Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Tuesday 31 August 2010

Welsh Dragons Show Their Colours

In 2009, in a small and quaint Welsh seaside resort where Chasidic families from London and Manchester spend a week or two each August, an unidentified teenage yob gives a Nazi salute to an unmistakably Jewish visitor sporting black hat, beard and tzit-tzit. On the lookout for publicity as always, local pro-Palestinian activists immediately write to the local newspaper deploring the incident but (perfectly gratuitously, for the yob had said not one word about Israel) linking it for the sake of their own propaganda purposes to Israel’s actions in Gaza. Early in 2010 the town council in the same locality decides, on the grounds of cost – though some dunderheaded councillors also cite “irrelevance” – to reject a proposal that the town host a travelling Anne Frank Exhibition.

A local shopkeeper, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, is upset with the council’s decision, especially the suggestion that the exhibition has no relevance to townsfolk, and writes to the local paper to say so. Again, pro-Palestinian activists sense an opportunity to spew out anti-Israel propaganda in the paper’s ever-receptive letters columns – and they do. And as usual, letters from pro-Israel correspondents in refutation are ignored by a newspaper whose payroll includes a columnist who not so long ago took it upon himself to launch a spiteful campaign to have the local university divest from Israel.

In that town, according to Yvetta (hat tip: JC.Com Blogs):

‘Quite regularly members of the local Peace Network – perhaps a baker’s dozen of ‘em – gather in the main street and "sing for peace"; basically, they also double as the local Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and so “Free Palestine” and “End the Siege on Gaza” placards always accompany their performances. I tackled them once, during Cast Lead, and was told by a very angry chap with a petition that Israel should never have been created. Now I just give them a wide berth – as do most passers-by.’
This year, at the height of the tourist season, the county council whose catchment area includes the same town enthusiastically provided a prominent town centre venue for Rod Cox’s propagandistic exhibition of children’s drawings from Gaza, held under the auspices of the Aberystwyth Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Yvetta takes up the story:

‘There was an assortment of leaflets on hand demonising Israel and I noticed that one of the captions to the exhibit implied that Jesus was a Palestinian rather than a Jew. I saw a former mayor of the town taking in chairs for the talk by Cox (that came towards the end of the exhibit's stay in town) which he delivered twice. I went along to the first one. A press photographer was snapping the exhibits. Our local Lib Dem MP, Mark Williams, was on hand to express his staunch support for “Palestine Solidarity” and his delight at the exhibition – “a brilliant case for ending injustice in Palestine” - and pledged: “Anything I can do to raise these issues in Parliament, I will do my utmost”. The local Plaid Cymru member in the Welsh Assembly, Elin Jones, spoke similarly, noting that, although international issues are not normally raised in that chamber, an exception was made for Palestine. (Well, how about that!!!) With the enthusiastic help of those two politicians, a plan is afoot to twin schools in Gaza with schools in Wales.’
This school twinning project will almost certainly entail the “Exploring Palestine through Citizenship” online resource issued under the joint aegis of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). It’s intended for secondary school pupils, and is, from a pro-Israeli perspective, sheer poison, inviting children to role-play the parts of Palestinians and so on, with absolutely no countervailing viewpoint.

Needless to say, the twinning project is an iniquitous weapon for delegitimising Israel, and is also under way in other parts of the United Kingdom. But its apotheosis seems to have been reached in Wales – ironically a country about the same size as Israel – owing to the enthusiastic backing of politicians Williams and Jones, and goodness knows how many other “useful idiots” in influential places. That those “useful idiots” include a number of Christian clergy in Wales I don’t doubt, and I’ll be blogging about the disturbing developments within the Church in Wales very shortly.

Sunday 29 August 2010

Jailhouse Jihadists - recruiting for terror at Her Majesty's Pleasure

"Detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure” is, in case you’ve never met it, a British euphemism for “locked in the slammer”, and a new report warns that about 800 of the 8000 Muslim inmates in high-security prisons in England and Wales are being turned into radical Islamists while inside. These people aren’t necessarily doing time for terror-related offences, but are being successfully indoctrinated by extremists known for or suspected of being sympathetic to terror. Worryingly, less than 20 per cent of people convicted of terrorism offences in Britain have been given life or indeterminate sentences. Over the next five to ten years the 800 potential mass murderers will be released into British society. It’s feared that rather than aiming at spectacular atrocities of the al-Quaeda type, which are proving more difficult to carry out, they are being groomed to concentrate not on blowing aircraft out of the skies but on detonating explosives on trains, hotels, and sporting fixtures – any target where crowds are gathered.

This grim news comes on top of earlier warnings that in some British prisons Islamic gangs, using threats of violence that include a persuasive gesture which indicates a cut throat, are proselytising among non-Muslim prisoners. As well, some Afro-Caribbean prisoners have been won over with the message that there will be little hope for them on the outside once they’ve served their sentences since white society is inexorably racist and discriminatory against them, whereas Islam offers acceptance and equality.

2000 radicalised individuals are already being monitored by MI5, and the new crop of 800 is set to make the task of police and security forces all the harder, particularly in view of government plans to reduce funding for counter-terrorism. Former Home Secretary John Reid, who was one of the most realistic and shrewd members of the Blair government, has said that if these cuts are over 10 per cent danger will follow. It’s also predicted that sooner or later a “lone wolf” terrorist will inevitably succeed in producing carnage, since resources are so stretched.

Quite apart from the terror issue, the cohesiveness of British society is being threatened with erosion by radical hotheads. Three years ago, Sir Winston Churchills’s namesake and grandson, a Conservative MP who died earlier this year, wrote as follows to the London Daily Telegraph:
“Britain sends some of the finest and most courageous of their generation to risk their lives and spill their blood chasing the Taliban out of Afghanistan. But who, meanwhile, is guarding our homeland? A recent police report makes clear that, back here in Britain the Deobandi – the very same Islamist sect responsible for spawning the Taliban in Afghanistan – has succeeded in taking over more than 600 of Britain's 1,350 mosques. In addition, it controls 17 of Britain's 26 Islamic seminaries and produces 80 per cent of Britain's home-trained Islamic clerics. It's a funny old world, as Margaret Thatcher once famously remarked. Except that this is no laughing matter. Not for 70 years has there been a more clear or present danger to our internal security, to our free society and to our democracy, than that posed by this vipers' nest in our midst. The Deobandi, an ultra-conservative sect, outlaws music, art, television and football, and also demands the entire concealment of women. According to the Lancashire Council of Mosques, the Deobandi has now taken control of 59 out of 75 mosques in the old Lancashire mill towns of Oldham, Preston, Bury, Blackburn and Burnley. While not all Deobandis are extremist, leading preachers of this sect aim to radicalise the Islamic youth of Britain, and to mobilise them against our society and the freedoms we hold so dear. When will the Government wake up to this mortal threat which – if not swiftly dealt with – threatens to bring strife and bloodshed to the streets of Britain on a scale far exceeding anything seen in the bombings of recent years? Why are Gordon Brown and David Cameron, indeed our entire political class, so deafeningly silent on this, the most pressing matter confronting Britain today? Who will help the moderate majority of Muslims maintain control of their mosques? Who will safeguard the homeland?”

It seems he embarrassed his party by raising such matters, lest it be accused of “Islamophobia”, and the issue was not given the attention it deserved.

 Let’s hope that the Cameron-Clegg Coalition government will not attempt to buy off such the terrorist threat at home – which now officially stands at “severe” – by being soft on the fight against it abroad or by being seen further to undermine Israel.

Friday 27 August 2010

For the Hostage of Hamas, another Unhappy Birthday

28 August 2010 marks kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit’s 24th birthday – he was 19 when he was kidnapped and taken across the border into Gaza, so this is his fifth birthday in captivity, where he has spent 1500 days. What a sizeable fraction of his young life that is – five years out of 24. It is almost unbearable to contemplate.

And, of course, what aggravates the anguish is the fact that nobody knows precisely where or in what conditions this poor young man is being held. In contravention of the Geneva Convention, the unpitying hard men of Hamas have allowed him no Red Cross visits, no contact with the outside world of any kind. Even the avowed humanitarians of the flotilla-bound Free Gaza Movement spurned a request from his father to take a letter and parcel to Gilad.

It seems some western pro-Palestinian activists are ill-informed regarding the circumstances in which Gilad Shalit was captured, and what he has had to endure, and that some treat it as a sort of joke. This description of a meeting hosted by a Palestinian Solidarity Campaign group in Wales (hat tip: Yvetta on the JC.Com Blogs) gives some indication of the ignorance, indifference and inhumanity that can be encountered. The meeting described revolved around Rod Cox’s exhibition of children’s paintings from Gaza, about which I blogged when that exhibition reached Manchester Cathedral. Writes Yvetta:

‘Cox spoke of “resistance fighters”, never of “terrorists”, and ... I asked him politely what outcome he would like to see. Perhaps sensing a trap by one of those “Zionist bastards” (to use a phrase on his website), he demurred.... “One State?” I prodded. “Or Two?” He still demurred. “I’ve heard the phrase ‘Palestine must be Free from the River to the Sea’”, I persisted, asking whether that was the view of the group. The speaker, his affability vanished in a flash, told me I was impertinent. A nuggety old guy in the front row fixed me with a wild-eyed stare and shouted at me to “Shut up!” “Some of us want one state, some want two!” cried somebody else. Turning round in her seat to eyeball me, the head of the local PSC – who according to one of her frequent anti-Israel letters to the local press would appear to be halachically Jewish – made an emotional denunciation of the Balfour Declaration and declared that injustice towards “Palestine” had been ignored for 100 years. A posh-voiced man told me that before any political solution could be worked out Israel would have to stop all its “human rights abuses” and obey the UN and the Geneva Convention.’
Yvetta continues:

