Friday, August 28, 2009

The Elders In Zion

Nobel Prize Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa told the Israeli daily Haaretz on Thursday that said the West was consumed with guilt and regret toward Israel because of the Holocaust, "as it should be."

"But who pays the penance? The penance is being paid by the Arabs, by the Palestinians. I once met a German ambassador who said Germany is guilty of two wrongs. One was what they did to the Jews. And now the suffering of the Palestinians."

Tutu was in Israel as part of a group called “The Elders,” made up of former S. African leader Nelson Mandela, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Former Irish president and UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, and others. Most of the Elders are critical of Israel.

However, Mary Robinson did not only criticize Israel. “Robinson did not restrict her criticism to Israel. "On the Palestinian side, there needs to be much more responsibility to come together in a responsible way, as the PA and Hamas and Fatah and other elements must be much more urgent on the discussions that they are having in Egypt.

Tutu was less even-handed. He drew on his experience in South Africa, comparing the border checkpoints to those he’d encountered in S. Africa. Tutu also slammed Jewish organizations in the United States, saying they intimidate anyone who criticizes the occupation and rush to accuse these critics of anti-Semitism. Tutu recalled how such organizations pressured U.S. universities to cancel his appearances on their campuses. He called on governments to impose economic sanctions on Israel, saying the imposition of sanctions worked in S. Africa.

Tutu was asked about the controversy in Petach Tikva where several state-supported religious schools have refused to accept Ethiopian school children. Tutu’s response was “I hope that your society will evolve.”

In fact Israel hasn’t evolved. The ultra-Orthodox do not tolerate the secular Israelis and the secular Israelis resent the ultra-Orthodox as leeches on the body politic, using the Knesset only as a way to insure the fat subsidies while avoiding paying taxes or serving in the army.

However, Ashkeanzi (eastern European) run schools have long been guilty of denying Sephardi (Oriental) Jewish children seats in school, even if the Sephardi kids are ultra-Orthodox. Discrimination is rampant in the world, including in the ultra-Orthodox community. How one dresses, puts on tifilin, wears a hat, is enough for one ultra-Orthodox Jewish group to determine the other isn’t kosher enough for them. Take new immigrant Ethiopian kids whose Jewish origins are in question by the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox establishment, and trouble is a given. Experts say these are problems the State must deal with by managing subsidies to schools, and a firmer hand by the Ministry of Education.

In that Tutu is correct. The fact that Tutu won the Nobel Prize doesn’t carry much weight in Israel. Some critics point out that Yassir Arafat also won the same prize while plotting revolution and terrorist acts.

Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanhyahu speaking in Germany said that the problems between the Israelis and Palestinians could be solved if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. So far no Palestinian has come forward with this recognition, nor have any of “The Elders” sponsored such an initiative.

One of the “Elders”, Mary Robinson, spoke of a two-State solution. However while it is clear one state will be Palestinian, no one has defined what the demographics of the second state will be. One analyst said that if the Palestinian state were one entity, and a secular democratic state of Israel the other entity, with the population of the Arab Israelis rapidly increasing, it wouldn’t be long before both states would have Arab majorities, and then discuss an amalgamation.

Under the two-State solution, would a Jewish State fit the mold of America’s democracy? No. Would it insure a Jewish future in the region? No. Only a strong Israeli army can insure that. A parallel issue arose in Germany when the publicly funded Berlin Multicultural Center's (Werkstatt der Kulturen) decided to remove educational panels of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, who was an ally of Adolf Hitler, from a planned exhibit.

Pictures of al-Husseini being greeted by Hitler, even documentary film, are readily available at a variety of sites. al-Husseini was not only greeted by Hitler, according to research, but also given an apartment in Berlin and even made an “Aryan” by special declaration of Hitler. Archive footage of al-Husseini visiting Moslem troops dressed in Nazi uniforms is also available.

The two issues tie up in a simple way, one analyst said. The Arabs hated the Jews long before the existence of a Jewish state. In Tutu’s example it was the whites that hated the blacks. In the current example, according to experts, it is the opposite, the Arabs who have shown enmity towards the Jews, time and again.

One political observer agrees with Israel’s PM Netanyahu, that it is up to the Arabs to show good faith, and recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Anything less would probably result in the Jewishness of the state being replaced with a non-denominational democracy, which while enviable, would do nothing to insure the basic tenant of Israel: a safe haven for Jews, protected by a Jewish army, and run by Jews who are looking out for Jewish interests.

The world would be a wonderful place, wrote one pundit, if Israel could give up the quest for a long-term Jewish state recognized by the world, if only relinquishing that goal came with a guarantee that the Jewish residents would be allowed to live in peace and harmony.

History, however, has taught a completely different lesson.
Jewish persecution is nearly as old as history itself. One pundit says that nothing in the modern world, certainly not the declarations of demagogues like Achmadnijad nor Venezula’s Chavez, nor the Wahabi brand of Islam, among others, give the Jewish people any solace; or proof that their safety is secure. With the Iranian atomic bomb on the horizon, safety seems even farther away.

Jews as second-class citizens in Arab countries was not uncommon. Arab honor may be damaged because the Arabs were defeated by these once second-class citizens in many wars; and damaged more by the ill-treatment Arabs certainly receive at the hands of Israeli teenagers in army uniforms holding machine guns, manning the border checkpoints.

The Arab negotiators claim that no recognition of Israel will be granted at this ‘early stage.’ More, they claim, that once real peace talks are held the issue of a Jewish State and Arab recognition of that Jewish state will be raised. They view this recognition as a negotiating chip. If that is really the case than that statement will be challenged if and when negotiations ever take place.

Israel’s controversial Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman said this week that there would be no peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis for at least the next sixteen years. Was this a scientific analysis? One pundit said it was ost probably just chatter? What is clear, though, said the pundit, is that tomorrow won’t see a peace agreement. Nor will next month. And probably not next year, either. The outstanding issues are greater than Israel freezing settlements, which to the Israelis is a negotiating chip just as powerful as the Arabs demand for resettling refugees, or Arab control of Jerusalem.

U.S.President Obama believes the settlement issue is vital to jump-starting the peace process. This week Israel’s PM Netanyahu has said he’s worked out a plan for a 9-month freeze on settlement construction. Netanyahu has taken heat from the settler community for this statement. But in fact young Israelis seeking housing in the West Bank settlements are being warned that construction is slowing to a halt, forcing these families to look elsewhere. So the freeze is beginning. In the Antarctic once winter sets in the sea freezes at a rate of 4 miles a day. It takes a while for the big area to freeze over. The same may be true in the West Bank today.

Meanwhile the press published yet more verbosity about the imminent release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, now in his forth year of captivity. One tires of watching this carrot dangled in front of the soldier’s poor parents. One only hopes that soon Shalit will be home and that chapter will be closed. But one knows that Hamas and Hezbollah will then set their minds on another captive, launch another raid, and dangle that poor kid in front of the public for as long as they can.

With these conditions present one wonders why the Elders don’t turn their attention to freeing Shalit rather than blaming Jewish tragedies in the Holocaust for the plight of the Palestinians. Israel can be aggressive but the obtuse behavior of the Palestinians in light of their own actions, past and present, against Jews, is nothing more than clever and disingenuous. Positive actions on the Palestinian side, including Hamas laying down their arms, would go a long way to making Israelis feel secure, and willing to move quicker towards a peaceful solution.