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Livni: British Legal System Turns Into 'Theater of the Absurd' When Israeli Leaders Visit

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Tzipi Livni addresses the Haaretz Israel Conference in London, July 3, 2016.
Tzipi Livni addresses the Haaretz Israel Conference in London, July 3, 2016.Credit: Raymond Simonson
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Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid concluded the Haaretz Israel Conference with a discussion with Israel's new ambassador to the U.K. Mark Regev.

Regev said that Israel hopes the "travesty" of questioning Israeli politicians when they enter the U.K. will end soon, calling the questioning of Tzipi Livni a matter of "people exploiting legal loopholes for political purposes."

Regev said he enjoyed every moment of his nine years at the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, adding that "Netanyahu isn't motivated by political survival, he feels his historical duty is to safeguard Israel's security."

Regev said he has no doubt Netanyahu believes in two states for two peoples, adding that he can reach a deal with the Palestinians he can live with, he will bring the Israeli people with him.

Tzipi Livni speaks at the Haaretz Conference in London, U.K., June 3, 2016.Credit: Shai Dolev

He said the Palestinians are making a historic mistake and hurting their own people by not agreeing to negotiate with Israel, adding that if a Palestinian state is a platform for continuing the conflict by other means, Israel is not interested.

Ravid asked Regev how he felt as a graduate of Socialist Zionist youth movement Ichud Habonim how he felt about Netanyahu's infamous election day remark about "Arab voters coming out in droves." Regev said he was very pleased that Netanyahu apologized.

Regarding the controversy surrounding Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labour Party, Regev said that "Israel and Labour have a historical relationship," noting that they viewed Zionism as a progressive cause. Regarding his personal opinion of Corbyn, Regev said "I don't know what's in his heart," saying he has made problematic statements about Israel. "I do know he seems to speak proudly of how his parents fought in Cable Street," Regev qualified, referring to the 1936 London battle aimed at halting the rise of Nazism and fascism in Britain. Regev said he has asked for a meeting with Corbyn and hopes he will answer his request soon.

Regev said there are many on the left in denial who ask how anyone progressive can be anti-Semitic, but noted that it is historically incorrect to say that being on the left means you're immune to anti-Semitism. Regev said that Labour set up an anti-Semitism commission because they thought they have a problem, an assessment Regev said he agrees with.

Palestinian leader Jibril Rajoub tells Haaretz readers: Come to Ramallah

Senior Palestinian official Jibril Rajoub implored the Haaretz Israel Conference audience to visit Ramallah and talk to Palestinians.

Rajoub said that Palestinians are surprised there are still rational Israelis and aren't all like radical right-wing extremist Baruch Marzel.

Jibril Rajoub speaks at the Haaretz Conference in London, U.K., June 3, 2016.Credit: Shai Dolev

According to Rajoub, Rabin was assassinated for recognizing the Palestinian nation, adding that many Israelis danced while some Palestinians mourned. He said Rabin "treated us as equals," and Israeli prime ministers, with few exceptions, have since only wanted to manage the conflict.

Rajoub agreed with Ari Shavit's earlier remarks, saying that occupation is the true existential threat to Israel, not Iran. "The one-state solution terrifies most Israelis, and I agree with them," he said. "The only game in town is still the two-state solution."

Rajoub noted that the younger Palestinian generation is very frustrated, saying that losing hope means losing control. He said that Israel can call itself a Jewish and democratic state or whatever it likes, but it must recognize Palestinian national rights.

Rajoub reminds the crowd that he spent 17 years in Israeli prisons and "they were not five-star Hiltons," noting that people who suffered need to work for peace. "There is no military solution," Rajoub told the conference, suggesting Egypt and Jordan should create a mechanism to move the peace process forward. Rajoub called for bilateral engagement, according to mutual respect, but noted that Israel doesn't treat Palestinian leaders with respect.

According to Rajoub, Netanyahu's political plan does not include ending the occupation or forming a Palestinian state. "We Israelis and Palestinians have to divorce each other," he said. "99% of restrictions on Palestinian movement have nothing to do with security," Rajoub said, "just exerting control."

"The Holocaust was very bad, no one liked it," Rajoub said. "The Jews should think how to protect their state by ending the occupation."

Rajoub said it's a matter of weeks until a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement is reached. He noted that many people don't like Hamas, but they are a part of the Palestinian national fabric.

A Jewish-democratic state or democracy for the Jews?

Senior Haaretz editor Noa Landau moderated the plenary entitled "A Jewish-democratic state or democracy for the Jews?"

Israel Democracy Institute President Yohanan Plesner told Landau that over the past five years, Israelis increasingly feel they have to choose between a Jewish or democratic state.

Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir said that Israel is a vibrant democracy, but currently is sorely in need of a progressive camp. She added that the options are a Jewish and democratic state or annexation, noting that the choice is stark and we have to make Israelis aware of that. The Times columnist Melanie Phillips said that Israel's current system of extreme proportional representation creates extreme corruption.

Stav Shaffir speaks at the Haaretz Conference in London, U.K., June 3, 2016.Credit: Shai Dolev

Amal Elsana Alhjooj, director of North American Relations, AJEEC-NISPED, clarified that she doesn't want to be the "token Arab" but seeks broader human rights. She said she is currently viewed as a demographic and security threat, not an equal Israeli citizen. In her view, there are "Israelis" and Arab citizens. Plesner noted that Israelis' trust in their political parties is "justifiably" at an all-time low.

Shaffir said she considers Joint List MK Hanin Zoabi's actions incitement, but insists it's not the role of Israeli lawmakers to decide who can or cannot sit in the Knesset. She warned that half the current intake of children in Israeli schools come from the non-Zionist sector, noting that nothing is being done to encourage citizenship.

Phillips said she understands that it's uncomfortable being a minority in an ethnically based democracy like Israel. Alh'jooj said Israel today acts like an ethnocratic state and is not a democracy for its Arab citizens. She added that progess is not limited to two more houses in the Israeli-Arab town of Sakhnin, for example, but means a change in paradigm. She told Phillips that in her mind, Israeli democracy means "Stav and Amal are on the same level." She added that she is not willing to give up any element of her Palestinian, Israeli, Muslim or Bedouin identity.

Ari Shavit: The one-state solution is developing into a cancer

Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit told the Haaretz Israel Conference in London that the one-state solution is developing into a cancer.

According to Shavit, we are seeing an unprecedented attack on the democratic values and institutions that made Israel so great. Shavit said the new Israeli right is betraying the Jabotinsky tradition. "I'm no Likud voter, but I miss the old Likud every day," Shavit said.

Shavit, however, was introspective about the failures of liberal Zionism. "We promised Israelis a 'Scandanavian, European-like' peace that was not there," he said, adding that liberal Zionists became all-negative and politically impotent. "If you don't have a positive vision, you don't stand a chance in the political game," Shavit said. "We only had negatives. We lost the vocabulary to describe the miracle of Israel."

Shavit noted that as much as he "loathes" the settlement movement, they have been much more politically sophisticated than the left. By focusing only on what Israel does bad and wrong while failing to critique Palestinian leadership, according to Shavit, the liberal Zionist left became detached from Israeli society.

Shavit said we must launch a "two-state answer" and stop using the "unhelpful word 'solution'" in the context of peace. "We go anywhere in the world to talk to Palestinians, but never have quality dialogue with our fellow Israelis," he said.

Shavit said every Jew in the Diaspora has a key stake in Israel, adding that it's unacceptable to be expected to stand by Israel whatever happens and he does not want Diaspora Jews to be shut up. "Enough protests and petitions," Shavit said. "It's time for the Israeli left to grow up and be leaders. It's time to get things done."

He praised British Jews for their role in the Balfour Decleration, which came from a combination of intelligence and action. He called on the current generation of British Jews to join with enlightened Israelis to save Israel.

Into the unknown: Brexit and the Jews

Click here for the full recap from this session

Melanie Phillips, columnist from the Times, discussed the Brexit vote with Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland and Haaretz correspondent Danna Harman.

"For the sake of British sovereignty, we are actually going to lose Britain," Freedland warned. He added that Europe has known only war for a thousand years, with the exception of the last 70, and called Brexit an act of vandalism at which Jews should tremble. He rhetorically asked how any Jew in Europe can accept the dismantling of the one institution that has kept peace in Europe.

Phillips said she has been called a racist, a bigot and a xenophobe for not agreeing to stay in the EU, a trend she deems disturbing. She said that she understands fears concerning the Brexit, since "freedom is frightening," adding that the Remain camp has led to an exagerrated period of national mourning since the vote.

She added that the EU is encouraging the rise of neo-Nazis and ultranationalism by trying to deny and flatten the value of nationalism. Further, to say voting for Brexit was "un-Jewish" and to demonize other opinions is quite wrong, according to Phillips. The demonization of anyone who supports a nation's right to limit immigration is disgraceful, she said.

Freedland warned that history indicates the level of post-Brexit economic stability might unleash a wave of increased anti-Semitism. If "meddling EU bureaucrats" can't be blamed anymore, Freedland asks, who's the next scapegoat? The increase in xenophobia and racism post-Brexit is worrying for British Jews, Freedland says - "we've been here before."

Phillips said the rise in anti-Semitism in the U.K. comes down to the left, fuelled by the left-wing media and amplified by BBC. She accused Haaretz of distorted coverage of Israel and Brexit, saying "if you portray Israel as a nation of child killers, you create a climate of anti-Semitism here." White working-class males are told they're trash, Phillips said , leading to a rise of fascism and neo-Nazism in the U.K. - not Brexit's fault.

Further, Brexit was a vote for the nation and for the Western ethnic nation. A nation with a sense of itself has less prejudice, Phillips said, not more. Phillips qualified that the demonization of immigrants is truly dreadful, adding that all sides of the debate have a duty to stand against racism. Labelling all pro-Brexit campaigners as racists who want to "send people back" itself fuels racism, Phillips added.

Freedland responded that the vote as a Western ethnic nation was a civic vote and asked: Where's the space for Jews in that ethnic nation?

One State, Two States, Stalemate

Chemi Shalev, Haaretz's U.S. editor, opened the "One State, Two States, Stalemate" plenary by paying tribute to "inspiration" and "mentor" David Landau, who brought Britain to the newsroom and to Israel. Shalev noted that Landau "would have had a field day with Brexit."

Shalev remarked that "they say the status quo is unsustainable, but they've said that since I was in high school, it's clearly sustainable."

When asked if the two-state solution is still alive, Dr. Sufian Abu Zaida, Gaza Institute for Political and Strategic Studies, said "yes and no" - to which Shalev joked was "quite a Jewish response."

Ambassador Danny Ayalon, former deputy minister of foreign affairs, said the two-state solution could be alive, but not necessarily within Israel, adding that a one-state solution is not viable. "You can't force two people who are in conflict under one roof," Ayalon said. He added that the conflict requires "creative" solutions.

Abu Zaida said that Israelis are disappointed with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's leadership - a good thing, according to Abu Zaida, since that means he is doing a good job. He added that when discussing two states, one must be talking about the 1967 borders.

Daniella Peled, managing editor of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and a Haaretz contributor, said that the consensus is that both sides are paying lipservice to the idea of the two-state solution. Abu Zaida echoed on this point, noting that the two-state solution is alive but in intensive care, with only 49% of Palestinians still supporting it.

Brig-Gen. (ret.) Israela Oron, former deputy national security advisor, said that questions related to territory and security are overrated and it's possible to take risks, it boils down to leaders acting.

Peled disagreed with those saying the conflict is unsolvable, citing the Bosnia conflict. While it's far from joyful coexistence, according to Peled, life remains quiet. Ayalon commented that he doesn't believe in moving Palestinians, just as he doesn't believe in moving Jews. He added that Israel has moved 93% toward  the Palestinian position, whereas the Palestinians have not budged an inch. Further, he said the two-state solution will be possible when the international community presses on Palestinians as it does on Israel.

Abu Zaida criticized diplomatic failure on all sides, saying that "the diplomatic stalemate isn't serving anybody, it's a lose-lose situation for both sides." Ayalon said the reason for occupation isn't the result of Israeli desire, but Palestinian refusal to accept offers from former Prime Ministers Ehud Olmer and Ehud Barak.

EasyJet Zionism: Is the distance between Israelis and Diaspora Jews growing?

Anshel Pfeffer, senior Haaretz correspondent, moderated the day's first plenary entitled "EasyJet Zionism: Is the distance between Israelis and Diaspora Jewry growing?"

Sir Mick Davis, chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, opened by saying that the relationship between British Jewry and Israel has always been complex. "The vast majority of Jews in the country see Israel as the epicenter of their Jewish life," according to Davis. He noted that Diaspora Jews stand behind Israel when it comes to existential threats, but the day-to-day relationship is far more complex now. 

Prof. Arieh Eldad, former Hatikva MK, warned that the younger generation of Jews are losing sight of the ideological value of Israel. According to Eldad, younger Diaspora Jews view Israel as an instrumental benefit and a safe refuge, not a homeland - that is viewed as fascist. Eldad added that it's "schizophrenia" if Diaspora Jews view Israel as the epicenter of Jewish identity but don't agree with its policies or values.

Hannah Weisfeld, director of Yachad, said the Israeli government is the main challenge young people face today when defending Israel. Weisfeld said that Diaspora Jews want to defend Israel but their hands are tied behind their back when the Israeli government uses settlement construction as an answer to terror. She added that while the gap between Israel and Diaspora Jews is not unbridgeable, relations are highly fraught.

Efrat Shapira Rosenberg, a journalist and activist for a new Jewish identity in Israel, said that "young Israelis have become indifferent to what Diaspora Jews think of Israel." Rosenberg added that we need more reverse Birthright, for Israelis to meet Diaspora Jews when Israelis are so incredibly indifferent.

Davis noted that he is obligated to defend Israel because he is Jewish and Israel is a Jewish state, but qualified that Israel should recognize it also has obligations to Diaspora Jewry. He decried that "Israel has never allowed Diaspora Jewry into the debate" as Israel asks Diaspora Jews to sign checks and defend its policies while not having any say.

