Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Letter to the Leader of the UK Green Party

To Caroline Lucas MP
Leader of the UK Green Party

Dear Ms Lucas,

I have just finished the short but intriguing interview you gave to Martin Bright for the Jewish Chronicle, and I feel there are points I should make about some parts of it. Let me say a few words about myself first, so you understand where I am coming from. I’m a former academic in the broad area of Persian, Arabic, and Islamic Studies. Politically, I describe myself as a liberal, but not a member of any party. That means there are many things about the Green Party which I admire and others I do not. For as a long as I can remember, I have been a supporter of Israel, and not a day goes by without my contributing in some small way to the debate that surrounds Israel and the Palestinians. (You may even find my blog of help, ‘A Liberal Defence of Israel’ of help: http://mid-eastplus.blogspot.com/.)

Be that as it may, let me turn to some remarks of yours in the course of Martin’s interview. I thought it impressive that you chose to speak with a local rabbi, Elizabeth Tikvah Sara about the Green Party’s approach to the boycott and divestments dialogue. That you conclude that more sensitive language is needed is commendable. However, I don’t think it’s just the language that is at fault, but thre whole thinking behind the BDS movement. That initiative is based on the conceit that Israel is a rogue state, a state that engages in actions that breach human rights, that imposes a form of apartheid on Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, that oppresses Palestinians in various ways, that impedes the economic growth of Gaza and the West Bank, that continues to occupy Palestinian land without due cause, that kills Palestinians for no good reason, that targets Palestinian children, and much more.

If you support the BDS movement, I must assume that you believe at least some of those accusations. My worry is that, if you do so, it is out of the best intentions, but very far removed from a genuine context. I will not present you with an argument that Israel is a perfect country and its people long-suffering saints. That would not be true. But I would still argue that Israel is guilty of very little of what she has been condemned for. And I would argue that you need to read at least one intelligent book about these issues, since you do seem to have difficulty with the context.

For example, when Martin asked if there would soon be a Green Party boycott of Syria or Iran, you fobbed him off by saying ‘I think the difference with Israel is that so many other tools have been tried for so many decades with such extraordinary lack of success, that people have been driven to use these these other tools.’ What on earth can you mean by this statement? What has happened over the years is this. In 1948, Israel, a democratic state (not a dictatorship like any of its neighbours) was invaded by five countries, by six armies who stated aim was to kill all the Jews and destroy the Jewish state. This took place three years after the end of the Holocaust. No other country went to Israel’s aid, despite its being a UN state. The Arabs had been offered a state in 1947 too, but chose to resort to violence instead of taking up the offer. In 1967, Arab armies massed tanks and infantry on Israel’s borders, preparing to render the region judenrein. The Israelis fought back and won. In 1973, an invasion on Yom Kippur took the Israelis by surprise, but again they fought back and again they won. Do you think they ought to have put down their arms and let their enemies, as they claimed, ‘finish wehat Hitler started’. They are still saying that, by the way. Who do you blame for all this? Israel or the Arab states.

Since the 1960s, the Palestinians have been masters of terrorism, hijacking aeroplanes, sending suicide bombers into kindergartens, restaurants, buses or anywhere else. Who is to blame for this? Who launched two intifadas aimed at killing as many Jews as possible? The Israeli solution was not to go into the Wesrt Bank and slaughter civilians, but to build a fence that has now dropped the incidence of terrorist acts by over 90%. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

In 2000, at Camp David, Yasir Arafat was offered 95% of the West Bank and the whole of the Gaza Strip. He walked out. Nobody walks out on an offer of almost 100% of what they have demanded. In business, it would be suicidal. In politics much the same. Were the Israelis to blame for this, should ‘tools’ have been used to bring them into line. The Israelis have made gesture after gesture for peace. They left Sinai, Southern Lebanon, and Gaza. None of these gestures bore fruit in peace. To this day, Palestinian leaders (such as Mahmoud Abbas) when speaking to their own people in Arabic talk of taking conrol of both their territory and Israel and of driving the Jews into exile. A future Palestinian state will, according to Abbas, will be judenrein. (Jordan is already free of Jews and will not allow Jews to enter.) The Palestinians simply will not wake up to the fact that they will have to do like anybody else in their situation and compromise. So, who do you need to put pressure on? The Israelis, who have been desperate for peace since 1947/48 or the Palestinians (and other Arabs) who are fixated by their horror of a Jewish presence on what was Islamic soil?

Further down, you say ‘I think the Naqba (sic), the occupation, that’s been going on for decades. You could say that Syrian oppression has been going on for decades but in terms of the wider awareness of what’s going on there and the particular violence we’ve seen over the last few months, it is a much more recent phenomenon.’ I don’t know where to start with this. As a minor point, the nakba (it’s a k, not a q) is not the occupation. The nakba is the ‘disaster’ of 1947/48, when the UN brought a Jewish state into being, when Arab armies were defeated, and when local Arabs were forced (as often as not by Arab armies) out of their villages. The nakba was their own doing, when they launched the invasion. In towns like Haifa, the Jewish leadership pressed their Arab citizens to stay, but Arab leaders from the Arab Higher Committee, told them to go so that Arab troops could take the town. Nothing, absolutely nothing, prevented the Arabs from setting up their own state. Now, the occupation of the West Bank has been going on for decades (though Gaza was abandoned in 2005), but the problem has been, not that the Israelis won’t give up (I’ve mentioned Begin offering 95% of the West Bank), but that the Palestinians will not give up on their idea of a Palestine from the sea to the Jordan. Even now, the Jewish settlements take up no more than 3% of the WB, and the Israelis have offered an equivalent amount of land to compensate. The Palestinian response is, as ever, no. That happened famously after the 1967 war, when the Arab League met in Khartoum and issued a declaration (the Khartoum Declaration) that insisted on ‘the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it’. Is Israel to blame for that (it has never been rescinded and can be found in similar words in the Hamas Charter of 1988, or in this statement from Hizbullah’s 1985 Risala maftuha: ‘We vigorously condemn all plans for negotiation with Israel, and regard all negotiators as enemies, for the reason that such negotiation is nothing but the recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist occupation of Palestine. Therefore we oppose and reject the Camp David Agreements, the proposals of King Fahd, the Fez and Reagan plan, Brezhnev's and the French-Egyptian proposals, and all other programs that include the recognition (even the implied recognition) of the Zionist entity. Or, as the Fatah Constitution puts it: ‘Armed public revolution is the inevitable method to liberating Palestine.‘

These are all terrorist groups. They refuse even to negotiate, and they play games with Western politicians like yourself, convincing you that the Israelis, not themselves are to blame for the lack of progress in peace talks.

Let me go a bit further. I can’t believe what you have said about Syria. Anyone (including Western governments and intelligence agencies) knew perfectly well how horrible most Arab regimes were and are. The monstrosities of the Iranian regime have been well known since 1979: they hang their victims in public from cranes. Yet the West has never done anything serious to bring them to book. Iran’s (and Syria’s) human rights records have never been hidden. So were those of Saddam Hussein. Of Mubarak. Of Ghadhafi. Of Saudi Arabia (they don’t hang, they decapitate their victims in a public square). Of Algeria. Of Hamas (they kill opponents by throwing them off rooftops). But not till this year have we done anything (and it’s little enough) to stop the violence. Maybe you knew nothing about this till now, but in that case you and your party shouldn’t be supporting boycotts in a region you know so little about.

As for human rights, I think you’ll find that most of the people living in most Arab states would prefer to live in Israel than where they are. Some already take refuge there, notably gay men and women. Back home they can be beaten badly or hanged or thrown from a height. In Israel they can meet together openly, live together, and join in gay pride marches, should they wish. In Israel, women are not discriminated against. They have the same rights as men, they are conscripted into the army, and they suffer none of the discrimination their peers suffer in Muslim countries. Israel’s record on treatment of religious minorities is unsurpassed. I will give you a simple contrast. You may know that Iran’s largest religious minorities is the Baha’i faith, a religion that originated in Iran in the 19th century and currently has adherents in most parts of the world, but almost none in Islamic states. (I have written several books and many articles about them.) As you may have heard, the Baha’is are severely persecuted by the Islamic regime, which has executed over 200 of their leaders, which has destroyed them financially, destroyed their books, refused admission to universities for their young men and women, and has demolished their holiest places and ploughed up their cemeteries. But if you go to Israel (something I heartily wish you would do), you can visit two UNESCO World Heritage Sites belonging to the Baha’is. Here, they have their two holiest shrines (one in Haifa, one near Acco), their international archives, the seat of of their supreme administrative body, and much else, all surrounded by some of the loveliest gardens you can imagine. So, please tell me why a party like yours chooses to boycott Israel and doesn’t say ‘boo’ to Ayatollah Khamene’i and Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad about their criminal activities. Nobody is executed in Israel for adultery, or being gay, or being Muslim, or being a member of the opposition. So why the boycott? Don’t you feel ashamed to be boycotting a country that has achieved so much in such a short time to improve conditions for its citizens, yet can’t drum up the energy and interest to speak out against regimes that kill and torture and support terrorism or arm terror groups (as Iran and Syria do)? Israel is a genuine democracy that includes all its citizens, Arab and Jew. It has no system of apartheid in any part, despite wild claims to the contrary. Saudi Arabia operates an apartheid system, within which it bans non-Muslims from certain areas and forbids Jews to enter under any circumstances. Why not boycott a country that really does carry out human rights abuses? The Green Party has said that ‘There is no place for capital punishment in a criminal justice system which is compassionate, just and respectful of human rights. No country or state should retain the death penalty in its criminal justice system.’ Israel, as you should know, abolished the death sentence from the beginning and has only hanged a single person and that for good reason: Adolf Eichmann was a chief organizer of the Holocaust, and it’s hard to see who the Jewish state could have let him live. But today, Israeli gaols are filled with Palestinian murderers, chiefly terrorists. Recently, two young Arab men were placed in prison to stand trial for the sickening slaughter of five members of a Jewish family, the Fogels, in a settlement called Itamar. They stabbed to death the father, mother, two little boys, and beheaded a five-month-old baby girl. Those boys will never face a death sentence in Israel. In Gaza, people danced in the streets when they heard of the murders. That was last March. Iran hangs on almost a daily basis, Saudi Arabia has regular work for its executioner, China has the highest rate of executions in the world. But you boycott Israel.

To quote further from the interview: ‘Ultimately, Ms Lucas explained, the Green Party's support of the boycott should be seen in the tradition of activism rooted in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. "For many people I think that's what they're looking at and thinking if we did it on South Africa…", her voice trails off. "And there are many parallels that are drawn.”’ What parallels exactly? Let me remind you that, in apartheid South Africa, the regime aimed to keep blacks and whites wholly separate. There were segregated buses and trains, segregated restaurants, segregated beaches, segregated schools, segregated hospitals (and ambulances),and segregated cinemas. Blacks lived in townships, whites on farms and in the cities. Blacks were disenfranchised. And on and on, as I’m sure you well know. But here is the point: not one of those segregations applies to Israel. There are no places reserved to Jews or to Arabs, no all-Arab public transport, no Arab-only or Jewish-only cinemas or swimming pools or schools or – importantly – universities (where Arab students form 20% of the student intakes, in accordance with the Arab percentage in the general population. When I was in the Hebrew University last March, everywhere I went I saw Arab students, including a possible majority of women. So, go ahead and draw parallels, and go ahead and boycott Israel to punish Israelis for their attempt to create a rounded and balanced society, and stay shtum about countries in the region that have their own apartheid ambitions. For decades now, Christians have been forced out of Arab countries, notably the West Bank. The only Middle Eastern country that has seen a rise in the Christian population is Israel. But why not boycott Israel for that? I have yet to hear a single politician raise his or her voice to protest that exodus of Christians from their homes.

I’m not writing this letter in a spirit of antagonism, and I hope you don’t feel that I have. I wouldn’t be writing this if I felt antagonistic. We have a lot in common I too have a degree in English (before the Arabic, Persian etc.) and I greatly admire your principled support for homeopathy (my wife is a well-known homeopath and author of books on homeopathy and women’s health; I was for a long time chairman of the UK Natural Medicines Society). In so many ways, I admire what you do and a great deal of what you stand for. That’s why I’m taking the trouble to write, and at this ridiculous length! I hate to see someone who normally impresses me peddling such a tawdry notion as the boycott of Israel. I have a strong feeling that you simply don’t know much about the history of all this, or about issues such as Arab anti-Semitism. I believe that if you knew a lot more about that anti-Semitism and its corrupting influence on Arab and Iranian and Pakistani society you would begin to realize why the boycott and disinvestment campaign is driven, as much as anything, by an unyielding hatred for the Jewish people. Delegitimization of Israel has become the focus for Fatah, Hamas, and other groups, now they are prevented from taking suicide bombers into Israel proper. It’s not a case of taking my word for any of this, and hoping I’m not a nutcase after all. You can delve into website after website to read for yourself how far the Nazi defamation of Jews has merged with older Islamic hatred. Not many years ago, anti-Israel marchers, composed of both radical Muslims and far-left activists appeared on the streets of London, Amsterdam and elsewhere chanting ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas’. The boycott is a major strand in the delegitimization campaign, and it has its roots in anti-Semitism. Such actions are carried out by much the same people as though who define the UK or the USA as ‘terrorist states’, who see dark conspiracies everywhere, who state in a matter-of-fact way that Jews were behind 9/11 and that thousands were warned to stay away that day. It is not Israel that these agitators and conspiracy theorists hate, it is the presence of Jews on Islamic territory, and they will do all they can to suborn honest politicians like yourself into believing their upside-down world view, by manipulating your best intentions to their ends.

Forgive such dramatizing. I only want to get across to you just how vile this hatred for Israel has become, to give you a quick glimpse into what it does to the truth. I have written enough for one sitting. If you have read thus far, thank you for taking the time to do so. Beyond this, there are two things you should do. The first is to read more about this topic. To start with, why not read Robin Shepherd’s excellent and recent study A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem with Israel ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/State-Beyond-Pale-Europes-Problem/dp/0753827131/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1310943586&sr=1-1). After that, perhaps any of the Israel texts by Alan Dershowitz, such as The Case for Israel ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Case-Israel-Alan-Dershowitz/dp/0471679526/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1310943761&sr=1-1). This book is much hated by the anti-Israel brigade, but I have always found him sane and reasonable.

More importantly, perhaps, you have to spend some time in Israel. There are two ways to go: the Israeli embassy will happily get you there (and may even cover the cost of your trip), but you may not like to go about with an official guide. So just book yourself on a flight to Tel Aviv and have a holiday.

There, that’s it. I’m more than happy to answer any questions you may have (provided I can answer them!). Forgive my impertinence in making this demand on you, but I deem it too important to let lie. A forest of lies surrounds Israel like great Birnam wood. I want to help you see through the thickets in order to make the most moral and ethical decision you can.

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Newcastle upon Tyne