Newsletter 10 Nov 2008
19 Nov – Lobby of Parliament – ‘Justice for Palestinians’
Two books by Uri Avnery
Britain to crack down on exports from Israeli settlements
The legacy of Kristallnacht
Much much more on the Museum of Tolerance
Lobby of Parliament on November 19 – details were sent in the Oct 30 mailout – a dedicated mailout will be sent nearer the time.
In the meantime, as PSC are coordinating meetings with MPs, would you please let them know when you have made an appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org – 020 7700 6192
Please help publicise this lobby as widely as possible. New leaflets are being printed – contact PSC for copies.
If you require any further information please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Two books by Uri Avnery have been recently published in English:
“1948 A SOLDIERS STORY”, JOINT EDITION OF “IN THE FIELDS OF THE PHILISTINES” (1949) AND “THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN” (1950).
Published by Oneworld Publications, 185 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7AR, England
“ISRAEL’S VICIOUS CIRCLE”, COLLECTED ARTICLES.
Published by Pluto Press, 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA
Both books are available on Amazon.com.
Immediately after Obama’s victory, the International Herald Tribune (the world-wide edition of the New York Times) asked ten people around the globe for comments. All were published on Thursday, November 6, 2008.
Here is URI AVNERY’s, founder of the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom.
GOOD FOR ISRAEL?
Israelis ask, of course: is he “good for Israel”? In the old Jewish way, this question must be answered with another question: “For which Israel?” I dare to hope that Obama will be revealed as a friend of the Other Israel, the Israel that seeks peace.
As far as the national interests of the US are concerned, the “larger Middle East” is not a secondary theater. It is one of the most important, and the new administration will have to deal with it right from the beginning. This is also the theater where the catastrophic failures of Bush are the most obvious. It is in the American interest to turn over a new leaf in our region and to really work for an Israeli- Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian, Israeli-all-Arab and perhaps even Israeli-Iranian peace.
I hope with all my heart that Obama will continue to support Israel – not the Israel of the bullies and the hypocrites, who pretend to be negotiating for peace while enlarging the settlements, tightening the screws in the occupied territories and blabbering about bombing Iran, but the Israel of the silent majority that is ready for peace and crying out for an American administration that will give the decisive push to a real peace initiative.
Obama, please do me a personal favour
A letter to Barak Obama, by Israeli peace activist Edna Canetti of MachsomWatch, translated by George Malent
Obama my dear, they tell me that you are going to change the world. Do me a favour, come and change my life personally.
Original Hebrew http://www.kibush.co.il/show_file.asp?num=29844
Obama’s first appointment, of pro-Israel Congressional hardliner Rahm Emanuel, has provoked concern to dismay amongst supporters of a just peace between Israel and Palestine.
See, for example, Ali Abunimah, ‘Obama picks pro-Israel hardliner for top post’, The Electronic Intifada, 5 November 2008:
‘In Congress, Emanuel has been a consistent and vocal pro-Israel hardliner, sometimes more so than President Bush. In June 2003, for example, he signed a letter criticizing Bush for being insufficiently supportive of Israel. “We were deeply dismayed to hear your criticism of Israel for fighting acts of terror,” Emanuel, along with 33 other Democrats wrote to Bush. The letter said that Israel’s policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders “was clearly justified as an application of Israel’s right to self-defense”.’
Stephen Zunes, foreign policy expert is also alarmed:
‘I had really wanted to celebrate Barack Obama’s remarkable victory for a day or so before becoming cynical again. I really did.
And yet, less than 24 hours after the first polls closed, the president-elect chose as his chief of staff — perhaps the most powerful single position in any administration — Rahm Emanuel, one of the most conservative Democratic members of Congress.
The chief of staff essentially acts as the president’s gatekeeper, determining with whom he has access for advice and analysis. Obama is known as a good listener who has been open to hearing from and considering the perspectives of those on the Left as well as those with a more centrist to conservative perspective. How much access he will actually have as president to more progressive voices, however, is now seriously in question.’
See his’Is Obama Screwing His Base with Rahm Emanuel Selection? 7 November 2008
And Michael Lerner at Tikkun is equally alarmed:
‘It’s not just the pro-peace and reconciliation forces that are unlikely to be given a serious hearing in a White House in which Rahm Emanuel controls who gets to talk to the President. Emanuel will almost certainly be protecting Obama from all of us spiritual progressives and those of us who describe ourselves as the Religious Left-so that our commitment to single-payer universal health care, carbon taxes for environmental protection, a Homeland Security strategy based on generosity and implemented through a Global Marshall Plan, will be unlikely to get a serious hearing in the White House.’
Avraham Burg: Israel’s new prophet
Avraham Burg was a pillar of the Israeli establishment but his new book is causing a sensation. It argues that his country is an “abused child” which has become a “violent parent”. And his solutions are radical, as he explains to Donald Macintyre
Saturday, 1 November 2008
Our 2 August 2007 mailing carried some discussion on Burg – here it is again as a reminder:
The Avraham Burg saga
(i) In the mailing of 8th June we carried a brief report of a shock article/interview by Ari Shavit with Avraham Burg, former Knesset speaker and former head of the Jewish Agency, on the occasion of the publication of his new book “Defeating Hitler” (currently only available in Hebrew). The opening paragraph of the article reads: ‘Avraham Burg, former Knesset speaker and former head of the Jewish Agency says “to define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end. A Jewish state is explosive. It’s dynamite.” In an interview in Haaretz Weekend Magazine, he said that he is in favor of abrogating the Law of Return and calls on everyone who can to obtain a foreign passport.’
(ii) The editor of the New York Jewish Daily ‘Forward’, J.J.Goldberg did a follow-up interview with Burg, entitled ‘Avraham Burg’s New Zionism’ (Forward, 13th June 2007). Burg’s views appear to have been significantly distorted in the Ha’aretz article. His position is altogether more sophisticated – and more interesting. He has in effect returned to a cultural and spiritual Zionism in place of political Zionism, to a desire to enrich the lives of Jews wherever they live: “What I want to do is to expand the borders of Israel beyond land and location to include universalism and spiritual search,” Burg told me. “We were raised on the Zionism of Ben-Gurion, that there is only one place for Jews and that’s Israel. I say no, there have always been multiple centers of Jewish life.”
(iii) David Remnick’s Letter from Jerusalem. ‘The Apostate: A Zionist politician loses faith in the future’, New Yorker, July 30, 2007 is a further useful contribution.
‘Short of being Prime Minister, Burg could not be higher in the Zionist establishment. His father was a Cabinet minister for nearly four decades, serving under Prime Ministers from David Ben-Gurion to Shimon Peres. In addition to a decade-long career in the Knesset, including four years as Speaker, Burg had also been leader of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel. And yet he did not obey the commands of pedigree. “Defeating Hitler” and an earlier book, “God Is Back,” are, in combination, a despairing look at the Israeli condition. Burg warns that an increasingly large and ardent sector of Israeli society disdains political democracy. He describes the country in its current state as Holocaust-obsessed, militaristic, xenophobic, and, like Germany in the nineteen-thirties, vulnerable to an extremist minority.
Britain to crack down on exports from Israeli settlements
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem Monday, 3 November 2008
Britain is taking the lead in pressing the EU to curb imports from Israeli producers in the occupied West Bank as a practical step towards halting the steady increase in the construction of Jewish settlements.
Whole article: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/britain-to-crack-down-on-exports-from-israeli-settlements-986854.html
The BBC also carried a full report on the topic in ‘Concern over Israel settlement exports’ on November 5th:
‘British customs officials are “strongly concerned” that Israeli-produced goods made in settlements on the occupied West Bank may be circumventing import taxes en-route to British high streets, the BBC’s Tim Franks learns.’
