Two events took place last week in two places as far apart as you can imagine, but they had something in common.
The first took place in the House of Lords where Jenny Tonge from the Liberal Democrats hosted a meeting calling on the government to apologise to the Palestinians for the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which Her Majesty’s government recognised the right of the Jewish people to a national home in the land of Israel.
During the event it was argued that Jews were to blame for the Holocaust, Jews suggested the Final Solution to Hitler (the fact that the Jews were the victims was strangely omitted), the State of Israel was compared to Isil and one of those who spoke claimed that “the Jews are the real anti-Semites.” To my knowledge none of those present bothered to tell him that his statement was absurd at worst, and actually still absurd at best.
The second event took place a few days prior, far away from the House of Lords, in the settlement of Efrat near Bethlehem. A group of dozens of Palestinians came to the “Tent of Peace” which was built by the Mayor of the local authority in honour of the Jewish holy day of Sukkot. They sat there together, Jews and Muslims, Sheiks and heads of Palestinian villages with Jewish settlers, enemies on paper but also just human beings, who live in the same battered and bruised land, and know that not everything in life is politics.
The conversation also wasn’t political. They drank coffee which was far too sweet (another Middle Eastern sin of which we are all guilty), talked about the rain that wasn’t yet coming, a bit about Judaism and Islam. The Mayor spoke about the fact that relationships between people are the key to a life together rather than pieces of paper signed by politicians.
Among the Palestinians was the family of a girl who had been killed in a road accident by a settler. As a result of the dialogue between the two sides, speed bumps were put in place on the road leading to their village and the people of Efrat came to pay their respects to the family. Another flare up was averted.
Two days later four of the Palestinians who had visited the “Tent of Peace” were arrested by the Palestinian Authority for “contact with the enemy.”
The Palestinian Authority people made clear that they knew that there was no “political dialogue” in the “Tent of Peace”. From their perspective, any attempt to conduct normal dialogue between people was a crime, and the punishment was jail. For them, so long as there is no Palestinian state, Jews and Arabs should only see one another through the sight of a gun.
As one who supports an agreement with the Palestinians and two states for two peoples, these two separate events sadden me to the same extent. An agreement, any agreement, will be dependent not only on maps and security arrangements but also on trust. If the Palestinians believe any dialogue with a Jew is a crime, and if supporters of the Palestinians think that the Jews are the ones who killed themselves in the Holocaust and they don’t deserve a state, who exactly are we supposed to talk with?
The blatant anti-Semitism on display at Jenny Tonge’s event doesn’t bother me. Lord Balfour supported the creation of a home for the Jewish people because he understood that there would always be people like that. The creation of the State of Israel doesn’t prevent modern anti-Semitism, it just allows us to tell the anti-Semites that they can shove it.
What does bother me though is that meetings like the one in the House of Lords strengthen the conviction of the Palestinians, time and again, that they have no reason to try and reach a reasonable compromise. If that’s the way Jews are talked about in the House of Lords, then even the Palestinian Authority can drop the façade of being moderate and start to lock up anyone who dares talk about peace and coexistence.
The piece was written by Yair Lapid,a member of Knesset, Chairperson of the Yesh Atid Party, is a former Finance Minister and a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee of the Knesset. It was published in The Telegraph on the 1st of November 2016