Jewish parliamentarians from around the world convened on Wednesday to discuss with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat ways to fight anti-Israel sentiment in their countries.
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The International Conference of Jewish Parliamentarians (ICJP) met for a second day in the Knesset, where they were briefed by Livnat about the expected Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood in the UN General Assembly in September.
“They have an automatic majority in the UN,” Livnat explained to lawmakers at the World Jewish Conferenceorganized event. “We want to get a quality minority.”
“We have Canada, Italy and other quality countries. We know we won’t have a majority, but we see more and more countries joining in.”
Livnat pointed out that “the world is only slowly starting to condemn places like Syria, where the government massacres its people,” but is quick to criticize Israel, “an island of democracy and sanity.”
The minister hailed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s peace-making efforts, saying that it was “an extreme move for a Likud leader to call for a Palestinian state,” and blaming the Palestinians for the lack of direct talks.
“They won’t negotiate because they don’t want to recognize Israel,” Livnat said. “They want a Palestinian state, and another Palestinian state where Israel is today.”
“This is hard to explain. It’s easier to say ‘The Jews are bad, they’re oppressing the Arabs.’ It’s your job to use these facts to fight delegitimization, and it isn’t an easy job,” the minister told the ICJP.
Rivlin told the lawmakers that, while diplomatic issues are important, it is essential to discuss the state of the Jewish people.
“In recent years, there is a debate about the connection between Jews of the world to the State of Israel,” Rivlin said. “Many young Jews ask themselves if we exist as a people.”
“Jewish peoplehood emphasizes not only our joint identity, but our commitment to value-driven, Jewish life. We are defined by full, Jewish lives as individuals and as a people,” he said.
“For me, a full Jewish life is in the Land of Israel,” Rivlin said, “but I recognize and appreciate Jews who have chosen other identities in the Jewish civilization.” Jewish lawmakers outside of Israel, Rivlin said, are “responsible for the continuing existence, growth and prosperity of the Jewish people.”
Baroness Ruth Deech of the UK used the forum to address the importance of Israel’s public relations abroad.
“Israeli representation should be giving facts and figures. We must have a plan of action,” Deech said, suggesting that Israeli officials write articles in the national press and not only in Jewish media abroad.
Deech, a member of the British House of Lords, also took issue with the use of the word “refugees” to describe Palestinians.
“For 60 years, we have allowed the word ‘refugees’ to mean something it never means anywhere else in the world. Refugees are only those who are dispossessed in the immediate time,” she explained.
If the Palestinian definition of refugee were used around the world, “everyone around this table would be a refugee,” she told the ICJP members. “There is no right of return to your original house. If that was true, many of us around this table would be going to Eastern Europe.”
“If there will be a resolution in September [to declare a Palestinian state], they will have a land,” Deech said. “You cannot have that land and also say you are a refugee.”
Sen. Samuel Cabanchik of Argentina called for “re-legitimization” of Israel, with culture and education as a key component.
“We need to have a specific agenda,” he said. “Human rights, women’s rights are flags that can be used as tools to help Israel.”
Cabanchik said Livnat was an example of how women are fully integrated in Israeli society, in contrast to other Middle Eastern countries. Georgian MP Elena Tevdoradze agreed, saying that Jewish female lawmakers should work together.
Tevdoradze, who chairs her parliament’s Committee on Human Rights and Civil Integration, which deals with Georgia’s 17 minorities, pointed out that Israel’s treatment of its Arab minority could also be a positive talking point.
“We sometimes let these issues slip away from our attention, but it is interesting how these matters are taken into consideration in Israel,” Tevdoradze said.
Sen. Alberto Couriel of Uruguay said he was playing “devil’s advocate,” and called for Israel to be less reliant on the US.
“Like other Latin Americans, I am concerned by the fact that we are losing the battle for international public opinion about the Israel- Palestinian conflict,” Couriel said. “Our role should be to make sure this public opinion changes.”
“Actions taken for Israel’s defense affect public opinion. Security is probably more important, but you are losing international
opinion – perhaps this is because you think the US will always be there
to defend your state and veto any resolution,” Couriel said.
If this is true, the senator said, his own work in Uruguay’s parliament
is “less important.” He warned that “the US is very strong at the
moment, but international power is going to change. China is becoming very important.”
In response, Livnat said “nothing is more important than protecting the people of Israel.”
“People talk around the world, and it’s true we can’t always rely on the
US. We also have excellent ties with China,” Livnat said, adding that
“next year will be Israel Year in China. The Chinese love Israel and
admire the Jews, which is an unusual phenomenon.”