“If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up somewhere else” – The Great Yogi
In analyzing and developing policies, an obvious prerequisite is defining and understanding your desired outcome: The Endgame. One of the problems that often occurs when people are talking about Israel, Palestine and the rest of the Middle East, is that they talk past each other. They almost immediately get caught up arguing facts (or myths), history, speculation, generalization, demonization, almost any damn “-ation” you can name. But often they never bother to try to understand the framework of their arguments. What is the outcome that they are looking for? How can one determine if they are right or wrong unless they know what goal they are trying to achieve.
It seems that the endgame for Israel was defined at its very birth. It goes back to the original Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel which David Ben-Gurion read aloud in the sweltering heat of the former Dizengoff home, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on 5 Iyar 5708 (May 14, 1948). The very essence of what the country stands for is contained in the 13th paragraph:
THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
I don’t think there can be a clearer, more succinct ideal that any of us who love the State of Israel could set for her. And it follows from that that this should be the standard which the people of Israel and their institutions (government, the military, economic, and religious) should be measuring themselves against. And fellow Jews everywhere should be supporting Israel in reaching for that ideal.
So, in summary, when analyzing policy decisions, using this definition, the endgame is the sustenance of Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.
precept [ˈpriːsɛpt]n 1. a rule or principle for action
2. a guide or rule for morals; maxim
Over the next several months, I am going to write a series of short essays – I call Precepts – explaining the framework that I use in thinking about issues – particularly when it involves war and peace. The United States is currently involved in overt military activity (“kinetic” seems to be the descriptive adjective de jour to apply here) in three different areas of the world. We see images of bombs, fire fights, burned out tanks, and wounded and killed civilians – lots of wounded and killed civilians – wherever we look – in the newspaper, on TV, on the web, on our mobile phones. And yet, we have little understanding of what, why and how we are doing what we are doing. Our leaders seem caught up in endless partisan infighting, spewing political rhetoric like odoriferous spring fertilizer. They cannot explain what our interests are (our Endgame). Instead of being forthright in explaining the importance of energy, raw materials, shipping lanes, stable governments, etc., we get all kinds of wars. Not just military warfare, but Wars on Drugs, Wars on Terror, Wars on Obesity. The term War is used so often that it has lost its true meaning. We are constantly at war – so war no longer seems to be such a terrible thing. (Obviously the best treatise on the concept of constant war was written by George Orwell. I commend you to re-read 1984. I dare say that our current global relationships bear some resemblance to that of Oceania. If you read carefully, although the visions are sometimes a bit more stark and excessive, you will see that much of the framework is recognizable. Telescreens spying on our every move? Between police cameras, security cameras and cellphone cameras, they say that you should act like everything you do is being recorded…)
All of that being said, my hope is to put together some little thought pieces that will pique your interests. Each will likely start out very short, but I reserve the right to update, revise and expand each essay until it turns into a coherent worthy statement.
The first one follows this post. It is a short note about the importance of defining one’s Endgame.
Today’s unexpected bombing in Jerusalem seems to be just one more violent event in recent weeks. [Unexpected because according to an Israeli police spokesperson on BBC radio, prior to the bombing all was quiet in Jerusalem and there were no indications of an increased terrorist threat. UPDATE: Now they say “Police were prepared.”]. Off the top of my head, here are the events:
1. Tragic murder of the Fogel family in Itamar
2. Last weekend, heaviest mortar and rocket attacks from Gaza in years. And more rockets and mortars today in retaliation for Israeli air force missile response yesterday which killed four people.
4. Grounding of an Iranian cargo plane (a huge Ilyushin IL-76TD) by the Turkish air force. This was the second plane grounded in the last few days. First plane had no contraband, but yesterday, the plane carried a large cache of weapons that was found hidden behind food cargo. The plane was bound for Syria.
5. Now this bombing in Jerusalem
All of these events seem unprovoked, which leads me to speculate that this may be the beginning of the Third Intifada. Just as the Second Intifada took violence to another level from the First, it is likely that the Third will also take things up a notch. As in any warfare, the enemy adapts its tactics. In this sense, it may turn out that the Security Barrier will force the other side to use rockets, mortars and probably new, dangerously innovative weapons and tactics if they are really waging a new widespread operation.
Let us hope not. But I would keep a close watch on events.
- Jerusalem Bus Bombing: The 3rd Intifada Begins? (themoderatevoice.com)
- Barrage Of Rockets Between Israel And Gaza Leaves 1 Dead (huffingtonpost.com)
If you are at all interested in Peace, you must be interested in War, because they are intimately intertwined. And one of the top guys to follow about the two is Thomas Ricks (best known as the author of Fiasco) at Foreign Policy. Check out his latest post: “Libya: You want clarity? Here it is”
As reported in the Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Neteayahu wanted to expand his meeting with Todd and Sarah to a “full reception”, but couldn’t find time to meet with Jeremy Ben-Ami and Davidi Gilo, J Street leaders in Jerusalem for a “discussion” at the Knesset about whether J Street is really “pro-Israel”. J Street has 170,000 supporters. Sarah has Fox News. I guess its simple.
Luckily, Sarah has said she is going to go back to Israel and this time for a whole week. Hopefully, she will spend some time in Sderot, the settlements, Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah – and speak with people on all sides of the issues as well as on both sides of the Green Line.
- Sarah Palin in Israel to meet Netanyahu (cbsnews.com)
- Sarah Palin goes to Israel, snubs influential GOP group (salon.com)
EXTRA! Leaked Copy of Confidential Encrypted J Street Communique; Code Cracked By The Purim-Enigma Decoder
Dateline: 14 Adar
J Street in the News:
Knesset announces that topic of next week’s J Street discussion was a misunderstanding. MK’s interested in learning about Jeremy Ben-Ami’s selections in the NCAA tournament
Kadima MK Otniel Schneller questions Jeremy Ben-Ami’s preference for latkes vs. hammentaschen. Says that no real Jew could possibly prefer latkes
Netanyahu upset that Knesset is holding hearings on J Street next week – he had hoped to invite Jeremy Ben-Ami and Davidi Gilo to his seder, but doesn’t think that they will want to come back in April
Iranian genealogist searching for Amajinedad’s lineage comes to a dead end with someone named Haman
http://persia-today/Amajinedad-Is He Really from Philly?
Israeli government announces a complete and total halt to settlements! (each week between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday)
Hamas changes charter! Says, we don’t really want to push Jews into the sea. Just want them all to leave for Miami Beach. And may they live and be well http://hamasworldnews/Travel News
UN approves no-zipper zone on Levi 501 button-fly jeans
http://www.washingtonpost/Rice says: US will take a fashion back seat to no one
Top rabbinical council renounces matrilineal descent when it discovers Charlie Sheen’s mother was Jewish http://www.washingtonpost.com/Ripley’s Believe It or Not
Sarah Palin going to Israel. Looking forward to seeing the Pyramids http://www.newyorktimes/Palin: What? I didn’t say anything about Russia
Netanyahu writes opinion piece in NYT: “My opinion is that Abbas is ugly. And by the way, Fayad, is no better” http://www.newyorktimes/FashionWeek
Glen Beck apologizes for criticizing George Soros’ actions during WWII. What he had intended to denounce was Soros giving money to J Street http://www.washingtontimes/print-edition/opinion/Can I be any more Anti-semetic?
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Although Kaufman’s commentary provided some food for thought, there was a whole lot of context that he missed.
Here is my response, which I had originally titled: Ami Kaufmann’s Blogpost re: J Street Conference: “A” for Perception, “C-” for Perceptiveness
The following is a post written by Mr. Mark Zivin, an active J Street member, in response to my earlier post titled: “The J Street conference: An ‘A’ for effort, ‘F’ for results”. In my post I claimed that the conference failed where it matters most: bringing major league politicians from Capitol Hill. As you shall soon see, Mr. Zivin thinks I might have been a tad too harsh.
By Mark Zivin
I found Ami Kaufman’s recent piece about the J Street Conference to provide some very valuable insight into how the conference was perceived outside of the United States. Part of the problem was not only the lack of media attention (and I would agree that this is a legitimate concern), but there also was a lack of depth and context to the coverage.
Part of the problem is that this conference represents more of an evolution in the development of J Street as a movement, rather than a revolution. And as we all know, the cutbacks in personnel and budgets in the traditional media make it much harder, at any point in time, for them to justify covering evolutionary progress. And particularly at this moment in time, there just might be a few other revolutionary things going on in the world that would capture their attention before a conference in D.C. So, let me provide some of that context.
Regarding the event itself, Ami failed to look at the numbers. Attendance was up over 50% from 1,500 at the first conference to about 2,400 this year. For comparison sake, the AIPAC policy conference last year had 7,500, including a large contingent of about 750 from Chicago, because a very popular Lee Rosenberg from their hometown was being installed as President. Attracting almost one-third as many people as AIPAC after being in existence for only three years seems quite impressive. Even more interesting, the AIPAC numbers included 750 students; J Street had 500 students. So, J Street was able to do even better with young people. That is significant.
But it is in the area of the “political aspect” where not having the benefit of a broader American political perspective resulted in Ami drawing some very wrong conclusions about the political effectiveness of J Street. There are much better measures of JStreetPAC’s effectiveness than looking at the “caliber of speakers”. Again, let’s look at the numbers. In the 2010 election cycle, JStreetPAC raised more money, over $1.5M, than any other pro-Israel PAC (AIPAC is legally not a PAC and so does not directly raise money for candidates) and 46 of 61 endorsed candidates won (granted many of these were incumbents in Democratic districts).
