The progressive case for Israel?

A new book of essays, by leading figures in the Labour movement, ‘’celebrates openly Israel’s achievements as a vibrant democracy’’. The book is in memory of David Cairns who ‘’called for the left to remind themselves of the values that brought us into progressive politics, and to acknowledge that there is still only one country in the Middle East where those values are lived out every day,’’ writes the recent Labour Friends of Israel newsletter.

What values exactly would those be?

Respect for international human rights law?  

Odd that Israel refuses to accept the jurisdiction of either the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court. Or not odd, if you wish to maintain that targeted killings, collective punishment of a civilian population and administrative detention are within the law.

The recent Russell Tribunal, held in South Africa found that Israel was indeed in breach of the prohibition of apartheid found in the 1973 Apartheid Convention and Rome statute. It fulfilled the three criteria: two distinct racial groups identified, ‘inhuman acts’ committed against the subordinate group, and these were systematic, in the context of domination by one group.

Respect for ethnic minorities?

The Prawer Plan approves the forced relocation of some 30,000 Bedouin from their land and agrarian lifestyle into townships, notorious for their high unemployment, drug abuse and crime rates.   The Bedouin were not consulted about the move. One of the new sites will be near the Abu Dis refuse dump, Jerusalem’s main dump, which the Israeli Environmental Protection Ministry, has described as ‘a source of pollution’ with a ‘risk of fire and explosions’.

Respect for honest and open peace negotiations?  

The latest report from Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) points out that with no public debate the government is effectively sealing off the southern border of East Jerusalem with new houses (plans for another 5,000 homes either approved or begun) thus writing off the ‘Clinton Parameters,’ a deal approved by both Barak and Olmert, and effectively foreclosing on the two-state solution which would see a part of south-east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

Respect for press freedom, dissenting opinion and non-violent protest? 

Current Knesset  legislation seems aimed at stifling any kind of dissent. An anti-libel law was approved in October for a first reading, which would increase compensation for libel claims from 50,000 NIS to 300,000 NIS without the victim having to prove damage, making it extremely risky for newspapers to criticize political figures.

The government is attempting to block foreign funding for political or human rights NGOs, such as Breaking the Silence, an NGO which encourages Israeli soldiers to speak out about their military experiences in the West Bank

Non-violent protest is regularly met with lethal force. ‘Non- lethal’ weapons such as rubber bullets and tear gas canisters are used at close range, causing injuries and deaths.  Twenty one protesters have been killed in Bil’in village, in the weekly peaceful demonstrations against the Separation Wall. UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon criticized the Israeli Defence Force for firing live ammunition against unarmed protesters, killing seven,  during a Nakba Day Demonstration on the border with Lebanon.

‘’I respect Israel, I admire Israel,’’  Ed Milliband tells Labour Friends of Israel. Good on you Ed. Are these your values too?