Meetings Last Week with Members of the Knesset About the Current Situation in Israel and Operation Protective Edge

August 5, 2014 Comments off

The KnessetLast Wednesday, our group of J Street leaders from the United States and J Street U students spending the summer in Israel, met with four members of the Knesset to get their perspective on the war – or “Operation” as it’s referred to here. One was from Hatnua (which is Tzipi Livni’s party and part of the government), one from Meretz, and two from Labor.

From Labor and Hatnua, we heard a message of support for the war. That it was necessary and needed to be fought. While the fighting is going on, this type of position is not surprising even given the brutal way that Israel has been conducting the war. I think that they all perceive the tunnels as a very real strategic threat that needs to be destroyed and they have no illusions about the nature of Hamas as a terrorist group actively planning to attack Israel.

Because all of those we spoke with are on the center left, it is not surprising that they emphasized the importance of strengthening President Abbas so that he could be in a position to gain enough political power to execute a deal with the Israelis. They felt that one of the not so obvious benefits of this war is that it opened the eyes of many, not only in the government, but in the general population as well, to the fact that they have someone that they can deal with on the other side. All of a sudden, Abu Mazen has gone from being the “Partner we can’t Trust” to being ‘not so bad’ compared to the alternative. Amram Mitzna, former General and Mayor of Haifa and Yeruham, feels that the Operation will help more people understand that there is no better option than the two state solution. There is no military solution to the conflict because Hamas is more than a military organization – it is a state of mind. Israel can destroy all of the rocket caches, blow up the tunnels and kill all of Hamas leaders, but Hamas’ “death to Israel” message will simply be adopted by new leadership.

But the most surprising and most upsetting thing we heard about is what has been going on in Israeli society. Over the past several years, there has been a steady and significant increase in overt racism in the country. This extreme hatred is now being projected against those who oppose the war. Whether it is at physical protests where marchers have been beaten up and forced to disperse – or online bullying which has gone to the extreme of calling out death threats to those posting pieces against the war – we heard about an ugly atmosphere of hate that is getting stronger and stronger. These MKs were concerned that the Cabinet Ministers have remained silent on denouncing these racist attacks. Rather, said one, Ministers are often actually the ones inciting this conduct. Virtually everyone we spoke with was extremely concerned about the increase in societal hatred – even the American Consul General in a separate meeting. Although the tragedy of the death and destruction from the war is heart wrenching, what hits me the strongest is the changing nature of Israeli society. There is something going on here that is abhorrent and rotten. No one drew any links directly to the Occupation, but it is clear that in order to enforce the Occupation, there is a need to dehumanize the Palestinians as “the other”. And once a society labels one group that way, it is a short hop to applying the same attitude to any other group. This trend is taking Israel further and further away from what most of us consider to be our Jewish values.

Along these lines, we also heard about the deterioration of conduct within the Knesset. Of course, it reminded us of home, seeing that Congress continues to set new lows in obstructionism and lack of decorum. One characterization of the way bills are pushed through the Knesset was “violent”. Not a term that one expects to hear describing legislative functioning. Just as in the U.S., we got the sense that there is a general breakdown in decorum and long-standing unspoken rules of how to relate to your political opponents. Whether this reflects the trends of more explicit and blatant religious, ethnic and, now, political hatred, or leads those trends, isn’t clear. But what was being communicated to us by the MK’s was that this was a serious, serious problem.

Finally, all of the MK’s expressed their appreciation for J Street leaders – particularly the J Street U students – for being in Israel at this time of war, and caring enough to reach out to see and hear what was going on so that we could bring what we saw back to those in the U.S.

Landed in Tel Aviv

July 30, 2014 Comments off

An uneventful day.  Thank god.

Arrived at Ben Gurion Airport about 5PM.  The flight from Newark was 60% full.  Not much English being spoken.  There is always something magical to me when I first spot the green fields – a product of modern irrigation technology – poking through the clouds that always seem to be hanging over the coast line.  I am not sure what it is – but there is some energy in the air that is special.  It makes people want to be in this land. And to possess it. 

