Israel Independence Day celebration in the Scottish Parliament

On 30th April Ken Macintosh, Labour MSP for Glasgow Eastwood, is hosting a celebration of Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) in the Scottish Parliament. A protest will be held outside the Parliament, and an online petition has 1300 signatures at the time of writing. SJJP has also protested in writing against the celebration, with an explanation from our own viewpoint of why it should not be taking place. This letter was sent on 29th April to Ken Macintosh, to the Presiding Officer of the Parliament, and to the press:

Scottish Jews for a Just Peace (SJJP) Statement on Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration at the Scottish Parliament

SJJP notes that on 30th April Ken Macintosh MSP is hosting a 2015 Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) event at the Scottish Parliament in conjunction with representatives of the Israeli Government.

Of course, we support the right of Jews to celebrate religious festivals and events—whether connected or not to the State of Israel—in any way they choose. But we also recognize that Yom Ha’Atzmaut is not a religious event but a celebration of Israeli statehood, and we oppose a celebration that recognises only the official Israeli narrative of the creation of the state while ignoring the disastrous impact it has had on the Palestinians now living in the Occupied Territories, Gaza and refugee camps in the region.

SJJP argues for a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict based on peace and equal rights for all, regardless of their ethnic or religious identity. So we see the recent debate in the Scottish Parliament about recognition of a Palestinian State as a stimulus towards a negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians. By contrast, an unbalanced celebration of Yom Ha’Atzmaut hosted in the Scottish Parliament provides tacit support for the State of Israel while ignoring the claims for statehood and political rights of Palestinians. The Scottish Parliament can play a positive role in fostering constructive and peaceful relationships between communities in Scotland; and in contributing towards peace in the Middle East. But hosting this Yom Ha’Atzmaut event is not the way to achieve these aims.

(Signed) Lisa Barcan, Alex Benchimol, Liz Elkind, Marion Hersh, Naomi Junnor, Laura Kandle, Barrie Levine, Catherine Lyons, Henry Maitles, John McArdle, Maurice Naftalin, Suzanne Senior, Mark Symonds, Philip Wadler

Hilda Meers z”l

SJJP recently lost our oldest member, Hilda Meers, who died last month. The following eulogy is composed from the heartfelt tributes of several of our members:

Hilda was a committed anti-fascist with a long history of fighting against fascism in the north-east and elsewhere.  She was an author who amongst other things had written about resistance in the Nazi concentration camps; she was a firm believer in the strength of the trade union movement and in its role as the core of anti-fascism; and she was a committed campaigner for human rights in Israel/Palestine. She was proud to be a Jewish campaigner for peace and against injustice, and enthusiastically took part while she was able, even in her motorised scooter, in SJJP activities and events. As such, she stood in a long and honourable tradition of Jewish values rooted in challenging oppression and fighting for social justice. In person, she was a hugely sympathetic person with a strong sense of justice that she combined with a political understanding that brought together head and heart.

Hilda’s passing is a huge loss to the movement and though she will be sadly missed, we know that she would certainly have echoed Joe Hill’s last words: ‘don’t mourn, organise!’

The Aberdeen Press and Journal published an excellent obituary.

Israel/Palestine and the General Election

I started to write this post in reaction to a piece in Ha’Aretz that begins

The very real prospect of David Cameron’s Conservative Party losing Britain’s general election on May 7 is causing a shudder of dread to pass through Israeli diplomats and lobbyists in London. Officially, of course, they are not involved in the United Kingdom’s internal politics. But the consensus is that “we have never had such a pro-Israel prime minister.”

and goes on to list some of the ways in which Cameron has personally intervened to ensure that British government policies over the last five years have been closely aligned with Netanyahu’s aims. These include, amongst others

  • the effective ending of universal jurisdiction, which allowed arrest warrants to be issued in Britain against anyone suspected of alleged war crimes if there was no reasonable prospect of them being investigated by their own government;
  • taking advantage of London’s status as a global financial centre to cut off Iran’s banking system from the world, making it extremely difficult for the Iranian oil industry to arrange insurance for its tankers;
  • steadfastly resisting Lib-Dem demands to end Israeli bombardment of civilian targeting during last summer’s Gaza war. He’s still defending them now, even as the UN releases a report documenting the deliberate targeting of schools and shelters used by civilians.

The article concludes that people who know Cameron’s views believe that he sees the Middle East “very similarly to Netanyahu”.

Of course, I shouldn’t be giving this any space; nothing could be more irrelevant to an SJJP blog post than the Conservative leader’s position on Israel/Palestine—I’m sure that no readers of this blog will decide whether or not to vote Conservative on this basis! So what about the candidates that you might actually consider voting for? The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has written to Parliamentary candidates to find out their attitude to Palestinian human rights. It’s interesting to see who has taken the trouble to respond, and very interesting to see what each one says, not always in line with their party policy. You can check the responses, constituency by constituency, here.

The formal policies of the main parties don’t help much. Party manifestos have to play it safe, of course, and the (nearly universal) formula of pressing for a “return to meaningful negotiations” for “a two-state solution” doesn’t suggest that they think voters attach much importance to the matter, or know much about it. The outstanding exception (possibly excluding the smaller left-wing parties) seems to be the Green Party, whose policy actually shows some understanding of the situation. They call for repeal of the Law of Return, for dismantling of the separation barrier, for equal sharing of water resources, and for Israel to abandon its claim to exclusive possession of Jerusalem. And they actually suggest using, in the interests of Palestinian human rights, the most significant lever that a British government has (or could have) in the conflict: the European Union Association Agreement with Israel, which is worth more than £1 billion a year.

I know that, in deciding how to vote, everyone takes into account many issues, and a party’s position on the Middle East is not usually high on the list. And if you know anything about the situation there, you aren’t likely to find any British party with whom you’ll agree on very many points. But I would like to reserve a special place in purgatory for anyone who asks me to be interested in reviving the grisly corpse of “the peace process” and, by the same token, I give a little more credit—and perhaps even a vote—to people who at least aren’t consciously lying to me on an issue that I care about.

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