Never Again

Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day  in Israel. A young Israeli woman, Emily Cohen, who has an Ulster Mum, Laura, walks along the perimeter fence at Auschwitz.

Emily Cohen Auschwitz

and learns the stories of those murdered there.

Emily Cohen and friend Auschwitz

Why we are friends of Israel

 

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Meet the Israelis – 8 million people.

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Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East. Don’t take our word for it. The much-respected monitor of political rights around the world, Freedom House, ranks it far and away the most democratic and free nation in the region.freedom-house-2016

 

We wish every state in the Middle East came close to matching Israel’s democratic  values. Israel boasts a free and critical press, independent courts and an effective trade union movement which has secured rights for its workers.

Israel is the only Jewish state on this earth – meaning it is the place where the Jewish people have exercised their right to self determination.

This doesn’t make it a theocracy or a state for Jews only. Its Christian, Muslim and secular citizens enjoy full political rights. Freedom of worship exists for all. While being a haven for Jewish Holocaust survivors, victims of Soviet persecution and almost a million Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab lands, Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a safe and growing Christian minority.

Israel is the only member-state of the UN which is threatened with annihilation by its neighbours. Invaded on numerous occasions, it is surrounded today by Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic State, Al Qaeda, the Syrian regime and its Jihadist opposition, all of which are pledged to destroy it. And then there is Iran…

In the context of today’s volatile and repressive Middle East Israel stands out as a beacon for stability and democratic values. It is an  important ally and friend in an increasingly dangerous and fractured world.

Israel is only one half of one per cent of the land mass of the Middle East, about the size of Wales. Yet it has made territorial compromises in the interests of peace. According to President Bill Clinton: “Israel offered more than I expected it would or indeed I believed it should” to achieve peace with the Palestinians. Sadly Yasser Arafat walked away from the negotiating table.

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Israel is a modern, hi tech power house – at the cutting edge of medical and technological breakthroughs – the most recent being an Israeli-developed early detection of HIV. One in six drugs dispensed by the NHS is either developed or manufactured in Israel. Cyber security, instant messaging, the latest mobile phone technology all owe much to Israeli innovation.

At the same time Israel is an ancient and Biblical land which remains a spiritual power house and a place of pilgrimage. For Christians in particular, the land of Israel has been described as “the Fifth gospel”, where  pilgrims can walk where Jesus walked. The beautiful and varied landscape – from the Galilee to the Negev desert, from the holy city of Jerusalem to Mount Carmel and the Dead Sea –  bring the narrative of the Bible to life.

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There are many in Belfast who advocate boycotting Israel. Recent years have seen Israeli workers harassed at Castlecourt, the Israeli flag burnt at city hall, a call for a Leonard Cohen concert at the Waterfront to be called off because the Jewish singer was also performing in Tel Aviv. Does anyone believe that extremist actions like these advance the cause of peace in the Middle East or make our own society in Northern Ireland more respectful and tolerant?

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Or calling for Israeli school children to be banned from educational exchanges on the grounds of their nationality?

We would like to point readers to more positive ways that Northern Ireland is engaging with the  Middle East. Intercomm is sending our young people to the region to meet both Israelis and Palestinians, an organisation called Forward Thinking has hosted Arabs and Jews to meet our politicians and church leaders, and experts here in shared and integrated education are using their expertise to assist Jewish and Arab educationalists to raise children without hate.

People have a choice. They can demonise one side and indulge in negative and divisive boycotts. Or they can take part in the serious business of assisting dialogue and peace-building on the ground.

 

Northern Ireland Friends of Israel are proud to be friends of Israel and friends of Peace. To join our mailing list please contact us at nifriendsofisrael@ymail.com and like us on Facebook.

“Anti racists” demand their right to discriminate

People Before Profit want the right to flout anti-discrimination laws when it suits them.

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(Photo = burning Israeli flag outside Belfast city hall,  at Trade Union protest, 2009)

They want Belfast City council to discriminate against Israeli Jews because of their nationality – even though legislation rightly prevents local authorities from discriminating against people because of their faith, nationality, gender or sexual orientation.

They would rightly decry a council resolution discriminating against anyone else on this planet on the grounds of their nationality or religion – except Israeli Jews.

Insert the words Chinese, Turks or Pakistanis in their resolution and not a single Councillor would support it.

But a right to discriminate against Israeli Jews is the cause of a protest by “anti racists” at Belfast city hall.

 

Antisemitism exposed and condemned

William Humphrey, MLA for North Belfast raises issues of anti-Jewish racism in Northern Ireland.

Speech from the NI Assembly Race Debate, highlighting anti-Semitism –Tuesday 11th Oct 2016.

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Mr Humphrey:

The Belfast Jewish community continues to make an important and valued contribution to the life blood of Belfast.

At sunset tonight, Jews across the globe will celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Across Europe, synagogues will have armed guards because of the risk of attack on those places of worship. In the past few years, deadly attacks on kosher shops in Paris, a synagogue in Copenhagen and a Jewish museum in Brussels have occurred.

In the United Kingdom, Jewish schools have guards and bombproof windows. The Community Security Trust, members of which I met some months ago, has produced the following statistics: in 2014, there were 1,179 anti-Semitic attacks in the United Kingdom; last year, there were 924 similar attacks. There have been anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish Members of Parliament Ruth Smeeth and Luciana Berger.

Anti-Semitic racism is the oldest type of racism that exists. Sadly, it is not just on the European continent, and is not just on the mainland of our United Kingdom.

The synagogue is in my constituency, and Members will be aware of Rabbi David Singer speaking very recently of the evil anti-Semitic phone calls and emails that he, as the pastoral leader of the old and established Belfast Jewish community, has been receiving. The graffiti recently daubed on the synagogue and in Belfast city centre was absolutely sickening and harked back to the 1930s and Nazi Germany.

Sadly, these attacks followed the removal of the Chaim Herzog plaque from a building on Cliftonpark Avenue. The plaque was removed for its protection. There was an attack on a mural in Northumberland Street that praised an Ulsterman who worked with the Israeli defence forces. Also, in August of this year, in an awful and evil attack on the Jewish sector of Belfast City Cemetery, 13 headstones were damaged by a mob carrying bricks, rocks and hammers.

Having spoken to the rabbi on two occasions, having met, along with the Belfast Lord Mayor, the Belfast Jewish Council in the City Hall, and visited the synagogue recently, I have to say that the Jewish community in this city is very fearful of attack.

The debate that took place in the Guildhall, Londonderry last week was mentioned. Without question, parties who voted for that motion have to take responsibility for raising anti-Jewish tensions in Northern Ireland. I have spoken to members of the Jewish community who have told me that that is exactly the case. They are friends of mine, and I know it to be true. In making good the damage at Belfast City Cemetery, I have met the director of parks for Belfast City Council and the local police in north Belfast. I have invited the Chief Constable to visit the synagogue. I have invited the First Minister of Northern Ireland to join me

— Mr Stalford: Will the Member give way?

Mr Humphrey: I will surely.

Mr Stalford: Does the Member agree that the disgusting attack in the City Cemetery was merely the culmination of a campaign directed against the Jewish community in Belfast that goes back a long way? We have not only kids from Israel working on the Dead Sea products stall in Castle Court being attacked but products being torn off supermarket shelves because they come from Israel. 

Mr Humphrey: The Member is quite right: people take part in so-called pro-Palestinian rallies, but they turn out to be anti-Israel rallies. I am not here to speak about the whats, wherefores and “whataboutery” of Israel; I am talking about the indigenous Jewish community in this city.

As I mentioned, tonight is Yom Kippur: the Day of Atonement. The evil people who took part in the attack in the City Cemetery, daubed graffiti on the synagogue and sent threatening emails to members of the Jewish community, including the rabbi, need to atone for their evil actions across not just Europe but this United Kingdom. We must stamp out anti-Semitism.

I and my party will continue to stand firm in support of Belfast’s small but growing Jewish community. They have provided so much to this city’s cultural, political and, most importantly, commercial life, and they continue to do so. The Jewish community is valued in this city. I am greatly privileged to represent the Jewish community in North Belfast, where the synagogue is placed, and I regularly visit there. The attack is a sad reflection on the city. This city, nationally and internationally, was damaged reputationally by that vile and evil attack in the City Cemetery.

Such actions have to be condemned across the House. I am glad that they were.

(extracted from Hansard)

First Minister sounds alarm

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Northern Ireland’s First Minister alarmed at a local council resolving to shun Israeli Jewish culture and learning.

 

Mrs Foster said: “I was alarmed to see the motion in relation to Israel that was put forward in that council, particularly at a time when Jews in Belfast — we are told this by the rabbi — are feeling very intimidated and under attack.”.

“The council should reflect on that. We have heard a lot from other parties in the Assembly about equality and non-discrimination and about making sure that everybody feels at home in Northern Ireland. What about the Jewish people?”

“Do they not have a right to feel at home in Northern Ireland as well? They are very welcome and they are a very key part of the community here in Northern Ireland.”

 

Northern Ireland Friends of Israel wishes its supporters in Northern Ireland, Israel and around the world a happy, healthy and peaceful Jewish New Year!

 

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Ways to Peace – a handshake in Israel, bigotry nearer to home.

On the day that the Palestinian President Abbas visited Israel to pay tribute to Israel’s late president, Shimon Peres, and shook hands with the Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, Derry City and Strabane District Council incites its people to shun Israeli Jews, their culture and learning.

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Israel is the only state in the region where its safe to be Christian and which has a vigorous free press, independent courts and regular democratic elections.

How ironic that those who identify inclusivity, dialogue and parity of esteem as vital to secure peace in Northern Ireland, believe that the best contribution they can make towards peace in the Middle East is to unleash demonization against Israeli Jews, their culture and their learning.

If this is not an act of blatant discrimination against Jewish people from Israel, let Derry City and Strabane District Council announce its shunning the education and culture of a string of nations it has concerns about, and not pick on the world’s only homeland for the Jewish people for “special treatment”.

To be silent on the call of Hamas to kill every last Jew in hiding, and Iran’s frequently heard desire to wipe Israel off the map,  is to show breath-taking hypocrisy and prejudice.

Local councils would do well to remember that just as some communities and political parties in Northern Ireland feel affinity to the Palestinians, there are others that feel affinity to the Israelis.

The lesson that all parties in Northern Ireland can bring to assist peace in the Middle East will not be enhanced by inciting people to shun the education or culture of others. That diminishes us all. There is no shortcut to ending the Arab-Israel conflict than direct peace talks and negotiations between the sides for a permanent and just peace.