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Why it is hypocritical to boycott Israel

This is a cross post from The Telegraph by Jake Wallis 

May 5th, 2014

Boycotting Israel: can it ever be justified?

We’re not normally called upon to justify a decision to travel abroad. Few people would challenge me if I were visiting China, despite that country’s appalling human rights record, repression of free speech, and colonisation of Tibet. If I was travelling to America, even though Predator drones kill thousands of innocent people each year, and even though Guantanamo Bay still holds 154 detainees, nobody would complain.

I would not be criticised for travelling to Egypt, which has become a police state that imprisons journalists, attacks protesters, and sentences political opponents to death. Nobody would suggest that I boycott India; or Pakistan; or Venezuela; or Saudi Arabia; or indeed Britain, which – I seem to recall – ignored the United Nations and attacked Iraq.

I could go on. But later this month, I am planning to travel to Israel to appear in the Jerusalem literary festival. As surely as night follows day, I have received an “open letter” from a group of 71 activists calling themselves the British Writers in Support of Palestine (BWIP), led by a poet and “professional Tarot card reader”. They were, I was informed, “extremely disappointed” by my decision, and “respectfully encouraged” me to boycott the event. But I am honoured to have been invited to Israel, and will be proud to attend. Here’s why.

It is my strong belief that Israel is, relatively speaking, a force for good in the world. I’m not saying that it is free from controversy, and I’m not saying that I have no sympathy with Palestinians. But every country that abides by the democratic process, enshrines in law the rights of women and minorities, and conducts itself with compassion both in war and in peace – or at least aspires to do so – deserves our support and respect.

But what about Israel’s flouting of international law, I hear you ask? Very well: but has Britain always been squeaky clean? I have already mentioned the example of Iraq. Britain intentionally bombed civilian targets during the Second World War, which was the last time we were under existential threat (the Area Bombing Directive ordered the RAF to attack the German workforce and destroy morale). Moreover, the Army’s Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre, based in Kensington Palace Gardens, London, between 1940 and 1948, carried out systematic torture on enemy prisoners. If we were at war again, against an enemy that was able to strike at the heart of our civilian population centres, how would we behave?

Would we, perhaps, be tempted to react as we did when the IRA were terrorising the streets of London? Would we reprise the British Army’s Operation Demetrius of 1971, which allegedly included detention without trial, beating, starving, hooding for long periods, harassment with dogs, placing nooses around prisoners’ necks, forcible head shaving, denying prisoners clothes, forcing them to run barefoot behind Army vehicles, burning them with cigarettes, dragging them by the hair and pressing guns to their heads? Would Bloody Sunday, in which 26 protesters and bystanders were shot by British paratroopers, happen again?

These examples are particularly relevant when you consider the geographical, topographical and historical context in which Israel exists. The Jewish state is roughly the size of Wales, with a ridge of high ground running along the middle of the West Bank. If Britain were surrounded by hostile neighbours at such close proximity, some of which contained terror groups bent on the destruction of the country, would we be doing any better? And would a fearful British public be outraged at the Army’s brutality? Or relieved that it was keeping us safe?

It is significant that a man who knows war, Colonel Richard Kemp – the former commander of Britain’s armed forces in Afghanistan – testified to the UN Human Rights Council that the Israeli military does “more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare”. It is right that every instance of military abuse should be treated gravely. But this does not justify a boycott.

From a historical point of view, Israel has been attacked repeatedly by an enemy bent on its destruction (when the Arab world attempted to liquidate the Jewish State in 1967, the settlements had not yet been built). The country has suffered terror attack after terror attack, tragedy after tragedy. Clearly, whatever the boycott activists may say, to draw a parallel with pre-1994 South Africa is ludicrous.

Of course, Israel presents many areas of concern. In particular, the situation on the West Bank is disturbing, as are the societal disadvantages that confront minorities in Israel, particularly Israeli Arabs. The army has been guilty of heavy-handedness many times. And it is sad to witness the tit-for-tat violence the plagues the region, not to mention the heavy civilian losses that are sustained by Palestinians in warfare.

Again, I could go on. But to boycott Israel alone reveals a deeply partisan approach to the conflict, and a ridiculously naïve and even hypocritical one.

By the standards of the pro-boycott activists, should the Palestinians not also be boycotted? Their society is severely intolerant of homosexuals; many go to live in Israel rather than face oppression at home. The Palestinian government has signed a reconciliation deal with a terror organisation, and within weeks they may form a unity government. As Ireported in the Telegraph last week, the Palestinian leadership pays huge financial rewards to those convicted of terror offences, and cold-blooded child killers are celebrated as heroes when they are released.

