaboration of the British Government the Arabs restricted Jewish immigration while simultaneously encouraging Arab immigration to Israel. Its leaders manipulated violent confrontation in order to profit from its chaotic blood-drenched outcome.  And all of their atrocities were committed in the name of their god Allah and their prophet, Muhammad. That the Arab nation was and still is incapable of sharing the land is obvious by Arab pronouncements.  This intolerance of diversity is intrinsic to Islam and Islamic tradition.

It is for this reason alone that any accommodation that denies the Jewish identity of Israel is no more than a cynical deconstruction of Jewish nationhood.  In Islamic terms anything else is theologically redundant; the existence of a Jewish state is the denial of Islamic theological dominance but more important, in Arab terms a renunciation of Arab imperialism. It is therefore curious that the West’s political Left has wholeheartedly embraced the Arab (Palestinian) narrative.

Jewish literary traditions are bound up in antiquity but the difference is one that separates the two religions like night and day. Islam believes its traditions are inviolate, the word of Muhammad are God’s word and therefore unchangeable.  Islam has never permitted its prophets to be anything other than God’s thugs. Judaism interpreted and reinterpreted God’s word so often that the faith of 4,000 years past was unrecognisable with that of 3,000 ago and without much similarity to the faith of 2,000 years ago and certainly nothing like it is today.  But that is what Islam sees as Judaism’s greatest failure, whereas it is what Jews see as our faiths greatest strength.

For those who would assume American support for Israel, History is not always as it seems.  In 1948 as today the US State Department was dominated by Arabists, Pro-Arab establishment bureaucrats not unlike their European or British Foreign Office equivalents.  Israel has always been an irritant that interfered with the orderly process of accommodation and appeasement with nations predisposed towards dictatorship. In 1948 President Truman recognised Israel and not because he liked his ‘Jews’ and not because he sympathised with their plight in Europe. He recognised the legitimacy of Jewish self-determination; something Britain’s University and College Union even today does not. But that was not the reason he recognised the State of Israel in the United Nations vote on the partition plan on November 30, 1947.    On that day the USA and Russia voted, for the first time on the same side because The Jewish far Left in Israel controlled 12% of the vote in Palestine and a vote against partition would undoubtedly have pushed Israel into the arms of Communism, thus providing the Soviet Union with a base in the Middle East that was both reliable as an ally and not dependent on aid to survive (as the Arab countries were.)  Out of fear for its corrupting influence on US society, in the 1950’s the US still banned much of the ‘revolutionary’ music the Jews played on their radio stations in Israel despite that decision on recognition.

Nothing is quite as it seems. In 2011 the USA installs radar systems in Turkey that face Iran but can just as easily relay information on Israel to Israel’s enemies. Satellites can be just as effective but they need to have 24/7 over-flight of a country to ensure complete cover.

On the 7th of June 1967 Defence Minister, General Moshe Dayan, made a vow in the shadow of the Wailing Wall.  “We have returned here, never to part from this city of Old Jerusalem again,” speaking calmly as he addressed his battle weary troops, many of them sobbing with emotion, General Dayan added: “to our Arab neighbours we offer even now our hand in peace….we did not come here to Jerusalem to conquer the religious shrines of others or to interfere with those of other faiths, but to ensure peace and to live in fraternity with others.”   (Quoted from Press Cuttings of June 8, 1967).

Today, imagination is sadly lacking in Israeli political circles on how to engage its enemies on its own terms. Perhaps Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has less time than he thinks.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gilad Shalit to be released from captivity

The whole nation welcomes home Gilad Shalit. Or it should. But there are prominent Israelis who have argued against the price to be paid for his return to Israel.  The price for swapping him is 1 Israeli for 1,027 Palestinians. People are right; it is an exorbitant price beyond all acceptable standards. And yes, there is a probable price yet to be paid in Israeli lives lost.  And it even sends a message to the Islamic world. After all, the morally corrupt President of Iran, Mahmoud Achmadinejad has unambiguously stated that Islam must defeat the corrupt West because “We (the Islamic world) love death and the West loves Life.”

In the Yom Kippur service there is a passage that refers to Pidyon Shevuyim (redeeming the captives). Islam theologically views the non Muslim as no better than cattle, to be bartered, stolen, abused and despatched to his or her death when no longer of service. As such, Islam is the true spiritual heir to the Roman Empire whose civilisation likewise produced great works of art and literature and, defined statecraft and ethics as the celebration of power and death, imaginatively delivered to lesser beings.

The one thing that has differentiated both the USA and Israel in their statecraft from the rest is the tension between foreign policy pragmatists (realists) and foreign policy idealists.  It is why the home of Capitalism boycotts its enemies and why the most significant opposition to war has always come from within our two societies not outside of them.   It is why Israel’s enemies fired almost 10,000 rockets and missiles at Israel’s citizens; nevertheless Israel permitted its enemies to escape with their families in the assault on Gaza that began on December 27, 2008.   And Israel has the most diligent military prosecution service in the Western world, to ensure that those forgetting the ‘rules of war’ do not escape scrutiny from an Israeli court.

It may not be much but it is what differentiates ‘us’ from ‘them’.

On November 30, 1947 the Arab Higher Committee issued its manifesto to rouse the population to a higher plane of consciousness – it wanted the Palestinian Arab populace to be prepared for the conflict with the Jews. It was titled “Kingdoms are established over dead bodies and skulls.” Rousing stuff.

In a not dissimilar vein, Neturei Karta, the fundamentalist Jewish worlds very own Jew haters may be correct about one thing only and that is that a people with a state will compromise on following God’s commandments.  They bleat that only a God created state is permissible therefore they ignore the state and often actively work to undermine it.  Their ethics are without Jewish foundation. In order to survive,a state will inevitably make compromises and God is in the struggle, not in full time study and disengagement from the life of the nation.

Those who would abandon a captive to his or her fate betray Jewish values.  That a senior Israeli Rabbi could publicly suggest this, is an indication of moral degeneration, not of piety.

Israel must not forget that the ethical foundation of the state of Israel is not Turkish, nor Arab, nor British; it is Jewish, and it is Israeli.  Ethnic cleansing is symbolic of Islam’s foundation mythology.  Pidyon Shevuyim is symbolic of Israel's founding ethic. Some of us appear to have forgotten that.

Pirkei Avot 2.6 (Hillel) "In a place where no one behaves like a human being, you must strive to be human.”