This time, we approached from the North.  To avoid any potential rockets from Gaza of course.  The lines for Foreign Passport Control were non-existent.  The cabby complained that “there are no tourists.  Now, I have to wait three hours at the airport for a fare.” 

I look for signs of the war – but frankly, here, there aren’t many.  The beach is still filled with bathers, folks are jogging along the Tayelet, and the matkot players are still smacking the balls back and forth. But there is a noticeable quiet.  Traffic is light.  The hotel lobby is empty.  The people are still.

I am here with a group of J Street leaders to show our support for Israel in this time of war.  To try to support all of those suffering during the latest chapter in this long conflict.  We also want to connect with those Israelis who we really are working for and with – those who see that there is no military solution to this conflict.  That the only way to break the cycle is with a negotiated agreement ending in two states for two peoples.  Then, perhaps, there will be a chance for real security. 

We heard over dinner from Gadi Baltinski, Director of the Geneva Initiative, that 85% of Israelis support this operation.  They support the military and the government (for the time being – nothing like a war to increase an incumbent’s popularity), BUT they also don’t think that this will solve the ultimate problem.   Never the less, they back the government because they see this war as being the fault of Hamas.  And, now, all of a sudden, people are seeing Abu Mazen as the “good” guy.  Where were they when he really needed support during the negotiations?  “No partner for peace…”

Akiva Eldar, writer for Haaretz and Al-Monitor and, ironically, head of the first annual Haaretz Peace Conference held July 9 just as the rockets began firing, told us that the only solution is a regional one.  King Faisal of Saudi Arabia actually wrote a piece in Haaretz a few weeks ago reiterating that the Arab Peace Initiative is still on the table.  He implored us to go back to the US and talk with politicians and tell that nothing is more bi-partisan than ending this conflict.  After all he said, the idea that ending this conflict was in America’s best interest really took root when George H.W. and James Baker challenged Yitzhak Shamir on building settlements.  That was hundreds of thousands of settlers ago.

Tomorrow we head to Jerusalem to hear the take of several MK’s, meet with the US Consul General, and visit some victims of the violence in Hadassah hospital.

So far, no sirens.  But last night, I was told, they came about 2 AM.

Categories: Israel

Why J Street Is NOT “Not pro-Israel”

July 23, 2014 1 comment
IDF Soldier looks into Hamas Tunnel - Time Inc

IDF Soldier looks into Hamas Tunnel – Time Inc

A good friend (whose views skew quite a bit – OK, a lot – to the right of mine) sent me an email this morning:

Subject: “THE PROOF THAT J STREET IS NOT PRO-ISRAEL.

Content:  “IF YOU CAN NOT STAND WITH ISRAEL WHILE IT IS UNDER SIEGE, YOU MUST BE PRO-HAMAS!   http://www.timesofisrael.com/j-street-explains-pullout-from-boston-pro-israel-rally/#.U8_MEy40bwI.email

The article he references describes how the Boston J Street chapter was originally a co-sponsor of a Pro-Israel rally, but then pulled out “because its officials did not feel that issues they wanted addressed were sufficiently represented, including grieving for victims on all sides, an emphasis on a diplomatic solution and especially the role of the US Jewish community in advancing such a solution.”  The article goes on to say that Jeremy Burton, executive director of Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council , “told JTA [a Jewish news agency] that speakers at the rally did address suffering on both sides and noted that its immediate emphasis was on Israel’s right to defend itself and Hamas’ responsibility for the current violence.”

