I welcomed Mick Davis’s article in Jewish News last week as an important voice on Israel-Diaspora relations. However, to my great sadness, I strongly contest his grossly inaccurate assertions. Of course, he is welcome to his opinion. If he were an Israeli citizen he would be welcome to vote accordingly. I’m saddened that someone who has held such high office in an important Diaspora community feels it appropriate to publish such distortions.
As a current MK, allow me to answer his accusations. Sir Mick claims Israel needs “a vision for its future with the Palestinians”. He will be pleased to know we have one.
While the vision of the Clinton Initiative has failed time after time for the past 30 years, we continue to stand firm in the face of the ongoing terrorism against the people of Israel. Hours before Sir Mick published his piece, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed a 62-year-old woman as she was shopping in my home town, Kfar Saba. The day before, another Palestinian terrorist deliberately ran over a policeman at a junction in Judea and Samaria. These are not isolated incidents or caused by Israeli policies.
They are born of the same hatred that led to the massacre of Jews in Hebron in 1929 – even before the state’s founding.
They are part of an ongoing trend of hatred and violence supported by the Palestinian Authority which continues joyfully to promote anti-Jewish vitriol in their schools, media, and mosques, and proudly pay murderers for the Jewish blood they spill.
Yet, at the same time, we do continue to pursue a peaceful end to the conflict. Without a partner for peace, the current plan led by President Trump offers the Palestinians levels of autonomy, economic development and a higher standard of living than enjoyed by most peoples in the region.
And yes – it offers Israel the chance to establish sovereignty over core areas of Israel.
Sir Mick suggests that Israel’s political echelons have decided that the relationship with the Palestinians can be ignored. Let’s be clear. When we send our children to school, they have an armed guard at the gate. Our shopping malls have metal detectors.
When we send our children to the army, we do so knowing they may well see battle.
Israel is not ignoring the relationship with the Palestinians, we are palpably aware of the situation. But Israel has long made the decision – as have many of our neighbours – that there can be progress on a range of issues, including regional affairs, even in the absence of a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
Notably of course, our peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan did not include solving the Palestinian problem. Others in our region understand this today as well.
Sir Mick argues Israel needs to improve social mobility and bridge social divisions. Here he will find no disagreement. I welcome his praise of President Rivlin’s efforts in this field. But moreover, Sir Mick will be pleased to hear of the great strides that have been made under Likud leadership in the past four years.
For example, improvements in maths education in schools in some of Israel’s lowest socio-economic areas – especially Israeli Arab towns, has led to dramatic increases in students pursing higher mathematics studies.
In 10 years we doubled the number of Arab students in universities, and invested billions of shekels in developing infrastructure in Arab towns.
Need we do more? Of course. But this cannot be dismissed as a “failure to invest”.
On the political level, Sir Mick laments that for many Israelis, MKs on the Joint Arab List are “considered governmentally trayf”.
The MKs he refers to, proudly tout their support for Palestinian attacks on our soldiers, they openly campaign against Zionism and the rights of Jews in Israel.
They support those who erase our heritage in this land, and befriend our enemies both here and abroad. When a political party in the UK had a leader who voiced such opinions, the community argued against his legitimacy. I see no difference here.
Fourth, and I think most offensively, Sir Mick says Israel is betraying the values of Diaspora Jewry. Is there a need for greater understanding and better communication between Israel and the Diaspora? Yes. But simply because he doesn’t support the current leadership of Israel, does not mean we are abandoning any key values.
We are making decisions according to the situation we face. I am sorry these are not the choices he would like us to make, but that does not mean “democracy is under threat”. Currently Israel is in a very deep internal battle about the separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary.
It is a very harsh debate that has divided the country – but it is a debate in which both sides are seeking to uphold the values of democracy as they see them.
The UK, too, has been witness to harsh political divisions in recent years. This is not a sign of a democracy under threat.
Yet where Sir Mick makes his greatest error is in his assumption that Israel maintains a “keep your wallets open and mouths shut model of Israel-Diaspora relations”.
I am afraid this means he has not been listening. Over the last years, the Israeli Government has made its greatest investment yet in Diaspora communities.
We embarked on long-term projects to invest in education, in building understanding, and in assisting with the physical security of Jewish communities around the world.
Of course, there are many important causes in Israel that receive and rely on the generous support of many Jews in the Diaspora. We would not be able to succeed as we do without the support of Jewish communities.
But we have long recognised that there needs to be a new dialogue and relationship between the two.
We may not agree, we may not have the same political preferences, but don’t for a moment dismiss the choices we make as being antithetical to our shared age-old values. Now is not a time to throw your hands up and say, “I don’t get them”.
Now is the time to ensure we get each other. As one who cares deeply about this relationship, my door is always open.