Can Israel’s extensive pro-democracy demonstrations help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? 13th July 2023

Thursday 13th July at 7.30 pm on Zoom (UK time)

Can Israel’s extensive pro-democracy demonstrations help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Over recent months, hundreds of thousands of progressive-minded Israelis have demonstrated against extremist elements in Israel’s current right-wing government. There have been dozens of demonstrations on more than 24 consecutive weekends. On some days, up to 450,000 people have taken to the streets to protest against the government’s threat to the independence of the Israeli judiciary.

To give some idea of scale, if a similar percentage of the population took to the streets to protest in the UK, there would be 3.5 million demonstrators on British streets (i.e., 3.5 times the biggest demo in UK history!). However, the wider issue of the Occupation has not prominently featured so far. The demonstrations have all focused on the threat to internal Israeli democracy.

Our UK-wide Zoom event assessed not only the objectives and achievements of the vast Israeli demonstrations, but also asked how likely they are to contribute to the process of defending Palestinian human rights and ending the Occupation.

Our interview-style format put questions to our two guest panel members, Ashraf al-Ajrami and Ilan Baruch; attendees then had the opportunity to ask their own questions.

Ashraf al-Ajrami served as Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs in the Palestinian Authority (PA), and was Director of Israeli Affairs at the PA Information Ministry. He is now a journalist-writer, political analyst and peace activist.

Ambassador (ret) Ilan Baruch is former founder/director of the Palestinian Autonomy desk at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and took part in peace negotiations. He served as Ambassador in South Africa and neighbouring countries. After a 36-year-long diplomatic career, Baruch resigned from the Foreign Office in March 2011 on points of principle, and now chairs the Policy Working Group, which advocates internationally for a peaceful resolution between Israel and Palestine, based on the two-state paradigm.

This event was organised by Liberal Jews for Justice in Israel/Palestine. Here is the video recording of the event (transcript follows the video):

Caroline 00:03
All right, so a very warm welcome particularly to our two speakers. Ilan Baruch and Ashraf al Ajrami. Ashraf is a journalist, writer and political activist. He was born in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza. He is well placed to comment on Palestinian politics, as he’s served as Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs in the Palestinian Authority and as Director of Israeli Affairs at the Information Ministry. Since leaving government he has been active in the committee for interaction with Israeli society and he is Director of Damour, the Community Development Organisation aiming to strengthen impoverished Palestinian communities.

Caroline 00:46
Our second panellist is is Ilan Baruch, who grew up in Be’er Sheva, Israel, the son of German born refugees. And here I have to declare an interest because our parents were first cousins. Ilan has had a 36 year long career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, serving in Copenhagen, London and later as ambassador to the Philippines and South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. But he found himself increasingly at odds with the policies he had to represent, and resigned his post in 2011, stating that ‘government leaders have endorsed policies that outrage me.’ In 2016 he commented that ‘this is the most right wing government in the country’s history’. We’ll find out shortly if he’s changed his mind on this. In retirement Elon chairs the policy working group with a peaceful two state solution as its goal

Caroline 01:36
So this will take the format of a panel and we are delighted to have as our interviewer Susie Jacobs, who recently joined the Organising Group of Liberal Jews for Justice in Israel Palestine, and also very kindly stepped in at the last minute when our first interviewer became ill at the beginning of the week, and our replacement interviewer got stuck in Crete. So thank you very much, Susie, and over to you.

Susie 02:45
Hello, can you hear me? Yes. Okay. So the format that this is going to take is, I’ll be asking questions of each of you. Occasionally, I’ll ask the same question, and I’ll let you know about that. So we’ll start and – this is an impossible task – but if you’re able to keep your answers not very long, we’d be grateful because we have about 14 minutes for both of your talks and your answers. Okay, so I’ll first ask Ilan, could you summarise the story of the democracy movement to date in Israel?

Ilan 03:39
Yes, but I would like to have one word about Ashraf and myself to give a context. We are close friends since 10 years or so, when we got an opportunity to acquaint ourselves to each other. And as I told Caroline earlier on, our first project was to establish an exploratory Palestinian Cultural Centre in Tel Aviv. It was a brilliant initiative, which gave us a lot of food for thought and results and feedback. And only financial difficulties barred us from continuing with this. And so, we were supposed to come to England for an advocacy talk in a joint Palestinian Israeli group last March, when we found that the British Consulate in Jerusalem had failed to provide Ashraf with an entry visa on time for him to come with us, and so he had to stay behind. And this webinar is in a way, a token opportunity for him to complete his his ‘missing in action’, if you want, in March. Now, obviously, the dramatic events unfolding in Israel are generating a lot of interest overseas. And, just to sum it up in one sentence, I would say that democracy in Israel was never fortified, neither in a two house system nor in the Constitution. It was more of a laissez faire culture of political dynamics in the Israeli state, than a deeply thought through structure of political discourse and dynamics. And so now with a an extreme right wing Jewish supremacist political coalition there is strong interest on the side of government to deny us on the left side any chance in the future to win over the power of government and to actually consolidate the whole of power. And that is connected to the Israel Palestine situation because one of the principal objectives of this government is to complete the annexation of the West Bank so that it becomes partly harmonised into Israel itself. And that is in the nutshell, what we are talking about.

