A UNITED FRONT FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM? 30 July 2010

What do British Jews really think about Israel? For so long a matter of conjecture, this question has been given a definitive answer by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research. The JPR has just published the results of its poll of Anglo-Jewry and, for Zionists at least, there is a great deal to celebrate.

Some 82% of respondents say that Israel plays a ‘central’ or ‘important but not central’ role in their Jewish identities with 90% believing that Israel is the ‘ancestral homeland’ of the Jewish people.

72% categorise themselves as Zionists and 77% agree that Jews have ‘a special responsibility to support Israel’. There is also strong support for Israeli measures of self defence, like the security barrier, with a further 72% arguing that Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was ‘a legitimate act of self defence.’

No longer can self indulgent, left wing Jewish groups (Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Independent Jewish voices) claim to be the true voice of the community. No longer can they argue, at least validly, that pro Zionist organisations, like the British Board of Deputies, are unrepresentative of the community. The Jewish critics of Israel are very much fringe voices of discontent, with the extreme anti Zionist Neturei Karta, the fringe of the fringe.

But this does not mean that Anglo-Jewry is uncritical of Israel or unwilling to accept compromise for peace. Far from it, in fact. 35% of respondents think that Jewish people should ‘always’ feel free to criticize Israel with a further 38% saying that there are ‘some’ circumstances when this would be justified. Only a quarter of people believe that there are ‘never’ any circumstances in which criticism is legitimate.

A clear majority (55 to 36%) also favours giving up territory for peace and 78% believe in a two state solution. Some 40% of the respondents believe that Israeli control of the West Bank is not vital for the country’s security. There is also a very large majority (78%) who are opposed to the expansion of existing settlements in the West Bank. Interesting nearly the same number also believes that ‘Orthodox Judaism has too much influence in Israel’s society.’

Again, the left has got Anglo-Jewry completely wrong. British Jews are not exactly hawkish when it comes to Israeli security. There is a willingness to accept territorial compromise provided that it does not affect the lives of Israeli citizens. This tallies with a clear and consistent Israeli majority that favours swapping land for peace. Many British Jews are even prepared to think the unthinkable to end the conflict. One of the most startling findings is that 52% of British Jews believe that ‘the government of Israel should negotiate with Hamas in its efforts to achieve peace.’ Only 39% are opposed. This is worse than dovish, it is frankly naïve.

For one thing, what exactly would there be to talk about? Hamas has declared that it wishes to eradicate the Jewish state rather than bargain with it. It considers Palestine to be holy Islamic territory, meaning that not one square inch can be ceded to the ‘infidels’ (Israelis or Americans). It does not oppose Israel because of a minor territorial grievance but because the country has the temerity to continue existing.

Of course, let’s not forget their visceral loathing of Jews. The Hamas Charter is a nasty, poisonous document that accuses Jews of fomenting war and revolution in order to further their interests around the world. They are depicted as malevolent land grabbers, colonialists and subversives.

If this sounds eerily familiar, it is because you have read about it in Mein Kampf. At most, the Jew hating Hamas would agree to a hudna, a temporary cessation of hostilities for tactical purposes, rather than a lasting settlement.

Supporting talks with Hamas sits uneasily with another finding in the poll, namely 87% agreeing that ‘Iran represents a threat to Israel’s existence.’ Yet the Islamic Republic is a threat not just because of its nuclear weapons programme but because it funds and trains Hamas operatives. It is hard to see Iranian influence diminishing if the terror organisation is given formal recognition in talks. The true picture of Anglo-Jewry’s attitudes to Israel is more complex than we imagine. Naturally, every opinion poll will be limited in one way or another. Just over 4,000 British Jews responded to this survey, representing fewer than 2% of the community, though the JPR’s methodology took into account variations in age, religious background, economic status and country of origin.

Yet we should feel entitled to conclude that a sizeable majority of British Jews are Zionistic and back the Jewish state. However, on specific political developments, including the peace process and the fraught question of negotiating with terrorists, there are glaring divisions within the community. Two Jews, three opinions. It all sounds so familiar!



WHY TALKS ARE DOOMED 3 September 2010

Abba Eban once famously said that ‘Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.’ Never was this adage better exemplified than in recent weeks with the resurgence of the US sponsored ‘peace process.’

From the moment that Hilary Clinton offered to re-start talks a fortnight ago, Abbas has done his level best to scupper them. Like a petulant child, he has demanded a continuation of the 10 month moratorium on settlement expansion, much to the consternation of the Israelis. Every day has brought a fresh threat to withdraw from the talks unless the freeze is maintained.

Even before the Clinton announcement, Abbas was demanding a series of preconditions for these talks. He wanted a future Palestinian state to be defined by the pre 1967 borders, all settlement building ended and a guaranteed timeframe for statehood.

In other words, he was trying to fix the outcome of the negotiations in advance so that his demands would be granted, regardless of his side’s behaviour. This would have given him zero incentive to compromise with Israel on vital questions of security, territory and borders. Indeed he would have had every incentive to block Israeli requests. After all, why compromise when you don’t have to?

If the man is so desperate for a Palestinian state, why has he behaved like this? The unpalatable answer (unpalatable to American liberals and the Israeli left) is that the Palestinian leader is not ready to end this conflict, or the mindset of terror that feeds it.

Abbas is adamant that he won’t recognise Israel as a Jewish state and remains committed to the right of return of Palestinian refugees. These ‘refugees’ now number in the millions and their inclusion in a Jewish state would soon turn Israel into an Arab nation.

Abbas has not always been tactful about this ultimate aim, however. Earlier this year he told the Arab League: ‘If you want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favour.’

During the proximity talks in May, Abbas promised Washington that he would ‘work against incitement of any sort.’ Yet his Palestinian Authority regularly glorifies terrorist murderers, such as Dalal Mughrabi and Abu Jihad, by naming streets, schools and sports centres after them. Not only does this honour despicable killers but it serves as a lethal incitement to murder.

Worse, the PA’s media regularly launch hate filled diatribes against Jews and Israel. Programmes on Palestinian television demonise the Jews, likening them to poisonous animals and willingly reproducing the most vicious anti semitic images.

Maps in Palestinian textbooks describe the entire Jewish state as ‘occupied Palestine’ and thereby blot out the existence of the Jewish state. PA appointed imams, including the Mufti of Jerusalem, describe the conflict as an ongoing ‘religious war’ (ribat) and demonise Jews as ‘the enemies of God.’ This frenzied hatred is the fuel that helps keep this conflict alive.

But this is about more than the issue of Abbas’ good intentions (or lack of them). The moment that he signs up to a two state solution, he will be branded a traitor among hardline Arabs, including the secular Palestinian terror groups linked to Fatah. Indeed a collection of radical Palestinian groups has already called on Abbas to resign, furious that he has ‘capitulated’ to American pressure.

With his recent approval ratings in free fall, the Palestinian leader could suffer a dramatic and possibly irreversible fall from grace. Hamas, whose rejection of any negotiated settlement was made abundantly clear last week, could entrench their power in the West Bank, just as they did in Gaza after the 2006 elections.

With a Hamas led government in the West Bank, Israel would then face a trio of hostile enemies on its southern, eastern and northern borders. Iran, which bankrolls Hamas and Hezbullah, would instantly see its aim of regional domination enhanced while Israel’s power of deterrence would be fatally undermined.

Tel Aviv, the heartland of Israel’s economy, would become as vulnerable to rocket attacks as Sderot. Meanwhile those guarantees of security signed by Abbas would be as worthless as Hitler’s promises in the Munich agreement.

When these talks start though, Abbas has little to lose from being obdurate. From the moment he turns up, he will count on American pressure over Israeli settlements. If he withdraws from the talks, blaming Israeli intransigence over that issue (or another), he will claim that he stood his ground and refused to sell out the Palestinian dream to the Western ‘bully boys’. In other words, he will gain a priceless diplomatic victory despite being intractable in his demands.

Western leaders must stop deluding themselves. Abbas may not be about to launch an intifada but he is no more willing to end the conflict than his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. Quite simply, Abbas is Arafat with good PR.



A WALK ON THE WILDERS SIDE 15 October 2010

Europe is historically a citadel of liberty and tolerance, a place where opinions can be freely exchanged without censorship or repression. If only that were true today. The current trial of the pro Israel, anti Islamic Dutch MP, Geert Wilders, reveals all too clearly that in modern Europe, some opinions are deemed so unacceptable that they lead to court action.

Prosecutors in Holland have brought five charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against the maverick Dutch MP. His comments, according to the Dutch Court of appeal, rendered a 'criminal prosecution obvious for the insult of Islamic worshippers.'

The key word here is 'insult.' In politically correct Europe, to hurt the feelings of a religious community is now tantamount to a hate crime. No wonder that Wilders has said that ‘the freedom of expression of at least 1.5 million people is standing trial together with me'.

For those unfamiliar with his opinions, Wilders is an implacable foe of Islam which he has labelled ‘a fascist ideology’. He has compared the Koran to Mein Kampf and campaigned for it to be banned in Holland. He has also expressed opposition to the burqa and called for an end to Muslim immigration to Holland.

In his short film Fitna, he intersperses Koranic verses with images of terrorist murder in an effort to prove that there is a seamless ideological connection between the two.

Some believe that Wilders’ critique of Islam goes too far. Undoubtedly radical Islam is a fascistic and totalitarian ideology which seeks to impose a medieval form of Islam on secular societies. The intolerance, racism, homophobia and fanaticism of its believers merits the sternest condemnation.

Yet Islam is still open to different interpretations and modes of expression, and even Wilders admits that Islamism is not the dominant creed in Holland. In any case, to call for freedom of speech and a ban on the Koran is somewhat questionable.

But surely that is the point: his views should be questioned, debated, scrutinised and discussed in the court of public opinion, not in a court of law. No one, certainly not a leading politician, should be criminalised for merely having a misguided opinion.

If Wilders had called for Muslims to be killed, it would be quite in order for him to be put on trial and convicted of inciting hatred. If he had called for mosques to be looted or burnt, the same sanction would apply. It is people and property that need protection under the law, not ideas. Islam does not deserve special treatment, nor can Muslims claim the right not to be offended.

Yet Islam has been given a special pass by these prosecutors. Instead of dealing with offences, they are condemning a man for causing offence. This is nothing but cultural totalitarianism, an attempt to censure ‘unenlightened’ views by judicial dictat. Such a heresy hunting mentality smacks of the Inquisition.

All of this matters to Jewry because the pathology that underlies the treatment of Wilders also explains the EU’s hostility to Israel.

On his website Wilders argues that mass immigration is ‘affecting our heart, our identity, our culture’ and worries about Holland ‘being absorbed into a bland international omniculture.’ His party platform is blatantly nationalistic, seeking to uphold Dutch culture and Judaeo-Christian values. He advocates taking a robust line against his country’s enemies, not appeasing them.

Israel is an embodiment of similar ideals. She too has a proud national story which revolves around the glories of Jewish history and civilisation. Despite consisting of many non Jews, including one million Arab citizens, Israelis are determined to maintain their state’s Jewish character. And as it refuses to compromise on its security, Israel unilaterally takes robust action against terrorist states and Palestinian extremists.

Yet nationalism, religious values and militarism are antithetical to the defining values of the European project. The European Union, founded on the promise of outlawing war, harbours an inherent distrust of nations that unilaterally exercise power.

The guiding assumption is that conflict resolution must proceed by discussion and negotiation, guided by the dictates of international law. Judaeo-Christian ideals have been expunged from the European constitution and replaced by multiculturalism.

These problems are exacerbated by the presence in European countries of a vocal and radicalised minority of Muslims. In the face of their relentless intimidation, Europe’s response has often been marked by retreat, cowardice and appeasement. Thus when Wilders demands the strongest measures against Islamic supremacists he, like the Israelis, incurs the harshest censure.

