Protect Our Future. Defend Our Past.
Israel’s detractors never seem to worry about the safety and security of Jewish lives in Israel. They never run to Israel’s defence when Israel is attacked. They never issue scathing reports, initiate global campaigns...
If history repeats itself, it’s repeating itself here and now. The Jewish people have seen this movie before. The media turns against them, propagandizing false narratives against Israel, especially during its recent conflict with Hamas in Gaza.
In Tel Aviv, I met with Israeli progressive leader and former parliamentarian Stav Shaffir, who told me that unilateral boycott campaigns like this one actually undermine the Israeli left. Rather than working with civil society....
Let’s put everything on the table: there is no equivalence between Hamas and Israel. The latter is a nation just like any other and should be treated with the respect and dignity it deserves. The former is a globally designated terrorist organization.
If being a Zionist implies standing up for human rights, it should be considered a badge of honour. Those who defame and delegitimize Israel the Jewish people, suggest that Israelis are racist colonizers. But nothing is further from the truth.
The people of Israel are strong and devoted. But a fourth election in just two years is fracturing the fabric of the nation.
Ordinary Israelis are paying the high price for political gamesmanship. A fifth election will not be tolerable.
Rabin was often criticized for what many said was naivete for believing Arafat wanted to make peace with Israel. However, Rabin’s grim face during the signing and reluctant handshake revealed that the deal pained him.
The Biden administration is making moves that are contrary to Israel's peace and security. He is redrawing Trump's policy and working to re-engage with Iran under the JCPOA accord. This is dangerous and may lead to all out war.
The Biden administration has a critical opportunity to building on the success of the previous administration in the Middle East. Here are 8 policy suggestions for Biden to follow that can help foster peace and security.
By Avi Abraham Benlolo and Jerry S. Grafstein February 4, 2022
On June 1, 2001, a Palestinian terrorist blew himself up outside a Tel Aviv night club, killing 21 Israelis, 16 of whom were teenagers. Two months later, another Palestinian suicide terrorist entered the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem and killed 15 Israelis, including seven children and a pregnant woman and wounded 130 others. In March of 2002, during a Passover Seder in a hotel in Netanya, a Palestinian suicide bomber murdered 30 civilians and injured 140 others in one of the deadliest massacres.
In response to the more than 1,378 civilians murdered by Palestinians terrorists from Gaza and the West Bank since September 2000, Israel had little choice but to build a security barrier to protect its citizens from continued mass murder. As a result, suicide-terrorism stopped almost immediately and while terror incidents still occur, they are now less co-ordinated by the Islamist groups that try to infiltrate the Jewish nation daily. The security barrier is not an “apartheid wall.” It is there to save lives and bring about peace. Good fences sometimes do make good neighbours.
Thus, this week’s shameful release of a new report by Amnesty International accusing Israel of “apartheid” in its treatment of Palestinians is devoid of this context. Unlike any other nation on Earth, Israel faces unrelenting violent threats from the various terror organizations that are relentlessly engaged in undermining the Jewish state. Just this past May for instance, Hamas started an unprovoked war with Israel and launched 4,600 rockets at its civilian population. When Israel’s next-door neighbour, Bashar al-Assad in Syria was threatened by a civil uprising, he brutally murdered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens — and continues to do so. Where was Amnesty International?
Israel’s detractors never seem to worry about the safety and security of Jewish lives in Israel. They never run to Israel’s defence when Israel is attacked. They never issue scathing reports, initiate global campaigns or call on the International Criminal Court to take action against the incitement of hate and war crimes targeting Israeli civilians. Instead, they are quick to come down on the “Jews,” especially if they are trying to protect themselves. But we say, "Never again." When the Jewish people were herded from their homes, into ghettos and then to concentration camps where they were gassed, the world stood by and did nothing against this vile antisemitic act. So, Amnesty, your report means nothing to us.
As Jewish people, we will fight back to protect our families this time. At the same time, we will always and relentlessly stand at the forefront of human rights advocacy, promoting freedom and peaceful co-existence. Clearly, it makes little difference to so-called human rights advocates that Israel is a free and democratic country. It's incomprehensible to understand that a report is issued calling Israel an apartheid state while for the first time in history, an Arab political party is part of the governing coalition of the country.
Israel’s citizens also represent every ethnic and religious group under the sun. It's also irrational to believe that Israel is intentionally ethnically cleansing the Palestinian population given the fact this community has increased from approximately 500,000 in 1948 to nearly six million in 2021 in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The numbers speak for themselves and completely disqualify Amnesty’s underlying premise.
Israel’s tormentors have been planning this assault since the United Nations' infamous Durban conference in 2001. The stage was set to falsely equate Israel with the former South African apartheid regime, in an attempt to delegitimize, demonize and disrupt the very existence of the Jewish State.
The Amnesty report regurgitates this established campaign and is calling for “Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to their homes where they or their families once lived,” which it's known would spell a demographic end to the Jewish State. Israel could not possibly absorb millions of Palestinian refugees who have been purposely held up in refugee camps without losing its Jewish character. Everyone knows this.
We are pleased to note that most of Israel’s allies, including the Americans and Germans, have denounced the Amnesty report. We have called out Canadian leaders including our own prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to follow suit. As we wrote to the prime minister and the former leader of the official opposition this week, no other country is similarly harassed by the international community.
Because Israel is the very embodiment of the Jewish people, the biased double standard practiced through these unrelenting attacks can only be understood as antisemitism. In fact, given the growth of violent antisemitism around the world, the Amnesty report is blatantly irresponsible and will trigger ever increasing antisemitic attacks, which are already at an all-time high around the world.
National Post Avi Abraham Benlolo is the founder and chairman of The Abraham Global Peace Initiative. Jerry S. Grafstein, Q.C., is a former Canadian Senator.
In current times we honour non-Jews who saved their Jewish neighbours during the Holocaust. In 100 years, will we honour those who stood up for the Jewish state — the embodiment of the Jewish people — during these times? We venerate and uplift those who refused to be bystanders or “useful idiots” during the slaughter of the six million; Raoul Wallenberg, Irena Sendler, Chiune Sugihara and countless others who shall remain nameless saw behind the evil Nazi mask. They refused to go along to get along at great personal risk. They spoke up. They spoke out. They refused to be silent in action and deed.
During the Holocaust, Nazism was normalized. In the eyes of millions of Germans and other Europeans, the Jewish people were denigrated, dehumanized and marginalized, giving way to their murder. Parades took place in Berlin and across Germany with hundreds of thousands of youths and adults alike clamouring to cheer Adolf Hitler as he drove by in his motorcade. The photos of their smiling and excited faces as they raised their arms in the Nazi salute reveal either their complicity or sheer ignorance. As we look back now, we often ask how it was possible for millions of people to have fallen for Hitler.
The Nazi rallies in Nuremberg that brought together formations of youths and soldiers showed how easily a society can normalize evil. Photographs exist of Jews being led out of their towns to their slaughter while their neighbours cheered and spat on them. Father Patrick Desbois carefully documented hundreds of villages scattered across Eastern Europe where non-Jews turned against their Jewish neighbours and literally walked them to the ravine down the street and shot them into the pits they had dug for them hours before.
If history repeats itself, it’s repeating itself here and now. The Jewish people have seen this movie before. The media turns against them, propagandizing false narratives: Israel is attacking Gaza. Israel is committing genocide. Israel is occupying Palestine. Israel is blockading Gaza and committing ethnic cleansing.
Politicians grandstand by calling on their nations to stop selling arms to Israel and increase aid to the Palestinians. Universities and their equity departments make false accusations, asserting that Israel is a colonial state.
The promotion of false narratives against the Jewish state and by extension, the Jewish people, is an effort to reduce them to a level that makes it acceptable for the public to engage in violent anti-Semitism and more seriously, to commit genocide against the Jewish state itself. What we are witnessing in the surge of anti-Semitism on social media platforms and violent incidents across the world is a normalization effect that legitimizes attacks on Jewish people, not unlike Nazism. Incidents of anti-Semitism have skyrocketed, particularly affecting Millennials and young children.
For all those righteous groups that are siding with Hamas-led Gaza, shame on them for their ignorance and complicity in evil. The Nazis did not hide their agenda to eradicate the Jewish people. Neither does Hamas. For anyone who professes to have expertise in equity, diversity and anti-racism initiatives to be ignorant of the mission statement and charter of Hamas — the Islamic Resistance Movement — makes them enablers of the anti-Semitism and hatred now levelled against Jewish communities worldwide.
How could anyone who professes to promote human rights agree to the following statement in the Hamas charter: “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O’Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him!”
If you believe Hamas is a peaceful movement, its charter has something to say about that as well: “Peace initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement … the Movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their jihad.”
If you are standing with the pro-Palestinian movement that supports Hamas, at the very least, you should declare fealty with its charter and to violent jihad. Why have this masquerade of false assertions relating to the “occupation” (which is untrue because Israel does not occupy Gaza); or historically ignorant assertions that Jews are colonizers of their own land (there is evidence of Jewish history on the land but little if any of Palestinian nationhood); or that Israel is a “racist-apartheid” state (completely invalidated by the international community).
If you believe in Hamas and its stated goal in its own charter of “waging Jihad against the enemy” — why not simply declare yourself as such? Say it.
The right to self defence is the most basic human right. Israel has every right and an obligation to defend its citizens against a terrorist organization. In my naïve world view, I cannot see how anyone in their right mind can align themselves with a radical jihadi group that espouses violence. Neither can I understand how anyone can join anti-Semitic protests around the world — especially if they are aligned with anti-racism and anti-discrimination movements. In almost every protest, posters are shown depicting Jews as Nazis and calling for their genocide in the state of Israel. At a car rally in London, England, one protester called for the raping of Jewish girls. Is this the movement you want to be aligned with?
If there is one thing we have learned from history, it is that it does repeat. No matter the logic provided or the counter arguments given, those who are bent on destroying the Jewish people will try to normalize their crimes and propagate them. They will overlook anti-Semitism. They will convolute news and information and set forth new policies in their institutions that advance the anti-Jewish agenda.
History has shown that what starts with the Jews won’t end with them. If you think the pandemic is bad, take a look at how many people were killed in the Second World War — a war and a genocide that started because of hate, ignorance and complicity.
TEL AVIV — The other day, I walked by a convenience store in Tel Aviv that was stocked to the brim with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. No one was buying it. That’s probably because most Israelis might be finding it hard to stomach a dessert that has waded into Middle Eastern politics.
Ben and Jerry’s has caused a stir in Israel and around the world by announcing that its ice cream will no longer be sold in the “occupied territories.” Its website touts important social justice activities like “climate justice, marriage equality and peace building” — but boycotting the disputed territories, where Jewish people reside because of their religious connection to the land, is not the same. Some might say it’s discriminatory. If we are all promoting freedom, why can’t Jewish people live there?
Outraged Israeli politicians called it an acquiescence to the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against the Jewish state. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went as far as to lodge a formal complaint with the CEO of Unilever, which owns Ben and Jerry’s, warning him of possible “serious consequences, legal and otherwise.”
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, wrote to 35 countries that have passed anti-BDS laws, encouraging them to engage in “rapid and determined action … to counter such discriminatory and anti-Semitic actions,” in order to “send an unequivocal message that this will not be tolerated.”
In Tel Aviv, I met with Israeli progressive leader and former parliamentarian Stav Shaffir, who told me that unilateral boycott campaigns like this one actually undermine the Israeli left. Rather than working with civil society, and even with the business community, to find effective strategies that advance peace, by embracing the BDS movement, multinational companies end up perpetuating the conflict.
Boycotts build walls, not peace and dialogue. I admire socially responsible companies, including Ben and Jerry’s, interest in making the world a better place. In general terms, perhaps rather than the promotion of boycotts, greater investment in projects that promote dialogue, unity and pluralism might result in a more effective strategy for change.
At a time when anti-Semitism is at an all-time high, and when vicious and unfounded campaigns against Jewish communities and the State of Israel are raging widely, greater social responsibility is necessary, on the part of governments and corporations, to ensure their actions are not re-enforcing this climate of hostility.
Given the international community’s vociferous condemnation of anti-Semitism, including this week’s summit in Canada and last week’s in Israel, it would seem prudent to take a measured approach to the Middle East conflict. Anti-Semitism must not be excused as a consequence of events in the Middle East, as no other form of racial and religious discrimination is excused in this manner.
Its not just about Ben and Jerry’s. This is a significant problem that has grown from anti-Semitic campaigns on university campuses over the last two decades. It must be understood that boycotting Jewish people is never right, and is antithetical to the cause championed by those who espouse social justice and human rights.
A quick look at history reveals that for more than 2,000 years, Jewish people have been marginalized, isolated and boycotted. If this was a legitimate form of social justice, as some might argue, then why do we so rarely see boycotts targeting real human rights abusing countries like Syria, Iran, China and Myanmar?
Anti-boycott legislation in the United States jeopardizes the business affairs of any corporation targeting the Jewish state. Sadly, Ontario’s previous government refused to pass such precedent-setting legislation several years ago, when, alongside Tim Hudak and Mike Colle, I presented this groundbreaking opportunity to fight the BDS.
With the global community now recognizing the tsunamic levels of anti-Semitism worldwide, very few leaders are embracing boycotts. In fact, the four Muslim countries that recently signed onto the Abraham Accords have outwardly condemned the BDS movement through accelerated trade with Israel. But this hasn’t stopped those who wish Israel harm from continuing on their hateful mission.
The anti-Israel campaigners have attempted to characterize Jewish-Israelis as oppressors, if not the devil itself. Their demonizing and public shaming serves to help legitimize and perpetuate the boycotts, along with violence perpetrated against Jews and the Jewish state.
Ice cream is the least of Israel’s problems, as it contends with continued threats from terrorist organizations like Hamas, along with state actors like Iran. But such boycotts are a symptom of the wider problem of anti-Semitism that has seen a frightening resurgence recently.
Let’s put everything on the table: there is no equivalence between Hamas and Israel. The latter is a nation just like any other and should be treated with the respect and dignity it deserves. The former is a globally designated terrorist organization that should be treated with the disrespect and the indignity it deserves. There should be no ifs, ands, or buts.
Instead, what we are starting to see once again in the media and in some political circles are attempts to excuse Hamas for sending 1,500 high-powered Iranian-made rockets into civilian populations in Israel. Rockets that are launched indiscriminately targeting civilian populations (not the military) are classified as a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. They are intended to murder as many people as possible — including children.
In the past 72 hours, five-year-old Ido Avigal was fatally struck by shrapnel that penetrated his home in Sderot during one Hamas rocket barrage. I have visited Sderot many times and met with its mayor, seen the piles of rockets at the local police station and noted that every bus stop is also used as a bunker against rockets. The town is within eyesight of the northern tip of the Gaza Strip and is the most targeted by Hamas terrorists. I have seen art-therapy drawings by its children — they are traumatized and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Many have nightmares. Some wet their beds at night from fear. Others cry spontaneously.
So when politicians like NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh stand up in Canada’s Parliament and denounce Israel for so-called human rights violations, they should be answerable to the Jewish and Muslim children of Israel who hunker underground in fear of a murderous terrorist organization that is out to kill them.
Before standing in our House and accusing Israel of anything, Singh and similar minded leaders should step into the shoes of every Israeli child. That includes 16-year-old Nadine Awad, an Arab citizen of Israel, who was killed alongside her 52-year-old father, Khalil, when a Hamas rocket hit their home in central Israel.
Israel does not discriminate against defending and saving the lives of its citizens, no matter their faith. Conversely, Hamas does not discriminate in wanting to kill any Israeli citizen, no matter their faith. When a rocket is launched from Gaza at Israel, crowds are heard cheering and yelling “Allah Akbar.” When Israel sends its soldiers to the border with Gaza, mothers and fathers cry in pain and sorrow that their children may have to fire a weapon to defend their nation state.
While strongly condemning Hamas and rocket fire into Israel, our government leaders are also unfortunately drawing a moral equivalence of some sort. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would always support “Israel’s right to assure its own security.” But in the next sentence, he added, “We are also gravely concerned by the continued expansion of settlements and evictions.” What does this have to do with terrorist rocket attacks on innocent civilians in Israel? Do land disputes justify bombing an ally? Would Ottawa allow bombs to fall on any Canadian city without taking action?
Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist living in Jerusalem, wrote that he only blames Hamas: “The fanatics who rule over Gaza with an iron fist cannot resist the opportunity to stir up anti-Jewish violence for their own political gain. If innocent Jews and Muslims die in the process, all the better for them. The pretext for the latest missile barrage is the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Jerusalem, where a long-running legal dispute was scheduled for a court hearing. It is the kind of situation that would be handled by a local municipal court in any other country and there would be no public interest.”
Exactly. Instead, what we are seeing once again is that some Western governments are excusing the bombing of Israel and interfering in the civic and security affairs of a free and democratic state. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Iran has been deeply involved in arming Hamas, and in the past week, inciting the violence now taking place. Given the fact that Iran shot down an airliner killing nearly 60 Canadians, Canada’s leaders should be well aware of what Iranian proxies like Hamas are capable of.
Former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper got it right when he tweeted days ago, “Attacks on the State of Israel are attacks on us all and must be immediately condemned by international leaders.” Harper understands there is no moral equivalency between a free and democratic state that shares the same values as Canada, and Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. This conflict is not about so-called “settlements,” “evictions” or land disputes. It is not about the Al Aqsa Mosque, which is treated with the utmost respect by Israel and all Jews alike. This is about a terrorist group whosr mission statement and raison d’être is the destruction of the State of Israel.
To excuse this terrorist attack on Israel with “ifs, ands, or buts” endangers freedom, democracy and human rights worldwide.
A media firestorm was set off recently, after actress Scarlett Johansson was widely criticized in Egypt for being a Zionist. It all started on Dec. 1, 2020 when Johansson released a YouTube video calling for the release of four human rights activists who were arrested after they hosted foreign diplomats to discuss the human rights situation in Egypt.
It didn’t matter that her calls were backed up by the United Nations, numerous foreign governments and human rights organizations, as well as other celebrities. The fact that Johansson is Jewish was cause enough for many in the Egyptian media, as well as on social media, to single her out as an enemy of the people.
No matter what one’s political inclination is, from this point of view, if being a Zionist implies standing up for human rights, it should be considered a badge of honour. Those who have worked hard to defame and delegitimize Israel and, by extension, the Jewish people, suggest that Israelis are racist colonizers. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Zionism was, and still is, a movement based on the belief that the Jewish people have a right to return to their ancestral homeland to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours. It inspired the foundation of the only true democracy in the Middle East — a hostile region of the world that is largely ruled by tyrannical regimes.
Today, Israel is a nation that celebrates and promotes equal rights for all people, regardless of race, religion or gender. It respects the rule of law according to Western legal standards and promotes freedom of the press, free speech and freedom of movement and assembly, as well as gay rights.
Zionism is an ideology that has created a Jewish state with vigorous democratic debate — so vigorous, in fact, that many have criticized its multi-party system for being too democratic.
When Morocco joined the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel, it showed that many Arab states are not threatened by this vision. In fact, they were now partnering with Israel and the United States to stand up to rogue and dangerous regimes like the one in Iran.
Many ethnic and religious groups around the world have struggled for their freedom. But only the Jewish people have been severely and repeatedly reprimanded by the international community for rebuilding their homeland.
In the late 1800s, Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, advocated for the re-establishment of the Jewish state, after prophesizing that a catastrophic event was about to befall Europe’s Jewish community. Indeed, less than 50 years after his prediction, six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, including his own daughter.
The Jewish state came into being in 1948, following the Holocaust. Even while its founders were being attacked by their Arab neighbours, they never gave up on Herzl’s vision of creating a modern state that strives to promote tolerance, justice and human rights. Herzl himself advocated living peacefully and respectfully with Israel’s Arab, Druze and Christian population.
Like all countries, Israel is imperfect. It’s still a work in progress and, over the past number of years, an incredible development has been occurring: young and energetic Israeli Arabs, Christians, Bedouins and Druze have been joining Israel’s military and diplomatic corps and representing the country around the world.
Take for example, Muhamed Heib, an Israeli spokesperson who works out of its Embassy in India and hails from a Druze village in Israel’s north. In his online video, which has garnered nearly 400,000 views, he proudly represents the Jewish state. He is also becoming a role model in his village.
There is also Lorena Khateeb, a young Druze woman who is garnering much online attention in the Persian Gulf for her work with the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s digital diplomacy department. And then there is Ambassador George Deek, an accomplished Christian-Israeli diplomat who is currently serving his country in Azerbaijan.
Israel has changed. All over the Jewish state, we are seeing new and inspiring stories of pluralism, diversity and acceptance. Yoseph Haddad is the co-founder and CEO of a new non-profit organization called Vouch for Each Other. An Israeli Christian Arab, he served in the famous Golani Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces and was wounded in battle. He now dedicates himself to promoting integration among all Israeli citizens, including bridging the “Arab sector of Israeli society with Israeli society as a whole.”
It’s no longer simply about politics or ideology or a singular identity. Israeli citizens I have spoken with recently are optimistic, excited and motivated to advance their country. What we are seeing are positive social shifts from a maturing of Israeli society that involve collaboration and integration.
Israel’s diversity, openness and democracy, coupled with its economic, scientific and military successes and now the Abraham Accords, presents a dramatic shift for its diverse citizens and its neighbours.
The seeds of a more peaceful and prosperous future in the Middle East are already starting to sprout. Hopefully, those spouting hate against Scarlett Johansson and others will prove to be the last vestiges of an old way of thinking that has allowed violence and hatred to fester for far too long.
Will President Joe Biden and his administration move against Israel?
Even while the Middle East is giving up on hating Israel, in the West, radical leftists just cannot get off the bus. They keep trying to throw Israel under the bus, as they ride along to the next cocktail party. In this case, the party is being hosted in beautiful Vienna to discuss America’s grovelling return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and giving in to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
While Austria’s relationship with Israel is positive, historically speaking, Vienna should be the very last place any nation should be hosting Iran — the top sponsor of Holocaust denial and terrorism. Austria unequivocally co-operated with the Nazis starting in 1938, while its Jewish community of some 200,000 citizens was decimated by the Holocaust.
Iran, for its part, has been giddy about the U.S. nearly begging to come back to the table. The Biden administration has already declared that sanctions against Iran imposed by Donald Trump must be dumped. Now, alongside other Western democracies including France, the United Kingdom and Germany, and together with the European Union, China and Russia, Biden wants to re-establish the highly criticized 2015 agreement created under the Obama administration.
In 2015, Iran outmanoeuvred the United States and received the deal of the century. No one could believe that Barack Obama sent Iran US$1.7 billion that ended up fuelling its terror activities, in Syria and Yemen especially, while providing it with a 10-year time frame to continue its development of ballistic missiles that could serve as warheads for nuclear bombs when the time came.
Snubbing its nose at the JCPOA and trying to once again achieve more negotiating mileage, Iran’s chief of its Atomic Energy Organization said the nation will not stop its drive toward nuclear capacity and that its uranium enrichment has increased. He added that the “nuclear industry will not stop with the JCPOA” and that Iran plans to keep driving its nuclear ambition forward. Its chief negotiator said from Vienna, “We demand that the United States first fulfill all of its obligations and lift all the sanctions it has imposed, and then we will verify and return.”
Tehran is known for its propaganda, deception and negotiating prowess. Still, since Joe Biden came to power and his administration showed its hand as weak if not timid, Iran has been playing it like a fiddle. Iran recently signed a US$400-billion investment deal with China over the next 25 years — securing the strength and stability of the brutal mullahs sitting at the helm in Tehran. The demise of the Trump administration has invigorated if not empowered Tehran to build new relationships in Asia and Africa and cement new trading partners, as sanctions fall apart.
All this grovelling is taking place in the shadow of the incredible co-operation now underway between Israel and Arab states. It makes no difference to the West that Sudan this week made a substantive declaration — that it would be repealing its boycott against the State of Israel. At the same time, flights to Israel from Dubai have resumed as business between the Gulf states and Israel accelerates. And this week, for the first time ever, communities in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco held Holocaust commemorations — refusing to give in to the Holocaust denial that has plagued the Middle East for decades.
Overlooking these incredible strides and an opportunity to work co-operatively and collaboratively with allies in the region, Western JCPOA partners have largely excluded both Israel and the Gulf States from negotiations. The nations that have the most to lose and the greatest concerns, in other words, have been shut out once again from critical talks that could stabilize the region. It’s likely Israel and the Gulf States will strengthen their unified front against Iran in reaction.
Contrary to Israel’s opinion, the Biden administration has even gone ahead and extended monetary support to the Palestinians through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), an agency in desperate need of reform due to allegations that its school curriculum inspires anti-Semitism and even terrorism. Given America and Israel’s “unbreakable and unshakeable” bond and extensive security co-operation, this diplomatic approach is disappointing and promises a return to the foreign policy fiascos under the Obama administration.
Worse, Biden has announced he is removing sanctions against International Criminal Court officials, thus giving the ICC tacit approval to move ahead with its false allegations of war crimes committed by Israel (the Palestinians are also accused of war crimes). Secretary of State Antony Blinken has gone further by terminating visa restrictions placed on ICC personnel in 2019 and unfreezing their property and assets in the U.S. Naturally, this change in tone puts a chill on diplomatic relations between the allies. Israel claims the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel or the Palestinian territories and has not been authorized to conduct an investigation by the UN Security Council.
It’s often repeated that those who forget the past are destined to repeat it. Western powers are sitting around the table negotiating with an evil, anti-Semitic regime in Vienna — with all its history relating to the Holocaust. It cannot escape us that as this is happening this week, the Jewish world is commemorating 76 years since the Holocaust. Will humanity ever learn?
After our enslavement in Egypt, our return home with the holy scriptures centuries later, followed by another exile that culminated in the Holocaust, our renewed statehood has been the fulfillment of a dream. We have been blessed with another chance to fulfill our destiny. The people of Israel are strong and devoted. But a fourth election in just two years is fracturing the fabric of this beautiful nation.
Is there a possibility of having too much democracy? Most major nations in the West have a maximum of two to four major political parties. In Israel, 13 parties have won mandates competing for a total of 120 seats. The problem is that the threshold is so low that nearly every religious, secular, Muslim and ideological group can snag a seat to represent its interest.
Three decades ago, we gamed out this very crisis in my political science class at Tel Aviv University. The situation has now become untenable and may lead Israel either to a structural political reformation or continuous elections.
Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has once again proven he is the ultimate chess player. Through his defiant gamesmanship, he was able to outmanoeuvre more than 10 active political parties and a growing public sentiment that is defiantly against him.
Even while his Likud party is holding on to only 30 seats in comparison with the 36 seats won in the previous election, it is miles ahead of the second largest party, Yesh Atid (“there is a future” in Hebrew), which achieved only 17 seats.
The election is not decisive and Netanyahu still needs to cobble together a coalition of 61 seats to form a government. That may take days or weeks but one thing is for certain, the 24th Knesset will be Israel’s most centre-right government ever. To retain his position as Israel’s “kingmaker,” Netanyahu will have to partner with a religious block that demands more of Israel’s budget and will even dictate much of Israel’s policy regarding West Bank settlements and foreign relations including those with the U.S. and the global diaspora. An unconscionable outcome for most Israelis.
The divide between Israeli secular society and the Orthodox is increasingly problematic. The road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is becoming a massive divide between two distinct worlds: The secularists — mainly represented by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, Merav Michaeli’s Labor Party and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu — have won a combined 45 seats and are unlikely to be able to form a reasonable coalition government. Besides, none of these candidates has proven to be prime-ministerial, with Lapid even evading declaring himself a candidate during the campaign.
Everyone sees “Ra’am,” an Arab party led by Mansour Abbas, as the party that could pull either the left or the right over the top. Described as an “Islamist” party representing nationalist Israeli Arabs, Ra’am made it through the electoral threshold by winning some four seats.
Searching out a deal, it’s still unclear if it will be invited to join Netanyahu’s coalition — an unlikely scenario given the likely dominance of religious parties in a Likud-led coalition. In fact, any compromise with Ra’am was ruled out today by Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich. This makes it nearly impossible for Netanyahu to form a coalition.
Before Smotrich’s declaration, it appeared that Netanyahu was in the sweet spot of becoming Israel’s next prime minister. And in reality, while he is fighting unsubstantiated criminal allegations, there is no political candidate in Israel today who even comes close to him.
Everyone has weaknesses and who are we to speak for Israelis who are frustrated with the daily hardships? But Netanyahu has kept Israel relatively safe and prosperous for the past 15 years and more. Still, in a huge blow to his authority, Israel’s supreme court blocked Netanyahu from circumventing the law banning him from appointing a new attorney general, state prosecutor, police commissioner and judges.
All this turmoil has worn out the Israeli public. Only 34.6 per cent of Israelis turned out to vote — the lowest number since 2009. Over 16 per cent are said to be unemployed comprising some 700,000 citizens. In comparison, only 3.8 per cent of the population was unemployed in 2019. Israel’s debt has increased to 72 per cent of the GDP in 2020 and everyone is concerned there may have to be tax increases, burdening the nation even more.
The secularists are feeling tired of carrying the nation’s load with increasing demands from the Orthodox community.
From a distance, it appears that under Netanyahu’s watch, Israel’s diplomacy and communication channels with foreign nations have multiplied exponentially. Embassies and consulates have opened around the world; he has produced four new peace agreements and is said to be in talks with other Arab nations to expand the Abraham Accords; and he is one of the few world leaders who can pick up the phone and speak to Putin, Biden and Xi Jinping all in the same day. But is that enough for the Israeli public?
He has excelled at paving the way for Israel to become nearly 85 per cent vaccinated — but that did not translate into a decisive victory. It is now one of the few nations on Earth that can operate freely and with little risk of infection from the coronavirus.
Yes, there are imperfections, but recently, the Pfizer CEO, Albert Bourla, told an Israeli news channel that Netanyahu called him 30 times, including in the middle of the night, to discuss the vaccine and its procurement. Bourla said Netanyahu showed genuine concern about how the vaccine would impact the population, including pregnant women and children. That’s what convinced the CEO to choose Israel for clinical trials.
This election was a referendum not only on Netanyahu, but on Israel itself. President Reuven Rivlin, who has stayed out of the political fray, has expressed worry, saying, “I am voting for the last time as president. But above all as a worried citizen — a very worried citizen.”
Now that the election is over, and the numbers are in, the next few weeks will be dramatic again as politicians hammer away at each other to form coalitions. Ordinary Israelis are paying the high price for political gamesmanship. A fifth election will not be tolerable.
Twenty-five years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in cold blood. And so were the dreams of peace in the Middle East
It was a beautiful sunny autumn day in Washington, D.C. The world was watching with anticipation as leaders gathered on the White House lawn. We were filled with hope and awareness about witnessing a historical moment, which was capped by a now-infamous handshake and what promised to be a new chapter that would end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
That fateful day on Sept. 13, 1993, could not have been more exciting for me, having just started my career in the Jewish community. My earliest recollection as a child was seeing my father in army fatigues come home from the brutal Yom Kippur War. The possibility of losing my father to war left me with an indelible impression and a longing for peace.
And so, the signing of the Oslo Accords and the Declaration of Principles was cause for hope. Little did I know that just two years later, I would be thrust into organizing a 5,000-plus person memorial for Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Centennial Arena in Toronto. Rabin’s assassination by a fellow Jew hit the Jewish community like a bulldozer. Young students cried, sang and lit candles outside the arena. They shared their shattered hopes and dreams for the future.
It’s incomprehensible to think that 27 years later, a full generation of Palestinians and Israelis have grown up without having witnessed the pledges for peace that were made on that day in Washington. They missed the part where PLO leader Yasser Arafat promised U.S. President Bill Clinton and the Palestinian people that he would promote the “values for freedom, justice and human rights.” His promise to “usher in an age of peace, co-existence and equal rights” meant nothing. It flew in the face of his handshake with Rabin, and Clinton’s warm embrace.
Rabin was often criticized for what many said was naivete for believing Arafat wanted to make peace with Israel. However, Rabin’s grim face during the signing and reluctant handshake revealed that the deal pained him. A former war hero, he knew his enemy well but decided to give peace a chance. In his remarks, Rabin explained that he was determined to “put an end to hostilities so that our children, our chidren’s children, will no longer experience the painful cost of war, violence and terror.”
He held up his end of the bargain for two years and on Sept. 28, 1995 — just one month before his assassination — he agreed to move to the next stage of the Oslo Accords, the Interim Agreement. It marked the conclusion of the first stage of negotiations between Israel and the PLO. Its main objective was to broaden Palestinian self-government in the West Bank through an elected self-governing authority, in order to foster a new era of co-operation and peaceful co-existence.
But while Arafat called violence “morally reprehensible” at the signing ceremony, nothing was further from the truth. Like the fable about a scorpion who can’t help himself and kills the frog that is carrying him across the water, Arafat would use his foothold in Ramallah to plunge his people into a war of attrition with Israel. Through his divisive actions, he lost control of the Gaza Strip, giving rise to a mini terrorist state now run by Hamas.
Months after Rabin’s death, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in Jerusalem, killing 17 civilians and wounding 48. A month later, another killer blew himself up outside the Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv, killing 13 people and wounding 130. The chaos of dozens of suicide bombings continued well into the 2000s. They included the horrific attack on the dolphinarium in which 21 youths were killed and the Sbarro attack in central Jerusalem in which 15 civilians were killed, including seven children.
Perhaps Rabin foresaw what would happen should the peace process derail. In his last moments of life, on Nov. 4, 1995, he still held out hope for peace despite the public and political pressure. In his final speech at a peace rally in Tel Aviv’s main square (now called Rabin Square), he said, “There are enemies of peace who are trying to hurt us in order to torpedo the peace process. I want to say bluntly that we have found a partner for peace among the Palestinians as well. The PLO, which was an enemy, has ceased to engage in terrorism.”
Moments later, following the singing of the classic Hebrew melody, the “Song for Peace,” Rabin was shot by a Jewish assailant who wanted to stop the peace process. He did. For Israelis and the Jewish world, this was their JFK moment. Time stood still. The pain of betrayal by one of their own still haunts the nation. But Israel’s quest for peace hasn’t abated.
And so, for everyone who shared this brief moment in time, who participated in the memorial rally 25 years ago, who sang the “Song for Peace” at the rally the night Rabin was shot and who continue to impart his message of hope and peace to the next generation — you might be wondering, where do we go from here?
We go to where the wisdom of sages point us in sacred text. They instructed that even while it may not be our responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, even when cut short as in the case of Rabin, we are not free to desist from it either. And thus, it is up to us to carry this work forward and to never give up on making peace. As Rabin aptly said, “The path of peace is preferable to war.”
NOTE: The Abraham Global Peace Initiative does not make political endorsements. It is non partisan. It supports policy not a party or a politician.
Instead of recognizing that this is one area in which Trump made some historic gains, Biden has begun wavering on his Mideast policy
With U.S. President Joe Biden already reversing course on some of his predecessor’s Mideast policies, there’s every possibility that it will end in disaster.
Former president Donald Trump, for all his imperfections, reduced conflict, held Iran at bay and forged a historic peace between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Sudan and Bahrain. No other American president has ever been able to make as many peaceful gains in a single term in office.
Yet instead of recognizing that this is one area in which Trump made some historic gains, Biden has begun wavering on his Mideast policy. He was criticized for not having called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she expects Biden to call Netanyahu in the coming weeks, this isn’t good enough, given that Israel is America’s staunchest ally in the region.
It almost feels like the stunt former president Barack Obama pulled when he gave his 2009 speech at Cairo University, leaving out a possible quick stop in Israel. In order to continue down the path toward peace in the Middle East, Biden must learn from the Obama-era foreign policy mistakes, and recognize where the Trump administration achieved success.
The following roadmap could ultimately revolutionize the landscape in the Middle East:
The first step would be to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu and senior Israeli political and military leaders to the White House. Israel still has a bad taste in its mouth from the Obama administration’s duplicity. Signalling that America has Israel’s back no matter what is first and foremost imperative for the Biden administration to be successful in the region. Israel’s enemies have already begun to salivate at the prospect that Biden appears to be distancing himself from the Jewish state.
Second, the Biden administration must continue to hold the Palestinian Authority (PA) accountable for its bad behaviour. This week, the PA announced it would be planting 35,000 trees to honour the “martyrs of the Palestinian cause.” Continued veneration of terrorism is unacceptable and must not be rewarded by promises of reinstating aid and re-opening the PA’s office in Washington, as the Biden administration has done. All this will do is embolden the Palestinians to incite terror. It will not make them more likely to sit down at the negotiating table.
Third, Biden should not let Israel’s development of the so-called “settlements,” or disputed territories, sour the relationship between the two countries. Instead of criticizing Israel, the Biden administration should focus on quickening the pace of a peace agreement, in order to help settle the territorial disputes.
Fourth, the Biden administration must continue to focus on the Abraham Accords by strengthening the relationship between the existing signatories and expanding the accords to other Muslim nations (especially Saudi Arabia). The Abraham Accords were a home run for American foreign policy, yet because so much of the media was hostile toward Trump, many Americans failed to notice the revolution that has been underway in the Middle East. Biden has a real opportunity to make further gains in this regard.
Fifth, the rising tide of anti-Semitism from white supremacists, radical Islamists and far left-wing groups must be confronted by the Biden administration head-on. To do so, it must strengthen and embolden the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. This will mean having more international and Middle East partners sign the declaration against anti-Semitism and, most importantly, relentlessly confronting anti-Semites, wherever they might be.
Sixth, Biden should be cautious about re-engaging with United Nations agencies. The Trump administration stopped aid payments to UNWRA for good reason. The Biden administration should not reinstate funding until it investigates recent reports of anti-Semitism in its school textbooks. Similarly, re-engaging with the UN Human Rights Council, which is known for its disproportionate condemnation of Israel, is a mistake, unless the council is willing to undertake fundamental structural changes.
Most significantly, the Biden administration must continue being Israel’s protector at the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. To his credit, the new U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has already indicated that she “looks forward to standing with Israel, standing against the unfair targeting of Israel, the relentless resolutions proposed against Israel unfairly.” This is the right way to approach relations with the UN.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for America’s Middle East partners, an alignment on containing Iran’s nuclear ambition is essential. As in the case of the Palestinians, the Biden administration has begun making strategic mistakes by signalling to Iran that America is willing to compromise. By recalling the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and suggesting that the U.S. would re-enter the Iranian nuclear agreement, Biden is giving Iran time to develop its nuclear capabilities and losing trust among its allies in the region. To avoid an all-out war, the president must immediately consult with his allies and develop a unified action plan to confront Iran.
This roadmap would continue the gains that have been made toward forging a lasting peace in the Middle East and ensure that tyrants like those who control Iran are not re-emboldened. It would allow Biden to strengthen America’s commitment to its allies, while building on the Trump administration’s strategic foreign policy successes.