Earlier this month I attended a conference organized by the World Zionist Organization aimed at countering world anti-Semitism. Growing up in a North-Shore suburb, surrounded by thousands of Jews ranging from Orthodox to Reform, I was truly astounded to see the extent to which worldwide Jewry must struggle. With the last survivors of the Holocaust now passing on, those that remain are playing witness to rising levels of violence and hate across Europe and around the world.
The landmark vote at the United Nations General Assembly on November 29, where member-states overwhelmingly endorsed an upgrade of Palestine’s status at the UN to that of non-member observer, has caused much discussion and disagreement in the Jewish world and beyond. Whether this event is being used as a shortcut to statehood which undermines a negotiated settlement to the conflict, a largely Israeli take, or an opportunity to breathe new life into the peace process, the view of the Palestinian Authority, remains to be seen.
Africa, which makes up over a quarter of the UN’s membership, gave its overwhelming backing to the resolution. 46 African states voted for it; whilst five abstained (Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Rwanda, and Togo) and three (Equatorial Guinea, Liberia and Madagascar) were not present. Analysts, including Pan African scholar Sitinga Kachipande, have noted that this display of support is even more remarkable in light of the significant economic and political ties most of these countries have to the United States.
Israel faced elections on the 22 January, and as encouraging this is as a reminder of the State’s unique democratic tradition in a region plagued by tyrants and autocracies, there is unfortunately also the need to despair. The current political discourse indicates that although Israel does not lack for leaders, there is an acute lack of uniting and sensible leadership to guide the State through its current challenges. On the right, Likud has no shortage of scapegoats to explain the lack of progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians or in creating hard-hitting social reforms to support the weaker segments as well as to prevent a further brain drain of Israel’s young and brightest. The feasibility of Prime Minister Netanyahu implementing his Bar Ilan vision for a two-state solution is eroding with the same pace that centre-right Likud politicians are being replaced with hawkish hardliners on the party’s Knesset list. Religious sectorial interests determined to secure funding to bolster their own political position of power, notwithstanding potential detrimental effects on State finances and security. Finally, on the rapidly rising far right, the winning argument is that the State should be free to act as it wants no matter how the world evaluates its actions. The standard seems to be that anyone that criticises Israel’s policies from the outside can be ignored as he, she or it probably hates Israel anyway.
It is understandable that our community is deeply unhappy with Mahmoud Abbas's decision to put the case of Palestine before the General Assembly. We have long made a distinction between the bilateral negotiations envisioned by Resolution 242 and the "internationalization of the conflict" that would essentially use the international community as a cudgel to pressure Israel into concessions.
There is also a good legal case that by recognizing Palestine as a state, the Palestinians would also take on the obligations that come with statehood, and thus, Israel would not be subject to the occupied/occupier analysis and the two-state solution, rather than a one-state solution, would be further ensconced in international law. I think, however, that since the vote is largely symbolic, the international community will continue to criticize whatever Israel does over the Green Line, since the criticism was always politically motivated to begin with. I also think prosecutions of Israeli soldiers at the International Criminal Court are unlikely both because of the political considerations and because Israel has a viable judicial system and can investigate its own soldiers.
On November 29, the anniversary of the 1947 UN General Assembly vote to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into "an Arab state and Jewish state," the assembly will vote on a new draft resolution recognizing Palestine as a nonmember observer state. A majority vote in favor is all but guaranteed given the near-automatic support from the nonaligned and Islamic blocs and some other delegations.
As Europe sets its eyes on the upcoming U.S. Presidential Election, will the continent find its geopolitical clout unable to influence the calculus of Washington’s foreign policy for the region and beyond?
As a point of demarcation, it is essential to remember how the world looked when President Barak Obama took office three and a half years ago. Recalling the basic thinking the United States had about Europe at the very start of the Obama Presidency sheds light on how transatlantic ties have evolved over the course of his first term.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” Nelson Mandela.
These wise words from a South African icon are the inspiration behind the extraordinary Moshal Scholarship Program. Founded in 2009 by Durban-born internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist Martin Moshal, the program aims to provide financial support to promising young students who would otherwise not have access to tertiary education. Believing that higher education builds bridges from impoverishment to economic freedom, the Moshal Scholarship Program provides students with access to university and thereby endeavours to break the cycle of poverty. By opening the doors to a better life the lives of the students, their families and communities are also uplifted. The Moshal Scholarship Program already supports over 250 students with full scholarships at top universities across South Africa and Israel, with the first cohort of students graduating at the end of this year.
Recent events in Syria include repeated human right offenses such as systematic torture, grave limitations of personal freedoms and religious prosecution, as well as over 15,000 civilian casualties from massacres in Homs, Hula and al-Qubair, with some attacks explicitly targeting women and children. These offenses are all results of an oppressive and ruthless leader using brute force to silence any opposition striving for human rights and democracy. The Syrian military is carrying out these outrageous actions, and Bashar al Assad has undeniably proven those commentators who thought his UK education and background would usher in a different era of leadership as naïve wishful thinkers.
The recent toppling of 43 gravestones of Jews in Vienna's Central Cemetery suggests that anti-Semitism is alive and well in Austria, but this doesn't tell the whole story.
Austria's relationship with its Jewish present and past is actually complex and filled with nuance. On one hand, as I witnessed on a recent AJC ACCESS trip there, its government is dogged in its efforts to express contrition and foster remembrance for the Holocaust. On the other hand, one senses that Austrians want to be done with the past and move on. This internal conflict is difficult for Austrians to bear, but they have to bear it because their parents and grandparents did not.
Anti-Israel activists have been sponsoring intense campaigns of intimidation, emotional blackmail and misinformation to encourage prominent musicians to boycott Israel by not performing there, as reported in this paper on June 4 ("Stars under fire for concerts in Israel"). These activists claim that they are acting in the name of peace, but in reality what they are actually doing is precisely the opposite. They are participating in a new version of a decades-old effort to reject any co-existence with Israel.
What’s even more ludicrous and hypocritical about efforts to culturally boycott Israel is that they ignore a compelling reality of today’s Middle East. Even as activists in Western states demand that artists refuse to have any association with Israel, the opposite is actually happening in the Middle East. There, despite decades of boycotts, people from Turkey to Iran are embracing the works of Israeli musicians in increasing numbers, often at great personal risk.