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Cherie Blair Deserves A Bit of Courtesy
Last uploaded : Thursday 13th Jun 2002 at 15:33
Contributed by : The Associate Editor


News My Wednesday 12 June started with a letter received in the morning post from one of my favourite London rabbis. He had read my article, ?Why America Loves Israel? in the June issue of the magazine of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue and wished to express his ire. He could not understand how I could write an article about Israel and the USA without mentioning the settlements and America?s blind eye about settler expansionism since 1967. (As it happens, my article, which originally appeared on JewishComment?s editorials page, was edited by the LJS and my paragraph about the controversy over settlements had been omitted.)

The rabbi?s short letter stated that my article, which I had meant to be a good-natured, almost Reader?s Digest-ish celebration of the good sides of Israel and my native USA , was an attack on the Peace Camp and a celebration of Sharon. How this rather banal essay can be interpreted as ?applauding US support for Sharon against the Peace camp? is beyond my comprehension.

I am reminded of a local Authority in London who threatened to prosecute a resident of the East End under the Race Relations Act for displaying the Union Jack in his window. As my quintessentially English accountant said to me yesterday, ?I am so gratified that with the huge turnout for the Queen?s Jubilee we have reclaimed the Union Jack.? Until I stopped socialising with people who invited me to dine and then used the occasion to scream at me about America?s war crimes, I had noticed that pride in my generous, brilliant nation is interpreted as ?an attack on Palestine;? ?racism? and ?a denial of war crimes.? That an essay about the good Israel and America evince can be interpreted as ?an attack on the peace camp? is equally mind-boggling.

The rabbi enclosed with his letter an article by Uri Avnery. Uri, a colleague whom I greatly admire, lists the usual catalogue of crimes against humanity by my native United States: slavery; the Native Americans; and the current alliance of the ?Jewish lobby? with Evangelical Christians. Explaining that the Evangelicals really want the Jews to ingather in the Holy Land to be converted en masse to Christianity in preparation for the second Coming, Uri explains that Americans have two souls: one that adores brute force and supports tyrants around the world and the other that gave the world the Founding Fathers, Woodrow Wilson, Abe Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. (Uri makes some very valid observations, but having noticed that Americans and Jews have been under the microscope since the new Intifadah and September 11th, I have been having difficulty finding similarly condemnatory journalism from Israel or America that chides Christian Europe for its thousand years or so of slaughter, torture, pillage, rape and tyranny. If anyone can help me find some articles by Americans and Israelis trashing everything Europe has ever done, please let me know.)

Every journalist writing since the start of the new Intifadah likes to latch onto the ?American Jewish lobby? as the great Beelzebub of American policy. If this almighty Jewish lobby is so powerful, why was Jimmy Carter able to urge Begin to hand back the Sinai to Egypt, and Bush Senior able to demand that Shamir keep out of the Gulf War as Scuds rained down on Tel Aviv? If this Jewish, ultra-Zionist lobby is so obstreperous, why did Bill Clinton spend eight years shmoozing Arafat and promoting Oslo, having been re-elected with a vast wealth of Jewish donations?

What I find so sinister about world journalism?s obsession with ?the Jewish lobby? is that these writers are interpreting strong Jewish-American pride, and passionate Jewish-American vigilance about the rise of worldwide anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism as a conspiracy to subvert the American government. This is an iniquitous assertion and shows the grievous lack of understanding of the warm and enduring relationship North American Jewry has had with its Christian and other-faith brethren since William Penn landed in the 1600s. Uri Avnery, like many non-American writers around the world, seems to think that Capitol Hill is quaking in its boots for fear of offending Jewish lobbyists. Yes, some of them are loud and overbearing, but to suggest that this current Administration lives in fear of the Jews is absurd: an overwhelming percentage ? perhaps as much as 80% -- of American Jews are Democrats. Bush is more concerned about keeping his oil baron, pharmaceutical and gun lobby pals happy than he is worried about Jewish support in the next election.

And so it was that I ventured out lastnight with a Canadian friend to hear Cherie Booth QC (wife of Prime Minster Tony Blair) deliver the inaugural Gerhart Riegner Memorial Lecture to a packed audience at the Royal institute of British Architects, sponsored by ?The Guardian? and under the auspices of the Wiener Library/Institute of Contemporary History. The topic was ?Prospects and issues for the international criminal court: Lessons from Yugoslavia and Rwanda.?

