Leaders and believers of the Methodist Church,
I am an Israeli Jew. I do not represent the Government of the State of Israel and hold no official capacity. I am just ‘the street’. Yet, you’ll find that my opinions are similar to those held by an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews; having lived, studied and worked in the United Kingdom, I know that they are also similar to those of an overwhelming majority of British Jews.
I have decided to write to you because I believe in justice and in the force of good. I am essentially an optimist who still thinks that one can speak to people’s conscience, even that of people who are hostile.
I have read the ‘briefing document for the Methodist people on the arguments for and against the Boycott Divestment Sanctions Movement’. I understand that the authors (or perhaps some of them) have made an effort to produce a balanced document. Yet this ‘briefing’ is anything but balanced; it’s profoundly unjust. In fact, it reminds me of one of those bitter Jewish anecdotes I’ve heard from Israelis who – they or their parents – had experienced Stalin’s persecutions.
Stalin was a man who believed in ‘justice’. That meant that those who strayed away from the prescribed ‘just path’ (and they often ‘happened’ to be Jews) were tortured or threatened into ’confessing’ their ‘crimes’ before being awarded a show trial, hearing the pre-determined verdict and being shot. As the anecdote went, at some point a judge – keen to quickly extract a confession – told the defendant: “Look, Lev Davidovich, we already know that you are guilty. This court just needs to decide – of what!”.
Like the judge in the anecdote, the ‘briefing document’ starts from the assumption that Israelis are guilty – the only question it wishes to address is ‘the arguments for and against’ a particular ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment.
And what exactly are we so ‘obviously’ guilty of?? Of remembering and longing through centuries for our lost homeland? Of returning to it, with League of Nations agreement, to build, in part of that ancestral homeland, a country we and our children could call ‘our own’? Of claiming what every other nation is granted as a matter of course – the right to national self-determination? Of agreeing to partition that homeland upon realising that another people also claimed rights in it? Of successfully defending ourselves against those who, having rejected any accommodation, attacked us with openly genocidal intentions? Of being victorious in battle, yet continuing to extend our hand in the search of peace, offering an independent state to those who attacked us in ways unprecedented in the modern history of mankind? Sure, we have also made mistakes; we haven’t always lived up to the ideal; we are not angels. Are you – who wish to boycott us?? Who of you is entitled to throw the first stone?
You accuse us of ‘occupation’. Yes, we occupy the West Bank. Although it is part of our ancestral homeland, although we may have historical rights to it, most of us do so reluctantly, only because we have been attacked from that territory and – as the Gaza and Lebanon experience unequivocally shows – would be attacked again, if we just left without an iron-clad agreement.
Yes, we are ‘occupiers’; how about you? Is Israeli occupation of the West Bank less or more justified, compared to the British occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan? Isn’t there, somewhere in the Methodist theology, a teaching about ‘the log in your own eye’? Have you at some point written a ‘briefing document’ on the pros and cons of boycotts against the United Kingdom?
Your ‘briefing’ explains that
for a Palestinian in the West Bank every aspect of everyday life is over-shadowed by the experience of military occupation.
But if you look at every statistic (life expectancy, average income, levels of education, infant mortality, etc.), you’ll find that an Arab from Hebron is more fortunate than an Afghan from Helmand and a Palestinian from Bethlehem will not swap his lot with an Iraqi from Basra. Yes, we interfere – however reluctantly – with the lives of Palestinian Arabs; we do it not because we enjoy it, but only to protect our own children. What’s your excuse?
Your ‘briefing’ appears to deny that the Jewish State is being singled out, that anti-Jewish prejudice is involved, that this obsessive, single-minded targeting amounts to persecution. Well, rather than arguing about subjective perceptions, let us perform a tiny experiment and gain objective data: for instance, let’s search for the term “Israel” on the Methodist Church website. I just performed such a search and found no less than 375 items, all of them fiercely critical of my country.
Now let us do a similar search for ‘North Korea’; this is a dictatorship that denies people even the most basic human rights. A recent UN report states that
In the political prison camps of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the inmate population has been gradually eliminated through deliberate starvation, forced labour, executions, torture, rape and the denial of reproductive rights enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide. The commission estimates that hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have perished in these camps over the past five decades.
