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BICOM Daily Briefing November 25 2003

Last updated: 2003-11-25

The Guardian runs a series of articles today on the issue of renewed antisemitism in Europe. The reports include a depiction of Jewish life in France, and a survey of different views in Israel on the causes of the renewed manifestations of this phenomenon. The Independent has a piece detailing the results of a poll showing majority Israeli and Palestinian support for a two-state solution. The Financial Times publishes an article by EU Commissioner on External Relations Chris Patten on the Road Map and the EU’s contribution to the Middle East peace process. The paper also has a piece on the subject of donations by international bodies to the Palestinian Authority. In the Israeli press, Ha‘aretz and the Jerusalem Post lead with articles on the latest moves in the diplomatic process, while Yediot Ahronot and Ma‘ariv both focus on the latest statements against a ceasefire by Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin.

Quotes of the Day:

Prime Minister Blair and French President Chirac in Joint Press Conference:

Tony Blair, Prime Minister (24/11): “Obviously the issue of Syria is one that has been discussed… We have had an engagement with Syria which has been an attempt by us to make sure that they play as constructive and positive a role as possible in the Middle East. That is what we want to see happening, together with an end to any support of any nature to any groups that are causing terrorist acts or difficulties in the Middle East. That is what we should carry on doing. It is important in the context of the Middle East peace process that we recognise, in the end, that it will have to move forward on all tracks, not just on one.”

Jacques Chirac, French President (24/11): “As far as the peace process in the Middle East is concerned… We believe that one should never despair of the process however difficult the process is. We realise how difficult it is. That means that within the existing framework we need to take further initiatives, for instance, by convening a meeting of the international conference… We very much sympathise and support what the UK is doing to facilitate further initiatives in the Middle East which will come in peace discussions around the table.”

Views on the diplomatic process

Ariel Sharon, Israeli Prime Minister (Haaretz, 25/11): “The best way is to make the Palestinians advance in the negotiations according to the road map…But only if they act to dismantle the terror infrastructures and to bring about a cease-fire will they also get to a Palestinian state.”

Chris Patten, EU Commissioner on External Affairs (Financial Times, 25/11): “I do not pretend that it is possible to buy stability in the Palestinian territories. But we cannot expect peace to take root unless ordinary people see the benefits of change and gain confidence that improved conditions are here to stay.”

Sheikh Yassin, Hamas Leader (Ha‘aretz, 25/11): “Without an Israeli withdrawal there can be no talk of stopping the fight…There can be no talk of a cease-fire at this point in time. As long as Palestinian civilians are victims of Israeli attacks, Israeli civilians will be victims.”

Behind the News:

Sharon reiterates support for ‘unilateral steps’; Palestinians, opposition skeptical:

PM Sharon yesterday repeated his statement in support of “unilateral steps, not as concessions, but for the good of the State of Israel.” The statements have led to wide discussion in the Israeli and world media, but have been greeted with scepticism by both Palestinians and Israeli opposition figures, and angry rejection by right wing Israelis (see below). Sharon has not detailed so far what precisely he means by ‘unilateral steps’, nor whether he intends to withdraw from settlements as part of such steps.

Yasser Arafat yesterday denounced such measures as a “plan to escape the implementation of the road map.”  Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) yesterday urged PM Sharon to “take serious and significant steps to renew the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians,” adding that “unilateral measures will have significance only if they constitute part of the implementation of the road map and UN resolutions.” Abu Ala also listed his conditions for agreeing to a ceasefire, which included the dismantling of Israel’s Security Fence, the lifting of the ‘siege’ on Arafat, and the freeing of Palestinian prisoners. Palestinian sources suggest that a meeting between Sharon and Abu Ala is likely to take place next week, after the ceremony for the signing of the unofficial Geneva Accords, and the summit of all Palestinian factions in Cairo.

Heated exchanges at Likud faction meeting:

PM Sharon was fiercely criticised at yesterday’s Likud faction meeting over his statements regarding unilateral steps. In particular, the question of unilateral withdrawal from settlements was the subject of harsh exchanges.  MK Yehiel Hazan, head of the lobby for the settlements in the West Bank, demanded that the Prime Minister deny reports of his intention to evacuate settlements. Sharon refused to deny such reports, although he did deny reports claiming that the government is planning to change the route of the Security Fence, declaring “We’re speeding up construction despite the difficulties.”

In response to Sharon’s promise that he will bring all measures to a Likud faction debate before bringing them to the Cabinet, MK Gilad Erdan, who has been the most vociferous in his opposition to Sharon, responded “If you decide in a year to divide Jerusalem, will you bring that to the faction's approval too?" Erdan added, “This is an essential change in the Likud's policy, not a formality. Perhaps our place is not here, or perhaps someone else's place is not here.” Sharon responded “There is no need to be upset by reports of journalists who write more than they know. I said one phrase - that I don't rule out unilateral moves. No need to get excited. Nothing has happened yet."

Israel agrees to labelling of exports to the European Union

Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert announced yesterday during a meeting with with EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy in Brussels that Israel will begin labelling exports to the EU, which will make possible identification of which goods came from within the Green Line, and which came from the West Bank and Gaza areas. Until now, Israel had refused to take any measures to allow such a distinction. Commenting on this move to Israel Radio, Olmert remarked that “All these places are part of the Land of Israel, it will be written, 'made in Tel Aviv', 'made in Barkan', 'made in Safed', 'made in Ariel', period." Reports suggested that the Foreign Ministry was unhappy with this decision, considering that it pre-empts political negotiation over the question of borders.

