British Prime Minister David Cameron..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In his groundbreaking speech on tackling Muslim extremism in the United Kingdom last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron made the telling point that the only way to win what he termed “the struggle of our generation” was to counter extremism “by standing up and promoting our shared British values.”
For once, there was no English understatement in Cameron’s remarks. Choosing the city of Birmingham with its large Muslim population as the location for this landmark address, Cameron rammed home the point that people don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which then create a climate in which extremists can flourish.
In particular, Cameron stressed the dangers of the conspiracy theories so prevalent in parts of the Muslim community, such as the belief that “Jews exercise malevolent power; or that Western powers, in concert with Israel, are deliberately humiliating Muslims, because they aim to destroy Islam. In this warped worldview, such conclusions are reached – that 9/11 was actually inspired by Mossad to provoke the invasion of Afghanistan.”
In today’s era of political correctness and fear of giving offense to the Muslim world, it is rare for a European politician to highlight the anti-Semitism driving so much of Islamic extremism. In so doing, the British prime minister has set down an important landmark on the road to combating Islamic extremism in the Western world.
And unlike our own prime minister, the self-declared expert on the war against terror whose default mode is to spread division and apocalyptically warn of an impending Holocaust, Cameron also understands that a national leader needs to inspire their citizens with a vision of a shared goal, and in his Birmingham speech he did precisely this.
“We are all British,” the Conservative prime minister said, outlining what he believed was needed to create a successful, multi-faith, multi-racial country. “We respect democracy and the rule of law. We believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of worship, equal rights regardless of race, sex, sexuality or faith.”
Reading this made me envious. Which of the parties in our coalition government could whole-heartedly affix their signature to such a statement? None of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties believe in any of the above, particularly if you are both a woman and, God-forbid, a Reform Jew.
The very name Bayit Yehudi meanwhile makes it clear that this nationalist party’s concern is only for the country’s Jewish citizens, while the party with the most inclusive name, Kulanu (“all of us”), of course does not have any Arabs among its Knesset members, despite Arabs forming 20 percent of the country’s population.
The Likud’s witch hunt against left-wing non-governmental organizations with which it disagrees shows the ruling party’s total lack of understanding of the importance of freedom of speech, and as for freedom of the press, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to destroy Yediot Aharonot and close down Channel 10 television show just how committed he is to a free press as the bedrock of democracy.
And with last week’s appointment of Yisrael Beytenu MK Robert Ilatov to the panel that selects Israel’s judges, we stepped even further away from the vision of a liberal democracy as described by Britain’s prime minister.
Ilatov’s remarks in a radio interview that “a judge who is unwilling to sing Hatikva cannot be a judge in the State of Israel, which is the nation state of the Jewish people” – in other words, Ilatov does not believe Arab citizens can be judges in this country – should send a chill down the spine of anyone who still believes it is possible to have both a Jewish and democratic state.
As President Reuven Rivlin pointed out a few years ago when he was speaker of the Knesset, it pushes the bounds of credibility to expect Israeli Arabs to join in when Hatikva is sung. No less patriotic that Ilatov, Rivlin candidly noted: “I can’t force a non-Jew to sing ‘As long as in the heart, within, a Jewish soul still yearns.’” Until the country comes to its senses and reworks Hatikva to make it a more inclusive anthem representing the whole population, the most we can demand of any Israeli, be they a regular citizen, a judge or even chief rabbi, is to stand respectfully when the national anthem is played.
Thankfully, Bayit Yehudi Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked put Ilatov in his place when she commented: “I won’t be looking to see if he [a judge] is mouthing the words to Hatikva or not. A judge needs to be selected first and foremost according to skills and criteria,” but the very fact Ilatov felt free to make his remarks shows just how far we are from creating a society with shared values.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.