The legacy of Kristallnacht
Seventy years ago this week the Nazis led a brutal attack on German Jews, their businesses and their synagogues, a prelude to the Holocaust. Paul Oestreicher remembers the night terror struck
An even sadder consequence of this story of anti-Jewish inhumanity is that many of the survivors who fled to Palestine did so at the expense of the local people, the Palestinians, half of whom were driven into exile and their villages destroyed. Their children and children’s children live in the refugee camps that now constitute one aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse that embitters Islam and threatens world peace: all that a consequence of Nazi terror and indirectly of the Christian world’s persecution of the Jewish people over many centuries.
With fear bred into every Jewish bone, it is tragic that today many Israelis say of the Palestinians, as once the Germans said of them: “The only solution is to send them away.” However understandable this reaction may be, to do so, or even to contemplate it, is a denial of all that is good in Judaism. To create another victim people is to sow the seeds of another holocaust. When, in the 1930s, the Right Rev George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, pleaded in vain for active British support for the German opposition to Hitler, many accused him of being anti-German. The opposite was true. He did not tar all Germans with the Nazi brush. Today, those of us who offer our solidarity to the minority of Israelis working – in great isolation – for justice for the Palestinian people, are often accused of being antisemitic. The opposite is true. It is a tragic parallel.
More on the Museum of Tolerance
In the mailout of October 30 we neglected to mention that the text we used was by Gershon Baskin of IPCRI. A number of signatories wrote to the Simon Wiesenthal Center as requested and received a reply. Gershon then had an article published in the Jerusalem Post (a). A more recent email from him included his response (b) to Marvin Hier’s article in the Post (c)
On the Post’s website Gershon’s article (a) reads: Article content not available, while Hier’s (c) is still accessible.
(a) Encountering Peace: A city of tolerance, not a Museum of Tolerance
Nov. 4, 2008
Gershon Baskin , THE JERUSALEM POST
When I first became aware of the plans to construct the Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance on top of the old Muslim cemetery in Mamilla in the heart of west Jerusalem, it was after the planning process had been completed. The Wiesenthal Center went through all of the legal processes, including calling for public objections, and had received its building license in the proper way.
The whole issue fell under my radar screen, and I was completely unaware of the intention to construct the museum there. I noticed a small article about it in a local Jerusalem newspaper only when they broke ground and began to dig up skeletons. I immediately went to see the sight and contacted Danny Seidemann, a well known Jerusalem lawyer, to get more information. I then wrote an article against the idea of building the museum in that location and distributed the article around the world.
My claims against the museum’s location focus on what we as Jews can and cannot do in the State of Israel and in the city of Jerusalem. I have never claimed that this is a legal issue or even a political issue. I appealed to Jews here and around the world to think about how we respond when somewhere in the world a museum or any other institution is built on a Jewish cemetery.
After writing my article, I was invited to a hearing in the Interior Committee of the Knesset and spoke before it. The meeting was initiated by the then Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud). He spoke in the meeting about his parents, buried in the Mount of Olives cemetery in east Jerusalem, and the rage he would feel if someone tried to build a museum on their graves. I recall the anger and the deep sorrow and outcry when we returned to the Mount of Olives and to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in 1967 after 19 years of Jordanian occupation to discover the damage that was done in the cemetery and the destruction of so many synagogues there.
AFTER THE Knesset hearing, this is what I wrote:
1. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Museum of Tolerance is being constructed on top of a very important Muslim cemetery.
2. As the initiators of the museum contend, part of the museum is being built on what was a parking lot constructed some 30 years ago over the cemetery by the Jerusalem Municipality. This is the area where most of the graves have been found so far.
3. The head of the Antiquities Authority stated that it has already removed from the site 250 skeletons and skulls. The Antiquities Authority reported to the High Court that the cemetery dates back centuries and that there are at least five layers of density of graves there.
