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Israel and Palestinians ‘lack Mandela-like icon of peace’

  • MoiraIsraelat70
It is not the Palestinians, but the politicians on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu’s right who are preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state.
by MOIRA SCHNEIDER | Jun 21, 2018

So said Avraham Infeld at the opening of the “Israel at 70” exhibition at the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town last Thursday, where he reflected on Israel through his eyes.

The exhibition was developed by Beit Hatfutsot: the Museum of the Jewish people, and presented by the South African Jewish Museum, in conjunction with the South African Zionist Federation and the Israel Centre.

South African-born Infeld made aliya as a teenager in 1959. He is President Emeritus of Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organisation in the world, and is described as a compelling teacher and leader.

Infeld said he had no choice in making aliya. “I don’t remember my parents talking about anything else. I was one of the first pupils at King David, where my mother was head of Jewish Studies. I grew up in a very, very Zionist home. My dad insisted that I go. ‘You’re a young man, Israel is a Jewish state, bye!’, he said.

“I came to Israel not as a refugee, but as someone who found Israel his natural home.” His parents and sister arrived soon afterwards.

Infeld recalled walking in the streets of Tel Aviv four months after his arrival, when air-raid sirens went off. “I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Everybody was standing frozen. After two minutes, they stopped, and a guy said to me: ‘Today is Yom Hashoa.’

“The entire country comes to a standstill to pay tribute to an event that didn’t even happen in Israel. I’ve never heard of anything like it in the world. I know of no event that says Israel is a Jewish state other than that one. It was my first encounter, and I fell in love with Israel immediately.”

Infeld remembers marching to the Kotel on the fourth day of the Six-Day War. “The Six-Day War was a massive victory, but it brought a major challenge to Israel that we’re still battling with today,” he said, referring to the growing number of non-Jewish citizens, and the “serious threat” to the Jewish character of the country if it is to keep all the territories.

There is so much good happening in Israel, the only thing missing is peace, Infeld said. “It is more innovative than any other country. It is one of the top two economies in the world. If we can innovate all the other things, surely we can innovate peace.”

It is his wish that Israel should become a state reflective of all Jews, whether they live there or not, and take into account the impact it has on communities in the Diaspora. “Israel was created to support the Jewish people, not the other way around,” he said.

“Israel has to go back to being deeply, deeply concerned about all the Jews in the world, not only those who come there. The Kotel cannot belong only to some Jews, it has to belong to all Jews.”

In the case of South African Jewry, he hopes that the government “recognises the truth and not propaganda [about Israel], that it was not created to take land from anyone. We deserve a different situation with the general public understanding Israel. This will make South African Jews much more comfortable”.

Infeld believes that a one-state solution would be a “terrible error” for Palestinians and Jews. He insists that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have a “desperately needed” Mandela to take them forward to peace. “Bibi can’t move towards a two-state solution because he has partners on the Jewish side who don’t let him move that way.

“Israel’s electoral system is probably our biggest enemy,” he said, explaining that the country adopted the electoral system of the World Zionist Organisation, which was unsuitable to running a state with its 17 or 18 political parties for 4.5 million voters. “No-one ever gets a majority, so they always have to create coalitions,” resulting in parties with a small percentage of the vote having undue influence.

“It’s not the Palestinians, it’s the people on his right who form his coalition that are preventing a Palestinian state. I don’t like Bibi, but I feel desperately sorry for him.

“I know of tens of thousands of Palestinians who’d be our partners in a two-state solution,” Infeld maintained. “It’s complicated, it’s tough.

“We’ve managed to solve serious things – we’ll solve this. We need commitment and pressure from Diaspora Jews.”

A member of the audience asked how it was possible to make peace with people who hate you. In his response, Infeld spoke of how he had recently paid a condolence visit to a family in Bethlehem and “they’re saying the same thing about us. They’re told Israelis hate them, and want them out of the land”.

Most Arabs had reached the following conclusion about Israel: “I don’t want them to be there, but they are there,” Infeld said.

He described Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Humanities’ recent decision not to play Hatikvah at its graduation ceremony to avoid offending Arab students “a criminal decision, a terrible mistake”. “This is a Jewish state with an Arab minority – it must have all the rights, but it must realise it’s a Jewish state,” he said.

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