I was taken back in time this week. I was also taken aback. In the BC era, Before Corona, I visited the UK at the end of 2018 as a guest speaker at the Limmud conference taking place in Birmingham. It seems strange now to think of a massive gathering – some 2,000 people from more than 40 countries – taking place without masks and corona regulations. The novel coronavirus was still unheard of, a nightmare that didn’t exist outside dystopian movies for the average Limmud participant.
The panels were on a broad variety of subjects but one topic dominated the gathering – antisemitism and the British Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. COVID-19 was not known, but the spirit of ancient hatred of antisemitism was alive and kicking – in the gut.
Several attendees told me that they had rescinded their membership in the Labour Party, some of them after decades, particularly following revelations of Corbyn’s social media support for a mural with antisemitic tropes. There were speakers who warned against panic, but I didn’t meet anyone who completely dismissed the fears of growing antisemitism.
But that was meant to be a thing of the past. Several top Labour figures resigned; Corbyn was ousted; and the party revamped under Sir Keir Starmer promising a new uncompromising stand on antisemitism in its various manifestations. No more photos of party figures like Corbyn laying wreaths at the graves of Palestinian terrorists associated with the Munich Olympic Massacre or calling Hamas and Hezbollah “friends.”
The Labour Party Conference held this week in Brighton was meant to be a celebration of the new approach. On Sunday, the party introduced an independent process for handling complaints of antisemitism. Starmer proudly told party activists: “We have closed the door this evening to antisemitism in the Labour Party. We’ve turned our back on the dark chapter.”
Well, that door might have made a slamming noise, but it didn’t stay shut for long. Corbyn’s allies saw a window of opportunity and created enough of a cold blast to blow the door wide open again.
In a classic move, antisemitism was replaced by anti-Israel hatred: No problem with the Jews, just with the one and only Jewish state.
Delegates at Brighton on Monday managed to pass a motion labeling Israel an “apartheid state,” committing the party to implementing sanctions with “illegal Israeli settlements” and ending arms sales to Israel.
In the words of the opening clause of the “Israel and Palestine motion”: “[The] Conference condemns the ongoing Nakba in Palestine, Israel’s militarised violence attacking the Al Aqsa mosque, the forced displacements from Sheikh Jarrah and the deadly assault on Gaza.”
Starmer himself did not appear to accept the motion as party policy, but it was unnervingly similar to the events in US Congress the previous week when the small but vocal progressive wing of the Democratic Party managed to delay approval of funding for the lifesaving Iron Dome batteries for Israel.
I don’t want to labo(u)r the point, but the first clause alone could fill an entire column on anti-Israel tropes and labels. Take the use of the word “Nakba”: It is the Arabic for “catastrophe” and is used by the Palestinians to describe Israeli independence in 1948. If you see the existence of a sovereign Israeli state as a disaster that needs to be terminated, you are not promoting a move toward peace but the abolition of a country of nine million, the vast majority of them Jews. (Further on in the motion there was a call for a Palestinian “return” to Israel.)
Nakba is easy to translate; “Israel’s militarised violence attacking the Al Aqsa mosque” is harder to interpret. Presumably, it refers to the police arrests of rock-hurling, firebombing Palestinian rioters on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site and Islam’s third holiest. “The forced displacements from Sheikh Jarrah” are the evictions, which haven’t yet taken place, of a few Muslim families who are refusing to pay rent to Jewish landlords in a Jerusalem neighborhood. As for “the deadly assault on Gaza,” I’m torn between saying “Don’t get me started” and “Where do I begin?” The last serious IDF operation against Gaza started after Hamas launched rockets on Jerusalem – the Holy City, remember? – and continued to fire more than 4,500 rockets and mortars on Israeli civilians for 11 days.
The Hamas rocket assault started with an ultimatum in the afternoon of May 10, when Hamas demanded all Israeli security forces be removed from the Temple Mount and the Sheikh Jarrah by 6 p.m., or else it would attack. Well, at least in this case, the terrorist organization was true to its word.
Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, now in the 16th year of a four-year term, last week issued his own ultimatum in a prerecorded address to the UN General Assembly in New York. Calling for an international peace conference, Abbas said: “... Israel, the occupying power, has one year to withdraw from the Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967, including east Jerusalem.”
Abbas threatened-promised that if his demand is not met, the Palestinians will revoke their recognition of Israel and go to the International Court of Justice.
The international body that is meant to preserve world peace gave Abbas a platform to demand the ethnic cleansing of half a million Jews. The Palestinians are not willing to live with Jews and the international community is meant to ensure they don’t have to. Abbas’s demands were neither a peace plan nor progress. On the contrary. And Israelis are physically and emotionally scarred from the rounds of Palestinian terrorism that have accompanied peace processes from Oslo on – let alone the thousands of rockets launched on Israel after it completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s maiden speech to the UNGA on September 27 very noticeably avoided mentioning the Palestinians, focusing instead on the threat from a nearly-nuclear Iran and looking ahead to expanding the circle of peace with Arab and Muslim countries who seek to build a better future together.
“Attacking Israel doesn’t make you morally superior. Fighting the only democracy in the Middle East doesn’t make you ‘woke.’ Adopting clichés about Israel without bothering to learn the basic facts, well, that’s just plain lazy,” Bennett told the UN.
“For way too long, Israel was defined by wars with our neighbors. But this is not what Israel is about,” Bennett declared.
Amid all the coverage of the United Nations General Assembly opening in New York a different significant gathering that took place on Friday was almost overlooked. Some 300 Iraqi leaders, including prominent Sunni and Shi’ite figures, met at a conference in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and called for the normalization of ties with Israel.
Unfortunately, it was a case of one step forward, two steps back. Wisam al-Hardan, the leader of Sons of Iraq Awakening (Sahwa) movement, on Friday wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal that appeared under the headline “Iraq Should Join the Abraham Accords.”
Noting that many at the gathering had fought al-Qaeda and ISIS, he said, “We have a choice: tyranny and chaos, or legality, decency, peace and progress. The answer is clear.” He reportedly reiterated that message at the conference.
The closing statement by Dr. Sahar al-Tai, who is head of research at the Iraqi federal government’s Culture Ministry, read, “We demand our integration into the Abraham Accords. Just as these agreements provide for diplomatic relations between the signatories and Israel, we also want normal relations with Israel.
“No force, local or foreign, has the right to prevent this call.”
What was the response to this call for peace and prosperity? Instead of facing a brighter future, the participants, including Hardan and Tai, face arrest. An Iraqi court issued warrants as soon as news of the conference – organized by the New York-based think tank Center for Peace Communications – was published.
It is time to step back and look at the bigger picture: Going through the anti-Israel motions will not bring about peace.