Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New British Chief Rabbi Needs to Bring Passion & Zionism to Anglo Jewry

Firstly, I apologise to my regular followers for not blogging much over the past 10 days. I am starting a new job (I'll still be broadcasting on Arutz7 and US talk radio as well of course), as a social media marketing director for a firm that specializes in Birthright and Masa groups to Israel. Essentially, we're dedicated to ensuring all young Jews spend significant time here, getting to know the country, and their connection to it.

Chief Rabbi of UK designate, Efraim Mirvis
That opening actually segways into the main content of this musing quite nicely: Yesterday the United Synagogue in Great Britain (the Orthodox movement in UK, which is a little confusing to American Jews, where the United Synagogue there is conservative!) announced its LONG awaited decision on who would be the next chief Rabbi of Britain when the current incumbent Lord Sacks retires next  year. The successful candidate is Rabbi Efraim Mirvis and I wish him mazeltov and hatzlacha on this important post. I know him a little, as I'm a former informal educator with the United Synagogue, and from what I have seen and heard, Rabbi Mirvis is a hard working, dedicated, warm and knowledgeable man, who has done an excellent job in his current post at Kinloss Synagogue in N.London. I'm not going to criticize him here, although I always saw him as the "safe candidate" - a man who won't rock the boat or cause controversy, but at the same time will he be a dynamic and innovative chief rabbi that will set the tone for Anglo Jewry in the 21st century? I have my doubts.

So what does he need to achieve? For me, the primary thing he needs to tackle the critical and growing detachment and even disinterest of young British Jews from Judaism, their community and to a growing extent Israel. If he doesn't, then he'll have failed. The US made steps to standardize and  improve its synagogue youth program over the past 10 years and thats to its credit, but as in its whole history, it hasn't gone far enough. You see, the US sees itself (and always has) as a moderate Orthodox movement - middle of the road - safe. The problem is, the middle of the road is actually not safe at all. In America, the Orthodox Union created NCSY, full on, no apologies experience of orthodox Judaism for young people. Former NCSYers today pack modern Orthodox synagogues across US. I'm not sure the US's Tribe program will have the same dynamic impact in the UK. Middle of the road doesn't inspire passion, and the US has long lacked passion!

I also strongly believe that there is not a long term future for a thriving Jewish community in the UK. Thats why I chose to leave and become Israel four years ago. British Jews need to wake up to that fact: simply to go to school, Jewish kids in London have a level of security that equals the President of Israels home here in Jerusalem. If that's what it takes to keep Jewish children safe in England, then perhaps they don't belong there at all? However it's a big step to leave the country of your birth for Israel, and especially if you are part of that safe, United Synagogue cadre, who's Judaism is hidden behind curtains and only airs publicly a couple of times a year. "We're Jewish and proud" declare Anglo Jews," but not TOO Jewish!!". So Rabbi Mirvis needs to bring passionate Zionism into the United Synagogue, establishing innovative programs to build living bridges between England and Israel. More long term school groups in Israel, studying alongside Israelis, more shlichim (emissaries) in roles in English communities. learning modern Hebrew should be encouraged, subsidized even. Whatever it takes to build living bridges between UK Jews and Israel, bridges that one day those people can walk across to their new home.

What English Jewry doesnt need more of is 'nice' programs, 'safe' zionism, lip service even. Anglo Jewry needs a chief rabbi that understand the future of Jews is in Israel, not England, and who works to build a Jewish identity among young people that is focused on preparing for that move, instilling zionism it as a value alongside Shabbat and Kashrut. Israel can't be just a nice place to visit, donating money isn't being a Zionist either - moving here, living the most Jewish life possible, thats Zionism and thats the Jewish future in the 21st Century - only a Chief Rabbi who understands that will, for my money, be a successful Chief Rabbi! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The US, UK & EU Are Enabling The Palestinians

Incredulity... best word I can come up with when I read the reaction of Israel's international "allies" such as the UK and US, to Israel's announcement that its building houses in areas already long developed as suburbs of Jerusalem. How does one damage a non existent peace process, and why should Israel care about the wishes of Palestinian leaders who showed last week they couldn't give a damn about Israel or the West's concerns? Why should Israel care  about the views of the UK, US and EU, who pay for the Palestinian Authority, but were unable to stop it from such a destructive path away from direct talks?

Lets just remember last week that these same countries were asking Palestinian 'president' Abbas not to go to the UN, saying it would have negative consequences to the already moribund peace process - what "consequences" were they thinking of? Clearly not any reaction from Israel, judging by their horror this week at Israel's announcement! How emasculated is the UK, EU & US?  Abbas gets all his aid from these countries, and yet they could not stop him?? 

From Israel's perspective, Abbas's action were a message to her and the world that he believes he can get his Palestinian state without any agreement with Israel, and regardless of what the international community says - that he can little by little create a fait accomplis that Israel will just have to accept. Israel has always said, over multiple governments "just talk to us". William Hague, Britain's foreign minister said on the eve of the UN vote, that it was obvious the Palestinians had been avoiding talks for some time. We know from Wikileak revelations that former PM Olmert had offered the Palestinians 97% of what they are asking for, only to have his demands rejected. It is unthinkable that aid continued to flow to his corrupt Palestinian Authority after he rejected what was essentially everything he had wanted and far more than he could have realistically hoped for from Israel! The aid giving states had the leverage to say to Abbas "this is it - take this opportunity or you are on your own" - they stayed silent and continued to pay their taxpayers money in to his outstretched hand.

The current government, under Binyamin "Bibi' Netanyahu, froze settlement constructions for a clearly stated 10 month period, as a strong gesture to the Palestinians that there was a window for negotiation and someone willing to take risks to talk. This was politically painful for Bibi, alienating his core support, but it was his belief that if settlements were the sticking point in negotiations, then such a huge public gesture would create the good will necessary for talks to resume. The Palestinians did nothing until the very end of the period, only making a fuss as Bibi's 10 months ended. What a wasted opportunity. Where was the indignant British, US and EU governments during this freeze,' encouraging FORCING Abbas to the table? They were writing Aid checks! 

So a week after the ridiculous UN vote, with an election around the corner, and a country dealing with the aftermath of weeks of bombing from the one part of the Palestinian world that is independent, Bibi is doing what he warned he would do last week: He is clearly showing that if Abbas does not care about the Oslo agreements (as demonstrated by his UN stunt) then Bibi too is not bound by them either. If Palestinians want to change that, and want to define theirs and  Israels borders then they know what to they need to do - sit down and talk. No pre-conditions, no barriers to solutions, no inflammatory statements - talk. 

Lets also be frank - if Abbas really wants a state, then there will be no rejecting a solution that gives him 97% of what he asks for coming into the negotiations! There will be compromise and pain for both sides, and in the end  the parties have to weigh up their gains and losses and decide if the current situation is better for their people than the agreement on the table. Can anyone tell me honestly, that they believe that since Arafat rejected the Camp David agreement and since Abbas walked away from Olmert's 97% offer, that the Palestinian people are better for it? Bibi says he is still open to negotiate and if Abbas was a truly "courageous man of peace" as Hague described him last week, then he'd call Bibi's bluff and be at that table ready to build his people a future, not running to the UN and threatening International court actions! If the indignant UK, US & EU really wanted peace in the region, they'd put their pens and check books in their pockets until they see Abbas at that table.

The rest of the world needs to stop enabling the Palestinians in their delaying tactics and their provocations and de-legitimization of Israel - if as Hague has said, they are avoiding talks, then there should be no voting for them in  or even abstaining in the UN, no promises of aid to prop up a Palestinian Authority that is a big part of the problem. Its all very well pressuring Israel not to do anything to set the process back, but if the international community allows Abbas years of doing precisely that, then it is those aid giving countries that have brought this situation about. Abbas leads an authority entirely dependent on this foreign aid, generously given. It isn't as if the international community does not have in its hands the very tool that it needs to bring him to the negotiating table. Not using that tool, by threatening his only source of income,  whilst pressuring Israel not to set back a peace process that has not in reality been active for several years, is ridiculous. 

The answer to the Arab-Israel issue is negotiations, not how many homes Israel does or doesn't build. Therefore, the world must bring the parties to the table. Israel is already there, waiting. If the Palestinians need to be forced, then I say to the world, force them. Take away their aid the way a millionaire cuts of the allowance of his playboy son - Abbas acts as if the power is in his hands - he's wrong, its in William Hague's , Brussels and Obama's  hands!

But ask yourself this -  The Palestinians weep to the world about their desire for a state, so why do I need to write this blog? Why an earth would anyone need to threaten them to commence serious negotiations? Why aren't they at that table? If you can answer that, you can understand Israel's position!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

UN Vote on Palestine Has Made a Palestinian State Less Likely.

William Hague MP
British Foreign Secretary, William Hague MP, speaking in parliament the day before the UN vote to grant Palestine non member observer status, explained why Britain was unable to support the vote at the General Assembly, despite wanting to. He said that the UK was not against a Palestinian state, in fact as we know, they support a two state solution, but that if there was to be agreement to the Israel / Palestine issue, there had to be direct negotiations. He therefore made the UK's support conditional on Mr. Abbas agreeing to immediate re-start of direct talks with Israel, with no pre-conditions. Mr. Abbas did not respond to Mr. Hague, and the UK abstained on Thursday.

This makes us wonder what the Palestinian Authority is planning to do next? Abbas, who a week ago had become almost irrelevant in the eyes of his people when compared to Hamas & its 'martyrs', has certainly put himself back on the front page of the Palestinian newspapers for at least a few days. The Palestinian people have had their expectations raised, having been told that something significant has happened at the UN, but in truth all the Palestinians gained is new ways to make mischief on international stages and nothing substantive that will move the Palestinians toward a future or improve their lives. In fact, the possibility of a full Palestinian state may have been set back for years, if not permanently by Abbas's attempt to make himself relevant again.  When the Palestinians realize (as they soon will) that their mandate expired, extremely unpopular leader and his corrupt inefficient Palestinian Authority have once again wasted their time and achieved nothing, their disappointment will turn to further support for Hamas & other terror groups. Attacks on Israelis will increase, any Israeli response will be met by cries of "restraint" from the hand-wringing UN & "war crimes" from the morally bankrupt Arab world, and peace? That appears further away then it was before this ridiculous vote.

One thing we have learned from this UN stunt is that once again, as even sympathetic Hague noted had been their policy for some time, the Palestinians are going to avoid negotiations. The day after the vote, Mr. Abbas did not say "right, now lets talk", he said, "we're going to report anything Israel does that we don't like to the International Criminal Court" (which they can now do thanks to the UN and its Islamic block vote). In other words, the one gain he feels he has made is on the propaganda stage. So Palestine may not have a future, but Pallywood certainly does! This would gladden the hating hearts of many opponents of Israel, but it would also have the potential to cause a backlash from European governments and certainly from  Israel and the United States. The ICC does important work, and many countries would hopefully resent the Palestinian hijacking its already clogged calendar and diverting its work to becoming a tool for their propaganda, as they did to the Durban conference on Racism.

The Palestinians would probably face the  cutting off of funds to their cash-strapped authority. Meanwhile, any U.N. agency Palestine sought to join would probably find itself, like UNESCO, facing  the loss of the one-fifth of its budget supplied by Congress. The almost bankrupt Palestinian Authority, by pushing the UN vote against strong US opposition,has basically bitten the American hand that feeds it and  may have committed suicide.

In the meantime, Israel (still the only genuine democracy in the Middle East)  is six weeks away  from general elections. Barring an unseen and unlikely scandal, Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud party will win the most seats in the Knesset, the only question remaining is how many extra MKs he will need to create a coalition. If, as seems likely, Abbas's stunt has angered the Israeli public, alienating support for so called 'doves' on Israels fragmented political left,  Bibi will be the big winner. Not only will he pick up seats, but other smaller parties on the right will also gain, enabling Netanyahu to form a government  with few if any moderate voices. This will make the next government stable and long term and mean that concession from Israel less likely and this will again be partially thanks to Abbas's UN bid.

We will, over the next few weeks, hear a great deal of noise from the Palestinians about Israeli 'settlements' being the big stumbling block, and any development on Jerusalem's edge will be described as 'settlement activity', but this is just 'noise'. The Palestinians know that if they say "lets just talk" Israel will more than likely freeze construction in any disputed area in an effort to encourage negotiations. Indeed, if the Palestinians want settlement building to stop, then all they need to do is have an internationally agreed border with Israel...but of course to get that they'll need negotiations and not empty UN votes. 

Netanyahu remembers that his first act as prime minister was to freeze settlement activity for 10 months, at great political cost, to encourage Abbas to negotiations. Abbas totally ignored the gesture. So the issue isn't settlement building, it isn't UN votes, it isn't even is that Abbas is unwilling or unable to enter into talks. He cannot ever say this of course (at least not in any language other than Arabic) but this is his policy. Any concession to Israel in negotiations will be met with violent rejection from the Palestinian street, told since 1947 that the true goal is nothing less than the destruction of Israel and a state built across the entirety of where Israel stands today. Abbas knows this will never be, but he also knows that the Palestinians won't accept a two state solution in 2012 anymore than they did in 1947. So he makes noise about talks, finds reasons why they cant happen (settlements, pre-conditions Israel will not accept, UN votes etc).

Abbas - Peace in our time?
Abbas gets away with his 'talks avoidance strategy' because even those international politicians such as Hague who recognize it for what it is, enable the Palestinians to play this game. How is it a pro-Israel position to tell Palestinians to get their butts  to the negotiating table or there will be no more financial support ? Divert aid money currently propping up his stagnant position, and place it in an international fund for a future Palestine - if they want it, then they need to create a state to receive it, and if they want to do that, then they need to drop the impossible preconditions and talk to Israel. That is how they'll create a future for themselves and supporting that is as pro-Palestinian as it gets.