Here is my response:
  • As noted in the article, “J Street has co-sponsored other pro-Israel rallies across the United States during the current conflict.”  That implies – correctly – that this was not a position of J Street national, but rather a local issue based on inter-Boston issues. There has been tension within the Jewish community there with J Street for years.  It is a good thing, but amazing, that Boston JCRC has J Street as a member but there remains unease with other organizations that belong.
  • Recognizing the suffering of innocent civilians on all sides is important (and it sounds like, as it turns out, that this was done at this rally). Noting the very real suffering of innocent civilians in Gaza does not make a person pro-Hamas.  Nor does criticizing the government of Israel make one anti-Israel.  I would dare say that you are not pro-the current U.S. administration, but that does not make one anti-American.
  • The run up to this war began with the very tragic, heart-wrenching, senseless murder of three innocent Yeshiva students, z’’’l.  But from what I have read, this event was then used quite cynically by the Israeli government to take down the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank.  On one level this was a good thing – but on another level, it fanned the flames for the current incursion.  It also fanned some very dangerous flames of racism and hatred among a group of right-wingers in a horrific way with the revenge killing of an equally innocent Israeli Arab (i.e., also an Israeli citizen) teenager.  One of the reasons that it is so important to make sure that pro-Israel rallies not paint every Arab as seeking to wipe Israel off the map is that once the genie of racial hate is let out of the bottle, it is very hard to get back in.
  • While it was the rockets that instigated the Israeli air retaliation, thanks in large part to the Iron Dome system, the rockets do not present a strategic threat to Israel.  I am not condoning rocket fire by any means nor saying that Israel doesn’t have a right to retaliate – only that a war like this is not a strategic solution for Israel.   Because previous operations failed to deter the threat from Hamas, I originally opposed the escalation.   However, as the sophistication and extent of Hamas’ tunnel system came to light once the ground operation began, I have totally changed my mind and I personally believe that this war is extremely necessary and the current land operation totally justified.  The Hamas’ tunnel system represents a very, very real threat to the security of Israel.
  • One of the most important things that this war re-emphasizes however is that the Israeli government has no strategy for dealing with the Palestinians.  As much as we all might like it, the 4 million Palestinians are not just going away.  One of J Street’s key points is that we must address the long term solution to these issues: a negotiated two state solution. There is no better time than these rallies to focus the American Jewish community on this fact, instead of simply supporting war.  I believe that the lesson from prior military actions (Lebanon, previous Gaza wars) is that when you “mow the lawn”, it just grows back higher and longer  The Israeli government, and American Jews, should do everything it can to support moderates – including Mahmoud Abbas.
  • Finally, you can read J Street’s official reaction to similar criticisms here: http://jstreet.org/blog/post/myths-and-facts-does-j-street-stand-with-the-proisrael-community-when-israel-is-under-attack_1

A Moving Response from Jeremy Ben-Ami on the Tragic Murder of 3 Innocent Kids

July 2, 2014 Comments off

Any murder of innocents is clearly tragic.  No less so for the three Israeli Yeshiva students.  It has captured the hearts of people throughout the world.Picasso's The Tragedy

Yet, I have been thinking about why every Jewish organization out there is bending over backwards to see who can mourn “more” over these three young kids.  By doing so, they are elevating a tragic incident into a political snowball which is rapidly moving towards a violent ending.

Bibi and his government are leading Israel, the American Jewish community and anyone else that can be hoodwinked, down a path of violence and destruction.  Violence begets violence – until one side decides to act rationally (rather than with a knee-jerk), or until both sides finally beat themselves into oblivion (viz. WWI 100 years ago).  It doesn’t take a psychic to predict that there will be many more innocent Israeli (and Palestinian) victims to come – making a mockery of using all of this mourning for three to justify the killing of scores or hundreds more.

And, it is just sad to see how the American Jewish community has generally taken the bait.

That is why I find Jeremy’s statement, Enough of Tears and Bloodshed, to be honest, poignant and intelligent.  Here it is:

Enough of Tears and Bloodshed

July 1st, 2014

By Jeremy Ben-Ami

Over the past two and a half weeks, all of us who care deeply about Israel and seek peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been profoundly moved by the tragedy of the three teenage boys kidnapped and, we now know, murdered in cold blood on the West Bank.

As a father of young children, my heart simply breaks whenever violence snatches young lives, and families and communities are senselessly plunged into mourning.

While the grieving and sorrow have barely begun for the families, the debate over how to respond is in full swing as is, of course, an emotional argument over how the Israeli government should and should not react.

Fear and anger drive part of the debate, with calls for retribution dominating the public discourse. Seemingly easy, emotionally satisfying, answers flow freely: Tear down the houses of the alleged kidnappers’ families. Attack Gaza to root out Hamas’ infrastructure. Build new settlements. Take revenge.

