Senior British Jews condemn Israel’s ‘alarming’ West Bank annexation plan

Senior British Jews condemn Israel’s ‘alarming’ West Bank annexation plan
Some of the most respected members of the UK’s Jewish community have written to Israel’s ambassador in London to condemn “alarming” plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. (AFP/Reuters)
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Updated 06 June 2020

Senior British Jews condemn Israel’s ‘alarming’ West Bank annexation plan

Senior British Jews condemn Israel’s ‘alarming’ West Bank annexation plan
  • Academics and Holocaust survivor among critical voices
  • Intervention hailed as Jewish community ‘game-changer’

LONDON: Some of the most respected members of the UK’s Jewish community have written to Israel’s ambassador in London to condemn “alarming” plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank and Jordan Valley.

The letter to Mark Regev, signed by 40 people including politicians, academics, scientists and writers, called the move “alarming,” saying it would be a “pyrrhic victory intensifying Israel’s political, diplomatic and economic challenges without yielding any tangible benefit.”

The signatories include former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, historians Sir Simon Schama and Simon Sebag Montefiore, scientist Lord Robert Winston, former Labour MP Luciana Berger, Lord Daniel Finkelstein, a columnist at The Times newspaper, the author Howard Jacobson, and Sir Ben Helfgott, one of the UK’s best-known Holocaust survivors.

“We are yet to see an argument that convinces us, committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel, that the proposed annexation is a constructive step,” they said. “It would have grave consequences for the Palestinian people most obviously. Israel’s international standing would also suffer and it is incompatible with the notion of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.”

The letter continued: “The impact on diaspora Jewry and its relationship with the state of Israel would also be profound. The British Jewish community is an overwhelmingly Zionist community with a passionate commitment to Israel. We proudly advocate for Israel but have been helped in doing so by Israel’s status as a liberal democracy, defending itself as necessary but committed to maintaining both its Jewish and democratic status.

“A policy of annexation would call that into question, polarizing Jewish communities and increasing the divisive toxicity of debate within them, but also alienating large numbers of diaspora Jews from engaging with Israel at all. Under these circumstances, the commitment to Israel that has been such a vital glue in sustaining and uniting Jewish communities, as well an asset for Israel, will decline.”

The letter was welcomed by Tal Ofer, a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), who has previously spoken out about the annexation, and was one of 33 signatories of a letter to the board by various deputies in May, calling for it to denounce the plan. The BoD rejected the demands, saying: “We don’t take sides in Israeli politics.”

But Ofer said that this latest letter, from such a prominent set of respected supporters of Israel, might force a rethink.

“I think this intervention is unprecedented and a game-changer in the Jewish community, especially as many of the signatories do not usually sign letters,” he told Arab News. “These are some of Israel’s strongest supporters in the community, including the former president of the BoD, Vivian Wineman.

“The BoD, which is the democratically elected representative of the community, needs to reflect the mainstream view of the community, which supports the two-state solution and opposes annexation.”

Others also applauded the intervention.

A spokesperson from the campaign organization Na’amod: British Jews Against Occupation said the group welcomed “communal leaders speaking out” against the annexation, but added that the letter should have made more effort to refer to the impact that annexation would have on Palestinians.

“After 53 years of occupation, it is time for our community to go beyond condemnation and set out consequences if annexation goes ahead,” the spokesperson told Arab News. “We are calling for action, such as an end to our community’s informal relationship with Israeli officials, and are proud to have mobilized hundreds of British Jews from across communal life in support of this cause.”

Ofer, though, highlighted that the letter would make it harder for people, governments and organizations to stay silent, even if they held an affinity with Israel.

“Regarding the consequences, there will have to be a reaction from the international community,” he said. “There could be some sanctions or some form of diplomatic isolation. Also it would mean many in the Jewish community won’t be able to defend Israel’s annexation, and will feel detached from Israel.”

Tel Aviv’s plan to formally annex parts of the Occupied Territories, proposed by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and agreed to by his coalition government partner Benny Gantz, has been condemned by many members of the international community, and has caused serious political backlash in the UK.

In May 130 politicians, including peers and former government ministers from across the political spectrum, signed a letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to impose economic sanctions on Israel if it pressed ahead with the annexation.


Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests

Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests
Updated 13 May 2021

Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests

Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests
  • German cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Hannover have seen anti-Israeli protests over the past few days
  • Two synagogues were attacked and several Israeli flags were torn down and burned since violence erupted in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

BERLIN: Germany’s leading Jewish group on Thursday sharply condemned protests in front of a synagogue in the western city of Gelsenkirchen as “pure antisemitism.”
Several other German cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Hannover have seen anti-Israeli protests over the past few days.
At least two synagogues were attacked, and several Israeli flags were torn down and burned since the latest eruption of violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany tweeted a video of dozens of protesters in Gelsenkirchen waving Palestinian and Turkish flags and yelling expletives about Jews.
“Jew hatred in the middle of Gelsenkirchen in front of the synagogue. The times in which Jews were cursed in the middle of the street should have long been over. This is pure antisemitism, nothing else!” the group tweeted.
The German government repeatedly condemned anti-Israeli and antisemitic attacks earlier this week and said that “the perpetrators must be found and held responsible and Jewish institutions must be protected thoroughly.”
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Funke Media Group that “there must be zero tolerance for attacks on synagogues in our country.”
“All of us are called on to make it very clear that we do not accept if Jews in Germany are made responsible for the events in the Middle East — neither in the streets nor on social media,” Maas added.
The protests in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday were dispersed by police, German news agency DPA reported, but authorities reported further incidents in other parts of the country.
Some cities which had hoisted Israeli flags in front of their city halls on Wednesday in remembrance of the start of German-Israeli diplomatic relations on May 12, 1965, reported that the flags were torn down and sometimes burned.
An Israeli flag in front of a city hall in the western town of Solingen was torn and burnt and two Israeli flags in Berlin were also torn down late Wednesday night.
On Tuesday night, police stopped 13 suspects in the western city of Muenster near a synagogue after an Israeli flag was burned there. In the western city of Bonn, police said several people damaged the entrance of a synagogue with stones and investigators found a burned flag as well. In nearby Duesseldorf, somebody burned garbage on top of a memorial for a former synagogue.
Several cities and states in Germany have since upped their security and raised police presence in front of Jewish institutions, dpa reported.
In Berlin, some 100 people also assembled for a pro-Israel rally on Wednesday night in front of the city’s landmark Brandenburg Gate waving Israeli flags and holding a banner saying “We stand with Israel — Now and Forever.”


Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr

Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr
Updated 13 May 2021

Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr

Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr
  • Members of the Islamic community in Palermo, which numbers around 20,000, joined early-morning prayers at the Foro Italico, a vast open-air area facing the sea
  • Stewards from the community made sure that social distancing was maintained, with Sicily still recording a high number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases

ROME: Thousands of Muslims in Palermo gathered in the capital of Sicily’s waterfront to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr and pray for the victims in Palestine.

Several members of the Islamic community in Palermo, which counts around 20,000 members, joined early-morning prayers at the Foro Italico, a vast open-air area facing the sea.

Everyone was wearing a mask and carrying their own carpet. Stewards from the community made sure that social distancing was maintained, with Sicily still recording a high number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.

Prayers were led by Mustafà Boulaalam, the imam of the mosque of Piazza Gran Cancelliere, which before 1998 was a Catholic church and was donated to the Islamic community by the late Cardinal of Palermo Salvatore Pappalardo. Imams from the city’s other mosques and Islamic centers also joined this moment of reflection.

The Mayor of Palermo Leoluca Orlando represented the city, and gave his best wishes to the Islamic community.

Orlando said: “In this moment we are all called to build fraternity in order to create peace and feel that we are children of one God. Unfortunately, this fraternity we all long for continues to be mortified by the deaths in the Mediterranean of migrants who try to reach Europe from North Africa but also from the bombs and blood that in these hours are tearing Palestine apart.”

He added: “We must all fight to defend life and pursue fraternity between individuals and peoples in the wake of peace.”

The mayor told Arab News: “Even this year Eid Al-Fitr is a feast for the entire city of Palermo and all of its citizens, not only for the Muslims who live and work here.”

Fr. Piero Magro read a message of participation from the Palermo Archbishop Corrado Lorefice, who was represented at the prayer by Biagio Conte, a lay missionary who since the late 1990s has run the “Missione di Speranza e Carità,” a charity in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Palermo.

“In our mission we have every day hundreds of Muslim brothers coming to seek for help. We try to do whatever we can to help them, especially in this particularly difficult time of the pandemic. Because we are all brothers and only if we are together we will overcome the hardship,” Conte told Arab News.

In Rome, only 1,000 were admitted for prayers in the grounds of the Great Mosque in the north of the Italian capital. 

The Islamic Cultural Center advised those over 70 and children to not attend. The center ordered everyone to bring their own disinfected Sajjada and to practice ablutions at home before reaching the mosque.

“It is so nice to be here again, all together, to pray in respect of the precautions. This Ramadan has been more normal than the one we had last year, when the pandemic reached its peak. At least we can go to the Islamic centers, and now we can celebrate,” Hussein Garoub, 20, a student at the La Sapienza University in Rome, told Arab News after the prayer.