While we’re on the subject, shouldn’t the BWIP have called their group “British Writers In Support of Palestine and Israel”? And if not, why not?

For these reasons I am proud to be travelling to Israel later this month. As a journalist I value objectivity above all, and am not interested in closing my ears to one side of any story, particularly a story as complex as this. And as a novelist, my concern is with the human condition; attending a festival with fellow writers and artists who are not afraid of challenging ideas can only be a good thing.

And given that according to a YouGov poll, three-quarters of Britons “see no reason why British performers should not travel to Israel” – and fewer than one in five Britons believe that Israeli artists should be barred from the UK – I travel in the knowledge that I have public opinion on my side.

NUJ boycott motion defeated

The National Union of Journalists’ biennial Delegate Meeting [Conference] in Eastbourne yesterday rejected a proposal to boycott Israel. The motion was similar in tone and content to a boycott motion that NUJ did pass in 2007. It was rejected overwhelmingly, with such a large margin that there was no need to count.

BBC branches spoke against the motion, and the Guardian branch was also a vocal opponent.

After being alerted, UK Labour Leader Ed Miliband spoke out against the boycott proposal during his Israel visit last week. The motion was opposed by the Union’s National Executive Committee. NUJ’s General-Secretary made a strong speech against the motion which might have swayed many delegates. NUJ’s own report of the debate can be read here

A spokesman for the Fair Play campaign said:

“We welcome the decision by the NUJ’s General-Secretary, Executive and Delegates to overwhelmingly reject a boycott of Israel. Seven years ago, the NUJ voted to boycott Israel, provoking a major backlash from serious journalists in Britain and around the world. Today, the Union has renounced this path and has chosen another, better way that’s true to the journalistic values of neutrality and fairness.”

Eric Burdon cancels Israel concert due to threats

Former lead singer of The Animals, Eric Burdon was scheduled to perform in Israel in August, but has cancelled his performance due to threats and security concerns.

A Fair Play Spokesperson said: ”When Anti-Israel activists failed to convince Eric Burdon to cancel his trip to Israel, they resorted to intimidation and threats instead. This isn’t a victory for boycott campaigners, but for thugs. We call on performers to stand up to these bullies, whose antics do nothing to further peace. As Eric himself said “people cannot be denied music.”

http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/1.537506

An open letter to the archbishop of Canterbury

This is a cross post from The Jerusalem Post by Fran Waddams

The Jewish Leadership Council of the UK recently led a group of leaders from  several Christian organizations to Israel and the Palestinian  territories.

This group had the opportunity to meet with and question  Israeli officials, citizens and clergy.

Fran Waddams of Anglican Friends  of Israel, one of the organizations represented on the trip, responds to a  report by the archbishop of Canterbury on his visit  to the Holy Land which took place a few days later.

 

Dear Archbishop  Justin,

I toured the Holy Land, together with Christian leaders of other  organizations, on a visit organized by the UK Jewish Leadership Council just a  few days before you last month, and read your reflections on your own visit to  the region wondering whether you would be as attentive and impartial as you were  at a meeting a few years ago at which I spoke and you were chair.

It’s  heartening that you support the rights of all people in the region “to peace,  security, and justice.”

The issues you touch on also arose on our three  days of visits and meetings with Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, and  Palestinians, and some questions sprang to mind as I read your piece.

You  were shocked at the contrast between west Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Next  time you visit, would you ask Palestinian leaders why there is such a contrast?  The Palestinian Authority has received billions of dollars in aid. Where,  exactly, has this money gone? It doesn’t appear to have gone into  infrastructure, public buildings and utilities, nor created Palestinian jobs nor  gone onto Palestinian tables. It might really help our understanding if we knew  the answers to this question.

Palestinians may find passing through IDF  checkpoints inconvenient, or even humiliating.

But air travelers of every  nationality accept the indignity of intrusive security searches, understanding  that there are those who would blow airliners out of the sky if measures were  not taken to stop them.

Israel’s security fence and checkpoints exist for  the same reason. They were put into place only after dozens of murders and  hundreds of mutilations caused by Palestinian suicide bombers who drove  unhindered into Israel to carry out their missions. Several people loaded with  explosives have been stopped at checkpoints over the years. Every week the  Israel Defense Forces intercepts weapons and explosives and prevents  indiscriminate death and mutilation of Palestinians and Israelis alike. Israel’s  security measures save lives.

One young Palestinian woman has written  that “most Palestinian Christians and peace loving Muslims acknowledge  (privately) that the wall was built as a direct response to suicide bombers from  within the Palestinian community.”

However unwilling the Ecumenical  Accompaniers Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is to believe it, it is  a fact that the number of terror attacks, which reached epidemic proportions by  2003, has dwindled to almost nothing.

Like us, you were alarmed by the  danger with which the citizens of Sderot live daily. It’s one thing to read  dispassionately the few reports that appear in the UK media, quite another to be  on the spot, wondering whether the nearest bomb shelter (at every bus stop)  could be reached within the 15 seconds between the Red Alert and the missile  exploding. The morning after our visit, terrorists were lobbing missiles toward  Israel.

They missed this time. But missing was not the intention, and it  didn’t stop Sderot’s parents having to make agonizing decisions on whether they  had time to get all their children to shelter in time.

Then we met young  IDF soldiers, amazed that British Christians wanted to show appreciation for  their dangerous work. Most Christians they encounter are scrutinizing their  behavior for faults as they work at checkpoints or try to prevent violence at  demonstrations.
These Christians seem indifferent to the dangers they  face as they try to distinguish between peaceful Palestinians and those  smuggling explosives or weapons.

Finally we had the privilege of visiting  Baptist Pastor Naim Khoury in Bethlehem. Brought up to believe that the Jewish  Scriptures were irrelevant, he began to read them for himself as a 17 year old.  He has discovered that the whole Bible is God’s Word, not just the New Testament  and as a result insists that Palestinian Christians are obliged to love all  their neighbors, Muslim and Jew.

He also learned that God has given the  Jewish people a right to live in the Holy Land. Pastor Khoury does not endorse  all that the Israeli government does. Nevertheless, he insists that Jews’ right  to live unhindered on the land promised to them by the God is clearly set out in  the Bible.

As a result of his courage, Pastor Khoury is shunned by fellow  Christians, his church has had its right to conduct official marriages and  baptisms withdrawn by the Palestinian Authority, his church has been bombed 14  times, and he was once shot. Nevertheless, his Arab congregation numbers in the  hundreds, the largest in the Territories. What an irony.

The conflict  between Israel and the Palestinians is complex.

It is about land and it  is about justice. And your question is excellent – what constitutes a “just  solution.” There are many voices that you won’t hear by sticking to “official”  channels. The truths told by the “other voices” are out there, but so often  those voices have to be sought out.

They’re worth listening  to.

They really are.

Record surge in Israel-UK trade

This is a cross post from the Jewish Chronicle by Sandy Rashty

Trade between Britain and Israel rose by 21.9 per cent year-on-year between the first quarter of 2012 and 2013.

And despite the vociferous boycott campaign, imports from Israel rose by 55.6 per cent in the same period.

The figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel show a  £170 million overall increase in bilateral trade.

Most of the British imports come from Israel’s renowned high-tech sector. But  food produce is also a key contributor to the buoyant trade figures, despite being one of the boycott campaign’s main areas of attack.

The UK is Israel’s second largest export market. The US is the largest.

Noah Shani, minister for Trade and Economic Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in London, said: “Business between Israel and the UK is booming and the latest bilateral trade figures are once again testament to the strength and vibrancy of this trade relationship.”

Hugo Bieber, chief executive of UK Israel Business, a leading organisation promoting trade relations between the two countries, added: “We have seen significant interest from Israeli firms exporting to the UK and also from UK firms looking to purchase best-in-class products and services from Israel.

“Given Israel’s status as the ‘start-up nation’, consistently developing new technologies across sectors, we expect to see trade between the UK and Israel continue to increase.

“When business is put ahead of politics, significant economic benefits can be seen for both the UK and Israel.”

Since the beginning of the year, the UK Israel Tech Hub at the British embassy has helped organise five tech-related business delegations between the two nations.

This week, Middle East Minister Alistair Burt joined a delegation of 20 British pharmaceutical and biomedical companies to Tel Aviv — including NHS representatives .

The two-day trip is part of a number of government-backed delegations promoting co-operative economic relations between the two counties.

Rohan Silva, a senior policy adviser to David Cameron, led a delegation of British supermarket chains and luxury brands to Israel last month.

Meanwhile, at the UK Israel Business Awards on Wednesday, Sir Mervyn King, the retiring Bank of England Governor, praised Israel’s economic performance. “It is one of the very few advanced economies whose output grew every year throughout the economic crisis”, he said. He also revealed that he had advised Israel’s central bank on a new law regulating the functions of the Bank of Israel.