Eldad asked why Israelis should risk their future for Diaspora Jews, saying that when "you expect us to change, you become frustrated because we won't change." He added that "the elephant in the room is intermarriage," and creating a Palestinian state would risk Israel's future - "we won't do that just to make Diaspora Jews feel better."

Pfeffer said that Israel won't change to fit the desires of British Jewry, so the question is: Can British Jewry change its relationship to Israel? Weisfeld said Israel cannot expect British Jewry ad intinitum to carry on supporting a state which is so far from our Jewish values. Weisfeld noted, however, that just short of 50% of Israelis voted for a different version of Israel.

Rosenberg added that Israel doesn't want the Diaspora's seemingly conditional love. "It's hard for younger Israelis to take Diaspora Jews seriously as their love and support seems conditional. We don't have that luxury."

Livni: U.K. legal system turns into 'theater of absurd' when Israeli leaders visit

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni told the Haaretz Israel Conference in London that xenophobia, ultranationalism and manipulation of fear and hatred are threatening liberal values everywhere.

Tzipi Livni addresses the Haaretz Israel Conference in London, July 3, 2016.Credit: Raymond Simonson

Livni, who was summonsed by British police over suspected Gaza war crimes prior to the conference, said that the British legal system is being abused, devolving into a theater of the absurd when Israeli leaders come to London. Livni said Israel and Britain should be allies in common sense, as well.

"We do not summon U.K. ministers for questioning and we expect the same respect," Livni said. "It's not my personal problem, this is a moral issue.

Livni stressed that Israel needs to change the dialogue with Diaspora Jewry, saying that "Israel is strong enough to hear criticism when it comes from within the family." Livni says Israel must redefine for ourselves what a Jewish-democratic state is, rather than a halakhic-theocratic state. Livni said Israel should discuss Israel's Jewish values in harmony, rather than in contradiction, with democracy.

Livni said that two states for two peoples are the only way for a Jewish-democratic state to exist, not simply as a favor for the Palestinians or the international community. "Israel must be Jewish and democratic, even if this means giving up some of the land to keep the state," Livni said. "If I must choose between the greater land of Israel or a Jewish and democratic state, I choose the state."

Livni noted that only a small group of Israelis truly ideologically believe in a Greater Israel. "We need a destination. My GPS says two-state solution, the Israeli government's GPS says Greater Israel." Livni warned that opponents of the current Israeli government are increasingly being called traitors.

Livni added that the status quo is not sustainable. "We're not managing the conflict, the conflict is managing us." Livni noted that Israel is now forced to act according to the international community, where there is no such thing as a vacuum. She added that while there is no equivalence between settlements and terror, new settlement construction doesn't give Israel more security, lending support for the Quartet report and French peace initiative. 

"Regional peace ideas are tempting and romantic," Livni said in reference to the Arab Peace Initiative, "but Arabs won't make peace with Israel without real change concerning the Palestinians."

Livni said Israel should make the distinction between settlement blocs and isolated settlements, and make these distinctions clear to the world. "The answer to terror is not by building more," Livni said. "When we put together all parts of the jigsaw, there will be a beautiful picture of Israel."

What does the Age of Netanyahu mean for Israel? A conversation in memory of David Landau

Aluf Benn, Haaretz editor-in-chief, and Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian columnist, discussed what "The Age of Netanyahu" means for Israel. The session is dedicated to the late David Landau.

According to Benn, Netanyahu really does believe in the analogy of the Palestinian national movement to the Nazis, with which there can be no compromise. Benn added that Netanyahu's role model is Howard Roark from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.

Benn said that Netanyahu's aim is to change the elite in Israel, saying that his demands of the Palestinians are all narrative. Further, Benn noted that Netanyahu wants to remake Israeli public discourse in a far more right-wing manner, adding that he views Western public opinion supporting the Palestinian cause as the main obstacle to Israel's victory over the Palestinians.

"The Israel that this audience knew is over," Benn said. "Much of Netanyahu's legacy will remain after he's gone."

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin: 'Haaretz provides an important voice'

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin sent a video greeting to the Haaretz Israel Conference. "Haaretz provides an important voice to the central question of Zionism," Rivlin said, adding that he has been reading Haaretz for 70 years. Rivlin also paid tribute to David Landau, "a giant in Israeli journalism."

Haaretz Israel Conference kicks off

Charlotte Hallé, editor of the Haaretz English Edition, kicked off the Haaretz Israel Conference. Raymond Simonson, chief executive of JW3, offered tribute to the late Elie Wiesel in his opening remarks. Amos Schocken, Haaretz publisher, paid tribute to the late David Landau, Haaretz's London-born former editor-in-chief and founder of its English edition, in his opening remarks.

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