My Word: The battle of rights and wrongs

You’ve probably heard of the proposal to set up a Knesset committee to investigate the funding of leftist NGOs. You were certainly meant to.

By
January 15, 2011 21:56
Liat Collins

liat collins 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

An admission: My family sold our house to Muslims. It was more than 30 years ago, in England, before we made aliya. At the request of the Pakistani family who moved in, I left the poster of Jerusalem on my bedroom wall. I took with me the picture of Masada and the anti-PLO billboard.

I immediately joined a Bnei Akiva Nahal garin but soon decided it wasn’t for me and requested a transfer into a regular IDF unit. “You’ll be eaten alive,” garin members warned me. But I wasn’t concerned. When you’ve grown up in a not particularly Jewish neighborhood in London and studied at a non-Jewish school, you learn how to get on with all types of people and explain the rules and wonders of Judaism.

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My first army posting was indeed a test of faith, but not in the way most had predicted. The IDF placed me in the military government on the Golan Heights. One Friday night I looked around at the soldiers collected in the dining room and realized there was not a Jewish male in sight. “Don’t worry, Liat. If you give us your little book, we can make the bracha,” offered a Druse officer and gentleman. How do you tell a Middle Eastern man of any faith that a woman can make kiddush for herself, without hurting his ego? And how to explain that I couldn’t even drink the wine he wanted to pour, let alone consider it sanctified? The letter by the group now known as “the rabbis’ wives” – like the proclamation by the rabbis against renting or selling an apartment to non-Jews before it – hit a raw spot with me.

Growing up with, serving with, working with and occasionally socializing with Muslims and other non-Jews has not placed my mortal soul in danger. In fact, as my wise mother told me during my teens: “Don’t think that just because someone is wearing a kippa, it means he’s a nice Jewish boy.”

As writer Yair Lapid pointed out in his column in Yediot Aharonot last week, there is something very flawed about these letters which exhort against “the other,” the Arabs. “After all, they could have explained to their girls that they are part of the most beautiful story in the world,” wrote Lapid – a story that includes the Torah and Talmud. Instead, they chose to warn that the bogeyman would carry them away to their villages “and curse, humiliate and beat them.”

“The letters are insulting,” declared Lapid, not only to the non-Jews who are besmirched in them, “but also to anyone who thinks that Judaism represents beautiful values which are more important than xenophobic hatred.”

Instead of strengthening the pride of the young Jewish women in their own identities and heritage, they opted for instilling fear – more fear. Incidentally, I have yet to hear of the Muslim family which was delighted by the news that its son had fallen in love with a Jewish woman, and I’m far from convinced that the Arab world has decided to fight the Jews by marrying their womenfolk one by one.

The rabbis’ letter concerning Jewish-owned property is equally perturbing.

Refusing to rent an apartment in Safed to an Arab social-work student or nurse might make a certain type of person feel good, but if the point of the letter was to indicate that Arabs are buying Jewish land and property, it missed the mark.

Indeed, it deflected attention from where it could serve a purpose.

While Israelis were looking at the small numbers of Arab students and workers seeking (mainly temporary) housing in Galilee, they all but overlooked what could have been the biggest real-estate story in the region concerning its long-term ramifications.

Palestinian businessman Basher al- Masri has been bidding to buy out the debt-ridden Digal Company, which is building the 400-apartment Nof Zion complex next to Jerusalem’s Jebl Mukaber neighborhood. Nof Zion was marketed as an up-and-coming, nationalreligious Jewish area, not the next major development project of Masri – who is also behind the construction of Rawabi, the town near Ramallah offering homes for middle-class Palestinians.

Not incidentally, Masri is insisting that companies involved in building Rawabi commit in writing that they would not use any products from “settlements,” including east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Coexistence has its limits on both sides, apparently.

This one businessman – a Palestinian version of Baron Edmond de Rothschild – unknown to most Israelis almost became the person with the greatest impact on determining the future borders of Jerusalem and a future Palestinian state.

Last week, it was announced that Jewish entrepreneurs, including supermarket mogul Rami Levy, had succeeded in countering Masri’s bid.

THE FOREIGN funding of purchases of land is the focus of one of the Knesset committees of inquiry being demanded by Israel Beiteinu, although it was overshadowed by the proposal for the Knesset to set up a committee to investigate the sources of funding of NGOs identified with the Left.

You’ve probably heard of that proposal.

You were certainly meant to. A committee of inquiry is, after all, largely declarative. It has no real means of implementing its findings and there is no guarantee that the groups in the spotlight will even agree to cooperate with the investigation – except, of course, that it would give them massive free publicity.

Likud ministers Bennie Begin, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan, as well as Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, were among the many who pointed out that a parliamentary committee is not the right place for such an investigation.

The police, not the Knesset, should investigate suspected illegalities – as Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman of all people must know by now, after a decade of what the British politely call “helping the police with their inquiries.”

And, of course, there are already other organizations, such as NGO Monitor, which examine the issue of funding.

No wonder Israeli commentators have been struggling to pronounce the word “McCarthyism.” This is not just a slippery slope; it’s a slippery slope with land mines.

Defending the committee of inquiry, Lieberman accused the NGOs of “collaborating with terrorists” and declared right-wing ministers and MKs who opposed it “traitors to the national camp.”

On a roll, Lieberman and his MKs have more declarative legislation in the pipeline, including a proposal that would ban Arabs from living in Jewish communities.

Which brings us back to the unholy letter of the rabbis. At the moment, it’s hard to tell who’s causing the country greater harm both at home and abroad: the leftist groups championing human rights (but largely ignoring the rights of Jews); the rabbis and their spouses more intent on attacking the non-Jews than educating their own children; or the foreign minister probing NGOs for political gain.

They all have an agenda.

“I can’t figure out whether you’re right-wing or left-wing,” a reader recently told me, ignoring the possibility that I could be anywhere in the very wide space on the spectrum between the two.

Having a herd whose members don’t think for themselves is handy if you happen to be looking after goats, but it’s not healthy in a democracy.

I just share my opinions. You’re free to agree or disagree – thank heavens.

The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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