Archive for January, 2008

Palestinian, Israeli – and Jew

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Daniel Barenboim makes some remarkable comments in his article in the International Herald Tribute of Jan 30, 2008, entitled “Israeli and Palestinian”. What he fails to do is to anchor these comments in either fact or logic.

Having immigrated from Argentina, he is of course entitled to refer to himself as an Israeli and a Palestinian if he so wishes. After all, hundreds of thousands of Arabs flocked to Palestine looking for work in the Yishuv – the forerunner to the Jewish State of Israel – and even if they only lived there for two years the UN granted them the right to call themselves Palestinians and has been giving them huge cash grants ever since, provided they abstain from working. One of the often underrated benefits of living in a democracy such as Israel is that Daniel Barenboim too can title himself as he pleases, although as a Jew no UN body is going to offer him cash grants for doing nothing. But then neither is any Israeli going to kill him for what many might regard as an act of high treason during a time of war. It’s all part of what we term democracy and freedom of expression.

What’s in a name?
Like Barenboim, I too am Palestinian and Israeli. And Jewish. Palestinian because my maternal grandmother was born in Jerusalem into a highly religious Mizrachi Jewish family, at a time when the entire territory including today’s Jordan was known as Palestine. Her husband was an Iraqi Jew, both my parents are Jewish. I have my father’s Palestinian ID card from the period before the 1948 War of Independence. Even though I didn’t come to Israel from as far away as Argentina, my Palestinian and Israeli credentials are thus clear, so perhaps I will be allowed to debate with Daniel Barenboim on an equal footing.

Fact versus fiction
There is much to comment on in his article, but perhaps most astonishing in its departure from fact is the following (the emphasis is mine):

“A true citizen of Israel must also ask himself why the Palestinians have been condemned to live in slums … rather than being provided by the occupying force with decent, dignified and liveable conditions … in any occupied territory, the occupiers are responsible for the quality of life of the occupied, and in the case of the Palestinians, the different Israeli governments over the last 40 years have failed miserably.”

Set against this unsubstantiated claim is the truth: that the PLO and Arab League forced the UN to ensure that Palestinian Arab refugees from the war instigated against the Palestinian Jews by the Arab League would remain incarcerated in refugee camps. They were to be used as political pawns in the pan-Arab geo-strategic drive to rid Palestine of Jews from the Jordan River all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.

UN demanded that Israel stop helping the refugees
The only nation that took any steps to alleviate the situation of the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza was the Palestinian Jewish nation, Israel. This Jewish country built not only proper housing and then donated that housing to the predominantly Muslim (but also Christian) Palestinian Arabs, it also created the proper infrastructure to service that housing.

This, however, was anathema to the PLO, which represented the Palestinian Arabs. It worked through the Arab League to force the United Nations to demand the destruction of the housing and the adoption of the following resolution:
The UN General Assembly Resolution 31/15 from November 23, 1976:
Calls once more upon Israel:
(a) To take effective steps immediately for the return of the refugees concerned to the camps from which they were removed in the Gaza Strip and to provide adequate shelters for their accommodation;
(b) To desist from further removal of refugees and destruction of their shelters.

Acknowledging the truth is an essential stepping-stone to reconciliation. Daniel Barenboim’s article ignores the truth.

Racism as official government policy
Barenboim writes rather naively that “in the sense that we share one land and one destiny, we should all have dual citizenship”. He might care to re-examine that sentiment against the oft-repeated statement of the Palestinian Hamas government – most recently on the 60th anniversary of the UN decision to partition Palestine into two states – that “Palestine is Arab Islamic land, from the river to the sea, including Jerusalem … there is no room in it for the Jews.” Barenboim might wish to use his new-found Palestinian citizenship to persuade his government that racism is not really politically correct in 2008.

Having said that, it might be safer for him not to. In Israel, criticism of the state is commonplace in a country characterized by the Jewish ideals of debate, democracy and equality. Daniel Barenboim might find these traits somewhat lacking in his adopted country of Palestine, where political dissidents and religious minorities are routinely murdered by official sanction.

Better then for Daniel Barenboim not to voice an opinion in Gaza. After all, he can still be published in Jerusalem or New York.

And live to tell the tale.

Convoluted Swedish politics impacting the Israeli political scene

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Dusted-off Swedish politician and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is mixing it up in Israel. He’s where he best likes to be – under the spotlight.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt recently addressed the Herzliya Conference and, speaking to journalists on the subject of Iran, said:

“A military option doesn’t exist. You can only delay” Iran’s nuclear armament through military means (“Ya’alon: Crisis Management, Not Peace”, Jerusalem Post, Jan 22).

While this writer does not necessarily advocate a military option to combat Iran’s increasingly strident and racist stance on Israel, this is not a surprising statement on the part of the Swedish Foreign Minister.

A discredited politician
Carl Bildt is a member of the Conservative party and is in many eyes a largely discredited and discarded politician on account of several rather dubious financial dealings over the years. His appointment as Foreign Minister when the centre-right coalition came to power surprised many – apparently including himself (“On Friday I was appointed Foreign Minister of Sweden in a move that was widely seen as somewhat surprising. And in many ways it was.” Carl Bildt’s blog, October 07, 2006).

Swedish politics at play
Apart from Carl Bildt’s rather abrasive comments on Israel over the years (he calls Israel’s drive to stop Palestinian firing of Kassam rockets “indiscriminate killings”), perhaps stemming from personal antipathy towards the Jewish state, one needs also to look at his comments against the backdrop of a variety of less visible considerations.

Perhaps foremost among these driving forces is that Bildt put a lot of faith in and staked his personal reputation on the success of the Oslo Accords. That process has now been killed and buried. Killed by Arafat who on the verge of receiving what he always purported to want – an independent Palestinian state – baulked at the realization that it would also mean something which for him invoked the utmost revulsion: recognition of a Jewish state as his neighbor. And buried by the Palestinian intifada and its deliberate murder of innocent civilians as a means of achieving political and geostrategic aims. Carl Bildt needs desperately to salvage his name. Oslo failed him, Arafat failed him, now he wants to rehabilitate his name on the Iran-Israel seam line. It is Israel that is the stage for his personal brand-name marketing campaign.

A wider backdrop
Carl Bildt may be Sweden’s Foreign Minister, but his words and actions need also to be seen against the wider backdrop of pressing domestic issues rather closer to home. Bildt’s Conservative-led coalition is not doing very well in the popularity stakes. Sweden’s Jewish minority has been in the country for almost 300 years and numbers about 20,000. The country’s Muslim minority has lived in Sweden for 30-40 years and already exceeds 400,000. Bildt and his party need votes. Principles and ethics aside, a politician is in the game of politics to do just that – stay in the game. Failure to mouth words and express sentiments that will fall in fertile soil would see that possibility evaporate. Exit Bildt. But Carl Bildt, startlingly resurrected from the sidelines, has no intention of sidling off the world stage once again.

“Kill the Jews” is merely lively public discourse in Sweden
Carl Bildt is a Swede. Just two years ago Swedish Chancellor of Justice Göran Lambertz took the unprecedented step of interfering in an ongoing police investigation and directed the courts to drop a preliminary hearing. In a sermon at the Grand Mosque in Stockholm, the imam exhorted his followers to “kill the Jews”. Not even in Sweden is racism allowed. Nor is incitement to murder ratified by law. There were audio tapes to verify the imam’s fiery statements. The Swedish Chancellor of Justice, however, directed the prosecutor to drop the case with the motivation that such statements “should be judged differently – and therefore be regarded as permissible – because they were used by one side in an ongoing and far-reaching conflict where calls to arms and insults are part of the everyday climate in the rhetoric that surrounds this conflict”.

Swedish Jews are thus expected to live with calls for their death owing to an ongoing conflict on a different continent more than 3000 kilometers away. There are all sorts of theories regarding what motivated Lambertz’s remarkable departure from protocol – fear of a Muslim backlash, a well-intentioned but poorly executed attempt to defuse a potentially violent situation, latent anti-Semitism – but Carl Bildt was not in government at the time. He is, however, a product of the same background.

There may well be many Israelis who are grateful that a faraway country like Sweden should take an interest in its demographic well-being and strategic survival. There may also be many other Israelis who, upon examining Sweden’s record on immigration, absorption and integration, might well ask what Sweden could possibly teach Israel. Sweden has since the end of the Second World War accepted many different groups of immigrants. Some were survivors of Hitler’s death camps, some were political activists fleeing repression and death at the hands of despotic regimes, and many others were asylum-seekers looking to escape political strife in which they were not personally involved but which nevertheless placed their lives in jeopardy.

New demographics
The largest single group of immigrants – and it is not a homogeneous ethnic group by any means – represents a massive influx of Muslims over the past 30 or so years. While all previous waves of immigrants took to their new country and integrated quickly and smoothly into the fabric of their new society, these more recent immigrants have remained apart, isolated, literally a foreign body within the country. Sweden is of course not exceptional in this regard; France, Britain, the Netherlands and Germany, for instance, all echo this same pattern. While it is both impossible and wrong to make generalizations about any ethnic group, it is safe to say that these immigrants – disenchanted, separate, many of them unemployed and, they claim, unemployable owing to unofficial discrimination, semi-lingual in two half languages instead of bi-lingual in two – these immigrants have totally failed to integrate, to identify themselves with their new country. The number of parabolic antennae pointing east is perhaps an indication of their affiliations and interests.

None of this is remarkable in the Europe of today, perhaps, but bearing in mind the failed state of Sweden’s immigration and absorption program, it is scarcely likely that Israel can benefit much from listening to Carl Bildt on how best Israel should come to terms with its own indigenous (and often very intractable) Muslim minority and the highly aggressive Muslim nations surrounding Israel. While it is naturally incumbent upon the host nation to listen politely when a visiting Foreign Minister speaks, Israel may well conclude there is not much need to make extensive notes of his Herzliya Conference speech.

Tiptoe on Iran – or else…
Of course, Carl Bildt does have to tread warily whenever he tackles the Iranian issue. A large proportion of the Iranian asylum-seekers living in Sweden want no truck with the mullahs of Teheran. Among the foremost reasons they have fled their home country are religious-inspired persecution and Iran’s failing economy. This latter is due in no small measure to Iran’s hugely costly drive towards nuclear capability which, according to many observers, also embraces nuclear weapons. Any hairdressing salon or pizzeria in the city of Gothenburg where this writer lives will probably be run by an Iranian – one who has sought and is grateful for Swedish refuge.

Yet the w
eekly flights to Teheran are packed – these are supposed to be terrified asylum-seekers, remember – and first-hand accounts relate that on almost every flight there are fit, burly young Iranian men sporting crew-cuts and neatly trimmed moustaches who disembark not from the front of the aircraft like the rest of the passengers but from the rear, and that they are not seen again in passport control or in the luggage terminal. Iran’s covert activities in Sweden are a major worry for Carl Bildt and most Swedes. And rightly so, the regime has never failed to bomb its critics into submission even as far afield as London and Buenos Aires. Carl Bildt does well to handle Iran with kid gloves, he is quite rightly looking after Sweden’s interests. But Israel should not lose sight of where his natural interests lie when he speaks on the subject of Israel and the wider Middle East.

Carl Bildt endorses PM Ehud Olmert and praises Mahmoud Abbas – the former apparently has a 2 percent popularity rating and the latter famously does not even control the streets beyond his compound in Ramallah – as “partners for peace”. This is scarcely surprising. Whatever Prime Minister Olmert’s and Mahmoud Abbas’s sterling qualities may be, “uncontroversial” and “strong leadership” are not the words one might instinctively choose to characterize their periods at the helms of state. The Israeli and Palestinian Arab publics may choose to view Bildt’s endorsement as valuable backing, or they may choose to regard it as yet more evidence of a trio of rather inadequate public figures holding hands under the public spotlight.

Right-wing politician is the darling of the Far Left and Communists
Finally, the Swedish perspective on Carl Bildt’s visit to Herzliya needs to make the following clear to anyone unfamiliar with this Scandinavian nation’s politics. Carl Bildt is a Conservative. But to a public attuned to 30 years of unadulterated criticism of Israel no matter what she does or does not do, any sentiment that undermines Israel’s legitimacy or strategic security is music to the ears of a Left that is vicious in its condemnation of the USA and, by some inexplicable link, Israel. Conservative politician Carl Bildt is in the peculiar position of being the darling of the Swedish Left, Far Left and Communists, and generally rather disparaged by Sweden’s Centre and Right.

And you thought Israeli politics was convoluted?

UN-funded rockets hitting Gaza

Monday, January 21st, 2008

Humanitarian considerations are being ignored in the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinian Arabs.

In a comment on Israel’s decision to suspend fuel supplies to Gaza, from where about 100 rockets and mortars have been fired on Israel in 3 days, UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said “The logic of this defies basic humanitarian standards,” (JPost, 080120 “Gaza Food Will Run Out By Midweek”).

British humanitarian rights group Oxfam was also quick to condemn the fuel cutoff, calling it “ineffective as well as unlawful.”

Interestingly, neither UNWRA nor Oxfam saw fit to condemn the preceding rain of rockets and mortar shells on Sderot’s civilians as being either inhumane or unlawful.

I was in Sderot last month interviewing citizens on the situation when a salvo of Gaza rockets struck. One oft-repeated sentiment I heard was “Why won’t our government, police and military let us deal with the situation ourselves? We’ll make our own rockets and fire back for every rocket the Gazans shoot at us.”

The general consensus was that it would take no more than three days of this random civilian response for UNWRA, Oxfam and the rest of the international community to suddenly find the means and the words to bring Gaza’s rocket fire to a complete standstill.

It’s worth considering.