Israel is under attack again.
Not from the usual suspects of Hamas, or Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Jeremy Corbyn but, this time, from sections of Britain’s Jewish community who are missing the bigger picture.
I am not Jewish but a Muslim who wants to see long-lasting, real peace between Israel and her Arab allies. That is not a naïve dream, but a reality being shaped today by many Arabs and Muslims across the Middle East
Attacking Israel is not only about Hamas lobbing rockets, sending terrified families into bunkers. Long-lasting damage to Israel is done by the political rhetoric of the Corbynite left, the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran’s other proxies against Israel’s very legitimacy. The intended end-result of that rhetoric is a weakened, isolated Israel, boycotted and sanctioned by the world, which will then be on its knees, with its borders reshaped and Jews again expelled from the Middle East.
The latest uproar is about Israel annexing the West Bank in the coming months -- that somehow the British government must act to stop this ‘violation of international law’.
No. The British government must not act and British Jews should take a broader view, reverse out from the cul-de-sac of Bibi bashing and understand the new developments taking shape across the Middle East’s motorways of new ideas.
I have never met Bibi Netanyahu. The future of Israel in a modernised, moderate Middle East is not about Netanyahu. Since publication of my first book, The Islamist, in 2007, and the founding of Quilliam in 2008, I have been involved in various ways in undoing the damage done by political Islamists to my religion but also to Muslim-majority regions of the world.
In my latest book, The House of Islam: A Global History (2018), I explain how across a millennium, Muslims and Jews lived together, generally, in peace and harmony. The Quran is a continuation of the narrative of the prophets of ancient Israel: one God, family, justice and charity. When the prophet Mohamed declared his ummah (community) in Medina in 622, Jews were explicitly part of that ummah. The second caliph, Omar, invited Jews to return to Jerusalem in 636 after five centuries of Roman expulsion.
Why? Because early Muslims, trained by Mohamed, recognized that Jews were from Judea and Jerusalem was their city. Muslims and Jews, together as brothers of the same father, Abraham, suffered at the hands of the medieval Crusades and then again when the Spanish Inquisition sought blood of Jews and Muslims.
We must not forget that Maimonides wrote in Arabic, learned from Muslim philosophers and was a physician to Saladin. Muslims in France, Turkey, Morocco and the Balkans protected Jews from the Nazis.
Based on that long history of Jews and Muslims living together in co-existence, the desire now to remove the cancer that is the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian government, there are new cultural, religious, economic and political initiatives from new leaders in the Middle East.
Private polling done by several Arab governments shows that Muslim youth, 32% of the Arab world, aged between 15 and 25 - 100 million people today - are not interested in hatred of Israel and the false glory of the lost wars of 1947, 67, 73, 91. But their middle-aged elders are stuck in an Islamist narrative of conflict, Jihad, Jew hatred and ‘liberating Jerusalem’.
The challenge for political leaders is to close that gap and normalise relations with Israel for a future Middle East that is free from Iran’s and the Muslim Brotherhood’s threatening of Islamist revolutions or rigged elections to topple governments in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Algeria, and others.
Here is the rub: Netanyahu’s strong and fearless stance against Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood worldview is now respected in the Arab world. He has made Israel a strategic ally of Sunni Arabs who wish to see a peaceful world.
British and American Jews now risk looking out of date, still fighting the last battles while unaware of the new horizon across the sand dunes. Go to the United Arab Emirates and Dubai on a Friday night and you’ll find a popular shul. Visit Abu Dhabi on Sunday and on Sa’diyat Island you’ll find the Louvre Museum with ancient artefacts telling the story of Judaism and Islam as religions of the region, pioneered by peoples of the Middle East.
Look further and you’ll see a new and majestic synagogue being built in the United Arab Emirates, the Abrahamic Family House, alongside a church and mosque in Abu Dhabi.
There, right there, is the vision for a new Middle East in action: Jews, Christians and Muslims worshipping, trading, traveling and being free together.
If you’re in Bahrain, go to the oldest synagogue in the Arabian Gulf. Put on the TV in your hotel room, and you’ll see the vastly popular Saudi channel MBC booming into every home in the region with a popular TV series, Umm Haroun, ‘Mother of Aaron’, lamenting the loss of Jewish neighbours and friends from the region. In the movie, an Arab businessman has investments in Israel, another objects, the former shrugs his shoulders and says, literally ‘so what?’ He continues ‘The Palestinians curse us daily while we fund them and their government. What has Israel ever done against us in the Gulf?’
Speak to intelligent Egyptians and you’ll hear praise for Israel signing a $15 billion deal last year to provide Egypt with roughly 2.2 trillion cubic feet of gas over a 10-year period that will help transform both into regional energy players.The intelligence and security co-operation between these nations keeps us safe. The peace treaty between Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat, forty years later, still stands. Young Arabs in Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, want to visit Israel.
Israel is a welcome guest at the World Expo 2020 in Dubai later this year. I could go on but what of Palestinians? And the West Bank? The Palestinian leadership, sadly, belongs to a bygone world, out of touch with their youth and full of contempt for new leaders in the Middle East. Gaza is an Iranian outpost controlled by the fascism of Hamas, killing dissenters, punishing homosexuals, and preparing terrorists against Israel.
I attended the White House’s Peace to Prosperity conference in Bahrain last year. Talk now of ‘annexing the West Bank’ is fiction to put in peril a new Middle East. The Americans sent their Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin -- the British Foreign Office sent a junior treasury minister, another failure by Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt.
When unemployment in Gaza is at 45% and 43% of women in the West Bank are unemployed, the real challenge for ordinary Palestinians is economics and survival.
Their leaders in Fatah and Hamas have become millionaires from the aid given to them by Gulf Arab nations and the West. In Bahrain, the finance ministers of the wealthiest Arab states and the United States committed to a $50 billion investment over ten years and brought AT&T and others to address the telecommunications challenges about which the Palestinian youth complain daily.
As part of the peace plan, Ramallah and Mahmoud Abbas must negotiate with Israel. The pressure from British Jews should be on Abu Mazen. In exchange for American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over particular areas, Netanyahu has agreed to freeze all settlement activity for the next four years in areas the plan envisions for a future Palestinian state. But where is Palestinian leadership? And which leader: Hamas or Fatah?
Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh had no trouble flying to Tehran to mourn for the loss of Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian general and terror mastermind. Mahmoud Abbas can take phone calls from the Iranian foreign minister to ‘foil the deal’. We in the West must not be on the side of Hamas and Iran but see the bigger picture that uplifts the lives of ordinary Palestinians with economic freedom, jobs and thereby dignity.
Free from the shackles of Europe, Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab should support the vision of a new Middle East and British Jews must not let disagreements with Bibi blind them to the bigger picture of a more secure, stable and serene Israel.
Ed Husain is a senior fellow at Civitas in Westminster and a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC