The Arab Uprisings and The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
14 July 2011
IJV brought together an extremely knowledgeable interdisciplinary panel hosted by Birkbeck’s Department of Psychosocial Studies.
Speakers: Professor Avi Shlaim, Dr Khaled Hroub, Ian Black
Thursday 14th July 2011, 7:30pm
Birkbeck College, University of London
As we expect there to be high demand please arrive in good time to secure entrance or, to reserve a place, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The meeting will be held in Room B36, Birkbeck, University of London,
Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX
(Best access via Torrington Place)
Nearest Tubes: Russell Square, Euston, Goodge St.
Cost: £10, (£5 to unemployed and students)
Avi Shlaim is Professor of International Relations at St. Antony’s College Oxford and the author of ‘The Iron Wall’.
Khaled Hroub is Director of the Arab Media Project at the University of Cambridge and author of ‘Hamas: a Beginners’s Guide’.
Ian Black is Middle East editor of the Guardian.
Independent Jewish Book Day: 8 March 2009
At the Institute of Education
2.00 A Time To Speak Out: Independent Jewish Voices on Israel, Zionism and Jewish Identity: Howard Cooper, Gabriel Josipovici, Antony Lerman, Eyal Weizman, Jacqueline Rose. Chair Lynne Segal
3.30 Miri Weingarten, Director of the Occupied Palestinian Territory Department for PHR (until end Feb 2009). Chair: Tony Klug
5.00 Uri Avnery, “The Anger, the Longing, the Hope: Searching for Peace in Israel/Palestine”
Over 250 people attended this successful event.
Read Howard Cooper’s blog on the event
View a video of Uri Avnery’s speech.
Israel’s leading peace dissident, former member of Knesset, Uri Avnery, in discussion with Ian Black, Guardian Middle East editor. Now 85, he went from fighting for the Irgun in 1948 to meeting Arafat during the siege of Beirut in 1982 and being one of the founders of Gush Shalom in 1993.
“It is important for governments and peoples to know that the unconditional support for the Israeli Right does not represent the majority of Jews in the US, the UK and other countries. The Jewish public is far from monolithic. The majority is liberal and believes in peace and human rights. Until now this was a silent majority, out of fear of a repressive establishment. It is indeed “a time to speak out”.”
“Violence is a symptom. The occupation is the disease”
Gaza – The Crisis: 6 February 2007
At the Hampstead Town Hall, Haverstock Hill, London, NW3
A conversation between:
Philippe Sands QC
Barrister with Matrix Chambers and Professor of International Law at UCL
Ahdaf Soueif, Egyptian author
Lynne Segal in the chair
Israel and The Boycott Question: 20 November 2007
The human rights of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are violated on a daily basis. Can boycotting Israel help end the Occupation or is it counter-productive?
8.00pm for 8.30pm
(Old Hampstead Town Hall)
213 Haverstock Hill, London NW3
Near Belsize Park tube station
Tickets: £7 on the door. Concessions £5.
Professor Ilan Pappé
Professor of History, Exeter University (formerly of Haifa University).
Dr. Aeyal Gross
Academic, Faculty of Law, Tel- Aviv University. Peace activist and civil rights campaigner.
Academic, City University. Writer and activist. Resident in Ramallah for several years.
Secretary, Faculty for Israeli- Palestinian Peace.
Chair: Jon Snow
Channel Four News.
Independent Jewish Voices Forty Years on:
Israel, the Occupied Territories and International Law
28 June 2007
This is the first in a series of meetings whose purpose is to explore and elaborate the principles and themes of the IJV Declaration. The focus of this meeting will be principle 3: “Peace and stability require the willingness of all parties to the conflict to comply with international law.”
Thursday 28 June 2007
7.30pm for 8.00pm
Brunei Gallery SOAS, University of London Thornhaugh St.,
Russell Square, London, WC1H OXG
Tickets: £7 Concessions £5 .
Professor Susan Marks
Professor of Public International Law at King’s College, London.
Professor Malcolm Shaw
QC Sir Robert Jennings Professor of International Law at the University of Leicester.
Sir Geoffrey Bindman
Visiting Professor of Law at University College London and London South Bank University. Chairman of the British Institute of Human Rights.
Chair Dr. Tony Klug
Middle East analyst. Former senior official of Amnesty International. Vice chair of the Arab-Jewish Forum.
Read a written report of the event below
How often do we spout terms like “human rights violations” or “Geneva Accords”, “military necessity”, “obligations in international law” or “occupied territories”, but never quite know what we mean?
On June 28 the IJV engaged the help of three legal luminaries to put flesh on the bones of these concepts. Without a wig in sight, the trio – Dr Susan Marks, Sir Geoffrey Bindman and Sir Nigel Rodley – may have raised more questions than they answered. Yet they certainly left audience members feeling much better informed than when they first entered the SOAS’s Brunei Gallery lecture theatre!
The meeting, as chair Tony Klug explained, was the first in a series aimed at focusing on principles of the IJV foundational document. In this case the challenge was to tease out the complexities entailed in IJV principle 3: compliance with international law.
Ably laying out the groundwork for the night’s proceedings, Dr Marks, Professor of Public International Law at King’s College, London, began by explaining the two broad areas of law that apply to Israel and the territories.
First comes international law concerning treaties and customary law between states. Like Britain, Israel accepts a “hybrid” approach, whereby only some of this law automatically becomes part of domestic legislation.
Second is international humanitarian law, essentially covered by the Hague Regulations (1907), the Fourth Geneva Protocol (1947) and the first addition to the Geneva Protocol (1977). Of these three edicts, explained Dr Marks in her crash course in jurisprudence, Israel is party only to the second. It further claims that the 1947 convention does not apply in the territories; even so, it says that it “voluntarily” applies the understanding, on humanitarian grounds.
So, given these parameters, how does Israel do? Not brilliantly, argued Dr Marks, quoting the testimony of the Red Cross and the UN Security Council. For instance, international law forbids “forced deportation” of populations, including transfer of the occupying power’s population into occupied territories. Israel has claimed that its settler movement is genuinely “voluntary”, but this line of argument has failed to convince external bodies. Likewise Israel’s treatment of “protected persons” – viz. Palestinian citizens of the OT – falls foul of international opinion on matters of house demolitions and the wall/ security barrier.
Overall, Israel disputes the idea of applying human rights law to the OT, claiming that humanitarian law only governs one’s own citizens. Further, Israel has argued that such laws only apply during peacetime; but given Israel’s emergency regulations – in place since 1948 – a plea of “legitimate self-defence” can and should override normal strictures on freedom of movement (says Jerusalem). Thus while the UN has ruled (in a non-binding verdict) that the wall is “inconsistent with the right to self-determination” and flouts human rights norms (regarding access to water, schools, etc.) Israel counters with the security argument – in much the same way as the USA and UK argue regarding special measures taken in the “war on terror”.
But can there be such a neat “trade-off” between freedom and security? Not really, argues Marks, quoting Ronald Dworkin and John Dugard. For one thing, Israel treats differently the security needs of two peoples – Israelis and Palestinians. Thus it discriminates by denying an identity between the two groups. And this approach “assumes precisely what needs to be demarcated”.
Israel’s attitude further ignores the longer term effects of the route of the wall on stoking future violence. Measures that could be deemed as “collective punishment” only add to this negative effect. In sum, house demolitions, arbitrary detentions, assassinations and un-negotiated wall-building actually could be said to undermine the much-quoted security argument.
Finally, she argues, there is the generic problem of human rights laws altogether: they focus well enough on particular problems, but tend to ignore larger questions of context. Hence the wall and settlements are all treated as “given facts”; denials of human rights turn into mere “errors to be corrected”.
Law itself, she warns, is wrongly used to legitimise bad systems. Israel is not unique in this respect; much of the machinery of international law is still in its infancy. Yet the example of the OT throws into sharp relief the problem.
Sir Geoffrey Bindman followed with an address that highlighted a theme to which Marks alluded. Namely, the paradox of an Israel that embeds the high ideals of equality of treatment in its admirable declaration of independence; versus political practices which in reality see successive governments “weasel out” of their stated legal obligations.
Turning to the acquisition of the OT in the first place, Bindman noted that international law does accept “temporary occupation” after war – but a 40-year duration is hardly temporary. Secondly, occupiers are legally obliged to interfere as little as possible with pre-existing populations – yet Israeli courts have vacillated, while Israeli governments have more directly shunned their obligations and responsibilities.
Adding to Marks’ comments on settlers, Bindman noted that the stricture on “population transfer” has also been apparently flouted in the case of the 9,000 Palestinians now held in Israeli prisons.
Again, settlers in the OT clearly enjoy rights that locals do not. Is this acceptable in international law? Evidently not, he argued, quoting Hebrew University professor Kretzmer. Indeed, settlements appear to be hardly neutral entities – rather they seem like deliberate instruments to predetermine the outcome of peace talks. Bindman added that expropriation of land and flattening of homes smacked of “collective punishment” – something expressly forbidden by international law.
Had the wall been built along the 1967 green line, he stated, it may have had some justification on grounds of “legitimate self-defence”. Instead, its meandering route suggested another un-stated cause, namely “gobbling up land”. As with the 2006 destruction of power stations in Gaza, arguments based on self-defence crumble when retaliatory or protective actions appear “grossly disproportionate”, or are openly and deliberately intimidating.
As to who has real authority, Bindman claimed that Israel’s military habitually countermands the Palestinian Authority’s ultimately limited jurisdiction. Checkpoints, restricted roads, and so on, in his view constituted orders whose “range and pettiness are quite extraordinary”.
To its credit, he said, Israel’s Supreme Court has on occasion intervened. Yet all too often, he added, quoting Israeli jurists, “security arguments win the day”.
In conclusion, Sir Geoffrey expressed disappointment that an otherwise energetic and enlightened Israeli public, including its legal fraternity, had not acted to stop “wreaking damage” on both Palestinians. Nor were they the only victims, he opined: Israel’s own soldiers, by pursuing questionable orders, end up being brutalised themselves.
Israel purports to uphold a “distinguished” rule of law, he said, a claim that carries at least some weight. But, he added in a somewhat scathing summation, if Israeli jurists do not obey or enact their own laws and standards, they cannot complain when others try to show them up as “humbugs and hypocrites”. All in all, he suggested, quite a challenge awaits that new peace envoy, Tony Blair!
Last of the three speakers was Sir Nigel Rodley, Professor of Law and Chair of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex. Gamely standing in at the last moment for Malcolm Shaw, QC, who was laid low by the ‘flu, Rodley focused particularly on the legal and political implications of the settlements.
While admitting the “built-in ambiguity” of UN 242 (1967) over questions of the extent of territory or territories to be vacated, he nonetheless accepted that there was no ambiguity over the explicit nature of the call for negotiations. However, while Israel formally accedes to this demand, in practice settlements have acted as a “spoke in the legal wheel”. And this probably deliberate distortion or imposition, said Rodley, has inevitably determined the shape of the political wheel.
Picking up on a theme raised by Susan Marks, Rodley noted that Israel has made much of disputing the applicability of human rights laws to “non-state players”. In much the same manner as Britain and the USA have tried to play it regarding the battle against terrorists. Yet Geneva does surely apply to the OT, he insisted, countering the prevailing Israeli judicial trend.
Sir Nigel admitted to feeling “more generous towards the Israeli Supreme Court” than Sir Geoffrey. The court had, he reminded listeners, explicitly ruled against torture in 1998; it also challenged the route of the wall and overturned the hitherto “reckless disregard of Palestinians” effected by the route. Plus Israel’s Supreme Court heard a case about alleged IDF misdeeds in Rafah while fighting was still going on – by notable contrast to the US Supreme Court, entirely silent so far about Guantanemo Bay, and indeed to virtually all other equivalent supreme courts.
Overall, though, he concluded that the system seems “designed to protect the settlements”. So until it is decided “what the settlements are for, and what they are doing”, it is hard to consider anything else.
Questions and Answers
Dozens of questions followed the formal addresses. These covered issues ranging from the right of resistance and the nature of Hamas to the precise borders of Israel, queries arising from the annexation of Jerusalem, the efficacy of international law altogether, and even the vexed question of Israel’s foundation.
Susan Marks explained that while there was indeed a “right to resist”, there were distinct limits. For instance, only military personnel are deemed “legitimate targets”. To the extent that assailants or would-be freedom fighters target civilians these acts could be categorised as war crimes. As to notions that conscription makes all Israelis military or potential military personnel, this, she found, was “very ambiguous” – and probably hard to sustain in a court of law.
To Bindman it seemed “crass” to call Hamas merely a “terrorist group”, and thus use this epithet to excuse Israel, or anyone else, from negotiating with them. After all, the party was democratically elected. And if Britain could talk with the IRA, he argued, why not Israel with Hamas?
Rodley, however, answered with a different nuance: “The Israeli government view might be unwise politically, but it is not unprincipled”, he stated. For Hamas participated in elections predicated on the structures of the PA, a body set up in the same Oslo talks that included recognition of Israel. Hence to deny Israel’s right to exist also, he seemed to imply, denies Hamas’s own right to govern.
On Israel’s particular take on UN 242 – which they formally accede to – Rodley was equally exacting. Old Israeli arguments about the conquered land not being legally acquired by predecessor regimes (viz. Jordan and Egypt) must perforce fall by the wayside. As to where Israeli borders really lie, in the absence of a formal and final regional peace treaty, said Rodley, there was no absolute consensus. However, the 1948/67 lines seem acceptable to most as a basis for talks – with the fate of Jerusalem requiring some yet-to-be-revealed “neutral umpire in the sky” to judge.
Marks tackled head-on a tough if cynical question about law being “merely an instrument of politicians”. Yes, she agreed, some say that; but (she implied) the same people also find themselves hoping that “if only international law were enforced, all would be well with the world”. You cannot have it both ways. And in practice it is neither all nor nothing. Even if the Israeli Supreme Court had just “tinkered around the edges”, even that was of some value…
One questioner wanted to know whether Israel itself was a legitimate entity, seeing as it had been “born out of terrorism”. To this Marks replied with the views of Derrida and Eagleton, who said that “violence in the creation of states is the original form of all politics”. Thus it is not unique to Israel’s creation. In reality the original “illegality” gets cured by the passage of time, she said. Where Israel can stand accused, though, is that its further expansion since 1948 has “engaged the norms of resolutions in international law”.
As opposed to a bird’s eye view, a legal eagle’s vision can be surprisingly different, listeners learnt. For instance, while Rodley characterised the Palestinian refugees’ putative right of return as politically and morally a “strong proposition”, he also issued a caution on behalf of lawyers everywhere. Namely, that the same right was legally established only after the displacement took place.
All speakers seemed to agree that Israel had tied itself in knots by variously describing the territories as occupied or not, depending on whether international law would assign it culpability. They also concurred that what was really a “conflict of nationalities” tended to “wear the lineaments of religion”. Take out the power of religion and quite a few problems would become manageable, if not wholly soluble.
It was a sanguine hope, and one that tallied with Tony Klug’s concluding remarks praising the meeting as a “valuable open space for real debate – without vilification”.
After such a stimulating and high-powered event, few could dispute the law’s role as part of the problem, yet also as a possible way out. As Bindman put it, “the fact that so many came here tonight means that law is not just a vainglorious pursuit. Rather, it is testimony to its centrality in these affairs”.
With thanks to Lawrence Joffe for this report.
Signatories Meeting: 15 May 2007
An IJV signatories meeting was held on 15 May 2007 at Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, London, attended by about 120 people.
The meeting was chaired by Ellen Dahrendorf and addressed by Jacqueline Rose, Lynne Segal and Donald Sassoon, from the IJV Steering Group.
The way in which signatories’ donations had been used to fund advertisements and meetings was outlined. An update was provided on IJV’s activities, the media response to them and their international impact. Attention was drawn to a recent letter from steering group members in the New York Review of Books (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20182) and involvement in student debates.
Future activities would include publication of a book based on the IJV launch articles, a debate on international law and the occupation on the 28 June (the first in a series of meetings to be held to explore the principles and themes of the IJV Declaration) and a further debate on antisemitism later in the year. The importance of, and potential for, increasing the support for IJV among both observant and secular Jews were emphasised.
In a wide-ranging discussion, thirty participants made contributions from the floor (several others were unfortunately unable to do so because of time constraints), including one school and three university students. A first hand account was given of the launch of Independent Australian Jewish Voices (http://www.iajv.org), which now has 473 signatories after two months The significance of work within educational institutions to provide support and encouragement for students was underlined. Other speakers stressed the need for IJV to develop a comprehensive media strategy and the potential for IJV to maximise political pressure in a way which is not open to individuals.
Key elements of Israel’s Declaration of Independence (e.g. “it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”) could be used as a powerful means of persuading Jews supportive of Israel to oppose injustice. Further suggestions were the promotion of a Diaspora identity and addressing other Diaspora issues, such as antisemitism, including the way it may be used as an inappropriate charge. Various views were expressed about the way a network should operate in terms of structure and formulation of policy, as well as relationships with other groupings, both in the UK and overseas. One speaker described IJV as “a work in progress”.
In closing, the platform speakers thanked participants for all their helpful suggestions and queries, apologised to those who had been unable to speak, encouraged email contributions and acknowledged the need to consider the points raised in finding the best way to keep the momentum going.
Launch of Independent Jewish Voices
Speak-Out chaired by Jon Snow
19 February 2007
8.15pm for 8.30pm
Hampstead Town Hall, 213 Haverstock Hill, London, NW3
(near Belsize Park tube station)
Entry £7 (£5 concessions)
Further information: email@example.com
The launch of Independent Jewish Voices, at Hampstead Town Hall on Monday 19th February 2007, proved very popular. The hall was packed and, sadly, several dozen people were turned away at the door.
Below are the three main speeches:
Unblocking the Deadlock
by Tony Klug
I should like to put in a plea for the constant demonizing of one side or the other of the Arab-Israeli conflict to stop. It only poisons the water.
Just imagine if these two small peoples had not clashed on the same piece of territory. What incentive would each side then have had to manufacture so many absurd myths about the other, distorting their histories, despising their religions and trashing their national characters?
It is dangerously misleading to analyze conflicts in such terms rather than by trying to understand how the objective situations on the ground impact on ordinary people caught up in them, whomever they may be. This is not to excuse anyone but to retain a sense of perspective.
Thus, what in 1948 – i n the wake of the Nazi holocaust and the double dealings of the western powers – was a joyous liberation for one tormented people was a wretched catastrophe for another. And something similar may be said about the outcome of the war 19 years later.
And then, when the land-confiscations and settlement-building accelerated a decade or so after 1967, and the Israeli occupation no longer looked to be temporary, Palestinian resistance grew in tandem. If, at times, it turned violent and involved deadly atrocities, it was not because the perpetrators were Palestinian, or Arab or predominantly Muslim, but because they were an occupied people. If there is one cast-iron law of history, it is probably that all occupations and other forms of colonial rule are, eventually, resisted.
In parallel, if there has been a persistent pattern of serious human rights violations in the occupied territories, it is not because the perpetrators are Israeli, nor even because they are Zionist – patriotic Israelis and self-proclaimed Zionists have been among the most outspoken critics, as they should be – and certainly not because they are Jews. It is because they are occupiers, and the violations will end when the occupation ends.
As we know from other cases too, enforced rule over another people brutalizes not just the occupied but the occupier as well. By remaining in the West Bank, Israel has done enormous harm to its own social fabric and its international reputation, to say nothing of the profound damage that has been done to the Palestinians who live there. It should not be left to Israel’s enemies to call for a full and final end to Israel’s occupation. It is time, 40 years on, for the true friends of Israel to assert the same demand.
In this spirit, I propose we call on the Israeli prime minister and government to set about unblocking the deadlock and sparking a new peace momentum by a simple act of state: a public declaration that, in exchange for full peace and subject to agreed equitable land exchanges, Israel is prepared in principle to withdraw fully from the West Bank to enable the Palestinians to build their independent state, with which Israel would desire normal neighbourly relations. Not a hazardous unilateral withdrawal, but a sincere, risk-free, unilateral declaration about the envisaged political horizon.
If Israel’s leadership truly seeks peace, let us hear it make this vital – in principle – statement, loudly and clearly and often. And if not, why not?
Dr Tony Klug is a veteran writer on the Middle East who has been advocating a two-state solution since the early 1970s. He is senior policy consultant at the Middle East Policy Initiative Forum and vice-chair of the Arab-Jewish Forum. His doctoral thesis was on Israel’s rule over the West Bank between the wars of 1967 and 1973.
Athletico Neasden and Beyond
by Brian Klug
I don’t know how many people here read the Jewish Chronicle. I grew up on the JC. We bought it every week without fail in my family, although for many years my main interest was in the back pages where you could find the results of games played in the Maccabi Southern Football League. Reading this week’s issue, I find myself characterised by one letter-writer as someone who has never demonstrated an interest in “the continued existence and health of the Jewish people in any meaningful way”. Obviously this person has no inkling of my many years as a dedicated defensive midfield player for Athletico Neasden ‘C’ team.
His view of me, and of everyone else associated with IJV, is relatively benign. Others go further, including a well-known commentator who, in her column in the JC this week, describes us as “the British arm of the pincer of Jewish destruction”.
Clearly, we have hit a nerve: hence the scale of vituperation and hostility. And equally, judging by the overwhelming support we have received, we have struck a chord.
The remarkable thing about this support is that it comes from across the Jewish spectrum. We stand accused by some of our critics of not being ‘real’ Jews on the grounds that we do not participate in mainstream Jewish life. There are only two things wrong with this accusation. First, it’s untrue: many IJV signatories come from what might loosely be called ‘the mainstream’. (One wrote to us to say that she agrees “wholeheartedly” with the aims of IJV, describing herself as editor of her synagogue’s newsletter.) Second, and in my view more profoundly, the accusation rests on a fallacy. There seems to be an assumption that if you live on the margins of the mainstream Jewish community, this makes you a marginal Jew. But it doesn’t; and it’s a chutzpah to suggest that it does.
One new signatory wrote as follows: “You have said openly what many of us have felt for a very long time but have lacked a vehicle for expressing our views”. Such people are at the heart of the IJV initiative – whether they live their lives within an organised Jewish community or not.
As for the Middle East, we have been dubbed “leaders of the Israel hate-fest”. But it is not hate for Israel that animates us. In some cases, it is even the opposite. I received an email yesterday from someone who wrote, “I joined IJV because I support and love Israel: I have children and grandchildren there and visit regularly; because I go to shul every week … because I believe in justice.” Justice is actually the common denominator; not hate and not love. As I wrote in my Guardian article, some of us “feel a strong attachment to Israel as Jews, others feel none”. But all of us feel a commitment to the principles set out in the IJV statement – and some of us precisely because of our Jewish identity: the historical experience of persecution and the prophetic tradition of social justice.
What we are seeking to do is to draw a different line in the sand. Instead of group loyalty, we believe the debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be based on the principles of justice and human rights that the IJV statement affirms. This basis allows for a wide range of views about what constitutes a better future for Israelis and Palestinians: whether there should be two states, one state, and so on.
So, we are not promoting one particular political agenda concerning Israel. Rather, what we seek to promote is a different, healthier climate of political debate among Jews in Britain. As for those who deny that the present climate is unhealthy, I can only say that we must be living on different planets; and the planet I’m on is called Earth.
We hope that the launch of IJV will create a momentum. In other words, let others pick up the ball and run with it – as (I hasten to add) I never did in my days with Athletico Neasden C.
What led to IJV
by Jacqueline Rose
Independent Jewish Voices began when some of the members of two groups got together in Spring 2005 – Jewish Writers Against the Occupation and the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights.
The precipitating factor was an interview with Ehud Olmert in Ha’aretz, only partly reported in the Western press, in which he made it clear that his immediate political objective was to secure international backing for his realignment plan to annex large swathes of the West Bank and declare the wall as the border of the State (a plan since shelved as a consequence of the Lebanon war of last summer). He then prioritised the need to secure international backing, defining his task as one above all of diplomacy and speaking confidently of securing the support of Bush, Blair and Chirac (this was the part of the interview not reproduced here). For a number of us it seemed imperative that if and when he visited Great Britain, the Foreign Office should not feel able to state without qualification that British Jews were behind this plan, which would make non-viable the possibility of a Palestinian State. Blair’s uncritical support for US policy on Israel was also a serious cause for concern, for instance, his backing for Bush’s March 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon which declared support for retaining parts of the West Bank thereby reversing 37 years of US policy on Israel (Israeli historian Avi Shlaim has described Blair’s position on this as the greatest British betrayal of the Arab people since Balfour).
Our sense of the urgency of this initiative was increased by the Caterpillar affair when the Anglican Church voted to disinvest from this firm which supplies the bulldozers involved in house demolitions to Israel, the bulldozers involved in the death of Rachel Corrie. The Chief Rabbi immediately issued a statement that this move would be detrimental to Anglican-Jewish relations. We felt that it was not in his brief to make such an intervention and also that there were many Jewish people in Britain who would not concur with this view.
Finally, when we were already involved in drafting our declaration, the Lebanese war added another key dimension. We were concerned by Olmert’s declaration that this was a `war being fought by all Jews’, and by the Chief Rabbi statement at the Trafalgar Square rally that British Jews were `proud’ of Israel, as the IDF, in the words of then Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, proceeded with its plan to bomb Lebanon back 20 years. And again noting Blair’s craven support for Bush on these matters, we were appalled by his refusal to call for a cease-fire.
Our immediate aim, therefore, was to counter the impression that British Jewry speaks with one voice.
What unites us is a set of common principles, as can be seen from our Declaration:
– a commitment to human rights and international law;
– hatred of racism in all its forms;
– the feeling that the struggle against anti-Semitism, a struggle we consider vital, is diminished whenever criticism of Israel is branded as anti-Semitic; we believe that anti-Semitism will only be given its due and proper attention when this false link is not made so that the real anti-Semites can become the object of focus;
– above all perhaps, the feeling that our history as Jews lays a particular obligation on us to speak out against abuses of human rights even when – or perhaps especially when – those abuses are being carried out in our name.
Once we have stated our shared commitment to these principles, we crucially have a diversity of views: On the most desirable outcome of the conflict in terms of a one or two state solution; On the usefulness of the analogy with apartheid; On the question of a cultural and academic boycott. Within the frame of the above principles, our aim is therefore to create an open atmosphere of discussion.
We would also like to stress that it has never been our claim that we have been silenced as individuals. Nor have we denied that many of us have access to the media. On the contrary, our aim is to bring into the process of debate all those without such a platform – and we have reasons to believe they are many – often defining themselves as Zionists who are sympathetic to Israel but critical of the government’s policies – and who feel unable to speak out for fear of being labelled an anti-Semite or self-hating Jew.
Over the past two weeks, we have received messages of support from: Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, US, Canada, Australia, India, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Malta, Canada, New Zealand, Syria, Belgium and Holland.
In launching our initiative, we see Independent Jewish Voices as appealing to a long-standing Jewish tradition of commitment to justice. We are mindful of the Biblical injunction to remember that we were once `strangers in the land of Egypt’
To end with a quote from one of my favourite Israeli writers, Shulamith Hareven from her 1986 essay, `Identity:Victim’:
`If my only identity is that of the victim, the world’s deterministic and doomed victim, I may (or so it seems) commit any atrocity, including exiling Arabs from their homes (excuse me, dear hawks, `relocating them’) and taking possession of their land, because I am the victim and they are not; because this is the only way I define myself and my identity – forever.
But if I also define myself as the son or daughter of a people with a splendid four thousand year history of responsibility, of conscience, of repairing and improving, of appealing for social order and justice, of a legal system nearly unparalleled in the world, and of the protection of all these traditions; if I have indeed learned and internalised all these, so that they define my identity; then even if often in history I have been the victim of others, I will never oppress those weaker than myself and never abuse my power to exile them. I will not have to define my uniqueness in terms of the past alone.’