Peace IS Progressive!

This article currently appears in Lay of the Land:

Every Friday, the social media platform Twitter is transformed into a flurry of excitement. Emiratis, Bahrainis, Moroccans and Israelis eagerly exchange wishes of Shabbat Shalom and Jumaa Mubarak as people of both the Jewish and Muslim faiths begin to prepare for our respective Sabbaths. We exchange well wishes, images of our respective countries and take delight in the blessings in Hebrew, Arabic and English that are shared between many of us who although we may not have met (yet!) in person, are forging friendships.

Open Minds. Young leaders from the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt meet with their Israeli counterparts during a visit organized by the Israel-Is organization (Photo Itamar Eyal)

If you had told me two years ago that this would be happening, I would have thought you are meshuggah (mad). But here we are, nearly two years after the signing of the historic Abraham Accords and the effects are tangible. Peace is no longer a pipe dream – it is happening.

Agreements are signed between leaders but peace is built by the people. While cynics among us may think that these Accords exist primarily to stave off Iranian hegemony in the region and that may be a factor; but the cooperation has extended to business, tourism, innovation, security and other industries.

They say fortune favours the brave and this is evident daily in the extraordinary amount of deals being signed, knowledge exchanges, tourism and more. The peace train has started its journey around the Middle East and while it may be only a few carriages long, there is hope that it will grow in size and stature. Israel’s leaders have made historic trips to both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and delegations like the interfaith Sharaka, have visited Israel, travel permitting. There has been an exchange of ambassadors and embassies have been opened. Peace is flourishing.

Hands OnYoung influencers from the Abraham Accord countries find common ground with Israelis on a personal level during a visit to Israel. (Photo Itamar Eyal)

You would think that with this historic level of goodwill, many of Israel’s detractors would find some redeeming qualities about the Jewish state they are so intent on demonizing but sadly, they can’t. Several weeks ago, self-proclaimed “progressive” organisations, If Not Now (famous for saying Kaddish, the prayer for the dead for Hamas terrorists who have been eliminated), Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) and various others, put together a petition objecting to the Abraham Accords. “While masquerading as ‘peace’ and ‘diplomacy’, the Abraham Accords and this legislation are in fact an endorsement of arms sales and political favors between the US and authoritarian regimes – including weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates and the recognition of Morocco’s illegal annexation of Western Sahara – in exchange for the sidelining of Palestinian rights,” read their statement.

Several weeks ago, US Congressman, Jamaal Bowman, who is considered a progressive amongst the Democratic Party, joined a JStreet delegation to Israel, meeting a variety of leaders both in Israel and from the Palestinian Authority. Last week, Bowman, a signatory to a treaty endorsing the Abraham Accords, withdrew his support citing that it ignores Palestinian rights.

Finding Common Ground. During the first delegation to the Jewish state of Bahrainis organized by the NGO Sharaka, young Bahraini influencers had their preconceptions challenged on a country-wide tour  of Israel.

Nothing says “we are so progressive” like protesting peace accords!!

It is no great secret that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one of the most complicated in the world; but at what stage do these organisations and leaders stop infantising the Palestinians? If these “progressives” were sincere about peace, they would not only encourage the Abraham Accords, they would stop the obsessive and unhelpful demonization of Israel and ignoring of Palestinian intransigence that still encourages incitement, pay-for-slay and other obstacles to peace.

Nobody is saying that Israel is faultless but the obsession of the progressives to paint Israel as the sole obstacle to peace is dangerous and counterproductive.

They are not the only ones who are like dogs with a juicy bone when it comes to the Israel- Palestinian conflict.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHEC) also have an obsession with the Jewish state, having passed more resolutions and sent more inquiries concerning the Jewish state than other conflicts and human rights abusers. As the world stands on the precipice of a potential war between Russia and the Ukraine, the UNHRC turns its focus to……….Israel.

The UNHRC has set up an inquiry into the flare up between Israel and Hamas during May of 2021. Heading up this inquiry will be Navi Pillay, a South African jurist who served as the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to 2014. 

