Sunday, 28 February 2010

Is Israel actually a nation?

Does an Israeli nation exist? Strange as it sounds, that's the question Israel's supreme court will be answering this Wednesday.

Bernard Avishai explains why on his blog...

Back in 2005, in a piece for Harper's, I called attention to a curious petition, filed the year before with Israel's High Court of Justice. The petitioners were thirty-eight citizens of Israel, most of them Jews but a number of them Arabs: businesspeople, professors, entertainers, writers, jurists; a past minister of education, a past head of the air force. Their petition enjoined the court to order the Ministry of Interior to inscribe them as “Israeli” in the Registry of Population. Given how much else was being contested in the country, one would think a petition to recognize Israelis as “Israeli” was frivolous. It was anything but that.

He later quotes Israeli commentator and left wing activist Uri Avnery:

The Israeli Interior Ministry recognizes 126 nations, but not the Israeli nation. An Israeli citizen can be registered as belonging to the Assyrian, the Tatar or the Circassian nation. But the Israeli nation? Sorry, no such thing.

According to the official doctrine, the State of Israel cannot recognize an "Israeli" nation because it is the state of the "Jewish" nation. In other words, it belongs to the Jews of Brooklyn, Budapest and Buenos Aires, even though these consider themselves as belonging to the American, Hungarian or Argentine nations. Messy? Indeed.

That 'official doctrine' Avnery talks about was evident some years ago in the judgement of the then head of the Supreme Court of Israel, Shimon Agranat, who explained (in response to a similar petition to recognise an Israeli nationality - see the third paragraph here for more info):

Therefore, if there is in the country today – just 23 years after the establishment of the state – a bunch of people or even more – who ask to separate themselves from the Jewish people and to achieve for themselves the status of a distinct Israeli nation, then such a separatist approach should not be seen as a legitimate approach. It is prohibited to acknowledge this approach, since the principle of the right for national self-determination could not provide any justification for it..

So there you have it: there's no such thing as an Israeli nation - well, at least not officially (though clearly an Israeli nationality exists for and is claimed by most of what we would call Israeli citizens, and that’s enough for me to say it’s real, whatever its legal status). Let's see if this changes on Wednesday...

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The state of debate on the Jewish State on campus

A Manchester University student paper has this report ofthe clashes between Israel and Palestine supporters over the invitation and subsequent cancellation of the visit of the deputy Israeli Ambassador to the UK. You can see pictures of the protests here

Dan Berkely, one of the students present at the clashes, gave this assessment of the experience:

“They were ridiculous protests and became not about politics, but about who could shout louder. That was the problem with the lack of debate in the first place. It was just aggressive people shouting. I’ve never been able to hear their views. All I’m told is, ‘I should be ashamed’ and ‘I’m scum’ and that ‘I’m a murderer’. They don’t know my views and frankly, I don’t know theirs. They never want to sit down and speak. They never want to debate. It’s not politics.”
"They don't no my views and frankly, I don't know theirs" - and there's the nub of the problem; something which no amount of shouting will change.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Yuli Edelstein - trivialising antisemitism

Yuli Edelstein, the Israeli Minister of Information and Diaspora, spoke at a dinner hosted by the Zionist Federation on Sunday. According to the report on Haaretz, he told the audience that the Goldstone report represented a new 'kind' of anti-semitism.

Reading this reminded me of something the former head of Jewish Policy Research, Antony Lerman, had written:

Some Israel critics are no doubt classic anti-semites using anti-zionism as cover. But the anti-zionism equals antisemitism argument says something else. [Jonathan] Sacks summed it up when he told the Parliamentary Committee against Antisemitism that 'accusing Israel of racism, ethnic cleansing, attempted genocide, crimes against humanity,' is itself antisemitic. Yet to exempt Israel from such allegations is to set the threshold of where legitimate criticism of Israel tips over into antisemitism impossibly low. If we say a British institution is racist, does this imply an ideological anti-Britishness... The anti-Zionism equals antisemitism argument drains the word antisemitism of any useful meaning.
To accuse the Goldstone Report of being antisemitic is to trivialise antisemitism.

Nothing in the Goldstone report corresponds with historical - 'old' - definitions of antisemitism, which focus on 'hatred of Jews per se, belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, belief that Jews are racially inferior' and so on. Watching this interview with Goldstone, and having read much of the report myself I found no evidence of any antisemitism in the report - at least understood in the normal way described above.

Some critics of Israel claim that the allegation of antisemitism is used to silence criticism of Israel. My impression is that this claim is more often asserted than it is demonstrated. (Indeed, sometimes people make it to try to excuse their own, actual antisemitism, and to silence those who draw attention to it). But the sad fact is, by calling the Goldstone report 'a new antisemitism,' Yuli Edelstein seems to have done just that: using the charge of anti-semitism to undermine Goldstone, so as to deflect or silence criticism of Israel.

Why you should cum to Israel

It's often said that sex sells in advertising. Well the makers of this Israeli tourism promo certainly thought so...

'It's small'

'It's paradise'

h/t Tikkun Olam

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Protests at Manchester University

I wrote previously about the invitation to the deputy Israeli Ambassador to speak at Manchester University last week. In the end the embassy cancelled her speech, over fears for her security.

Here is footage of the protests that took place as a result of the whole event - from both Action Palestine members and from students supporting her right to speak in the student union.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Sacks says no to chicken soup

It's true, it's official, it's amazing...

Britain's Chief Rabbi, Lord Professor (etc) Jonathan Sacks, is a vegetarian!

He says so in this interview with Cambridge University's VarsiTV, before adding:

I don't miss the Chicken soup, and life is short enough without my inflicting pain on innocent chickens.

As a sometime flexitarian, I'm excited.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Manchester's Action Palestine - yes to Hamas, no to Israel

Tomorrow afternoon the deputy Israeli ambassador to the UK, Talya Lador-Fresher, is due to give a talk to Manchester University's politics society entitled: ‘Hopes and challenges in the Middle East’.

In response the Manchester student group 'Action Palestine' are busy organizing protests. On facebook they explain:

we are calling a Protest against Israeli War Crimes in Palestine at 2 pm outside the Students Union steps before the Pol Soc meeting on the 18th to show Mrs Talya Lador-Fresher that neither she or the state she represents are welcome on the premises of our democratically run Union that prides itself on being a student-run establishment which does not endorse nor fund apartheid regimes responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.
I'm not altogether sure what they mean when they say 'neither she or the state she represents' are welcome in the Manchester Union. What does it mean to say that 'the state of Israel' is not welcome? I understand saying 'the officials of the state' are not welcome, but the state itself? A citizen of a state is a part of that state. Are Israelis not to be welcome in Manchester Student Union anymore? That's what the message seems to be - even if it is, as I presume, the inadvertent result of a careless writing mistake.

But the really striking thing about all this is that only recently Manchester University was graced by Assam Tamimi, a Hamas supporter on record as having supported suicide bombing. Did Action Palestine kick up a fuss? No. Clearly they're not too bothered by article's 7 and 13 of the Hamas charter, which goes on about the day of judgement coming when muslims 'kill the Jews' (not 'Israelis') and expressly rejects 'peaceful solutions.'

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Let's listen to the world

Roi Ben-Yehuda has a well written piece in Haaretz today about why Israel should 'care what the rest of the world thinks' about it. Here's how it starts...

"First, let me tell you one thing: It's not important what the world says about Israel. It's not important what they say about us anywhere else. The only thing that's important is that we can live here on the land of our ancestors. And if we don't show the Arabs that they have to pay a high price for killing Jews, we won't continue living."

These words, spoken to a young Ariel Sharon by David Ben-Gurion, exemplify the realist strand that dominated and still dominates the thinking and discourse of many Israelis. However, these days, in the wake of the Goldstone report and international efforts to delegitimize Israel, it has become increasingly apparent that in order to "live here on the land of our ancestors" Israel must also pay heed to the opinion of the international community.

And he goes on:

According to organizational psychologists, when there is a significant gap between what people expect and what they actually get, two types of learning can take place: single-loop and double-loop learning. Single-loop learning refers to efforts to reduce this gap by modifying the strategy originally employed - improving Hasbarah skills, for example. Double-loop learning, on the other hand, requires us to question the assumption, values and actions that brought us to this problem in the first place.

There are no shortcuts here. Double-loop learning means we need to radically transform our relationship with the Palestinians. This is not to say Israel deserves to be delegitimized, but when it chooses an overall course of action - yes, the occupation, blockade and settlements are choices - it significantly contributes to the problem. Of course peace also depends on the Palestinians undergoing some double-loop learning of their own.

'Double-loop learning.' I like the sound of that.

Friday, 12 February 2010

'why we protested'

In it's cover story this week, The Cherwell, an Oxford student paper, has covered the protests at Danny Ayalon's visit. Reading through the defences offered by protestors for their behaviour, I wasn't sure whether to laugh or sigh - especially when reading Noor Rashid's claim that his Arabic outburst had 'no derogatory or secondary meanings'.

Two justifications in particular stood out for me.

The first was that of Hengemah Ziai, who interupted the evening for 10 minutes by refusing to wait until the question and answer session at the end of Ayalon's talk and instead shouted questions at him. Invariably, she didn't give him proper time to answer. She explained that she felt:

10 minutes was an insufficient amount of time to take Ayalon up on the lies he was feeding the audience

Oh please. Usually when a speaker lies or says something deplorable you catch them out at the end of their talk in the question and answer session. It's really not that hard. If 10 minutes - more than you would normally get with any other speaker - was not enough for Miss Ziai, that probably says more about her inability to coherently critique Ayalon than about the extent of his 'lies'.

