European Voices for Israel

This is a guest post by amie

Outside, the parched scarred turf of Parliament Square baked under its last day of occupation, while inside a packed Committee Room, the words of Jose Maria Aznar, Marcelo Pera and Andrew Roberts cascaded in a cleansing tide of affirmation of the presence and enduring worth of Israel.

You will have to excuse the purple prose, but “refreshing” would simply not do the experience justice. By the time Andrew Roberts finished his barnstorming speech, such was the contrast with the barren blast of anti-Israel rhetoric I have sat through in this building, I was all moist of eye and lump in throat.

President Aznar headlined this UK launch of the Friends of Israel Initiative, a group of international notables whose foundation members are neither Israeli nor Jewish.

He began by asking:

Why have we begun this initiative if we will automatically be stigmatized as neo-cons? His answer: We are losing our faith in our democracies, and Israel is a Western democratic country at the forefront of our civilisation’s struggle. Why now? He cited portents such as the changing attitude of traditional allies of the West like Turkey, and that the USA is sending out signals that it no longer places as much emphasis as before on its role as leader of the free world. He stressed the Initiative had practical goals: “we are not here because we want to be loved”.

“In our dealings with Israel, we must blow away the red mists of anger that too often cloud our judgment. A reasonable and balanced approach should encapsulate the following realities: first, the state of Israel was created by a decision of the UN. Its legitimacy, therefore, should not be in question. Israel is a nation with deeply rooted democratic institutions. “

Already, I can visualise Rachel Shabi’s finger poised, quivering, over the E for Eurocentric on her keyboard, and as the other speakers developed these themes, let me address it right here.

Of course none of the stirring declarations I heard detract from the fact that Jews are indigenous to the region of the Middle East, and in particular to the area known post destruction as Palestine.

But the focus of the founders and supporters of the Initiative is on what Israel means for them and their region. As President Pera noted in response to a questioner who asked what Israel thought about the Initiative:

“My audience is Europe, not Israel. Appeasement dialogue with those who wish to destroy our values is denying my own liberal democratic identity.”

He said:

“Many intellectuals today seem so scared of a clash of civilizations with Islam that they prefer to conceal even what they profess to cherish the most, that is, our system of rights. By so doing, these intellectuals hide our identity and favour that very clash they want to avoid.”

“Israel, for us, is both a normal and a special country. A normal country, because it is like any other democracy. A special country, because the Jewish culture, which eventually became the Judeo-Christian culture of the dignity of man, is the conceptual foundation of liberalism and democracy.”

He stressed however that that there was no intention of imposing a system of rights on any country but to serve as a model within our own countries.

Israelinurse has a rejoinder to Shabi and her ilk:

“It is, of course, perfectly natural that Israel, conceived and born as a multi-party democracy – the only one in the region – should have greater ideological and cultural ties with democratic Europe than with its illiberal neighbours. (Though its important to note that such a lack of political symmetry didn’t prevent Israel from signing peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan.)”

Then there is this:

“..the Syrian-born Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi has told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine that ‘Europeans have stopped defending the values of their civilization’ because ‘they confuse tolerance with relativism’.

Back to the meeting. Here is Roberts saying what we know so well but which sadly warrants a forceful reminder:

“The Jews of the Holy Land are thus surrounded by hostile states 650 times their size in territory and sixty times their population, yet their last, best hope of ending two millennia of international persecution – the State of Israel – has somehow survived.

When during the Second World War, the island of Malta came through three terrible years of bombardment and destruction, it was rightly awarded the George Medal for bravery: today Israel should be awarded a similar decoration for defending democracy, tolerance and Western values against a murderous onslaught that has lasted twenty times as long.”

After citing the toll of what Israel has endured, Roberts continued:

“Now, if we multiply those numbers by nine to get the British equivalent, just imagine what we would do if a terrorist organization based as close as Calais were to fire thirty-six thousand rockets into Sussex and Kent, killing 387 British civilians, after killing seventy-two British servicemen in an ambush and capturing eighteen. There is absolutely no lengths to which our Government would not go to protect British subjects under those circumstances, and quite right too. Why should Israel be expected to behave any differently?”

I strongly commend all three speeches to you in full, at the links above.

Anthony Julius then discussed the nature of political enmity. The Early Zionists had debated whether antisemitism would disappear with the establishment of the Jewish state. The Utopians believed there would no longer be enmity. Only stateless Jews could be the subjects of antisemitism, so with normalisation this would disappear. The Pessimists said there would always be antisemitism – the only difference would be the focus for it would now be directed at the state rather than individual Jews.

Herzl took issue with both. The Jewish state would have ordinary enemies – arising out of the usual interstate quarrels over scarcity and being played out as part of international coalitions and allliances. Anti semitism itself would diminish and the Jewish state would blunt its menace as guarantors of the last resort of Jews everywhere. He recognised that this relationship would be reciprocal and reciprocated.

What has happened in practice, said Julius, is that the “ordinary” political enmities are also infected with antisemitism, with its tropes of Jewish power and murderousness, financial influence and blood libel.

Julius conceded this was daunting but we were more than equal to the challenge. We can address both the left and the right with a better understanding of history. In due course, despite much heartache, we will prevail.

He concluded:

“When the history of this struggle comes to be written, today will be regarded as a significant moment.”

In anwer to a question about the asajews, Julius noted the JPR survey which confirms that the “proud to be ashamed to be Jews” are a few marginal figures. What he found significant is that they have not produced a single book or other serious political analytical text or in fact any significant work of scholarship expounding their stance, which bears 5 minute’s scrutiny.

[How remiss of Julius: how could he have overlooked the oeuvre of the fragrant Jacqueline Rose? ]

During Q&A journalist Charlie Woolf issued a blistering rebuke: just a few weeks previously the Commons saw one of Parliament’s darkest days when in the House just below committee Room 14 the Flotilla had been debated and only 5 MPs defended Israel’s position. He called on Aznar to speak to Hague who had been at the forefront of the condemnation and to Cameron.

Of course Cameron was yet to open his mouth even more loosely regarding the Flotilla and Gaza, and when Aznar speaks, Cameron sure ain’t listening. And a scant week later, Committee Room 14 would witness an even darker day, of which more later.

In a digression from the agenda during Q&A a man who introduced himself as a Libyan wished to take issue with Pera about the huge amount of compensation paid recently by Italy to Libya for the years it occupied Libya. He was outraged that none of it had gone to the Jews of Libya who had suffered more than “us Muslim Libyans”. The Jews had been dispossessed and driven out of Libya.

His question was not addressed, and after the meeting I went over to him to find out more. I passed on the way Charlie Woolf wrangling with the Irish git with whom I had had words a few weeks previously about his abuse of the term genocide regarding Israel at the same venue.

Sorry about the crude labelling: I did ask him this time who he was and what organisation he represented, but he insisted he was “just a concerned Irishman”. One who, according to Charlie, who had been sitting in front of him, had been yelping “genocide” again, during the speeches, along with some other concerned Irish companions.

The Libyan explained that he had a Jewish mother, but was himself Muslim, and as we walked out chatting, Irish git shambled up to him and shook the bemused Libyan’s hand, beaming “And how is my friend Al Megrahi? Long may he live” before walking off. I repeated what Irish git had said, as the Libyan had not appeared to grasp it. The Libyan gasped. “Al Megrahi is a terrorist, and I don’t like to say this but I am very disappointed that the British government let him out.”

The Irish man had been free to put his offensive allegations about Israeli genocide to the distinguished speaker the previous week, who had responded in a measured and firm way. On this occasion, in a meeting under the same auspices as the previous one, he was not excluded on account of being either Irish or a git, and was free to sit and heckle in a forum where his expressed views were in poisonous antithesis to the sentiments being articulated. This despite the meeting being heavily oversubscribed and people standing packed in the aisles.

A week later, a meeting was held in the same room, Committee Room 14, and two Jews who wished to listen to and perhaps question the antithetical views of the speakers were barred entry. One was told “Why should we let you into a Muslim meeting” and the other was escorted off the premises by police.

Julius believes “When the history of this struggle comes to be written, today will be regarded as a significant moment.“

Another significant moment was the ejection of the Jews a week later.

We cannot just sit back and wait to see which moment prevails in history.