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British Jewry reeling from the apartheid analogy

One week on, the controversy triggered by Mick Davis, Chair of United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) shows no sign of abating. When he criticised the policies of the Israeli government he effectually fired the opening salvo of a long overdue debate. A rather chastened Jewish Chronicle editorial has finally conceded, "Debate is Jewish".

Davis broke the long-established taboo and called on his co-religionists to criticise Israel openly. But it was not this which provoked the near hysterical reaction within the extreme ranks; it was his warning that Israel was running the risk of becoming an apartheid state.

There is nothing new in what Mr Davis said. Israeli leaders and world statesmen have being saying this for years. What is new is that it has come from the leader of a prominent British Jewish organization.

Although the Jewish Chronicle claims that that "it is not the Jewish way to keep silent", British Jewry has been eerily silent about Israel's protracted breaches of international law and human rights abuses. They were, indeed, so slavish in their support for Israel that they refused to utter a word of criticism of actions that were, self-evidently, morally and legally indefensible; apartheid policies in all but name.

For the sake of argument, forget about Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, John Dugard, Richard Falk and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who have all alluded to the realities of an apartheid system in the Holy Land. They have been dismissed and caricatured as anti-Semites or self- hating Jews.

But what about former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert; both have, in recent years, warned that Israel will become an apartheid state if it continues to obstruct the emergence of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Can anyone accuse either of seeking to destroy the state of Israel? They would both have a lot to answer for if the ICC were ever allowed to adopt the Goldstone Report.

In fact, there are Israelis who have gone further and admitted that a nefarious system of apartheid already exists in the Occupied Territories. Michael Ben Yair, a former Attorney General of the state of Israel wrote, "In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day." (Ha'aretz, 3/3/02)

In the circumstances there is only one explanation for the silence that envelops British Jewry. It is the legal consequence of admitting to apartheid. Under the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (ICSPCA) and the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, apartheid is defined as a crime against humanity; similar to other crimes "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."

Of course, this tragic situation did not erupt from a vacuum; it has a certain political context. When leading figures in the Israeli religious establishment issue edicts that describe Palestinians and Arabs as vermin and non-Jews as their servants, it is only a matter of time before fanatics and bigots, whether in the army or settler movement, take matters into their own hands and carry out waves of ethnic cleansing of villages in the Negev, the Jordan valley and Jerusalem.

We are entitled to ask how many more Palestinian children must be abused before British Jews issue a word of rebuke, let alone condemnation against Israel? This week, 60 Israeli officials and experts from the fields of medicine, psychiatry, education and social work sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, urging him to intervene to stop attacks on Palestinian children in Jerusalem. Why haven't their counterparts in Britain's Jewish community done the same?

Viewed from another angle, how many more mosques must be demolished in the Occupied Territories and Israel itself, before we hear a word of condemnation or restraint from leading religious figures, including the Chief Rabbi, in Britain?

The situation has become a source of acute embarrassment for many Jews in Britain, including self-avowed Zionists. Sir Gerald Kaufman said as much in an address to a gathering in parliament this week to mark UN International Solidarity Day with Palestine.

Speaking of embarrassment, or the lack thereof, the position of the Tory-Lib-Dem Coalition government is markedly disturbing and inexcusable. After all that has been documented and recorded, it still seeks to reward the alleged perpetrators of war crimes by attempting to change the law to protect them and facilitate their visits to the UK. Surely, if they are innocent, they should not be afraid to appear in court. Or do they not believe that they would get a fair trial in a British court?

Even if David Cameron and his ilk succeed on changing the law of universal jurisdiction, something more momentous has already occurred. World public opinion has changed irrevocably on Israel. In Europe and across the United States there is a growing crescendo of disgust with its brand of apartheid, and a determination to resist it with the same vigour, as they did against its precursor in South Africa. Those who worry about the de-legitimization of Israel must know that apartheid will never become legitimate in the 21st century. If Israel and its remaining Jewish supporters in Britain are really concerned about its legitimacy, then there is only one answer – stop apartheid in the Holy Land.

Commentary & AnalysisEurope & RussiaIsraelMiddle EastPalestineUK
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