The second individual whose explanation I took issue with was that of Nabeel Qureshi. He said:

If a holocaust denier came to the Union I would call him out on his lies rather than sit there treating him respectfully and letting him change history. Same principle.

Of course a holocaust denier has come to the Union. His name was David Irving, and I was in the chamber and challenged him when he spoke. Was Nabeel there? No - or at least if he was he was remarkably silent. So why didn't he 'call him out on his lies'? Why didn't he apply the 'same principle' he talks of?

And moreover, lets have some perspective here: at worst Ayalon's historical errors consisted of an idealized reading of Jewish history, a false description of the 48 war (that tired old claim that the Arab leaders told their people to leave) and possibly some dodgy stats when it comes to Lebanon. Now call me crazy, but I really don't think these historical errors are comparable with Holocaust denial as Nabeel seems to imply. I just wonder: does he?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The protestor makes an admission...

As I discussed here, there have been different allegations over what the protestor at Ayalon's talk actually said in Arabic. Well the Oxford Student has an explanaton from the man himself:

Various media sources have reported that Noor Rashid, a second-year Teddy Hall student said an Arabic phrase, which the speaker, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon translated to the audience as “Kill the Jews”.

However, Rashid said that his actual remark was based on a classical Arabic chant concerning a seventh-century battle between Arabs and Jews at Khayber, in the Arabian Peninsula.

He said: “My version went: ‘Khaybar, O Jews, we will win’. This is in classical, Qur’anic Arabic and I doubt that apart from picking up on the word ‘Jew’, that even the Arabic speakers in the room would have understood the phrase.

“As you can see, I made no reference to killing Jews.” he said, adding that ‘Jew’ and ‘Israel’ were interchangeable terms. rn“It carries absolutely no derogatory or secondary meanings.”

His admission is astonishing. As I've already explained, the 'classical Arab chant' he claims to have said, about Khaybar, refers to a Jewish community in Khaybar being conquered by Muhammed in the 7th century, the Jews later being expelled by the Caliph Umar. So when he says he made 'no reference to killing Jews', he's being just a little disingenuous: by chanting about Khaybar he's referring to Jews being attacked, conquered, and expelled by Muslims.

Incitement? I think so.

On a completely separate issue, one of the other protestors at the evening has since claimed he was run over by an Israeli car after the event. But the police seem unconvinced that any motoring offence took place. See here:

Mr Inglis said he stood in the way an Israeli car to take a picture and he thought it would stop.

He added: “I was traumatised and left shaking after it happened.”

Det Chief Insp Colin Paine said he had seen CCTV footage of the incident and the driver would not be prosecuted for any motoring offence.

Asked if the driver had reported the collision immediately, he said not “initially”. Mr Paine said he would be looking into how quickly the driver had come forward.

He added: “A male protester moved in front of the car and appears to have made contact with it. The car was driving slowly and the man sustained minor bruising and grazes.

Shouting free speech away

Below are two videos from the past week. One shows the abuse levelled at Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren when he spoke at UC Irvine in the States; the other shows some of the heckling at the Oxford Union on Monday, when the Israeli deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon spoke.

Both show a complete disrespect for the principle of free speech, as though because the speakers are Israeli officials, their voice is not to be heard but shouted over - even if there is a room full of people who have chosen to go and hear them.

Oxford demonstration from Jewish Chronicle on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

‘Itbah Al-Yahud’ or ‘Khaybar ya Yahod’ – what was actually said?

In a previous post I gave my account of the abuse levelled at Danny Ayalon, the Israeli deputy foreign minister, when he spoke at the Oxford Union. As has been widely reported, one student stormed out the room shouting in Arabic and, according to Ayalon, had said ‘itbah Al-Yahud’, meaning ‘Kill the Jews’.

Since then one person has commented on my post to contest the translation:

“The protester said that in Arabic which I know better than Ayalon, I guess (being Arabic, how surprising, we do exist in Oxford!!!)The guy didn’t say kill the Jews he said: Khybar khaybar ya yahod, and I will leave it to your common sense to search and find what it means”

So I did just that – and, if what I have gleaned about that Arabic phrase is correct, then what he said would still qualify as incitement to religious / racial hatred.

Khaybar was an Oasis not far from medina that was inhabited by Jews before being conquered by Muhammed in the 7th Century. It's Jewish inhabitants were later expelled by the Caliph Umar. According to its Wikipedia entry, the phrase ‘Khybar khaybar ya yahod’, that the protestor allegedly said, is the start of a chant that translates as:

“Khaybar, Khaybar o Jews, the army of Muhammad will return"

Well that still sounds like incitement to me - especially when shouted aggressively in a room with many Jews.