‘It was then that I pointed out that in defiance of the Geneva Convention Hamas has held Gilad Shalit for four years with no Red Cross visits. “Who’s Gilad Shalit?” somebody demanded. I explained, reminding them what an eternity four years is when you are his age. “Why do you use the word ‘kidnapped’?” asked the speaker [Cox] irritably. Again, I explained. There were rumbles of laughter among my fellow-audience members. “He’s a soldier!” scoffed the PSC head. “A PoW!” added the speaker, grinning. “A PoW who has been treated like no PoW under the Geneva Convention” I continued, pointing out that the Free Gaza Movement had reportedly refused to deliver a letter and package from his family. The audience broke out into peals of prolonged mirth. At that point I swept up my belongings and regained the fresh air, with Cox snarling at me that they'd been more tolerant with me that "the Zionists" would be with them.’
This week, in the London Daily Telegraph ( 25 August), Bran Keenan, seized in 1986 by Islamic Jihad in Lebanon and held for not so long as Gilad Shalit has been held by Hamas, recalled his ordeal:

‘I was blindfolded and kept in the dark for a large period of my four and a half years’ incarceration in Beirut. I would wake up not knowing whether it was day or night. The darkness was palpable. You could touch it with your fingers. I wondered in that blackness: how do they know I’m alive. How do I know? .... Your self-awareness is swallowed up in the black incubus all around you. You may hear moaning or screaming or swearing, but you are gone. You question your own existence. You have no point of reference without being able to see another’s face.’
'I had no contact with the outside world.  The only sound I heard was the call to prayer.  If someone is communicating with you, the confinement seems less.  At least for a while.  Once the reality hits - that liberation might not come - strange things happen inside the body, brain, and mind.  When you are trapped, or in captivity, "mind time" is totally different from ordinary time.  It is out of time.  It has no structure.  That is the struggle.  Strategies to "kill time", which I often tried, are absurd and don't work.'
Is that the situation in which young Gilad Shalit finds himself? Does he realise it’s his birthday? Does he know how old he is? Wishing him “Happy Birthday” seems trite and futile. But for pity’s sake, may he be liberated soon.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Snow Business Like Shmo Business – Jon Snow treads the boards with Gideon Levy

If, like me, you’re owned by a cat or dog, chances are that you associate Frontline with a veterinary product which with super-efficiency zaps fleas and tapeworms. However, for metropolitan champagne socialists, whether scribes or non-scribes, Frontline is just as likely to signify the Frontline Club, motto: “Championing Independent Journalism”. The club seems particularly fond of inviting as speakers journalists known for their harsh criticism of Israel – inevitably, therefore, Jeremy Bowen of the BBC and Jon Snow of Channel 4 have both featured on its guest list. (Al Beeb’s College of Journalism website has links to both resultant videos – funny about that, eh?)  And not only journalists – Frontline also hosted, on one inglorious occasion, that professorial trio of Jewish Israel-loathers Jacqueline Rose, Shlomo Sand, and Avi Shlaim.

It’s been said of Bowen that he comes across as a thwarted thespian, but I reckon that it’s Snow who’s the actor manqué. Yes, he really ought to be in show business, did histrionic Jon. Authoritative voice raised in pompous indignation, arms flailing to emphasise a point, the well-connected university drop-out (actually, he was rusticated when his leftist political activism went too far ) who admits to getting his start as a television reporter owing to nepotism, has almost become a pastiche of himself. A few years ago, around Remembrance Day, with the dismissive phrase “poppy fascism”, he announced his refusal to conform to etiquette (some might say "decency") and wear a British Legion poppy in honour of Britain’s fallen service personnel – the people who gave their lives so that democracy and free speech might endure. His hammiest performances have included shouting in self-righteous anger at Israeli media spokesman Mark Regev regarding Cast Lead and the Mavi Marmara affair, performances that reinforced Snow’s cult status in anti-Israel circles and made him the darling of those hateful types who post nasty judeophobic messages on YouTube whenever a video of Regev appears there.

Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist writing for Ha’aretz, where he has a column called “Twilight Zone”, is of a decidedly thespian disposition too. He’s an assured and accomplished speaker with a flair for the dramatic and an instinct for working an audience that many a budding actor at RADA would envy. A “hate-mongering post-Zionist” is the veteran international Jewish leader Isi Leibler's assessment of him (Jerusalem Post, 8 December 2008).  Levy demonises his own country, saying how ashamed he is to be Israeli, how brutal and indifferent to human suffering his countrymen are, and how he appreciates the boycott movement – all the usual obscenities and maybe a little bit more. Here’s how Leibler described him more recently:

'For those who are unaware, Levy is regarded as one of the most extreme and outspoken of the Israeli anti-Zionist journalists, notorious for demonizing Israel and supporting the most anti-Israeli groups. He repeatedly brackets Israeli behavior with that of the Nazis, accuses Israel of practicing apartheid and committing war crimes, and defines himself as anti-Zionist. He accuses Meretz, Peace Now and others on the far left in Israel of lacking the courage to open "the 1948 file."'
Levy came Britain to appear at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and to promote his tome The Punishment of Gaza, an anthology of his Ha’aretz screeds, and he’s had plenty of opportunities to do so outside the Scottish capital, and to carry on the task of spreading hate against Israel, having (to quote Snow) “played to packed houses at last minute events in both Manchester and London”.

This evening both Snow (as interviewer) and Levy (as speaker) are appearing before the Frontline Club, reprising the roles that they filled last evening when they appeared, at the premises of Amnesty International UK's Human Rights Action Centre and under the auspices of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Jews for Justice for Palestinians (a motley collection of idealistic naive Jews, hard left Jews, as-a-Jews, and conveniently-for-the-purpose-of-bashing-Israel-halachic-but-not-raised-as-Jews/practising-a-religion-other-than-Judaism-Jews [delete as appropriate]). Seeing the 350 persons present (who judging from their questions proved in the main to be every bit as hostile to Israel as the speaker himself ), Levy wryly remarked "No-one would show up if I spoke in Tel Aviv", and then launched into his usual charm offensive and demonisation of Israel and its (Jewish) inhabitants.

Snow made it easy for him, gushing “How brave you are!” and being – in the words of a pro-Israeli present, one of the few people in the audience to pose a tough question – “cloyingly obsequious” and an "unctuous sycophant".

And in his Snowblog posted this morning, headed “An increasingly lone Israeli voice”, Snow continues his adulation of Levy, appearing to have swallowed his canards hook, line, and sinker. Just as well, then, that better informed voices, such as those of Jonathan Hoffman and Yisrael Medad, have been commenting over on that blog to set the record straight.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Limits to the Lucky Country – Australia's Islamic Israel-bashers (and their allies)

Please bear with me if you’ve heard this anecdote before, but it’s said that when Ava Gardner was in Melbourne to make On the Beach (1959), based on Nevil Shute’s apocalyptic novel, she remarked that the city was an appropriate location for a movie about the end of the world. Actually, Melbourne is a very fine and stately city, perhaps not as instantly appealing as its traditional rival, the brasher and more hedonistic Sydney, with its iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House, but certainly no less attractive once you let its subtler charm enrapture you. Nevertheless, back in the 1950s it was a dull place – a friend of mine who travelled to London at the end of that decade to embark on postgraduate studies recalls that he felt a delightful culture shock on being transported to the capital of what was then still regarded as "The Mother Country".

Post-war immigration, which eventually transformed Australia from a not-quite-homogenous “British” society into a multicultural one, ultimately livened up the Staid Old Lady – Melbourne today is a vibrant cosmopolitan metropolis and, if you’ll pardon the word, a “mecca” for shoppers.

However, as the city’s Jewish community was reminded during Operation Cast Lead – when local Muslims made common cause with hardline lefties and other suspects of the usual Israel-hating type – there is a downside to the multiculturalism that has enriched Australia. This picture, taken outside the august State Library of Victoria in central Melbourne, provides a glimpse as to why. Also in 2009 some 350 Muslims from eastern Australia held a protest in Canberra, organised by the extremist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, which aims at a global caliphate under a draconian system of sharia law. They held placards calling for Muslim armies to launch Jihad against Israel and proclaiming such things as “Khilafah will soon liberate Palestine”and “Resistance will continue all the way until Israel is reduced to clay”.  Although the bulk of those Canberra protesters appeared to comprise people of Lebanese background (who muster strong in the Muslim community of Sydney) rather than Turkish people (who make up the majority of Muslims in Melbourne) marchers included Indonesians and others.

Explained an Australian Hizb ut-Tahrir media spokesman tellingly at the time : "We urge the resistance movements in Palestine to beware of the diplomatic drama, to abandon the political process, which is being used to weaken them, and to return to the battlefield. The Muslims around the world too must play their part by continuing to push the Muslim armies toward the battlefield, understanding full well that the major obstacle in our path is not the feeble Israeli state nor the coward Israeli army, but it is the Muslim rulers who, in agency of the Western powers, collude in facilitating the perpetuation of the illegal state of Israel. Israel can do what it likes. The Muslims will never recognise its legitimacy, nor will we accept anything less than all of Palestine, under Islamic rule."

And just recently Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has operated in Sydney for some years, has established a presence in Melbourne, flexing its muscle by renting a suburban town hall to hold a conference devoted to denouncing the Zionist Entity and justifying Jihad against the West.  The realisation that four police representatives were among the 40 participants probably ensured that speakers toned down the rhetoric for fear of being nabbed on charges of incitement to racial hatred.

