Sharon's "invitation" is an attempt to offset what he calls the Arab demographic threat.

Speaking in West Jerusalem on Sunday night before as many as 6000 delegates representing Jewish communities from around the world, Sharon said Jewish immigration to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories would strengthen Israel and ensure its future.

“A strong Israel is a guarantee for preserving the existence of the Jewish people. We are waiting for you here. We need you. We need you more than ever.”

Enemies

Ignoring the reality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Sharon accused the Palestinian people of “rising up against the Zionist state.

“During the last few years, our enemies have risen against us again, here in Israel by murderous terror attacks, and all over the world.”

But the premier made no mention of Israel’s repression of the Palestinians, the apartheid wall it is building deep in the West Bank, nor of the continued construction of Jewish-only settlements on occupied Arab land.

Anti-Semitism claim

Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who also addressed the large gathering, spoke of “rampant anti-Semitism surging in many countries”.

Like Sharon, he dismissed any connection between Israeli persecution of Palestinians and world indignation against Tel Aviv.

“Anti-Semitism generates terrorism. There is a direct connection between terrorism and anti-Semitism.”

Katsav appeared to be referring to Palestinians and other Arabs, though they themselves are Semitic people.

Sharp divisions

Delegates have voiced their worry about Israel’s increasingly tarnished image in global public opinion, particularly since the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian homeland more than three years ago.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav
offers the same invitation

Some delegates, like Shmuel Trigano, a prominent French Jewish leader, voiced the view that opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and repression of Palestinians leads “instinctively” to anti-Zionism.

“But today, there is no shame. Intellectuals and journalists in France are explicitly challenging the state of Israel’s right to exist.

"The legitimacy of Israel and the Jews’ moral right to live in Palestine are no longer recognised by the French public. Something has happened over the last few years, and we need to be on guard. Israel is being portrayed as a racist country, a country of apartheid founded on historic injustice to the Palestinians, a country the world would be better off without.”

Revisionist historians attacked

Adopting the traditional Zionist narrative, Trigano describes as “myth” the expulsion by the Zionists of the majority of the Palestinians from their ancestral homeland in 1948.

Israeli's apartheid wall is referred
to diplomatically as a 'fence'

However, he accused Israeli historians of helping to disseminate “this myth and this attitude toward Israel”.

“Your new historians have played a major role in this shift in attitude toward Israel. If those people flagellate themselves over the sins of Zionism, why shouldn’t non-Jews adopt this view?” Trigano told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Other delegates blame the Palestinian Intifada for “destroying Israel’s image”.

Losing preference

“The Palestinians are the story now,” says Brian Lurie, a Jewish community activist from San Francisco.

“If the Intifada doesn’t end soon, Israel is liable to lose its preferential standing in American public opinion. At this point, America is pro-Israel. But other currents are bubbling below the surface and telling Americans that Israel is an occupier and an oppressor. This idea isn’t fully rooted yet, but another five years of graphic images from the territories, and we’ll start feeling it… as American Jews.”

Lurie said he would want to tell Sharon “to quit the Palestinian territories”.
 
“I would tell him Mr. Prime Minister, for the sake of the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, please, evacuate the settlers from the Gaza Strip. And then insure that they leave the territories. This is the only way to save Israel and world Jewry from the terrible predicament in which it now finds itself.”

Growing indignation

Few countries use tanks to police,
and nearly all are condemned for it

Israel’s draconian measures against Palestinians, which some Jewish and non-Jewish leaders have compared to the Nazi oppression of European Jewry sixty years ago, have galvanized much of the world public opinion against the Israeli state and her ally, the United States.

A few weeks ago, a Euro-barometer survey showed that 59% of EU peoples viewed Israel as posing the greatest threat to world peace and stability.

The Israeli government and some right-wing Zionist circles dismissed the survey as a “manifestation of revived anti-Semitism”.

Criticism

Some Jewish writers in Israel cautioned, however, that throwing the ready-made anti-Semitism charge onto every criticism of Israel was “shortsighted and cheapens anti-Semitism”.

Akiva Eldar, a prominent Israeli journalist, suggested in a newspaper article that Israel could not continue to torment Palestinians and expect her image to come out clean.

Several months ago, former Israeli Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni declared, “we have become a barbarian people,” referring to the Israeli blitz against Palestinians.

Even Israeli army officers admit
methods can be too extreme

Even Israel’s chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, an erstwhile extreme right-winger known for his vehemently anti-Palestinian attitudes, admitted that his army was brutalizing the Palestinians too much.

Such statements, coupled with the graphic images from Gaza and the West Bank, which millions of people around the world watch on their prime-time TVs, resonate badly for Israel and Zionism and indirectly for Jews as well.

Two years ago, Portuguese Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago described Israeli actions against the Palestinians as “a holocaust”.

Moreover, when some Jewish and Zionist leaders reminded him that there were no gas chambers in the West Bank and Gaza, Saramago retorted forcefully, saying, “There are other ways and other methods to kill innocent people.”

In fact, some of the strongest criticisms of Israeli policies and behavior came from Diaspora Jews.

In 2001, Gerald Kaufman, a British Jewish MP, compared Sharon with Nazi leader Adolph Hitler.

Star or swastika?

In a statement before the House of the Commons, Kaufman pointed out “Sharon has made the Star of David look like the Swastika of Hitler.”

Notwithstanding, the Israeli government continued to ignore and fly in the face of all these criticism by keeping up its harsh treatment of Palestinians.

Indeed, since Kaufman's remarks were made, Israeli forces have killed and maimed scores of Palestinians and destroyed entire neighbourhoods in Gaza, condemning many Palestinians to a situation somewhat similar to that endured by Jews in Europe's ghettos six decades ago.