Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Israel and the plight of Mid East Christians

The church in Bethlehem had survived more than 1,000 years, through wars and conquests, but its future now seemed in jeopardy. Spray-painted all over its ancient stone walls were the Arabic letters for Hamas. The year was 1994 and the city was about to pass from Israeli to Palestinian control. I was meeting with the church's clergy as an Israeli government adviser on inter-religious affairs. They were despondent but too frightened to file a complaint. The same Hamas thugs who had desecrated their sanctuary were liable to take their lives.

The trauma of those priests is now commonplace among Middle Eastern Christians. Their share of the region's population has plunged from 20% a century ago to less than 5% today and falling. In Egypt, 200,000 Coptic Christians fled their homes last year after beatings and massacres by Muslim extremist mobs. Since 2003, 70 Iraqi churches have been burned and nearly a thousand Christians killed in Baghdad alone, causing more than half of this million-member community to flee. Conversion to Christianity is a capital offense in Iran, where last month Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was sentenced to death. Saudi Arabia outlaws private Christian prayer.
As 800,000 Jews were once expelled from Arab countries, so are Christians being forced from lands they've inhabited for centuries.

The only place in the Middle East where Christians aren't endangered but flourishing is Israel. Since Israel's founding in 1948, its Christian communities (including Russian and Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians and Protestants) have expanded more than 1,000%.

Christians are prominent in all aspects of Israeli life, serving in the Knesset, the Foreign Ministry and on the Supreme Court. They are exempt from military service, but thousands have volunteered and been sworn in on special New Testaments printed in Hebrew. Israeli Arab Christians are on average more affluent than Israeli Jews and better-educated, even scoring higher on their SATs.

This does not mean that Israeli Christians do not occasionally encounter intolerance. But in contrast to elsewhere in the Middle East where hatred of Christians is ignored or encouraged, Israel remains committed to its Declaration of Independence pledge to "ensure the complete equality of all its citizens irrespective of religion." It guarantees free access to all Christian holy places, which are under the exclusive aegis of Christian clergy. When Muslims tried to erect a mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Israeli government interceded to preserve the sanctity of the shrine.

Israel abounds with such sites (Capernaum, the Hill of the Beatitudes, the birth place of St. John the Baptist) but the state constitutes only part of the Holy Land. The rest, according to Jewish and Christian tradition, is in Gaza and the West Bank. Christians in those areas suffer the same plight as their co-religionists throughout the region.

Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, half the Christian community has fled. Christmas decorations and public displays of crucifixes are forbidden. In a December 2010 broadcast, Hamas officials exhorted Muslims to slaughter their Christian neighbors. Rami Ayad, owner of Gaza's only Christian bookstore, was murdered, his store reduced to ash. This is the same Hamas with which the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank recently signed a unity pact.

Little wonder, then, that the West Bank is also hemorrhaging Christians. Once 15% of the population, they now make up less than 2%. Some have attributed the flight to Israeli policies that allegedly deny Christians economic opportunities, stunt demographic growth, and impede access to the holy sites of Jerusalem. In fact, most West Bank Christians live in cities such as Nablus, Jericho and Ramallah, which are under Palestinian Authority control. All those cities have experienced marked economic growth and sharp population increase—among Muslims.

Israel, in spite of its need to safeguard its borders from terrorists, allows holiday access to Jerusalem's churches to Christians from both the West Bank and Gaza. In Jerusalem, the number of Arabs—among them Christians—has tripled since the city's reunification by Israel in 1967.

There must be another reason, then, for the West Bank's Christian exodus. The answer lies in Bethlehem. Under Israeli auspices, the city's Christian population grew by 57%. But under the Palestinian Authority since 1995, those numbers have plummeted. Palestinian gunmen seized Christian homes—compelling Israel to build a protective barrier between them and Jewish neighborhoods—and then occupied the Church of the Nativity, looting it and using it as a latrine. Today, Christians comprise a mere one-fifth of their holy city's population.

The extinction of the Middle East's Christian communities is an injustice of historic magnitude. Yet Israel provides an example of how this trend can not only be prevented but reversed. With the respect and appreciation that they receive in the Jewish state, the Christians of Muslim countries could not only survive but thrive.

