In a recent debate in the British House of Lords proposed by Lord Langrish, the Bishop of Exeter, about discrimination against Arab-Israelis, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (pictured), a Liberal member of the House, was the only individual to raise the question of Jews expunged from countries. He also queries the double standards according to which inequalities in Israel are examined under the microscope, while Arab states are never held to account for the sorry plight of their minorities (with thanks: Lily):
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: My Lords, the previous time I spoke in the same debate as the right reverend Prelate was a year ago when your Lordships' House debated Christianity in the Middle East. I remember his words in December 2011 when he said,
- "almost every community-Muslims,
Christians, Jews; Arabs, Kurds, Copts, Israelis, Palestinians and
Turks-seeing themselves, with some justification, as a minority".
- "the primary victims of religious extremism in the Muslim world are other Muslims".-[Official Report, 9/12/11; col. 934.]
The right reverend Prelate told mainly a story of a half-empty glass. I will try to tell a story of a half-full glass and how the Israeli Government, unlike their neighbours, are working hard to improve the situation of their minorities-in my view, not quickly enough; the sooner it happens the better. (...)
I would have hoped that the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords, while detailing the inequalities-which do exist-would at least have mentioned some of the actions being taken to rectify those problems. As has been mentioned, there are numerous organisations inside and outside Israel trying to rectify those problems. That will take time but they should be given credit for so doing.
This is all against a background of Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, on his very recent visit to Gaza, referring to the liberation of Palestine in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Haifa and Jaffa while the crowds yelled, "Hit, hit Tel Aviv". This is also at a time when 40,000 have been killed in Syria without a demonstration in the UK. Nor were there Motions in this House when Hamas shot men accused of being Israeli spies without even the pretence of a trial. Their bodies were then dragged through the street behind motorcycles. I am not saying that there are not inequalities for Israeli Arabs-or Israeli Palestinians if you want-that need to be dealt with and are being dealt with, but perhaps we should also reflect on the bloody conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the hounding of the Christian Coptic community in Egypt, the unrest in a number of Middle Eastern states and the toppling of regimes.(...)
The reasons for inequalities in Israel, Britain and elsewhere are generally due to education, employment and where you are in the food chain of life. The aim in Israel and the UK is to improve the conditions of all by improving opportunities for a better life.
Finally, it would be good if the right reverend Prelate could also acknowledge that 850,000 Jews have been forcibly displaced and exiled from Arab countries since 1948, and that justice for such Jewish refugees from Arab countries has been expunged from the peace and justice narrative for the past 65 years.
I trust that when my noble friend the Minister replies she will say how Her Majesty's Government will acknowledge inequalities and discrimination worldwide-not just in Israel-and not just the accusations against Israel made in this debate.
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Denis Vandervelde has written the following letter to Bishop Langrish:
"As someone who has travelled quite extensively in the Middle East, I was amazed at your motion re the status of Arab citizens of Israel. I can only presume you are not personally acquainted with the status of the citizenry of Israel, or of any of its neighbours. Because if you had, you would be struck, as I have been, by the blatant discrimination against non-Moslems, (and often against Moslems of the wrong stripe), in all the Moslem states of the area ; and the full rights enjoyed by ALL citizens in Israel, including the more than 20% who are Moslem or Christian.
"When you do go, you will find that the so-called Arab Spring has destabilised most countries and led to greater discrimination, rather than less. You will not find it troubling, I imagine, that there are virtually no Jews left in the Arab world : they were all driven out (or in some places killed) more than a generation ago. But you should be worried : they had lived, however uncomfortably, in those cities and towns for more than two thousand years - longer by far than any Moslems, longer than almost all Christian communities : in cities like Baghdad they constituted a third of the population, (and incidentally most of the benevolent employers and administrators). But that is history, and no concern of a Christian Bishop.
"But when you seek to find your Christian colleagues in those countries, you will find it difficult in most - those who could get out, have done so - and horribly degrading in many others. Bethlehem - King David's city as well as Jesus's shelter - was predominantly Christian in living memory : it is now a Moslem city. In Egypt, the wretchedly poor Copts, more than 10% of the population whose plight has been studiously ignored by their Western brethren, are now completely marginalised, their churches burnt, their daughters forcibly married to Moslem men, their humble homes and businesses closed or appropriated. You must be aware that the Christian element in every Arab country, (not to mention other Moslem states like Pakistan and Indonesia), has declined dramatically, and may not survive.
"In Israel, on the other hand, the Christian population, (and the Moslem for that matter), has steadily increased since the founding of the state. Arabs, regardless of religious affiliation, have full citizen rights. Are you aware that they have several M.K.s who proclaim their hope to destroy the state which pays them ? That Arabs have held some of the highest positions in society - judges, ambassadors, government ministers, even the Miss Israel title ? And a much higher standard of living than any of their cousins in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya or Gaza. Not to mention much better expectation of a long life.
"In short, I think that Israel is a model for a Middle-eastern multiracial society. It seems most Arabs in the West Bank agree with me. Whenever there is talk of a division of Jerusalem and the Holyland, most of them seem to want to be sure they are living on the Israeli side of the line. Who can blame them ?
"You need not take my word for this perspective : in Baghdad the tiny rump of the Anglican church is nursed by a very brave friend of mine, the Rev. Andrew White. I suggest you ask him where in that troubled region there is the LEAST discrimination against a minority faith."
Denis Vandervelde, London,