By Paul CHARNEY, Chairman, Zionist Federation.
Let me start by saying that I applaud any attempt by Jewish students to engage creatively and, yes, critically, with Israel, and that includes the new ‘Sign on the Green Line’ campaign.
The Jewish community in the UK has always been free to discuss Israel and its actions, and in that spirit, let me contribute to the debate by setting out some reasons why I’m uncomfortable with this campaign.
To begin with, I don’t think it’s necessary. Much of the promotional material has spoken of the need to be open and honest in our education, as if the fact Israel controls captured territory was some kind of secret.
If that were the case, then Anglo-Jewish community organisations would absolutely be failing in our duties, not least of all because the overwhelming (and often perniciously distorted) public focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict means that members of the diaspora need to be fully versed in all the facts should they choose to defend the Jewish state.
All the facts means recognising the complexity surrounding the issue, which is why this single-minded focus on an arbitrary armistice line – which was only ever intended to be temporary – is unhelpful and reductionist.
The struggle between two competing nationalisms in this tiny piece of land has attracted an unprecedented level of international attention and intervention, and yet we’re still waiting for a resolution. I think it’s fair to say there is no easy fix.
The implication behind the campaign, however, is that redrawing the green armistice line as a recognised border is the necessary and sufficient first step towards peace. As I said, the picture is more complicated.
Focusing on the green line feeds into the narrative that the primary cause of the conflict is Israel’s supposedly illegitimate presence in the occupied/disputed territories.
This ignores the moral and historic right of Jewish communities to exist in this territory. It doesn’t factor in the plight of Christians, who privately acknowledge that Israel’s military presence protects them from Islamic extremism. It says nothing about the fate of Jerusalem, bisected by the line, with Judaism’s holiest site on the ‘wrong’ side.
Perhaps most worryingly, it ignores the role played by Palestinian intransigence – and the strong evidence that ceding land would bolster, not hinder, this irredentism. This evidence includes Palestinian politicians who say that a future state would be a launch pad for ‘regaining’ further land.
It is the policy of officially rewarding any Palestinian who kills any Israeli. It is the disastrous experience of the Gaza withdrawal. This is the reason why Israeli officials are concerned when Palestinian maps show the whole Mandate-era outline – because it’s not a single bum note, but part of the prevailing mood music in the region.
Despite all this, the Israeli government supports a two-state solution, as do the majority of Israelis – and of course the majority of British Jews. This is another reason why I don’t agree with this campaign – because it is divisive. It divides between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Jews and Jewish organisations, creating a litmus test between liberal and conservative, left and right, moderate or extremist, pro-peace or anti-peace.
The reality is again more complicated. To give just one example, there are many on the left who believe that the concession of territory is a recipe for violence on an unprecedented scale – just as there are many on the right who believe that the same concession is needed to secure Israel’s future.
In the same way that it would be wrong to brand supporters of immediate withdrawal as anti-Israel, so too we should not rush to denounce those who favour less sweeping actions as anti-peace.
My final point is that all of this is a distraction from more important issues, such as the pervasive and growing campaign to delegitimise Israel in this country.
To give the most obvious example, in the coming weeks we will once again see the ugly spectre of Israel Apartheid Week across UK campuses. Students will be exposed to the lie that the most liberal, multicultural and democratic state in the Middle East is a uniquely racist and ugly regime, while being indoctrinated into believing that a wall is a greater human rights violation than the suicide attacks it was designed to curtail.
My worry is that the Green Line campaign is less concerned with lines on maps than lines in the sand – and my fear is that both sides will lose sight of who our real enemies are.