Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category
There are few issues more inflamed than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It doesn’t take long before such discussions descend into name-calling and acrimony, and the people on the more extreme ends of the spectrum often shout the loudest and attract disproportionate attention. Nevertheless, it is my firm belief that due to the complexity of the situation – to paraphrase Barack Obama – good people on both sides can disagree.
And, quite obviously, it is important that they do so, freely and vociferously. The principle of freedom of speech, and the pursuit of truth, demands it. This is particularly apt when the discussion is conducted by the brightest brains in science and the arts; the flow of ideas, both related and unrelated to the “situation”, is vital if there is ever going to be a peaceful resolution.
Given this context, it is sad that Stephen Hawking, the eminent physicist, has decided to contribute towards the closing of the debate bysupporting the academic boycott of Israel. It is understandable that he has a pro-Palestinian perspective. Yet this partisan, reductive move has moved him from the realms of objective, concerned observer to an instrument of one particular side against the other. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Over the past few years, as the two-state solution has looked increasingly unachievable, the notion of a one-state solution has started to attract the attention of both the Left and the Right in Israel. The nature of their support, however, is very different. Most fundamentally, the Right tends to view it as the achievement of a de facto Greater Israel under Jewish control; the Left, meanwhile, imagines a single state with a constitution and legislature that recognises the equal rights of both Jews and Arabs. In his latest column, Gideon Levy, a distinguished opinion writer for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, presents an earnest argument from the point of view of the Left.
Imagining “one just state for two peoples”, he writes: “Such a state would have a legislature that would reflect the mosaic of the country, and an elected government formed by a coalition of the communities and the two peoples’ representatives. Yes, a Jewish prime minister with an Arab deputy, or vice versa.”
The benefits, he suggests, would be no less than utopian. “Arab citizens and Palestinians, with equal rights, will lose their subversive drive against the state that alienated them and dispossessed them of their rights,” he says. “It will become their country. The Jews are likely to find that most of their fears were for naught: the moment that justice is established, the dangers – real and imagined – will be subdued.
“Even more dramatic will be the disintegration of external threats. Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the rest of the ‘Axis of Evil’ will lose the basis for their hatred. Who, then, will Iran threaten? A Jewish-Palestinian state? And who will Hezbollah and Hamas fire their missiles at? Against a Jewish-Palestinian consensus?”
In many ways, Levy articulates an attractive proposition, and one must admire him for doing so. It is inherently uncomfortable for a modern democracy to actively construct its identity based on ethnic and religious considerations. Technically, Arabs are given equal rights in Israel, but economically and socially they rank well below their Jewish counterparts; partially, this stems from the fact that they are living in a Jewish state, which overtly positions itself as a haven for Jews from all over the world. Within the narrative of Israel, Arab citizens have little place. To relinquish the very notion of a Jewish state, and replace it with a secular state which recognises Judaism, Islam and Christianity as major component religions, is more instinctively in tune with the concept of a representative democracy.
There are two reasons, however, why Levy’s vision may be an attractive “dream” (as he calls it), but would be profoundly impracticable as a reality. The first is that the raison d’être of the State of Israel is to offer Jews a homeland and protection from persecution. There are those who say that the world has changed, that the pogroms of Eastern Europe and the genocide of Nazi Germany are phenomena of the past, and that worries that “it might happen again” are mere paranoia. But the fact remains that from Israel’s point of view, recent history provides ample evidence to the contrary. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
The best Israeli song of all time is widely thought to be Shirat Hasticker, The Sticker Song, the 2003 smash hit by the excellent hip hop band Hadag Nahash. The lyrics were written by the pre-eminent novelist David Grossman, based on bumper stickers he had seen around the country. The result is a wryly juxtaposed cross-section of Israeli public opinion. “A whole generation demands peace” is followed by “let the IDF win”; the chilling “no Arabs no terror” is counterbalanced by the sardonic “nice going on the peace, thanks for the security”.
Shirat Hasticker speaks to the rhetorical tension that so often dominates Israeli society. A while back, when I interviewed Sha’anan Streett, the lead singer of Hadag Nahash, in a café in Jerusalem where he lives, he told me that David Grossman’s original lyrics had included the ultra-Right war cry mavet la Aravim, or “death to the Arabs”. It was intended ironically of course, but Sha’anan foresaw that if the line was included, the crowd at his gigs – who loved to sing along to his songs – would end up articulating this incendiary slogan en masse. So he changed it to mavet la arachim, or “death to values”. Same difference. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
The balance between security and civil liberties is a delicate one in Israel. A few years ago I was travelling there with a few friends from Britain. One of us happened to be of African Islamic heritage. The security personnel at Ben Gurion airport gave him an especially hard time, questioning him at length in private and searching his luggage forensically. It was unsettling for him, and awkward – to say the least – for the rest of us. Was this racism? Or the necessary evil of prudent security measures? I take no pleasure in suggesting that it was the latter. Actually, the friend in question feels the same way.
