Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

The Balfour Declaration, 100 Years On

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th October, 2017

Israel PalestineThis year is the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which was contained in a letter from the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour,  to a leading member of the country’s Jewish community, Lord Rothschild, and in which the British Government, headed by David Lloyd George, said that it viewed with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, providing the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish population there were not compromised. That condition — which has yet to be fully respected — was added at a late stage in the drafting of the declaration partly at the insistence of the one Jewish member of Lloyd George’s Cabinet, Edwin Montagu, who had serious hesitations about the whole Zionist enterprise. To mark the Balfour centenary, the Liberal Democrats passed a motion at last month’s Bournemouth Conference calling for HM Government to recognise the State of Palestine, as a positive contribution towards a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. At the beginning of December, in Amsterdam, I shall be moving a similar motion at the Congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Several EU member states, including Belgium and Sweden, have in fact already done so.

Avi ShlaimBut motions at political conferences are by no means the only activities taking place in this centenary year. Today, at the British Library, Middle East Monitor put on a conference with a glittering array of academic and other speakers, analysing the origins, composition and consequences of the Balfour Declaration. For me, the two highlights of the day were the keynote address by Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, and a film made by Independent Jewish Voices (which will be posted on YouTube from this coming Monday). Dr Shlaim has made himself unpopular among some of his co-religionists by denouncing the reality of the current Israeli occupation of the West Bank as an apartheid state, but growing numbers of Jews, especially the young, are determined to make their voices heard, maintaining that some of the things being done by the Israeli government and Defense Force, should not be considered to be “in their name”. The current British government, alas, is dominated by those Conservatives who are self-declared Friends of Israel, which means that Mrs May and many of her Cabinet colleagues will probably “celebrate” the actual anniversary on 2 November, whereas many of the rest of us will be deploring the fact that the partial implementation of the Balfour Declaration has left the Palestinians dispossessed and increasingly bereft of hope.

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LibDems Vote to Recognise Palestine

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th September, 2017

IMG_2811At their autumn conference in Bournemouth yesterday, Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly to urge the British government to recognise the State of Palestine. The vote came at the end of a thoughtful and well-informed debate on a motion to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, drafted with input from both Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP, which I chair) and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI). Balfour expressed support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, providing the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish inhabitants were not compromised. Clearly the second half of that commitment has not been fully implemented, not least in the occupied territories. In my speech, I argued that calling for the recognition of the State of Palestine was timely for three reasons, namely the Balfour centenary, the 50th anniversary of the Occupation (the longest such situation in modern history) and the fact that it is one minute to midnight for finding a way forward to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Personally, I believe it is up to the people of the region to decide ultimately whether a two-state or a one-state solution is ideal, but in the meantime, recognising Palestine would give Palestinians a degree of equality in a singularly unequal relationship. Moreover, to acknowledge Palestine as a state (as more than 130 members of the United Nations have already done) would help restore some of the dignity that was taken away from Palestinians by the Occupation, along with their land and much of their water. The Conservative government has been backsliding on the issue of Palestine, recently downgrading the status of the Palestinian Ambassador, and it must be pressed hard to change its position.

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Palestine: Seize the Moment!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th February, 2017

jf-speaking-at-house-of-commonsThis year sees not only the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which led eventually to the creation of the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland, bu also the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of territories captured during the Six Day War. The Israeli government and its friends round the world will doubtless wish to celebrate Balfour, but as I said at a meeting in the House of Commons earlier this week, Palestinians and their friends should seize the moment offered by the double anniversary to publicise the ongoing injustices of their situation and to call specifically for the recognition of the state of Palestine before the two state solution to the Middle East conflict is officially dead and buried, because of continuing illegal settlement activity. The House of Commons event, chaired by Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, was organised by the Palestine Return Centre, which argues that Britain should apologise for the Balfour Declaration because it led to Palestinian dispossession. Personally I think a stronger tack is to stress how the second part of the Declaration — about not harming the interests of the Arab residents of Palestine — has never been implemented and that injustice needs to be rectified. The Palestinian Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Manuel Hassassian, gave a typically impassioned speech, stressing that he believes the two state solution is indeed dead, however much the Palestinian Authority may cling to it, and it is vital if the situation moves de facto to a one-state solution that is not run along apartheid lines. He also castigated successive British governments for failing to act even-handedly in the region. I argued that there need to be a concerted effort by the myriad groups in the UK which are concerned about the Palestinian issue should come together to formulate a clear strategy of what needs to be achieved, with the Embassy and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign assisting with coordination. The bad news is that the Occupation and settlement expansion continue, as does the effective siege of Gaza. But by seizing he moment of the anniversaries, lobbying the media and parliamentarians, the attention and then engagement of the wider British public can be stimulated — with us putting particular pressure on the EU’s potential role as an agent for change, not least during the two years in which Britain will still be a member.

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Illegal Israeli Settlements Condemned

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd December, 2016

iraeli-settlementsThis evening the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, including East Jerusalem. The vote was 14:0, with the United States abstaining. Earlier in the day Israel had been putting heavy pressure on the US to veto the resolution, but in a rare demonstration of determination Barack Obama obviously declined. It is as well that the vote came now, as Donald Trump would certainly have vetoed the measure, had it come to the vote after his inauguration. Some people might argue that a UNSC resolution is of no real significance, but there I would have to disagree. For the first time in several years the rest of the world has made clear to Israel that its continued settlement activity is contrary to international law and should cease. It also effectively gives the green light for countries, including the UK and other EU member states, to ban trade in settlement products and to take other appropriate measures. Several members of the UNSC believe that it is now almost too late for a two-state solution to be possible in the Middle East, largely because of the settlements, but they would still like to try to make it happen. Britain should now take an important step forward in recognising the state of Palestine, as two-thirds of the UN member states have already done. For too long Israel has been able to get away with violeting both the Geneva Convention and the Hague Agreements with regard to the West Bank and Gaza and it is high time it was forced to stop.

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Palestine and Anti-Semitism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th July, 2016

Friends of Palestine meeting with HASCEarlier this week, in my role as Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, I was invited to a hearing on anti-Semitism at the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, along with my LDFoP colleague Miranda Pinch and two representatives each of our Labour and SNP sister organisations (three of them MPs). Committee Chair Keith Vaz MP started off by asking me outright whether criticising Israel could be considered anti-Semitic, to which I was able to answer confidently “No!”; the continued occupation of the West Bank and other territories as well as some of the actions of the Israel Defense Force are in clear violation of international law and therefore can be justifiably condemned by anyone who has a sense of justice. As a Liberal Democrat I oppose all forms of discrimination and prejudice, so that of course includes anti-Semitism, but I argued that exceptionalism should not tempt us to single anti-Semitism out from other forms of ethnic, religious, gender or other forms of discrimination. The panel of MPs on the committee — which included David Burrowes as well as David Winnick — were astonished to learn that all six of us giving evidence and answering questions had been attacked as “racist” and “anti-Semitic” because we have campaigned for the Palestinian cause, but that is indeed the case. Miranda was able to give an interesting perspective as a (non-practising) Jew and she said that some of the worst attacks on her had come from Christian Zionists. We and the SNP participants pointed out that we try to avoid using the word Zionism because it can mean different things and instead are always careful to refer to the Israeli government or IDF, rather than saying, as many in the Middle East do, “the Jews”. Apparently Jeremy Corbyn, the embattled Labour Party leader, had a rough time before the committee a while ago, mainly because he had referred to representatives of Hamas and Hizbollah as “friends”. But one of the SNP MPs, Philippa Whitford (who has worked as a surgeon in Gaza, and hails originally from Belfast) pointed out that just as in Northern Ireland peace was only achieved by engaging with the IRA and Protestant extremists, so peace in Israel-Palestine will only come about if Hamas and other groups are included in talks. All six of us participants still in principle support a two-state solution, but all fear that ongoing settlement activity and the intransigence of the Netanyahu government mean that is in danger of being made impossible. But both Israelis and Palestinians will have be involved in determining their own future. The Home Affairs Committee report that will emerge from these hearings should be published in September.

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Chains of Sand

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 13th July, 2016

Chains of Sand 1The Arab-Israeli conflict is often presented in black and white terms, depending on which side one’s sympathies mainly lie, yet when it comes to the lives and emotions of people on the ground in Israel or the Occupied Territories there are in fact many shades of grey. Journalist and novelist Jemma Wayne chooses for the principal cast of her new book Chains of Sand (Legend Press, £9.99) young people struggling to come to terms with the tensions and at times outright violence of situations not only in the Middle East but also in the Jewish diaspora living in London. A girl from West Jerusalem becomes romantically involved with a young Arab man from the East in a case of forbidden love that can only end in tragedy. A young British Jew, against the wishes of his family, wishes to emigrate to Israel despite the fact that he might get dragged into the ongoing conflict in Gaza, while in a neat mirror image a young Israeli wishes to shift his life in the other direction. The characters’ dilemmas are exacerbated by politics, religion, gender, generational differences and above all by a quest for their true identity. Even when they are socialising, in the bars of Tel Aviv or the coffee shops of Golders Green, unseen but keenly felt dangers lurk off-stage, sometimes bursting in on them with shocking intensity. So many books on Israel-Palestine — both fact and fiction — embrace the narrative and perspectives of one side or the other, but to her credit Jemma Wayne avoids that easy option, instead weaving interlocking stories that constantly question one’s own understanding of the situation as well as that of the characters. That makes the novel unsettling, challenging, at times an uncomfortable read but stimulating in its acceptance of the complexities of the human condition and the challenge of conflicting loyalties.

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Palestine’s Nakba Continues

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th May, 2016

Manuel HassasianAcross the world, Palestinians this week are commemorating the Nakba or “Catastrophe” — the 1948 flow of more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees from territory that had been declared as the new state of Israel. Many Palestinian villages were destroyed and countless people had to leave their homes at a moment’s notice, never to return. The memory is a wound that never heals, even among second and third generation Palestinians of refuge families who were born in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere. Many remain stateless, thereby denied full freedom of movement. Last night, following a joint initiative by the SNP Friends of Palestine and the London-based Palestine Return Centre (PRC), there was a large gathering at the House of Commons, addressed by Manuel Hassassian (Palestinian Ambassador to the UK), Tommy Sheppard MP (SNP), Sameh Habeb (PRC), Karma Nabulsi (Palestinian academic and human rights campaigner, based at my old college, St. Edmund Hall, Oxford), Caroline Lucas MP (Greens) and myself (as Chair of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine). In the audience were Muslims, Jews, Christians and others, united in their concern to bring an end to the Israeli Occupation.

Palestinian refugee campsAmbassador Hassassian made a blistering attack on the Conservative government for its hypocrisy in saying that it is in favour of international law and human rights while doing nothing for the Palestinian cause; indeed, David Cameron and several other Ministers have stated openly that they are great supporters of Israel. Caroline Lucas particularly focussed on the arms trade and the fact that British arms manufacturers are selling some of the weapons used in the Israeli occupation. I urged people to look forward, as well as backwards to the start of the Nakba, pointing out that public opinion has shifted dramatically in the UK in favour of addressing the injustices of the current situation. I called on the British government to follow Sweden’s lead in recognising Palestine, without pre-conditions, and asked that people stop referring to Israeli “settlers” in the West Bank, instead acknowledging that they are “occupiers”. “Colonisers!”, Ambassador Hassassian chimed in. All the Palestinian speakers were doubtful that a two-state solution is now possible because of the fact that there is no contiguous unoccupied Palestinian territory that would be a viable core. However, Palestinians will within five years outnumber the Jewish population in Israel-Palestine, so it is urgent that a different kind of road map is drawn up for the future. Perhaps I am an incurable optimist, but I said that I felt that the fact the pro-Israeli lobby is trying to damn anyone standing up for Palestinian rights as “anti-Semitic” is actually a sign of weakness, not of strength. The Israeli government is beginning to understand that its narrative of victimhood — perfectly understandable historically — in 2016 no longer washes among many people in this country because of the Occupation and the daily injustices and humiliations inflicted on Palestinians. Furthermore, Britain, as the mandatory power over Palestine between the two world wars, has a historical responsibility to put pressure on Binyamin Netanyahu and his colleagues to change their policies radically. The Israeli government says it will only listen to the United States, where millions of Christian Zionists are blind supporters of Israel because they believe in the biblical prophecy that after Armageddon there will be a second coming of the Messiah. But it would be precisely to stop Armageddon in the region that Britain, in concert with other EU member states, should take the lead in trying to bring the Occupation to an end. International Law must prevail and the Nakba must end, so that both Palestinians and Israelis can live in a secure peace and in growing prosperity.

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Brazil Rejects Israel’s Dayan

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th March, 2016

Dani DayanIn the face of Brazil’s firm refusal to accept former settler leader Dani Dayan as Israel’s new Ambassador to Brasilia; Israel has today admitted defeat and named him as its next Consul General in New York instead. The government of Dilma Rousseff has been one of the strongest supporters the international recognition of Palestinian statehood and considered the nomination of Mr Dayan; who was born in Argentina; emigrating to Israel as a teenager; as unacceptable b,ecause of his strong support for illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank. This situation led to a seven-month stand-off between Tel Aviv and Brasilia, but the Brazilians dug in their heels and now the Israelis have conceded defeat. It is very unusual for a country to refuse the credentials of a designated ambassador, but the Brazilians are to be congratgulated for refusing to compromise on a core matter of principle. The United States, alas, has no such qualms, but Mr Dayan’s arrival in New York is likely to spark at least some protests, not least from US Jewish groups who oppose Israel’s 49-year-old occupation of Palestine and Tel Aviv’s efforts to delegitimise the nascent Palestinian state.

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More UK Double Standards over Israel

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd March, 2016

Juli EdelsteinThe Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, is due to address MPs and Peers in Parliament today at the invitation of his British counterpart, John Bercow. Nothing strange about that, one might think, except that Mr Edelstein lives in the illegal Israeli settlement of Neve Daniel in the occupied West Bank and declared ahead of his visit that he will “represent the Knesset, the state of Israel and the West Bank with pride” during his visit (my emphasis). Mr Edelstein has no right to represent the West Bank, whose Palestinian inhabitants have lived under oppressive Israeli occupation for the past 49 years. Several elements of that occupation are in clear violation of both the Geneva Convention and the Hague Agreements, not least the way that Israel has settled hundreds of thousands of its own people in the occupied territories. This is in clear violation of International Law and indeed successive British governments have condemned it. Yet it is clear that the current Conservative government in London speaks with a forked tongue, as in principle it is opposed to the occupation yet Mr Edelstein will be welcomed with open arms. No wonder Palestine’s envoy to Britain, Manuel Hassassian, has declared that he is “incredulous that Mr Edelstein is being given a platform in Parliament itself – the self-same Parliament that only a short time ago voted to recognise the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.” During his visit, Mr Edelstein is expected to meet both the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, underlining the cosy relationship that the UK Conservatives have with Israel’s Likud-led government. This includes people like Mr Edelstein who would love to see a “Greater Israel”, which formally incorporates all of the West Bank into the Jewish state. As it is, there is now so much illegal Israeli settlement in the Occupied Territories that many informed observers, including myself, fear that things have passed a point of no return, as there is no longer enough contiguous territory left for a viable, independent Palestinian state. It is shameful that the British government is essentially acquiescing to this situation rather than using the diplomatic and economic tools that it has at its disposal to demonstrate that its pubic statements against Israel’s occupation policies are not just empty words. No wonder so much of the Arab and wider Islamic world accuses Britain of double standards in the Middle East. Moreover, they are correct.

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Bernie Sanders’ Fatal Flaw

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 31st January, 2016

Bernie SandersI am not an American citizen and never will be, so I will never have the chance to vote in a US presidential election. But that does not stop me — like so much of the British political class — following US presidential contests with fascination. Or fascinated horror, might be more truthful. The horror is partly because of the obscene amount of money spent in these quadrennial campaigns; I see nothing to celebrate in the fact that 2016 will probably see the first US$2 billion dollar contest. Even worse is the quality of the rival candidates and their political discourse. Not surprisingly, I lean towards the Democrats rather than towards the Republicans (though northern liberal Democrats, rather than die-hard southern ones, I should stress). Nothing in the world would persuade me to back that chump Trump, or indeed any of his rivals for the Republican nomination. But the Democrats’ choice this year fails to inspire me. I was quite taken with Bernie Sanders and have loved the way that he has blown apart age-related prejudice. He’s radical on many issues and quite international in many ways. But he is so American, and so very, very wrong (in my view) when it comes to gun control, which he reportedly largely opposes. Poor President Obama has done his best to awaken the US public to the inherent dangers of adhering to the constitutional right to bear arms, but with as little success as a drugs counselor trying to get a heroin addict off his fixes. Sanders isn’t even trying. Which I suppose makes Hillary Clinton a preferable choice, though her pledge to be an even greater friend to the State of Israel, despite its egregious violation of human rights and international law in Occupied Palestine, makes her pretty hard to stomach, too. So, in short I probably couldn’t vote for either of them. And I’m just glad that as a European, I don’t need to. Some say that because of globalisation, everyone around the world is becoming the same. But I feel that on the contrary, the Atlantic divide between the United States and Europe is getting ever wider, and it’s probably best that it stays that way.

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