Depressingly then, this trial symbolises Europe’s abject response to the terror threat. When we need to defend the West’s core values, including the freedoms of speech and thought, a man is put on trial for expressing his opinions. With a judiciary that hollow, it is little wonder the Islamists are laughing.




GAZA WAR AND THE MEDIA August 29 2014

It is often said that the first casualty of war is the truth. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. The British broadcast media, dominated by the BBC and Channel 4 News, has painted Israel as the regional villain, creating a frenzy of hostility towards the Jewish state.

According to a recent poll, most British citizens believe that Israel's actions in Gaza have been 'disproportionate'. They are encouraged to believe this, not just by the higher number of Palestinian casualties, but by the differing images from each side of the war.

In essence, the conflict has been framed by a narrative of Palestinian civilian suffering. Day after day, hour after hour, British viewers have been bombarded with images of dead bodies, injured children and shattered buildings. We have been collective witnesses to a cornucopia of pain, loss and suffering.

Some may see this as an eloquent testimony to the horror of war, and of endless Israeli brutality. There is little doubt that these images are tragic and heartrending. But the reality is that the media has offered a decontextualised commentary on the conflict, making it hard to form a rational judgment on what is shown.

For weeks prior to the start of Operation Protective Edge, Hamas fired hundreds of rockets into southern and central Israel. It's easy to overlook this, given that the media was virtually silent during Hamas' initial assault, only springing to life when Israel launched military action. Naturally, such selective attention was a gift to the Islamists.

Images of death belie the fact that Israel has made extensive attempts to avoid harming non-combatants. Through a mixture of text messages, calls and 'roof knocking', they have given civilians advance warning of impending attacks. While some attention has been paid to Hamas rockets, there has been little mention of the trauma suffered by Israeli citizens when they are forced to seek shelter. Instead the rockets have been likened to primitive 'fireworks' which pose no threat given Israel's advanced technology.

The endless visuals of death and suffering obscure the role played by human shields in this conflict. Gaza has been turned into an armed camp, with hospitals converted into command and control centres, schools used as weapons dumps and houses built above tunnels. Israeli counter measures inevitably lead to civilian tragedies and damaged infrastructure. Yet without proper context, Israel is being depicted as a nation of child killers.

During interviews, Palestinians dismiss allegations of a human shields policy with their accounts accepted as gospel truth. But victimhood cannot confer truth or legitimacy. As Amnesty field researcher Donatella Rovera revealed in a recent report, some Palestinian witnesses will often lie to journalists. As she put it: 'Fear can lead victims and witnesses to withhold evidence or give deliberately erroneous accounts of incidents'. Some also fear reprisals by armed groups.

British and foreign journalists have also admitted facing regular intimidation in Gaza. This has caused them to misreport events on the ground and omit damning evidence, including footage of Hamas firing weapons in civilian areas. But such retrospective admissions can't undo the damage caused by unbalanced reportage.

Worse, British viewers never get to see images of dead Hamas terrorists or rockets fired from residential areas. The implication is that the dead are overwhelmingly civilians. Both the BBC and Channel 4 News routinely quote a figure of 80% civilian fatalities, using information obtained by Gaza's Ministry of Health. But the Ministry is Hamas run and is therefore a completely unreliable source to quote. Treating it as a sacred cow betrays a lack of integrity.

Finally, the media stands accused of drawing moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas, with constant references to a 'cycle of violence' between the sides. The actions of a fanatical terrorist organisation have been deemed equivalent to those of a nation defending itself. We are informed repeatedly that ceasefire agreements have 'collapsed', rather than that terrorists have broken them. These mistakes follow from treating Hamas as a legitimate political interlocutor, rather than a callous, bloodthirsty organisation.

The media's combination of blind spots, bias and inadequate reportage has contributed to a total lack of context and balance in Gaza. How Orwell would be spinning in his grave.