Thursday, 9 September 2010

WHAT MAKES A FRIEND OF ISRAEL. Notes from a Conference.

Israel must be the only country that feels the need to hold a full day conference on the question of who is a friend.
Such is the feeling of isolation and mistrust in Israel of friends and allies.

The IDC Herzlia hosted a conference sponsored by Germany's Heinrich Boll Foundation.

The subject is important for Israel that perceives a bias in politics and media that not only displays not a lack of understanding, but a refusal to understand Israel's right to self defense.

Jorn Bohme, Director of the Israel office of the Heinrich Boll Foundation, asked what characterised a friend of Israel? He wondered would this question be asked of any other country.
The Jewish state has the right to ask are you with us, or against us, in the war on terror.
Bohme admitted that Israel has turned every stone for peace and the Palestinians have rejected each of them.
Israel, he said, is a country with many fault lines in a region with even deeper fault lines.

Cern Ozdemir is the Co-Chairperson of Germany's Green Party. Although born in Germany, he is of Turkish extraction.
He told us that people assumed he was an expert of everything Turkish but admitted that, growing up, he knew nothing of Turkey, and even less about Islam.
Only when he went into politics was he forced, by repeated questioning, to study the subject.
Turkey and Israel, he told us, have more in common than is exhibited by both peoples.
Both nations think that the rest of the world is biased against them and don't like them.
The expression 'The Turk is the Turks only friend' is taught at childhood in Turkey.
He advised Israel, 'Just because your paranoid doesn't mean your neighbours are not out to kill you.'
He warned those with an agenda against Israel, 'If you call Israel a terror state, and support terror attacks against Israel, don't expect people to listen to you'.
He clarified that members of German Left parties participated in the Gaza flotilla, but not Germany's Green Party who consider themselves friends of Israel.
What is important to realise within Germany is the changing demographic in which 32.5% are of non-German origin and do not share the German-Israel relationship which is not only based on mutual interest, but of history.
'What do Turkish immigrants in Germany know of the Holocaust?' he asked.
75% of German-Turks never visited a museum or Holocaust site. They need educating on the subject.
The majority have no memory of the Holocaust and care more about the politics of Israel.
Again, said Ozdemir, education is the key. 

I am sensitive to Israelis using poor language when explaining Israel's position to overseas experts.
When Dan Margalit, a leading Maariv journalist and political TV pundit, said that Israel is ready to give back land, I winced.
He did not fully understand the implication of that statement but, to a listener, it seemed like an admission that the land belonged to the Palestinians. 
The majority of Israelis know that the land is ours but we are ready to offer land to Palestinians in return for a permanent secure peace.

Haaretz journalist, Aluf Benn, said the one good thing that came out of the Gaza withdrawal was that there is now one recognised border between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. 
'Hamas knows where the line is, and so do we. This is something we don;t have with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Only when we have borders can we begin to dream about a world without borders'.

Dore Gold spoke of his experiences at the United Nations.

'It is easy to see who is a friend and who is not by who votes for you, and who brings resolutions and votes against you'.

One organisation that is definitely not a friend of Israel is the United Nations Human Rights Council that focuses exclusively on Israel and ignores the crimes of Sudan, Iran, and other such nations.

'This criticism', said Gold, ' came from the ex-Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Anan'.

'One criteria of a friend of Israel would be equality before the law. You can't have one set of international laws that apply to Israel, and another that applies to all other nations, then call yourself a friend'.

'The evolution of the Goldstone Report began in the UNHRC, a bastion of human rights represented by countries such as Cuba, Pakistan, and Egypt.
Th conclusion of Goldstone's 575 page report was that Israel intentionally and deliberately killed Palestinian civilians'.

And Goldstone still considers himself a friend of Israel.

Turning to flotilla and the blockade on Gaza, Gold said that a blockade is a legal instrument of self defense.
After years and thousands of rockets fired at Israeli civilian centers can anyone doubt that Israel has the legitimate right of self defense?

'Why is it OK for NATO to blockade Yugoslavia, yet not OK for Israel to blockage Gaza?', asked Dore Gold.

Firming his case, he reminded us that, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the United Nations imposed a blockade on Iraq.

Dore Gold finds the delegitimization of Israel ironic.
'No other country has as much international legitimacy as Israel. Which other country can boast that their rights have been approved both in the League of Nations, in the origins of the United nations, and reconfirmed in the 1947 UN Resolution 181'.

Closing on a pessimistic note, he said 'the fundamental rights of Israel will be denied where ever the final borders may occur'.

Professor Dan Diner (Department of History at the Hebrew University) and Rafi Fuchs (President of the Heinrich Boll Foundation) agreed that the acceptance and establishment of the Jewish state occurred during a 'window of historic opportunity' that accepted the creation of Israel on principles of self determination. 

The timing of accepting the national rights of the Jewish people had to do with the historic memory of supporters, said Professor Diner, quoting examples.

Rafi Fuchs refuted that Israel was exclusively founded on historic memories or conscience of the Holocaust.
It played a role, he said, but Zionism was active before World War 2.

Mr. Fuchs outlined the changes in European political thinking post World War 2. 
The notion of nation states began to fade following the Second World War in favour of multi-national union. 
Europeans looked at nation states as contributing to conflicts and wars. He felt it important that Israel be incorporated into the European Union and into NATO. It would, he said, reduce tensions in the area and add to Israel's security.

He explained that Europeans insist that an essential part of democracy is separation of state and religion. Reflecting on Israel as the state of the Jews is, at the same time, understandable, yet an ethnic state is a strange concept for Europeans.

A problem for progressives and liberals, said Fuchs, is they prefer to see Israel
as they want it to be, not as it actually is.
The political and social fabric of Israel is not perceived so well in Europe. Friendship, though, means you can disagree but stay together.

If it is unsafe to rely on historical sources to link Germany and Israel, we must build institutions to strengthen the ties. These should include the European Union and NATO.

'We need mutual obligations to protect each other. A two state solution and mutual obligations in the needs of security'.

Rabbi Andrew Baker gave an over view of gathering anti-Semitism from the United Nations resolution that 'Zionism is Racism' to the anti-Semitic United Nations Durban Conference.
He outlined steps that had been taken to institutionalise the campaign against Anti-Semitism.
He reminded us that Anti-Semitism disguises itself by attacks against Israel.

He quoted an incident in June 2010 when the mayor of Malmo told his Jewish population that they would feel more comfortable in his town if they spoke out against Israel.

We then came to, for me, a strange section of the conference.
Moshe Arens has always represented a right wing position, and Yossi Beilin has always been perceived as belonging to the left of the Labour Party.

Yet we found ourselves hearing from Moshe Arens that he favours a bi-national state.

'Israel is already a bi-national state,' he said. 'It is a multi-cultural state made up of Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Christians, and others'.

'If a two states for two people - or even three or four states for two people - does not work, why not one state with a Jewish majority?'

'What percentage of a minority can be part of a state without destabilising it?' Arens asked. 
'Today, 20% are non-Jewish', he claimed.

Arens foresees a state encompassing all of the territory that will still have a sizable Jewish majority.  He did not express what he would do with Gaza.

He spoke of President Obama's Cairo speech in which Obama said that Israel emerged out of the Holocaust.  He challenged that assumption.
The Zionist plan was active in Europe prior to the Second World War.
'What would Israel be like today had seven million Jews made Aliyah in advance of Nazi Germany?'

Following to Holocaust, and the establishment of the Jewish state, a population of only 600,000 faced the whole Arab world.
Linking Israel to the Holocaust is a complex issue.

Turning to the wavering support of American Jews, he disputed the claim that it was Israeli policies that were turning them away.

'I am not a sociologist. I am an engineer' he said, 'but I think that any weakening of support for Israel is linked to the increasing intermarriage in America. I think it is a factor that, as they lose their connection to Judaism, they also lose their connection to Israel.
Not that American commitment to Israel was all that strong from the beginning. In the United States, out of five million Jews only between 2000-3000 volunteers came to help Israel is our early wars.  Only a small fraction stood up and said 'I came to help''.

Arens addressed the title of the conference with a wry smile.
'How does one devote an entire day to such a simple question of who is a friend of Israel?'
The answer is simple,  a friend in need is a friend in deed'.

To prove his point he mentioned the Gaza flotilla. 'It is clear who is involved. They cannot be considered friends of Israel.' The post flotilla reaction also showed who was with us, and who was against us.

'Those who question our legitimacy cannot be friends. Do we have a legitimate right to live here, to our own state? I do not negate others their rights to their states but, at such an hour of a large existential threat to Israel, we, indeed, have the right to know who is a true friend of Israel'.

Then Yossi Beilin took the microphone.
He answered Moshe Arens directly.

'You said that a friend in need is a friend in deed. I don't want to be that friend in need'.

'Is it OK to rely on our friends? I wouldn't like to put them to the test!
History has show us that.  During the Holocaust the world closed their gates to the Jews. Even countries that were not hostile to Jews closed their gates. The good people closed their gates'.

My Zionism is here in Israel, in the land that I was born. It is in my bible, in my history. It is in the need of the Jewish people to own their own gate.

I don't want a bi-national state. I don't want to be like Belgium, a country falling apart, divided by two peoples.

If Israel is not a Jewish state I don't want to live here. I like it here. The climate is good. I enjoy the Jewish culture'.

Referring to history, 'the greatest failure of Zionism was that is became effective only after the Second World War. The Arabs did not agree to the Peel Commission. That was their mistake. 
If someone has a conference in Colombia that Israel doesn't have the right to exist it doesn't interest me.
We must do everything possible to solve the Middle East conflict.
This does not mean that they will stop hating us, but it is easier for them to hate us if we seem to the world as not doing the right things.

I would like to do everything so that I will not be the one in need'.

I met a diplomat from the Irish Embassy. We enjoyed a rolling discussion over coffees and lunch throughout the day.
As we were leaving the conference hall together he said to me, '
What sort of friend do you prefer, the barman who pours you drinks without end, or the policeman who pulls you over before you have a driving accident?'
I wasn't sure which parties fill the various roles in his conundrum. To be honest, he hadn't thought it through himself.
Since the conference I have solved his enigmatic puzzle.

It's the international community that is pouring drinks unceasingly, and unconditionally, at the Palestinian Authority.
The barman is telling me that the bottles of booze are intended to make the drunk calmer, less violent, and more persuasive to settle his dispute with me.
Instead, the drunk continues to threaten me and my family if I do not agree to give him my house.
With every gulp of free alcohol he becomes less conducive to settle his grievances with me.
He kills my family members, maims others, damages my property, and when I strike out at him the barman calls in the international police to have me arrested.

So, the next time I meet my Irish acquaintance I shall tell him that neither the barman, nor the policeman, are my friends.

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