Mockery of Justice. Appointed to chair the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) inquiry into alleged abuses of Palestinians,  retired South African judge and former UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay from South Africa – who has backed sanctions against Israel in the past  – is justly accused of anti-Israel bias and is facing demands to step down.

Pillay, who is mandated to be impartial, has a long history of anti-Israel rhetoric and this has prompted watchdog, UN Watch, to submit a 30-page complaint to the UNHRC alerting them to the fact that she had not disclosed her previous prejudicial statements.

Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch says:

 “It is astonishing that the United Nations appointed an individual as the supposedly impartial chair of an inquiry immediately after she declared one of the parties guilty in the very controversies that are at issue in the investigation .By heading this inquiry, despite having repeatedly declared Israel guilty of precisely the crimes that she is supposed to investigate, Navi Pillay embodies the injustice of the UN and its human rights council when it comes to the selective treatment of the Jewish state.”

Demonstrable Bias. Accusing the chair of the UN commission of inquiry into the May 2021 conflict between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas, international lawyer Hillel C. Neuer, the Executive Director of UN Watch (above), has called for Navi Pillay to resign for violating UN rules of impartiality, notably her frequent prejudice against the Jewish state.

While the inquiry is mandated to examine “systematic discrimination” on the basis of race, ethnicity or national origin, in June 2020 Navi Pillay signed a petition, organized by the South African Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (SA BDS) coalition, entitled: “Sanction Apartheid Israel!”

In a May 2021 lecture, Pillay described Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “inhuman”. She compared Israel to Apartheid South Africa, and defended the systematic singling-out of Israel under a targeted agenda item at the UN Human Rights Council.

Apartheid is now being declared a crime against humanity in the Rome Statute, and it means the enforced segregation of people on racial lines, and that is what is happening in Israel,” said Pillay in November 2017.

Neuer continues:

 “Never throughout her UN tenure did Pillay use such dismissive language regarding any other country—not even against serial abusers such as China, Russia, Iran, Syria or North Korea. From her statements, it is clear that in Pillay’s eyes, Israel is a cruel and oppressive colonizer, and a racist regime. Her narrative of who is the villain is set in stone. Ms. Pillay has long ago made up her mind. Asking Navi Pillay to head an inquiry examining Israel is like asking a vegetarian to review a steakhouse. When it comes to Israel, as our legal brief demonstrates, Pillay is the complete opposite of impartial. The legal test is the appearance of bias, and there’s no doubt that Pillay fails the test. We are therefore calling on her to do the right thing, and to resign immediately.”

The UNHRC have to date, stood by their appointment of Pillay.

The examples shown above clearly demonstrate that Israel’s detractors, while seeking to appear concerned about social justice and human rights, have a greater agenda in place – the continued labelling of Israel as a pariah state, to be excluded from the family of nations.

As the Muslim world continues to open up to rapprochement and normalization with the Jewish state and the social justice warriors continue with their efforts to scupper peace, it is increasingly evident who the true progressives are.

Young Israelis and Emiratis meet online after peace deal – BBC News

Education and the thought police

This article is feature in Lay of the Land:

The Thought Police are eroding history bringing us to a cultural tipping point

By Rolene Marks

There is a song that contains the following lyrics, “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control, no dark sarcasm in the classroom, hey teachers, leave them kids alone! All in all we’re just another brick in the wall.” Yes, you know the one.

The thought control police are everywhere these days. Hardly a day goes by when news hasn’t broken about some or other cultural icon being cancelled because it is “offensive”. Cartoon skunk, Pepe le Pew is a misogynist (reminder, he is a CARTOON SKUNK), M&M’s are not diverse enough (yes, I know you also think about diversity when scoffing a candy treat), Mr. Potato Head and a whole host of others, both fictional and real have been given their marching orders.

It seems that the fictional works or George Orwell in the classic book 1984 are coming to pass.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the massive whoopsie that Whoopi Goldberg made on her TV show, “The View”.  Her comments about the Holocaust not being about race but rather “two groups of white people fighting each other” exposed not just a fault line of how critical race theory is permeating news and media but also the glaring lack of education about the Shoah.

