I am increasingly concerned that our very proper wish to embrace all humankind and to value individuals personally rather than as part of a group may cause us to send a false message about our attitude towards the horrors that have been and continue to be perpetrated in Israel.
The study of comparative hardship is not a fruitful one. Both sides have suffered appallingly. Of that there can be no doubt. And we should not blame UK resident Muslims or Palestinians any more than they should blame Diaspora Jews. Nor indeed should we blame innocent Palestinians in Israel or in the Occupied Territories, nor they the great bulk of Israeli Jews in both of whose names much cruelty has been inflicted.
After all, I accept no personal responsibility for Bloody Sunday; nor do I hold innocent Catholics personally responsible for Omagh even though I condemn both just as I condemn much of what has happened and continues to happen through the actions and inactions of the disastrously myopic Israeli leadership.
But we do have to look at the realities of the situation. First as actual or potential citizens of Israel do we not owe a duty of allegiance? And is there nothing in the argument that we are collectively with its inhabitants the People of Israel? If not, what is all the fuss about the Shoah?
Then we must face the politics. Who will benefit from our attacking Israel, from our being seen to side with those who condemn it or from our uncritical participation at an event such as the Deir Yassin commemoration? The likely answer is ‘no one’. And who will suffer? The likely answer is ‘us’, for we will surely send out the wrong message if we criticise only one side’s conduct or if we join in a commemoration of one side’s cruelty (and the remarkable thing about Deir Yassin is that, to the extent that it was exceptional, it was an isolated incident) without securing an equal recognition or commemoration of the other’s.
So by all means let us express our horror of indiscriminate violence, but let’s make sure that in doing so we do not accept disproportionate blame. That is only possible when the other side in a conflict also accepts its proper share of responsibility. By all means let’s express our despair for wasted and fractured human lives and let’s remember Deir Yassin.
But let those on the other side of the ethnic divide remember how the conflict started and what our people have suffered in the creation and defence of Israel.
Without that our condemnation of violence and our involvement in commemorations is at best an empty gesture and at worst dangerous politicking.
And finally, remember that the people of Israel and particularly the soldiers who are accepting danger, do so in order that we Diaspora Jews may have the knowledge that there is and will always be a safe haven for us if, God forbid, we ever need it.
Anthony Bilmes is a specialist in non-Court based dispute resolution and a litigation manager for a firm of London Solicitors. He is also a partner in a separate dispute resolution consultancy concentrating on human resources issues.