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)

Thursday 30 September 2010

So Ed Miliband’s Jewish. Big Deal – so was Karl Marx!

Anybody who imagines that Ed Miliband’s Jewishness presages a warm touchy-feely attitude towards Israel is inevitably bound for disappointment. The Miliband brothers were raised by parents who to all intents and purposes appear to fit Isaac Deutscher’s blueprint of the politically radical “non-Jewish Jew”. Karl Marx was one such. So was Rosa Luxemburg. (You get the picture.)

Ralph Miliband, Ed and David's father, was a prominent Marxist economist and intellectual. Knowing that, and being fully aware that his mother, Marion Kozak, is a longstanding member of the organisation Jews for Justice for Palestinians, which has made some dodgy moves in its time (not least organising the latest seaborne attempt to break the Gaza blockade), I for one did not expect that Ed would prove any more sympathetic to Israel than did big brother David when he was Foreign Secretary.  And since Ed owes his extraordinary projection into the Labour Party’s top job to his buddies the trades union leaders (most Labour MPs voted for David) I’m not surprised that he seems even harsher towards Israel than David did. After all, many of the unions are hell-bent on boycotting Israel these days.

So when I read what the man widely dubbed "Red Ed" has been saying about Israel in a speech to the party faithful and in a radio interview I just shrugged my shoulders and muttered “So what else is new?”

What did Ed tell those audiences? That he’s an atheist. Yep. Figures. It fits the mould. That faith schools are “fantastic”. Ha! Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? (Wink, wink.) That when asked whether he supports the Palestinians’ so-called right of return he gave a non-commital answer: “It depends which parts of the land and which borders and I’m not going to prejudge that.” Par for the course. That he added: “ It’s important we do what we can to facilitate peace in the Middle East. I think what we need to work towards is a two-state solution and a two-state solution must involve Israel and the Palestinians getting together and reaching an agreement, I’m not going to pre-judge what that agreement should be.” No surprises there either. And that he declared “I will always defend the right of Israel to exist in peace and security. But Israel must accept and recognize in its actions the Palestinian right to statehood. That is why the attack on the Gaza Flotilla was so wrong. And that is why the Gaza blockade must be lifted and we must strain every sinew to work to make that happen." None there either – though his failure to acknowledge the Qassam rocket attacks that Israel has had to endure from Hamastan is an ominous twist.

Not to worry too much. At least, not yet. For there’s one consolation in all this – that the uncharismatic nasal-voiced Ed faces an uphill and probably impossible struggle in his quest for the keys of Number Ten Downing Street.

In the meantime, those who make much of the fact that he is the Labour Party’s “first Jewish leader” and like to keep a tally of such things will have to console themselves with the fact that Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan had a paternal Jewish grandmother, a Miss Bernstein. That the philosemitic George Lansbury, who led the Labour Party between the wars, had a Jewish daughter-in-law, Minnie Glassman (whom I mentioned in one of my earliest posts). That Hugh Gaitskell, who led the party from 1955-63, had a Jewish wife, Dora Creditor, who became a life peer, and was – I’m happy to say – strongly pro-Israel. And that Gaitskell’s colourful, oft-inebriated deputy, George Brown, was – although he ran off with his secretary after 45 years of marriage – also wed to a Jewish wife, Sophie Levene.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Costume Dramas (Part Two): Burkhas and Niqabs – The Case for a Ban

A compelling if often overlooked argument for a ban on the burkha (the robe with the gauze grille), as well as upon that other face-covering garment, the niqab (the robe with the eye-slit), must surely be the damaging effect that these shroud-like garments have on the health of pregnant wearers’ babies. In Australia, Britain, and other western countries, rickets – a disease of the past among inhabitants generally – is increasing in the offspring of women who wear these all-concealing garments. The reason, of course, is the insufficient exposure of the mothers to sunlight, and the consequent deprivation of the foetuses of Vitamin D. The lack of that vitamin is also causing bone disease among the women.

In some countries – Britain is certainly one – such Muslim women are being given vouchers for Vitamin D supplements, fortified baby formula, fruit and vegetables . This is a typical politically correct reaction – but why is it not deemed politically incorrect for the state to encourage in this way a garment which is a prison for women, designed to protect one man’s sexual property from the gaze of other men?

Australian former Prime Minister John Howard described the full cloaks and face coverings, in contrast to the hijab, as “confronting” for the population at large; British former Home Secretary Jack Straw stated that he’d ask any veiled constituent who came to speak to him to remove the impediment to free communication; Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, who announced his refusal to meet any constituent with her face covered, and delivered what the left-liberal Guardian perversely called “a slur on the burkha", was referred to the race relations authorities; Conservative MP Damian Green, Immigration Minister in the Cameron-Clegg Coalition, has breezily assured everyone that no Continental-type ban on the burkha would occur in Britain – such a ban is “a rather un-British thing to do” ; Conservative MP Caroline Spelman, Environment Minister in the Coalition, debased herself and betrayed other females by describing the burkha as empowering for women – seeing it on location in Afghanistan had convinced that “the burka confers dignity”.

Have people like Spelman never read what women who have worn the burkha or niqab say regarding what it feels like to wear these erasures of their femininity and personal identity?

Here, for example, is a British-born journalist of Pakistani origin, Zaiba Malik, describing her experience of the niqab (and remember, folks, that’s not the one with the grille, which must be terribly hard on the wearer’s eyes):
 “The reality is, I'm finding it hard to breathe. There is no real inlet for air and I can feel the heat of every breath I exhale, so my face just gets hotter and hotter. The slit for my eyes keeps slipping down to my nose, so I can barely see a thing. Throughout the day I trip up more times than I care to remember. As for peripheral vision, it's as if I'm stuck in a car buried in black snow. I can't fathom a way to drink my cappuccino and when I become aware that everybody in the coffee shop is wondering the same thing, I give up and just gaze at it.”
And here’s Elizabeth Wynhausen, a Sydney journalist, who similarly experimented with wearing the niqab:
 “I found that even on a mild spring day, the outfit was suffocatingly hot. The cloak restricted my movements. The veil restricted my vision. The straps pressed on my eyeballs. With my head swaddled in cloth and my face covered, I felt I could scarcely breathe. The sense that I had become an alien being was more oppressive still.”
The banning of the burkha and the niqab can be justified on the grounds of health and safety alone. It’s not just the risk of rickets. The restriction of peripheral vision has caused car accidents even for experienced wearers, and there have been accidents in which wearers have been strangled to death when the garments have become lodged in machinery – this happened recently in Australia, when a young mother’s head covering became entangled in a go-kart.

Tellingly, the disgusted stares that greeted Ms Malik and Ms Wynhausen as they went about their business fully covered was not confined to non-Muslims; there were plenty of dismayed glances from Muslim women dressed less drastically, in hijabs and long skirts. At a recent demonstration against proposals to ban the face veil in public held in Sydney, a niqab-clad speaker railed that "Islamic values are superior to flawed Western secular values”. For women like her (and the men who often compel them to drape themselves in what is effectively a portable form of purdah), the face-covering is emblematic of rejection of the surrounding culture and of integration.

But it’s not as if the Quran makes the all-enveloping garments mandatory. There is no shortage of imams and Muslim scholars who have pointed that out. Syrian universities have banned such garments even as western “liberals” strive to present bans as “Islamophobic”. As the Canada  Muslim Congress observed in a long and thoughtful article:
"We believe that the facemask worn by some Muslim women [is about] political symbolism that reflects the contempt of radical Islamist groups for Western civilisation. Today, the only forces that demand Muslim women to cover their faces are: the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Arab World [and Europe], Al-Qaeda, and the Saudi religious establishment. All four groups see women as a source of sin and objects of sexuality, and Canada and the freedom of women in Canada and the West as manifestations of evil sexual depravity. Yet it is worth noting that leading clerics and scholars from both the Shia and Sunni communities have stated quite explicitly that the burka or niqab are not an Islamic requirement, but a cultural and tribal custom."
There is also the security issue: male robbers and other criminals (not only in non-Muslim countries) have dressed in burqas to disguise themselves, and there is also the threat of terrorists concealing weapons.

And for a taste of life in Islamic London see

Tuesday 28 September 2010

A Wise Man Talks Tough on the New Antisemitism

The veteran international Jewish leader Isi Leibler, formerly of Australia and now of Jerusalem, is not only the sole genuinely charismatic leader (in the original, Weberian sense) that I have ever encountered (and if he reads this I hope he won't mind my saying so) but he is one of my favourite bloggers.  His blogs do not always make comfortable reading, but they comprise words from the wise to the wise. His latest must-read piece is entitled  "Islamophobia and the Jews".  It begins:

It is surely high time for Diaspora leaders to stop living in denial and get their act together. Instead of competing with each other in oozing political correctness, they should display some backbone and call a spade a spade.