The Methodist Church website mentions North Korea in 23 items. Many of those items are neutral and not critical of the country and its leadership.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s last absolute monarchies. While Saudi men and women are deprived of political rights, the female half of the population is subjected to what can only be described as gender apartheid. In the words of Arab-Swiss scholar Elham Manea, Professor of Political Science at the University of Zurich
Women in the Kingdom, a 2008 Human Rights Watch report maintains, are systematically treated as perpetual minors through a system instituted by the state that infringes on their basic human rights.
In other words, every adult Saudi woman, regardless of her economic or social status, must obtain permission from her male guardian to work, travel, study, seek medical treatment or marry. She is also deprived of making the most trivial decisions on behalf of her children. This system is supported by the imposition of complete sex segregation, which prevents women from participating meaningfully in public life.
Sex segregation is strictly monitored by the government’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (the religious police) in all workplaces with the exception of hospitals. Unlawful mixing between sexes leads to the arrest of the violators and criminal charges. The brutality of the members of this commission and the unequal punishments men and women receive when committing the same ‘crime of mixing’ was best described by the Saudi writer Samar Al Muqren in her novel “Ni’saa al Munkar – Women of the Abominable,” published in 2008, which she wrote based on her work as a journalist. […]
More gravely, it is nearly impossible for victims of domestic violence to independently seek protection or obtain legal redress because the police often insist that women and girls obtain their guardian’s authorization to file a criminal complaint, even when this complaint is against the guardian!
Moreover, even when women manage to file a domestic violence case, often the measures taken against the perpetrators are flimsy and shameful. For example, in May, Jeddah’s Summary Court convicted a man for physically abusing his wife to the point of hospitalization, but sentenced him to learning by heart five parts of the Quran and 100 sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.
Finally, Saudi Arabia applies a personal law system based on the Hanbali School of Islamic Jurisprudence, the most strict and literal among the Sunni schools of jurisprudence. The result is that a male guardian has the unilateral authority to marry off his female ward without her consultation and to dissolve a marriage he deems unfit.
Despite its awful track record of human rights violations and its recent military intervention in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia continues to be one of the main buyers of British-made military equipment. Prime Minister Cameron has recently met with leaders of the Saudi regime, in a declared effort to increase sales of weaponry.
The Methodist Church website mentions Saudi Arabia a total of 3 times. All are casual, with no reference to Saudi women’s plight and no criticism. (Incidentally, let me mention that it’s entirely conceivable that the activists who accuse Israel of ‘apartheid’ travelled to the Methodist Conference in cars fueled with Saudi petrol, produced by Saudi companies that do not employ women!)
The situation of women is only slightly better in the Islamic Republic of Iran. There, the authorities execute more people than in any other country except (the much more populous) China. Among the many ‘crimes’ that warrant the death penalty in Iran are ‘adultery’, ‘witchcraft’ and ‘war against God’. Just as in the case of Saudi Arabia, the Iranian regime has enshrined Muslim supremacism in the country’s laws. Other religions are subjected to limitations and persecution and ‘apostasy’ (i.e. converting from Islam to another faith) is punishable by death.
The Methodist Church website mentions Iran 16 times.
I could go on and on… If anti-Jewish prejudice is not involved, then it must be that the Jewish State is the world’s most heinous human rights offender – 15 times worse than North Korea, 100 times worse than Saudi Arabia…
The ‘briefing document’ acknowledges that
It is argued that trade sanctions against Israel (which currently do not have much international support) would be unjust as this would be inconsistent with the approach taken to occupation in other contexts including China’s occupation of Tibet, Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara and Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus.
but then proceeds to claim that
Such comparisons are fraught with difficulty and therefore questions of consistency will always be contested.
They are indeed “fraught with difficulty” – for those intent on singling out the Jewish state. The Methodist Church has asked its adherents to boycott Israel essentially because it occupies the West Bank and is building ‘settlements’ in that territory. The Church has never even considered boycotts against China, Morocco and Turkey, although each of these countries occupies foreign territory and builds settlements with much less justification.
Israel has occupied the West Bank, a territory to which it can lay historical claims, which was not an independent state but part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The control of that territory passed to Israel as the result of a defensive war. Here is how BBC’s Jeremy Bowen (certainly no friend of Israel!) describes the start of Jordanian-Israeli hostilities in his book ‘Six Days’:
The Jordanians opened fire along the confrontation line. Its [sic!] artillery fired into Jerusalem, mainly, though not always and not accurately, at military positions. The UN observer force, that had maintained the armistice for a generation, tried unsuccessfully to arrange several ceasefires. Bullets narrowly missed Britain’s senior diplomat in Jerusalem, the consul-general Hugh Pullar, and crashed into his offices. […] Pullar had just returned from a meeting with a senior Jordanian official. He had asked him if the Arabs’ basic intention was to eliminate Israel. In a ‘distinctly chilly’ way, the official said it was.
In contrast, on 6 October 1950, the Chinese army invaded Tibet – an independent state that had never-ever threatened China. The Tibetan government complained to the United Nations, but – acting in accordance with their own political interests – India and UK prevented the issue from being debated.
After just six years of Chinese occupation, Tibetans revolted; between 1956 and 1962, a veritable war took place between Tibetan guerrilla fighters and the Chinese Army. It is estimated that circa 87,000 Tibetans were killed during this rebellion. It is more difficult to assess how many Tibetans died because of Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ policies; according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, estimates vary between 200,000 and 1,000,000. Circa 6,000 monasteries were destroyed during the Chinese ‘Cultural Revolution’.
The Chinese authorities practice a policy of transfer of Chinese settlers into Tibet. According to the Tibetan government in exile, there are at least 7.5 million Chinese settlers in Tibet; their numbers continue to grow due to policies which grant economic advantages to the settlers, while denying them to Tibetans:
The continued population transfer of Chinese to Tibet in recent years has seen the Tibetans become a minority in their own land. Today the six million Tibetans are vastly outnumbered by Chinese immigrants, who are given preferential treatment in education, jobs and private enterprises. Tibetans, on the other hand, are treated as second-class citizens in their own country.
In the words of the Dalai Lama:
The new Chinese settlers have created an alternate society: a Chinese apartheid which, denying Tibetans equal social and economic status in our own land, threatens to finally overwhelm and absorb us.
All this did not prevent UK Prime Minister David Cameron from conducting recently an official visit to China, heading what was officially called “the largest British trade mission ever to go to China”. Mr. Cameron did not take this opportunity to visit Occupied Tibet. UK Prime Minister’s approach to dealing with China is nothing if not enthusiastic:
Some in Europe and elsewhere see the world changing and want to shut China off behind a bamboo curtain of trade barriers. Britain wants to tear those barriers down.
No country in Europe is more open to Chinese investment than the United Kingdom.
I will champion an EU-China trade deal with as much determination as I am championing an EU-US trade deal.
In 1975, Morocco invaded Western Sahara, despite an International Court of Justice verdict rejecting territorial claims by both Morocco and Mauritania, and recognising the Saharawis’ right to self-determination. According to Al-Jazeera:
Hundreds of thousands of Moroccan settlers were encouraged to enter Western Sahara with state-subsidised property and employment, under the army’s protection. […] The country is now the last United Nations-designated ‘non-self-governing territory’ in Africa, and is home to between 100,000 and 140,000 Moroccan military personnel (despite a total population of just 500,000). […] The fighting drove much of the indigenous population of Western Sahara into refugee camps in Tindouf in southern Algeria, but some remain as a minority within the territory, west of the 2,600-kilometre separation wall that Morocco built during the war with the Polisario.
In 1974, the Turkish army occupied 40% of the territory of Cyprus, an independent state which never threatened – let alone attack – Turkey. The Greek/Christian inhabitants of occupied Northern Cyprus were ethnically cleansed; the number of Greek Cypriot refugees that have never been allowed to return to their homes is estimated at between 140,000 and 200,000. They were replaced by Turkish settlers. (Incidentally, let me mention that the whole process occurred under the proverbial noses of British soldiers, as the UK has two military bases on the island).
