Robert Festenstein
Robert Festenstein

Shouting at the wrong people

Usually I write on my own behalf.  Today is different. I am writing as President of the Zionist Central Council – the ZCC – which is based in Manchester and whose aims are to promote and defend the democratic State of Israel. The American plan for peace in Israel which has been described as a plan for annexation has been met with various responses by the British Jewish community.  The ZCC approach, which included a letter to the head of the Palestinian Authority mission in London a couple of weeks ago, was we believe the preferred response.

The peace plan, or annexation as described by others is the latest attempt by the US administration to sort out the mess that exists between the cease fire lines from 1949 (known as the green line) and the river Jordan.  My description is deliberately vague since so many groups choose to use their own language, including the West Bank, the Shomron, the occupied territories and many many others.

I should say that the word annexation is inaccurate.  I have been informed by the group UK Lawyers for Israel that there is no breach of international law at present and what is being proposed is an extension of civilian law to the disputed territories.  This is a legal analysis, and as a lawyer it makes sense to me.  It is not a moral judgment and perhaps that’s where some of the issues arise, because it is so easy to rely on one to claim the truth of the other.  In other words, you may feel something is wrong so you tell everyone that must be true, whether in fact it is or not.  The plan does not constitute annexation.  For those who want to know what annexation looks like, see Russia, Ukraine and the Crimea.  As much as everyone is entitled to their own opinion, nobody is entitled to make up their own facts.

Which takes me to the responses.  The ‘left’ of British Jewry have largely rejected the plan.  I cannot recall seeing any alternative proposal, just a wholesale rejection.  In addition they have demanded that the communal leadership should make a comment.  The Board of Deputies refused and have been slated by some as a consequence.  The head of the Zionist Federation ventured to suggest that there wasn’t really much of choice other than to adopt the plan in view of the intransigence of the Palestinian leadership. This was met with a letter of complaint telling him that he had no authority to make such a statement, or in other words, he made the wrong statement.  Again, other than telling him he was wrong, no alternative suggestion for peace was forthcoming.

So what should the complainers have said, and for that matter the communal leaders?  Yelling at Israel was not a good start.  For anyone who has lived in Israel will tell you, they would really love not to have to live with the constant threat of an attack by someone with a knife who if successful at killing or wounding them, will receive a salary from the Palestinian Authority.  This pay to slay policy has been running for some years now and the UK Government has to its credit been very critical.  The ZCC is appalled with this policy and a couple of weeks ago on the 11th May 2020 as headlined above I wrote, on its behalf to the head of the Palestinian Authority in London.

In that letter I said removing this ‘pay to slay’ policy is in our view a basic first step and I welcomed his input as to when this will take place.

There was no reply.  No surprise really but the point is that until one side stops wanting to kill the other, and continues to support such activities then peace is not likely.  Instead of yelling at Israel about taking unilateral action, why are the critics and the leaders not yelling at those who continue to support the killings?  It is not a big ask to demand an end to rewarding people who try and kill Jews.  That is what the ZCC asked of the Palestinian Authority and that is what the complainers and the leaders should be doing.  There needs to be a community wide approach to the Palestinian Authority telling them that for as long as they refuse to engage in talks and continue to reward killers of Jews the prospects of peaceful coexistence will remain very poor. We need as a community to be demanding an end to this disgusting policy since that is the true barrier to peace.

About the Author
Robert Festenstein is a solicitor based in Manchester with considerable experience in Court actions. He is active in representing groups opposing BDS and fighting the increase in anti-Semitism, particularly amongst the left-wing in the UK.