Mr. Oren is Israel's ambassador to the United States.
A version of this article appeared Mar. 9, 2012, on page A13 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Israel and the Plight of Mideast Christians.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Anti-Zionists must now hang their heads in shame over the French Jewish school shooting

(With thanks to Tom Gross)
Barely had the news broken that the appalling killings at a Jewish school in Toulouse earlier this week had been perpetrated by a French Muslim motivated by anti-Zionism than the head of the Grand Mosque in Paris was out in the media calling for the revelation not to lead to the stigmatisation of French Muslims in general. He's right of course. It shouldn't.

Our gripe here is not with what he said, or with him personally, it is with what most Muslim leaders don't say in such circumstances. For it is now clear that the killer was motivated by the same kind of lies about Israeli actions in Gaza that have been peddled and therefore legitimised for years by Muslim leaders in France and across Europe.

Let us be clear. There has not been one single instance, ever, of the Israeli military deliberately targeting Palestinian children in a school in Gaza. Palestinian children have died in the overall conflict of course. But even that indirect responsibility lies with the people who have started all the wars, namely Palestinian terror groups such as Hamas.

That is the incontrovertible truth of the matter. Yet you'd never know it if you listened to Europe's Muslim leaders who have whipped up the kind of hysteria against Israel in which the sort of attack that took place on Monday was always likely to take place.

The Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF) in 2008, for example, spoke of Israel's actions in Gaza in terms of "starving an entire population". That's not far short of an accusation of attempted genocide. In 2003, to quote one of many such instances from the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain openly described Israeli policy towards the Palestinians as "genocide" and made a thinly veiled comparison with the Holocaust.

It's not just the Muslim organisations of course. Mainstream media outlets across the continent have added a further layer of legitimacy to this lethal ideology with papers and magazines such as the Guardian and the New Statesman engaged in what is little better than a hate campaign against the Jewish state.

Still another layer of legitimacy has been added by senior politicians. Only this week, EU foreign policy supremo (and national disgrace) Catherine Ashton approvingly referred to a Palestinian child's description of Gaza as a "prison". Rather than contribute to the edifice of dishonesty, why didn't she tell the Palestinian group she was addressing that peace will only come when their parents stop lying to them and inciting hatred of Jews? (She was misquoted on Toulouse, but that's another matter)

Parliamentarians across Europe have far too often joined in the hate fest. Last week it was the turn of Sigmar Gabriel, leader of Germany's Social Democrats, who slammed Israel for "apartheid", one of the anti-Zionist movement's most common and most dishonest epithets.

No-one will ever know whether the tragedy in Toulouse would not have taken place if the atmosphere were different. But we can say that history teaches that mass demonisation can all too easily lead to the dehumanisation of the group or people or nation that is being demonised. From there it is only one single step to the belief that murder itself can be justified.

Muslim leaders, politicians, and journalists who have participated in the agenda of lies and hatred against Israel should today hang their heads in shame

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Perhaps our problem is not with Israel, but with our own over- stretched sense of importance


Nicky Larkin: Israel is a refuge, but a refuge under siege Through making a film about the Israeli-Arab conflict, artist Nicky Larkin found his allegiances swaying

Sunday March 11 2012

I used to hate Israel. I used to think the Left was always right. Not any more. Now I loathe Palestinian terrorists. Now I see why Israel has to be hard. Now I see the Left can be Right -- as in right-wing. So why did I change my mind so completely?

Strangely, it began with my anger at Israel's incursion into Gaza in December 2008 which left over 1,200 Palestinians dead, compared to only 13 Israelis. I was so angered by this massacre I posed in the striped scarf of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation for an art show catalogue.

Shortly after posing in that PLO scarf, I applied for funding from the Irish Arts Council to make a film in Israel and Palestine. I wanted to talk to these soldiers, to challenge their actions -- and challenge the Israeli citizens who supported them.

I spent seven weeks in the area, dividing my time evenly between Israel and the West Bank. I started in Israel. The locals were suspicious. We were Irish -- from a country which is one of Israel's chief critics -- and we were filmmakers. We were the enemy.

Then I crossed over into the West Bank. Suddenly, being Irish wasn't a problem. Provo graffiti adorned The Wall. Bethlehem was Las Vegas for Jesus-freaks -- neon crucifixes punctuated by posters of martyrs.
These martyrs followed us throughout the West Bank. They watched from lamp-posts and walls wherever we went. Like Jesus in the old Sacred Heart pictures.

But the more I felt the martyrs watching me, the more confused I became. After all, the Palestinian mantra was one of "non-violent resistance". It was their motto, repeated over and over like responses at a Catholic mass.
Yet when I interviewed Hind Khoury, a former Palestinian government member, she sat forward angrily in her chair as she refused to condemn the actions of the suicide bombers. She was all aggression.

This aggression continued in Hebron, where I witnessed swastikas on a wall. As I set up my camera, an Israeli soldier shouted down from his rooftop position. A few months previously I might have ignored him as my political enemy. But now I stopped to talk. He only talked about Taybeh, the local Palestinian beer.

Back in Tel Aviv in the summer of 2011, I began to listen more closely to the Israeli side. I remember one conversation in Shenkin Street -- Tel Aviv's most fashionable quarter, a street where everybody looks as if they went to art college. I was outside a cafe interviewing a former soldier.

He talked slowly about his time in Gaza. He spoke about 20 Arab teenagers filled with ecstasy tablets and sent running towards the base he'd patrolled. Each strapped with a bomb and carrying a hand-held detonator.
The pills in their bloodstream meant they felt no pain. Only a headshot would take them down.

Conversations like this are normal in Tel Aviv. I began to experience the sense of isolation Israelis feel. An isolation that began in the ghettos of Europe and ended in Auschwitz.

Israel is a refuge -- but a refuge under siege, a refuge where rockets rain death from the skies. And as I made the effort to empathise, to look at the world through their eyes. I began a new intellectual journey. One that would not be welcome back home.

The problem began when I resolved to come back with a film that showed both sides of the coin. Actually there are many more than two. Which is why my film is called Forty Shades of Grey. But only one side was wanted back in Dublin. My peers expected me to come back with an attack on Israel. No grey areas were acceptable.

An Irish artist is supposed to sign boycotts, wear a PLO scarf, and remonstrate loudly about The Occupation. But it's not just artists who are supposed to hate Israel. Being anti-Israel is supposed to be part of our Irish identity, the same way we are supposed to resent the English.

But hating Israel is not part of my personal national identity. Neither is hating the English. I hold an Irish passport, but nowhere upon this document does it say I am a republican, or a Palestinian.

My Irish passport says I was born in 1983 in Offaly. The Northern Troubles were something Anne Doyle talked to my parents about on the nine o'clock News. I just wanted to watch Father Ted.

So I was frustrated to see Provo graffiti on the wall in the West Bank. I felt the same frustration emerge when I noticed the missing 'E' in a "Free Palestin" graffiti on a wall in Cork. I am also frustrated by the anti-Israel activists' attitude to freedom of speech.

Free speech must work both ways. But back in Dublin, whenever I speak up for Israel, the Fiachras and Fionas look at me aghast, as if I'd pissed on their paninis.

This one-way freedom of speech spurs false information. The Boycott Israel brigade is a prime example. They pressurised Irish supermarkets to remove all Israeli produce from their shelves -- a move that directly affected the Palestinian farmers who produce most of their fruit and vegetables under the Israeli brand.

But worst of all, this boycott mentality is affecting artists. In August 2010, the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign got 216 Irish artists to sign a pledge undertaking to boycott the Israeli state. As an artist I have friends on this list -- or at least I had.

I would like to challenge my friends about their support for this boycott. What do these armchair sermonisers know about Israel? Could they name three Israeli cities, or the main Israeli industries?

But I have more important questions for Irish artists. What happened to the notion of the artist as a free thinking individual? Why have Irish artists surrendered to group-think on Israel? Could it be due to something as crude as career-advancement?

Artistic leadership comes from the top. Aosdana, Ireland's State-sponsored affiliation of creative artists, has also signed the boycott. Aosdana is a big player. Its members populate Arts Council funding panels.

Some artists could assume that if their name is on the same boycott sheet as the people assessing their applications, it can hardly hurt their chances. No doubt Aosdana would dispute this assumption. But the perception of a preconceived position on Israel is hard to avoid.

Looking back now over all I have learnt, I wonder if the problem is a lot simpler.
Perhaps our problem is not with Israel, but with our own over-stretched sense of importance -- a sense of moral superiority disproportional to the importance of our little country?

Any artist worth his or her salt should be ready to change their mind on receipt of fresh information. So I would urge every one of those 216 Irish artists who pledged to boycott the Israeli state to spend some time in Israel and Palestine. Maybe when you come home you will bin your scarf. I did.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The "Jewish" President

Don't believe Obama when he says he has Israel's back.
By Bret Stephens March 6th 2012

Should Israelis and pro-Israel Americans take President Obama at his word when he says—as he did at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, D.C., on Sunday—"I have Israel's back"?


Here is a president who fought tooth-and-nail against the very sanctions on Iran for which he now seeks to reap political credit. He inherited from the Bush administration the security assistance to Israel he now advertises as proof of his "unprecedented" commitment to the Jewish state. His defense secretary has repeatedly cast doubt on the efficacy of a U.S. military option against Iran even as the president insists it remains "on the table." His top national security advisers keep warning Israel not to attack Iran even as he claims not to "presume to tell [Israeli leaders] what is best for them."

Oh, and his secretary of state answers a question from a Tunisian student about U.S. politicians courting the "Zionist lobbies" by saying that "a lot of things are said in political campaigns that should not bear a lot of attention." It seems it didn't occur to her to challenge the premise of the question.

Still, if you're looking for evidence of Mr. Obama's disingenuousness when it comes to Israel, it's worth referring to what his supporters say about him.

Consider Peter Beinart, the one-time Iraq War advocate who has reinvented himself as a liberal scourge of present-day Israel and mainstream Zionism. Mr. Beinart has a book coming out next month called "The Crisis of Zionism." Chapter five, on "The Jewish President," fully justifies the cover price.

Mr. Beinart's case is that Mr. Obama came to his views about Israel not so much from people like his friend Rashid Khalidi or his pastor Jeremiah Wright. Instead, says Mr. Beinart, Mr. Obama got his education about Israel from a coterie of far-left Chicago Jews who "bred in Obama a specific, and subversive, vision of American Jewish identity and of the Jewish state."

At the center of this coterie, Mr. Beinart explains, was a Chicago rabbi named Arnold Jacob Wolf. In 1969, Wolf staged a synagogue protest in favor of Black Panther Bobby Seale. In the early 1970s, he founded an organization that met with Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization—this being some 20 years before Arafat officially renounced terrorism. In the early 1990s, Wolf denounced the construction of the Holocaust Museum in Washington.

And, in 1996, the rabbi "was one of [Mr. Obama's] earliest and most prominent supporters" when he ran for the Illinois state Senate. Wolf later described Mr. Obama's views on Israel as "on the line of Peace Now"—an organization with a long history of blaming Israel for the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Mr. Obama had other Jewish mentors, too, according to Mr. Beinart. One was Bettylu Saltzman, whose father, developer Philip Klutznick, had joined Wolf in "his break with the Israeli government in the 1970s." Ms. Saltzman, writes Mr. Beinart, "still seethes with hostility toward the mainstream Jewish groups" and later became active in left-wing Jewish political groups like J Street. Among other things, it was she who "organized the rally against the Iraq War where Obama proclaimed his opposition to an American invasion."

Ms. Saltzman also introduced Mr. Obama to David Axelrod, himself a longtime donor to a group called the New Israel Fund. For a flavor of the NIF's world view, a WikiLeaks cable from 2010 noted that an NIF associate director told U.S. embassy officials in Tel Aviv that "the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic."

Other things that we learn about Mr. Obama's intellectual pedigree from Mr. Beinart: As a student at Columbia, he honed his interests in colonialism by studying with the late pro-Palestinian agit-Prof. Edward Said. In 2004, Mr. Obama "criticized the barrier built to separate Israel and its major settlements from the rest of the West Bank"—the "barrier" meaning the security fence that all-but eliminated the wave of suicide bombings that took 1,000 lives in Israel.