In talks, Olmert also suggested the establishment of mixed Israeli-Palestinian free trade zones, and Lamy responded that he would consider granting customs breaks to such zones and to all joint Israeli-Palestinian economic and commercial activity. Progress was also made on agreement to allow joint manufacture of goods by Israeli and European companies, which would be marketed as European produced within the EU area.

Comment and Opinion:

Mark Steyn (Daily Telegraph 25/11): “The other day, a producer called me up and asked if I wanted to take part in a discussion about an American cartoon strip - to whit, B.C. by Johnny Hart, which has been running in a gazillion newspapers around the world for as long as I can remember.”

“It's set in a modified caveman era, which is to say that, like The Flintstones, its characters enjoy certain accoutrements not necessarily consistent with the time period. On this particular day's strip, Johnny Hart shows us the caveman walking up a hill at night - there is a crescent moon in the sky - and heading for a wooden outhouse, with a crescent moon on the door, as outhouses traditionally have, at least in America. My own outhouse in New Hampshire certainly did, before it was dashed to smithereens in a hurricane (don't worry, I wasn't inside at the time). Anyway, we next see a sound effect - "SLAM" - to indicate, presumably, the closing of the outhouse door. The final frame shows a speech bubble coming from within the outhouse with the words: "Is it just me, or does it stink in here?" The Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) decided this was not an outhouse joke, but an Islamophobic slur disguised as an outhouse joke.

A reader in the Washington Post had noticed the six crescent moons in the strip, and suggested this indicated the real target of the gag. Cair drew attention to the fact that the sound effect of the alleged door slamming was stacked vertically, in a pillar-like shape, and thus could reasonably be read as "SLAM" contained within the overall shape of the letter "I" - or "ISLAM". America's most prominent mainstream Muslim lobby group, (Cair) has organised rallies that managed to climax with the singing of "No to the Jews, descendants of the apes." Its chairman, Omar Ahmad, has said that "Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant". The Koran "should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth". But its supply of White House invites and presidential photo-ops never seems to dry up, and its willingness to see offence everywhere is treated respectfully by the media.

Meanwhile, while Islamic lobby groups and the most distinguished semiotics professors in America are analysing Johnny Hart's outhouse joke, the European Union's Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia has decided to shelve its report on the rise of anti-Semitism on the Continent. The problem, as reported in The Telegraph, is that the survey had found that "many anti-Semitic incidents were carried out by Muslim and pro-Palestinian groups", and so a "political decision" was taken not to publish it because of "fears that it would increase hostility towards Muslims". Let's go back over that slowly and try not to get a headache: the EU's main concern about an actual epidemic of hate crimes against Jews is that it could provoke a hypothetical epidemic of hate crimes against Muslims. You couldn't ask for a better illustration of the uselessness of these thought-police bodies: they're fine for chastising insufficiently guilt-ridden whites in an ongoing reverse-minstrel show of cultural self-abasement, but they don't have the stomach for confronting real racism. A tolerant society is so reluctant to appear intolerant, it would rather tolerate intolerance.”

Bret Stephens (Jerusalem Post 25/11): “Italian Deputy Premier Gianfranco Fini heads the National Alliance, his country's post-Fascist party. What should we care about more: his pro-Fascist past or his pro-Israel present? First, a sharp distinction should be made between politicians and parties that are adopting fascist sympathies for political gain, and those who are moving away from an appeal to racism, anti-Semitism, or extreme nationalism. Austria's Joerg Haider, for example, was deservedly ostracized for gravitating toward neo-fascism by issuing barely coded anti-Semitic and xenophobic references.

But Fini seems to be an example of the opposite: a political leader who is determinedly transforming a neo-Fascist party into a democratic one. In a 1994 interview with La Stampa, Fini called Mussolini "the greatest statesman of the century." Since then, however, he has withdrawn this statement and argued that Italians must take responsibility for Mussolini's crimes, including the deportation of Jews to concentration camps. While visiting Yad Vashem yesterday, Fini continued on this path of repentance. "We have to condemn the shameful chapters in the history of our people and to try to understand why complacency, collaboration, and fear caused no reaction from many Italians in 1938 to the disgraceful, fascist race laws," he said.

The question, then, is whether Fini is sincere. Israel should avoid playing into the hands of those who want our stamp of legitimacy without truly facing their past support for fascism or Jew-hatred. Yet we must also be open to those who truly eschew hatred and wish to join the broad stream of liberal democratic politics. The evidence suggests that Fini is in the latter camp. Indeed, creating more such converts should be the objective of international campaigns to denounce neo-fascism. Then too, our own Left would do well to more vocally denounce the virulent anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism that has infected the European Left. Who in Europe is now at the forefront of portraying Israel as a colonial implant with no right to exist? The anti-Semites of the extreme Right and Left join forces in tarring Israel as a fascist state.

We should be encouraging extremists on both ends of the spectrum, in light of the new post-9/11 world, to rethink, repent, and to join the fight against the Islamic variant of fascism that threatens us all.

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