Archive for March, 2011

View of J Street Conference from Israel: Ami Kaufman’s Post on +972 Blogsite Last Week

March 18, 2011 Comments off

Ami Kaufman

Here is Ami’s original posting on +972 entitled:  The J street conference: An “A” for effort, “F” for results.

See my response here:  J Street member responds to criticism of DC conference


The J street conference: An “A” for effort, “F” for results

From this Israeli’s perspective, the J Street conference looked like a pretty sleek production. Too bad that’s all it amounted to.

Now that the folks at JStreet are finished patting each other on the back for a job well done, I’d like to give them a perspective on the conference from one who did not attend. I just read about it here, on my laptop in sunny Bat Yam.
There wasn’t much to see here. Not on TV, and not in the papers. I also understand that there wasn’t much coverage in the American media. In fact, if one visits JStreet’s website and clicks on the media coverage link, it’s easy enough to compare the coverage received by this conference to the first one in 2009. Not only is the list about a third in length, but some big names don’t show up: The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Times, The Economist, and others.
After seeing this, I decided to take a small, totally unscientific survey of numerous friends and family in the States, all liberal, Obama-voting Jews: none of them knew the conference was going on. My only solace was found in a cousin who told me the only info he had from the conference was +972.
Look, if you can’t get an item in the NYTimes and if you can’t get the attention of the audience you’re preaching to (even though my poll was unscientific, my gut feeling is that it’s not far from the truth) – your media department is having difficulties. This is basic stuff, folks.
But media is the least of JStreet’s problems. What about what went on in the conference rooms? Sure, the speeches were nice. The two new mega stars that everybody just HAS to love these days – Mona Eltahaway and Peter Beinart – sent chills down many spines.
And, apparently, some of the panel discussions were very interesting. Take for example the groundbreaking panel on BDS – the fact that JStreet even opened that topic for debate is quite impressive.
But unfortunately, nice panels aren’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, creating discussion inside the Jewish community is extremely important, and I’m sure that’s what happened at this conference. All in all, it looks like it was a feel-good, nice n’ fuzzy kinda gathering. But a failure nonetheless.
Where JStreet failed this time is where it hurts most: the political aspect. Its most important arm is JStreetPac, the political action committee. The fruits of this pac’s efforts should have been seen in the caliber of speakers from Congress it brought to the event. Based on the 50 or so politicians who showed up, most of them minor league players, J Street supporters (myself included) should be worried. Even more so, when the best you can get from the Obama administration is a speech from Dennis Ross. I think it’s safe to say that’s even a downgrade from James Jones attending the 2009 conference.
Nathan Guttman of The Forward wrote about the possible reasons for this:

“Some members of Congress who participated in J Street’s conference spoke of the difficulties of embracing J Street’s agenda on Capitol Hill.During one panel discussion, Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, said that “there are prices to pay” for supporting J Street’s views in Congress. In another discussion, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat, argued that on Middle East issues the “most important decisions are governed by fear, fear of losing votes, of losing campaign donations.”

And Natasha Mozgovaya pointed out how J Street is still a novice in some areas:

The problem with J Street is that it seems to have lost a bit of its policy focus, instead plunging into controversies and acting, as some Congress staffers hint, too hastily and even arrogantly. They point to the lobby’s practice of putting out controversial statements without consulting enough with key players, making some congressmen sympathetic to a two-state solution feel uncomfortable.

J Street has got its work cut out for it. The organization must now roll up its sleeves in what will be its most difficult task: Ahead of the 2012 U.S. elections, it must prevent its next conference from being just as parve, since its arch-nemesis AIPAC will be doing some serious muscle flexing to keep its Senators and Representatives in rank.
In an emotional plea to participants of the conference, Eltahawy asked for J Street not to be 10 days too late, as were the Mideast leaders who eventually lost power. I fear Eltahawy’s request is too late in itself. American Jewry, and J Street, seem to have woken up too late. It could be that by the time J Street gets its act together, the two state solution will be dead.

The only way to make a change is to get a massive movement of big gun politicians from AIPAC to J Street. And it has to happen soon, before the next conference.

2011 is J Street’s make or break year. Otherwise, their next gatherings are in danger of turning into nothing more than annual pep rallies.

    FDIC Suing WaMu Execs for $900 Million For Gross Negligence – Finally Some Common Sense

    March 18, 2011 Comments off
    The Mallard, the archetypal "wild duck&qu...