Susie 07:19
Okay …….{Zoom technical hitch}

Susie 07:21
Thank you. And to Ashraf. Thank you Ilan. To Ashraf, if I may address you by your first name. Thank you. That’s okay. Could you outline… some Pal… I was going to say Palestinian attitudes but obviously there’s not just one or even several, but maybe outline some different Palestinian attitudes or views about the democracy demonstrations in Israel and Palestine.

Ashraf 08:05
So we see this government as the most extremist government ever in Israel. And we see that this government intends to destroy the ability to have a two state solution and destroy the hope of having a peaceful solution between the two sides. It means that they want to, they want to annex the Palestinian occupied territories, especially areas in West Bank and to prevent contiguity of the Palestinian future state. And this, since there is no ability to have Palestinian self determination and Palestinian sovereignty and an independent state, and because of that, we see that the protest movement in Israel is an opportunity first to make this government collapse or change its mind – at least to go to early elections in Israel, but not keeping this government on board and letting it implement its policy to destroy the hope of peace and the ability to have a two state solution. We know that the protests in Israel are not related directly to the Palestinian Israeli conflict – it is related to the democracy in Israel and to the coup against the judiciary system in Israel. But in one aspect it is also some way to prevent any kind of restriction from the high court against what the Israeli government can do in the West Bank. So it is also a political issue related to the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Because of that, we see that this protest movement brings maybe a hope to change in Israel.

Susie 10:39
Thank you. Great. Thanks. To Ilan: , could you say a bit about who is driving or organising the demonstrations? Obviously, there may be different groups and factions? And what impact do you think they’re having?

Ilan 10:58
The demonstrations are a phenomenon with no history at all. And we learn day by day about the impact of such demonstrations. It is organised by individuals with no political background. The funding is being collected by funders and activists, the spread of the demonstrations, and the messages, are the result of decisions taken locally by people across the country. And so it is a unique phenomenon in Israel, and I think also globally. And the the energies, the energies that are invested into that are surprising everyone, the participants included. And I can tell you only very, very briefly that I go every week together with my wife, to the weekly demonstration on Saturday night in front of the president’s house, which is five minutes away from our home. And we take our flags, and we walk over it. At first, half a year ago, the crowd gathering was very, very intolerant to any manifestation of the view that democracy and occupation cannot go together. And people who were hoping to demonstrate against the occupation were pushed aside. And we were told that ‘this is not the time to deal with the occupation. – this is a time to deal with democracy’. Now, gradually, gradually, one can see how they, those of us, who carry slogans against occupation, are being blended into the general crowd. And when I say crowd, in Jerusalem terms, it’s a very big crowd. We are around 10,000 people, every Saturday night, and of all walks of life, young and old, middle class and beginners in life. People who are religious, Orthodox or non religious, and so on and so forth. And I can tell you, last Saturday night, we were all astounded because the organisers invited an Arab Palestinian woman, the sister of a slain autistic boy, that was killed by the border police. And I could easily say, was murdered, murdered, and she was invited to rehearse some verses from the Quran in Arabic. Very few of us understood Arabic. But the situation was so dramatic. And then a scholar of Arab Studies, translated the verses into Hebrew. And she was received with a sounding reception of enthusiasm and gratitude that instead of accusing us, she came to share with us her grief. That was beyond belief. And I told my wife, this is the watershed, we are beginning to see that the connection between lack of democracy in Israel and the insistence on occupation of Palestine actually merged together. And that was very important.

Susie 15:34
Thank you. Because we’re already touching on this, I’ll now ask first to Ilan because you’re already speaking: to what extent are demands for universal human rights part of the protests or is the focus mainly on the changes concerning the Supreme Court and democracy?

Ilan 16:01
The conversation in Israel is not yet incorporating issues like the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court. But those two are in the background of the conversation of the more educated players in our political system. And we in our group, and that we do together with Ashworth and his group, we are advocating for international pressure on human rights and rule of law. Now that Israel is undergoing a process by which the Supreme Court will be weakened, and against the government and parliament, we believe that the call for international attention to what’s going on in Israel and Palestine is even more urgent. And we would have liked to see such a conversation developing also in your group. The ICC and the ICJ are critical when it comes to Israel. The Biden administration relaxed the American support for Israel, in front of such international bodies of justice, and our fear is that come November 24 and the elections – and if a Republican will replace Joe Biden – we will come back to the the unbelievably destructive pursuit of policy on Israel Paestine, coming from Washington, as it was in Trump’s time. So we need to hurry up and create facts before the Republicans come back to power.

Susie 18:20
Thank you, and to Ashraf: to what extent if at all, do you think ending the occupation is a driver of the democracy demonstrations in Israel? It gets seen as a side issue. Do you think it’s incorporated? At all?

Ashraf 18:39
Yes, I think democracy is related to human rights. And if you speak about real democracy, there is no combination between democracy and occupation. So if the protest movement wants Israel to be a democratic country, I think it should be also committed to the human rights and Palestinian human rights, and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. And I think if this process in Israel or a protest movement will continue I think it will be something positive to Palestinian human rights and ending the occupation and keeping the Israeli society in an internal space is more committed to equality and human rights and Palestinian rights. This is very because we can’t speak about democracy, and liberalism, and even secularism, without having this commitment to human rights and the equality between people. And this is what we suffer from. This issue should be solved, as by the end of this maybe movement or change in Israel by bringing another reasonable government in Israel, which may go on to peaceful negotiations between the two sides, and having a peaceful solution for this conflict by ending the occupation and letting the Palestinian people directly practise its rights of self determination. The equality says that the two people, the Palestinian and the Israeli, mainly Jewish people have the same right of self determination on this piece of land. Without having this equality between the two sides, I don’t think that peace will be achieved in any process or negotiations or any kind of policy in this region.

Susie 21:34
Thank you. And, Ilan, just quickly, did you have anything to mention or add about whether ending the occupation is a driver of the democracy demonstrations? And if so, to what extent? I know that there was a recent conflict, at one of the demonstrations

Ilan 21:56
I’m sorry, I, I think this is a long shot. And we do not see the end of occupation around the corner. Even if we corrected our political system into an exemplary democracy the disparity between Israel and Palestine is enormous. And the Palestinians have no means – no leverage over Israel, regardless of what regime is in place in Jerusalem, and Israel is far too strong to be persuaded by the Palestiniansto walk into a negotiations room. And so we need the international community to get involved in our conflict. What we hear from now for years, what we hear is – and from British politicians, no less – that the international community cannot desire peace between Israel and Palestine more than Israel Palestine. And this is a tragic, a tragic mistake. Because Israel does not want peace. It can get anything it wants by force. Palestine wants peace but doesn’t have the power to convince Israel to go for a negotiated peace agreement. So, we are, we are stuck and we need you. This is the principal message tonight to you – is that Israel Palestine will never be able to see the light of day in a peaceful coexistence unless we see an international involvement.

Susie 24:08
Okay, thank you. Couple of questions to Ashraf: questions about Palestinian society and opinion and politics. Is there a timeframe for elections to happen in Palestine?

Ashraf 24:29
Unfortunately there is no timetable to any coming elections. Although there will be a meeting by the end of this month in Cairo, the President Mahmoud Abbas, called on Palestinian factions to meet in Cairo on the 30th of this month, and I think this meeting will discuss the issue of elections and the unity between Palestinian factions, especially between the Palestinian Authority and Ramallah, and Hamas leadership and the Gaza Strip. This is badly needed, while the Palestinian public, we all we are eager to see democracy to change the regime by maybe pushing a new generation to be leaders and involved in the political and decision making in Palestine. We want also to get rid of the corruption and the whole bad behaviours of the current authorities. I speak about the Palestinian Authority as the legal one. And the west bank and Hamas de facto authority in Gaza, we are in need to have a change and to act as a normal society with democracy and having new elections. But there are two problems [which] prevent the real elections in our society. One is the participating of the East Jerusalem citizens and then this peace process, and also the acceptance of the result of elections. We had elections in 2006. And when Hamas got majority in the Legislative Council, the whole international community boycotted the Palestinian government led by Hamas leaders. I think the international community, mainly the Western countries, should respect the result of any Palestinian coming elections, even if Hamas will be in power. And we have also an approach in this issue that we want to see Hamas engaged in political making, not pushing it in the corner and having only one option to use violence, to get legitimacy. We want Hamas to be a moderate party and faction within the Palestinian Authority and PLO. And this kind of engagement should be done by elections, not by other means.

Susie 27:52
Yes, this leads nicely to the next question: do you have any comments on the state of democracy in Palestine politically in terms of movements, more broadly,

Ashraf 28:09
No – the Palestinian people largely want to see democracy and they are in favour of having elections every four years, as our basic law says, but unfortunately, the current leadership and the Palestinian Authority sees this situation is very good for it. And it prevents the -maybe – the process of elections. I think this is also the role of the international community to ease the process of elections by pushing Israel to accept the participating of the East Jerusalem citizens and any coming elections. But also, we want to see any coming election is that there is no majority for any of the two main parties: the Fatah movement and Hamas movement. We want to see coalition between many parties, in any coming legislative council and also the coming government, because in this case it will be a majority of reasonable and reasonable and moderate Palestinian policy leading the Palestinian people. Palestinian people is eager to see its country and its society as a very democratic and we see the models in the whole world. They want to adopt this model of western democracy in our society. And this is something which about to be in consensus in our society.

Susie 30:20
Okay, thank you. I’ll move to have a few questions about the impact of recent settler violence and attacks and also the military operation, to put it politely, on Jenin and the different populations. So, still with Ashraf, what’s the atmosphere in not just one Palestinian but different groups, following the IDF actions in Jenin? Some are careful and resigned; people are different, of course they can have different reactions.

