European rabbis urge religious tolerance in Mideast


Senior European rabbis urged the European Union to ensure that the burgeoning democratic movements sweeping across the Arab world also guarantee religious freedom in the region.

During a meeting Monday at the European Commission in Brussels, the four-member Conference of European Rabbis delegation stressed the importance of reversing decades of dictatorship and human rights abuses in some Middle Eastern countries.

“The quest for freedom, the most basic human right, is all-encompassing because, without it, human beings cannot enjoy all the blessings which life can give which brings out the presence of God in every person,” said Conference of European Rabbis Chairman Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, also the chief rabbi of Moscow.

Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders attended the meeting, which was hosted by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. It was the seventh such meeting hosted by Barroso since 2005.

Barroso said after the meeting that Europe’s growing challenges can be solved only with the active participation of the continent’s religious communities.

“Our task and ambition is to promote democracy, pluralism, the rule of law, human rights and social justice not only in Europe but also in our neighborhood,” he said. “Today’s discussion confirmed our common commitment to the promotion of democratic rights and liberties, including freedom of religion and of belief.”

Prior to the meeting, the rabbis joined with several European Muslim leaders to issue a joint statement condemning “increasing manifestations of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in countries across Europe.”

“We must never allow anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia or racism to become respectable in today’s Europe,” their declaration read. “In that regard, we call upon all political leaders not to pander to these groups by echoing their rhetoric.”

Havel joins Israel-friendly initiative


Former Czech President Vaclav Havel joined an initiative to defend Israel in Europe and the West.

The Friends of Israel announced the participation of Havel, a champion of human rights, on Tuesday during the group’s inaugural Washington tour. Havel was not on the tour.

Other former leaders on the initiative, founded in June, include Jose Maria Aznar, the former Spanish prime minister; David Trimble, the former Protestant leader in Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace laureate; and Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru.

Havel, a playwright, was a hero of the left and right in the West during his decades of dissidence against Communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia.

The Friends of Israel initiative was in Washington in part to meet with U.S. congressional leaders who are planning resolutions supporting its aims.

Aznar, in address Wednesday to the Council on Foreign Relations, said the group’s principle tenet is that Israel’s survival is in the strategic interests of the West.

“Defending Israel is ultimately defending our Western roots, the Western values that many in Europe, and some in America, seem to have forgotten,” Aznar said. “They are not obsolete. And the best proof is precisely Israel and its people. Letting the delegitimation of Israel grow seems to me the best path to weaken not only the freedom of maneuver of Israel but to undermine ourselves.”

Mideast Solution: A Confederation


The Palestinians and the Israelis seem to agree on one thing: that the other is at fault. Each side wants recognition by the other that they are innocent victims, that the other side
is wrong. Each side demands that the other relinquish crucial aspects of its identity.

In such a situation, the best solution is to concentrate on a pragmatic approach that will benefit both peoples, yet not impinge on the sovereignty of either the Jewish state or its Palestinian counterpart. Such an approach may lay the groundwork for peace, by focusing on joint decision making on non-politically charged issues.

For some time now, the Israel-Palestinian Confederation (IPC) has pursued this option. It believes that one possible solution involves electing a confederation government comprised of Israelis (both Jewish and Arab) and Palestinians.
How exactly would such a confederation work? Approximately 10 million people live in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza: 6 million are Jews, and 4 million are Arabs. Dividing the entire region into 300 districts apportioned by population should result in a legislature divided approximately 60/40 in favor of the Israelis. However, if the relative birth rates of Palestinians to Israelis maintain its current ratio, in the not too distant future, Palestinians will outnumber Israelis.

The legislature will tackle issues that the Israeli and Palestinian governments, for internal political reasons, find difficult to address. The legislature will also deal with the day-to-day quality of life issues where cooperation is required including, but certainly not limited to, locating public facilities such as water lines, highways, schools and hospitals.

To encourage consensus and to prevent the majority from riding roughshod over the minority, confederation legislation requires a supermajority of 60 percent of the 300 delegates and at least 25 percent of the minority on any given vote. The Israeli and Palestinian governments will be given a veto power. To illustrate this point: in a 300-seat legislature, 180 votes are necessary to pass anything. However, if the balance between Israelis and Palestinians is 180 Israelis and 120 Palestinians, if Israeli sponsored legislation is enacted, it would require that of the 180 votes at least 30 came from Palestinians.

This supermajority voting requirement coupled with protections for the minority as well a veto power for the Israeli and Palestinian governments will foster cooperation, since any legislation promoting the national aspirations of one side at the expense of the other will easily be blocked. As a consequence, the representatives will concentrate on initiatives that improve their constituents’ lives.

The IPC believes that confederation legislation reached by consensus will discourage the governments from exercising their vetoes. If legislation has wide popular support among the two peoples, it may be untenable for the one government to veto the legislation without undermining its own legitimacy.

In this sense, a confederation will serve as a bridge between the Palestinian and Israeli governments
Because neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinian Authority is likely to willingly relinquish its monopoly on governance, initially, the Israeli-Palestinian Confederation will have to hold a private election. This also will establish the independence of the body showing that it is not a tool of either the Israelis or the Palestinians.

Direct representation elections for Gaza, Israel and the West Bank is nothing new. Israel has been a functioning parliamentary democracy throughout its existence, and the recent Palestinian elections have been recognized as honest, open and free.

The 300 representatives will not be targets for an extreme or violent group, because members of those groups are motivated by antagonism against their own or the other’s government. These elements believe they can derail the peace process by forcing their respective governments to act aggressively toward the other. A confederation legislature comprised of representatives who do not represent the entire nation will not be considered a threat and any attack on it will not lead to the desired reaction of causing the Israeli or Palestinian governments to lash out.

While there is now no mechanism for the Palestinians and Israelis to solve daily and long term issues for the benefit of both sides, and there are no rules to resolve conflicts when they erupt, the confederation, once effective in demonstrating that Israelis and Palestinians can govern together, will become the de facto authority to establish rules to settle issues, solve problems, and enhance working and living relations between and among the peoples of the region.

At a UCLA symposium held Feb. 26, 2006, Alan Dershowitz surprised many guests with a general approval of a, “Loose confederation, based on the kind that now exists in parts of Europe with economic and other forms of cooperation involving natural resources and water.”

Dershowitz stated that “The Confederation idea is worthy of consideration as long as it does not mean a one state solution.”

He went on to say, “any kind of a Confederation would require that Israel retains its sovereignty, its ability to defend itself, its ability to reflect Jewish culture and history.”

Former President Bill Clinton in a personal letter to this writer was very encouraging of the Confederation idea, perhaps reflecting on his own experience with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat,
The European Union is a multinational union of independent states. It is an intergovernmental union of 25 states, each maintaining its own government and identity. Ever since its establishment in 1992 the EU conduct an election every five years for the Common European Parliament. The EU manages to maintain a separate common government for all of the 25 states but yet each one of them has its own separate government.

Switzerland has two chambers in the Legislative Branch. The National Council representing the people and the Council of States representing the cantons.

The Swiss National Council has 200 seats with each canton contributing representatives in proportion to its size. The Council of States has two members for each canton and one member for half canton. The Swiss system is meant to create a balance where the small cantons will be protected from the large.

Indeed, the United States and Canada have a similar formula which combines a federal government overlapping with separate state governments. Each of the 50 states has its own constitution and legislative body. However, each state sends two senators and a proportionate number of congressmen depending on its population size to a common federal government.
The idea of a confederation is widely accepted around the world. It is designed to achieve a mechanism of cooperation while preserving the identity and special needs of its states.