    Image via Wikipedia

    Wall Street Journal Reports:  FDIC Sues Ex-WaMu Executives

    I cotton to the strong form of the Duck Theory (also known as the Duck Test):

      If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.”

    So, I believe that it is clear that the top officials of the banks that got us into the Fukushima of the financial world should be personally held responsible for the crisis.  There was a reason they were being paid the big bucks (big bucks? Let’s call them humongous bucks).  They either knew about the great risks they were taking, or should have known about the risks.  That was why they were being paid so much.  There are not enough of the free-marketiers out there calling for stripping all of the wealth from these folks.  If you listened to some of the hearings the responsibility of these executives was evident.  The one that sticks most in my mind was when the head of mortgage credit control for Citibank testified that he had reported up to his superiors two or three years in a row that 70-80% of the mortgages they were writing did not meet the bank’s own internal credit criteria.  If that isn’t gross negligence, I don’t know what is.

    And look, I don’t care if you put these guys/gals (though it seems to be exclusively guys) in jail.  But, please, take their money away.  They gambled with their depositors’ money and lost.  They should not benefit from that.

    Categories: Non-Middle East

    Could This Be the Beginning of Important Change on the Palestinian Side? Abbas Accepts Hamas Outreach Towards Fatah-Hamas Unification

    March 17, 2011 Comments off
    Mahmoud Abbas

    Image via Wikipedia

    There is some interesting news that may (or may not) be foreshadowing a major restructuring of the Palestinian government.  Following simultaneous demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank on Tuesday, Haaretz reported that Mahmoud Abbas made a speech to his party today which included an important new announcement.

    Abbas has accepted an invitation from Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s prime minister, to go to Gaza to discuss ending the chasm between the two Palestinian political factions that has remained wide open since Hamas took over control of Gaza by force in June, 2007.  Abbas said: 

    I declare that I am ready to go to Gaza tomorrow so as to end the split and form a new government” 

    He went on to call for elections and re-emphasized the fact that he will not stand for re-election:

    Wisconsin: Famed home state of Joe McCarthy

    March 11, 2011 Comments off

    Look what’s happening in his home state. There is a right-wing revolution right here in the US and the Republicans have hood-winked middle America. The concentration of wealth in this country since George Bush took office is staggering.

    And while there is no question that union pensions/wages/work rules need to be reigned in for municipal workers all over the country – to use it as an excuse to throw collective bargaining out the window is an egregious misuse of power in my mind. It is also a chicken-shit way to go. Instead of negotiating “like a man – (or a tough minded woman for that matter)”, Walker says – we’ll just change the rules to eliminate any power the competition might have.

    Kind of like saying to the Packers – you are in the Super Bowl, but by the way, your players can’t get together to practice beforehand. Good luck!

    If you are going to change the rules – why not just tell the unions “we must abrogate the contract or the state will go bankrupt and essentially we won’t have the money to pay you anyhow. Come to the table and let’s work out something that we can all live with.”

    Categories: Israel

    Knesset to hold hearings on J Street being “anti-Israel”. As Shakespeare might say: “I think the lady doth protest too much”

    March 11, 2011 Comments off

    Check this out in the Jerusalem Post This is really unbelievable. [It is even more outrageous than the Muslim hearings that took place today by Rep Peter King] – but ultimately it really shows 1) what a force J Street is becoming – but also 2) how scary internal Israeli politics is becoming. In a sense, the fact of this hearing taking place, only proves J Street’s point that Israel democracy is in jeopardy. It seems that J Street’s actions are creating fear in Israel’s right wing – they fear that if people really listen to J Street it will expose their policies for what they are.

    Categories: Israel

    Saad Ibrahim on the Egyptian Revolution at the CCGA: “Young People are Deciding the Fate of their Societies”

    March 9, 2011 Comments off


    Saad Eddin Ibrahim

    Saad Eddin Ibrahim is the real deal when it comes to the Egyptian revolution.  Although his current title is the Wallerstein Distinguished Visiting Professor, Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict, Drew University, what he has been through does a much better job of explaining who he is.  He was put on trial in Egypt for his anti-Mubarek activities (including founding the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies), convicted twice and sentenced to seven years of hard labor.  He served 15 months before being acquitted by Egypt’s highest court.   He walked with a cane to the podium at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA) and began to explain his take on the recent flood of revolutions in the Middle East.  As he completed his formal talk, he moved to sit down in a chair for the Q&A.  As he gingerly moved to seat himself, he quipped:  “I used to be a marathoner; look what prison does to you.”  I couldn’t tell whether it was a small joke juxtaposing his current portly appearance, or the straight truth.

    In addition to talking broadly about the political history of the region, he made several interesting comments:

    • The difference in this revolution:  It was begun by youth, supported solely by non-violent civilians, and then the military stayed neutral and actually protected the demonstrators from the police
    • This was unbelievable:  He explained that the revolution really took off on Day 3 when the government shut off internet and cell phone service.  Why?  Up until then most of the demonstrators where under 30.  When cell phone access got shut off, their parents could not reach them, so the parents went down to Tahrir Square to try to find their kids to see if they were OK.  When they got there, the atmosphere was like a street fair – so they stayed!  That virtually tripled participation in one day (1 child + 2 parents = 3 people)
    • He commented (as have others) that he was not aware of any anti-American slogans being chanted.  This was about Egyptians taking responsibility for themselves; not placing blame on someone else
    • He strongly recommends that the West deal with the Muslim Brotherhood respectfully.  They should be allowed to participate as long as they accept the basic premise of the democracy.  If we do that, he says that it is likely that the system will develop similarly to many of the Central and Eastern European countries or Turkey.  While some may be skeptical of a Muslim religious democratic party, he said that the concept is comparable to the Christian Democratic parties in Europe.
    • He said that during the first few days of the demonstrations, he virtually “slept” at the White House – acting in an advisory capacity.  Although Obama was criticized (and continues to be criticized) for his “passivity”, it was Ibrahim’s comment that the Administration was very concerned not to “scare” the Saudis, by appearing to drop Mubarek too quickly.  The Saudis could easily interpret that as a sign of what could happen to them.

    Ibrahim is in Chicago as part of a very special day of learning TOMORROW, March 9, at Northwestern:  The Shifting Sands of Hegemonic Powers in the Middle East.  Looks like a fabulous program – I’m sorry I won’t be able to go.

    Word of the Day: “Unprecedented”

    March 1, 2011 Comments off

    The J Street Conference ended today.

    There was a lot of good information – straight, no chaser..
    There was a lot of insightful analysis.
    There was a lot of nuance.
    There was a lot of learning.
    Most of all there was a lot of energy.

    And, if there was one overwhelming theme that permeated the conference, the theme was that we have entered into a period of unprecedented change in the Middle East. Dennis Ross politely characterized as a “Period of Uncertainty”. The implication of this for almost all of the speakers was obvious: with events unravelling so quickly and with little predictability, it is imperative to move the Peace Process along swiftly and strongly.

    And, although Ross went on to say that President Obama believes that the world is changing – and will continue to change because there is a new generation of youth rising in the Arab world. And he further believes that we “need to be ahead of the curve”. Further, Ross went on to say that we “can’t get stuck in the unsustainable status quo”. Then, remarkably, he followed that up by saying “Negotiations are the only way forward.” And proceeded to lay out a meager list of activities the Administration was taking that were clearly dwarfed by the gravity of the situation. Essentially, he presented the same concepts that have guided US policy for the past twenty or so years.

    Thinking about this, I like to use common sense logic. Let’s examine this. Ross clearly indicated that we are in a period of uncertainty which requires us to stay ahead of the curve. Yet the policy recommendations are essentially the Same Old, Same Old.

    Virtually every other speaker agreed about the conditions, but drew a very different conclusion. The conclusion is that time is extremely limited and we need to be pro-active and dynamic with our policies. If not, we shall almost certainly stay behind the curve – which means that eventually the heady perfume of democracy and freedom will waft across the borders into the West Bank and Gaza. As one J Street leader asked me – what will the Israelis do when faced with 100,000 non-violent protesters marching through the streets of Hebron? This no longer seems to be a simply theoretical question – because it is likely that if the Palestinians and Israelis continue with the same Mexican standoff that has been going on year after year, this will be the result. At that point, there will be few good options.

    Again, the situation logically calls for a renewed urgency in making some real progress towards peace so that the Palestinian Street can have some hope. But what is the word from Israel? A congressman that just came back today from meetings there was told by the Israelis: “This is definitely not the time for action”. Frankly, I was dumbfounded. The only explanation that I could come up with for this attitude was that the Israeli government continues to feel they can ‘ride out the storm’ – despite the fact that virtually every observer can see that what is happening in the Arab world has taken on a power of its own. It appears that the strongest country in the Middle East – by almost every measure – is being paralyzed by fear. While there are clear risks of taking some bold actions towards solving the problems, given the events of the last 8 weeks, I believe that the risks of doing nothing are much, much larger.

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