Now whether the protestor actually said ‘itbah al-yahud’ – ‘kill the Jews’ – as Ayalon heard and translated at the talk (without anyone challenging his translation at the time) or the protestor said ‘Khaybar ya-Yahud’, as has since been claimed, can only and will hopefully be established from the footage of the evening.

But in the meantime it should be obvious that whichever he said, his outburst was incendiary and anti-semitic. It should be treated as such by the Union.

Monday, 8 February 2010

“Death to the Jews” - at the Oxford Union

Earlier tonight Danny Ayalon, the Israeli deputy foreign minister, came to speak at the Oxford Union. I don’t like his politics, and went along half-expecting to leave frustrated and embarrassed, as an Israeli, by what he would say. And sure enough by the end of the evening that’s exactly how I felt – frustrated and embarrassed – but not so much by him as by the stupidity and racism of fellow students at Oxford.

Speaking to the Oxford Union on Twitpic

To begin with the heckling was nothing out of the ordinary: a student stood up and read something out – extracts from the Goldstone report, I think – but spoke too quickly and too quietly for me to follow. Shortly after another student jumped up, shouting that she was a Lebanese Palestinian, before shouting some more while holding her passport and some photos in the air. She stayed standing for the remainder of his talk. So far, so usual; in the world of anti-Israel campus activism, this was nothing.

But then things got more heated. One audience member rose waving a Palestinian flag and left the room shouting that Ayalon was a war criminal who would be tried in court for his role in the Gaza war last year. Since Ayalon was not yet in the government at that time, I couldn't help but wonder: what crime was he to be be tried for?

Another student then took it upon herself to stand up and, in a shrill and impassioned voice, speak too quickly and too emotionally to make any sense. She then refused to stop talking, apparently misunderstanding the instructions at the start of the night that there would be time for questions at the end. She continued despite a rising chorus of ‘sit down’ being levelled against her. One student put it nicely when he said ‘stop being selfish, this is not a tutorial. It's a lecture!.’ She didn’t seem to get the message though, and rambled on. Ayalon, to his credit, took her seriously and attempted to engage with her comments. She didn't return the favour, and left soon after, no doubt with a great deal of self-righteous satisfaction.

The worst, however, was still to come. ‘Death to the Jews’, one student shouted in Arabic as he stormed out. (disclaimer: I don't speak Arabic, but that's what Ayalon claimed he said - and nobody in the audience challenged the translation) I’m no lawyer, but I’m fairly sure that comment constitutes incitement to racial and religious hatred under UK legislation – it will be interesting to see if anything is followed up by the Union. At the very least, I expect them to remove the Union-membership of the student in question, for breaking the law and calling for the slaughter of fellow members while at a Union event.

Outside the debating chamber, all the while, protestors were shouting ‘free free Palestine from the river to the sea’. When Ayalon argued that this chant amounted to a call for Israel’s destruction, and asked where Israeli Jews would have to go for Palestine to be free 'from the river to the sea', the woman sitting next to me said ‘back to where they came from!’ I couldn’t resist and had to ask her where exactly it was that she expected Jews to go ‘back to’, to which she replied, ‘well you’re in England, you appear to be doing fine’. I didn't think it worthwhile to point out that actually my grandparents 'came from' Poland and Czechoslovakia, and that the reason I am in England today is that in the 1930s they were not 'doing fine' in the countries they 'came from'.

In any case, I’m tired, and am heading to bed with the following thoughts:

  1. What would happen if a student called out ‘death to the muslims’ in the Oxford Union? Would it get national publicity and receive widespread condemnation? I expect (and hope) it would. I’m waiting to see how the press deal with the ‘death to the Jews’ outburst, and how quickly the apologetic ‘yes but you have to understand...’ voices are to emerge.

  2. By attacking him in the way they did, the protestors today handed Ayalon an undeserved victory. His politics and approach to diplomacy are deplorable; they could and should have been intelligently exposed. Instead, by the end of the night he seemed to be the calm victim of the aggressive onslaught of idiots. To judge from the opinions of the few non-partisan audience members whom I overheard talking as they left the chamber, he left looking more reasonable than his critics.

  3. To the extent that we can generalize from the events at the Oxford Union tonight, it seems that no Israeli official can expect to receive a fair hearing or to give a speech freely at a British University anymore – even at Oxford’s self proclaimed ‘bastion of free speech’. That’s bad for debate but it’s also bad for the Palestinians; however much self-righteous satisfaction protestors may feel when they shout aggressively at Israeli officials, doing so only feeds the perception within Israel that foreign critics of Israel are unwilling to give Israel a fair hearing, that they’re simply Israel bashers, and that they are anti-Semitic - and that's never going to inspire Israel to change its policies.