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|Patriotism above all else|
On Monday 15th February, the Israel Committee co-hosted an Israel Question Time with NIF - New Israel Fund - the international philanthropic group that supports social change in Israel and promotes democracy, freedom, justice, and equality for all of Israel’s citizens, writes Michael Brod.
The panel comprised Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon from an Israel Reform Synagogue, Miriam Shaviv who is the Jewish Chronicle’s foreign editor, Bedouin activist Jamal AlKirnawi, and Nicholas Saphir who chairs New Israel Fund.
Around sixty people attended including a good number of Synagogue members, and the discussions ranged widely, from the Iran question, to civil rights in Israel, and to NIF’s “contribution” to the Goldstone Report.
On Iran, Miriam’s pessimistic insider view is that Israel will ultimately have to live with Iran’s nuclear capability, as sanctions are unlikely to be universal or effective. Jamal stressed that Iran’s territorial ambitions are also a great worry for Arab nations and threaten the region’s fragile stability. Kinneret reminded us that Iran’s rhetoric is frightening, and will not lessen if Iran’s government changes - this cannot be ignored and is probably a bigger problem than Palestine for Israel.
Jamal was asked about life for Bedouin people in Israel, and movingly told us that it was his optimism in adversity which had driven him into formal education and student activism. He was brought up in Rahad, one of nine official Bedouin towns in the Negev. These towns have a controversial history, with complex social and economic problems including a high birth rate - 60% of their citizens are under 18 - and many unrecognised settlements on their periphery are deprived of basic infrastructure and services. Jamal’s optimism led him to believe in a better future for Bedouin and other minority groups in Israel, but with many difficulties along the way.
The discussion moved on to Israel’s half-million religious and economic settlers, living on land that will possibly (probably ?) be governed by Palestine in the foreseeable future. The panel held divergent views - Miriam felt that most Israelis support a two-state solution with possible evacuation of the settlements - but not now - with the peace process stalled and Israel’s efforts currently concentrated on “conflict management” - in my view a euphemism for shrugging one’s shoulders.
Kinneret reminded us that settlements are only one of many complex issues revolving around Israel’s purpose and identity, not helped by the constitutional clout of the ultra-religious political parties. She was angry - very angry - with the secular Israeli majority who have still not dealt with this corrosive problem, which threatens to undermine Israel’s future and will ultimately be a bigger problem than Israel’s neighbours when peace eventually arrives - as it must. Her anger did not square with her heartfelt pleas for tolerance and pluralism, but I now realise that she was promoting good old-fashioned tough love.
Nick Saphir forcefully refuted allegations that NIF’s promotion of social justice and minority rights has damaged Israel’s standing. He singled out the growing problem of Israel’s political isolation, and the government’s view that no criticism of the state was permissible. As a result, activists are being arrested, peace organisations are intimidated, and a poster and propaganda campaign demonising NIF and similar groups is under way. This was intolerable - N IF’s main thrust is that Israel must work much harder to be at peace with itself, to make possible the pioneers’ dream of a united Jewish state.
Rabbi Kinneret echoed this view. Israel’s original leaders came from co-operative and kibbutz backgrounds. The next generation of leaders came from military backgrounds, but Israel’s current leaders are politicians Ð and you can’t trust the politicians. She was optimistic that the next generation will come from activist backgrounds with great hope for the future Ð the removal of oppression, a world without racism, and justice and prosperity for all.
Jamal put it more succinctly with an old Bedouin saying - no bread - no learning - no bread.
I felt that the evening would have been even better with shorter contributions from the panel instead of what were effectively mini-lectures, often covering old ground - and I was particularly disappointed that environmental issues were not raised - but between the many words spoken, there were some new words, new ideas, and some refreshing optimism.