Less free to flow are efforts to place this tragedy in a broader context or to recognize the real and legitimate pain felt on the Palestinian side as well. There is no way out of this spiral of violence and conflict if we can’t start to hear and understand the pain on the other side too.

The New York Times this week ran a moving, but difficult, article about two mothers, Rachel Fraenkel and Aida Abdel Aziz Dudeen. It was written before the discovery of the body of Rachel’s 16-year-old son, Naftali, one of the three murdered teenagers. “I was praying maybe he did something stupid and irresponsible,” Ms. Fraenkel recalled thinking when police came to her door at 4 a.m., “but I know my boy isn’t stupid, and he isn’t irresponsible.”

A few miles away in the West Bank town of Dura, Aida also tried to stop her 15-year-old Mohammed from doing something stupid and irresponsible. She locked the door of the family home to stop him from going out to confront Israeli soldiers after days or house searches and arrests. He got out anyway by jumping out the window and was shot dead, with the key still under Aida’s pillow, when soldiers opened fire on a group of young Palestinians hurling stones at them.

Times correspondent Jodi Rudoren succinctly summed up the gulf between the sides in the way they look at these twin tragedies. “Most Israelis see the missing teenagers as innocent civilians captured on their way home from school, and the Palestinians who were killed as having provoked soldiers. Palestinians, though, see the very act of attending yeshiva in a West Bank settlement as provocation, and complain that the crackdown is collective punishment against a people under illegal occupation.”

As President Obama memorably said in his speech to young Israelis in Jerusalem last year, we must try to see the world through the eyes of the other side. That does not mean accepting their narrative and abandoning our own. But it does mean abandoning the “we’re always right and they are always wrong” view of the conflict and trying to find a solution that begins with mutual compassion.

“Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day … Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land,” Obama said.

The most important sentence is the last. Until there is a two-state solution, this awful conflict will grind on and on and on, and there will be more tragedies – more Naftalis, more Mohammeds. It’s now two decades since the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin memorably said on the White House lawn that we have had enough of tears, enough of bloodshed. It was his guiding principle to fight terror as if there were no effort to reach peace and to seek peace as if there were no terror.

We at J Street too have had enough of tears and bloodshed.

That’s why we will never stop working for peace, for justice, for reconciliation, for compassion and for an end to this conflict.

May the memories of all our young people be for a blessing.

 

 

Thoughtful modern day “Plagues” to contemplate this Passover – presented by JACPAC – but there is something missing

April 14, 2014 2 comments

JACPAC (the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs) a wonderful group of politically active women (and a few men) whose issues center around Israel, women’s rights aWe were once slaves in the land of Egyptnd now, gun control, have come out with a list of ten modern day plagues to think about this Pesach [Their list follows at the bottom of this post – unfortunately, I couldn’t get the very cool green frog background to copy over].  Their hope is that:

As you gather with your families around the seder table and retell the story of Passover, remember that oppression, hunger, discrimination and violence still plague us all.

However, I thought that given their goal, they left out two of the most important things that we Jews should be thinking about.  So, I wrote them the following:

To Marcia, Dana, Janna and JACPAC:

With respect, I believe that you have left out two extremely important plagues:

-          The Occupation and the treatment of the Palestinians

-          Failure to reach a two state solution

The occupation is one of the most important plagues because of the threat it presents to Israel remaining both a Jewish and Democratic state.  It also tends to corrupt a society. I have witnessed this personally when visiting the West Bank and I assume that you have as well.  The attitude towards the Palestinians is simply shameful.  And it is clearly appears to be an overall policy of the government and military.  If this were happening in the US, I am sure that JACPAC would be the first to speak out against it.

For myself, one of the most important aspects of the Seder is the fact that the Haggadah emphasizes the fact that “you” – the Seder participant him/herself – were a slave in the land of Egypt.  I think that this is profound.  The Haggadah is asking each of us to put ourselves in the shoes of someone that is enslaved and oppressed.  It wants us to feel what it is like to be the one who is powerless – as we Jews have been for 2000 years until quite recently.

Now however, the miracle of the success of the State of Israel has put us in an unfamiliar position.  The Jewish State (we shouldn’t need the Palestinians to have to bless this description) is now in control of the West Bank and controls access to Gaza.  Whether you want to call it” occupation” or not (a la Sheldon Adelson), Israel is controlling the lives of 2.5 million people in the West Bank.  How we as Jews handle this situation is a test of Jewish values. The lesson I take from the Haggadah is to remember what it is like to be powerless and oppressed – and if the tables are turned so that Jews are in power, to use that power wisely.

And, I believe that “Treatment of the Palestinians” should come ahead of “BDS” – because there is a connection.  BDS scares many of us precisely because we have seen the effectiveness of this tactic before particularly with South Africa.  As a matter of fact, many of us Jews were in the forefront of the BDS movement against South Africa.  While some of those who promote BDS have the goal of destroying the state of Israel, there are many others who are simply protesting the very real abuses of power and justice that do occur.

The question I would like to contemplate for this Pesach is this:  If we keep the land, but lose our ethics, where are we?

I think the Haggadah is telling us that that puts us back wandering in a moral desert.

_______________________________

So, yasher koach, on the list of plagues.  It provides much for all of us to consider at the Seder table.  I simply wish that you would challenge your membership even further.  There are very real facts on the ground in Israel that are hard to look at.  But, hiding our heads in the sand, doesn’t change the reality on the ground.

Best wishes to you and your families for a chag kasher v’sameach — a meaningful and sweet Pesach.

 

JACPAC’s Email:

You thought the plagues ended with Pharaoh? 
Think Again 

Today’s Plagues

 

1.  Iran and Nuclear Weapons

Israel’s security hangs in the balance as Iran races to build up their nuclear stockpile.

 

2. Boycott. Divestment. Sanctions (BDS)

Israel will be economically, culturally and educationally strangled from a global BDS movement.

3.  Global Warming

Climate change will lead to rising global temperatures, severe natural disasters, and dangerous levels of pollution.

 

4.  Gun Violence

In America, an adult is killed by a firearm every 17 minutes and a child every 3.25 hours.

5.  Limited Access to Reproductive Rights

Increased restrictions: forcing abortion clinics to close at a record pace, mandatory ultrasounds, loss of contraception insurance coverage, 6-week abortion bans

 

6.  Theology vs. Science

State lawmakers across the country are pushing for creationism to be taught in schools instead of the science of evolution.  A Senate candidate from North Carolina has even said that the big bang theory are “lies from the pit of hell.”

7.  Erosion of Separation of Church and State

Lawmakers in SC, VA and TN are debating bills that will put prayer back in schools.

 

8. Voting Rights Suppression

Over 30 states across the country have considered discriminatory laws to make it harder for minorities, seniors and students to exercise their right to vote.

9.  Hunger

Today 49 million people in the U.S. struggle to put food on the table. This year the Senate voted to cut $8.6 billion from the federal food assistance program (SNAP) over the next several years.

10.  Human Trafficking

This is a form of modern day slavery.  In the U.S., between 100,000-300,000 children are used for the purpose of sexual exploitation yearly.

____________________________________

 

As you gather with your families around the seder table and retell the story of Passover, remember that oppression, hunger, discrimination and violence still plague us all. 

 

This Passover, let’s recommit ourselves to making our world better for all and fulfill the promises of our own Jewish heritage and traditions.

 

_____________________________________ 
sources: CDC, JCPA, Brady Campaign, Feeding America, ACLU, Children’s Defense Fund

 

 Paid for by Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs.  Contributions or gifts are not tax deductible.  Contributions may total up to $5200 per individual ($2600 for the primary election, and $2600 for the general election).  Federal law requires us to use our best efforts to collect and report the name, mailing address, occupation, and name of employer of individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in an election cycle.  Corporate contributions and contributions from non-US citizens who are not lawfully admitted for permanent residence are prohibited.  All contributions by individuals must be made from personal funds and may not be reimbursed or paid by another person.
Support JAC today.www.jacpac.org 

Pity Norman Podhoretz: He ignores the real issue in his recent WSJ op-ed

April 14, 2014 Comments off

A good friend, Dan Sabol, President of the Chicago Chapter of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce, asked me to comment on Podhoretz’ recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal,  Pity the Palestinians? Count Me Out found here:  http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304640104579487444112949138?mg=reno64-wsj   In the piece, Podohoretz excoriates the Palestinians with gleeful delight – but fails to address the real issues.  Here is what I wrote to Dan:

 

This op-ed is pure, unadulterated tripe.  Mr. Podhoretz is known for his Israel right-or-wrong viewpoint, which he promotes vociferously and acrimoniously via Commentary.

He shows his bias from the very first paragraph when he labels John Kerry’s diplomacy as “farcical”.

Provoked by the predictable collapse of the farcical negotiations forced by Secretary of State John Kerry on the Palestinians and the Israelis, I wish to make a confession: I have no sympathy—none—for the Palestinians. Furthermore, I do not believe they deserve any.

I agree that many did predict that the talks would collapse – so therefore the failure was “predictable”.  And even more, probably most, while not “predicting collapse”, gave the chance of success as low.  But certainly folks said the same thing about George Mitchell in Ireland.  As Mitchell so famously said:  “We had 700 days of failure and one day of success”.  By inference, I assume that Mr. Podhoretz also found Mitchell’s work in Ireland to be farcical as well.

Further, in virtually every paragraph he says something that is either factually incorrect, incomplete or biased in interpretation. [Which I don’t have the time nor desire to go into here – but certainly can]

All this is fine.  But there are two things that aren’t.

First, his attitude, which is gleefully acrimonious, tendentious and supercilious.

But my biggest issue with this article is that he does not really address the problem.  I, too, have no sympathy for the Palestinians that want to destroy Israel and even less (I don’t know if you can have less than no sympathy, but I do) for those who want to kill all of the Jews.  But what Mr. Podhoretz does not address is that while blaming the Palestinians might make us fell righteous and good, the occupation is really our problem – no matter what the Palestinians do.  Nor is how other Arab states treat the Palestinians or their citizens relevant to our problem.  As a Jew, what I care about is how Jews treat other people.  I believe we Jews choose to hold ourselves to Jewish values – higher values.  The Occupation endangers Israel remaining both a Jewish and democratic state.  That is our problem as Jews.  We need to find a creative way to end it.

No water in East Jerusalem for two weeks. Yet Israel claims that ALL of Jerusalem s/b the capital

March 27, 2014 Comments off

25 Days Without WaterOne of the main stumbling blocks to coming to a peace agreement with the Palestinians is Jerusalem.  The Israelis claim the entire city of Jerusalem (as they define it – including the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980) as Israel’s capital.  The Palestinians also demand Jerusalem (Al-Quds) as their capital – although it seems that they might accept East Jerusalem and the holy sites as sufficient.

A recent post in +972, tells about an East Jerusalem neighborhood that has been without water for three weeks:

The East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ras Shehada, Ras Khamis, Dahyat A’salam and the Shuafat refugee camp, which are cut off from the rest of the city by the separation wall, have gone without running water since March 4.

And further:

Palestinian East Jerusalem residents turned to Israel’s High Court on Tuesday demanding that running water be restored to their homes, after suffering for three weeks without it. The petition was filed on their behalf by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

So this raises a question:  If the municipal authority of Jerusalem does not systematically offer the same services to East Jerusalem as it does to the rest of Jerusalem, how can it claim that it is all part of the same city?  In the U.S. there is a law that if you don’t retain some aspects of private ownership over a piece of property, it falls into the public domain.  You may notice this via plaques on ground of certain building setbacks or even closing off of small areas of public walkways that exist on private property for some hours or a day to maintain private rights.  So, isn’t the current situation in Jerusalem somewhat analogous?  That is, if basic municipal services are not being systematically provided, or like in this case, repairs are not made within a reasonable time, doesn’t that provide an argument that, in fact, the municipality has given up some right to claim these neighborhoods as part of its city?

More photos here:  PHOTOS: 13 days without water in East Jerusalem

 

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