This is the episode that springs to mind when I learn that Israel has launched Palestinian-only buses on Highway Five between the West Bank and Tel Aviv. The Transport Ministry explained that the new bus service was intended to “improve public transport services for Palestinian workers entering Israel”, replacing unofficial buses that were demanding “exorbitant prices”. They also said that Palestinian workers would not be prevented from travelling on regular public transport, either in Israel or on the West Bank.
Palestinian rights groups, however, were concerned that this was a fig-leaf for what would become wholesale discrimination at checkpoints, with Israeli police taking matters into their own hands and forcing Palestinians to use the new buses exclusively. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Yesterday, Jack Straw wrote that an attack on Iran would never be justified, even if the Islamic regime developed an atomic bomb. Now that the Daily Telegraph has revealed that Iran is in all likelihood pursuing a more determined approach towards developing nuclear weapons than previously thought, it seems that Mr Straw’s argument may be dangerously close to being tested.
There was much in Mr Straw’s article that was worthy of admiration. He outlined Britain’s history of meddling in Iranian affairs – something which we are conveniently prone to forgetting in this country – and showed a commendable capacity for empathy for the Iranian psychology, asking readers to “think how we’d feel if it had been the other way round”. This, again, is something that is not seen enough in Britain.
His arguments were also substantiated by very real concerns. A nuclear Iran, he said, would probably not spark an arms race, as the regional powers have “little to gain and much to lose by embarking down such a route”. Moreover, the fallout of a pre-emptive attack on the regime may spur them on to develop a weapon with renewed vigour, undermine the tempering effect of sanctions, and create risky political instability in the country. He added that in his “best judgment”, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, will probably “stop short of making [the nuclear] system a reality”.
Barring this latter statement of opinion, his analysis of the repercussions of an attack is probably sound. After all, he bases it on that of Meir Dagan, a former head of the Mossad, and Yuval Diskin, a former chief of the Shabak. Further, there can be no denying that a reluctant approach to war is generally preferable to the alternative. What is lacking from his article, however, is a recognition of the views of the Israeli security establishment. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Before the Israeli elections – yes, they’ve been and gone – the headlines were thick with stories about Israel’s supposed “lurch to the Right”. Naftali Bennett, the trendy, hard Right leader of HaBayit HaYehudi who is fundamentally opposed to a Palestinian state, had column inch upon column inch lavished on him in the Western media. You couldn’t open a magazine without seeing his sanguine, pouting, slightly leoprine face smirking at you in soft focus. The commentariat’s conclusion was unanimous: Israel had transformed into an uncompromising vision of Spartan hardliners, and the election was certain to reflect this. Pundits were egging each other on, rubbing their hands together at the juiciness of the story. You thought Israel was hardline, they chuckled morbidly. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
The fact that the evidence suggested otherwise was overlooked by wordsmiths rushing for the sexiest story. In December, two surveys conducted by two different Israeli pollsters showed that most Right and far-Right Israeli voters – those supporting Likud-Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi – were actually in favour of the two state solution. They supported, the polls found, a peace agreement founded on a demilitarised Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, a land-swap that allowed Israel to keep the major settlement blocs, and a divided Jerusalem. Moreover, it was found that two thirds of all Israelis supported this proposal. This poll was widely publicised in Israel. Have you read about it over here? No, didn’t think so. People were too busy shrieking about how hardline those bloody Israelis had become.
Then the election happened. Israel didn’t lurch to the Right after all. It did something far less sexy. It lurched, well, to the centre. Suddenly, Israel dropped out of the news. Election, people said, sleepily. What election? There were a few grudging features here and there, buried in the depths of the newspapers. But this was nothing compared to the hysteria that accompanied the period of campaigning. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
The big story of Israel’s 2013 elections so far has been the rise of the Right, and the leading man has been one Naftali Bennett, the straight-talking leader of the hard Right HaBayit HaYehudi party. However, exit polls suggest that he has done as well as expected; although the Right is stubbornly buoyant, the headlines are dominated by the results achieved by Yesh Atid, the centrist party, which came a surprise second to Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu.
So far, Bennett’s meteoric rise has been forcing the political old guard to sit up and listen. Israel’s political system is based on Proportional Representation, and the elections only set the board for the game of horse trading that will constitute the scramble to form a coalition. With the centre achieving such results, Bennett may not be the main kingmaker as commentators had speculated. There remains a possibility that Netanyahu will court his support; Bennett will not have completely abandoned his hopes that he will have the chance to table his demands, which he had expected to have made him the “third hand on the wheel”. Yet it now seems that the centrists will snatch this opportunity from under his nose. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Netanyahu is losing the sympathies of the world. Apart from Chuck Norris and Donald Trump (Telegraph blog)
And so the Israeli election approaches, and seems likely to confirm all expectations: a big win for the hard Right. While the world – including even Israel’s traditional friends and allies – despairs, Netanyahu can smell the scent of victory so strongly that he is in buoyant mood, defyingBarack Obama’s criticisms by approving nearly 200 new homes in the West Bank. His message to voters? Here is the man who stands up to international pressure. Here is a man of strength, who will not sell out. Here is the future of Israel.
