Sunday, June 23, 2013

Why Norway can show us the way

 Stavanger, heart of Norway's Bible Belt.

The Jewish refugee issue dramatically changes the discourse on Jews and Israel, as one group of sympathetic Norwegian activists has discovered. Not only is it a debate winner, but it pays other dividends, says Lyn Julius in the Times of Israel:

To put it mildly – Norway is not known for its sympathy to Israel, or indeed Jews. Arguably, anti-Zionist waters run deep in its sleepy fjords. The celebrated lawyer and advocate Alan Dershowitz received an Arctic welcome and was prevented from lecturing at Norwegian universities. A recent cartoon in the mass circulation Dagbladet marks a slide into mindboggling anti-Semitism.
Thus it came as a pleasant surprise to read of the experiences of David M Weinberg, Director of Public Affairs at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Weinberg spent a week with activists of Med Israel for Fred (MIFF), a dynamic Norwegian pro–Israel group. He writes:

Norwegian MIFF activists have learned that it is simply not enough to explain Israel’s security dilemmas or to revisit Israel’s diplomatic generosity toward the Palestinians. What’s needed is a much more basic restatement of Israel’s cause and purpose: Israel as a grand historic reunion of people and land, as a shelter for the Jewish People, and as a just and moral actor in the medieval and violent Arab Middle East.
One issue in particular delivers a ‘bombshell’ – or a ‘knockout punch’: Jewish refugees from Arab countries:
Particularly important in this regard is education of the non-Jewish public about the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Nobody knows about the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were expelled from Arab lands and absorbed by Israel, and when they learn of this it dramatically changes the discourse. As opposed to a conversation about Palestinian rights vs Israeli security, the conversation becomes a debate about a balance of rights: about Israeli/Jewish rights and Palestinian/Arab rights.
MIFF has some 7,000 members, mostly in western Norway’s Bible Belt. One of its leaders, Odd Myrland, told Weinberg:
This evens out the playing field, and forces people to think about justice for Israel. We’ve extensively tested this messaging over a long period of time and it is a bombshell.
Jewish refugees from Arab lands is our successful knockout punch. We mustn’t ignore this important issue.
Some might object to the expression ‘knockout punch ‘: It trivialises an issue that goes to the heart of justice, human rights, and the Arab/Islamist conflict with Israel and the Jews. But if advocacy is a slanging match between rival narratives, the Jewish refugee issue is a surefire debate winner.

Inserting Jewish refugees into the discourse pays other dividends. Jews were indigenous to the region 1,000 years before the Islamic conquest, with an uninterrupted presence not just in Palestine, but all over the ‘Arab’ world. The issue turns on its head the common misconception that Israel is an outpost of western colonialism and imperialism. The 7th century Arab invasion turned native Jews and Christians into minorities in their own lands, converting them to Islam, appropriating their shrines and erasing their history.

Indeed, the true colonisers here are the Arab Muslims – and the colonised, Jews and other indigenous non-Arabs and non-Muslims.

A study of the history of Jewish communities swiftly demonstrates that antisemitism predated Israel by centuries and validates the Jewish state as a modern sanctuary.

This anti-Semitism takes the form of an ancient religious contempt for ‘dhimmi’ Jews, on the one hand, and a modern, Nazi-inspired, genocidal Jew-hatred on the other. The former accounts for a deep religious and cultural resistance to the idea of a Jewish state. The latter emptied the Arab Muslim world of Jews, as well as other sects and minorities, and still drives the conflict with Israel. The violence and abuse suffered by these Jews constitute an unresolved human rights issue. The common objection to the Jewish refugee issue – that the Palestinians had nothing to do with it – is an easily-demonstrable fallacy. 

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