Ashraf 30:59
Yes, I think the the atmosphere is very difficult, especially because people don’t see any hope of peaceful horizon between the two sides. And with this government, the only issue that people see every day is the policy of annexation. policy of conference taking the Palestinian lands and building in settlements and the provocation of settlers invading the the Palestinian cities and towns. This policy leads to extremist atmosphere, which has its impact is on the young generation, which is now in favour of violent resistance against Israel. They don’t see any hope of having any political talks with the Israeli government, the current government, and see the only language that this government understands is violence. And because of that there is a majority, more than 70% of Palestinians, mainly young people support the violent resistance against Israel. And now the Jenin model, which is maybe a symbolic model of resistance against the occupation. And because of that, President Mahmoud Abbas visited Janine and tries to get support of people supporting Jenin. He wants to rebuild the refugee camp there, to be with his people and against the occupation. And again, it’s the provocation of, and invasions of the Israeli army in the city and the refugee camp. But I think the Palestinian Authority is in a very bad situation related to the public support. The public support the violent and armed resistance against Israel. And they don’t support the policy of President Mahmoud Abbas, of having negotiations and talks with the Israeli side. They are even against any kind of cooperation, mainly security cooperation, and they want to maybe remove or get back the Palestinian recognition of the Israeli state because this government doesn’t believe in this two state solution.

Susie 34:23
Thank you. And also to Ilan: Similar question, how is the Jewish Israeli population reacting to the recent military actions in Jenin, and also of course – to some of the populations involved – but to settler violence?

Ilan 34:47
By and large, the military operation in Jenin was receiving popular support in Israel because there is this fear of terror attacks on civilians. And we are almost trained, trained to support military action. And this is a negative side of the Israeli discourse. And we need to invest heavily in changing it. But what the wider context of the attack on Jenin is that Israel is actually failing on effectively controlling the West Bank. And it has relied heavily in its planning on Palestinian security, support and intelligence cooperation. And as a result of the tension between the Mukhabarat [PA leadership in Palestine, and the Israeli right wing, pro settler, pro expansion government, the level of intelligence and military cooperation has gone down in recent months, particularly since this current government is in place. And so the attack on militants in Jenin needs to be seen in this context. And so, we are still way ahead of judging any military operation in the West Bank on grounds of justice and the rule of law. There is an element of militarism behind it.

Susie 37:18
Thank you, okay, to both of you, I’ll ask you first, as you’re on screen Ilan but to both of you: how have settler violence and again the attacks on Jenin we’ve been talking about affected the work of organisations such as Combatants for Peace, the Bereaved Families Forum, the Abraham initiatives, others you can think of, and perhaps you’d like to comment on how it’s affected your own work as well. So briefly, each of you please.

Ilan 37:54
I think that the situation on the ground in the West Bank is actually driving the pro peace organisations pro human rights into even more intense action. And we see alongside with the demonstrations in Israel itself a lot of action also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And that is a good sign that the stamina is in place, and it shows a good result. There is, when it comes to us now, a group which will focus on the international community. And here something very encouraging is happening. We have been frustrated, deeply frustrated, and in fatigue and desperation when it comes to drive the international community into action, because the world is preoccupied with Ukraine, with China with global warming and so on. And the Israel Palestine case has been left aside, much to our frustration. And now we see an openness to look into what is going on in the West Bank. And I think that it comes in the wake of the international interest in the fight for democracy in Israel itself. All of a sudden, you can see cracks in the attitude of disinterest in the world. In the UK as well, in our case, lack of interest. And here we see a bit more: Cleverly, together with his peers in Canada and Australia, came recently with a strong statement. That was very surprising for us. And we hope to invest more in the UK, hopefully in the first quarter of next year, and come again for a round of advocacy. Because we see it. We get our word intertwined into other currents, maybe yours and others’, in trying to shape a more vigorous attitude, coming from London and the United Kingdom, towards Israelnand Palestine. And we are all taught to believe that if and when the Labour Party takes over in Westminster, we will see better days. So it has to go with you again.

Susie 41:22
And Ashraf, would you like me to repeat the question?

Ashraf 41:26
No, I know that question.

Susie 41:27
I know, so if you’d like to comment on your own activities as a peace activist how it’s been affected?

Ashraf 41:36
Yes, I think there is an opportunity for a peace camp at last, to change the attitudes of people, because we want to see one of two things. One, is to have a change in the Israeli public attitude towards having a peaceful agreement between the two sides by ending the occupation, and have a two state solution. Unfortunately, until this moment, we didn’t have this shift of the public opinion in Israel. But there is an opportunity now, to enlarge this shift or to have at least gradually this shift. The second thing is to have the international intervention, which is very crucial in our case, because without having international intervention, and having no change within the Palestinian [I mean] the Israeli public opinion, I think the only alternative is the violence. We don’t want to see violence, because in the two case – by the intervention or the mess of violence – they can have a change. But we want to see smooth change in the public opinion by absorbing the need of having a two state solution and connecting the democratic process with ending the occupation, and having equality within the Holy Land, mainly.

Susie 45:04
Just coming on to the last questions to Ilan. Do you think the Israeli protest movement will lead to a political regrouping? Or at least is there hope of a political regrouping?

Ilan 45:39
And, you know, prophecy is always in politics is always very precarious. And in Israel, even more than in other places. I don’t think we can seriously predict what is going to come out of this. Definitely we are in a watershed situation. The Israel as we knew it, throughout the years, I was born in Israel, I’m 74. In the 74 years of me being in Israel, we never experienced anything close to what is going on now. This is an amazing situation. Amazing. And so we don’t know where this goes. But if you look at the crowds coming out the mix, not people that are bedrock lefties and peaceniks, but also the mid range, people who were voting Likud or other parties on the right, centre right. They’re all out on the streets. And they’re all in this powerful call for change. And that might bring us to an entirely new situation. There are the forces on the street that could actually translate into a change of government. But unfortunately, I think that the government itself understands this, and will do whatever it can to change the rules of the game, to the point where no one could challenge the right wing government anymore, and it will fail to be a democracy. It will be something similar to in Hungary or Poland. And where the the Liberals have no chance. That is where we feel awe.

Susie 48:13
Lastly to Ashraf, how might elections in Palestine affect Israeli Palestinian relations, there’s a lot of ifs there to hear.

Ashraf 48:30
I don’t know how it will affect the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. But at least it will change the atmosphere within the Palestinian people. It also will make it more prepared to go to maybe new negotiations when time comes. But I don’t think that any change within the Palestinian people or Palestinian public even if we have new elections, and we have a new legislative council and new government, will change the Israeli policy now, but it may also attract the international community to intervene in a stronger way, because the Palestinian society will be more ready to have an independent state and to practise the Palestinian right to self determination. So I think it will affect positively the situation of Palestinians. But maybe don’t affect the relationship with the Israeli government, the current government, which doesn’t want any kind of negotiations or any kind of peace process They don’t want solution. They want to impose a solution on Palestinians by annexing the Palestinian occupied territories are the biggest part of it.

Susie 50:15
Thank you. And thank you both. I’m very pleased and honoured to be able to ask you questions from such esteemed and also brave diplomats, activists, and persistent people. I know that there’s a lot of questions from the audience.

Caroline 50:36
That’s terrific. Yes. And can I add my thanks. That was such a clear exposition of your perspectives and a real reality check for us over here in the UK.

Caroline 50:51
There are about 15 of our actual members here tonight, but we’re delighted that lots of other people from different liberal and reformed synagogues have joined us as well. So we would very much like to invite those who are not already members to become members and details of joining will be circulated soon. And the reason is, because the more members we have the more powerful force we will be within Liberal Judaism. And that will encourage Liberal Judaism as an organisation to speak out. And we’re also delighted that we have members from the Reform movement than we’ve ever had before. And now that we’re soon to join, maybe this will lead to a joint network such as ours, and we will be an even bigger voice. And I can see Warren, nodding there. Good. Thank you. So I see there are already questions in the chat. So now over to Grahame, who will chair our q&a session from you the audience.

Grahame 52:08
Good evening, everyone. So I would just like to go over the protocols for this. Obviously, we already have some questions in the chat. And you can use that option. And David, I think will read them out for us. Otherwise, if you’d like to raise your hand using this method, which is on zoom on the reactions button, we’ll be able to see you as well. And we’ll be on the lookout for you. And if that fails, then the traditional hand that’s attached to your arm, we’ll be looking out for that as well. So do forgive us if we don’t get you in exactly the right order. But we will try and go through and make the best of doing that and get your questions answered. And if you could be succinct with your questions, please. And think about the difference between asking a question and making a speech of your own. That would be appreciated, please. So I think David, you could probably read out a few of the questions in the chat, and then we can start carrying on with the ones and lastly, once you’ve asked your question, if you could lower your hand, like I’ve done now, that would be very useful. Okay. Over to you David with 2 questions.

David 53:21
Yeah. Victoria asks a question to Ilan: what are his thoughts on BDS? And then I’ll mention another question in a minute. But first of all over to Ilan for his thoughts on the disinvestment campaign BDS.

Ilan 53:49
I believe this is the case of our group. We believe that BDS is a legitimate, non violent mode of struggle against the occupation. And painting it as an anti semitic movement is wrong and false. In its core, it has nothing to do with anti semitism. It has everything to do with the situation in Palestine. I’m not that naive to, to believe that. Anti Semites do not see the BDS as an opportunity for their own agenda. But that is true for many other formations of activism and it doesn’t have to do with the substance of Israel, Palestine and the occupation. Now, we are not supportive of BDS for one reason, because the BDS does not make a distinction between the occupied territories of 67. And Israel itself, because it calls for the return of all refugees that left the country. And regardless of what motivated the refugees to leave, was it their own will or was it by force or were they deported or threatened or intimidated? If we Israelis, we do not have a base to relate to as free of threat, then it is difficult to see Israel is supported, even if it was meant first and foremost, for the occupied territories of 67 to be liberated and left for the Palestinians to establish their own state, and to invite refugees to resettle back home in Palestine. So, we are not calling the BDSnics anti Semites we are against doing this vicious merge but at the same time, we are not supportive of it.

Grahame 56:48
Thank you. Thank you, Ilan. And David, I can see you’re waving. Carry on David.

David 56:55
Yeah. I had a question. Basically, from Ian to Ashraf. Ian says, as has already been said, Neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinians are anxious to afford a peaceful settlement to an outstanding 80 year conflict. That’s what Ian has said. This would of necessity require an honest broker acceptable to both sides. Who specifically could that honest broker be? Question for Ashraf

Ashraf 57:35
First of all, I don’t think it is correct that the Palestinian leadership doesn’t want peaceful settlement for this conflict. It is weak. Yes, it is divided. Yes. But I think and until this moment, the mainstream in the Palestinian society and the leadership is concerning of having two state solution. This is the main objective of this leadership. But if we want to speak about a broker, honest broker, I think Europe may be this one broker because Europe have values of human rights, rule of law, international law and other many things that they raised against Russia, because it invaded Ukraine and violated human rights and the Ukrainian people’s rights. We want to see the same standards applied on our conflict. And to have this mediation between the two sides on the basis of the international law, the International Security Service, the Security Council of United Nation is the most important resolutions and bases of any negotiations between the two sides. I think Europe at large adopted and supported the majority of these resolutions, and they want to implement this.

Grahame 59:23
Thank you, Ashraf, that’s a very clear answer to Ian and it’s good for Ian. I think the next person I saw that has his hand up was Sue please, if you’d like to unmute yourself and ask your question.

Sue 59:37
Yes, that’s a good idea. It’s a question to both Ashraf and to Ilan. I can’t help feeling there’s a certain level of insanity in the right wing government in Israel or indeed in the right wing in Israel that believe it can appropriate land illegally, and rule a people with a legitimate national aspiration, oppressively without continuing to experience violence, and obviously to visit violence itself. But without violence being a central part of what goes on, it seems to me that history would teach us that it’s not likely to happen. So what? What kind of sense is in the thinking of the right wing, or are they all completely nuts?

Ilan 1:00:39
Sadly, I can say that they’re all completely nuts. Our finance minister Smotrich published a political manifest in the year 2017 so it’s six years ago, in which he drafts his ideology and his programme. So on the ideological side, the country between the river and the sea belongs to the Jews, only. The Palestinians are inhabitants on the Jewish land. And they cannot entertain the privilege of being equals, according to Smotrich, and he produced a plan for the Palestinians. It has three categories. One: Palestinians could stay and entertain the quality of life in Israel provided they give up on the national aspirations for self determination. And they accept the Jewish supremacy in the land. The second group are Palestinians who cannot sustain being second class citizens in their own land, and so they will be assisted by the Israeli government in emigrating to other countries. The other countries are not listed, but I can see the United Kingdom is one of the other countries. I don’t know if United Kingdom wants to have an influx of Palestinian refugees, that just for Israel, to become a Jewish state, in its entirety, but that is his thought. But those who are not prepared to live in Israel as second class citizens who cannot vote or be voted into the parliament and do not want to emigrate but insist on resistance. Then, he says, I quote, again, they’ll come out again, they will meet the IDF. And those and I quote, who need to be killed, will be killed. Can you imagine the 21st century political leader in a democratic country that is drawing a political manifest that is based on killing the opponents – killing them? I am shameful. I am shameful. This is Israel that I would have not liked to live in as I have no other place. I am committed to make sure that no one will be killed. The Palestinians will have their own right to self determination alongside Israel and not see Jewish supremacy in the land. This is what motivates me and Ashraf and many others

Grahame 1:04:39
Thank you Ilan. I wonder Ashraf if you agree with Ilan that there’s insanity in the current Israeli government, or perhaps have a different perspective.

Ashraf 1:04:50
I agree with Ilan and I just want to add that the failout of the peace process and the occupation and the provocation and the settlement activities and the attacks of settlers and the Israeli army, in the cities and villages, just increase the power of the extremist Palestinian groups and weakens the Palestinian moderate factions, especially the Palestinian leadership. Unfortunately, people react to this occupation and violence, by violent ways. And this is what we don’t need, because we are paying more price and are victims in this kind of clashes between the two sides. But unfortunately, we don’t see any political horizon that convinces people that peaceful talks or even peaceful movements can bring the wanted solution between the two sides, especially when the Israeli government wants to determine the conflict, not managing it, as many Israeli governments did within the last decades.

Grahame 1:06:39
Thank you Ashraf. Thank you very much. And I can see that Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah, has got her hand up for questions.

Elli 1:06:49
Thank you, Grahame. Just want to say thank you to both speakers. And it’s interesting what Ashraf has just said, because I’ve got a question for Ashraf – there’s been something going around my head for a long time. And that is we talk about this cycle of violence. Is there any chance that that meeting in Cairo, which brings together all the different factions, might discuss mass civil disobedience as an option, and you know, mass civil disobedience meaning something that really was mass? Because Israel would not be able to do anything if people just did something en masse that was peaceful? You know, Ilan talks about the policy of killing. Can you imagine the international response? If there’s mass civil disobedience, and there’s an Israeli military attack, which is killing, you can be sure that that would have an effect. We wouldn’t want to see that. But I just want to know about what Ashraf thinks the chances of mass civil disobedience are?

Ashraf 1:07:52
Yes, I think this is a very powerful instrument, if we use it as the whole Palestinian public, I think the Palestinian factions can reach – if there is a willingness – especially between Fatah and other factions like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to have unity. Any Unity Government will adapt the peaceful and popular struggle against Israel. This is something written within all the agreements between all factions, they adopted the popular nonviolent struggle against this. But unfortunately, because of the division, there is some kind of competition between the factions who will gain the support of the public and because of lacking of legitimacy, especially for Hamas movement, the only way that Hamas gets legitimacy from the public, or support from the public, just to go to violence or what is called armed resistance. It is an alternative of the failed peaceful process between the two sides. And this is maybe the result of any internal talks between the two sides to get rid of this kind

Ashraf 1:09:36
of struggle or this armed or violent struggle. This is what the President Mahmoud Abbas wants. He adopted the nonviolent struggle, and he also wants all factions to adopt this kind of struggle and there are agreements about this. If we succeed to have unity and to go to new elections I think this is the case of the new era now of struggle against the Israeli occupation.

Elli 1:10:13
Thank you.

Grahame 1:10:16
Thank you Ashraf and thank you by Elli for asking a question that was in my mind as well actually. David, your hand is up. So is there someone else in the chat?

Grahame 1:10:35
If you can unmute David. David, you need to unmute.

David 1:10:39
No, no, no, I’ve just noticed. Sorry about that. Yeah, it’s a comment from Rebecca. And there’s a question I’d like to ask which is connected with the comment. Now, Rebecca, as commenting, she says, I’m completely baffled by the fact that there is very little, if any outcry over the violence which has been and is happening, there’s been no opprobrium expressed at all. Rather, there has been complete inertia. I think that we in the diaspora need to be much more vocal in our disapproval of what is happening, especially in the lawless behaviour of some of the settlers. Now, that’s Rebecca’s comment. Now my question which which is really comes on from it is mainstream Jewish organisations in the UK, including a denominational ones like Liberal Judaism ,have maintained a really deafening silence on the situation sadly. Now, Liberal Jews for Justice in Israel Palestine exists, at least in part, to mobilise LJ members of our denomination on the issue, to get Liberal Judaism to speak out more, and to therefore, as a consequence of that, encourage British politicians to speak out more. So my question, really, to Ilan, and to Ashraf is how important would it be, if mainstream Jewish organisations in the UK and elsewhere in Europe begin to stop their silence and speak out?

Ilan 1:12:28
I can tell you, I have some experience and was based in London with the embassy in the early 90s of last century. And so I have a clue of the relationship between the Jewish community – the organised Jewish community -and the embassy. Coming to London this time, in March, I was quite taken aback by the level of the establishment in London, be it the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the House of Lords or the House of Commons. There the level of degree by which the CFI [Conservative Friends of Israel] is entertaining influence of the political conversation in London. And when I was based in London, the CFI was sort of a political toy. It seems that they have grown into a formidable force. And it’s according to coincidence, the week after our arrival, London was waiting for Netanyahu to arrive. And Eli Kohane, our minister and they have prepared a document of the British Israel partnership 2030. I’m sure you’re all aware of this document. This is – I could see right from the start, that this was actually either composed in the CFI or checked by the CFI and drafted again and redrafted. I was disgusted with this as if nothing is happening between Israel and Palestine, as if British Israel relations is like British Denmark relations with two countries with a liberal agenda that harms no one. And I think that there is a lot to be done in London -in Jewish London – on when it comes to a political discourse and influence. We are associated with Hannah Weisfeld of Yachad. And we see in her and Eli with a heart and mind in the right place. And we would have loved to see a lot more of the Jewish left either joining her or cooperating with her and with Yachad. And she’s very skillful. She is a very powerful political player. And we think that could assist a lot in the signal that is coming out of the United Kingdom towards Israel.

Grahame 1:16:10
Thank you Ilan,. I just need to check with you when you say CFI. Do you mean the conservative friends of Israel?

Ilan 1:16:16

Grahame 1:16:17
yes. Okay. There were a few people in the chat wondering if that was the right interpretation. I’d like to point out that Margaret Jacoby, has put a liberal Judaism statement on the Israeli elections into the chat for people to click on so we can have a look at that. Thank you. Bye bye Margaret. And I’m looking around, I can see what the timer says and also that Caroline is raising her hand probably to tell me that we need to wrap up now and carry on. Is that right Caroline? But Caroline’s muted as well!

Caroline 1:16:53
I was hoping to sneak in a quick question, but probably I shouldn’t . I’d like both Ashraf and Ilan to comment on how to convince sceptics, both in Palestine and in Israel, of the viability of the two state solution. Because notably, on my last visit, when I met Palestinians, they had moved away from that, and were very keen on a one state solution. So I’d like your comments.

Ashraf 1:17:30
If I start on this question. I think the Palestinians largely do believe in two state solution. At this moment there is a majority, even people who support one state, they don’t oppose two state solution. But people now go to one state because they are disappointed and frustrated of the ability of having two state solution. And this is meaningful in the discussion within the Palestinian society. When you ask people do you want to have an independent Palestinian state on 1960s borders beside the Israeli state, they accept this. But if you ask them, Do you believe that this is a viable state, or this is a viable solution or we can reach this solution? They said the majority of them said there is no ability or no choice to have this solution. Because of that young people mainly now go to one state solution as the de facto solution, but that is not a solution. Unfortunately, it is a formula to last [?] the occupation and the last [?] the discrimination and the unjust situation within this the holy land for long time for the case and because of that, when we argue the young people we try to explain to them, there is there is no choice to have one state solution, that we the two people have equal rights and equal citizenship and equal right of self determination. This is not the case. They speak about one state for settlers that Palestinians will be maybe second hand or third hand citizens in this state. Unfortunately, this is the situation but people, because of their disappointment of the whole situation, want to go to a more, maybe invisible, solution.

Grahame 1:20:17
Thank you, Ashraf and, Ilan, if you could just give us your view?

Ilan 1:20:22
Yes, I think we should not be short sighted and just judge on on the basis of facts on the ground. In the West Bank, we have close to 3 million Palestinians and 500 – 1000 Israelis. This is one to six. In apartheid South Africa it was one to six whites and blacks. In South Africa the disparity of privilege was on ethnic bases. In the West Bank, the disparity in privilege is on ethnic basis. In South Africa, we called it apartheid. In Israel, we should call it apartheid. Apartheid is unsustainable. It is sustainable for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 50 years, but it will not last. And then we will have two realities of the ground conflicting one the settlement society that grabbed land that belonged to the Palestinians, with the Israel might behind it, and the unacceptable apartheid. So then, what will we do? I think that a reality on the ground needs to be the basis for action, not inaction. We need to change the direction, change the trajectory. And if I can speak out of my imagination, share with you my fantasy, I think that Israel should be shown the door out of the family of nations as long as it exercises usurpation and subjugation and theft and behaves like a thug. There must be a relationship between our fate in the Holocaust and the fact that the international community gives us a free pass to behave as we do in the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. But the Holocaust is dying out in the minds of mankind. It will not keep us safe for long, not even in Germany. And I think it is high time to begin to talk about the Holocaust, not through the lens of anti semitism and the Israeli politics of anti semitism. But in another way, in a forthcoming way. Israel needs to solve its issues with the Palestinians. It all started with the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo conference 100 years ago, and the way the international community was prepared to accept that the Palestinians are not equal to the Israelis. So 100 years ago, this was serving the colonial interests of the British Empire. It looks very logical that the Jewish people will be given an opportunity for a national home in Palestine. But this needs to be put on the side, and we need to see a new agenda, a formative agenda. The partnership of the Jewish people around the globe and the liberals, progressives, in Israel – as I am – as we are – and there is no future. There is no future for an apartheid state. And this is where we go. This is exactly where we go. Listen, two state doesn’t stand on its own. The whole idea is if the international community would be prepared to declare recognition of the equality of the right for self determination of the Palestinians or the Israelis, then the unavoidable conclusion would be that for the two nations to exercise self determination, they will need to have part of Palestine under their sovereignty. And that is what led the British in the 30s, to come to the conclusion that this needs to undergo partition: territorial partition. And if the Israeli right wing was successful in trying to derail any future territorial petition, we need to fold this back. And if it needs to take whatever international force necessary, to convince the settlers to go back to Israel, and leave space for Palestinians to exercise self determination. The 67 borders are unaccepted internationally, and by the Palestinians and by the Israeli left as the base for a negotiated partition, which will leave enough space for Palestinians, as the Palestinians need to have one or two or three generations of liberation from the Israeli domination. They cannot be dominated anymore. If I’d been a Palestinian, it would have ruined me completely. The cynical way by which Israel is allowed to dominate me to decide for me to build walls, and enforce permits – a permit regime – just like in South Africa. We need you to be a lot more angry, angry and frustrated, and loud. Because fatigue and acceptance is met by an Israeli right wing activism to add more and more settlers and more and more roads. We need the Martin Luther Kings of the Jewish world to stand and cry out Injustice Injustice! I have a huge admiration for Ashraf because he is a great believer in resistance nonviolent and we work together in diplomatic resistance against my own government. I don’t know for how long it will be possible. I expect one day when I come back from overseas to be called to the side by an agent in plain clothes to be interviewed and advised to stop my action against my own government. So as long as it is possible for me, I will invest myself into stopping this, this nonsense of two state solution ruined by unilateral forceful action on the Israeli side. Whatever men and women built, men and women can also remove for the sake of the future.

Grahame 1:29:00
Thank you very much Ilan for that impassioned answer and explanation. And I think that we have a lot of trouble with the word apartheid. But when we hear an ex Israeli ambassador to South Africa talk in those terms, I think you lend great weight to your argument. So thank you very much for that. I think we have now reached the point where we should have stopped a while ago. And also I can’t see any more questions at the moment unless you want urgently want to say anything. So I think I’m going to hand over to David now who’s going to start to round things up for us this evening. And thank you very much to all for all the answers and for all the questions as well. Thank you, David.

David 1:29:48
Well, first of all, a huge huge thank you to everybody for attending this evening’s extremely informative meeting. A huge thank you also to our two guest speakers. What we’ve heard this evening, I think, underscores the very substantial challenge ahead for organisations like our own Liberal Jews for Justice in Israel Palestine task is to mobilise within our denomination ie within Liberal Judaism, to campaign for justice in Israel, Palestine, and to encourage our denomination to speak out. So I have a crucial request – a really crucial request – to members of Liberal shuls attending this evening’s meeting. Please join Liberal Jews for Justice in Israel Palestine. If you are not already a member, please also get your friends to join. Membership is free. All you need to do is email us and let us know which Liberal synagogue you belong to, and that you agree with LJJ IP Statement of Intent; to read that and get our email address and everything please just Google Liberal Jews for Justice in Israel Palestine and our website will come up. And lastly, if you are a member of a Masorti, or Reform shul, also please contact us because we’re hoping to encourage members of those two movements to establish similar justice in Israel Palestine grassroots initiatives within their denominations.

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