We are currently witnessing the greatest revival of global anti-Semitism since the Middle Ages. This permeates all classes of society, and, ranging from academics to illiterates and European leaders who retain office despite making unabashed neo-Nazi remarks about Jews to mobs at anti-Israeli demonstrations carrying placards “gas the Jews.”

It encompasses the entire political spectrum, but is spearheaded by liberals and Muslims. Muslim radicals relate to Israel in a manner reminiscent of the Church’s medieval attitude toward the Jews. They promote popular TV programs depicting the blood of Muslim children being used for baking matzot, and have revived The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a best-seller. They certainly compare favorably with the worst Nazi Jew baiting, with imams quoting genocidal religious texts to the faithful, inciting them to murder Jews, “the descendants of apes and pigs.”

Read the entire article here:

Monday 27 September 2010

Costume Dramas (Part One): Al Beeb and Al Grauniad discover some Old Time Religion

It’s not easy to perceive or to portray the well-integrated Jews of Britain as “The Other”. The expulsion of all the Jews in medieval England by King Edward I in 1290 meant that, in contrast to the European Continent, no compulsory gated ghettos with strictly imposed curfews developed in Britain. By the time Jews were formally readmitted in 1656 a Protestant Reformation had taken place which swept away the old “Papist” superstitions and doctrines that had proved so deleterious to Jews – the cult of Little St Hugh of Lincoln, for example, the child who was said to have been ritually murdered by Jews in 1255 and who was venerated as a martyr with a shrine at Lincoln Cathedral. No less than Cromwell, King Charles II, who came to the throne in 1660, valued Jews for their beneficial services to this country’s commerce, and permitted the little mercantile community, which at that time consisted entirely of Sephardim, to remain.

On the European Continent, Jews, very often  in distinctive garb, were widely perceived – and despised – as medieval people, relics of the Middle Ages and followers of an archaic religion. Owing to their long absence from this country, in Britain there were no compulsory ghettos, as there were on the Continent, and the “Jew badge” was a thing of the past. Jews were not obliged to dress differently from Christians, and there was little in outward appearance to distinguish them from Christians. There was no need for the kind of “Emancipation” which was played out (frequently in fits and starts) on the Continent during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and even early twentieth centuries. For Anglo-Jewry after 1656 “Emancipation” revolved centrally and almost exclusively around the struggle for the right of professing Jews to sit in Parliament, a campaign stepped up in the 1830s following the emancipation of Nonconformists and Roman Catholics, and finally proving victorious in 1858.

To be sure, there were exotically clad Jews in Georgian and Victorian Britain – new immigrants from North Africa and the occasional Chasid – but they were very much the exception. A spectacular example of swift integration is seen in the career of Abdullah Sassoon – pictured in the above photo with his father and brothers, Jews from Baghdad active in the India trade. Abdullah settled in Britain in connection with the family business; discarding eastern attire, he was quickly accepted into High Society, became a friend of the future King Edward VII, and in 1890 was made a baronet as Sir Albert (he’s shown here in this “Spy” cartoon, which appeared in the magazine Vanity Fair in 1879). Under the leadership of the Chief Rabbinate and the United Synagogue (an umbrella organisation founded in the 1870s) acculturation was expected and encouraged. The rival Federation of Synagogues, established in 1887 by Sir Samuel Montagu for the benefit of more religiously “right-wing” East European immigrants, fostered a demonstrably patriotic Englishness amongst the newcomers.  And in those days that encompassed outer appearance as well as inward feeling.  The visible presence of strictly observant Jews such as Chasidim was largely a post-Holocaust development. 

However, in contrast to their clear policy of downplaying the “Otherness” of Muslims, those terrible Israel-bashing leftist media twins, Al Beeb and Al Grauniad, may be flirting – I say "may be" though from what I've read and heard many supporters of Israel harbour no doubt – with a temptation, at least when it suits them, to present Jews as “The Other”. In July, to illustrate a report on the attitudes of British Jews towards Israel, the Guardian chose this rather curious photo of Chasidim in Jaffa, before replacing it with that of a similarly attired lone figure walking, back to camera, through a London market. Not the most appropriate illustration, one would have thought, to accompany a story about the attitudes of a community that is mostly only nominally Orthodox – half of which is female, into the bargain.  But at least he was British.

Over the High Holydays both the Guardian and the BBC (as if by telepathy) featured a series of photographs that were strikingly similar to each other (and indeed in some cases identical), of preparations forYom Kippur in Israel. The photos were hardly representative of Jewish belief and practice, and their inclusion suggests that there may have been (I'm putting it no stronger than that)  a questionable motive on the part of the terrible twins.

The purpose of these photographs may have been to depict Jews as “medieval people” following risible and bizarre customs, and in the case of the Guardian to provide a good laugh for the antisemites who infest its “Comment is Free” section. For instance, here’s (in Bet Shemesh) the Malkot ceremony, and (in Ashdod) the Kaporot ceremony.

That few Jews overall in or outside Israel participate in these rituals, which have virtually fallen into obsolescence, is perhaps immaterial to Al Beeb and Al Grauniad, so intent do both seem to be on showing anything that may prove detrimental to the image of Israel.  On the other hand, the photos can be justified on the grounds of legitimate interest-value.  So – innocent or guilty? Much as I dislike the BBC and the Guardian, I'm sitting on the fence on this one!

Friday 24 September 2010

Israel's Long-standing Concern for the Welfare of its Arab Minority

What those who shrilly and ignorantly denounce Zionism as "racism" and Israel as an "apartheid" state overlook is that Israel from the dawn of statehood strove for the welfare of minorities within its borders. They have full citizenship rights with Jews, and of course Israel was the first state in the Middle East in which Arab women had the vote. In 1948 sheikhs bore messages of goodwill towards the new state from Bedouin in the Negev; Druze joined the Israeli army; the local head of the Maronite Christians expressed his community's friendship. Responsibility for the welfare of the minorities was entrusted to Bechor (or Bekhor) Shitreet (sometimes transliterated Shitrit), who was born in Tiberias in 1897 to a long-settled Sephardi family of Moroccan background. A rabbi by training, he taught in the Alliance Israélite Universelle school in Tiberias, joined the police in 1919, and became head of the Tel Aviv police force in 1927. A future Mapai Party member, he was a signatory to Israel's Proclamation of Independence, and from 1948 until 1966, the year before his death, he sat in successive Israeli Cabinets.

In the following article, entitled "Arabs in Israel", which appeared in the London Jewish Chronicle (31 December 1948) Norman Bentwich, Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who worked tirelessly to bring relief to Arab victims of the war inflicted on Israel by its Arab neighbours, describes what was being done for the Arab minority in Israel.  Bentwich came from a well-known Jewish family (his father Herbert was a veteran British Zionist leader, and his Australian cousin Lizzie Bentwitch [sic] was the mistress of General Sir John Monash, the great Australian Jewish military commander during the First World War) and had been an official in Palestine during the early years of the Mandate. The Jewish Chronicle observed that his non-partisan "strictly factual account" was "a much needed corrective to the tendentious reports which the traducers of Jewry have so widely circulated". I reproduce it below without further comment (incidentally, the two watercolours were painted in 1947 by the American illustrator Dean Cornwell during a trip to the Holy Land):

‘The attention of the world has been drawn to the plight of the half-million Arab refugees from Israeli territory and from Jerusalem. But little attention has been paid to the treatment of the 70,000 (or, according to later reports, 100,000) Arabs who have remained in Israel or who have returned to their homes. Yet the story is worth telling. For the young Israeli Government is setting an example of care for its minorities. As soon as it was constituted, it set up a special Ministry of Minorities with the function of securing equal rights for all citizens and freedom of religion, language, education, and culture. The Minister is a native-born Jew from Tiberias, from an Oriental family; he was for many years an officer in the Palestine Administration, first in the Police, and then a magistrate. Mr Shitreet is at the moment also the Minister for Police, but he gives his heart and mind to his other portfolio.

Of the Arabs who are in Israeli territory, the majority are in the northern area. They live partly in towns: Haifa, 6,000; Acre, 4,000; Nazareth, 5,000; etc, and partly in the villages of the occupied territory of Western Galilee. In the south, three to four thousand are in Jaffa, a smaller number in Ramleh, and Lydda, which was captured in July, some thousands of Beduin [sic] in the Negev, who have given their promise of loyalty, and a few hundreds in the Jewish-controlled part of Jerusalem.

In the towns of mixed population and in places near the front line, the Arabs are restricted for security reasons to one area, and can only move outide it with a permit. In fact, they are still narrowly confined. In the villages they are much less restricted. The stress of war has led to the occupation of many Arab homes, which were quite deserted, and of whole quarters of outer Jerusalem. Those homes and quarters have been largely occupied by the new immigrants, who are entering the country with amazing rapidity. One of the tasks of the Conciliation Commission of the United Nations will be to aid in bringing about some settlement of the displaced persons of both nations.

The Ministry of Minorities is concerned with the well-being of the Arabs who dd not flee, or who returned from flight, and with the assurance of their political, economic, and cultural rights. The Arabs who registered in the census will be entitled to vote in elections for the Constituent Assembly, and may, if they wish, have their own candidates and their own electoral list. So far, only the combined two Communist parties have put forward Arabs as well as Jews. In one municipality, Haifa, the Arabs still remain members of the Municipal Commission with the Jews, and in Nazareth an Arab magistrate has been appointed. Arabs who are willing to work on the roads or in other public enterprises are employed by the State, and receive the same wage as a Jew doing that kind of labour. The simple labourer gets a wage of nearly thirty shillings a day, which is far higher than anything he had in the days of the British Administration, even allowing for the great rise of prices. A few Arabs who are regarded as trustworthy are in the Israeli Army. The Ministry has been concerned in the last months to bring Arab port workers from Acre to Jaffa, where they are needed; and also to organise the Arab cultivators (fellahin) for the gathering of the orange crop. It has, too, encouraged other fellahin to cultivate vegetables, of which there has been a great scarcity in the country.

The Health Ministry, working with the Minority Ministry, has established a clinic for Arabs in the southern and northern areas, and has carried out recently a vaccination of all the Arab population in order to check an epidemic of smallpox which threatened. A few Arab doctors who remained in the country are employed; and there is a demand that more shall be given the opportunity.

Perhaps the most striking work in the Ministry is its effort to develop cultural life, in the midst of the uneasy truce, for the Arab population. It has already established some fifty primary schools in the towns and villages, with free education. A former Jewish Inspector of the Mandatory Education Department is in charge of the schools; another, an Oriental Jew, with a thorough knowledge of Arabic, assists him. The Ministry has also established one or two Arab clubs for reading and recreation, and has promoted a daily Arabic newspaper, El Yom (The Day). This is the first Arabic daily to appear in Israel. Several of the staff are Arabs, who have full freedom of expression; and some educated Arabs write to the Palestine Post, the English daily, voicing grievances about rent and employment, and the like.

A remarkable cultural enterprise is the establishment in Jaffa of an Arab library, which includes close on 100,000 books and periodicals salvaged from private houses that were deserted and broken into during the fighting. It includes, too, some Arab manuscripts from the ninth and tenth centuries, which may have value for scholars. The books and manuscripts are being catalogued by a Jewish scholar of Baghdad. The library is housed in a private mansion of one of the richer Arabs of Jaffa, and there is a project of making it a cultural centre. The whole cost to the Government so far has been only a few hundred pounds.

In Jerusalem 30,000 books were similarly salvaged and handed over for safe-keeping to the [Hebrew] University of Jerusalem. It is likely that the owners of the books will come to identify their property and collect it back; but the action of the Ministry will have prevented looting and destruction, and it has received the appreciation of the Arab population.

It is notable that the proportion of Arabs to the total population of Israel (one-tenth) is about the same as the proportion of the Jews to the total population of Palestine in 1920, when the British Mandate was given. It is to be hoped that the protection and well-being of the minorities, which is inevitably conditioned by the circumstances of the war, will become more and more a constructive activity of the Government of Israel, and so prepare the way for happier relations. What is being done today is in striking contrast to the treatment of the Jewish minorities in Arab states.'

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Ahmadinejad, the Bomb, and the Twelfth Imam

Earlier this month the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency warned that Iranian scientists – who in February this year were enriching uranium to just 5 per cent at the plant in Natanz – have made at least 22 kilograms of enriched uranium of up to 20 per cent purity. Although this is 70 per cent lower than weapons-grade uranium, the Iranians have thereby achieved a significant breakthrough. While sanctions have had an affect on the Iranian economy they have not hindered Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions, and consequently Iran could have the Bomb within a year.

Ahmadinejad’s declaration a few years ago that Israel should be “wiped off the map” was widely dismissed as demagoguery or bluster – in much the same way as Hamas’s genocidal charter is – or else attributed to a clumsy misinterpretation of his remarks. Israel’s enemies were quick to point out that if Israel has a nuclear arsenal it is reasonable for Iran to have one too. The lefties blazed forth with their usual line: that the nuclear club should not be restricted to the United States and its allies. And the naïve have contentedly accepted that Iran’s nuclear acquisitions are intended for peaceful purposes only.

A poll taken in June on behalf of the Chicago Council on Public Affairs asked “If Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran were to retaliate against Israel, and the two were to go to war, the United States should or should not bring its military forces into the war on the side of Israel.” Of the 2,596 respondents, 56 per cent favoured the reply “No, it shouldn’t”, and 38 per cent the reply “Yes, it should”. And as the Jerusalem Post reports (20 September), Barack Obama, in an interview with the American news station CNBC, described as not “ideal” the option of preventative military action against Iran by the United States or Israel. "We continue to be open to diplomatic solutions to resolve this," he said. "We don't think that a war between Israel and Iran or military options would be the ideal way to solve this problem. But we are keeping all our options on the table."

How much longer will Obama dither? For how long will Obama – who responded last year in Turkey regarding whether he “sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world?" with the retort that he believes “in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism" (hat tip: Caroline Glick) – act as if he has abdicated the leadership of the West? For how long will he allow his perceived weakness imperil Israel – and not only Israel but the rest of the democratic world? How his reluctance to act must warm the hearts of the Israel-hating American pundits whom I saw on Press TV months ago smirking in triumph as they declared that Israel will be unable to count on any endorsement or aid from the United States in any plan to attack Iran’s nuclear facility.

But the Holocaust-denying Iranian dictator has not the hallmarks of a fully rational man. The Balance of Terror depends upon rational nuclear regimes which recoil from the ghastly prospect of mutually assured destruction. Ahmadinejad, however, appears to believe in the concept of the Twelfth Imam, a sort of messianic figure whose coming will be preceded by a period of violent turmoil, which Ahmadinejad might seek to expedite by unleashing a nuclear catastrophe in the region regardless of the consequences for Palestinian Muslims as well as for Israeli Jews.

This ominous possibility has been explored by political scientist John von Heyking, of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. He has warned:

‘Ahmadinejad’s speeches and actions cannot be understood exclusively in terms of a despotic figure who radicalizes politics for the sake of power. He has chosen to radicalize Iranian politics in a particular way, and one that issues a direct challenge to the underpinnings of the regime. This returns us to Ahmadinejad’s references to the return of the Twelfth Imam. The Hojjatieh’s belief in humans’ power to effect his return, which, to repeat, are unorthodox for Shi’ites, should be of grave concern for everyone....
While Ahmadinejad has not drawn an explicit connection between his desire to see Israel wiped off the map and an activist belief in the Twelfth Imam’s return, the dots are there to be connected once one understands the tyrannical "logic" behind someone who, perhaps viewing himself as a self-proclaimed deputy for the Twelfth Imam, might wish to effect Mahdi’s return....
Western observers need to be able to understand the ideological and religious overtones of the current situation in Iran. Ahmadinejad’s peculiar references to the Twelfth Imam are no mere eccentricity to be taken lightly. Nor do they seem to be the rhetorical ploy of a politician manipulating the excitable masses (as some have interpreted Saddam Hussein’s embrace of Islamism in the later part of his rule). Minimally, Ahmadinejad’s speeches and actions portend a constitutional crisis for the Iranian regime. Maximally, there are times when one should take bombastic statements not as double-talk, but for what they are.’
John von Heyking was commenting in 2005, and as Teheran edges ever closer to possession of the Bomb his words have a terrible urgency. You can read his entire piece here:

Let's hope that someone shows it to Obama.

Sunday 19 September 2010

In Contrast to Palestine: Partitions, Population Transfers, and no demanded "Right of Return"

This is a Guest Blog by Wales-based historian Professor William Rubinstein:

What a surprising number of people, even those who are highly sympathetic to Israel, fail to realise, is that the Partition of the Palestine Mandate in 1947-48 has many parallel examples, and is far from unique in modern history. Moreover, the population transfers which occurred there at that time are also far from unique, and for the most part they have never been questioned.

The most obvious precedent for the Partition of Palestine, and the one the British almost certainly had in mind, was the Partition of Ireland in 1922. In that year, Ireland was divided between the Roman Catholic-dominated Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland), and the Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland, which remained within the United Kingdom. For decades, the Roman Catholics in the north of Ireland had demanded, first, “Home Rule” for the whole of the island, and then, with the ascendancy of Sinn Fein, complete independence. These goals were, for decades, fiercely resisted by the Protestants of the north.

A civil war in Ireland almost began in 1914, delayed only by the outbreak of the First World War, and then began after the end of that conflict. The division of Ireland into two states has been opposed by Roman Catholics of the south to this day, although most moderates now accept it as a reality. The IRA, however, has never accepted it, and, like the PLO and later Hamas, commenced a terror campaign in the 1960s which culminated in the murders of over 3000 persons. Nevertheless, the Partition of Ireland has been relatively peaceful, and was certainly the only way to end the bitter conflict there.

Sikhs fleeing the newly-created Pakistan
At exactly the same time as the Palestine Mandate was being divided into a Jewish and a Palestinian state, a vastly greater partition was taking place 1500 miles to the east, the Partition of British India into a largely Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan (which at the time included what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh). There, the Partition of India and the creation of a specifically Muslim state was demanded by Muslims.

It is worth remembering that while in Palestine the Arabs opposed the creation of a largely Muslim Palestinian state, in India it was the Muslims who demanded Partition. Pakistan has no historical foundation whatever, and the very name Pakistan was invented by Muslim students and activists in London in 1931. The Partition of British India in 1947-48 was accomplished by bloodshed on an unimaginable scale, with probably 500,000 deaths in communal violence. Literally millions of Hindus and Muslims living in the “wrong” part of British India left for the other state. Karachi became known as a city of refugees.

Yet – in contrast to Palestine – no one demands the “Right of Return” for these “refugees”, and in any case neither India nor Pakistan would be likely to allow any of their former residents back.

Sudeten German expellees from Czechoslovakia
 At that very time, too, vast population transfers were taking place in early post-war Europe. An estimated ten million Poles, Balts, and Russians fled to the West, ahead of the advancing Red Army, or, in some instances, were deliberately moved on. In Czechoslovakia, Eduard Beneš, the “good” Czech head of state between the end of the Nazi occupation in 1945 and the imposition of Stalinist rule in 1948, expelled three million Sudeten Germans from the Sudetenland in 1945-46. The Sudetenland is the rim area of what is now the Czech Republic whose demands (sparked by Hitler) for incorporation into the German Reich led to the Munich Crisis of 1938. After the war, the democratic Czech government was taking no more chances with a potential Fifth Column in the reborn state, and expelled the Sudeten Germans en masse. If there were any demands for their “Right of Return” these were unacknowledged. Most fled to West Germany, where, frankly, they were a lot better off than they would have been in a wretched Stalinist satellite regime, which is what Czechoslovakia became in 1948.

Few people know or care about these events: only in the case of the Palestinians is the issue of Partition and the “Right of Return” being kept alive, nearly 65 years later.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Stephen Fry in a Stir – The strange double standards of the Israel- and Pope-bashing "intelligentsia"

Stephen Fry, the actor, comedian, gay icon, and public intellectual, is often termed (though not by me) a British "national treasure".  He has also been termed –  and this description is spot-on! –  an "occasional Jew".  For although halachically Jewish, Mr Fry was not raised within Judaism, and according to his memoir (if my memory of a quick fumble with said volume in a branch of Ottakar's bookstore serves me correctly) he once contemplated entering the Anglican priesthood. 

However, Mr Fry is a signed up member of the Israel-bashing fringe group Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP).  He's hardly the sole person of halachic Jewishness but of a faith other than Judaism to belong.  The group strikes me as a rag, tag and bobtail assemblage of the well-intentioned, the ill-intentioned, and the politically naive. Some (admittedly by no means all) of its members –  like Mr Fry himself –  have tenuous links to Judaism, and some are "non-Jewish Jews" in Deutscher's sense. On its website it mocks Abe Foxman of the ADL for taking umbrage at a recent article by Karl Vick in Time magazine which bears this offensive statement:
'In the week that three Presidents, a King and their own Prime Minister gather at the White House to begin a fresh round of talks on peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the truth is, Israelis are no longer preoccupied with the matter. They're otherwise engaged; they're making money; they're enjoying the rays of late summer. A watching world may still define their country by the blood feud with the Arabs whose families used to live on this land and whether that conflict can be negotiated away, but Israelis say they have moved on.'
(Incidentally, the BBC, in a feature about Tel Aviv  –  "Is Tel Aviv the New Miami?", featuring sunbathers and opening with the line "The ladies of Tel Aviv are on the hunt for gold" –  seems to have been inspired by Vick's statement.)

But to return to Mr Fry.  In 2008, when Israel, against all the odds, achieved its 60th anniversary, he joined with many another "as-a-Jew" in signing a malevolent letter that appeared in the Israel-demonising and increasingly antisemitic Guardian.  It stated, inter alia:
'As Edward Said emphasised, what the Holocaust is to the Jews, the Naqba is to the Palestinians....We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land. We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state that even now engages in ethnic cleansing, that violates international law, that is inflicting a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and that continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations.'
This week, Mr Fry and a bunch of "usual suspects" signed a mean-spirited letter to the ever-obliging Guardian vehemently opposing the state visit of the Pope on the following grounds:
 'Opposing the distribution of condoms and so increasing large families in poor countries and the spread of Aids. Promoting segregated education. Denying abortion to even the most vulnerable women. Opposing equal rights for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Failing to address the many cases of abuse of children within its own organisation. The state of which the pope is head has also resisted signing many major human rights treaties and has formed its own treaties ("concordats") with many states which negatively affect the human rights of citizens of those states. In any case, we reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican.'
Ah! Hang on a moment! Don't the Pope-bashers' strictures regarding the promotion of large families, insistence on segregated education, regarding women as baby machines, and the oppression of gays apply equally if not more so to sections of the Islamic world, fundamentalist members of which wish to drive every other religion and social system, including secular democracy, off the face of the earth?

 Mr Fry, the leftwing "intelligentsia", the Guardian, and the JfJfP group (which is about to send a Break-the-Gaza-Siege boat to Hamastan; according to unconfirmed reports it will set sail on erev Yom Kippur!)  should be condemning the following chilling statement that a top Hamas official has just made (hat tip:, stating that
every Muslim should have a lot of sons and train them to be terrorists and hence martyrs, and  concluding :

"If this is the culture of the nation today, who will be able to stop it?...As long as we continue on this path, nobody on Earth will be able to confront the resistance, or to confront the mujahideen, those who worship Allah and seek martyrdom."

This is the same official who said, a few years ago:
 "'You will be victorious on the face of this planet. You are the masters of the world on the face of this planet. Yes, [the Koran says that] 'you will be victorious,' but only 'if you are believers.' Allah willing, 'you will be victorious,' while America and Israel will be annihilated, Allah willing. I guarantee you that the power of belief and faith is greater than the power of America and Israel. They are cowards, as is said in the Book of Allah: 'You shall find them the people most eager to protect their lives.' They are cowards, who are eager for life, while we are eager for death for the sake of Allah. That is why America's nose was rubbed in the mud in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Somalia, and everywhere.... America will be annihilated, while Islam will remain. The Muslims 'will be victorious, if you are believers.' Oh Muslims, I guarantee you that the power of Allah is greater than America, by whom many are blinded today. Some people are blinded by the power of America. We say to them that with the might of Allah, with the might of His Messenger, and with the power of Allah, we are stronger than America and Israel.'"
But such are the double standards of the Guardianistas and their ilk that no condemnation is likely to be forthcoming.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

A Pen Portrait of Israel on the Eve of Statehood

As a brief respite from contemporary polemics, here's a visitor’s view of Eretz Israel in the year before the proclamation of Israeli Statehood. It's by Dr Simon Lehrman (1900-80), a Russian-born British Orthodox rabbi who made aliya to Israel in 1966. In this article, called “Some Palestine Impressions”, printed in the London Jewish Chronicle (10 October 1947), he writes evocatively and powerfully.  But since his country had responsibility for the Mandate, it's possible that his avoidance of discussing the political situation was based on that old adage "Discretion is the better part of valour".  I hope you find it interesting, or perhaps nostalgic:

‘Who can speak of holy Jerusalem, mystical Safed, ancient Tiberias, bustling Tev-Aviv, or beautiful Haifa without encroaching on the preserves of the poet and the artist? Similarly, who can describe the peaceful but laborious life in the settlements, or speak of the achievements in the Negev, without rifling exhaustively the vocabulary of praise and legend!

The foremost impression received on my recent visit is that the Yishuv has come to stay. No power on earth will be able to uproot that which has been so courageously built up with brawn and brain. Despite the many obstacles, natural and artificial, the network of the Histadrut and the Solel Boneh goes on building. The Jew has here been endowed with resilience and the inexhaustible fund of creative power now that he has struck roots once again in the land promised unto him already in the days of Abraham.

