Global Voices Posts (93)
This past week I had the pleasure of visiting my friend and colleague at the Lauder Business School in Vienna, Austria for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. As an observant Jew, living in Bologna always poses a challenge, but the difficulties are exponentially greater during the Jewish holidays. With a community of just twelve moderately religious families, finding a place to eat, celebrate, or even pray and learn can be a huge challenge. With that in mind, I asked my friend if I could come for a visit.
The Jewish community of South Africa has played a pivotal role in the unfolding history of our country. From pioneering the establishment of cities and founding industries to playing leadership roles in the anti-Apartheid struggle, Jewish South Africans have made great contributions. Even today, many Jews are passionately committed to making a difference in the lives of their fellow South Africans. No matter what part of the globe they may currently call home, a key group of Jewish South Africans work to ensure that the dream of a better future for all is realized.
Protection Challenges: The Role of Faith-Based Organizations and Communities
Even as you read this article, the crisis in Syria is worsening and the estimated 600,000 people who have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war there face another day of struggling to survive. They are just some of the millions who have been displaced in conflicts the world over. Ethnic tensions and inequitable access to land have also led to renewed violence in the east and north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, resulting in the internal displacement of over 2.2 million people. The UNHCR estimates that almost 70,000 people have fled into neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.
During Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) many people put this famous poem on their Facebook page:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.
Coming from a Reform background, my choice to take a gap year in Israel caught quite a few close friends by surprise. Whereas I am full of pride for my faith and my people, I have never been religious by any traditional measure. Luckily, my evolution to a “good” Jew was hardly a challenge while living in Jerusalem, where almost everything is kosher and there are synagogues on nearly every corner.
I had the privilege of attending a seminar organized by the European Union of Jewish Students in Geneva, which gave me a unique entry-point into the world of international diplomacy, human rights, and international humanitarian law. Entering the conference with little background on either the Council itself or international humanitarian law, I was excited to see how the international community protects the rights of millions of struggling people worldwide. While much of what I discovered over the course of the seminar left me in sadness and dismay, what struck me most about the week was the incredible reception we received—not just as students, but as partners.
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.