Protests over Glasgow immigration raid on Eid

Protests over Glasgow immigration raid on Eid
Updated 13 May 2021

Protests over Glasgow immigration raid on Eid

Protests over Glasgow immigration raid on Eid
  • 200 protesters in a largely Muslim part of Scotland's biggest city demonstrated as immigration officials raided a property on Eid al-Fitr’s first day
  • There was no immediate comment from the UK Home Office on who was targeted in the raid

GLASGOW: Around 200 protesters in a largely Muslim part of Scotland’s biggest city demonstrated as immigration officials raided a property on Thursday, the start of the festival of Eid Al-Fitr.
The raid occurred in the Glasgow constituency of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said she was “deeply concerned by this action by the Home Office, especially today in the heart of a community celebrating Eid.”
“My office is making urgent enquiries and stands ready to offer any necessary assistance to those detained,” she tweeted.
There was no immediate comment from the UK Home Office on who was targeted in the raid but Mohammad Asif, director of the Afghan Human Rights Foundation, indicated they were Afghans.
“The same people who run from the British and American bombs put at the back of the van right now. And they are about to be deported,” he said.
“And it’s on Eid you know... the guys are not even allowed to pray. How do you do that in a democratic society? It’s a sad day.”
Watched by a large deployment of police, protesters sat on the road in front of the property and a crowd gathered around the Home Office vehicle, chanting “Leave our neighbors, let them go” and “Cops go home.”
The three-day festival of Eid marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. It is traditionally celebrated with mosque prayers, family feasts and shopping.
“I’d ask Christians to reflect on what it would feel like to have your house raided on Christmas Day,” said Tom, a neighbor who joined the protest.


Afghan president says Pakistan will not support return of Taliban

Afghan president says Pakistan will not support return of Taliban
Updated 13 May 2021

Afghan president says Pakistan will not support return of Taliban

Afghan president says Pakistan will not support return of Taliban
  • Ghani’s remarks come days after the Pakistan army chief visits Kabul despite stalled negotiations
  • Ties between Kabul and Islamabad have been historically tense but have soured even more in the past 20 years

KABUL: Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said on Thursday that Pakistan, which Kabul has long seen as a supporter of the Taliban, is not in favor of the group’s return to power in his war-battered country.

Concerns are mounting among the current Afghan administration because the complete US troop withdrawal, expected by September, could leave the country vulnerable to a Taliban takeover 20 years after it was ousted from power in a US-led invasion.

Ghani’s remarks came days after a visit from Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, to Kabul.

“Pakistan’s army, in utter clarity, announced that the revival of Islamic Emirate is not in Pakistan’s national interest,” Ghani said in a televised speech after Eid Al-Fitr prayers, marking the end of Ramadan.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was the country’s name during Taliban rule from 1996-2001.

“Afghanistan’s peace and stability means peace and stability in the region,” the president said, adding the Pakistani general expressed his support for “the republic” — which is understood as Ghani’s government.

The Pakistani military did not immediately comment on Ghani’s statement. Its spokesperson also was not available when contacted by Arab News.

Ties between Kabul and Islamabad have been historically tense but have soured even more in the past 20 years. The Afghan government accused Pakistan of backing the Taliban which has been fighting to drive foreign troops out of the country and return to power.

While Pakistan has denied supporting the Taliban, its influence has been crucial in persuading the militants to join ongoing US-sponsored negotiations for a permanent ceasefire and power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan.

Gen. Bajwa’s visit to Kabul came as the negotiations have stalled for months and violent attacks in Afghanistan have been on the rise since the US missed a May 1 deadline to withdraw its soldiers under last year’s agreement between Washington and the Taliban.

“Pakistan is also not keen on seeing an extremist ideology taking root in Afghanistan. It represents a risk for the generals and Pakistan’s democracy as well,” Toreq Farhadi, a former adviser to the Afghan government, told Arab News.

“Pakistan wants a political settlement in Afghanistan where Taliban can be part of the governing structure and opposes a total takeover of power by the Taliban.”


Muslims around the world mark Eid al Fitr

Muslims around the world mark Eid al Fitr
Updated 13 May 2021

Muslims around the world mark Eid al Fitr

Muslims around the world mark Eid al Fitr
  • For the second year Muslims celebrations are being impacted by COVID-19 restictions
  • In Gaza Muslims marked Eid despite the escalating violence with Israel

DUBAI: Millions of Muslims around the world performed Eid Al-Fitr prayers on Thursday with varying degrees of restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 and civil unrest.

Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from any form of food – liquid or solid – as well as not smoking during daylight hours.

There are some similarities in the way Muslims celebrate around the world, with prayers and where possible with family and friends.

In Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Muslims bake cakes, go on picnics and organize barbecues in forests.

In Gaza, Muslims still prayed together despite intense fighting with Israel.

 

 

And in China - where the government has been facing intense criticism for its treatment of minority Muslims - Beijing's Muslim community gathered for Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Niujie Mosque - the capital city's biggest and oldest mosque.

In Afghanistan a three-day ceasefire has been agreed by the warring Taliban and Afghan forces, which came into force on Thursday.

Indonesia – the world’s biggest Muslim majority nation – has for a second year been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.  

 

 

Many mosques have had to be closed and restrictions on movements have impacted family reunions.

Even in non-Islamic countries, Muslims will attend local mosques to pray - but Thursday is normal working day and some will book the time off work to be with family - COVID–19 restrictions allowing.

For more images of Muslims welcoming Eid Al-Fitr click here.