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Friday, March 29, 2013

Peace in our Time

There are people who believe that an apology for the deaths of nine people on the Mavi Marmara, in 2010 is completely undeserved.

This appears to have been proven correct, when following the apology by Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Erdogan told Turkish reporters “It was too early to talk about dropping the Mavi Marmara case against the Israeli soldiers, and that normalising diplomatic relations would come gradually.” (FrontPage

President Morsi of Egypt has uttered some horrific statements of religious bigotry. This isn’t, as some would hope, a kind of religious mania, or even insanity – when society as a whole displays behaviour we view as being aberrant it is not they who are viewed as misguided, but we, those of us who are 'out of step' with the consensus.   Egypt is a country where female rape is becoming a national sport; sanctioned by the state to control its females. “A study by the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights said that 62% of men admitted to harassing women, while 53% blame women for ‘bringing it on.’ Nor is this phenomenon limited to Egyptian women: while 83% of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment, so have 98% of foreign female visitors.”  (Middle East Forum) Egypt gave the world the Muslim Brotherhood, the institution that has spread across the globe as a cross between the Institution of the Inquisition and the Knights Templar.  It is noteworthy that in a country without Jews to blame, they blame Christianity for the failure of the Arab Spring.

President Erdogan has been known to defend Jews against Turkish jingoism and xenophobia but he is also a demagogue and ultimately his loyalty is firstly towards his faith and second to his nation. His veneer of civilisation is a pragmatic response to how he perceives other countries will react to his behaviour.  In 2012 he used chemical weapons (as reported in the German Press but no where else at the time), against the Kurds.   His one fear is for the failure of his Islamist revolution; ethical considerations are entirely absent from his behaviour.  Statements made by Erdogan, his Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu and President Morsi of Egypt reflects the written word of primitive societies, bestial worshippers of chaos and war. These are all rational, highly intelligent men so their carefully chosen words of incitement mark them out as sinister figures whose corrupted souls are steeped in the stagnant and foul smelling prejudice of the dark ages of history. The danger is that with 7th Century attitude they posses 21st Century weapons.

Neither Egypt nor Turkey are societies that are entirely dedicated to obscurantism and bigotry but neither Egyptian Fundamentalism nor Turkish neo-Ottoman imperialism are political ideologies that are tolerant of diversity. The West cannot ignore nor trust either. If containment contributed to the fall of Communism then we must question why we have not actively encouraged the containment of Turkey and Egypt (and Iran.)

There is a psychology of confidence that Islam and especially Arab society engenders that we must not ignore.  Even if we do not understand the cultural antipathy that both of them holds towards us (and the Occident), we cannot ever ignore their consequent contemptuous hope concerning our ultimate demise, in particular, when it manifests as openly expressed derision. 

Sticks and stones will break your bones but with words begin the slaughter.

Most of the Near-East was created by Britain and France after the First World War. The San Remo Conference in 1920 created a legal basis for carving up the defunct Ottoman empire into artificial states. Those states were always dysfunctional and could only ever be ruled by force of arms and dictatorship.  It is possible that what we are now living through is the unravelling of the artificial mess that Europe created.  The dismemberment of the Arab world may be the only hope the world has, for peace.

A nation starts the way it intends to continue. It is important that we remember this. 

Societies are formed over centuries, not decades and certainly, not over electoral cycles.  America’s Constitution is 225 years old.    It may have taken almost that long for true equality to exist, perhaps it remains a work in progress.  There will be many people who by denying that it exists mean to undermine it. Nevertheless without the visionary founding fathers, the Civil War of the 19th Century and the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th Century may not have had a moral basis.

Zionism has an equally idealised foundation.  Zionism created The Declaration of Independence which forms the inspiration behind Israel’s Basic laws.   It is worthwhile to repeat part of that founding Declaration:

“The State of Israel will ….be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…”

A nation begins as it intends to continue.  Israel has suffered 65 years of warfare, 65 years has it been threatened with annihilation and yes it remains militarily, the most powerful nation state in the Near-East.  But the military threat remains and it has created, by necessity, a militant nation which must continuously remain vigilant against the threats to democracy and civil liberties that a militant society will encourage as a by-product of its survival in a hostile environment.