Whether you view the rising of the sun from Mount Scopus, the Har HaCarmel , the Galilean Hills, or from the shores of Lake Kinneret, waves of beauty enter your soul, and you feel linked in spirit to the Psalmist and prophet who made Hebrew speak in the accent of poetry and deep faith. When, at the close of a perfect day, the sun begins to descend, a huge ball of amber, into the blue Mediterranean or steep Jordan, you feel that you are witnessing the most beautiful sight on this earth. The world must have appeared so lovely at the flush of Creation.

Palestine’s beauty is matched by its plenty. Eretz Israel abounds in plenty. Every meal is a banquet, and every shop a fairy palace.

Perhaps the most abiding impression is that of the power and versatility of the Hebrew language. Modern times present no greater miracle than that of a language that had ceased to be a national tongue nearly two thousand years ago, that had waged a pale struggle for survival in our prayers and studies, but which has now emerged from its living tomb of centuries as one of the most virile and exuberant of vernaculars. You can find your way about the town and [word smudged; manage (?)] with Yiddish or English, but you will never get at the soul of this new type of Jew unless you speak Ivrit, and, bevakasha, in the accent Sefardit. At the international conference on Jewish education convened by the Hebrew University, the first of its kind in Jewish history, in which it was my proud privilege to participate as one of the Anglo-Jewish delegation, the only medium of expression was Hebrew. For nearly two weeks, morning and afternoon, the conference lasted, and during the whole of that time the burning and immediate problems were couched in rolling cadences and figures of speech of which even an Isaiah or an Amos would not have been ashamed.

But Hebrew at its best and purest is to be heard in the Habimah Theatre, in its large and spacious and artistic new home in the large square in Tel-Aviv. Unforgettable is the eve of Motsoe Shabbat when I sat listening to an exquisite performance of “Ahavat Zion,” the first Hebrew novel of its kind, written by Abraham Mappu [sic; i.e. Mapu], or that hot evening in Haifa when I witnessed a clever performance in Hebrew of the comedy “You Can’t Take It With You,” in the large Arman Theatre. To exchange conversation with the sabras, the most animated of souls, or to crack jokes with the Chalutzim in our holy mother tongue, were some of the most delightful moments crowded into a busy five weeks.

Without wishing to enter into any political issues, the impression I received was that Arab and Jew live peacefully side by side, throughout the length and breadth of the land. They have so much in common that their differences are a matter of compromise and adjustment. If only hydra-headed intrigue and dishonest interlopers were not allowed to interfere, all would be well. This belief received corroboration in Haifa and Safed, where Jew and Arab mingle on the friendliest of terms, and where the affairs of the urban council (Iriyah) are their joint concern.

Such questions as education, religion, politics, and tolerance of one another’s opinions in Eretz Israel are subjects too vast and important to be mentioned in a paragraph or two. There is one thought, however, with which I wish to conclude, and that is, that a new type of Jew is being evolved in Eretz Israel today, a type that, physically and characteristically, gives the lie to the conventional description of the Jew in non-Jewish circles. In Tel-Aviv and in Haifa, in Metulla and Revivim, the Jew is straight backed and beardless, muscular and tanned, tolerant in outlook and universal in demeanour. He is no longer the subject of inhibitions and the butt of the riff-raff in his ancestral land; he feels he is a citizen of the world, ready and willing to co-operate in all endeavours to make this world a safer place to live in for all mankind.

The Jew in Palestine regards himself as the representative of the Lion of Judah, who brought strength and beauty to the world by giving it a Bible and religion calculated to bring people nearer to God, and to raise earth to heaven. The Torah once came forth from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem; the Jew is now ready to go forth from the Galut and people once again the wastes of Judea calling him home with a myriad tongues.’

Monday 13 September 2010

A-Hava Nagila! An impromptu Israeli choir sings in Covent Garden

There she stood, on Saturday afternoon, one lone woman holding an Israeli flag, to counter-protest the baying bunch of usual suspects who were demonstrating their hatred as they do every fortnight outside the Ahava store in London's Covent Garden. I’ve blogged about these anti-Ahava protests before, but since I last posted on the topic the shopfront was vandalised by anti-Israel thugs who splattered it with red paint, now cleaned up by the store's staff.

Anyway, there the protesters were on the weekend – ranging from a young woman in keffiyeh chic to an elderly man in a sports jacket – to spew out their usual bile. Owing to this time of year for Jews, the numbers of counter-protesters were down, and the only Israeli flag was the one carried by the woman.

But suddenly, lo and behold, there came upon the scene a dozen Israeli tourists, who took the flag, waved it lustily, and sang Hatikva and other Hebrew songs – never has Hava Nagila (“Let Us Rejoice”) sounded better!

The baying bunch of anti-Israel fanatics stopped their cacophony of “Boycott Israel!” and turned to face these avenging angels – whom they insulted with cries of “Racist scum!”, “Leave Palestine!”, and (in mockery of Hava Nagila, “Ahava Landgrab”).

But the victory belonged to the impromptu Israeli choristers. Click onto Richard Millett’s Blog (see my blogroll) for an eyewitness account, photos, and video clips.  Enjoy!

Sunday 12 September 2010

Talking Tachlis on the Arab Refugees

“The plight of Arab refugees, consequent upon the war that was started by the Arab League, has not only aroused genuine humanitarian concern,” remarked the London Jewish Chronicle in December 1948, “but has also formed the pretext of much unscrupulous propaganda against the Jews.” Sounds familiar?

If there is ever an issue which is going to prove a sticking point in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, it is the notion of Haq el-Auda, the claimed right of return for the 725, 000 (some sources say 750,000) Arab refugees of 1948 – and not only for as many of them as are still alive but their descendants, a total of 5,000,000 people. One of the questions in the August AWRAD (Arab World Research and Development) poll of 3001 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza was : “With regards to the peace process and reaching a final status agreement, which issues do you consider to be Very Significant, Of Some Significance, Of Little Significance, Of No Significance, or I don’t know?” The issues identified were: Establishing an independent and sovereign Palestinian state (Very Significant – 91.7%); The status of Jerusalem (Very Significant – 91.0%); Security for Palestine (Very Significant – 86.2%); The rights of refugees (Very significant – 83.2% ); Settlements in the Occupied Territories (Very Significant – 81.3%). And as I stated in my last post, 87.5% of respondents consider it “Essential” that refugees be given the “Right of return and compensation”. But at the same time, 45.7% of respondents believe that “No change in the status of refugees will take place”.

It’s just as well that their demands are tempered by pessimism – perhaps realism is a better word. Although Bibi Netanyahu is surely more pragmatic than is often suspected, he’s hardly likely to give way on this one. To put it bluntly, Israel bears no culpability for the refugee situation, and it cannot be expected to solve it in the way most respondents (and extremist partisans of the Palestinians around the world) want. Had the Arabs accepted the hand of friendship proffered by the little Jewish State on its establishment in 1948 instead of – with the intention of obliterating Israel – immediately waging what proved for the aggressors a disastrous war, there would be no “refugee problem”, and the Palestinian Arabs would have their own state. 

‘For too long the public have been treated to all sorts of articles and announcements from a wide variety of sources in which the recurring theme has been that the appalling plight of the Arab refugees is the fault of the Jews, and scarcely a voice has been raised in protest. Even a prominent Jew has gone so far as to write that “these women and children would not be dying of starvation and exposure if the Israeli State had never been founded”’, observed the Jewish Chronicle (16 November 1948).

“The truth is surely quite otherwise. The plight of these unfortunate people is a direct result of the chaotic condition into which the British Government allowed Palestine to drift when its troops were withdrawn last May, and for which the United Nations must bear a large share of responsibility through its failure to establish an effective regime to succeed the Mandatory Government. Long before the last British troops left the country this newspaper joined the ranks of those who warned the Government and the United Nations that a vast toll of human suffering was inevitable unless effective steps are taken to enforce the November 29 resolution. It is patently unjust to saddle Jews with the responsibility for what has occurred, and naive for Jews to be misled into thinking that the responsibility is collectively theirs.”

The Spectator (19 November 1948), carried an article entitled “Refugees and the Jordan”. Its author, Michael George Ionides (1903-78), a British irrigation expert who was Director of Development in the administration of Transjordan from 1937-39, laid responsibility for the refugees’ plight not at Israel’s but at Britain’s door. He outlined a scheme for settling the refugees on the territory east of the River Jordan – in Transjordan – declaring: “so far as the refugees in the Arab parts of Palestine and in Transjordan are concerned, irrigation of the Jordan Valley terraces is the only possible hope for their future existence. There is none else.”

He acknowledged that there would be difficulties in implementing this scheme, but declared: “What of that, when half-a-million refugees face starvation, disease, and death – this winter, next winter, and the one after that, till something is done? Mulberry came off. So has the Berlin airlift. So can a Jordan Valley Relief Project – if we will it.”