But, the big story of 2010 that Ami ignored was the huge Republican wave that swept Congress, including more than a few J Street incumbents – which would help explain why there were fewer Representatives at the conference. Here in Illinois, we actually lost two out of four J Street endorsees who J Street had developed strong relationships with. That scenario played out all across the country.
As for the Republicans, J Street reaches out to them on the Hill, and for the most part they will politely meet with J Street’s staff. However, it is nearly impossible to get them to accept an endorsement. There was a very brave Republican Congressman from Louisiana, Rep. Charles Boustany, who was with J Street from the beginning. He is a medical doctor of Lebanese Christian descent. He accepted J Street’s endorsement for both 2008 and 2010. Unfortunately, when the whole flap about funding from George Soros emerged, he was forced to drop the endorsement.
And speaking of brave, although “minor league” is one way to characterize the Congresspeople that came to the conference, I know several of them pretty well. I think that more accurate adjectives would be “tough”, “fair-minded”, and “sincere”, in addition to “brave”. And, although Ami quoted part of a paragraph from Nathan Guttman in the Forward, he missed the point on two counts. First, he failed to connect the very real political risk that there can be fallout from showing up at the conference with the fact that some people decided not to attend. So we have to really appreciate those that ignored that risk. Secondly, Ami left out the last sentence of Guttman’s paragraph:
“But Rep. Lois Capps, another California Democrat who is endorsed by J StreetPAC, said that there is a “noticeable change” in Congress and more openness to listening to other views on Israel.”
I have personally heard from many Congressmen and women how thankful they are that J Street exists. It has allowed many of them to be bolder and more outspoken in their positions than they could ever have been if it was not for J Street.
And speaking of political, the day after the conference was “Lobby Day”, where hundreds of conference participants went up on Capitol Hill to meet with Senators and Representatives to promote J Street’s positions and make some type of “ask” in favor of these views. This year’s “ask” was very interesting. Each Congressperson was asked to sign on to a letter that is sponsored by Jan Schakowsky (my Representative) and Anna Eshoo of California. The letter is in support of maintaining the level of foreign aid both to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The letter is very even-handed and this was evidenced by its being the lead article in the Chicago Federation’s (JUF) e-newsletter last week. Significantly, J Street was the first group to lobby for this letter on the Hill. My hope is that we will be seeing more J Street actions which will be acceptable to a broader range of members of the Jewish community.
And speaking of Republican, one should be aware of what happened in my home district, Illinois’ Ninth. The above mentioned incumbent, Jan Schakowsky, who is Jewish, has been a strong supporter of Israel during her entire 12 years in Congress, and she was also one of the first in Congress to accept J Street’s endorsement. And although the mantra of traditional center-right Jewish groups, including AIPAC, has been that support for Israel should not be a political issue, her young opponent disparaged mercilessly both Jan’s support for Israel and her acceptance of J Street’s endorsement. There is a large enclave of Orthodox Jews in her district and many of them supported her opponent. Despite this, Jan won handily by margins similar to prior years.
The point being that this served as a test to find out both whether J Street could muster effective political support (which it did by turning out scores of people at key debates and rallies), and whether or not J Street support could actually harm a candidate in a district with a large Jewish population. J Street fared very well on both counts. And, realizing exactly how much a litmus test this district could be, J Street actually conducted very specific polling to be able to do more than judge the results anecdotally. These poll results indicated that despite her opponent spending over $500,000 and despite the overall Republican trend in the nation, Jan’s popularity was unscathed by her association with J Street.
So all in all, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of J Street’s political demise have been greatly exaggerated. That isn’t to say that J Street has not made political mistakes or that the path forward is going to be easy, but it is to say that J Street has made, and continues to make, a significant difference in the tone of American political conversation about Israel, Palestine and Middle East Peace. And trust me, J Street’s leadership and staff didn’t spend too much time patting themselves on the back in self-congratulatory revelry. Despite tired minds and bodies, they spent the two days following the conference de-briefing, planning and preparing for what lies ahead. Knowing many of them, they certainly wouldn’t disagree with Ami that 2011 is a make or break year. But, rest assured, pep rallies aren’t in the plans. How to get to peace is what their sights are set on.
Mark Zivin is a member of J Street’s Political Finance Committee and a leader of J Street Chicago, its local branch. He was Treasurer of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, and has been a supporter of major American Jewish organizations for decades. He blogs about politics in general and Middle East Peace in particular at www.beyondzs.com and Tweets at www.twitter.com/Beyondzs.