In its judgement of Cyprus v. Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey guilty of violating 14 articles of the European Convention of Human Rights.
According to a report published in 2003 by the EU Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography:
It is a well-established fact that the demographic structure of the island has been continuously modified since the de facto partition of the island in 1974 as a result of the deliberate policies of the Turkish Cypriot administration and Turkey. Despite the lack of consensus on the exact figures, all parties concerned admit that Turkish nationals have been systematically arriving in the northern part of the island. According to reliable estimates, their number currently amounts to 115 000 [In 2003, when the entire population of Cyprus was circa 1 million. The number of Turkish settlers already exceeds 200,000]. […] The Assembly is convinced that the presence of the settlers constitutes a process of hidden colonisation and an additional and important obstacle to a peaceful negotiated solution of the Cyprus problem.
The Turkish-populated Northern Cyprus is separated by the rest of the country by a 180 kilometres-long barrier, built by the Turkish army. Those allowed to cross it can do so through one of 7 checkpoints.
In their desire to justify the singling out of the Jewish State, the ‘briefing paper’ authors make the following extremely strange remark:
It should be noted that none of these situations offer direct comparisons to the situation in Israel/Palestine. For example, while the occupation of Northern Cyprus is made possible with the military intervention of Turkey, the people of Northern Cyprus do have a functioning system of self-governance within a clearly defined geographical area.
It is not clear why “none of these situations offer direct comparisons to the situation in Israel/Palestine”, except for the fact that – unlike the case of Israel in the West Bank – all of these situations (involving occupation and settlements) are completely devoid of any reasonable justification.
As for the attempt to give Turkey a free pass by claiming that “the people of Northern Cyprus do have a functioning system of self-governance within a clearly defined geographical area”, this crosses the boundaries of the absurd. Indeed, after ethnically cleansing every single Greek/Christian Cypriot from Occupied Northern Cyprus and replacing them with Turkish settlers brought from Anatolia, Turkey has declared the occupied 40% of Cyprus ‘independent’ (as the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’) – a declaration which has been recognised by one country: Turkey (a ‘recognition’ condemned by several UN resolutions). So, to emulate Turkey’s “functioning system” (which the ‘briefing document’ appears to imply is more acceptable than the Jewish State’s behaviour), Israel would have to forcibly evict the West Bank’s Palestinian Arab population, which would allow her to declare an ‘independent’ state, perhaps under the name of the ‘Jewish Republic of Western West Bank’!
None of this makes sense; none of these pretexts and excuses justifies singling out the Jewish State for the ‘cruel and unusual’ punishments of boycott and sanctions, while all the other cases have never even been debated. Of course, neither the singling out, nor the specific punishment can be seen as evidence of anti-Jewish prejudice, can they? Jews and boycotts? Surely it must be a coincidence! Surely the hundreds of years of European anti-Jewish rhetoric (much of it propagated by Christian Churches) must have evaporated one sunny day, leaving no trace!
The ‘briefing document’ claims that the BDS movement stems from the “Palestinian civil society” and that it “comprises 170 Palestinian organisations.”
This is mind-bogglingly naive. The Palestinian Authority is not a democratic government. No “civil society” may function without its approval. Indeed, those “170 Palestinian organisations” are nothing more than departments, branches and associations set up and controlled by the PLO. This allows the Palestinian Authority to officially reject BDS (to officially support it would constitute a violation of agreements signed by the PA), while sustaining it in practice. In fact, BDS is nothing but a re-branding of the Arab Boycott, which has been in place for many decades. (Incidentally, let me suggest that if under the oh-so-awful Israeli occupation the “Palestinian civil society” has managed to set up 170 organisations acting in unison against the Jewish State, then it surely must follow that Palestinians are the best organised people in the world, while Israelis are the most incompetent occupiers!)
Your ‘briefing document’ notes that
the BDS Movement intentionally does not specify whether its stated aims would be best met by one or two states;
and yet the ‘briefing’ seems to deny that the purpose of the ‘movement’ is to dismantle the Jewish State and replace it with an Arab/Muslim one. I wish I could believe that this is just the result of naivety; but it seems more like ostrich strategy. The term “intentionally” means that behind the action there is a hidden intention (hidden, as it is certainly not declared); what do the authors of the ‘briefing document’ believe that hidden intention to be??