On the whole, I tend to be more supportive of Israel than many in Britain. People in this country, it seems to me, from the comfort of their own armchairs, are too ready to criticise a state that is dealing with a perpetual, de facto state of war – especially given our own chequered military history. But while I am willing to vociferously defend Israel when it is in the right, I do not shirk from pointing out when it is in the wrong. And I am coming to realise that the Israel that I have so often defended bears a rapidly decreasing resemblance to the Israel of today.
The notion of imposing a settlement freeze on the West Bank seems such an obvious step that it is both bizarre and appalling that it has not been taken. It is even more appalling that the Netanyahu government is farting in the face of peace by approving yet more homes. It is all well and good to point to the terror that has emanated from Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal and be cynical about the peace prospects on the West Bank. It is all very well to believe in the need for strong security in Israel; and to blame the Arab side for attacking Israel in the first place, and losing their land in the process. But while Israel keeps building on disputed territory, that will always be the first obstacle to peace. The Palestinians know it, Shimon Peres knows it, the world knows it, and Bibi Netanyahu knows it. Yet he continues to pursue a policy of expansion.
It has reached the stage where the Israeli hard Right is appearing like a parody of itself. As if to confirm this, two bizarre campaign videos have been released by the Netanyahu camp in recent days. The first, which you can watch here, features the candyfloss-headed Donald Trump offering a message of endorsement for Netanyahu. “Frankly a strong Prime Minister is a strong Israel,” he blusters, “and you truly have a great Prime Minister in Benjamin Netanyahu”. The second – if this is not impossible – is even more outré. It shows Chuck Norris, the absurd American martial artists famous for having his neck snapped by Bruce Lee in the 1972 classic Way of the Dragon. “Let me tell you what Chuck would do,” he croons. “You might think I’m a tough guy in my films, but in a rough neighbourhood like the Middle East, Israel has its own tough guy. His name is Bibi Netanyahu.” At this point, the camera zooms in on an old pic of Netanyahu in his bicep-rippling commando days. You have to see it to believe it. It’s here.
Incredibly, both of these videos have been heavily promoted by the official Netanyahu campaign. Theirs, it seems, is a world where endorsement by the likes of Trump and Norris is perceived to be a compliment, not an insult – even an electoral boost. It is a world that very few of us share. Even those who count themselves as Israel’s friends. As seen on the Telegraph website
Much mirth and merriment is being generated by the Sudanese reports that an Israeli vulture has been carrying out espionage over Darfur. In reality, of course, the bird was fitted with a GPS tracker by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The same thing happened in Saudi Arabia last year, when a “griffon” was “arrested” for its role in a “Zionist plot”.
This is just the latest in a long and bizarre list of examples of paranoia among Israel’s enemies. My personal favourite, which I have mentioned here once before, occurred in December 2010. A series of shark attacks in Egyptian waters, which led to one death and four injuries, caused the regional governor Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha to blame it on Israel. “The Mossad throwing the deadly shark in the sea to hit tourism in Egypt is not out of the question,” he said. In response, the Israeli foreign ministry made a statement that ”the man must have seen Jaws one time too many.”
But this paranoia can have a more serious effect, stoking the flames of hatred of Israel in the Muslim world. Most damaging are the reports that reek of unfounded conspiracy theories, but not quite as obviously as those mentioned above. Read on the Telegraph website
Whenever Israel hits the headlines – which tends to be in the context of political controversy rather than, say, world-leading scientific research and innovation – many commentators have an instinct to spring to Israel’s defence. Take the recent conflict in Gaza as an example. Despite the very strong, even obvious, argument of self-defence, which was accepted by the majority of the leaders of the democratic world, and despite the great care with which Israel conducted the military campaign in one of the most challenging conflict zones in the world, the same old accusations flew. Rogue state. Child killers. You know the sort.
Recent events, however, demonstrate why Israel is such a frustrating country to support. In the run-up to the vote at the UN, which resulted in the enhancement of the status of Palestine, I argued that in order to retain the support it had garnered Israel needed to freeze settlement building and respect the Palestinian right to self-determination. This, it seemed to me, was as obvious as Israel’s right to self defence. The rights and wrongs of the issue were no longer of primary relevance; without compromising security, Israel needed to make a gesture that would put the ball firmly in the Palestinian court. We’re serious about peace, it should have said. Are you? Continue reading on the Telegraph website