As we all know, it did not eventuate.

Cruelly, cynically, cravenly, corruptly, Haq el-Auda is being held over Israel like a Sword of Damocles – the perceived suffering of people in refugee camps is the potent symbol of Palestinian victimhood which threatens Israel as surely as does war and terror. That is, of course, why the vengeful Arab states have never integrated the Palestinians or alleviated their suffering - to use them as pawns, as weapons against Israel. As is blatantly obvious to friends and enemies of Israel alike, such an influx as demanded – that of 5,000,000 persons – would ring the death knell of Israel as a Jewish State. In any case, I understand that under international law the progeny of a resettled refugee population has no right to return to the land that the original refugee generation left. The progeny are not, despite Arab-speak, refugees.

As the Jewish Chronicle editorialised on 20 August 1948:

“A very different problem is presented by the plight of Jewish Communities in Arab lands. This is acute and urgent, though little has been said about it in the British Press, which prefers to harp on Jewish transgressions, real or imaginary. For every word of editorial comment on the mass arrests of Jews in Egypt, or the brutal killing of Jewish tourists, at least twenty have been devoted to the isolated case of the abominable Deir Yassin massacre. This is understandable, since the pro-Arab school is badly in need of an explanation for the almost incomprehensible mass flight of Arabs from the land from which they were supposed to be so deeply attached. It is nonetheless regrettable, for it hides a very real problem.”

What would be their fate, the paper wondered,

“if the wave of fanaticism rises with every defeat suffered by the Arab forces in Palestine? Zionism now ranks with Communism in the eyes of the Arab authorities, and the measures taken to impress this fact upon the Jewish Communities range from simple imprisonment and confiscation of property – with a substantial rake-off going to persons in authority – to looting, mob violence, small-scale pogroms, and the imposition of the death penalty for such crimes as attempting to escape to Palestine. It is not surprising that many Zionists see in these incidents the harbingers of coming massacres, and insist upon the necessity to remove these communities – if necessary, by way of exchange for the Arab population which has fled from Israeli territory.”

Between 1949 and 1954 about 800,000 (some estimates say 900,000) Jews were forced by persecution and threat on the part of humiliated Arab regimes smarting at Israel’s failure to be vanquished to leave the Muslim lands in the Middle East and North Africa in which Jews had lived for hundreds and even thousands of years. These were the refugees of whom most of the world is unaware – the forgotten refugees, and whereas the Arab nations – with all the land at their disposal and all their petro-dollars failed to rehome the Arab refugees – the nascent Jewish State, despite all the other calls on its resources, ensured their welfare, education, and absorption.

Recently, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Jerusalem Post, 9 September 2010), whose grandfather fled Algeria when on becoming independent of France it granted citizenship only to Muslims, took a leaf out of the Arabs' book by stating “I Am a Refugee”, and summarised the situation well when he wrote, inter alia: “However, I do not consider myself so; I am a proud citizen of the State of Israel. The Jewish refugees found their national expression in Israel; so too, the Arab refugees should find their national aspirations being met by a Palestinian state.”

Thursday 9 September 2010

From the River to the Sea – Public Opinion in Palestine

During August, AWRAD (Arab World for Research and Development) polled Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza regarding their thoughts on a peace agreement with Israel.  The entire poll, which makes fascinating reading, can be seen on the organisation's website, but here are a few of the questions and responses, which will give you the flavour:

 "With regards to the final status of Palestine and Israel please indicate which of the following you consider to be Essential, Desirable, Acceptable, Tolerable or Unacceptable as part of a peace agreement"
Historic Palestine – from the Jordan River to the sea as a national homeland for Palestinians – Essential, 78.2%; Two state solution – two states for two peoples: Israel and Palestine according to UN resolutions – Essential, 17.7%; One joint state – a state in which Israelis and Palestinians are equal citizens between the Jordan River and the sea. – Essential, 9.6%
“With regards to refugees please indicate which of the following options you consider to be Essential, Desirable, Acceptable, Tolerable or Unacceptable as part of a peace agreement”
Right of Return and Compensation – Essential, 85.7%
"With regards to Jerusalem please indicate which of the following options you consider to be Essential, Desirable, Acceptable, Tolerable or Unacceptable as part of a peace agreement"
All of Jerusalem (East and West) should remain in Palestine – Essential, 84.1%
"With regards to Holy sites please indicate which of the following options you consider to be Essential, Desirable, Acceptable, Tolerable or Unacceptable as part of a peace agreement"
East Jerusalem, including holy sites, under Palestinian sovereignty –  Essential, 82.0%

In short, the majority of respondents – like the groupies of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign here in the West, with their chant of “Palestine shall be Free, from the River to the Sea”, want almost all of Eretz Israel and are none too bothered about the rights and status of the Jews within it.

It was a brilliant piece of rebranding on the part of Arafat and cohorts – that decision back in the 1960s to define themselves as Palestinians. It implied a traditional sense of peoplehood and an ownership of the land of Palestine (as the Romans had rebranded Judea) stretching back eons. Never mind that the Arabs of Eretz Israel were not a national entity, that they sojourned on land that belonged to the Turks and were not a sovereign people, that many of them had arrived in Eretz Israel from elsewhere in the region to seek work from Jews making a barren land bountiful. No, never mind those inconvenient though salient facts. The term conveyed the opposite impression, and was a fantastic (in both senses) public relations coup. It’s certainly managed to hoodwink the gullible and those who either won’t learn history or who for reasons best known to themselves refuse to face true facts.

One afternoon last week I logged off from my computer and went for a nice long walk in the sun. It was a “scorcher” of a day, and most people who could get away from work were crowding the nearby beaches and parks. Not so the shrill and fanatical little all-female coven of local Palestine Solidarity Campaign “peace activists” (yeah, right), who in the sweltering heat were at their town-centre post as usual mid-week in and mid-week out, with their Palestinian flags and tee-shirts emblazoned with the Palestinian colours and their printed signs calling for an end to the siege on Gaza. As I passed, a new sign, huge and handmade, pinned alongside their trestle table bearing collecting tins for the convoy – the “mother of all flotillas” – due to leave for Gaza shortly, caught my beady Zionist eye. In large untidy black capitals on a blood-red background it asked, as if accusing both Israel and the world in general, “Whatever happened to Palestine?” I got closer, and saw those familiar maps – that set of four that does yeoman service to the mendacious Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other Israel-demonising organisations – distorting history and depicting the Israelis as ruthless, heartless, lawless land-stealers. And there were the leaflets, which speak of Zionism as a European colonial enterprise.  The true facts of Jewish attachment to the land of Israel are invisible.

That the resettlement of Jews in their ancient homeland has a long history is encapsulated in this letter (printed in the Jewish Chronicle, 16 June 1854) from Rabbi Joseph Schwarz. He had lived in Jerusalem since 1841, being one of the thousands of Jews living in the four sacred cities of the ancient homeland. Such cities, for example Judaism’s second most holy city Hebron, now the largest city in the West Bank, had an unbroken Jewish presence dating back possibly to Biblical, and certainly to medieval, times:

“[T] he land of Israel has been a place of refuge to us in many a trouble, and when the Inquisition of Spain induced the king and queen of Castile, Ferdinand and Isabella, to expel the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, followed, as they soon were, by the King of Portugal, thousands turned their steps to the shores of Palestine, and became the founders of the Portuguese congregations still existing there, and they carried with them as to other parts of Turkey, the language of Spain, which still continues in the vernacular tongue [Ladino]. By degrees other emigrants from Africa, Poland and Germany joined them, and all clung with a holy devotion, amidst every suffering, to the place of the sepulchres of their fathers, a land endeared to every son.”

And not only that. Before the advent of the Jewish agricultural communities in the nineteenth century the land was sparsely populated and underworked. Wrote Schwarz:

“It is not now, as formerly, that the whole land is covered with villages and towns, and every foot of land rendered productive by the industry of man; for the far larger number of towns are totally destroyed, and the land is waste: there are no inhabitants to cultivate it. The terraces on the hills, which produced food in abundance, have been washed away by the winter rains, since the industry of the husbandman has ceased to guard them against destruction; and what land is still productive lies fallow, because of the wandering Bedouin, who loves to reap where he has not sown. Commerce is scarcely known; navigation is not attended to; the mechanic arts are not needed in a country where the inhabitants have few wants as the roving Arabs who now dwell there; wherefore, with all their efforts, it is almost impossible for the few Israelites, who chiefly dwell at Jerusalem, Hebron, Zafed and Tiberias to obtain a livelihood.”

There are many old accounts, by both Jews and Christians, of the sparsity of the population of the Holy Land in the nineteenth century and of the land’s sad decay – and from time to time I’ll include some, making their long-dead authors “guest bloggers”, so to speak.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Prophets and Losses – Zionists and non-Jewish Jews

Following publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, that celebrated Jewish member of the Church of England Benjamin Disraeli (his father had him baptised at age 12) famously observed: "Is man an ape or an angel? My Lord, I am on the side of the angels." Now, I’m neither theologian nor scientist, but despite Stephen Hawking’s rejection of the role of a Deity in Creation, I’m on the side of the Deity, and I enjoyed an article by Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth, in the London Times last week, countering Professor Hawking's athiestic dogma:

“There is a difference between science and religion. Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation.... The Bible is relatively uninterested in how the Universe came into being. It devotes a mere 34 verses to the subject. It takes 15 times as much space to describe how the Israelites constructed a sanctuary in the desert. The Bible is not proto-science, pseudo-science or myth masquerading as science. It is interested in other questions entirely. Who are we? Why are we here? How then shall we live? It is to answer those questions, not scientific ones, that we seek to know the mind of God.... But there is more to wisdom than science. It cannot tell us why we are here or how we should live. Science masquerading as religion is as unseemly as religion masquerading as science. I will continue to believe that God who created one or an infinity of universes in love and forgiveness continues to ask us to create, to love and to forgive. “
It's a commonplace that many Jews who have more or less divorced themselves from formal identification with Judaism or membership of a synagogue still retain an admiration for the prophetic tradition. The poet Heinrich Heine, who like so many Jews facing discrimination in the nineteenth-century converted to Christianity on the grounds that, as he put it, baptism was “a ticket of admission to European culture”, nevertheless remained attached in his heart to his people, “who have given the world a God and a moral system” and re-avowed Judaism as he approached the end of his life. Although neither steeped in Judaism nor in the concept of Jewish peoplehood, the great French historian Marc Bloch, shot by the Gestapo in 1944, wrote in 1941: “I was born a Jew, and that I have never entertained any thoughts of either denying it or of being tempted to do so. In a world afflicted with the most atrocious barbarity, is not the generous tradition of the Hebrew prophets, which Christianity - in its purest form - has adopted in order to expand upon, one of our best reasons to live, to believe and to struggle?”

The prophetic tradition has provided the inspiration for many a Jewish political radical. So many prophetic passages appear to question the established order. “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies”, railed Amos, who was perhaps more than any other prophet concerned with the exploitation of the poor. “I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring sackcloth upon all loins .... For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof, because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes.” And of course there are frequent calls for justice, which many have seen as a blueprint for radicalism or socialism – and even, I'm chagrined to relate, for a rejection of the Zionist idea that is itself enshrined in scripture. “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow,” entreated Isaiah. Warned Jeremiah: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving kindness, judgment and righteousness, for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” Micah’s words are so commonly invoked that they have become almost a cliché: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Although, to many of the radicals who use Micah’s words, God appears to be an optional extra.)

Then, of course, there are the deracinated Jews who like Karl Marx regard all religion, Judaism included, as anachronistic and irrational. In the late nineteenth-century people of their ilk used to like to taunt shul-goers on Yom Kippur in the East End of London by holding a ball on that day and eating pig's meat. Many such individuals exemplify what Isaac Deutscher termed in a renowned essay published in 1958 “The non-Jewish Jew”, a Jew who feels no special affinity for other Jews and denies a separate destiny for Jews as a group distinct from the rest of humankind. The following words (1916) of Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg, whom Deutscher cites as a “non-Jewish-Jew” along with Marx, Trotsky and certain others, encapsulates the type perfectly:
“Why do you come to me with your particular Jewish sorrows? I feel equally close to the wretched victims of the rubber plantations in Putumayo, or to the Negroes in Africa .... ...I have no separate corner in my heart for the ghetto: I feel at home in the entire world wherever there are clouds and birds and human tears.”
Such “non-Jewish Jews” – I prefer to term them such rather than “self-hating Jews”, a chutzpadik term since who can read another’s mind?  – fill the ranks of today’s anti-Zionist movement.  They are the spiritual (for want of a better word!) heirs to Tony Cliff, born Yigael Gluckstein in Ottoman Palestine shortly before the British took over; he moved to Britain and founded the International Socialist Party, which later published the newspaper Socialist Worker that is so implacably and obnoxiously opposed to Israel’s existence.

How immeasurably nobler and  how inspirational is the testament of the Franco-Swiss Jew Edmond Fleg, who following a period of estrangement returned to his roots, penning in 1927 these moving words to his hypothetical future grandchild.  (Writing two decades before the foundation of the Jewish State, he is, of course, using "Israel" to denote the Jewish People:
'But you – will you feel yourself a Jew, my child? People say to me, "You are a Jew because you were born a Jew; you neither willed it nor can change it." Will this explanation satisfy you if, though born a Jew, you no longer feel one? When I was twenty I too had no lot, nor part in Israel; I was persuaded that Israel would disappear, and that in twenty years' time people would no longer speak of her. Twenty years have passed, and another twelve, and I have become a Jew again – so obviously that I am asked, "Why are you a Jew?"
Since the beginning of the Dreyfus Affair the Jewish question had seemed to me a reality; now it appeared tragic: "What is Judaism? – A danger, they say, for the society to which you belong. What danger?... But first, am I still a Jew?... I have abandoned the Jewish religion.... You are a Jew all the same.... How?... Why?... What ought I to do?... Must I kill myself because I am a Jew?"
At moments I envied the strong and narrow faith of my ancestors. Penned in their ghettos by contempt and hatred, they at least knew why. But I knew nothing. How could I learn?
Of Israel I was entirely ignorant. And I regretted all the years I had spent in the study of philosophy, of Germanic philology, and of comparative literature. I ought to have learned Hebrew, to have studied my race, its origins, its beliefs, its role in history, its place among the human groups of today; I ought to have attached myself, through my race, to something that would be myself and more than myself, and to have continued, through her, something that others had begun and that others after me would continue.
And I told myself that if I made some other use of my life, if I devoted myself to some other study, if later I founded a family without being able to bequeath to my children some ancestral ideal, I should always experience an obscure remorse, the vague feeling of having failed in a duty. And I remembered my dead father, I reproached myself with not having understood that Jewish wisdom of which he talked to me and which lived in him - and with no longer finding, by my own fault, anything in common between Israel's past and my own empty soul.
It was then that, for the first time, I heard of Zionism. You cannot imagine what a light that was, my child! Remember that, at the period of which I am writing, this word Zionism had never yet been spoken in my presence. The anti-Semites accused the Jews of forming a nation within nations; but the Jews, or at any rate those whom I came across, denied it. And now here were the Jews declaring: "We are a people like other peoples; we have a country just as others have. Give us back our country."
I made inquiries. The Zionist idea, it appeared, had its origins far back in the days of the ancient prophets; the Bible promised the Jews of the dispersion that they should return to the Holy Land; during the whole of the Middle Ages only their faith in this promise kept them alive; in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such great spirits as Maurice de Saxe, the Prince de Ligne, and Napoleon had caught a glimpse of the philanthropic, political, economic, religious, and moral advantages which a resettlement of the Jews in Palestine might offer; since 1873 colonies had been founded there and were developing; and now a new apostle, Theodor Herzl, was calling upon the Jews of the whole world to found the Jewish State. Was this the solution for which I was looking? It explained so many things. If the Jews really formed but a single nation, one began to understand why they were considered Jews even when they ceased to practice their religion, and it became credible, too, that a nation which had welcomed them should be able to accuse them of not always being devoted to its national interests. Then the Zionist idea moved me by its sublimity; I admired in these Jews, and would have wished to be able to admire in myself, this fidelity to the ancestral soil which still lived after two thousand years, and I trembled with emotion as I pictured the universal exodus which would bring them home, from their many exiles, to the unity that they had reconquered.
The Third Zionist Congress was about to open at Basel. I decided to attend it. My knowledge of German enabled me to follow the debates pretty closely.  I listened to it all; but, with even greater interest, I looked about me. What Jewish contrasts! A pale-faced Pole with high cheekbones, a German in spectacles, a Russian looking like an angel, a bearded Persian, a clean-shaven American, an Egyptian in a fez, and, over there, that black phantom, towering up in his immense caftan, with his fur cap and pale curls falling from his temples. And in the presence of all these strange faces, the inevitable happened; I felt myself a Jew, very much a Jew ....
What then, for me, was Zionism? It could enthrall me, it enthralls me still, this great miracle of Israel which concerns the whole of Israel: three million Jews will speak Hebrew, will live Hebrew on Hebrew soil! But, for the twelve million Jews who remain scattered throughout the world, for them and for me, the tragic question remained: What is Judaism? What ought a Jew to do? How be a Jew? Why be a Jew?
I am a Jew because the faith of Israel demands of me no abdication of the mind. I am a Jew because the faith of Israel requires of me all the devotion of my heart. I am a Jew because in every place where suffering weeps, the Jew weeps. I am a Jew because at every time when despair cries out, the Jew hopes. I am a Jew because the word of Israel is the oldest and the newest. I am a Jew because the promise of Israel is the universal promise. I am a Jew because, for Israel, the world is not created: men are completing it. I am a Jew because, for Israel, Man is not created: men are creating him. I am a Jew because, above the nations and Israel, Israel places Man and his Unity.  I am a Jew because, above Man, image of the Divine Unity, Israel places the Divine Unity, and its divinity.'

