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BICOM Daily Briefing December 1 2003

Last updated: 2003-12-01

All the Israeli papers lead with today’s signing of the Geneva initiative, with wide coverage also in the UK press with The Guardian featuring a piece by Sharon Sadeh on the initiative. The Times reports that the Israeli Tourist Board is to invest £2 million in a new campaign to promote Israel to UK holidaymakers. Meanwhile, the Daily Express warns that the UK is a target for suicide bombers. Barbara Amiel writes in The Daily Telegraph on the problems of anti-Semitism while Saturday’s Guardian contains an article by Oxford academic Emanuele Ottolenghi on anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Sunday’s Observer features a piece on last week’s interview with four former heads of the Shin Bet internal security service.

The meeting between US special Middle East envoy William Burns and senior Israelis is covered in Yediot Ahronot and Ma’ariv. Moves to dismantle six illegal outposts are reported in Haaretz, as are the results of an investigation by the IDF which reveals that a man claimed to have been killed in military operations by IDF forces was in fact killed by his brother during a family argument.

Quotes of the Day:

Mofaz briefs the cabinet on fence, Abu Ala-Sharon meeting:

Shaul Mofaz Minister of Defence (Israel Radio, 30/11): “Its contribution to security has already been proven. The separation fence has reduced the flow of terrorism into Israel by hundreds of per cent.”

Shaul Mofaz (Jerusalem Post, 30/11): “We are willing to talk with Abu Ala, but not about a two-way cease fire, but rather our demand for an end to terrorism …We will not enter into an agreement other than one based on implementing the security steps stipulated in the road map.”

US stresses commitment to the Road Map:

William Burns, US envoy to the Middle East (Jerusalem Post, 1/12): “[The road map is the] way to get started, that's the way to move in the direction a two-state solution so important to the interests of both the Palestinians and Israelis."

Chief Rabbi warns of rising anti-Semitism:

Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks (The Times, 1/12): “The 21st century should have moved beyond an age in which Jews are afraid to walk the streets and places of worship are bombed while congregations are at prayer. Europe in particular must know from its own history that these are warning signs and if they are ignored they will not go away.”

Behind the News:

Survey shows no fixed opinions on Geneva Accord, but support spreads to the Likud:

The Geneva Accord, an unofficial peace plan, is to be signed today at a ceremony in Geneva. All those involved in creating the Accord will be present, as will others such as former US president, Jimmy Carter and the senior aide to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Osama el-Baz.

According to a Haaretz survey published on Sunday, 31 percent of Israelis support the Geneva initiative, with 38 percent against it. Some 20 percent of the respondents said they had yet to form a definite opinion on the issue. Significantly, 13 percent of Likud voters support the Geneva initiative, despite the fact that all Likud leaders, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, have vehemently opposed it.
Around 25 percent of the respondents believe that if a final peace deal is achieved with the Palestinians, it will be similar to the understandings reached in Geneva; some 22 percent express the opposite view. Most of the respondents, however, have little faith in general: they remain disappointed with Arafat and the Oslo agreements. Hence, 32 percent of the respondents said no final settlement will be achieved with the Palestinians.

EU commissioned report on anti-Semitism suppressed because of findings:

A report commissioned by the European Union on anti-Semitism has been suppressed because of its disturbing findings. The report, commissioned in October 2002 and submitted in February 2003 found that anti-Semitic incidents in the monitoring period were committed predominantly by right-wing extremists or radical Islamists and young Muslims. The worry is that publishing the report would lead to a rise in Islamophobia in Europe.

For more information on this matter, please see BICOM (Weekend brief 29-30 November 2003).

Silwan Gang members sentenced to 36 life sentences for terror attacks in Jerusalem:

Two Palestinians convicted of masterminding a series of suicide bombings in 2002 were sentenced yesterday in an Israeli military court to 36 consecutive life terms. Mohammed Hassan Arman and Walid Anjas were convicted for their roles in the bombings of Jerusalem's Moment Cafe, in which 11 people died; the Sheffield Club in Rishon Lezion, south of Tel Aviv, in which 15 people died; and the cafeteria at the Hebrew University Mount Scopus campus, in which 9 people died. The attacks also wounded 210 people. Military courts typically add one life sentence for large numbers of nonfatal casualties.

The pair were part of a group of Hamas militants based in Silwan, a village within Jerusalem municipal boundaries. The two were also involved in an attempt to blow up the Pi-Gelilot fuel depot and in laying an explosive charge on the railway near Lod.

In handing down the sentences, the three-judge panel wrote, "the looks on their faces and the smiles of the accused when the prosecutor mentioned the victims cannot leave any doubt about their lack of conscience."

UK religious leaders to unite in condemning wave of European anti-Semitism:

Anglican and Roman Catholic leaders in Britain are to join the Chief Rabbi in condemning the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe. The religious leaders hope to issue a joint declaration before Christmas and are likely to cite recent attacks on synagogues and cemeteries in Britain, Germany, France and Turkey. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks is to join the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and Rabbi Albert Friedlander in speaking out in their capacity as joint presidents of the Council of Christians and Jews.

Comment and Opinion:

Barbara Amiel (The Telegraph, 1/12): “In the Middle East, where countries such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia regurgitate the Protocols of Zion and the Damascus Blood libel, one understands the agenda. Behind their anti-Semitism is the elimination of the Jewish state of Israel. More baffling is a BBC programme earnestly explaining that Egypt's newspaper cartoons showing a series of evil-looking and exaggeratedly hook-nosed Jews manipulating America "may seem bizarre, racist and anachronistic to outsiders" but are really only "symbolic" of a desire to support the Palestinians and are based on "no historical hatred of Jews as a race".

What can one make of such a programme? The choice of interviewees are a New York Jew converted to Islam and teaching at the Cairo University, and some nameless "young Egyptians" in coffee shops. They "hate Israelis" but regard "the Jews as our cousins". The programme seems to have no grasp of what it is to be an unbeliever and a Jew in an Islamic theocracy: better under the Mameluke sultans than under the Crusaders or Nasser, but second-class citizens nevertheless, always in fear of anti-Semitic violence. Is such an interviewing technique selective to the point of being anti-Semitic or is it just historically illiterate?

Up-to-date anti-Semitism awards the British cartoon-of-the-year prize to an illustration from the Independent that could happily have graced the pages of Der Sturmer: a vicious caricature of the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, naked, eating a Palestinian infant. One cannot imagine a British newspaper running a similar caricature of Yasser Arafat or, indeed, his supporter, European Commission president Romano Prodi, even though their money funds some of today's most murderous terrorists.

Emanuele Ottolenghi (The Guardian, 29/11): “Is there a link between the way Israel's case is presented and anti-semitism? Israel's advocates protest that behind criticisms of Israel there sometimes lurks a more sinister agenda, dangerously bordering on anti-semitism. Critics vehemently disagree. In their view, public attacks on Israel are neither misplaced nor the source of anti-Jewish sentiment: Israel's behaviour is reprehensible and so are those Jews who defend it.

Jewish defenders of Israel are then depicted by their critics as seeking an excuse to justify Israel, projecting Jewish paranoia and displaying a "typical" Jewish trait of "sticking together", even in defending the morally indefensible. Israel's advocates deserve the hostility they get, the argument goes; it is they who should engage in soul-searching.

There is no doubt that recent anti-semitism is linked to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And it is equally without doubt that Israeli policies sometimes deserve criticism. There is nothing wrong, or even remotely anti-semitic, in disapproving of Israeli policies. Nevertheless, this debate - with its insistence that there is a distinction between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism - misses the crucial point of contention. Israel's advocates do not want to gag critics by brandishing the bogeyman of anti-semitism: rather, they are concerned about the form the criticism takes.”

“The fact that accusations of anti-semitism are dismissed as paranoia, even when anti-semitic imagery is at work, is a subterfuge. Israel deserves to be judged by the same standards adopted for others, not by the standards of utopia. Singling out Israel for an impossibly high standard not applied to any other country begs the question: why such different treatment?”

“Were you outraged when Golda Meir claimed there were no Palestinians? You should be equally outraged at the insinuation that Jews are not a nation.”

Israel errs like all other nations: it is normal. What anti-Zionists find so obscene is that Israel is neither martyr nor saint. Their outrage refuses legitimacy to a people's national liberation movement. Israel's stubborn refusal to comply with the invitation to commit national suicide and thereby regain a supposedly lost moral ground draws condemnation. Jews now have the right to self-determination, and that is what the anti-semite dislikes so much. ”

Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo (New York Times, 1/12): “We know that our accord is not universally popular in the Middle East. Indeed, opposition to the agreement began to mount even before our joint document was made public. Hard-liners in Israel have criticized the details of the agreement as well as the private, diplomatic process we used for reaching it. In the West Bank and Gaza, meanwhile, rejectionists in Hamas and Islamic Jihad have held angry rallies attacking the initiative and those who shaped it.

Yet, in spite of this opposition, we are pleased that the accord seems to be having a positive impact on the negotiating environment. Copies of our document have been sent to every Israeli household and published in the major Palestinian newspapers. More significant, a recent survey conducted by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and the International Crisis Group in Washington found that more than 50 percent of Palestinians and Israelis support the fundamental principles contained in the document.

It is important that this interest also be felt strongly in the international community. We are pleased that Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, and Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, have voiced their support for the initiative. It is even more important, in our view, that the Bush administration and Congress support our efforts and re-engage in the peace process. Secretary of State Colin Powell's praise for the accord was gratifying, but more American voices are needed to ensure that progress continues.

In the end, however, the Geneva Accord is only a "virtual" agreement. The decision-makers — in the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, in Washington and elsewhere — can use it, modify it or ignore it. As private citizens, we have done about as much as anybody can do in a situation that has become totally unbearable. Now it is up to our leaders.” 

Bambi Sheleg (Maariv, 1/12): “The cartoon of Ariel Sharon biting into a Palestinian baby that won first place last week in the British political cartoon competition is another high-point in the process of de-legitimisation of Israel in Europe. The award to the “Independent’s” chief cartoonist, Dave Brown, goes along with a decision last week to shelve a report on anti-semitic remarks prepared by EUMC, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.”


Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM