Did the Boycotters Hear The Good News about Israel?

In his message of April 17, 2014, Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, surprisingly forgot to send Passover greetings to his many Jewish friends in Jerusalem, but he did issue a Palestinian Prisoners Day Call for churches worldwide to pray and act for justice.  In solidarity with Palestinian prisoners, the Rev. Dr. invited the member churches to call on U.N. member-states to insist that Israel end its “policy of arbitrary detention" and to abide by the standard rules for the treatment of prisoners adopted in 1955.

Rev. Tveit’s invitation and his moral passion were in no way related to an individual, Issa Abd Rabbo, a Palestinian who had been released from prison in October 2013 as one of the 104 prisoners the Israeli government had agreed to release.  Israel had agreed to this in order to get the Palestinian Authority, who had insisted on it as a precondition, to come to the peace-negotiating table.

Mr. Rabbo had been imprisoned for murdering, on October 22, 1984, two Israeli university students, Ron Levi and Revital Seri, who had been hiking south of Jerusalem.  In an interview in Palestinian Media Watch after his release, he described his technique: “I tied them up, of course, and then sentenced them to death by shooting, in the name of the revolution.  I shot them, one bullet each.”

In light of Rabbo’s own account of the ordeal he suffered after his conviction for the murderous activity, one can now understand why well-meaning people may be troubled by the Israeli treatment of prisoners that is said to have caused heartache for the entire Palestinian people.  Rabbo explained to the media that he had collected stamps before his arrest, but it was difficult for him to pursue his hobby in prison, because “there are many restrictions, few letters arrived, and the quality of the stamps on them was poor…I had no special albums to put the stamps in properly so I put them in an envelope.”  Rabbo apparently suffered his ordeal with the courage he had shown when committing the murders, and he did not even mention the lack of fresh flowers every morning in his cell.

One must also now feel compassion for those individuals, including prominent celebrities such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Irish activist and 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, and the novelist Alice Walker, who find it difficult to avoid referring to Israel as an “apartheid state.”  They are all concerned about what they see as the devastating treatment of Palestinians by Israel, a treatment that Ms. Maguire regards as racist and as “ethnic cleansing.”  The solution must be to impose boycotts and sanctions against the state.  The BDS campaign will continue until, in Ms. Walker’s words, “Israel complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”  Though none appear to have degrees in international law, they all assert that Israel has been breaking the Geneva Conventions and is “committing crimes against humanity.”

Everyone is aware that Israel faces many internal and external challenges.  It is understandable that these boycotters are so active in publicizing those “crimes” that they have little time for observing the character of the diverse Israeli liberal democracy, politically, religiously, culturally, and sexually, and its response to those challenges.  They are too preoccupied to be aware of the 1.5 million Arabs in Israel who have full and equal legal rights, or to know of the Arab judge on the Israeli Supreme Court, or about the Arab military officers in the IDF, or the Arab heads of universities and other institutions.

The boycotters may also have little time for information about popular culture.  They could not possibly know of the success of the 25-year-old Israeli Arab woman who in 2012 won the national television talent show.  Nor could they possibly know of the result of the talent show in January 2014, when a 47-year-old Filipina, a lesbian by choice, and one of the 20,000 Filipina workers in Israel, won the contest by singing Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way.”

The upholders of moral principles and dedicated boycotters of Israel have bestowed their celebrity status on bias and bigotry.  They must be saddened by recent events in the “apartheid” country, particularly because Israel is so obviously succeeding in coercing women, especially Arab women, against their best interest to become highly educated, famous, and successful in their professions, so unlike the status of women in Arab countries.

The bigoted boycotters may perhaps already know about Miss Israel of 2014, the 21-year-old Yityish Aynaur, one of the 125,000 Israelis who came to Israel from Ethiopia.  She was born in a small village in northern Ethiopia, lost both of her parents at an early age, and immigrated to Israel when she was 12.  She became a model, and an officer in the IDF.  Her comment after her award, which may not have been communicated to the boycotters, was that “everyone can reach the top in Israel.”

Aynaur showed that you do not have to be white to be a Jew.  A recent event shows that you do not have to be a Jew to be a successful Israeli citizen.  The event concerns the fourth-season Israel MasterChef televised cooking competition in April 2004, featuring three candidates.  One is a white business man, a second is an Ethiopian-born Jewish Orthodox woman from Rishpon, and the third is an Arab woman from the largely Arab town of Baka al-Gharbiya in the Haifa area.  At the finale, which was the most watched TV episode in Israeli history (37% of households), the winner was Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the Arab contestant.

The winner had forgotten she was supposed to be living in an “apartheid” state.  She is a 32-year-old molecular biologist and mother of three.  She had obtained a Ph.D. from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology; has four other post-doctoral degrees, one in inter-bacterial communication; and is currently a post-doc at the Oranim College of Technology.  She won the contest with her menu combination of traditional Arab dishes with a modern twist.  Perhaps if boycotters change their minds and go to Israel they might visit her and try the Armenian lamb-filled dumplings topped with yogurt that she made at the contest.  Atammna-Ismaeel will surely welcome them in the Arab-Jewish culinary school she plans to open with the prize money – 200,000 shekels, or $57,000.

The boycotters must be morally indignant that at the last Israeli MasterChef contest in 2013, there was an ecumenical cast of candidates.  The winner was a German immigrant from Cologne who had converted to Judaism, and the runners-up were another Arab-Israeli Muslim female scientist, a neuroscience researcher, and a Jewish Orthodox woman with Moroccan roots.

Parenthetically, one wonders if a similar moral indignation of the boycotters has been unleashed as a result of the increasing enthusiasm of the Palestinian leaders to honor terrorists as heroes or heroines.  The most honored current heroine is Dulal Mughrabi, who is regarded as both a female role model and a martyr.  Her contribution to science and culture differed somewhat from the Israeli Arab women mentioned above.  She was not a neuroscientist or a nurse, but a 19-year-old leader of a Coastal Road massacre because she was determined to “kill as many Israelis as possible.”

She, and 12 other terrorists belonging to the Fatah Al-Asifa forces, was responsible for the massacre when, on March 11, 1978, they hijacked a bus north of Tel Aviv.  They killed 38 civilians, including 13 children, and wounded 72 others.  At some point in the operation, during which she was killed, Mughrabi raised the Palestinian flag.  This “bride of Palestine” has been honored in numerous ways, among them by having university football and table tennis tournaments, public squares, computer centers, girls' high schools, and summer camps named after her.

At the official ceremony honoring her held on March 11, 2011, Mughrabi’s mother echoed the words of Palestinian official statements.  The Palestinian National Charter, passed in July 1968, states (Article 9) that “[a]rmed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine, and is therefore a strategy, not a tactic.”  The more recent Sixth Fatah Congress of August 2009 called for “the complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military, cultural existence through violence.”

Perhaps before the next time the bigoted boycotters speak of the absence of “peaceful coexistence” in the area, they might try to find the correct names and addresses of those who believe in liberation through violence and who thus are responsible for the perpetuation of non-peaceful existence.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.