SJJP is co-sponsoring (with the Scottish Palestinian Forum) a meeting with Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta about her book “Refusing to be Enemies”, a study of non-violence in Israel-Palestine (signed copies of the book will be on sale at the meeting). Maxine is a Quaker Jew who lived in Jerusalem for seven years and has written widely on Palestinian and Israeli non-violent activism and related topics. The meeting is next Tuesday, 1st May, at 7:30pm at the Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh EH1 2JL. Here is the flier for the meeting; it’s linked to a full-size printable PDF version:
I went to the Holocaust Memorial Service in Princes Street Gardens on Thursday. As every year, this short service provided a moving contrast between the events it commemorates and its surroundings, an island of peace in the midst of the city. The sound of the trains passing along the line to Waverley a few metres away both connect us to the present and remind us of the grim role that the seemingly innocuous train played in the past. The participation of the Lord Provost reminds us how that, for all the problems, how solidly this society backs diversity and our participation in it.
From these thoughts, sombre but also comforting, it’s a shock—but, unfortunately, no surprise—to read this withering piece from Adam Keller of Gush Shalom, listing a few of the evictions and demolitions taking place on Yom haShoah by officers who, after following their painful orders, return home in time to listen to the sombre speeches of Israeli politicians and generals commemorating the Holocaust. Naturally, their version of “never again” involves a pre-emptive attack on Iran; what could follow more naturally? Keller skewers this hypocrisy with painful accuracy.
Scottish Jews for a Just Peace notes with concern the outcome of the case against the St Andrews’ student Paul Donnachie in relation to the alleged complaint of Acting in a Racially Aggravated Manner against a fellow student Chanan Roziel Reitblat (contrary to the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 Section 50A). It would appear that Paul Donnachie’s protest was directed not against Chanan Reitblat as a Jew or indeed as a person, but against the political view that he espoused. We condemn the way that the Sheriff’s decision confuses the legitimate right to criticise the State of Israel with racism, and conflates Jewishness with support for Israel.
We are concerned that the Sheriff did not allow Jewish witnesses for the defence to be called to give evidence regarding the crucial distinction between Zionism – a political position of support for a Jewish state in Israel/Palestine – and Jewishness – a person’s religion or ethnicity.
Jews (religious or not religious) may or may not be Zionists, and even those who support the idea of a Jewish state may be critical of its government. Like any other group of people, Jews have a wide range of political opinion and to imply that Jewishness coincides with support for Israel is to make a racist assumption. The Israeli state is a political entity and does not act on behalf of Jews as a whole. For very many Jews the idea that they should be automatically associated with the Israeli state is deeply worrying, not just because it is inaccurate, but also because it is potentially dangerous. The Israeli government does not act in our name and we are not responsible for its actions.
Criticism of the political concept of basing a state around a single religious or ethnic group or of the actions of the Israeli state is wholly legitimate; and the ability to criticise a political position or a national government is a basic freedom that must be guarded tenaciously.
I’m currently at Limmud (huge conference on Jewish learning and culture) , which is a mixed experience for a Palestinian sympathiser. There’s plenty of discussion on Israel/Palestine, some of it indeed with Palestinians; today I listened to Walid Salem speak on Palestinian narratives to an audience whose numbers I thought encouraging until I heard the questions at the end. The high point of the day for me was a screening of Budrus, which I very strongly recommend if you get a chance to see it. It’s a brilliantly assembled documentary that follows the struggle, almost exclusively non-violent, to persuade the Occupation authorities to change the route of the Separation Wall so that the villagers of Budrus would not be left destitute of the livelihood provided by their olive trees. (This screening was also well attended, by an audience that was clearly shocked by the reality of occupation as shown in the film.)
The Budrus struggle was ultimately successful and gave a lot of encouragement to other non-violent resistance against the Occupation. At the end of that film, and more markedly since then, the authorities have been stepping up their violence and repression against activists. The indispensable Jerry Haber (the Magnes Zionist) documents this trend and points to the case of Abdallah Abu Rahmah. This report (in the Jerusalem Post, of all papers) is a first-class account of the court hearing in which Rahmah was sent back to prison on the completion of his one-year sentence for leading a demonstration that the army had labelled “illegal”. Although Franz Kafka’s byline is missing from the report, there is no mistaking his handiwork: Rahmah is currently serving time awaiting the military prosecutor’s appeal against the clemency of his original sentence. And the appeal could take up to two year to present… As Jerry Haber says, “Where are the ‘Palestinian Gandhis’? In Israeli jails – for acting according to their principles of non-violence.”
[UPDATE, 19th March 2011]: Press release from Friends of Freedom and Justice Bilin:
After much delay, Abu Rahmah who was supposed to have already been released yesterday, was finally released from the Ofer Military Prison this evening. He was received by hundreds who waited for him at the prison’s gate.
Abu Rahmah, who during his trial was declared a human rights defender by the EU and a prisoner of conscious by Amnesty International, vowed to continue struggling against the Occupation, despite his unjust imprisonment and the six-months suspended sentence still imposed on him. He said, “On my release, I have no intention to go back home and sit there idly. In fact, by imprisoning me they have silenced me long enough. Our cause is just, it is one striving for freedom and equality, and I intend to continue fighting for it just as I have before”.
If you haven’t yet seen the Young, Jewish and Proud declaration, you really should take a look. It was launched as counter-protest at the 2010 Jewish Federation General Assembly in New Orleans, where a number of phenomenal young activists disrupted Netanyahu’s speech to shout “The Occupation delegitimizes Israel”. There’s lots more information at their site, but the statement is truly inspirational.
We exist. We are everywhere. We speak and love and dream in every language. We pray three times a day or only during the high holidays or when we feel like we really need to or not at all. We are punks and students and parents and janitors and Rabbis and freedom fighters. We are your children, your nieces and nephews, your grandchildren. We embrace diaspora, even when it causes us a great deal of pain. We are the rubble of tangled fear, the deliverance of values. We are human. We are born perfect. We assimilate, or we do not. We are not apathetic. We know and name persecution when we see it. Occupation has constricted our throats and fattened our tongues. We are feeding each other new words. We have family, we build family, we are family. We re-negotiate. We atone. We re-draw the map every single day. We travel between worlds. This is not our birthright, it is our necessity.
Bolds original. Check it out.
Raja Shehadeh, author of Strangers in the House and Palestinian Walks, spoke at the Edinburgh Book Festival at the launch of his new book A Rift in Time, in which he follows his great uncle’s flight from the Ottoman police during the First World War. Shehadeh was an extremely engaging speaker, not at all polarising but clearly very committed, and “politics” didn’t appear in the talk until the very end, in answer to a clumsy question about identifying and encouraging Jews who support Palestinian rights. Shehadeh’s answer was very simple: “I‘m not at all surprised that Jews support Palestinian rights; it seems completely natural to me”. How encouraging to encounter such positive expectations! I’m really looking forward to the book.
SJJP marched in Edinburgh yesterday, protesting the siege on Gaza and the killing of activists who were taking humanitarian aid supplies to Gaza. The demonstration started at the foot of the Mound at 2 pm, and we marched along Princes Street to the US Consulate, and then to the First Minister’s house, where we stopped briefly for speeches. Then we marched back to the foot of the Mound for the rally. It was a fantastic turnout, and heartening to see so many groups out to show solidarity.
The BBC coverage of the demonstration is available here, and is reporting a turnout of 3,000, although on-the-day counts were nearer 5,000. There was also a demonstration in London yesterday, with attendance between 2,000 and 5,000, but we heard reports of 20,000. Both the Edinburgh and London marches were peaceful.
We handed out this leaflet (pdf) at the Edinburgh demonstration.
SJJP today issued the following statement:
Scottish Jews for a Just Peace join with thousands across Scotland and the world in condemning Israel’s brutal attack in international waters on the international aid convoy that was headed for Gaza. Despite Israel’s cynical attempts to control the news, this can only be understood as a massacre committed by Israeli forces This international convoy was carrying vital aid to the besieged people of Gaza. It included thousands of pounds worth of medicines, clothes, toys and building materials donated by people across the world, including citizens of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen. The goods being carried by the ships are all things that the Israeli government has denied the people of Gaza in a collective punishment that has turned the Gaza Strip into a giant prison camp. The flotilla is the result of international outrage at what is happening and included 800 politicians and activists from 40 countries, including 25 EU Parliamentarians. We hope that this flagrant attack will bring the Israeli government the condemnation it deserves, including from within Israel itself.
SJJP members will be joining the demonstrations across Scotland today protesting against the Israeli action.
I went to Falkirk last night (yes, it’s an exciting life in SJJP) to speak at a meeting of the Antonine Friendship Link. To quote from their website:
Falkirk was chosen as our venue because of the proximity of the remains of the Antonine Wall, a Roman wall which once crossed Scotland – a wall whose remains demonstrates the futility of military occupation and wall building.
The AFL have established links with Jayyous, and by lucky chance last night’s meeting was in fact attended by a family from Jayyous. They had asked me to speak about SJJP and my personal perspective rather than about the situation in Israel/Palestine (just as well; I’m sure many people in the room were more knowledgeable than me). I described how solidarity with Palestinians has gradually gained momentum amongst Jewish people during the last decade or so. There was a lot of interest and sympathy in the room (and I was quite successful in turning away attempts to fit me into some kind of heroic resister’s mould, pretty ridiculous to anyone who knows me). I’m starting to get an impression of many small grass-roots groups, scattered across Scotland, working inconspicuously to build links and support Palestinian communities. Someone suggested to me recently that the historic ties of the Scottish churches with “The Holy Land” lies behind a lot of this—certainly, one always sees church people (usually Church of Scotland) at these events.
Mohammad Othman and Jamal Juma’, the coordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign, have been released from prison, after spending respectively four and one month in administrative detention. No charges were made against either man. Amnesty International recognised them as prisoners of conscience, detained for their political opposition to the Wall.
Update: Showing how effective individual campaigns can be, the American campaign group Jewish Voice for Peace say:
Thanks to you, we generated over 10,000 emails to US President Obama, and over 2,200 emails to the US Consulate in East Jerusalem complaining about the arbitrary detention of Mohammad Othman. You helped up flood the US State Department with phone calls as well.
They quote Stop The Wall at length (as I should have done) about Jamal’s release, which obviously rings true for Mohammad Othman too:
Jamal Juma’, the coordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign has been released yesterday evening after a month long detention in Israeli jails. He had been called for interrogation and then arrested on December 16. Yesterday, the military court decided for Jamal’s release.
Like for the other Palestinian human rights defenders in Israeli jails, there was never a case in the courtroom. Not a single charge has been put forth. The reason for his arrest was purely political – an attempt to crush Stop the Wall and the popular committees against the Wall. Therefore, the reasons for his release are also outside the courtroom: The impressive support of international civil society has moved governments and used the media to an extent that made his imprisonment too uncomfortable.
This international solidarity has given our popular struggle against the Wall further strength. We are deeply thankful for all the efforts.
Yet, the latest arrests and continuous repression show that we have not yet defeated the Israeli policy as such, as Israel remains determined to silence Palestinian human rights defenders by all means.
We therefore need to ensure that the campaign for the freedom of all anti-wall activists and Palestinian political prisoners continues to grow. We have to combine our energies to ensure that the root cause – the Wall – will be torn down and the occupation will be brought to an end.
I don’t normally reproduce other people’s postings, but this appeared on the JustPeaceUK mailing list where most people won’t see it, and I couldn’t resist:
I am beginning to think those people are right who say the amount of antisemitism in Britain is exaggerated. I always used to suspect them of downplaying a serious issue, but lately I have been reading the Jewish Chronicle and seeing how hard pressed it is for news.
I could understand editor Stephen Pollard getting upset because some passing bloke on a bike shouted “dirty Jew” at him as he came out of shul, but whereas in my childhood years such incidents were not out of the ordinary,and might have been dealt with by shoving the bloke off his bike, Mr.Pollard thought it was news, and what’s more, required searching for an explanation. He figured the cyclist must have been reading some criticisms of Israel, (by Jewish writers), in the London Review of Books. There’s a deduction for you.
This week I see the JC headlined an “attack” on a Hapoel Tel Aviv supporter in Glasgow for the Celtic match. I was relieved to then read that police said a man was arrested for brandishing a weapon during a confrontation between two groups of men in a Glasgow pub, and said no one had been hurt. All the same, I am sure violence and threats are exceedingly rare in Glasgow pubs, and rival football fans normally embrace in friendship and sing each other’s songs,so perhaps this was an antisemitic incident, and may, as the JC seems to suggest, have had something to do with people waving Palestinian flags at the game. The JC quotes outraged Celtic fans, who of course have never waved flags at football matches before. Still, it is reassuring to know this was the nearest thing the JC could find to a serious incident.
Worse, perhaps, was the evidence the JC was able to report of antisemitism at a pro-Palestinian carol concert. I thought they must have heard a speech or interpreted the words of the alternative carols carefully, but no, it seems that another anonymous person in the street (did he arrive on a bike?), confronted by those charming people from the Zionist Federation outside, made some anti-Jewish remarks.
You may say that is an obvious news story, but it takes a keen ear and journalistic instinct or skills to spot things like that. I mean, how many times have you heard people coming out of a Zionist event or Israel property fair giving you their opinion on Palestinians and Arabs, and what should be done to them, or tell you that “you should have died in Auschwitz”? OK, you may have told your friends about it, but I bet you didn’t rush to write it up as a news story, let alone manage to get it on the JC front-page.
I once stood on a picket across the road from an Ilford shul where an obnoxious Israeli general was speaking for Jerusalem Day. An Asian woman in shalwar and khemis crossed the road, nothing to do with our demonstration, and one of the shul security people jeered “She must be one of your lot!”, as though this was the most insulting wit he could think of. I remarked about his ignorance, but it never occurred to me to write up the incident as showing what sort of people were at the shul event (though the general had spoken of Palestinians as “cockroaches”).
It takes aptitude, training, and knowing the policy of your paper. If some of us had been sent to get a story about the mayor attending a gay party we’d probably have come back to the Standard office saying we could not get his comments because he was pissed and insulted us and the paper. A skilled man got the insults on tape, and the story ran and ran.
The voice of Anglo-Jewry is almost as good. Not that Stephen Pollard is taken in by false allegations of antisemitism. When a Polish right-wing politician says there’s no need to apologise for a massacre of Jews because Jews did not apologise for Bolshevism, others tried to make something of this, but Stephen Pollard rejected the accusations, pointing out that Mr.Kaminski was not only leader of the Conservative group at Brussels, but a declared friend of Israel.
So short of shouting insults at Mr.Pollard as he goes past on a bike, he is certified kosher. All hail Stephen Pollard, he know’s what what and what’s not!
The Times yesterday published, as a full-page advertisement, an open letter to the Prime Minister supporting the Goldstone Report and regretting “your Government’s failure to endorse the Report and its recommendations at the United Nations General Assembly”. It was signed by more than 500 British Jews – a lot of work went into gathering so many signatures in just a few days. Several SJJP signatories were among the letter’s supporters, and SJJP itself was a sponsor of the initiative. You can read the text of the letter and see the signatures on the JfJfP blog.
Mohammad Othman is a human rights activist and a volunteer with the grassroots “Stop the Wall Campaign”. On 22 September 2009, Mohammad arrived at the Allenby Bridge Crossing. He was returning home, to the West Bank, via Jordan, from his travels in Norway where he attended several speaking events and advocacy meetings. He was taken into administrative custody where he remains despite never having been charged and no specific allegations made against him. Note that he is a human rights activist who is not suspected of any violence. The current administrative detention order expires on December 22/23, but even if he is released then, he will have spent three months in detention without any due process – a clear message of intimidation to Palestinians contemplating non-violent activism against the occupation.
More information on the Free Mohammed Othman blog.
Update: press release from Dr. Bill Wilson, SNP MSP for the West of Scotland, 1st December 2009
Israel’s attempt to silence human rights activist condemned in Scottish Parliament
Dr Bill Wilson, an SNP MSP for the West of Scotland, today lodged a second motion condemning Israel’s detention of human rights activist, Mohammad Othman, who recently had his administrative detention extended by a military court.
Dr Wilson said: “It’s easy to despair at Israel’s continued abuse of human rights on multiple fronts, and its determined attempts to shut down even peaceful voices of dissent such as that of Mohammad Othman, who was locked up after returning from a campaigning trip to Norway and is effectively facing indefinite unlawful detention. However, despair will not solve the problem, and it’s not the response of the many brave people – Palestinian, Israeli and of other nationalities – using peaceful means to fight the human rights abuses of the oppressive Israeli regime.
“This sort of behaviour on Israel’s part – flouting international norms of due legal process and civil liberties, such as those outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – can only make peace in Israel and Palestine more remote.
“For the sake of all in the region, I urge Israel to respect human rights and international obligations and norms, and to release Mohammad Othman, or, if there is any credible evidence that he is guilty of any serious offence, to offer him a speedy and fair trial.”
An early-day motion proposed by Phyllis Starkey on settlement goods labelling will actually be discussed in Parliament on 2nd December:
That this House endorses the call by President Obama for a full and complete freeze on all Israeli settlement building in occupied territories, including natural growth; notes that all settlements including outposts are explicitly illegal under international law and exist in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions; further notes that they are a major obstacle to peace and a meaningful two state solution which includes a viable, independent sovereign Palestinian state; and welcomes the Government’s call for such a total freeze on settlement activity and urges the Government to do all in its power to bring this about.
Please ask your MP to attend the debate and vote the (the right way!) on this important issue. TheyWorkForYou.com makes it easy to locate your MP and send a message to him or her.
In other news, the Israeli government has announced a settlement freeze. This sounds like a very positive development, but the devil will be in the details; for example, Peace Now observes that 800 foundations have been laid in anticipation of the announcement of a freeze like this, which applies only to new starts, not to building already underway. The Peace Now posting cautiously welcoming the freeze also promises to monitor its implementation; although Peace Now has been politically insignificant for many years, monitoring settlement development has been their one strong suit.
Uri Avnery, in his assessment, doesn’t think we need to wait for the results of monitoring.
It has no real content. Building “public structures” will go on (about 300 new ones were approved just this week). Building will be continued in housing projects whose foundations have already been laid (at least 3000 apartments in the West Bank). And, most importantly: there will be absolutely no limitation to Jewish building activity in East Jerusalem, where building continues frantically in half a dozen locations in the heart of the Arab part of the city. And, besides, the suspension will last only for 10 months. Then, Begin promised, construction will be resumed in full swing.
That would not have appeased the settlers, if they did not know what every Israeli knows: that it is all phony. Building will continue everywhere, with the officials cooperating on the quiet and the army closing its eyes. It will be claimed that building permits had already been issued, that the foundations had already been laid. (In many places extra foundations have indeed been laid, just in case.) That’s the way it was in the past, under the governments of Labor and Kadima, and that’s the way it will continue now. This week it became known that in the whole of the West Bank, just 14 (fourteen!) government inspectors are supervising all building activity.
The British government has responded to (and commented implicitly) on Israel’s announcement. In his response, the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said:
Britain continues to call for a full settlement freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including so-called ‘natural growth’, in accordance with the responsibilities set for both sides in the 2003 Roadmap. Settlements are illegal.
If you want a single example of why occupation is wrong and counterproductive, even when not a single life or livelihood is threatened, read this story by Amira Hass of how the IDF is forcing the demolition of a football stadium near Ramallah, even though plans for it were approved nearly thirty years ago and have never been revoked. This is the same cat-and-mouse game played by the Civil Administration that has resulted in the loss of thousands of Palestinian homes during the Oslo process.
In case you’re not up to speed on the Goldstone report, here’s a crash course (for viewers of US TV serials: “previously in The Goldstone Saga…”). I’ve tried to stick to the brief facts. Sorry, no links – I may add some later if I get time:
- In April, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) set up a fact-finding mission to investigate the Gaza conflict of last winter, appointing as its head Judge Richard Goldstone, prosecutor of the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Goldstone renegotiated the mandate of the mission, regarding its initial formulation as being biased against Israel. Goldstone is a Zionist himself, a longstanding member of the board of the Hebrew University.
- The Israeli government refused to co-operate with the mission, on the grounds that the UNHRC is so biased that any report that it commissioned was bound to criticise Israel unfairly.
- The mission held public hearings in Gaza and Geneva during the summer. It made fields visits to Gaza and Amman, though it was not permitted by Israel to enter the West Bank.
- In September the fact-finding mission published its report (pdf, 575 pages). Its conclusions were severely critical of both the Israeli government and of Hamas, having found prima facie evidence of war crimes on both sides. The refusal of the Israeli government to co-operate hampered the commission in gathering evidence about possible Hamas war crimes; either for this reason, or because there was less to investigate, the section on Hamas is much shorter than the section on Israel. In its conclusions (which are wide-ranging, and include a call for the end of the Gaza blockade), the commission called on both sides to investigate possible war crimes committed during the conflict. It recommends that if after six months Israel has not proceeded with a “good faith” investigation, that the situation in Gaza should be referred to Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
- The Israeli government and its supporters mounted an intensive campaign to discredit the report, on various suppositional grounds: its biased mandate and unbalanced conclusions, the prejudices of its members, the lack of evidence from the Israeli government, the personal ambitions and failings of Judge Goldstone, and many others. (To show the thoroughness and success of this campaign, search in Google for “Goldstone report”; virtually every single item on the first page, apart from the report itself, will be hostile commentary).
- The US/Israel tactic for handling the report in the United Nations was to defer consideration for three months. At first this looked like succeeding because it was supported by the Palestinian Authority (governing the West Bank), but a storm of protest in Palestine and the wider Arab world forced Mahmoud Abbas to reverse his position. The report was accepted by the UNHRC on 15th October.
Backing by the UNHRC will give the report momentum within the United Nations, and (IMO) wider credibility in the absence of any serious refutation. The doctrine of universal jurisdiction means that senior IDF officers and some government ministers cannot now travel to many western countries, including Britain, for fear of arrest. But the report’s most weighty recommendation, referral to the International Criminal Court, will not be acted on – the US veto in the Security Council will see to that.
Amira Hass is a courageous and outspoken journalist who has lived in Gaza and the West Bank, and often writes highly perceptive pieces in Ha’aretz and elsewhere about the occupation. On Tuesday she accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation. Her acceptance speech is a remarkable five minutes of video (transcript on the same page). Excerpt:
I am generally defined as a reporter on Palestinian issues. But, in fact, my reports are about the Israeli society and policies, about Domination and its intoxications. My sources are not secret documents and leaked out minutes which were taken at meetings of people with Power and in Power. My sources are the open ways by which the subjugated are being dispossessed of their equal rights as human beings.
There is still so much more to learn about Israel, about my society, and about Israeli decision makers who invent restrictions such as: Gazan students are not to study in a Palestinian university in the West Bank, some 70 km’s away from their home. Another ban: Children (above the age of 18) are not to visit their parents in Gaza, if the parents are well and healthy. If they were dying, Israeli order-abiding officials would have allowed the visit. If the children are younger than 18 – the visit would have been allowed. But, on the other hand, second degree relatives are not allowed to visit dying or healthy siblings in Gaza.
It is an intriguing philosophical question, not only journalistic.
Today she gave a longer interview on Democracy Now! (interview starts ~35mins in, transcript and audio download also).
The London Jewish Cultural Centre is running a series of events on Israel at 60. Last night’s was on the theme “One State or Two?” I found it astonishing, not at all what you would expect – certainly not if you go along with the usual right-wing convention that one-state means “pro-Israel” and two-state means “anti-Israel” (for example, remember the recent fuss when the Oxford Union gave in to right-wing pressure to remove Norman Finkelstein from the two-state side of a debate because he’s “anti-Israel”? Really, we should refuse to accept these meaningless terms at all.)
The speakers here were Tony Klug, who started arguing for a Palestinian state thirty years ago (and of course was regarded as deeply anti-Israel for doing so then). He’s been a sharp critic of the occupation ever since, and is a founder member of Independent Jewish Voices. Speaking for one state was Daniel Gavron, a lifelong Zionist who has recently concluded that withdrawal from the Occupied Territories will never happen and that democracy can only be achieved within a unitary state. The meeting was chaired by Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian and of the Jewish Chronicle (when the Board of Deputies permits).
The room was full, with well over a hundred people. In their appearance and in their comments, the audience seemed not to be JfJfP types, but rather part of the mainstream North London Jewish community. Richard Kuper, who is prominent in JfJfP, told me that the last time he had tried to contribute to a discussion in that room, the chair had to intervene to prevent him from being shouted down, but the event last night was totally different in its tone. The background assumptions of all three speakers were the same: that the Israeli government, and often the Israeli people, have completely misunderstood their own situation in the world, and as a result are passing up on a unique opportunity for peace, one which won’t come again. Since all three also expressed affection (or more) for the idea of Israel, there was an air of complete puzzlement and sadness about how so many people could be making such a huge mistake. Of course, there’s no shortage of theories — some were offered here — for why that has happened, but what surprised me was the unanimity of the tone and the fact that these assumptions were shared by virtually everyone who spoke — probably a third of the audience.
The discussion between one and two states did have some of the usual elements, mainly the argument over the feasibility of the two solutions. Each side argues that the solution offered by the other can’t work, for well-rehearsed reasons: two states can’t work because of the settlements, one state can’t work because of the hostility between the people. It may be pessimistic to say this, but I find the arguments against each solution pretty convincing. (But in any case I don’t think it’s up to me to choose what solution other people choose for how they live). Usually, this part of the debate feels very tired because there’s no discussion about the actual-existing Israel – only an argument over whether it should continue or cease to exist. Last night, by contrast there was agreement that in any imaginable future Israel would have to change enormously to remove the injustices and inequalities that currently exist in the treatment ofa quarter of the non-Jewish citizens of the Jewish state.
Leaving, I could hardly feel cheerful about a debate in which each side had convincing arguments as to why the “solution” proposed by the other would not work. And as Tony Klug said, “We are now in the last chance saloon… the alternative is perpetual conflict”. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of hope that the situation is finally being understood in mainstream British Jewry. That is far from saying that opinion has changed unanimously, but there’s no question in my mind that a decisive change of mood is under way, in London at least. It may be a little while before it makes its way North to our parts.
Richard Kuper (ex-chair of JfJfP and more recently its publications and policy officer) has posted to the Just Peace UK group a long list of surprisingly sympathetic pieces in the Jewish Chronicle, and ending with the proposition
Opinion within Britain’s Jewish community has shifted massively in recent years and the JC seems to be making an effort to catch up.