The week in brief, 15th-21st November – a summary of recent postings

November 21, 2010

jfjfpIt hardly seems worth trying to follow the ins and outs of the so-called “peace” negotiations between Bibi Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas. As ever, it is hard to find a commentator who is even slightly optimistic about their outcome. So it is more than puzzling to see President Obama offering Netanyahu what Mark Perry calls an ‘embarrassing gift to Israel‘, and Christopher Hitchens a ‘craven deal’ and a ‘national humiliation’ – and for what?: “In return for just 90 days of Israeli lenience on new settlement-building (this brief pause or “freeze” not to include the crucial precincts of East Jerusalem), Netanyahu is being enticed with “a package of security incentives and fighter jets worth $3 billion” and a promise that the United States government would veto any Palestinian counterproposal at the United Nations…”

While Israel suffers an over-profusion of bribes, the Palestinian economy is dying. Kieron Monks provides a depressiong account of how aid to Palestine is ‘not sustainable development [but…] a permanent life-support system’, a critique he applies both to UNWRA support and widespread foreign aid more generally which is presiding over – and contributing to – a devastating collapse of the Palestinian economy. Meanwhille industrial “free trade zones” similar to those in Egypt and Jordan are planned for the West Bank as part of the peace process nominally underway between Israel and the Palestinians. The zones will bring jobs and economic development to the Palestinians, the logic goes, soothing the economic grievances that might otherwise stand in the way of a comprehensive deal. Sam Bahour argues that, to the contrary, these “Economic Prison Zones” will reinforce Palestinian economic dependence on Israel while diverting labor and resources from more promising development venues.

Gaza continues to stagnate. In October a delegation from the Britain Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group visited Gaza to assess the situation in what Prime Minister David Cameron terms “a prison camp”. Its report has now been published and is available for download, displaying, yet again, the catastrophe being inflicted on Gazan society and how little has changed despite Israel’s supposed easing of the blockade in June.

While all this is going on, it has been reported that “a delegation of ‘Senior Peace Now Members’, led by Director-General Yariv Oppenheimer, had met with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon”. Uri Avnery writes that they apparently “proposed ‘cooperation’ with the Foreign Office. It would be good for you, they told their host, to distribute Peace Now material around the world, in order to show that Israel is not only a state of occupation and settlements, but also of peaceniks. That would improve the image of the state and help the Foreign Office to silence the critics…” Avnery’s scathing comments on Peace Now’s willingness to legitimise Ayalon and his boss Liebermann had best be read directly!

That’s not the only imbecility going on in Israel today. Bradley Burston’s returns to the topic of the Museum of “Tolerance” –  being built, remember, on the site of an ancient Muslim cemetery. He characterises it as a settlement being built in West Jerusalem: on disputed land, causing direct and prolonged damage between Palestinians and Israelis, tarnishing Israel’s image as a democratic state – and more…

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Israel rates very low in term of religious freedom measured as discrimination against both non-Jews and non-orthodox Jews: “The International Religious Freedom Report 2009 [recently produced and released by the U.S. State Department]… placed Israel in the section with countries “where violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy.” Israel is in the same section as such countries as Afghanistan, China, Iran, Iraq and Sudan. Another section of the report highlights countries, some in the violators group, where positive developments have been seen; Israel does not appear in that category.”

In an extended argument, US Professor Stephen R. Shalom, a long-term activist on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, challenges the accusation that Israel is unfairly singled out for criticism, that double standards are applied. Here he counters the arguments suggesting that Israel is held to higher standards than other countries; that Israel’s attempts to make peace are overlooked; that the United Nations singles Israel out while overlooking far more egregious behaviour; and many related arguments…

The topic Israel as a Jewish state? continues to be hotly debated. Here we reproduce a number of articles on this theme. Jerome Slater’s original piece ‘What’s wrong with a Jewish state?’ has elicited a passionate response, and responses by Ahmed Moor and Jeremiah Haber are reproduced here – with links to the wider comments made. The issues are central to Israel and its future and we hope this debate will contribute to some nuanced thinking on the topic.

In South Africa Archbishop Desmond Tutu appealed to Cape Town’s renowned opera troupe to cancel a performance of Porty and Bess planned for November in Israel. The opera company refused and the performance went ahead in Tel Aviv – accompanied by a highly creative flashmob protest. Meanwhile, in South Africa the Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein wrote an Open letter to Tutu saying there was ‘no apartheid in Israel’. Allan Boesak & Farid Esack responded.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the campaign against Veolia is hotting up with a call to ‘Bin Veolia’ – act now. Veolia is a company benefiting from the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory. It has interests in the UK, in particular in waste collection and its contract with the North London waste Authority (Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest) is coming up for renewal on 10th December…

Finally, it would appear that the dam has burst. What JfJfP has been calling for over the last nine years, and Independent Jewish Voices too, seems at last to be happening. As the JC reports: “One of British Jewry’s most senior leaders [Mick Davis, chair of the UJIA – the United Jewish Israel Appeal, a leading Zionist body in the UK – and on the executive of the Jewish Leadership Council] this week shattered a longstanding taboo by publicly criticising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the peace process, voicing moral reservations about some of Israel’s policies, and calling for criticism of Israel to be voiced freely throughout the community…”

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