Israel: Will It, Or Won’t It? / News / News agency Inforos
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Israel: Will It, Or Won’t It?

Tel Aviv takes unpopular steps amid growing turmoil

27.07.2018 15:08 Ian Sumter, journalist

Israel: Will It, Or Won’t It?

The former head of the IDF’s military intelligence Amos Yadlin said Thursday that the firing of a pair of missiles from Syria into the Sea of Galilee a day earlier was likely an effort by the Islamic State group to draw Israel into a confrontation with the Syrian regime. Whether Israel will really be dragged into the war, remains to be seen. Yet, the state has taken some steps that make one think of wartime tightening-up policies…

The Israeli government provoked global criticism for its decision to pass the "Nation State Law", asserting only Jews have the right to self-determination in the country. Yet despite uniting the EU, Israeli Arabs, the Israeli opposition and liberal Jewish groups in the US, other trends suggest it is becoming harder to criticise the actions of Israel under the charge of spreading anti-semitism.

The new law states "Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it". Hebrew is the official language of the country, with Arabic given "special status".

The law was subject to a 5 year debate, drawing criticism for marginalising the 1.9m (21%) Arab population. And it has profound implications for any lasting settlement with Palestinians. Arab law makers in the Israeli Knesset tore up copies of the law in protest.

A spokesperson for EU Foreign Affairs Representative Frederica Mogherini announced a two state solution was "the only way forward" to the Palestinian issue, and that any step preventing this "becoming a reality should be avoided". The EU "are concerned", "expressed concern" and "continue to engage with Israeli authorities".

The Turkish foreign ministry said the decision "trashed the principles of universal law" and "disregarded the rights of Palestinian citizens". While Ayman Odeh, an Israeli politician on the Israeli-Arab Joint List spoke of "the death of our democracy", "Jewish supremacy" and Arabs becoming "second class citizens".

The Nation State Law was passed 62-55 in the Knesset with two abstentions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision a "defining moment in the annals of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel". He added civil rights of others would be protected, but the majority would decide. "This is our country, the Jewish state. In recent years there have been some who have attempted to put this in doubt, to undercut the core of our being. Today we made it law."

Dissenting voices against the law have been less welcoming, which also confirms Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and preserves Israel's affiliation to world Jewry.

Yohanan Plesner of the Israel Democracy Institute calls it "jingoistic and devisive", "an embarrassment to Israel". In the US Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism laments a "sad and unnecessary day for Israeli democracy". While Mordechai Kremnitzer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem speaks of "the ugly face of ultra-nationalist Israel".

Controversial though these laws are, the politics of voicing criticism are becoming more problematic, particularly in Europe. France, Germany and the UK have all become caught in debate about what exactly is appropriate criticism of Israel.

The debate centres on the definitions of anti-semitism, anti-Zionism, and legitimate criticism of the actions of the Israeli state. It highlights the strength of feeling against Israel among the European political left, and the fact many non-Jews from the Middle East are seeking a political voice in Europe, making the ethnic problems of the region European national issues too.

UK Labour leader, veteran peace campaigner and long term supporter of Palestine, Jeremy Corbyn, was called a "racist" and an "anti-semite" by members of his own party. The Labour Party National Executive Committe has its own definition of anti-semitism; but some MPs wished to change this to one proposed by the "International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Corbyn, under pressure from claims the party was harbouring anti-semites refused to support the change, arguing it could prevent free spech on the Palestine debate, and failed to make sufficient distinction between unjustifiable anti-semitism, and a principled anti-Zionism.

In Germany, the Israeli Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff told Spitz magazine there was no "standard answer nor a clear definition" of anti-semitism; but that legitimate criticism was not forbidden. "I do not contend every criticism of Israel is anti-semitic" he said. "Legitimate criticism" and "legitimate methods" were appropriate. As an example, discussing the occupation of Palestine and human rights issues were legitimate: questioning the right of Israel to exist was not.

In Germany there are calls for NGOs accepting public funds to make a public oath against anti-semitism. This is part of a European fight against the so-called "new anti-semitism", voiced in France in a manifesto from former Charlie Hebdo director Philippe Val, and supported by former president Sarkozy, and former prime ministers Valls and Cazeneuve. "Anti-semitism is a problem for everyone" the manifesto states. "France without the Jews is no longer France".

In response to a wave of violence against France's Jewish population, the manifesto equates this "new anti-semitism" with "Islamic radicalisation", warning the "fight against this democratic failure that is anti-semitism becomes a national cause before it is too late". The document calls for the removal of verses from the Quran which demand the murder of Jews, Christians and non-believers "so that no believer can rely on a sacred text to commit a crime".

With violence against Jews rising elsewhere in Europe, including Sweden (where a Gothenberg synagogue was torched and a Malmo cemetery vandalised) and the Netherlands (where an Amsterdam Jewish restaurant was attacked), the EU recently revised its working definition of anti-semitism to include attacks on non-Jews. Under these rules, criticism of President Macron for his links to Rothschild Bank could also be seen as anti-semitic.

Supporters of Israel and Palestine both claim to have high moral authority on their side. Both camps claim to have suffered great wrongs in the past, and both feel their own good faith is beyond question. But this strength of feeling and righteousness risks pushing both parties back into the historic conflicts all sides seem so eager to escape.

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