It is something that has skewered Israeli political as well as moral thinking. In Israel full equality exists in law but not in practice, just as it does not exist in practice in any other country.  There exists full integration in most facets of Israeli life with one exception – and that is religious communities of all faiths.  All the faith communities remain segregated and they choose to remain so – it is Israel's greatest challenge and its most difficult battle yet to be fought – It remains the most significant  impediment to  Israeli tolerance within national life.

The barriers that exist are equally entrenched throughout all the religious communities in displaying universal opposition to religious assimilation. 

One of the biggest barriers is that Judaism has no outgoing contemporary experience of proselytising.  Non-Jewish minorities in Israel have aggressive and long established missionary activities and if they are not now engaged in such activities it is because delegitimisation is another form of denial that works to undermine the essential equality of Israel’s majority Jewish population.  Prejudice keeps disparate religious communities apart as each safeguard's its own theological or ideological position and is a wholly negative response that is intended to prevent people from seeking ways to live alongside of each other, peacefully; to integrate or even to assimilate a new national identity.

European and Arab (Mizrahi) Jews have a greater than 50 per cent rate of intermarriage, but Arab and Jew?  This must be the area of greatest attention in the 21st Century.

Egypt and Turkey lead traditional, racist societies.  Any tolerance they feign has been historically dependent on a strictly enforced Islamic hierarchy and an institutionalised hierarchic inferiority imposed on their minority populations.  It is not that their societies have become more bigoted.  Severe economic problems combined with well organised, inherently violent religious groups (the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists) have contributed towards a consequent lack of physical security.  These were already weak and dysfunctional societies.

Morsi and Erdogan both proudly display their racism and their ethnic hatred as essential elements of their national identities. No excuse, diplomatically delivered, can provide a defence for the original sin of Turkish and Egyptian national endeavours.

Prime Minister Netanyahu would be wise to remember this point when he negotiates with one of our existential enemies.

You really do start as you intend to continue.

Americans and Israelis seem to have forgotten that point.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Racism, Antisemitism and Dishonesty

Natan Sharansky defined modern antisemitism as hiding behind a veneer of “legitimate criticism of Israel.” I will always defend Israel against any enemy or ‘friend,’ whenever I perceive an agenda that steps outside of legitimate criticism. 

Natan neatly summarised the areas to which we must respond, in his 2005 essay (the link to the essay is below) when he offered a simple set of tests, the three D’s, to define the boundaries beyond which we must become engaged.

The first is the test of demonization – Jews and Israelis labelled as Nazi’s. The second test is the double standards test.  This is selective criticism justified by reference to Israel being a) chosen b) a Western nation or c) uniquely held to a higher standard of behaviour under any circumstances. The third test is de-legitimisation. Classic antisemitism was justified by supercessionism (or replacement) theology. Modern antisemitic discourse denies the legitimacy of Israel and in spite of Arab colonialism or Muslim theocratic hegemonic pretensions decries Israel as being the last surviving remnant of Western Imperialism or White and Christian colonialism. See:

Denial refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of one identity being equal to another identity. If we lived in a world without prejudice or discrimination then equality would be automatic and we could change our identity as we change our shirts.  Multiple layers of identity shape our perceptions but they are influenced by the press, by our family circumstances, by our class and by society.  We naturally, in defining ourselves, place ourselves in contradistinction to the other.  It is in the nature of the relationship we have with ‘the other’ that a community is not only formed but also judged.

Judaism recognised the competitive nature of identity in its requirement for reinforcing validation and we are repeatedly reminded in the Torah that we must treat the ‘other’ with respect. It is sadly understandable that because we have been so often attacked our sympathy for the other is sometimes insufficiently rigorous and even on occasion, entirely absent. Then, it does not help that the motive for probing our less than pristine behaviour evokes an almost visceral reaction of rejection; a refusal to even acknowledge that we may be less than correct in the way we treat others.

Disregard for human rights can never be selectively applied.

And yet, official Arab apartheid against non-Arabs and non–Muslims has generated no excitement and no Apartheid Week activities in the West. Syrian atrocities are all but ignored (the Assad dynasty has ruled Syria through the liberal use of terror since 1970), Lebanese apartheid is unheard of, and Saudi-Arabian human rights violations rarely make the news. We studiously avoid offence and sanitise Islamic incitement at all costs.  When terrible things are uttered in Europe or America we condemn the speaker and his or her philosophy (usually) without reservation. When Egyptian, Turkish or Palestinian Authority presidents (Morsi, Erdogan and Abbas) make antediluvian declarations - proclamations so egregious we should be ashamed to repeat them, worse than anything casually whispered in our ‘tainted’ Western societies, we try our best to conceal the truth.  We do not comment unless forced to do so and then we make every possible excuse. 

Arab and Muslim identity is predicated on the subservience or subjugation of the minority, a marginalised groups humiliation and institutionalised ridicule.  The (extreme) Left refuses to accept that Jews are able to possess an identity defined by national self-governance.  Radical racist Christian groups renew their support for replacement theology as justification for the delegitimisation of Israel.  This hypocrisy too often undermines the legitimate concerns we all feel for minority rights in Israel. It does not excuse it but human beings fight discrimination with discrimination.

The post-modern, left wing internationalist won’t be moving, any time soon, to Nigeria, Pakistan, The Congo or The Sudan.  They will talk about the importance of international aid and how we should burn less carbon fuel so that the depletion of the Ozone layer happens at a slower rate.  But what they won’t mention is the pillaging of Africa’s intellectual talent through the commercialisation of our universities.  They celebrate this because it empowers them.  They will ignore the corrupt international aid industry that perpetuates and exacerbates human conflict.  And the cost of failure represented by every immigrant or refugee who fails to return to his or her own country (at a financial benefit to the West) is an irretrievable loss of human capital to the home nation.  While our Western neo-colonial practices are ignored they will however, never fail to condemn Israel for its survival in the post-European Near-Eastern colonial ocean.

It is this hypocritical expression of antisemitism that makes fighting for civil equality in Israel more difficult, it undermines the Left; in fact in Israel it has virtually eviscerated the Left as a progressive movement.  Those people that want the State of Israel to magically ‘solve’ Islamic extremism (in the West and in fact, throughout the world) by coming up with a solution to the conflict with Palestine fail to see that it is their bigotry that has made a solution nearly impossible to achieve in the foreseeable future.

Our contribution must be to highlight antisemitism in all of its disguises and to defeat those that by their intimidation and radicalisation harm all of society and not just us.  To paraphrase John F Kennedy: Ich bin ein Israeli - We are all Israeli.  Last and no less important, it is our business to remind Israel of its progressive Zionist roots so that its founder’s vision may not be lost in ongoing and seemingly irreconcilable conflict.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Segregated Buses

Much has been written about the launch on March 4th of two bus lines (Numbers 210 and 211). The bus company (Afikim or Ofakim depending on the article source) opened the new lines in order to facilitate the movement of Palestinian workers into Israel from areas that had previously been untouched by Israeli transport services.

As background to this story, Israeli bus companies do not service towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority.  Unscrupulous Palestinian drivers charge workers extortionate amounts of money to ferry them to the border with Israel.  So practically speaking these buses served a purpose that was beneficial to Palestinians.  Non-Israeli’s do have to show ID at the border crossing between Israel, and Judea and Samaria.

This is the case for national border crossings anywhere that international boundaries are defined by physical barriers.  The transport ministry issued a statement declaring:

“The ministry has not issued any instruction or prohibition
that prevents Palestinian workers from travelling on public
transport in Israel nor in Judea and Samaria.”

A spokesman for the bus company stated: “we are not allowed to refuse service and we will not order anyone to get off the bus”. There is no legal basis for preventing Palestinian workers from travelling on public transport either in Israel, or in Judea and Samaria.  But unfortunately, this does not mean that it does not happen.  In the first article I read on this issue the final comment by an observer destroyed, in a single line, the moral basis for Israeli outrage.  That one line was a link to a You-Tube video showing an Israeli bus driver telling a Palestinian he could not return from work to his home, on an Israeli bus.  Excrement happens. But let us not be proud when it does and let us not excuse it.

The new bus service was intended to serve some 1,300 people daily.  It would have hugely relieved pressure on Palestinian workers who travel into Israel each day.  The way in which it was rolled out and subsequently hijacked by anti-Zionist propaganda has created immense damage to Israel’s failing reputation, again.

The Transport Minister, Yisrael Katz, should have taken ministerial responsibility for this disastrously executed plan and resigned. Of course, he did not.  Bus drivers refusing equal service should have been dismissed.

I have an issue with both sides of the controversy, but primarily with fellow supporters of Israel and I explain why below.

Segregation, whether deliberate or by circumstance is controversial!  In Israel today, and for now I am excluding Judea and Samaria, Ultra-orthodox Jews segregate themselves from Secular Jews in case they are tainted by the latter groups paucity of faith; they segregate women from men (so that they are able to focus solely on their prayers); and they segregate themselves from each other out of misguided ideological purity that fears dilution, or worse, corruption, if they permit opinions to be heard that lie outside of their own congregation.  We must not omit from this list the relative value placed on Western Jew compared with Mizrahi Jew, Born again as compared with Natural born, Orthodox compared with Reform, and so on.

And I are not going to discuss Arab Israeli’s who like their Arab brothers and sisters elsewhere know that they are superior to us all because their Prophet graced them with his military-religious philosophy as a unique and eternal racial endowment.  Nor will I discuss Islamic scorn as a theological aspect of faith based superiority that mandates discrimination and justifies violence against non-Muslims, or the apartheid that exists in Arab towns guaranteeing that in Jewish Israel, such towns are Judenfrei.

Segregation is a curse.  There is an argument that girls perform better academically in all-girls schools (while the same is not true for boys educated in boys-only schools).  Prisoners, by the choices they have made have already demonstrated an inability to control their actions or to consider the negative impact their behaviour has on society.  The prisoner is penalised by society through enforced segregation from the mainstream.

But an argument for segregation cannot ever be made for the rest of society.  A group that feels so insecure, so threatened by the equality of their neighbour that it demands separation has an existential problem that will not be confronted by estranging themselves from the rest of society or by failing to address their own neurotic culpability.  And the problem has considerably worsened as the built in dysfunction within the Israeli electoral system grows.  It has empowered the Ultra-orthodox with ever greater levels of control over Israeli society in ways that distract the general public from addressing real issues of national survival.

The sickness of exclusion has taken hold within Israel and must be vigorously opposed. In Israel, those that turn a blind eye to or actively encourage discrimination are complicit if not actively responsible for breaking the law and must be brought to justice before the courts.  It is unacceptable that female soldiers (any female) should be refused equal access to buses, or abused in the streets of Israel’s towns and cities, as is now happening with increasing frequency.  It is symptomatic of an escalating contagion within society and the failure to address this contamination of the body politic signals a fundamental weakness of the institutions that bind the citizen to the state.

A mixed society confronts its differences.  A segregated society repels, and with ever greater disdain, tries to justify its privileges.  At its ‘purest,’ assimilation annihilates separate identity. I am not going to rail against the right to national self-determination exercised by nation states everywhere on the globe but that the racist advocates of BDS (boycott) refuse uniquely to grant Israel.  Only a fool views the violence and intolerance in the world around us and proclaims that the time is NOW to abolish borders.  But nor should we place barriers to integration or assimilation within our national borders.

The way in which the narrative of ‘segregated buses’ was permitted to unfold is a national shame and a blot on the Zionist enterprise.