Sunday 5 September 2010

Jew-baiting at the Western Wall – an historical vignette

Yesterday was marked around the world – by Muslims and anti-Zionists of various stripes carrying pro-Hamas and pro-Hezbollah placards – as Al-Quds Day, dedicated to liberating Jerusalem from the Israelis – or, as the Iranian satellite news channel Press TV put it last night, demanding an end to “Israel’s 62-year [sic] occupation of Palestine” . The Al Quds Day march in Britain has been described, with good reason, as “the biggest annual Israel hatefest in London” – at yesterday’s ‘"We Are All Hizbolla Now" and "Zionism Equals Racism" were just two of the racist chants. Resistance was provided by a small group of Zionists, a group of Iranian expatriates in London and a group from the EDL. Around 1200 marchers walked from Speakers Corner down Hyde Park Lane, then back up, turning right to congregate in front of the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square (the "Great Satan").”’ For a description and links to other accounts and videos see

Al-Quds Day was inaugurated by the late Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, the year he took power in Iran. “I ask all the Muslims of the world and the Muslim governments to join together to sever the hand of this [Israeli] usurper and its supporters,” he declared. “I call on all the Muslims of the world to select as Al-Quds Day the last Friday in the holy month of Ramadan ... and through a ceremony demonstrating the solidarity of Muslims world-wide, announce their support for the legitimate rights of the Muslim people. I ask God Almighty for the victory of the Muslims over the infidels.” On the eve of this year’s Al-Quds Day Ayatollah Khamenei stated: "Israel is a hideous entity In the Middle East which will undoubtedly be annihilated." And yesterday, in Teheran, President Ahmadinejad proclaimed: "If the leaders of the region do not have the guts, then the people of the region are capable of removing the Zionist regime from the world scene" and pronounced the peace talks between Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas as "stillborn and doomed."

Al-Quds Day is intended to demonstrate the importance of Jerusalem in Islam. Now, whatever a final peace settlement regarding Jerusalem may be – and it may well prove that east Jerusalem becomes, as the Palestinians insist, their capital – it is undeniable that while Jerusalem is the third holiest city in Islam, behind Mecca and Medina, Jerusalem is the foremost holy city in Judaism. In the Quran it is mentioned perhaps not at all, whereas in the Tanakh – the Hebrew Bible – it is mentioned almost 350 times, and its alternate name, Zion, a further 108.

Despite the dark centuries of exile there has always a Jewish presence in Jerusalem, and it’s thought that by the mid-1840s there were more Jews there than Muslims, who in turn outnumbered Christians. The following interesting historical vignette, which I discovered in the Jewish Chronicle (7 January 1870), was reprinted from the London Daily Telegraph, whose Holy Land Correspondent had written it. It provides a telling commentary on the status of the Jews in Jerusalem before that city was captured by the British from the tottering Ottoman Empire in 1917. So here it is, without further comment from me:

‘In this clear, bright moisture-free air everything looks so close and near that you fancy you could drop a stone down upon the roofs that lie far away beyond rifle shot and it is only as your eye becomes accustomed to the distance that you take in the grandeur of the city upon which you look. In a semi-circle around you is placed Jerusalem, a city standing in a sort of natural amphitheatre, tier upon tier, row upon row of flat-roofed dome-surmounted houses. The church-like Russian convents, the pseudo-medieval almshouses, the modern stucco and plaster suburb beyond the walls are hidden from view, the horizon is bounded solely by the crest of the hills, along whose summit run the western walls. At your feet is the vast, bare, open space on which once stood the Temple of Solomon – on which now stands the Mosque of Omar. A few Mussulmans [sic] sit smoking gravely under the shadow of the trees planted here and there close beneath the Sacred Shrine; a cripple, whose legs dangle helplessly after him, is crawling on his breast to reach the holy edifice. But, unless you wear the turban, there is no entrance here for either Christian or Jew, without special permission. The ground is too sacred, in the eyes of the Muslim, to be desecrated by the foot of the unbeliever. Beyond the plateau of the mosque, you look down upon the parapets of the eastern walls; beyond them, again, is the dark shadow covered gorge which men call the valley of Jehoshaphat. Higher up, just about the gloom of the valley, are the tombs of Absalom and Hezekiah ... and right in front, above the tombs, towers the Mount of Olives ....

The most impressive memory I shall ever carry away with me from Jerusalem is that of the Jews weeping before the walls of Zion. The Hebrew population is said, in the guide-books, to be about one-third of the whole city.... The Jews of Zion are neither prosperous, active, nor influential; and, as Muslims and Christians, disagreeing in everything else, agree in oppressing the children of Israel, these have a hard time of it in the city of their fathers. No native Jew can enter the precincts of the Temple, where now stands the Mosque of Omar, without the risk of being maltreated and stoned, if his presence is detected by a Mussulman. Once a week, however, and once a week only, the Jews are permitted by the Turks to come and pray at the foot of one of the high stone walls on which the plateau of Solomon’s Temple is supported. The hour of prayer is fixed, whether by chance or irony, upon the Mussulman Sabbath; at that hour the Jews flock to the narrow strip of ground, enclosed beneath high walls, where alone they can pray in public for the coming of the Messiah, and the restoration of the chosen people to the Promised Land. There are a few Rabbis, clad in long fur-lined cloaks and low-crowned velvet caps; but the great bulk of the worshippers are aged men and women of the poorer sort, meanly dressed in coarse woollen stuffs; the men with long grey greasy coats and greasier ringlets, the women with cheap striped cotton petticoats, and white linen hoods bound over their heads. Men and women stand apart, the worshippers, as they each arrive, taking up their station close to the wall, with their faces buried as far as may be in their slits and fissures. All along the line there rises a murmer of wailing cries and sobs. There are few amongst the company who have not Hebrew books of prayer in their hands, out of which they recite long swings of words chanted to a low sing-song tune. From time to time one of the elders reads out a prayer, and at each pause the chorus of men and women join in with a long wailing cry. But, as a rule, it seemed to me, each person prayed after his own fashion, and the voices rose and fell in a constant ebb and flow of sound; but, as worshipper after worshipper turned away slowly from the wall, after kissing it repeatedly, you could see tears running down their wrinkled cheeks.

The Turkish soldiers were lounging on the parapet of the wall above. In former years, they would throw down stones upon the Jews as they stooped in prayer, or insult them with opprobrious names. Now the power of the West is too much dreaded for the Moslem official to venture upon the exhibition of his contempt for the unbeliever. But, amongst the common folk, who have not the terror of the Pasha before their eyes, the old hatred of creed still survives. On the day when I visited the place of wailing, a group of dark-eyed, bold-faced stalwart Arab women sat with their children, in a corner of the pathway whereon the Jews were praying. An old Jewish dame, very feeble, bent, and wrinkled, laid her large hide-bound prayer-book on a stone beside her while she buried her head in a hole in the wall; forthwith one of the Arab girls stole up stealthily and carried off the book in triumph. The old Jewess, when she discovered her loss, begged and prayed for its return, but was told she could not have her book again unless she paid five piastres – about a shilling – to the girl who had stolen it. There was wrangling and whining for ever so long, but the Arab girl stood firm; the Jewish women were afraid to touch her, and at last they made up the sum amongst themselves by odd half-pence, and handed it to the impudent young hussey, who pocketed the coin, and then announced that now she would not return the prayer-book, as she saw the old woman valued it, till she had double the price named.

Seeing that our party were strangers, one of the Jewesses came up to me, and asked me, in German, to help them get the prayer-book back. I volunteered, through my dragoman, to pay the couple of shillings which was needed to redeem the book; but the Arab wench raised her terms again, and stood out for more. Happily, a threat that I would take the old woman to the English Consul – like many other unmeaning menaces in this world of ours – succeeded where persuasion had failed; and the girl, pouring forth a volley of abuse against myself, the Bible, and the Jewish race, raised up the prayer-book into the air, threw it as hard as she could fling right into the midst of the group of Jewesses, and then ran down the hill laughing loudly.'