Following the Knesset’s passing of the Nation-State Law, Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh released the following statement:
“Today, I will have to tell my children, along with all the children of Palestinian Arab towns in the country, that the state has declared that it does not want us here. It has passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens.
“But I will also say to them, and to all minorities in this country: we refuse to be second-class citizens; we will not allow the majority to humiliate and destroy us. Netanyahu’s regime is digging a deep pit of fear, racism and authoritarianism to divide us from each other. But they can never erase us from the homeland we share. We know that the way forward, the struggle of our lifetime, is to build a future for all of us with democracy, equality and justice.”
The second paragraph of his statement evokes memories of Jewish aspirations in the lands of their dispersion. It is ironic that this law was passed almost in tandem with the proposed Austrian legislation on kosher meat restrictions – and on the eve of Tisha Be’Av, with its implicit “do unto others” message. Aside from anything else, Arabic, which for so long was regarded as Israel’s second official language, has lost that status, and is now just a “special” language. Does this mean that Arabic will now be removed from street signs, postage stamps and official notices – and will this backfire on Jewish communities in the Diaspora?
■ BRITISH BORN journalist Anshel Pfeffer, who has spent a large part of his life in Israel, has written a comprehensive, favorably-reviewed book about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under the title Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Currently on a launch tour that included the Jerusalem Press Club, Pfeffer admitted that it had been a great challenge to write a biography about Israel’s controversial leader because Netanyahu, who will one day write his autobiography and has been amassing material for it, had refused to grant him an interview. Moreover, Pfeffer had to force himself to put aside anything he had heard about Netanyahu and his family, much of which has become national myth, and to do in-depth research.
He admitted that he had been wrong in some of his beliefs about Netanyahu. “You have to challenge everything you know about the subject and his family,” said Pfeffer, who also had to be careful with the use of information gleaned from people close to the prime minister, because he didn’t want to leave himself open to a libel suit. Whether one loves or hates Netanyahu, he said, there is no question about his position as a world leader. “He has attained his position through merit. He’s not an aberration. He’s an historical figure.”
A common misconception about Netanyahu is that he incited against former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in his anti-Oslo accords campaign. According to Pfeffer, “there is not one case in which Netanyahu made ad hominem incitement against Rabin. He never gave any encouragement to violence” – although he was present where people did say such things. “A lot of things about Rabin’s death have not been investigated,” said Pfeffer, who writes for Haaretz, is the Israel correspondent for The Economist, and used to write for The Jerusalem Post.
The book is dedicated to the late David Landau, a former diplomatic correspondent and managing editor at the Post, who went on to found the English language edition of Haaretz and become the editor in chief of Haaretz as a whole. Landau, who died in January 2015, was also the Israel correspondent for The Economist. In its obituary, the magazine wrote: “Mr. Landau was a writer of wit and integrity whose thirst for justice for Palestinians and for a better understanding of Israel across the world was paramount.” Landau was Pfeffer’s mentor and friend who not only encouraged him to write the book, but basically forced him to go ahead with the project. Jerusalem Press Club founder and director Uri Dromi recalled that Landau, shortly before his death when he was already very ill, also had a book launch with JPS – Arik the Life of Ariel Sharon.
■ MEMBERS OF the Israel, Britain and The Commonwealth Association were pleased to learn this week that the British speaker at the organization’s annual Balfour Dinner will be the 5th Earl of Balfour, Lord Roderick Balfour. It might have been more appropriate to have him last year on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, but he’d been in Israel in September, so it wasn’t fair to ask him to come back two months later. Lord Jacob Rothschild – whose relative had received the famous letter that became known as the Balfour Declaration – was an equally ideal speaker, and he did the honors. The announcement of Lord Balfour’s forthcoming participation at the Balfour Dinner was made at IBCA’s annual general meeting, by outgoing and incoming IBCA chairman Alex Deutsch who was unanimously voted back into office.
