- Geoffrey Paul
Jun 7, 2009
Some friends of Israel, and many Israelis themselves, have been so forensic in picking through references to Israel in President Obama's Cairo speech that, to quote him from a press conference statement in Paris on Saturday, while “I've discussed the importance of a cessation of settlement construction... I also want to reemphasise, because that's gotten more attention than what I've also said, which is the Palestinians have to renounce violence, end incitement, improve their governance capacity so that Israelis can be confident that the Palestinians can follow through on any commitments they make across the table." Few commentators have so far seriously assessed what improving governance capacity means. In the first place, it must mean ending the internal strife between the Palestinian factions. Within the past 24 hours, Fatah has arrested Hamas members in the West Bank and Hamas has rounded up Fatah followers in Gaza, including one who reportedly died of a heart attack when apprehended and another who was accused of spying - he was charged with passsing information about Hamas to the Paletinian Authority. Every effort made by Cairo and others to bring the two sides to an agreement has collapsed. A final “reconciliation” meeting is due in Egypt on July 5. There is absolutely nothing to suggest it will be any more successful than the others. Mr Obama might yet find - like virtually every one of his predecessors - that his vision of peace is frustrated not so much by Israeli obduracy as by the inability of Palestinian leaders to stop burying the hatchet in their brothers' heads.
The academic year is coming to an end and, after a remarkably varied six months, my highlights have been:
- Best Campaign: as part of Holocaust Memorial Day, Leeds University JSoc acquired more than 12,000 bottle tops to create a centrepiece for the university’s new Hillel House, to represent just one per cent of those who suffered. Support came from far and wide; large numbers from the Limmud conference and, bizarrely, contributions from Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs.
- Best comment: When asked to justify Oxford’s under-21 rugby team’s “Bring a Fit Jew” bar night, team captain Phil Boon claimed that he “didn’t see what the problem was” with his event. Mr Boon later conceded: “I can understand why it might have offended some people, but it would have been an awesome social.” Duh.
This week UJS held its inaugural student awards dinner in Middlesex New Synagogue, Harrow — the community of the late Alan Senitt, the former UJS chairman after whom an award was named. The awards recognised the hard work and dedication of Jewish students who have made an exceptional contribution to Jewish life on campus over the past academic year. The results were:
- UJIA Education Award: Adam Parker, a founding member of the Oxford Israeli Cultural Society.
- Developing JSoc of the Year award: Brighton and Sussex JSoc, which has continued to provide an exciting calendar of events for their students, despite the background of political troubles on their campus.
UJS-Hillel will open a new non-residential student centre in Leeds University in September 2009, in place of the existing Hillel House, due to a number of central and local government regulations in respect of shared properties. As well as a café serving kosher food, on the new premises there will be a chaplain’s office, where students can get confidential advice, and fully-equipped meeting rooms for student societies. In addition to the student centre, agreements have been made with both the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University to offer kosher accommodation within close proximity of the newly refurbished centre. Daniel Marcus, chief executive of UJS-Hillel, said: “The Leeds Hillel student centre will be a natural home for the Jewish societies in Leeds, and will provide a unique and cutting-edge space for social, cultural, educational and political programmes for all Leeds-based Jewish students.”
- Geoffrey Paul
Mar 25, 2009
I thought I had heard everything until someone sent me a tape of part of a speech by Nadia Matar, co-founder of “The Women in Green.“ These Jewish settler ladies, as you will know, are committed to fighting by every means for the incorporation of the West Bank – Judea and Samaria – within the State of Israel and the disenfranchisement of any Arab crazy enough to stay there. Speaking in the highly-respectable, and rather beautiful, new Safra Synagogue on New York's East Side, Matar rambled on before an obviously delighted audience about her territorial/biblical philosophy until she reached her chilling climax: just as Churchill understood that, in order to bring peace to Europe, "he had to destroy the Nazi beast, today we must destroy all the terrorist organisations. We must kill all the terrorist leaders, starting with Mahmoud Abbas...” Mr Abbas just happens to be the elected leader of West Bank Palestinians and probably the only man who could bring his people to a peaceful settlement with Israel. But, for Ms Matar, it is not the concept of land for peace that drives her but all the pieces of the land for the fundamentalist Judaism she espouses. Just as shocking was the applause this earned her from her New York Jewish audience. I am glad the rabbi of the congregtion, when he heard what she had said, issued a statement “rejecting wholeheartedly the odious and repugnant remarks” of Ms Matar. While his synagoge hall had always been available to outside groups on a non-discriminatory basis, the nature of Ms Matar's remarks disqualified the sponsoring organisation from any further use of the space. The name of the sponsoriing group, by the way, is “Americans for a Safe Israel.”
- Geoffrey Paul
Mar 23, 2009
Shurat HaDin, the Israel Law Centre, is a Tel-Aviv based lawyers' organisation that utilises legal proceedings and lawsuits around the world to fight international terrorism, its leaders and their financial patrons on behalf of terror victims. It declares itself fully independent and not affiliated with any political party or organisations. I have no reason to doubt it does good work and it is probably a sustainable argument that, in the murky world where it operates, good taste is not a criterion.
But I must say that I find its notice to members – mainly American from the context - of “The Ultimate Mission to Israel” in June is, well, if not injudicious then in bad taste beyond the bizarre. For a large roll of dollars, it offers not only five-star, glatt kosher accommodation at the Sheraton Plaza, Jerusalem, where there will be a “dedicated Executive Communications Center,” but also (I have curtailed the list but use their own terminology):
*Inside tour of the Israel Air Force unit wbo (sic) carries out targeted killings.
*Live exhibition of penetration raids in Arab territory.
*Observe a trial of Hamas terrorists in an IDF military court.
*First hand tours of the Lebanese front line positions and the Gaza border check-points.
*Inside tour of the controversial Security Fence and secret intelligence bases.
*Meeting Israel's Arab agents who infiltrate the terrorist groups and provide real-time intelligence.
- Geoffrey Paul
Mar 19, 2009
Here's something with which to cheer your children: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian fundamentalists will gain significant ground against their liberal and secular counterparts by 2050, even surpassing them in some cases. This is the view of Eric Kaufmann, a fellow of the Belfer Centre which is part of the J F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The increase in the size of a religion's fundamentalist population can change the local and even national politics of a country, according to Kaufmann, and demographic change can threaten a state's security because it produces a larger pool of potential religious militants. Kaufmann suggested that while most fundamentalists are not militant, all militants are fundamentalists.
While the overall total fertility rate (TFR) is on the decline, the TFR among those on the more religious end of the spectrum remains well above replacement. American Jews have a very low TFR of 1.43, but within this group, ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim) stand out as exceptionally fertile: they increased their share of American Jewry from 7.2 to 9.4 percent during 2000–2006 alone. In Israel, the Haredim had a TFR of 7.61 in 1996 while other Israeli Jews' TFR stood at just 2.27. This will enable the Haredi to form a majority soon after 2050. Kaufmann hypothetically asked a lecture audience he addressed to consider the impact this could have on the peace process since the orthodox and Haredim are particularly attached to Jerusalem — where they are a majority — and to the holy places and "promised" land of the West Bank.
This week has seen the start of the “Jerusalem Peacemakers’ Tour”, which intends to hold talks on eight different campuses, asking: “Is peace possible after Gaza?” The discussions are led by Eliyahu McLean and Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, co-directors of the Jerusalem Peacemakers. The tour was run by Campusalam, the university-targeted branch of the Lokahi Foundation, an NGO whose aims are to “develop a more diverse, harmonious society; provide a balanced and broad range of information on Islamic history, practices and teachings” and “to allow principled, constructive and critical debate on issues which can be contentious to raise and difficult to openly discuss”.
UJS held a party in celebration of Tel Aviv’s 100th anniversary this week. The event, held in Birmingham’s Custard Factory nightclub, was attended by hundreds of Jewish students, making it the largest Jewish student event this year. The klezmer band Ghetto Plotz played alongside renowned DJs the Scratch Perverts, with live acts from acrobats and break-dancers.
King’s College Student Union escaped a take-over bid by anti-Israel campaigners at elections for its student board positions last Friday.
A group called “Another King’s is Possible” put forward six candidates who said their candidacy “emerged from the occupation at Strand”, a pro-Palestinian sit-in demonstration on a King’s campus in January, which was repeated in 17 other universities nationwide. Dalia Nelson, outgoing co-chair of umbrella student society London JSocs, says the group would have hijacked the union with anti-Israel campaigns.
“These people were intent on causing disruption. Had they got in, we would have been subjected to a constant barrage of anti-Israel protest on an almost daily basis.”