A New Year – a time for change, uncertainty and optimism
Israel is facing the bid from Palestine for independence and yet, according to research, Israelis welcomed the Jewish New Year with optimism. A poll conducted by an Israeli research agency showed that 88 percent of Jews in Israel were in good spirits for Rosh Hashanah, and believe the country is a good place to live. The poll also found that 66 percent of respondents do not believe there will be peace with Palestinians and 45 percent said they are concerned about the country's future. In the last few weeks the landscape has changed again with the release of Gilad Shalit and the UNESCO vote admitting the Palestinian state.
I asked Hagai Segal, lecturer, analyst and consultant on Middle-Eastern affairs and counter-terrorism, and Scholar-In-Residence at the LJCC.for his thoughts on the implications of the Gilad Shalit deal. His response was:
‘The nature of the Israel-Hamas deal that resulted in the release of Gilad Shalit has caused much soul-searching in Israel and the Jewish world. Many in Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities had tirelessly campaigned for Gilad Shalit’s release, yet the deal that secured it – that saw the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners including a number who had been jailed for the murder of Israelis in past attacks – has raised many difficult questions. Has a problem been solved in a manner that will create even more different problems in future?
The sight of families of terror victims going to Israeli courts to beg that the murderers of their loved ones not to be released from jail, even in exchange for Shalit’s safe return, was heart wrenching for many Israelis and has led some to question the moral value of the price Israel paid.
The deal also caused concern within Israel’s security establishment, the joy at the return of the kidnapped soldier tempered by concerns that it will have shown Hamas and others the merits of taking further Israeli prisoners and that an escalation in operations to do just that will likely follow.
Of most concern is that some of those released will go on to be involved in further terrorist attacks, with the saving of one Israeli possibly having played a role in the death of others. In such a situation the public may in future view the deal very differently.
Israelis and diaspora Jews alike have rejoiced in Shalit’s safe return home, but these questions will endure. If Israeli soldiers are again kidnapped by enemies of Israel, in operations launched specifically to seek again just such concessions/prisoner releases, will Israel pay such a price again, and would doing so guarantee even more kidnappings? A precedent has been set, and Israel's enemies are only too aware of it.’
The reality is that peaceful cohabitation is not a simple thing. And we are not immune here in the UK. Last week the MP for Golders Green and Finchley, Mike Freer, was targeted by a Muslim group for his prominent role in the campaign against Palestinian activist Sheikh Raed Salah's visit to the UK earlier this year, and branded a “Jewish homosexual pig” by the group.
The future begs so many questions. We believe that education is a vital tool in the response to prejudice and ignorance and that we must be able to respond to verbal attacks with intelligence and information. One of our aims in the courses and events we are programming in response to these turbulent times is to provide our students with the context and knowledge they need to form their own opinions about Israel’s future.
We also think it is important that our children are given an awareness of how Israel is viewed by their peers and the British media and that we send them out into the world equipped with the right tools to hold their own against criticism. Earlier this year, students at Edinburgh University voted to boycott Israeli goods, claiming that Israel was an apartheid state. In response to this, a professor at the university sent an extremely convincing and eloquent open letter to the University in defence of Israel, but do our children have enough knowledge and confidence to argue the case, when faced with this propaganda?
We will shortly be breaking ground on the building of our Fusion Youth Wing. I am excited that the new space will enable us to provide more skill based learning opportunities for young people from both Jewish and non Jewish backgrounds. As well as equipping our youth with the necessary tools to deal with life in the big wide world, I also hope that this will encourage more inter-faith understanding.