Hizb ut-Tahrir (“Party of Liberation”), founded in Jordanian-held east Jerusalem in the early 1950s by the rabidly anti-Western Sheikh Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, has been linked to the fostering of terrorism. Consequently, it’s been banned in Russia, Germany, China, Egypt and Jordan, but is active in some 40 countries, whose existing political systems it wants to be replaced by Islamic theocracy. It hasn’t been banned in Australia, despite governmental misgivings, since the national intelligence agency ASIO, while not exactly giving it the all-clear, advised that there are insufficient grounds to proscribe it. And following police advice that it posed no security threat it was allowed to hire that suburban hall in Melbourne on the grounds of the council’s “strong belief in political and religious freedom”.

Its leader in Sydney, Wassim Dourehi, the Australian-born son of Lebanese immigrants, has refused to denounce 9/11, 7/7, or the 2005 Bali nightclub bombings that cost 88 Australian lives. His organisation insists that insurgents fighting in Iraq against Australian and other Coalition troops are obligated to do so as a "universal right and religious duty". Just weeks before the Melbourne conference it caused concern when a major conference of 500 adherents in Sydney on the theme "The struggle for Islam in the West" (afterwards described by a non-Muslim attendee as "unbelievable" and "frightening") was told by Hizb ut-Tahrir’s UK leader Burhan Hanif that Muslims must “adhere to Islam and Islam alone” rather than "secular and erroneous concepts such as democracy and freedom" – they must “not be conned or succumb to the disingenuous and flawed narrative that the only way to engage politically is through the secular democratic process. It is prohibited and haram".

Wassim Dourehi, among others, echoed that view, asserting that Muslims should not support "any kafir political party" and should spurn the notion of a moderate Islam encouraged by "this godforsaken country" of Australia and other western governments."We need to reject this new secular version of Islam," he declared. "It is a perverted concoction of Western governments. It is a perversion that seeks to wipe away the political aspects of Islam and localise our concerns. We must reject it and challenge the proponents of this aberration of Islam."

While this blog will never degenerate into a mindless and mean-spirited Muslim-bashing one, it won't be cowed by accusations of “Islamophobia” into soft-peddling the danger that unrestricted Muslim immigration into Australia and other western nations poses for the existing populace and polity of such countries. In my view Australia has reached a crossroads and needs to take stock. And not only because of Hizb ut-Tahrir.  In Australia there have been statements by several radical imams of a misogynist and antisemitic nature – involving justifications of rape and of wife-beating and Holocaust denial, as well as notorious incidents such as the racially motivated gang-rapes of “Australian” girls by youths of Lebanese background.

When the Sydney columnist Janet Albrechtsen pulled no punches in commenting on those rapes, she was excoriated by leftwingers bent on censorship. And, believe me, a mild article that I wrote for an Australian Jewish publication on the apparently "taboo" subject of Muslim immigration some years ago had remnants of the old hard left coming out against me like their political forebears did a generation or two ago against those who dared to suggest that antisemitism existed in the Soviet Union! Alas, in my experience, no one does intolerance quite like the hardline left. Apart from the Islamists, of course.

Monday 23 August 2010

A Corker of a Philosemite

Ireland is not a country very often associated with matters Jewish, despite some interesting Jewish characters who have dotted the pages of its modern history. There was, for instance, Polish-born Rabbi Aaron the Scribe, who resided in Dublin during the late seventeenth century before serving, for a time, as Rabbi of London. There was Ellen, Countess of Desart, born to wealthy German-Jewish immigrant parents in England; although remaining loyal to Judaism, she married an Irish peer and became one of the first two female members of the Senate of the Irish Free State following that country’s creation in 1921. There was Cork journalist Sophie O'Brien, née Raffalovich, the Odessa-born daughter of a Jewish banker; she converted to Catholicism, married an Irish nationalist politician, and embraced the Irish cause. There was Isaac Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1919-36 and later Chief Rabbi of Israel, of which country his son Chaim became President. And there was Russian-born shochet’s son Robert Briscoe, an Irish nationalist who served as Lord Mayor of his native Dublin for two terms during the 1950s and 1960s; a strong supporter of Vladimir Jabotinsky, he assisted the Irgun, and in 1948 visited the newly created State of Israel with Irish President Eamon de Valera.

And then there’s that famous fictional Irish Jew Leopold Bloom, protagonist of Dublin writer James Joyce’s Ulysses. Many literary-minded visitors to the city follow the route taken on ‘Bloomsday’ (16 June 1904) by Leopold.

I was reminded of all this because, over the past week, a talented philosemitic Irish girl has been the talk and the toast of the pro-Israel blogosphere. She’s 19-year-old Cliona Campbell, a non-Jewish student from Cork who’s been fascinated by Jews and Israel for half her life.  Under the auspices of the volunteering project group Sar-El, she recently completed a two-month stint working at military bases in Israel. She felt impelled to volunteer after seeing the unfair way in which the media portrayed Operation Cast Lead – she was indignant at the lack of compassion with Israel’s civilians, who had endured rocket attacks from Gaza for years before the military operation was launched. On her return to the Emerald Isle Cliona wrote an enthusiastic account of her experiences in her local paper, the Evening Echo (16 July 2010), which includes the following:

“Being in Israel during the ‘Flotilla Incident’ was one of the most sobering experiences I have ever encountered. I was stationed in the north of Israel at the time, far away from the events on the high seas, yet the aftershock reverberated throughout the country. Our ‘madricha’, the soldier responsible for us volunteers, greeted us after the flag-raising ceremony that morning in an uncharacteristically depressed mood. Her voice quivered as she told us what happened.... As the ‘madricha’ spoke, tears welled in her eyes — not of anger, but of despair. It was a hopeless situation — either weapons would be smuggled into Gaza, thus supplying ammunition to Hamas’ terror campaign, or else when the Israeli Defence Forces intervened to stop them it would be a propaganda victory for the ‘innocent peace political — the Gazans are far from needy. During the last 18 months, more than one million tons of humanitarian supplies entered Gaza from Israel, equalling nearly one ton of aid for every man, woman and child. We volunteers were dumb-founded as we scrolled through our phones and read western media reports, each one damning Israel for ‘impeding humanitarian aid’. Shortly after the flotilla incident, I attended a peaceful demonstration outside the Turkish embassy in Israel, and as Israeli flags whirled above our heads, we all chimed with heartfelt sincerity “kol hakavod Yisrael” — “Well done, Israel.”
See the entire article and photos of Cliona in Israel here

Troublingly, as a result of her support for Israel, Cliona has received insults and threats. "I came back after two months and wrote a piece [see above link] on my experiences. Now I am getting hate mail and being targeted. I went into a clothes shop where I live and the security guard came up to me abusing me. My Facebook page link was posted online in a forum and I started getting emails telling me to keep my head down from now on. My friends started getting abusive emails soon after that too."

In Ireland, there’s a great deal of animosity towards Israel in certain circles, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign there has the reputation of being particularly inflexible and embittered. The anti-Israel movement is fostered in Ireland, as in the UK, by a strange alliance of hardline left-wingers and radical Muslims. Not all Muslims are Islamists, of course. “We in the Irish Muslim community have on the whole felt part and parcel of the wider Irish society for decades; this is the country where many of us emigrated to in pursuit of a better life and opportunities; or fleeing persecution, and freedom from religious, ethnic or political discrimination”, wrote one concerned Muslim to an Irish newspaper. “The majority of us are grateful for the opportunities afforded to us by this nation and not only do we respect the ideals of the democracy that we live in but also cherish them....” The ultra-conservative Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, situated at Clonskeagh, Dublin, is said to have links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and as elsewhere in Europe, radical Muslims in Eire advocate the adoption of sharia law. An anti-American, anti-British Muslim surgeon in Dublin has been quoted as saying that flags should not be burned at demonstrations “Unless someone wants to burn the Zionist flag since we do not recognise the Zionist state".

The accompanying picture has an eloquence all of its own. No wonder one of the many blogs about the admirable Ms Campbell  is entitled “How Can We Clone Cliona?”

Saturday 21 August 2010

Can a Leopard Change its Spots? It's business as usual at Al Beeb!

The BBC’s unaccustomed fairness towards Israel exhibited in Jane Corbin’s “Death in the Med” episode of Panorama is not, unfortunately, being matched elsewhere by the Corporation, despite the impartiality that is demanded of it by its Charter and its Producers’ Guidelines and which  – as I mentioned a few days ago – is trumpeted by Evan Davis in his training video on the website of its College of Journalism. Al Beeb’s Middle East news service, overseen by the execrable Jeremy Bowen, appears to be continuing its time-honoured (or perhaps I should say "time-dishonoured') anti-Israel agenda.

Like Iran’s propaganda news channel (hat tip: mattpryor, commenting on Ray Cook’s blog on this subject over at the website) overt foes of Israel in the blogosphere have been getting as much mileage as they can out of an unfortunate incident involving an Israeli former soldier, Eden Aberjil. Back in civvy street, this young woman posted on Facebook an unsavoury photo of herself in uniform smiling into the camera while blindfolded and bound Palestinian prisoners are seated in the background; the photo (like one of its companions) makes uncomfortable viewing and reminds me vaguely of a certain genre of pornography, one in which women are most often the victims. Needless to say, Ms Aberjil’s distasteful action has been condemned as "shameful" by the IDF, which with good reason prides itself on being one of the most humane armies on earth.  It's not the fact that the prisoners are blindfolded and bound that's objectionable (at least not to all who trust that they must be security threats for the IDF to have dealt with them in that fashion) - it's Ms Aberjil's suggested sadistic enjoyment of their humiliation that's the problem.

On Facebook her photos have provoked strong reactions, including outbursts of naked antisemitism. Here’s a taste (I’ve removed surnames because I don’t want to invade the posters’ privacy). "Marc: They should boycot that country she represents. The only language these people know is the language of money and violence; Steven: hey..I agree...but it's pretty hard to boycott a country that's backed by the US; Róger: A typical jew in action; Róger [again]: Is that a jew woman? I guess so because of the gigantic nose. ; Róger [yet again] Jews: The root of all evil; Awais : wow what a fat ugly israeli whore!; Soleiman : typical Jew woman; Shakir : these isrealis need another holocaust to learn some lesson; Hashim : ugly trashy jew who needs a slap; Hogares: israeli occupation = nazi genocide!: Qerim: FUCK HER FAMILY FUCK HER LIFE FUCK HER FLAAG EVEN FUCK HER GRAVE FUCKING KHAFIR. IF THE PRISONERS WHERE NOT HAND CUFT SHE HAD PISSED IN HER PANTS LITTLE JEWISH BITCH I HOPE HER FAMILY DIES AND HER KIDS ALL HER FAMILY BE NANEN PIDH JA QIFSHA; Rahi: She deserves to go to Auschwitz; Shakir [again] : these isrealis are the worst creation on earth....they are the cause of all the wars in the first place....we want another holocaust on them...INSHALLAH; Shakir [yet again]: [He, a fellow poster] and his devilsh companions (zionist)...holocaust is on its way AGAIN for you prepared...."

In an indication that Al Beeb hasn’t changed its spots, the BBC’s Paul Wood, stationed in Jerusalem, has given his so-called “analysis” of the Aberjil incident on BBC News online, the most viewed news website in the world:
‘A great many young Israeli soldiers have photograph albums quite similar to Eden Aberjil's "The army: the best days of my life".
The only difference is that they do not post them on Facebook.
That explains her remark that she still did not "understand what was wrong" and the comment of Dr Ishai Menuchin of the Committee Against Torture in Israel that "she is a bad apple, but all the box are bad apples".
The IDF likes to think of itself as the most ethical army in the world and so condemned the photographs in strident terms. (They are also no fools when it comes to public relations).
For most young conscripts, and young Israelis who have completed their military service, I suspect the reaction will not be outrage but a simple shrug of the shoulders.’

This shabby piece of “analysis” ( from a reporter who’s by no means the most objectionable of the BBC’s correspondents ) really is quite reprehensible – but par for the course as far as Al Beeb is concerned.

Thursday 19 August 2010

All Out of Love - High Noon in Covent Garden

In that great Hollywood flick High Noon there’s the famous tense scene in which a resolute Will Kane (aka Gary Cooper), having found no one brave enough to help him take on an outlaw gang, strides down the main street to face them – totally alone. He didn’t need to do so, as he’d handed in his marshal’s badge and was set to start a new life far away. But his stolid determination to do what was right made him put on that badge again.

I guess the doughty and much-admired vice-chairman of the Zionist Federation, Jonathan Hoffman, sometimes feels like Will Kane as, singlehandedly if needs be, he takes on the bad guys. But last weekend he had reinforcements galore – a great many of them emphatically not of his choosing.

Let me explain.

Ahava, the famous Jordan Valley-based Israeli cosmetics company which produces a wonderful highly recommended range of goods containing minerals from the Dead Sea, is under attack internationally by adherents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. And, inevitably, the fight against the company has been taken up with gusto among Israel's demonisers in the United Kingdom. Every fortnight since February, from noon until two p.m. on Saturdays, allies of the Israel-delegitimising International Solidarity Movement have held a noisy, hate-filled demonstration outside the Ahava shop in Monmouth Street, Covent Garden. Banging drums and screeching through loud-hailers, they cause an ear-splitting cacophony which is unpleasant – to say the least – for retailers, customers, and passers-by.

Slogans such as “Dead Sea mud, Palestinian blood” are shouted repeatedly, as well as the tell-tale “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Shall Be Free” (which, of course, signifies the total annihilation of the State of Israel, not merely Israeli withdrawal from the disputed territories), banners are waved, pedestrians are harassed, and insults are hurled at anyone who defies the intimidation and enters Ahava. The photo I include here is of one of the early demos, and the bearer of the blue-and-white flag in the background is – as far as I’m aware, though he’s not wearing a marshal’s hat – the indefatigable Jonathan Hoffman. Like similar demonstrators against Ahava outlets in the United States and elsewhere, the gang of thugs depicted seek to close the entire Ahava operation down.

Their callous disregard for the livelihoods of all retailers in Monmouth Street means that a neighbouring store, bereft of customers owing to the din, has gone out of business and others are similarly imperilled. But these self-righteous protesters have as little regard for those people as they do for the Palestinians who will lose their jobs and livelihoods if Ahava goes under.

This past Saturday, 14 August, there were more demonstrators than usual – about 80. For they were celebrating a shameful legal victory, four activists having been acquitted of failing to comply with a policeman’s orders when, last year, they refused to leave Ahava’s premises and instead chained themselves to a concrete block inside the shop. A charge of aggravated trespass was also dropped. For reasons that remain unclear, the Ahava shop's manager failed to attend court to give evidence, severely undermining the prosecution’s case. In an echo of the defence at the armaments factory trial, the miscreants' counsel explained that his clients had acted as they did because “they felt they had no alternative” and added “We are definitely going to see more of this happening.”

For an eyewitness description and video clips of Saturday’s disgraceful scenes, which the police and municipal authorities seem powerless to prevent, and that of earlier demonstrations outside Ahava, together with a full description, click onto Richard Millett’s Blog, listed on my Blogroll. It’s good to know that , whenever they can, Richard and a stalwart band of other British Jews join Jonathan Hoffman in flying the flag for Israel at these events; additionally, Christian supporters sometimes travel all the way from Wales to attend. As Richard has observed, “The protests have nothing to do with Israel's presence in the West Bank but are all to do with Israel's existence per se judging by the songs that are sung and the placards that are paraded. Additionally ... why do they single out Israel for boycotts and not Turkey and China, for example? It is the boycott that historically deeply resonates against Jews. Boycotts are, therefore, not only discriminatory but deeply offensive and hurtful to Jews.”

Much has been made by extreme left Jewish haters of Israel – some of whom are despicable enough to compare Israel to the Third Reich – of the fact that as well as about 13 pro-Israel demonstrators on Sunday there was a contingent from the English Defence League (EDL). The EDL was formed last year, reputedly out of disgust at the sight of Islamists in Luton verbally abusing the Royal Anglian regiment which was being welcomed home after a tour of duty in Afghanistan. EDL members are widely seen as football thugs and extreme right-wing racists, and although there is a “Jewish Division”, led by Roberta Moore, the “Zionist” protesters needed their aid like the proverbial hole in the head. Once the EDL had arrived, Sunday’s demo really hotted up, as described on Richard Millett’s Blog.

Those who – in a calculated attempt to stigmatise Jonathan Hoffman and smear other pro-Israel counter-demonstrators allege collusion between the Zionist Federation and the EDL are, to put it no more strongly than warranted, mischievous liars. Jonathan has himself stated, as the Guardian reported (17 August): "There is no link between us. We live in a free country, we can't control who demonstrates on the streets. People on the left think nothing of demonstrating with people who support Hamas and other terrorist groups." And Roberta Moore substantiates this claim: "We wish to state hereby that although we were protesting jointly with the Zionist Federation headed by Mr. Jonathan Hoffman, we were not asked by the ZF to protest alongside them. This was our decision and we imposed our presence upon them. The ZF had no choice but to share the space with us."

Here, by the way, is the link to Ahava's shop online; it needs all the love it can muster:

Tuesday 17 August 2010

What a Difference a Jane Makes - to BBC balance on the Middle East

Regular readers of this blog (it feels good to use that phrase, and I cherish the hope there are a few!) will realise that the BBC is hardly my favourite broadcaster.  While acknowledging that there are many things the BBC does extremely well – after all, it should, since unlike its commercial rivals it has a huge enforced remuneration from licence-payers to finance its efforts – I loathe the BBC's leftist bias for many reasons: its obligation to be impartial, its antipathy towards British traditions, towards Judeo-Christian values, towards western interests, and towards Israel.

Not for a moment do I believe that all Al Beeb's employees share in such antipathy, but it is undoubtedly that ethos which dominates; it can be seen in all its ignominy on the BBC News website, which is run (if a photo that they once posted of themselves is any guide) by 20- and 30- somethings – a fact which I believe informs their view of Israel, for having been born well after 1967, they are imbued with the widespread narrative that Israel is a colonial oppressor and thus help to spread that narrative themselves. 

And let there be no mistaking the fact that Al Beeb has a leftist bias; some of its own presenters and executives have admitted as much.  Thus, Andrew Marr : "The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It's a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people.” And Ben Stephenson: "We need to foster peculiarity, idiosyncrasy, stubborn-mindedness, left-of-centre thinking." (hat tip: Biased BBC)

So it was with trepidation that I switched on BBC One's Panorama last evening, to see "Death in the Med", an account of the Mavi Marmara affair presented by Jane Corbin.  Now, I haven't always been unequivocally admiring of her reportage (although, praise providence, she is no Jeremy Bowen), but here she got the tone and coverage absolutely correct.  She'd been given unprecedented access to the elite commando unit which raided the Mavi Marmara, and her reportage – in terms of style, airtime, and content – was meticulously fair to both sides.   I was pleased to see that she included intemperate words from the flotilla leader in her report, as well as an excerpt from a video clip of a participant on board, who said that he was fully prepared to die as a shahid (martyr), and footage of iron bars being fashioned out of fittings on board and Israelis being savagely beaten.  I do not believe that partisans of the Palestinian cause have any grounds for complaint either.  So thank you, Ms Corbin, for an exceptional piece of BBC journalism. 

Sometimes, in BBC reports from the Middle East, it's not so much what they say as the way they say it which betrays their bias against Israel.  As well as being a master of the snide remark, the oh-so-world-weary Jeremy Bowen is well-practised in the sneering vocal tone, in the eyebrow sardonically raised.  Jane Corbin had none of that.  Nor did she use the well-tried BBC device of giving the Israeli viewpoint last or begrudgingly, as in the "Israel says ..." which typically ends BBC reports after the Palestinian position has been highlighted.

I've taken a close look at the website of the BBC College of Journalism (CoJo), which is billed as “a smart way for the BBC to decide whether journalists are suitable – before the vacancies arise”.  I was alarmed by its assertion that "Impartiality is not the same as objectivity, neutrality or balance", but reassured by the excellent training video on that subject by well-known presenter Evan Davis.

Less reassuring is the fact that CoJo has linked to a video interview for the Frontline Club ("Championing Independent Journalism") given by Al Beeb's Jezza to CoJo head Vin Ray.   There's Bowen, proclaiming (yet again) that, following complaints from supporters of Israel, the BBC Trust was "wrong" in  finding him guilty of three inaccuracies and one breach of impartiality in his online article "How 1967 defined the Middle East" and of one inaccuracy in his From Our Own Correspondent report. There he is, adding "It doesn't really worry me" (and we all know that the Trust's rebuke has scarcely made Jezza break his anti-Israel stride).  There he is, admitting that "my emotions are very skin deep" and that "Of course I empathised enormously with the people there [Gaza] - who couldn't?" and describing Gaza as "a big prison camp". And there he is, regretting that he appeared during Cast Lead to be "pulling a few punches" and blaming that on the fact he and other foreign journalists had been prevented from reporting from there by the Israelis. "Had I got into Gaza I would have been much more powerful".  As for (sssssssh, you know who, "I know what they're going to be worked up about", Jezza tells the audience, so he tries "deliberately to spike their guns".

In an interview published in the Independent (11 December 2006) Bowen declared: "It's certainly the case that many Israelis and... many people in the British Jewish community regard us as, if not anti-Israel actively, then certainly pro-Palestinian. Some regard us as being actively anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic. ... The difficulty of reporting from the Middle East is that what people really want ... is for you to come down on their side."

Not so.  What people - we, the hard-pressed licence-payers – really want is for the BBC to abide by the terms of its Charter and its Producers' Guidelines.  We want the BBC to exhibit impartiality, to give both sides to a dispute an equal airing, and to display a non-judgmental style in its broadcasts (I suggest Bowen looks at Evan Davis's CoJo video for tips on what this entails).  Jane Corbin managed these things admirably in her Panorama report last evening.  Why, then, is impartiality beyond Bowen and his cohorts?

Monday 16 August 2010

Anatomy of an anti-Israel Petition

Assuming all has gone to plan, a petition containing about 1800 signatures, which made its way by a vintage motorcycle from Lancashire to London, was delivered to 10 Downing Street by its organiser, Bruce Burgess, at noon today.  For many weeks Burgess has been hawking the petition among a familiar batch of Israel-demonising groups, explaining: "I'm a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. I've been disturbed by the activities of the Israeli government for years. But just recently the attacks on Lebanon, Gaza and the massacre on the boat delivering aid have really made my blood boil.” No matter, of course, that Israel is defending itself against existential threat. No matter that Hamas is suffused with judeophobia and that its genocidal charter avows “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” No matter that “the boat delivering aid” was full of Islamist activists and would-be martyrs belonging to the terrorist organisation IHH, who yelled chilling anti-Jewish slogans before setting off on their deliberately provocative voyage to Gaza armed with knives and iron bars.

Groups supporting the petition are the Palestine Solidarity Campaign; the Friends of Lebanon; the Campaign Against the Arms Trade; Jews for Justice for Palestinians; the Muslim Public Affairs Committee; Quaker Peace and Social Witness; and War on Want. Among others who have provided online links to it are the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine and branches of the Green Party. On the petition Lib Dem Councillor Richard Brett, alternate leader of Leeds City Council, comments: “I can't understand how those defending Israel think that their treatment of Palestinians in Gaza has no bearing on events like 9/11 or 7/7. It is in our own interests to stop selling arms to Israel, and the humanitarian case is overwhelming.”

Indeed, the number of Lib Dems and Greens, including town councillors, among the petition’s signatories is striking, underlining the distrust that Israel’s British well-wishers feel regarding those parties, particularly the former given its rather disproportionate role in the Coalition government. In a piece for the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” (9 January 2009) Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg wrote: “[Gordon] Brown must ... halt Britain's arms exports to Israel, and persuade our EU counterparts to do the same. The government's own figures show Britain is selling more and more weapons to Israel, despite the questions about the country's use of force.... I want an immediate suspension of all arms exports from the EU, but if that cannot be secured, Brown must act unilaterally.”

Cameron himself has boasted:
“Unlike a lot of politicians from Britain who visit Israel, when I went I did stand in occupied East Jerusalem and actually referred to it as ‘occupied East Jerusalem’. The Foreign Office bod who was with me said most ministers don’t dare say [that].” And of course more recently this slippery opportunist declared that "The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable .... Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change .... Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp." That this remark has encouraged the petition’s signatories is obvious from some of the optional comments, which directly allude to it.

The signatories, as proudly cited by its organiser on his rideforpalestine blog, include, at Westminster, two Labour MPs, Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) and Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton), and, in the European Parliament, Chris Davies, Fiona Hall, and Graham Watson (all Lib Dems), Keith Taylor (Green Party), and Jill Evans (Plaid Cymru).

Senior academic signatories include Emeritus Professor Steve Baker (University of Central Lancashire), an art historian; Emeritus Professor Richard Hudson (University College London), a specialist in linguistics; Emeritus Professor Peter Spufford ( University of Cambridge), a medieval and early modern historian; Dr Wolfgang Decker (Richmond University, London); Professor Moshe Machover (King's College London); and Dr Claudia Prestel (Reader in Modern European and Jewish History, University of Leicester). Israeli-born Machover, long resident in Britain, is a veteran anti-Zionist warhorse who helped to found the Israeli anarcho-socialist group Matzpen; his son, British “human rights lawyer” Daniel Machover, is infamous for attempting to have visiting Israeli public figures arrested for “war crimes”. Dr Prestel, an Israeli who has publicly endorsed Ilan Pappe’s "One State Declaration", has resided in Britain since the 1990s; she is active in Friends of al Aqsa, and has added her name to various Israel-delegitimising initiatives conceived both in Britain and overseas.

There is also a batch of Christian clergy – Sue Calveley, H. P. [Hazel?] Barkham, Marion C. White, Andrew Dawson, Graeme Dodd, Tony Graham, Dave Hardman, Dr J. Barr, and Fr John Harris-White. The latter writes alongside his signature: “The call to stop arms to Israel is long overdue. Throughout my life time the state of Israel has ignored United Nations resolutions, and hels [sic] in bond the Palestinian people in their own land.” (I’m not sure what denominations are represented – Rev. Calveley is an Anglican – nor whether all of these are in fact British.)

A sizeable proportion of signatories have Arab/Muslim names. The optional comments on the petition, across the range of signatories, Muslim and non-Muslim, are of the predictable kind – Israel as colonial occupier, Israel as America’s stooge, Israel as apartheid state, Israel as terrorist state, Israel as “rogue state”, Israel as illicit, Israel as persecutor, Israel as land-grabber. Look at this, for instance, from a John Bannon: “As bulk of ruling MP’s are signed up ‘Friends of Israelhell’ there is little prospect of success ... This action and boycotting the produce of the apartheid, genocidal regime are proper ways to condemn its evil ways.” Similarly, from a Robin Goodchild: “The pirate apartheid state should be suspended from decent company until it learns to follow international law.” From a Simon J. Brown: “Signing this petition is but a token. Israel lacks legitimacy and must be held to account for its continued war crimes and theft of Palestinian property and land.” From an M. Cook: “Israel has been a rogue state almost since its founding, and as such should not be armed by the UK or by any other opportunist country.” Ahmad Ismat: “Lets stop the largest terroriests group on earth together.”

Fern: “The UK Government is not the only one that has a lot to answer for but as a country that considers itself 'civilized' it should be taking the lead in opposing Zionism in all its racist manifestations.” Peter Brown: “We should obviously not sell arms to Israel. They are illegal occupiers and hijackers who should be totally isolated. There should be a complete boycott of Israel.” Ron Gray: “Many people are under the illusion, that if you support Palestine,then you must be Anti Semetic.This is not so! The Zionist Movement & Mossad is the real enemy of not just Palestine,but many other countries who are against their agressive tactics.Sainsburys openly support Israel & should be boycotted,as should others,who support them,including the British Govt.” Naveed Zafar: “Not only stop arming Israel, boycott all imports from that illegal colonial settler state and arrest every functionary of its terrorist governments, past and present and put them in the dock for war crimes.”

This comment from an Alan Pritchard represents another leitmotif of the petitioners, Israel as ethnic cleanser: “It is bad enough that Britain bears the ultimate guilt for the creation of Israel in the betrayal of the Arabs that stood alongside us against the Ottomans. It is worse that we actively held the coats of the Zionist Militia whilst they ethnically cleansed Palestine in 1947 and 1948, looked the other way when villages were massacred, even deliberately refusing to help those being massacred.”

A Pam Hardyment writes: “ they [exported armaments] are used against innocent civilians against all Geneva Conventions and MUST be stopped, we are party to a genocide happening right now and for 62 years!!!!” Robin Kinrade: “Further, this Government needs to review Israel's relationship with the Pales[t]inians. They have been bound, gagged and whipped, metaphorically speaking, have had their lands systematically stolen, and when, in deep frustration, they have lashed out, the Israeli Government commit war crimes against them.” And, from a Crystal Robert, the risible “Israel is a threat to the rest of the world.”

Those four mendaciously misleading maps of Jewish versus Arab territory in the Holy Land ("Israeli Expansion 1946-2000") that anti-Israel groups love to publish in their brochures and on their websites have evidently done yeoman service in duping some people to sign (they are on Burgess's blog and mentioned in some comments).

A Heather Stroud is among those signatories who accuse Israel of deliberately targeting civilians - “Israel has a policy of arresting and torturing children for fabricated crimes or sometimes the crime of throwing a stone.” Jewish Israel-basher Mike Cushman, a pivot of the grotesque – and essentially antisemitic  –  movement to boycott Israel, warms to the same theme: “The Israeli Army regularly attacks civilian targets and therefore the UK Government should take all steps to prevent them getting the arms and equipment to carry out these breaches of international law.”

Some of the comments are unashamedly antisemitic. Here is a selection, warts (in the shape of grammatical and spelling errors) and all. Rick Sylva (an American, by the looks of it): ‘It's time to rethink our arming & financial backing of "ISRAEL" ... LET'S TAKE BACK WHAT RIGHTFULLY BELONGS TO US , "OUR" GOV'T & DO AWAY WITH THE ZIONIST CONTROLLED "FEDERAL RESERVE BANK!’ F.E.: “Zionist state is not a reliqious entity, but a voracious sadistic parasite on the world map.” Kelly Elshafey: “The jewish lobby is to powerful to in the USA, Britain and Europe. They have the money to finance the politcal parties.” Dean Smith: “remember tyhe late 40s and early 50s when the israelis turned on our own people after we helped them??plus the first suicide bomber was a jewish woman”. Edward Glynn: “We are told that World terrorism is the work of Islamic extremists but the terrorism engaged in by the Israeli Government is far worse .... The continued support by the West of Israel makes them accessories to the criminal activities of the Jewish State in Palestine.” Barry Selby: “I think that Israel's warmongering pays no attention to the suffering they cause. The pretence that Hamas must be eliminated is just a cover so that their expansionist and subsequent commercial activities can continue. I find them to be a totally immoral nation.”

Val Shadowhawk: “Signing this Petition will send a message to Zionists that their days of running the Show are over. The World has had enough. Blackmailing, bribing, extorting, and murdering innocent people while playing Victim are Crimes. Israel is Guilty of these and more. Enough is enough” Brian Powell: “A country born out of terrorism that still terrorises not only its neighbour but the rest of the world needs stopping. Take the first step in stopping these Nazi Jews.” Robert Persson: “Israel has now demonstrated that it is an extremely aggressive, capricious and paranoid state run by people who have total contempt for anyone, whether Arab, European or anything else, who does not conform to their definition of an ethnic Jew. This lunatic state already has 200 nuclear weapons. It is completely insane to allow it access to any more weapons.” Linda Collins: “ISRAEL SHOULD BE EXTERMINATED.” Mike Casner: “Investigate MOSAAD involvement in 9/11/01. Never mind the knee-jerk anti semitic labels, there is ample evidence.” Graham Jessop: “Totally agree with all the comments. They are complicit in 911 also, check it out.”

I wonder how the members of Jews for Justice for Palestinians feel about being in such company.

Saturday 14 August 2010

In a Persian Market

It must pay well, the propagandistic news channel Press TV, operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran.  I mean, it doesn't appear to have a shortage of western hacks willing to prostitute themselves by appearing as presenters on it.  I've already blogged about those delightful blondes in veil and hijab, Lauren Booth and Yvonne Ridley, fixtures on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's shamelessly distorted window on Iran, on Gaza, and of course on the Zionist Entity.

George Galloway, the 2009 Viva Palestina convoy honcho and ex-Respect MP, who abased himself before Saddam Hussein with a ludicrous sycophantic speech, and more recently abased himself before the winsome actress Rula Lenska on a reality TV show in the UK by pretending to be a cat and lapping milk from a saucer, appears there too.  So does Alan Hart, the ex-ITN Middle East correspondent and ex-BBC Panorama presenter who believes Mossad brought down the Twin Towers on 9/11 by a controlled ground explosion. 

Despite all the horrors that the Ahmadinejad regime has perpetrated on the people of Iran, despite its persecution of dissidents and barbaric punishments for adultery and homosexuality, those people are still on the station's payroll.  By contrast, journalist Nick Ferrari had the decency to resign following the execution of the protesters who took to the streets of Teheran peacefully to vent their outrage at Iran's disputed election last year.

Now, another whacky ex-politician, known for his romances with a glamorous weathergirl  and a scantily clad pop singer, has signed on at Press TV.  He's Lembit Opik, who lost his parliamentary seat at the polls this May.  He sat as a Lib Dem - and seems to have his heart set on running in 2012 as Lib Dem candidate for London's Mayor.  He tried being a stand-up comedian after losing his seat, with a ventriloquist routine involving a shoe.  Reportedly, the gig flopped - badly.  So instead this avowed liberal is going to be a  presenter for the satellite media outlet of one of the most illiberal regimes in the world, fronting a show called A Simple Question, with a debut investigating - now this is funny! - how objective the British press is. "We want to explore whether it does a good job at being impartial or whether there are consistent cases of bias in the reporting that we see", explained an offsider.

It seems the Lib Dem Mr Obit was somewhat tetchy when asked by a London Daily Telegraph journalist  about his new job.  “It is necessary for me to work", he snapped. "I don’t see that Press TV is 'controversial’: that is to pass judgment and it is not for one media organisation to pass judgment on another.”

Like I said, it must pay well.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Fair Dinkum Philosemites

In 1938 William Cooper, of Victoria, Australia, was 77 years of age.  He was an indigenous Australian, a member of the Yorta Yorta people, and as secretary of the Australian Aborigines' League he was a veteran of the protracted struggle to win justice for his people, a goal that would not be achieved in his lifetime - nor for decades afterwards.   Stirred by reports of Kristallnacht in November 1938, Mr Cooper organised a petition of protest against "the cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government of Germany", and on 6 December 1938 he led a delegation of his members on foot to the German Consulate in order to present it. There, these oppressed Australians who took time out from their own priorities to remember a tormented people on the other side of the world were rebuffed.

Seventy years later it was announced that 70 trees would be planted in Israel in honour of William Cooper.  Ceremonies have been held in Melbourne to mark his noble deed, and it has just been decided that he will be further honoured in December this year with a memorial garden at the entrance to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.

His story is a touching one, and has naturally elicited a great deal of interest in Australia and in the Jewish world.  Yet I can't help thinking that more should be known of one of his contemporaries, an Australian of a very different milieu, who also strove on behalf of persecuted German Jewry.

Critchley Parker, a young Melbourne man of solid middle class background, advocated a flourishing Jewish refugee settlement in Tasmania, the island south of the Australian mainland across the Bass Strait.  He envisaged the involvement of the settlement's members in mining, fishing, fruit-growing, wine-making, perfume production, and the manufacture of cotton goods and woollens, and had all sorts of grandiose expectations for it.  While scouting bushland near the proposed location, situated in Tasmania's remote and rugged south-west, he became ill and perished.  As he lay in his sleeping bag, with death approaching, he wrote "To die in the service of so noble a cause is to me a great satisfaction."

His story was told in an issue of the Australian Jewish Historical Society's Journal in 1990, and is known to Jewish history buffs in Australia.  It deserves to be more familiar to the public at large, and Parker's philosemitic act honoured as William Cooper's has been, if only by a plaque at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in his home city.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

The Zionist Idea from Jewish Emancipation to 1948 - a Beginner's Guide

The emancipation of Diaspora Jewry, which began in central and western Europe at the end of the eighteenth century, eclipsed the traditional longing for restoration to Zion in the minds of Jews who were now - at least theoretically - equal citizens of the countries in which they lived.  Emancipation meant that they were no longer sojourners or barely tolerated aliens in their countries of residence; plainly, therefore, they were no longer in exile.  Thus as early as 1791, when Jews stood on the threshold of emancipation in revolutionary France, a Jew wrote to a Parisian newspaper euphorically: "France ... is our Palestine; its mountains are our Zion, its rivers our Jordan.  Let us drink the water of these sources; it is the water of liberty ..."

Such an attitude meant that while Jews still paid tribute to their ancestral land in their synagogue prayers, most had no expectations, however vague, of relocating there.  "Next year in Jerusalem!" was still affirmed at Passover, but had scant practical relevance.  "Wherever you are treated humanely", wrote the editor of a German Jewish periodical at the start of the nineteenth century, "wherever you prosper, there also is your Palestine, your fatherland ..."

Emancipated Jews henceforth sought to prove themselves worthy of their newly bestowed citizenship, and were eager to integrate fully into the life of the wider society.  Typically, in western and central Europe, and in Britain (where the struggle for "emancipation" chiefly involved the right of practising Jews to sit in Parliament, achieved in 1858) as well as in the United States, there was a tendency on the part of Jews to call themselves Israelites.  In part, this was because the word Jew, with its connotations of miserliness, moneylending, and hawking, had derogatory implications.  But the word also had a nationalistic emphasis: in Hebrew Yehudi, Jew was a term of relatively late origin, denoting an inhabitant of Judah or Judea.  Israelite, on the other hand, was a term rooted in the Torah, and it had a religious designation.  K'lal Israel was the religious community of Israel, the entire Jewish people, a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation", covenanted by God. 

As a prominent French Jew argued during Napoleon's reign: "The Bible calls them the Children of Israel; their language is the Hebrew language.  Should they not, then, be called Israelites or Hebrews?"  That would free the Jews of opprobrium, and encourage non-Jews to view them through less prejudiced eyes.  Or so he hoped.

Although there were notable exceptions, the term Israelite became the favoured self-designation for Jews in the secular world.  It is seen in the names of nineteenth-century communal newspapers and organisations.  Such terminology identified Jews as members of a faith, distinguished from their fellow citizens only by religion  - "the Mosaic persuasion" was a frequent euphemism for Judaism, the German equivalent of which, Judentum, had the unwelcome stereotypical secondary definition "commerce".  The emancipated Jewish world of the nineteenth century was one in which Jews had (potentially at any rate) more in common with Christians of their respective countries than with other Jews abroad, and in which Jews were liable to face each other as enemies on the field of battle, as in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

Despite the establishment of such bodies as the Alliance Israélite Universelle, the celebrated Jewish self-help organisation founded in 1860  with the motto Ehud ("unity") to aid oppressed Jews overseas, the old adage "all Israelites are responsible for one another" was increasingly relevant only within national boundaries.  And, as that French Jew writing in 1791 had foreshadowed, emancipation profoundly affected perceptions of the Promised Land.

In the adaption to modernity which accompanied emancipation, many western Jews questioned the relevance of traditional Judaism and endeavoured to reform it in accordance with the ideas of the Haskalah or Jewish Enlightenment, which had been heavily influenced by the general European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century.  Reformers were usually opposed to retaining liturgical references to the return to Zion.  Prayers for restoration to Eretz Israel were considered inappropriate and outmoded.  Explained a French layman with reformist tendencies: "Jerusalem is no longer for us anything but a memory; it need no longer be a hope".  Moreover, such prayers were seen as an affront to the countries of which Jews had become citizens. 

Therefore, more often than not, Reform congregations established in Europe and the United States during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth omitted references to the return to Zion.  The widespread practice of calling such congregations temples was instructive - it signified that their founders and members did not expect the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem.  This was a rejection of traditional Jewish teaching.  Traditional (or Orthodox) Jews, by contrast, were at pains not to jettison references to the return to Zion, but rather to stress that the promise of an eventual return would be effected only through divine intervention and in God's own time.

Both approaches - the disavowal of an expected return to Zion on the one hand, and on the other the denial of any but a divine agency in bringing such a movement about - were at odds with secular Zionism.  The Zionist movement, which began in the nineteenth century, saw such a return as the salvation of persecuted Jewry and looked to Jews themselves to achieve the redemption of the Promised Land.

A further impediment to the acceptance of Zionism by Reform Jews at that juncture was Reform's disavowal of Jewish peoplehood.  "We consider ourselves no longer a nation but a religious community", declared the important Pittsburgh Conference of American Reform Rabbis in 1885, justifying their refusal to entertain the idea of a Jewish restoration to Palestine.  It was a typical Reform response.

"The efforts of so-called Zionists to create a Jewish National State in Palestine are antagonistic to the messianic promises of Judaism, as contained in Holy Writ [Torah] and in later religious sources", declared the traditionally-minded executive committee of the German Rabbinical Association in 1897, reacting to Theodor Herzl's convening that year of the first Zionist Congress (which launched the modern Zionist movement). "Judaism obliges its followers to serve the country in which they belong with the utmost devotion, and to further its interest with their whole heart and all their strength ... Religion and Patriotism alike impose upon us the duty of begging all who have the welfare of Judaism at heart, to hold aloof from the ... Zionist movement".  This protest, which typifies the attitude of most western Jews at that time, received overwhelming endorsement from the rank and file of the German Rabbinical Association when it met in 1898.

Even so, the statement conceded that "There is no antagonism between [patriotism] and the noble efforts directed towards the colonisation of Palestine [which was, as contemporary sources attest, home not to a significant Arab population as modern anti-Zionist propaganda would have it but to a thinly scattered population of  "fellaheen"] by Jewish agriculturalists, as they have no relation whatever to a National State."  This was probably a reference to Hibbat Zion ("Love of Zion") - or Hovevei Zion ("Lovers of Zion"), headed by Leon Pinsker, author of Auto-Emancipation (1882), written against a backdrop of pogroms in Russia and persecution of Jews there and in Romania, as well as of burgeoning antisemitic political movements in Germany and Austria.  Hibbat Zion aimed to encourage poor and oppressed East European Jews to form agricultural settlements in Eretz Israel, which was of course under Ottoman rule,and received enthusiastic financial backing from the eminent French Jewish philanthropist Baron Edmond de Rothschild.

With the rise of antisemitism in continental Europe at the end of the nineteenth century political Zionism was born.   Der Judenstaat ("The Jewish State", a title with a double meaning), Herzl's celebrated book published in 1896, precipitated the movement.  However, its precepts had been anticipated by the German Jew Moses Hess in Rom und Jerusalem (1862).

Herzl was not a religious man, and at first he had no clear idea where the Jewish homeland should be situated: Palestine or some empty spacious territory such as Argentina.  The initial Zionist Congress called for the recognition of a legally secured, publicly recognised home for the Jewish people in Palestine, and the Zionist movement refused to be deflected from that aim.  the sixth Congress (1903) narrowly accepted, as a stop-gap measure for alleviating Jewish suffering in Eastern Europe, an official offer from the British government to allocate territory in East Africa for Jewish settlement.  As Herzl, who favoured this offer as a "relief measure" stressed: "our views on the Land of Israel cannot and will not be subject to change; Uganda is not Zion and will never be Zion".  (Acceptance of the Uganda proposal caused such a furore in the World Zionist Organization that at the seventh Zionist Congress, held in 1905, it was formally overturned.)  The attitude of Zionists can be clearly seen in Hatikvah ("The Hope"), a song written in 1886, which was adopted as the official hymn of the Zionist movement and became the anthem of the State of Israel:
So long as within the inmost heart
A Jewish spirit sings,
So long as the eye looks eastward,
Gazing towards Zion,
Our hope is not lost,
That hope of two millennia,
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Despite the traditional Jewish insistence that restoration to Zion can be effected only through divine intervention as part of a messianic redemption, sone nineteenth-century rabbis - notably Yehuda Alkalai, Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, and Samuel Mohilever - paved the way for religious Zionism with their view that divine restoration would be preceded by human endeavour in the ancestral land.  Of similar mind was Rabbi Isaac Reines, who in 1902 helped to found the religious Zionist movement Mizrachi (slogan: "The Land of Israel for the People of Israel according to the Torah of Israel").

Rabbi A. I. Kook, Russian-born Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1919-35, was very influential in persuading many adherents of Orthodox Judaism of the value of the Zionist movement.  Like the adherents of Mizrachi, he was prepared to cooperate with secular Zionists.  His writings emphasised the centrality of Eretz Israel and of Jewish nationalism to Judaism.  He argued that the return of Jews to Zion was a portent of the messianic redemption, and he tolerated secular Zionists because he regarded them as participants in the holy task of rebuilding Jewry's ancient heritage. 

The yearning expressed in Hatikvah was not shared by acculturated Jews living in western and central Europe, in Britain and its Dominions, and in the United States, many of whom were alarmed by the development of political Zionism.  They feared that it would undermine or even abrogate their status as citizens of the countries in which they lived, and that they would be expected to relocate to Palestine.

In the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British Foreign Secretary advised the Zionist movement that "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate ... this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice ... the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country".  It was now possible for acculturated Jews to adopt a more conciliatory attitude towards Zionism, certainly towards the idea of Eretz Israel as a refuge for the oppressed.

In view of Britain's assumption of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1922, British Jews could view philanthropic endeavours on behalf of Eretz Israel in terms of pro-British patriotism, a situation which altered as the perceived interests of Britain and the Zionist movement gradually slid into open conflict by 1939.

With the Biltmore Program of 1942 the organised Zionist movement made an unequivocal drive for an independent Jewish state in Eretz Israel, a drive spearheaded by future Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion and by American Zionists. As soon as Britain wearily relinquished the Mandate in 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed (14 May) in a Declaration of Independence read by Ben-Gurion, head of the Jewish provisional government in Palestine. A striking indication of shifting attitudes towards Zionism can be seen in the attitude of the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation in Melbourne, Australia, a congregation which had been for decades a bastion of opposition to anything but "philanthropic Zionism".  The congregation's executive stuffily noted  "the establishment of the Jewish state and wished it every success".  Owing to rumblings among members, that low key motion was discarded for one praying that the state "will not only enhance the honour of the Jewish name but will become a blessing in the midst of the earth".  But congregants were only satisfied when the motion lauded "with profound attitude to Almighty God this blessed event in our time".

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Why Zionism is integral to Judaism

As a comment on my previous post reminds me, one of the many ways in which Israel's enemies attempt to undermine the Jewish State is by denying a connection between Judaism and Zionism.  So, in order to prick that particular anti-Zionist bubble, I've decided to post this survey of the Zionist idea in Jewish thought.  It's based on something I once prepared for a class of students. 

In the Bible, the Promised Land is frequently called Canaan, the territory west of the River Jordan which was promised by God to Abraham, the ancestor of the Jewish people (he is depicted here by the great Jewish artist and Zionist E. M. Lilien, who lived from 1874 to 1925).  The land given to Abraham as part of the Covenant he made with God is described in Genesis (15:18) as "from the river of Egypt unto ... the river Euphrates", but other biblical passages draw less extensive boundaries, as in Numbers (34:1-15), where God describes the land of Canaan to Moses, and Judges 20:1, where the land stretched from "Dan even to Beersheba".

The land possessed by the ancestors of the Jewish people was at one time divided into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah).  The size of the land varied in biblical times, being at its largest during the reigns of King David and King Solomon.  The holiness of the land (ha-Aretz; whence Eretz Israel="Land of Israel") is an integral part of Jewish tradition, which holds that the land was first sanctified by Joshua's conquest.  However, when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded the land and drove its inhabitants into exile (often referred to as the Babylonian Captivity), the land lost its holiness and was resanctified following the Israelites' return from captivity.  This second sanctification is generally considered by the rabbis to have endured through the centuries.

During the Babylonian Captivity the exiles pined for the Promised Land.  Their anguish found eternal expression in Psalm 137:1-6, evoked by dispossessed Jews throughout the ages: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion ...."