The delightful Sir Sonny Ramphal QC gave a brief tribute to Gerhart Riegner, the man responsible for the famous memo sent to London and Washington in 1943 warning them about the Final Solution. Sir Sonny then introduced Cherie Booth and no sooner had she begun her lecture than a woman in my row jumped up and began screaming at her about Ariel Sharon. The woman?s fury was visceral ? I think that for an instant we thought she might be a suicide bomber or be carrying a gun. She screamed, face peuce, that Sharon was the war criminal and that Israel should be had up for collective war crimes. Angry that Tony Blair was at that very moment wining and dining Ariel Sharon at Downing Street, the demonstrator was still screaming at the top of her lungs as she was escorted out of the building.

Although it was difficult to refocus one?s concentration after this, the lecture provided some significant points about the current wave of bringing ?war criminals? of all shapes and sizes to justice. (The latest campaign by worldwide activists is to bring to the Hague Israeli settlers and soldiers.) Booth explained that one of the inequities of the set-up of the International Criminal Tribunals is the appalling lack of women justices. Unbelievably, she recounted an incident in which it was suggested by the male lawyers that a female Judge recuse herself when rape was being discussed; the men felt she would be ?prejudiced in favour of the female witnesses? testimony.? Female lawyers on the Tribunals are outnumbered by almost ten to one, and Booth wants this to be addressed. In the cases of Rwandan and Yugoslavian genocide and war crimes, women were the most afflicted of all the victims but their plight was poorly served by this Tribunal.

Booth assured the audience that the rights of individual citizens and of soldiers in combat would be protected and that suspected war crimes should first be taken up by the nations in which they reside. The main thrust of the lecture was the lack of a proper forum in which to hear the grievances of women caught up in wars and genocide, and my companion suggested after the lecture that a special women-only tribunal be set up.

A point Booth drove home at various stages of her lecture was the refusal of the United States to join the ICC, which is backed by 67 countries including Britain. She felt this was at odds with the legacy of a nation ?with a long-standing commitment to human rights? The United States has in the past expressed its view that the structure of the Court is flawed, but one wonders if there is a suspicion that every USA-basher in the world (see the earlier part of this article) will be queueing up to demand a trial of every American for ?crimes against humanity.?

There was a reception at the Wiener Library following the lecture to view the remarkable Nuremberg Trials Exhibition, and to the dismay of many guests, many of whom are Holocaust survivors, a group of Palestinian activists decided to leave leaflets around the room and to parade around the exhibition with their ?Free Palestine? badges. I have no objection to such activities but it would have been nice if these visitors had taken the time to view the extensive and deeply emotive exhibit instead of ignoring the displays and disturbing the quiet of the rooms with their loud laughter and chatter.

I attended the Deir Yassin Day memorial service at St John?s Wood Church on 7th April and was moved to see the Palestinians in the audience, all wearing the symbolic black and white scarves, giving rapt attention to Rabbi Mark Solomon?s chanting of the ancient Hebrew El Molay Rachamim memorial prayer, some even moved to tears. It would have been gratifying had the evening in honour of Gerhart Riegner not been spoilt by people who seem to feel that the plight of the Palestinians is solely the fault of the Israelis and of the Jewish people.

In this vein it is deplorable that Noa, the popular Israeli singer, was unable to complete a happy evening at the Mediterranean Festival held at the Barbican Centre in London because of repeated attacks from the audience. I am embarrassed and ashamed that Britain is becoming the base camp of loud and misguided Israel-bashers. It enrages me to see the Stars and Stripes being burned in Whitehall and Trafalgar Square under the adoring gaze of the hijacker Leila Khaled and a bevy of British MPs.

Those who truly care about ?Free Palestine? should instead be directing their energies towards ending the colossal poverty of the Palestinian people by confronting the leaders who freed them from Israeli administration during Oslo. They have done nothing to turn the future State of Palestine into another prosperous nation on the model of their neighbour Israel.

In the context of my opening paragraph, I extol America despite its many flaws and lament the fact that the dark forces that can drive a woman to have murder in her eyes as she screams at the Prime Minster?s wife are also threatening to consume an industrious, culturally rich , war-weary Israel.


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