By: Fern Sidman
Last week, the London Jewish Chronicle reported that a significant number of prominent officials and public figures representing 15 Arab countries joined forces in unison in the UK capital last Tuesday and Wednesday (Nov 19-20) in an initiative that resulted in the historic repudiation of the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement.
According to a report in the Jewish Journal, the conference was sponsored by the US-based Center for Peace Communications, whose board of directors is headed by former US Ambassador Dennis Ross. The CPC describes itself as “a group of Americans who believe that security and prosperity in the Middle East and North Africa require a peace between peoples.” Joseph Braude, the convener of the conference, is a senior fellow at the Middle East Program of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, in Washington D.C., and is CPC’s founder and president.
The New York Times reported that, Mustafa el-Dessouki, Egyptian managing editor of an influential Saudi-funded newsmagazine, Majalla, was one of the council’s main organizers. He said that while traveling around the Middle East in recent years he has met many like-minded Arabs “who had kind of been waiting for somebody like me to come along,” including Lebanese citizens.
El-Dessouki noted that Arab news media and entertainment have long been “programming people toward this hostility” directed at Israel and Jews, while political leaders were “intimidating and scaring people into manifesting it.”
Jassim Mohammad, an Iraqi counter-terrorism expert living in Germany, urged Arab security services to stop the spread of “radicalism and hate” in the media, schools and mosques and to spread “corrective content about Israel and Jews.” He said that these changes were a “matter of Arab national security.”
For close to 15 years, the BDS movement has been a virtual nemesis for Israel, as they have launched academic, economic, political, cultural and religious boycotts of the Jewish state. The ultimate objective of the BDS movement is the total destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.
Critics of BDS reject its charge that Israel is an apartheid state, asserting that in Israel (outside of the West Bank) “Jews and Arabs mix freely and increasingly live in the same neighborhoods…there is no imposed segregation.” Critics have also argued that the BDS movement is antisemitic in the form its opposition to Zionism takes, drawing analogies to the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses and accusing it of promoting the delegitimization of Israel.
Its opponents argue that at official university levels, the BDS movement inundates university organizations and departments with various and recurring anti-Israel resolutions, often without notice or time for open debate. They say that BDS supporters bring outsiders to influence opinion or to vote on university resolutions even when this is unauthorized. Whether a resolution passes is not as important as keeping the debate alive at official university levels. The goal is to influence future policymakers to find fault with Israel.
The London Jewish Chronicle also reported that the representatives of Arab countries called for expanded and enhanced civil relations with Israel.
According to a JPost report, chief among the litany of accomplishments at the monumental conference was the formation of a new group called the Arab Council for Regional Integration, a declaration signing ceremony and a nuanced and thoughtful discussion on issues that are generic to the Middle East, such as radical Islamic terrorism, regional economic interaction & cooperation and charting a course aimed at improving relations with Israel.
The JPost reported that those in attendance represented a diverse demographic and included a sizable contingent of youth, women, diplomats and artists, who envision the potential of crafting a just, sustainable and long-term peace initiative with Israel. The eclectic cadre of intellectuals seek to gain even a further understanding of the complex issues in the region that has often been dubbed a “powder keg.”
The Jewish Journal reported that Mohammed Dajani, a Palestinian academic who shocked the Arab world by taking a group of his students to Auschwitz, were already well known to Israeli activists. Many of the opinions that were voiced at the conference were not only completely supportive of a productive relationship between Jews and Arabs but were considered highly significant because this is the first time that such declarations have been made in public and on the record. Professor Dajani suggested that the stories of close interaction with Jews could be collected and published by the new Arab Council.
As such, the delegates to the conference which did not include Israelis, raised the pivotal issues of the lack of genuine reconciliation between Egypt and Israel as well as Jordan and Israel, since the countries in question signed the “cold peace” treaties in the 1990s.
Some visible figures at the event included Egyptian MP Mohammed Anwar Sadat, nephew of the late president Anwar El Sadat, as was reported by the JPost.
The conference took place on the anniversary of the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s historic 1977 visit to Israel. On November 19, 1977, Sadat became the first Arab leader to visit Israel officially when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and spoke before the Knesset in Jerusalem on how to achieve a comprehensive peace to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Peace treaty was finally signed by Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin in Washington, D.C., United States, on 26 March 1979, following the Camp David Accords. Both Sadat and Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for creating the treaty. On October 6, 1981 during a military parade, Anwar El-Sadat was assassinated by a Palestinian terrorist commando, as revenge for having signed peace with Israel.
In February of 2019, the Jewish Voice reported that approximately, three years ago, an eclectic group of twenty-five Jewish -Americans formed the Anwar Sadat Congressional Gold Medal Commission, to lobby Congress to select and award the late President of Egypt with the highest civilian award of the United States of America. The award is considered the utmost expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions to humanity. A U.S. Congressional Gold Medal is designed by the United States Mint to specifically commemorate the person and achievement for which the medal is awarded.
Also included in the conference were the former Kuwaiti Minister of Information, Sami Abdul-Latif Al-Nisf; and two prominent Islamic religious figures, Hassen Chalghoumi, a Paris-based Tunisian cleric, and Lebanese imam Saleh Hamed.
The speakers at the conference specifically addressed the historic friendship and alliances that Jews and Arabs had forged for centuries as they both inhabited the same countries in the Middle East. Calling for Jews to return to the Arab countries of their birth or the birthplace of their antecedents, the gathering exhorted Jews to dedicate themselves towards a complete rapprochement between their people and the collective Arab enterprise, according to the JPost report.
Each member shared the view that isolating Israel had not been beneficial to the Palestinian cause and has also torn apart “the Arab social fabric, as rival ethnic, religious and national leaders increasingly apply tactics that were first tested against Israel,” the Times reported.
No Israelis attended the event, due to the fact that many participants could be prosecuted for having contact or relations with Israelis, which is a form of normalization.
The Jewish Journal also reported that in a video link from Washington D.C., Ambassador Dennis Ross told the participants at the conference that their deliberations “would have been wonderful if they had happened years ago,” but nevertheless he welcomed the initiative.
He said, “You represent the voices who say enough. The more voices like yours who are prepared to speak out, the more you will build your voice [in talking] with Israel, and the more you will influence Israel’s leaders. You represent a ray of hope: it is a courageous endeavor, but also the right endeavor, and I am inspired by your example. You know you are on the right path.”
Former British prime minister Tony Blair was piped into the event, according to a UWI report. He commended the group for speaking out and nurturing stronger Arab-Israeli ties noting that it was vital to “any realistic possibility of an enduring peace.” He also called for a two-state solution.
The council’s members, however, stressed their belief that it is impossible for Arab countries to reach formal diplomatic relations with Israel without a resolution to the Palestinian conflict and noted that “polls show that when Israelis are offered the enticement of acceptance by Arab nations, they become more willing to compromise, even by giving up land,” reported the Times.
In October of this year, Tazpit Press Service reported that Israel acted quickly to rescind the residency status attained by BDS founder Omar Barghouti. The announcement was made by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. Deri ordered the Population and Immigration Authority to prepare a legal opinion to revoke Barghouti’s residency status for the “breach of trust.”
Deri’s decision was adopted following the announcement by Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber regarding Deri’s authority to withdraw Barghouti’s residency, as was reported by TPS.
The Ministry noted that since 2016, Barghouti’s case was discussed on the grounds that he could not enjoy the status of an Israeli resident and its benefits while working to impose a boycott on Israel and leading the boycott movement in Israel itself. However, the issue was pending an amendment of the law which was passed in 2018 and clarified the Minister of Interior’s power to revoke residency status for breach of trust.
Following the change in the law, Deri decided to move forward with the canceling of Barghouti’s residency, according to the TPS report.
Deri stated that he intends “to act quickly to deprive Omar Barghouti of the residency status in Israel. He is a man who does everything to harm the country and therefore must not enjoy the right to be a resident of Israel.”
TPS reported that Barghouti, co-founder of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement has rejected Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and said he will only accept a single state where Palestinians have total sovereignty. He is a native of Qatar who grew up in Egypt and married an Israeli Arab, for which he was granted the residency status. He has an apartment in the city of Acre. However, an examination conducted by the Interior Ministry showed that he spends most of his time is in Ramallah.
In 2005, he founded BDS, which brings together hundreds of anti-Israel organizations and branches around the world, including Israel.
In 2014, he stated that Palestinians have a right to “resistance by any means, including armed resistance.”
Evidence that attitudes and perspectives towards Israel are being radically altered was evidenced on November 17th in Abu Dhabi, the capital of Dubai. It was there that 17-year-old Alon Leviev of Israel won the gold medal in the junior category of the Jiu-jitsu World Championship that was being hosted in the capital, Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah” was played. This symbolism of a new era of friendship had hitherto been unprecedented as no Arab country even welcomed Israeli athletes, let alone played their national anthem which speaks of the yearning of the Jew to return to his rightful and G-d given land after being banished for 2000 years.
Leviev, who competed in the 55-kilogram-and-under weight category, beat an athlete from Abu Dhabi in the final, having overcome competitors from Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, according to a report on the Times of Israel web site.
Until a few, short years ago, the Arab Emirates banned all Israeli symbols, as they actively participated in the global efforts to isolate Israel from the rest of the world.
In 2017, tournament organizers in Abu Dhabi banned Israel’s flag and national anthem — a policy directed only at Israeli participants. Tal Flicker, playing under the Judo Federation flag, won a gold at the tournament, but the anthem was not played, so he sang it himself, as was reported by the Times of Israel.
On November 25th, the Times of Israel reported that Hatikvah was once again played in Abu Dhabi after 21-year old Nimrod Ryder (who represented Israel) won the gold medal in the Adult category at the Jiu-Jitsu World Championships. He was crowned as world champion.
The World Championship in Abu Dhabi, which hosts teams from some 60 countries, is the most important competition of the year for the Israeli Jiu-Jitsu team. During the competition there are three categories – Youth (Under-18), Junior (Under-21), and Adults. The last stage of the competition included the Adults matches, where Nimrod Ryder came in first in his weight category.