Lost Opportunity. When ABC simply suspended Whoopi Goldberg rather than engage in serious conversation about the Holocaust anchored on why her comments were false and offensive, the news network missed an opportunity to educate.

What started the brouhaha was a discussion centred on the McMinn County school board in Tennessee wanting to remove the iconic Holocaust-based book, Maus, from the eighth-grade curriculum. There were concerns about sexual content and language but also that the “US was not painted in a positive light”.

A Zoom meeting was held between the author of the book, Art Speigelman, members of the board and concerned parents. One board member commented:

What we need is a book that shows the patriotism we can proudly feel for having liberated the Jews from the camps.” Spiegelman pointed out that the US was reluctant to join the war and put a stop to the persecution of Jews, and that it was the Russians who liberated Auschwitz, where his father had been held.

Scared of a Mouse. The iconic Holocaust based book and the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, Art Spiegelman’s Mausfell foul of a school board in Tennessee, USA that wanted it removed from the school syllabus concerned that the “US was not painted in a positive light”. 

Even if they say they’re willing to teach the Holocaust, they want a fuzzier, warmer, gentler Holocaust that shows how great the Americans were,” Speigelman said.

This is a dangerous world. It’s getting more dangerous. Are you going to try to confront it in a way that’s useful, or hide your head in myths and stories that are heartwarming?” he said.

There is no “easy” way to teach the Holocaust.  This most brutal genocide of the Jews of Europe needs to be taught in all its brutality.

I am not a fan of cancel culture. I believe it destroys important opportunities to educate people by cutting off discourse. It also effectively cancels a channel for the person who has erred to learn from their mistakes and do right by those they have offended.

Brutal Revelations. From a page in Maus, which represents Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, Americans as dogs, the British as fish, the French as frogs, and the Swedish as deer.

ABC, by suspending Whoopi and not engaging in any further conversation about the Holocaust and why her comments were so offensive, missed the opportunity to educate. They effectively swept the issue under carpet and sent her to the naughty corner.

Goldberg is back at The View, promising to have those “uncomfortable discussions”. No comment whether or not she had engaged in any Holocaust based education during her suspension. What a waste of two weeks that could have involved speaking to survivors, educators and perhaps Speigelman himself.

The revision and reframing of history to push agendas is extremely worrying. Statues have been toppled in cities around the world unless the subjects have unimpeachable records. The mob have come for Thomas Jefferson, cancelled Abraham Lincoln and are gunning for Winston Churchill amongst others. No leader is absolutely perfect but now would be a good time to remind the thought police that if it weren’t for Churchill who led the defeat of the Nazis, the alternative would have been devastating.

Age of Outrage. Joe Rogan, Sharon Osbourne, Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen DeGeneres are just some of the celebrity talk show hosts to land in hot water in recent months. (Getty/Joe Rogan Experience/Spotify/CBS)

We only have to look at the whole discussion around Spotify podcaster Joe Rogan and those trying to deplatform him to see how divergent voices are shut down. Whether or not we agree or disagree with his views on Coved-19 or any other topic, don’t we have a right to decide for ourselves?

I recall some of my own experiences while doing my degree in International Relations when I lived in South Africa. I had to hand in an assignment in my International Law class that was a study of the Second Lebanon war. The case study in question left out pertinent points about Hezbollah firing Katyusha rockets at Israeli civilians. Basically the case study stated that Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and the response from the IDF was to flatten parts of Lebanon. When I confronted my professor, I was told “this is a South African university and we are only interested in a South African perspective”. So much for evidentiary support for my argument! Certainly explains a few things about South African foreign policy vis a vis Israel!

These are not the sole examples I can think of. Every day brings new examples of lack of education and thought control. Some days it is gender issues, other days it is the Middle East (you should hear the experts on THAT!) or the pandemic and so on.

We are at a critical juncture in education when agendas trump history and dissenting voices on certain topics are being shut down in favour of a herd think mentality.

It brings me back to the song I referenced at the beginning. We do need an education, it is not thought control, it is simply understanding and learning about the past in all its painful context so that we can reflect and move towards the future, hopefully as better, more tolerant human beings.