4. The lawyers of the Wiesenthal Center who appeared in the Knesset hearing appealed to the Muslims to enter into dialogue. They propose reburying all the remains that were/are under the location of the museum (not necessarily in the same cemetery) and paying for the renovation and the upkeep of the cemetery.
5. The Muslim representatives stated that there is no room for dialogue and that the Wiesenthal Center should consider how it would act if it were a Jewish cemetery in question. They also asked that people consider how the plan to build a museum over a Muslim cemetery would influence anti-Semitism in Europe.
6. The speaker of the Knesset appealed to the Wiesenthal Center to move the museum to a more suitable location.
I HAVE been attacked repeatedly for aiding the Islamic movement of Sheikh Raed Salah in seeking to gain a foothold in the center of west Jerusalem. I am now being sent repeatedly the answer of the Wiesenthal Center arguing in a very articulate and logical manner that it was previous Muslim clerics who removed the sanctity of the site. (They have the audacity to quote Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem who was a collaborator with Hitler, and the kadi of Jerusalem during the 1960s who authorized the construction of a parking lot on the site and was later removed from office and arrested because of corruption.)
Many of the historical and Islamic interpretations and other “facts” presented by the Wiesenthal Center are at best contestable, but once again I want to emphasize that this is not a Muslim issue, it is not an Arab issue, it is not a Palestinian issue. In my view, this is a Jewish, an Israeli and a Jerusalemite issue.
I wrote then and I repeat it today: In my view this is not a legal issue – anything can be made legal. This is a moral issue and an issue concerning the ability of people of the three faiths to live together in this land and in this city.
As a Jew, as an Israeli and as a Jerusalemite I am embarrassed by the impudence to even think about building the Museum of Tolerance on that site. I can only imagine (and hope) that the “knight of justice” Shimon Wiesenthal must be turning in his grave if he could realize what has developed.
After the High Court decided that the construction of the museum was legal, I once again wrote an appeal to stop it. The government has the jurisdiction to intervene and to determine that the construction of the museum would endanger public safety and would defame the good name of the State of Israel.
I am honestly ashamed that the only real protest so far of the court decision has come from the Islamic radical Sheikh Raed. Where are the rabbis? Where are those Jerusalemites and Israelis who believe that in Jerusalem we can truly create a city of tolerance, understanding and peace between civilizations? I believe that we have that possibility here.
I remember several years ago during Pessah standing inside of a shop on a very crowded street in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. It was also Easter week and the holy month of Ramadan. I stood there for more than 30 minutes enjoying the parade of people from these three great cultures going about their religious and cultural rituals, side by side in that holy space which is about 900 square meters in total, completely amazed that this kind of activity was actually possible.
What was absent then, and what we need to work toward now is the time when we will all celebrate that wonderful diversity and appreciate how fortunate we are in Jerusalem to have so much history and sanctity in our midst. We will never be able to do that if we violate the sanctity of each other’s space. We as Jews, in particular, and as the sovereign in Jerusalem have the responsibility and the duty to ensure that all such sacred space is respected by all.
We do not have to give a foothold to Raed Salah in the heart of west Jerusalem. The Mamilla cemetery has been under Israeli rule since 1948 without such a foothold. It can remain that way for eternity.
I appeal to Rabbi Marvin Hier who raised $250 million for this project and the Shimon Wiesenthal Center to use their good judgment and to take the initiative to stop the project, find a more suitable location, pay for the renovation of the cemetery as a sign if good faith and apology. I appeal to the donors of the museum to raise their voice and call on the Wiesenthal Center to stop the project immediately before more damage is done.
If the Wiesenthal Center does not have the good judgment to change the location, I call on the government and on the Jewish people to raise their voice so that Jerusalem will be the center of tolerance, without a Museum of Tolerance on top of Muslim graves.
The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.
(b) from Gershon Baskin
The Director of the Wiesenthal Center from Los Angeles had a piece in the Jerusalem Post which included a direct attach against me. I wrote a response to the Post but they have responded that they have given both of us our say – which is true. So I want to share my response with you because it concerns the continued building of the Wiesenthal Museum over the Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. I will first put in my response followed by Hier’s piece . Take note that he in no part of his arguments addresses the original concerns that I raised in my piece in the Jerusalem Post. (You can see my original arguments against the Museum at:: http://www.ipcri.org/files/cityoftolerance.html)
Shame on you Marvin Hier (JP November 9, 2008). You argue the right of the Wiesenthal Center to construct a Museum of “Tolerance” on top of an ancient Muslim cemetery on legal grounds predicated on various interpretations of Islamic Law. You then go on to associate me with Hamas and Hizbullah because I have raised my voice against the selected location of the Museum. I, Mr Hier am an Israeli by choice, a Jew and a Zionist who has built a home and a family in Israel, in Jerusalem out of my deep sense of belonging to this people. My arguments against the building the Museum on a Muslim Cemetery are Jewish, Israeli and Jerusalemite arguments. You call yourself a Rabbi. You know as well as any Jew that we can find Jewish texts and Rabbis to justify almost anything. The same is true in Islam. Find yourself a Sheikh. You certainly did, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who collaborated with Hitler and another Israeli State appointed Islamic Judge, during the time when all Israeli Arab citizens lived under Military Government, who was later removed from office and imprisoned for corruption.
I never claimed that it was the bones and skulls of those who are beneath the ground, soon to be beneath your Museum of Tolerance, who will threaten the stability of the Middle East. It is people like you, Mr. Hier, very much alive, who seek to bring animosity to the State of Israel and hatred between Israelis and Arabs, Muslims and Jews. It is you who is causing great damage to the good name of the State of Israel, to the City of Jerusalem and to the Jewish people. Shame on you, living on your high moral ground in Beverley Hills, far away from this disaster that you have laid at our doorstep.
If the government of Israel had any courage, it would step in to stop this project, in the name of public safety and to protect the good name of the State of Israel. I wonder how many envelopes filled with cash made their way into the hands of those in charge of advancing this embarrassment.
Finally, I can only smile at the fact that your attack against me, Mr. Hier, appears just below an article entitled “When good men did nothing” – you can imagine what that one is about.
Gershon Baskin, November 9, 2008
(c) Right of Reply: A center of hope and reason
Nov. 8, 2008
RABBI MARVIN HIER , THE JERUSALEM POST
When the idea to build a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem was first conceived, the Simon Wiesenthal Center had no particular location in mind. We were shown various properties by representatives of the Jerusalem Municipality before we were offered the current site in the center of west Jerusalem. The site was jointly owned by the Israel Lands Administration and the Jerusalem Municipality.
For almost half a century, that parcel functioned as the city’s municipal car park (a portion of it included three levels of underground parking), serving the diverse communities of Jerusalem. Everyday, since the 1960s, hundreds of Jews, Christians and Muslims parked their cars there. The city of Jerusalem also laid electrical cables and sewer lines below the ground.
During the High Court hearings, lawyers representing the project’s chief opponent, Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Aksa Association, argued that everyone knew that the site had always been part of a Muslim cemetery. And yet, during the almost half-century that it served as a parking lot, no Muslim group, including today’s most vociferous critics of the museum – Hamas, Hizbullah and Gershon Baskin, of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information – raised a word of protest. Where were their expressions of outrage and indignation about the graves of their ancestors then? This was not just a lapse of a few weeks or a few months – we’re talking about a half a century.
When the project was in its design stage, a model of the Frank Gehry design was placed at Jerusalem’s city hall for a week, followed by newspaper ads announcing the new project in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Not a word of protest was heard from any one.
They were silent because, as the High Court said, “…the area has not been classified as a cemetery for decades.” The bones found during construction were between 100 and 300 years old. They were unaccompanied by a single marker or monument identifying any individual name, family or religion.
WHY IS that? Because Jerusalem is more than 3,000 years old. Because every stone and parcel of land has a history that is revered by people of many faiths. Hardly a street or neighborhood is without bones or relics. We could declare Jerusalem one large cemetery, off limits to everyone – a city of the past, with no future – or we could find a better way in which the past is revered and respected, without impeding or choking off the future.
Muslim scholars and religious leaders have dealt with such issues for centuries, and in seeking to resolve such difficulties ruled that a cemetery not in use for 37 years is considered mundras – an abandoned cemetery that has lost its sanctity. In fact, in 1946, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, a supporter of Hitler, presented plans to build a Muslim university of 15 buildings on the entire Mamilla cemetery (now Independence Park). In fact, we submitted the drawings of that proposed university to the High Court. The mufti was relying on the concept of mundras‚ which was and is invoked throughout the Muslim world. Today, it is widely sanctioned and practiced throughout the Arab world, in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories.
While Judaism does not have a mundras concept, Halacha also dictates a sensitive and practical way to deal with such issues. To suddenly demand that Jews be held to a higher standard than the Muslims hold for themselves is preposterous, dishonest and hypocritical.
It is important to note that the Simon Wiesenthal Center did not initiate the proceedings before the High Court; Sheikh Salah did. The court immediately ordered mediation between the parties to be conducted by former court president Meir Shamgar. Our center was very sensitive to the issue and offered numerous compromises, but they were all rejected out-of-hand by Sheikh Salah, who insisted that the court rule on the matter. Now that after two years of deliberation, the court has handed down a 119-page unanimous verdict in favor of the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem, Sheikh Salah, who sought the court’s relief, is agitating against its decision because he lost.
Gershon Baskin has it totally wrong. It is not those who lie beneath the ground who threaten the stability of the Middle East. It is the blind hatred and intolerance of extremists above the ground which impede any prospects for civility and peace.
From this half-century former parking lot in the center of west Jerusalem will rise an institution that offers hope and reason to all the people of Israel and the world. We are committed to the high praise given to our project by the High Court in its decision which emphasized the great importance of the Museum of Tolerance to the development of the center of Jerusalem as well as its ethical importance in advancing the values of tolerance, human dignity, mutual trust, brotherhood and the advancement of democratic values.
LET ME end with a translation of part of that court ruling: “The importance and benefit of realizing the plan to build the Museum of Tolerance in the center of the city of Jerusalem are very great. The Museum of Tolerance embodies an ideal of establishing a spiritual center that will spread a message of human tolerance between peoples, between sectors of the population and between man and his fellow-man. The establishment of the museum is likely to make an important national contribution to the whole country, in which no center has yet been built with the purpose of addressing the issue of tolerance in all its aspects, and to bring about the assimilation of this idea among the general public.
“This center is supposed to serve as an important focus of attention both in Israel and for the countries of the world. It is supposed to attract visitors from throughout Israel and from around the world, who will visit it and encounter the conceptual, architectural and artistic experience that it is intended to express. The location of the museum in the center of Jerusalem has special significance, since it is a city that has a special ethical significance for three religions and an ancient history, which is unique to human civilization.
“Moreover, the existence of a Museum of Tolerance in the capital of Israel against the background of the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict has special weight in the context of the dynamics of dialogue and the mediation efforts between the opposing sides. The building of the museum in the center of the city of Jerusalem is intended to make an important contribution to the development of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to promote the urban development of the city center as a municipal center of local and national importance and significance. The construction of the museum is a part of a broader development plan for the city center, whose purpose is to rejuvenate the central area that has suffered in recent decades from a serious economic and cultural slump. “The development plan seeks to return Jerusalem to its former glory.”
Rabbi Hier is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance.
This article can also be read here.