The meeting at the Seven Stars Retirement Home in Herzliya Pituah was addressed by Ido Nechushtan, a former commander in chief of the Israel Air Force. His Bulgarian-born father Ya’akov Nechushtan, 93, was a member of the Irgun who was arrested by the British and deported to Eritrea and later to Kenya. In 1948, after returning to the nascent State of Israel, he was among the founders of Herut. A lawyer by profession, he was elected to the Knesset in 1969, and ten years later was appointed deputy Chief of Mission at the Israel Embassy in Washington. In 1982, he was appointed Israel’s ambassador to the Netherlands.
Ido Nechushtan, whose sabra mother was also a member of the Irgun, served as a fighter pilot in the IAF, flying an A-4 Skyhawk and subsequently an F-4 Phantom. He was appointed IAF commander in chief with the rank of Maj.-Gen. in April 2008, holding the position for four years. The first of the F-35 jets that are in the IAF fleet was purchased on his watch.
Although he’s been invited to speak in many places around the country, Nechushtan remarked that even though he’s lived in Israel all his life, he had never previously been to the beautiful Seven Stars building.
In presenting a strategic overview of Israel’s security situation, air force commander said that the roots of what’s going on in the Middle East can be traced to the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 in which the representatives of Britain and France more or less drew a straight line in the sand and divided the Middle East. “When you look at a map and see straight lines, you know that something is wrong, because it’s not a natural border,” said Nechushtan. The Sykes-Picot agreement was followed by the Balfour Declaration which was declared in November 1917 upon the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Then came the San Remo conference in 1920 in which Britain was given the mandate over Palestine, and in 1948 Israel became an independent sovereign state.
December 17, 2010, marked the beginning of the Arab Spring “which changed the Middle East forever” he said, adding that only Israel remained an island of democracy, stability and prosperity. Echoing the late president Shimon Peres, Nechushtan attributed Israel’s success and survival to the fact that Jews are never complacent and always strive for more. “Look at the conditions of 1948 and where we are now,” he said, adding that being unhappy with their lot is what keeps Jews on the edge.
While leaving no doubt of Israel’s ability to defeat her enemies, Nechushtan spoke of a new wave of jihadists who are all part of the ideology of a changing world in which the Sunnis, Shi’ites, Moslem Brotherhood and Jihadists (ISIS), when not fighting each other are united in their hatred of Israel. Despite the constant challenges confronting Israel, Nechushtan, who also has a military intelligence background, said that none of Israel’s enemies have Israel’s defense capabilities. “The IDF is the strongest military in the Middle East.” Israel has very strong deterrence, he said, “but it’s not enough to be strong. You have to demonstrate from time to time that you have the willingness to employ force.” Nechushtan said that deterrence is one of the major pillars that prevents hostilities between Israel and her neighbors from escalating into war.
■ THE ISRAEL Bar Association is not exactly popular following the dismal results of students who hoped to be admitted to the Bar, but failed the exams. Only 44% of students passed; for the most part, those attending universities did better than those attending colleges. But students across the board were angry because the test paper was not in line with what they had studied. Some had failed more than once.
Law is one of the traditional Jewish professions regardless of how anyone with a law degree identifies Jewishly. It’s something that’s in the genes; in countries around the globe, many of the top notch lawyers happen to be Jewish. Strangely, that spark of genius is less prevalent in Israel, regardless of whether the subject is Jewish Law or Civil Law. That’s not to say that Israel is lacking in good lawyers – the Bar Association can produce ample proof of that. President Reuven Rivlin is a qualified lawyer who practiced law before he became a legislator. Thus when members of the Israel Bar Association, specifically those belonging to the Tel Aviv and Central Districts, asked to meet with the president, he could hardly refuse.
As part of a project called the Israel Mosaic, members of the Tel Aviv and Central Districts Communications Committees held a workshop at the President’s Residence with Rivlin’s participation. The workshop’s theme was Law and Israeli Society, a subject to which Rivlin invariably refers at swearing ceremonies for judges. He reminds them that the fate of people who appear before them is in their hands, and urges that decisions be made in accordance with the law, but with compassion.
Heading the legal eagles who converged on the President’s Residence were Eli Naveh, President of the Israel Bar Association, and Inon Haiman, Chairman of the Tel Aviv District of the Bar Association who said that this and other projects were part of the association’s enrichment programs for its members.