Editorial, June 10, 2011

Assad indictment of Syria

IT has been often said that many Arab governments have no genuine interest in seeing Israel reach a peaceful resolution with its neighbours. On the contrary, every clash between the Jewish State and its enemies provides these autocratic regimes with an opportunity to distract their citizens from their own lack of freedom. Often, this distraction is just a byproduct of the friction. Sometimes, however, it’s the reason behind the provocations themselves. Successive recent attempts by Syrian Palestinians to breach Israel’s defence perimeter in the Golan Heights fall into the later category.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, which has been brutally suppressing a domestic uprising over the past three months, promised to draw Israel into a conflict if the insurrectionists did not desist their rebellion. With the current escalation on the Golan Heights, that threat has been realised.

Following the first incursion on May 15, when hundreds of Syrians destroyed the border fence and penetrated Israel, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) drew up plans for future attacks. That plan went into effect during Sunday’s second incursion attempt. Far from the bloodbath Syria’s state-sponsored media made it out to be, the IDF’s response was, in fact, measured and proportionate. Every effort was made to minimise fatalities, but at the same time, the IDF made sure to inform would-be infiltrators that the well-being of anyone attempting to breach the borders of Israel cannot be assured.

This is neither a callous nor unduly harsh sentiment, but rather a stark reality of the way borders in the entire Middle East – not just Israel – are guarded, and must be so, in lands pervasive with terrorism.

The solution to this escalation with Syria, which risks spreading to its Hezbollah allies along the Lebanese border, will not be found in changing the methods Israel uses to defend its borders. These, after all, have been honed and proven to be effective over decades. Instead, what is needed is to change something which has proven to be a complete failure for at least as long – namely the international community’s pandering to Syria’s despotic rulers.

Syrians do not need a government that encourages its people to fall upon a sword along the Israeli border at the same time it slaughters its internal critics. It’s long overdue for the world to stop calling for restraint by Syria and Israel, and instead start actively restraining the instigating party – Assad’s regime – before more people get hurt.

A new Israel outlook

ONE year ago, New Israel Fund (NIF) president Naomi Chazan was considered persona non grata in Australia. Following revelations that the NIF supported groups which had fuelled the anti-Israel sentiment of the Goldstone report, a planned trip down under was hastily cancelled.

Overnight, Chazan became the bete noire of Israeli democracy, while her organisation was portrayed as an anti-Zionist fifth column, indirectly promoting efforts to delegitimise the Jewish State and the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. Just a few months on, however, the former deputy speaker of the Knesset is due to address Jewish audiences in Melbourne and Sydney while, perhaps more significantly, a local branch of the NIF has been established, attracting the support of key communal personalities.

As the letters and opinion pages of The AJN in recent weeks have shown, many still distrust the NIF. And with question marks still hanging over some of her organisation’s funding policies, one can be sure that Chazan won’t be met with universal applause when she takes to the podium at Limmud-Oz this weekend. But given the diminished levels of hostility expressed by our correspondents and the high-profile patronage of the new Australian group, it seems clear that we are witnessing a paradigm shift in attitudes – not simply towards the NIF but also, crucially, towards what constitutes a legitimate expression of Zionist identity within the Diaspora.

Increasingly, the notion that to be loyal to Israel, a Jew must stand four- square behind the state, uncritically and unswervingly whatever the occasion or situation, seems to be evaporating. Many today, particularly among the younger generations, sense no conflict in hailing themselves as committed and active Zionists while at the same time taking issue with specific policies of the Israeli government or challenging social inequalities in Israeli society. They are, after all, merely echoing debates taking place within Israel itself. Of course, as Tzipi Livni stated in a landmark article last year, such criticism must be undertaken responsibly, with an awareness of how critical voices can help the cause of those who wish the Jewish State harm.

With the issue of dissension a hot topic at Limmud-Oz this weekend, it’s testament to the foresight of the community that it recognises that increasing diversity of opinions cannot be ignored. How that diversity is accommodated in the months and years ahead could be the crucial difference between engaging and alienating Australian Jewry’s future leaders.

read more: