Hannah Weisfeld, director of Yachad which describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace”, last night joined a JSoc panel at UCL to discuss whether Israel’s friends should be critical of her conduct. She was debating alongside Jonathan Arkush, of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Davis Lewin, of the Henry Jackson Society, and Ed West, of the Daily Telegraph.
Weisfeld is a campaigner by profession and has worked on climate change, fairtrade and Darfur awareness campaigns. She studied at Sussex University and the LSE and has lived in Israel and Malawi. She’s 30.
Her main argument is that Israel has to be “Jewish and democratic” and she thinks that by 2050 it won’t be when considering that the population of Greater Israel (her words) by then will be half Palestinian and half Jewish. Therefore, “the occupation” has to end.
But one word that Weisfeld does not use often, if at all, is “security”.
She was asked why she doesn’t live in Israel near the West Bank and set up a political party to campaign against “the occupation”, instead of sitting in a safe London university theatre, but she thought the question unfair as it wouldn’t be asked of anyone else with differing political views to hers.
She also fully endorsed two organisations which are major demonisers of Israel; Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din and the website +972 Magazine.
But, it was Jonathan Arkush who summed up the position of the majority of British Jewry. The first part was addressed to a representative of Yesh Din in the audience. The second part addressed “the settlements”:
“It is the existence of a body like Yesh Din, which means in English ‘there is a law’, that actually makes me most proud of the state of Israel. That’s not because I agree with everything Yesh Din says or does, and I don’t have a detailed knowledge but I read the same as lots of people. I think it is an extraordinary thing for a country that is beset by so many attempts to delegitimise her and to threaten her militarily and to say she’s got no right to exist and that those seven and a half million citizens of Israel should somehow be swallowed up in another country or if you listen to the man in Tehran sent back to Germany to have a body like Yesh Din which is so self-critical of Israel and it makes me proud. But it’s about context. I think it’s great that there is a Yesh Din in Israel arguing as Israeli citizens for change in Israel. Maybe we could do with some more Yesh Dins in this country who also look at human rights questions in this country. I don’t know if there is much by way of a comparison. You certainly won’t find a Yesh Din in most of the countries of the United Nations that do so much to denigrate the state of Israel. But do I think that Yesh Din should be over here in London joining in with the chorus of denunciation, the boycotters, the delegitimisers? Absolutely not. Go back to Israel and do it there. Don’t come here to a British University where Israel is already on the defensive from people who’ve got a completely different motive from you I suspect. And that is to destroy Israel. Don’t come here and align yourselves with the likes of the ‘Destroy Israel Campaign’, which to my mind is another description of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and lend your voice. Do it in Israel and I will support you, but it’s about context, it’s about how you do it.”
And on settlements:
“This is such a misunderstood subject, it’s incredible. “Settlements”, a term bandied around to mean, apparently, anything that happens on land which came under Israeli control as a result of the Six Day War. So I say to any people who are genuine friends of Israel: ‘Ok, what about the Old City of Jerusalem? What about the Wall? What about the Jewish quarter? What about the Jewish villages that were overrun in 1948 and the inhabitants butchered? Is that a settlement?’ It’s much too glib to talk about “settlements”. There are places way out there on the West Bank which were not Jewish before 1948 which you might fairly call a “settlement” and say Jews shouldn’t settle there. Maybe. That’s an argument. I can see the argument. But don’t treat everywhere as not being under Israeli control in 1967 as a “settlement” and, therefore, somehow illegal and wrong. It’s too simple and it shows a depressing lack of understanding of a complex conflict.”
Tonight Weisfeld and Lewis will be on a panel at King’s College to discuss whether the two state solution is dead (Room K- 1.56, Raked Lecture Theatre, King’s College, The Strand from 7pm)
Some clips from last night’s JSoc event: