Meetings Last Week with Members of the Knesset About the Current Situation in Israel and Operation Protective Edge
Last 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.
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.
Thoughtful modern day “Plagues” to contemplate this Passover – presented by JACPAC – but there is something missing
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 and 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.
One 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.
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