The BDS ‘movement’ calls for the “Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties”. According to none other than the PLO, the ‘refugees’ (defined as people of Arab ethnicity, born in Arab countries – sometimes for 4-5 generations and from marriages with local Arab women – whose ancestors in the male line had lived in the Mandate of Palestine for at least two years) number 7 million. Together with the Arab Israelis, they would constitute a clear Arab majority. How exactly do the authors of the ‘briefing’ propose that transforming Israel into an Arab-majority state does not equate dismantling the Jewish State and denying Jews their right to self-determination??
There is, of course, plenty of evidence, the intention is not very well hidden; it’s just that the authors of the ‘briefing’ choose not to see it. Or indeed, hear it ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’. Here are some quotes from the most prominent BDS leaders:
Omar Barghouti founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI): “The current phase has all the emblematic properties of what may be considered the final chapter of the Zionist project. We are witnessing the rapid demise of Zionism, and nothing can be done to save it, for Zionism is intent on killing itself. I, for one, support euthanasia.” [Hmmm, Jews and euthanasia? When have we heard that before?]
As’ad Abu-Khalil, leader of academic BDS in the United States: “Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the State of Israel.”
Ahmed Moor, United States BDS leader: “OK, fine. So BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state….I view the BDS movement as a long-term project with radically transformative potential….In other words, BDS is not another step on the way to the final showdown; BDS is The Final Showdown.” [Hmmm, ‘Final Showdown’? it used to be called the ‘Final Solution’…]
In fact, this is not about ‘one state’ versus ‘two states’. Were they interested in the truth, the authors of the ‘briefing’ might have viewed a recently released Hamas propaganda video. The video, produced by the organisation whose Constitution calls for the killing of all Jews (the same organisation elected with a majority of votes by the Palestinian population of West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) explains that Israeli Jews can choose between death and ‘being returned to their countries of origin’ – the video ends with the image of yarmulke-wearing Jews being shepherded onto ships by armed and masked Hamas ‘fighters’.
An additional interesting paragraph in the ‘briefing’ argues that
While the situations of apartheid South Africa and that of Israel and the occupied territories differ markedly, it is clear that boycotts, divestments and sanctions helped to shift the understanding and perception of the white South African population. The global cultural and sporting boycott in South Africa was a particularly effective tool in persuading the white South African public that apartheid had to be brought to an end.
Now that is logic! Like saying
“While the two diseases are markedly different (one was severe cancer, the other at most a curable indigestion), let’s treat them both with chemotherapy; after all, we think it helped with the cancer…”
Whenever I hear Israel accused of apartheid, I am overcome by deep sadness. Not because I take this malevolent accusation seriously, but because I am reminded of the passing away of my father… After undergoing heroic (but alas unsuccessful) surgery performed by the supremely skilled team of Prof. Ahmed Eid, a Jerusalemite Arab and Head of the Surgery Department at Hadassah Medical Center, my dad spent his last days in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, two yards away from a West Bank Palestinian patient. Both Jew and Arab received the dedicated care of the Unit’s doctors and nurses, themselves a mixture of Jews and Arabs. Some apartheid!
But let me end this long missive…
Some of you may, I think, be just naives duped by unscrupulous ‘activists’ and in search of a ‘cause’. To you I say: ‘Wake up! Your good intentions are being exploited to do evil.’ But to those who hide their subliminal prejudice under the mantle of ‘justice’, to those who single out the Jewish State (and only the Jewish State, because… well, because… we’ll think up a reason), to you I say: ‘You shall not prevail’. Maybe you can hurt us; but you won’t deter us. Boycott us! We’ve been boycotted before; in fact, we’ve been in much worse predicaments throughout our history – and survived. Divest from us! We have regained a portion of our ancestral homeland – it’s all we need; we re-settled in it, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were born in it; we re-built it, investing it with our sweat, blood, tears and hopes. There is nothing you can do to make us turn it into another Syria. Sanction us! If mismanaged, impoverished, ridiculous North Korea withstands your sanctions, so shall we. I promise you.