We also learn that, according to one of Mr. Beinart's sources, longtime diplomat Dennis Ross was brought aboard the Obama campaign as part of what Mr. Beinart calls "Obama's inoculation strategy" to mollify Jewish voters apprehensive about the sincerity of his commitments to Israel. Not surprisingly, Mr. Ross was a marginal figure in the administration before leaving last year.

In Mr. Beinart's telling, all this is evidence that Mr. Obama is in tune with the authentic views of the American Jewish community when it comes to Israel, but that he's out of step with Jewish organizational leadership. Maybe. Still, one wonders why organizations more in tune with those "real" views rarely seem to find much of a base.

But the important question here isn't about American-Jewish attitudes toward Israel. It's about the president's honesty. Is he being truthful when he represents himself as a mainstream friend of Israel—or is he just holding his tongue and biding his time? On the evidence of Mr. Beinart's sympathetic book, Mr. Obama's speech at Aipac was one long exercise in political cynicism.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

“Peace Now” Shocked to Discover Arabs Don’t Want Peace

Jonathan S. Tobin 02.28.2012

What will it take to convince supporters of Peace Now the imperative of their organization’s name depends on the Arabs rather than the Jews? After 18+ years of Arab terrorism and rejection of peace offers since the Oslo Accords, it’s hard to say whether anything the Palestinians could do or say would cause them to rethink their myopic view of the world. But give Americans for Peace Now’s Lara Friedman a little credit. After schlepping to an Arab League conference on Jerusalem, she at least had the wit to notice that just about everybody else there was focused on delegitimizing Israel, denouncing its existence within any borders and denying thousands of years of Jewish history.

However, it’s hard not to chuckle a little bit at the indignant tone affected by Friedman in her op-ed http://forward.com/articles/152079/ published in the Forward as she conveys her shock and dismay to discover the Arab world believes Jews have no rights in Jerusalem or any other part of Israel. She and her group had so convinced themselves all it will take to create peace “now” was for Israelis to support a two-state solution and negotiate, it appears they never took the time or effort to realize the other side has little interest in peace, now or at any other time. This gives her piece the tone of a parody worthy of The Onion even though it was written in deadly earnest. Indeed, it must be considered in writing such an article she has demonstrated the utter cluelessness of her group better than anything the group’s critics could have come up with.

What is so touching (as well as more than a bit comical) about Friedman’s piece is that much of what she says in it is true. For example:

If President Abbas cannot acknowledge Jewish claims in Jerusalem, even as he asserts Palestinian claims (a problem Yasser Arafat suffered from), he should not be surprised if it is more difficult for Israelis and Jews, wherever they are, to believe that he can be trusted in a peace agreement that leaves Jerusalem sites precious to Jews under Palestinian control.

If representatives of the organization that sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the legitimacy of Jewish equities in Jerusalem, they should know that they discredit their own professed interest in peace. …

All throughout the day, it was unfortunately the same story. Participants talked about Jerusalem as if Jewish history did not exist or was a fraud — as if all Jewish claims in the city were just a tactic to dispossess Palestinians.

Friedman is quite right about all of this. But does it really need to be pointed out that she needn’t have traveled to Doha to figure this out? The Palestinians and their cheerleaders have been making this clear for decades. That is why Peace Now in Israel has been discredited by the events that have transpired since the Oslo Accords were signed, and their political supporters in the Knesset have been trounced in election after election. The traditional left in Israel, at least as far as the Palestinian issue is concerned, is barely alive, though you wouldn’t know it from the way many on the Jewish left in the United States talk. The conceit of groups like Americans for Peace Now and J Street — that Israel must be pressured to make peace by the United States for its own good — makes no sense once you realize the Jewish state has repeatedly tried and failed to trade land for peace and the Palestinians have little interest in a two-state solution no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn.

Friedman archly compares the Arab hate fest she is attending to Jewish conclaves where only pro-Israel speakers participate. This is a bit much as is her insinuation no one who cares for Israel’s future can possibly oppose a partition of Jerusalem that would place Jewish holy places in the tender care of Abbas and his Hamas allies. As she has discovered to her consternation, Palestinians don’t care about Jewish sensibilities, let alone Jewish rights. Her failure to draw any rational conclusions from what she has heard in Doha tells us all we need to know about the irrelevance of Peace Now to any serious discussion about the future of the Middle East.