The term Zion ("landmark" or "sign") was first used of Mount Zion, one of the hills of Jerusalem, upon which in very ancient times a tower stood making it visible from a vast distance.  Eventually the term was widened to be applied also to the Temple in Jerusalem (the Jews' principal place of worship, first built by King Solomon and reconstructed by King Herod), to Jerusalem itself, and to the whole of Eretz Israel.  Zion became synonymous with the spiritual centre of Judaism.  "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3).  Zion is regarded as the dwelling place of the Shekinah ("divine presence"), and traditional (Orthodox) Judaism teaches that with the coming of the Messiah Zion will be illuminated by God's glory, and from there divine gifts will issue forth.

With the Roman Conquest of Judea in the first century of the Christian Era - symbolised by the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the suicide of the Jewish defenders of Masada three years later (and confirmed by the suppression of Bar Kokhba's rebellion in 135 CE) the process of dispersion, begun during the Babylonian Captivity, intensified - yet wherever they were Jews retained their spiritual connection to Eretz Israel.

Deuteronomy 11:12 describes the Promised Land as "A land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it".  Exodus 3:8 describes it as "a good land and a large ...  flowing with milk and honey".  Various biblical passages (such as Jeremiah 3:19 and Deuteronomy 8:8-10) attest to its pleasantness and abundance.   Consequently, in Jewish thought - in Judaism - it's a land where everything positive is to be found - "a desirable, good and ample land", to quote the second blessing of the Grace After Meals.  The seven indigenous species mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8 (wheat, barley, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, dates) are regarded as especially important - if there are several kinds of fruit on a table, a blessing must first be said over those specified in that verse, and a special blessing recited after eating them.

Pesach (Passover), Shavuot, and Sukkot - which in biblical times were harvest festivals as well as commemorations of historical events - are celebrated by Jews worldwide in accordance with agricultural seasons in Eretz Israel.  Similarly, the traditional prayers for dew and rain are recited during the dry season there, regardless of their relevance to prevailing conditions in the countries where they are being said.

Jewish worship is replete with yearning for Zion, with consciousness of the special status of Eretz Israel.  The ark in synagogues (the receptacle whre the Torah scrolls are kept) is traditionally positioned at the wall nearest Jerusalem, which in western synagogues means the eastern wall.  Customarily, seats along the eastern wall were reserved for men of high standing in the community.  In accordance with 1 Kings 8:48 ("and pray unto thee toward their land") Jews face towards Jerusalem when praying.  Traditionally, prayers are believed to rise up to God through that holy city, which is regarded as the gateway to heaven.  References to Zion pervade the liturgy, and in the Orthodox prayer book hopes for restoration to Zion abound in tandem with expectation of a messianic redemption. Those hopes are encapsulated in the affirmation at the annual Passover Seder: "Next year in Jerusalem!"

Following an old custom, the eastern wall of many Jewish homes is decorated with an ornamental plaque known as a mizrach ("rising sun" or "east").  The mizrach might include an appropriate illustration or inscription, such as Psalm 113:3.  The purpose of the mizrach is to indicate the direction in which to turn for prayer: if Jews at prayer have no way of ascertaining the direction of Jerusalem they should ensure, as it were, that their hearts are directed there.

Jewish tradition teaches: "He who does not mourn over the destruction of Zion will not live to see her joy".  Mourning for that destruction is preserved in the traditional liturgy, especially that relating to the four fasts which commemorate the fall of the Temple.  The most notable of these fasts is Tisha b'Av, which takes place following a three week period of mourning in which no weddings are solemnised, no music is played, and in which traditionally observant Jews avoid buying new clothes, shaving, or having their hair cut.  For the final nine days they abstain from wine and meat.

Tisha b'Av and its prelude is not observed by Reform (or Progressive) Jews, who regard the precepts and liturgy of that day as anachronistic, and, in view of the existence of the State of Israel, others have ceased to observe it.  But for those who continue to mark it, Tisha b'Av is a day of deep grief, not only for the destruction of Solomon's Temple by the Babylonians and of Herod's by the Romans, but for all the major disasters that have dogged the Jewish people.  In the darkened synagogue, the mournful worshippers, seated on the floor or on low stools, recite the series of dirges which comprise the Book of Lamentations.  "Judah is gone into captivity ... The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob ... The Lord hath ... kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof." (Lamentations, 1:3, 2:2, 4:11).

The loss of Zion is commemorated in other ways.  For instance, at weddings the groom shatters a glass with his foot, a custom believed to represent the destruction of the Temple, so that amid rejoicing the wedding party recalls that sorrowful event.  Jewish custom ensured that whenever a house or synagogue was built, a square yard of one of the walls remained unfinished, and that on it was inscribed Zecher l'Churban
 ("In memory of the destruction").  Jews were enjoined to tear their garments as a sign of mourning when they saw the site of the Temple for the first time.  "May the Almighty console you among the other mourners for Zion and Jerusalem" is a traditional condolence for the bereaved.

Inherent in kadosh ("holiness") is the sense of "separate, designated for a divine purpose".  The Mishnah, the code of oral laws contained in the Talmud, declares that "There are ten degrees of holiness.  The Land of Israel is holier than any other ...".  Whether or not Jews are obligated in Jewish Law (Halakhah) to reside in Eretz Israel is a matter of contention, but among countless statements by the Sages in praise of Eretz Israel are the assertions that whoever lives in the Land of Israel "is as if he worshipped God, while one who lives outside it is as if he worshipped idolatry".  It was said that no resident of Eretz Israel should leave except in order to study Torah, to marry, or to rescue property abroad, and that the relocation must be temporary.  Both men and women were given the right to demand that their spouses move with them to Eretz Israel, failure to comply being grounds for divorce.  Because Eretz Israel has always been considered spiritually higher than other lands, Jews who move there are known as olim ("those who ascend").  Settling in Eretz Israel is known as aliyah l'aretz ("going up to the Land"), usually shortened to aliyah ("ascent"). 

Jerusalem, the location of the first and second Temples, which after its capture by King David became the capital of the ancient Hebrew kingdom (and from 1967 has been the capital of the State of Israel), is regarded in Judaism as the holiest city in Eretz Israel.  Jewish tradition teaches that it was formed at the beginning of Creation, and that Adam, the first man, was formed out of its dust.  The akedah ("binding"), the term which denotes Abraham's intended offering of Isaac, occurred there.  It was in Jerusalem that Jacob, asleep on the Temple Mount, dreamt of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven.  Jerusalem is traditionally said to contain nine-tenths of all the beauty in the world, and was credited with miraculous properties - none of its inhabitants fell ill, no building within it ever caught fire, and its dimensions seemed to expand in order to accommodate everyone who entered it.  When the Messianic Age arrives, the Temple will descend at Jerusalem ready-made from heaven.  Then all nations will gather within the city's walls.

Three other cities in Eretz Israel are, through biblical or historical connections, holy to Jews - Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias.  Of the various Jewish sacred sites in Eretz Israel, the holiest is Kotel Maaravi, otherwise known as the Western Wall.  It is the westen section of the outer wall which enclosed Herod's Temple.  It's been considered sacred since Talmudic times, owing to its proximity to  the inner sanctum of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, which was situated at the western end.  As is well-known, it's a site of pilgrimage for Jews, who pray there and kiss its stones.  Belief in the divine presence at the wall explains the practice of inserting in its cracks pieces of paper containing requests to God.  Between 1948 and 1967, when it was liberated by Israeli troops, it was in Jordanian hands - and inaccessible to Jews.

In addition, there are about twenty Jewish sacred sites in Eretz Israel.  Among the most notable are the Tomb of David on Mount Zion (the focus of much pilgrimage during the period when the Western Wall was off-limits), the Tomb of the Patriarchs (or Cave of Machpelah) in Hebron, and the Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem.  Other sacred sites, which are particularly numerous in Jerusalem and Galilee, include the actual or supposed graves of prophets and sages, such as those of Maimonides in Tiberias and Isaac Luria in Safed.

From the time of the Babylonian captivity, the concept of the "ingathering of the exiles" (kibbutz galuyot), first expressed in Deuteronomy 30:3-5, gathered momentum.  The concept is found in Jewish eschatology as well as in prophetic literature.  In the era when the Talmud was being compiled the concept became an essential tenet of Judaism, "equal in significance to the day on which heaven and earth were created", as one rabbinic sage put it.  The dream of "ingathering" found expression in prayers for the return to Zion, faith in the coming of the Messiah, and a firm belief in the final redemption of Israel.  But, in traditional thought, it would be effected by divine means, not by human beings.

Long before Herzlian Zionism, Jews in the Diaspora - in galut ("exile") - returned to Eretz Israel and established settlements there.  The celebrated traveller Benjamin of Tudela visited the country at the end of the twelfth century and found a flourishing Jewish presence.  Several important Jewish scholars were based there during the Middle Ages, and a Hebrew printing press was established at Safed in the sixteenth century.  The messianic ferment that followed the terrible massacres of Jews in the Ukraine and southern Poland in 1648-9 by Cossack leader Bogdan Chmielnicki contained the expectation of an imminent return to Zion.

Various sects of Orthodox Jews settled there in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the Jewish population of what was a sparsely populated land ruled by the Turks significantly grew.  Visitors to and settlers in Eretz Israel were mindful that they had achieved what had been denied even to Moses, who had glimpsed the land from afar but had not set foot there.  Even the envelopes of letters sent from Eretz Israel were treasured by Diaspora Jews.  And often, over the centuries, elderly Jews would travel to Zion to die and be buried there - thus avoiding the fate cited in Amos 7:17 ("Thou shalt die in an unclean land").  The sages taught that anyone interred in Eretz Israel is as if buried beneath the altar (Exodus 20:24) and receives atonement.