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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.

 

 

Gilad Shalit Is Home – You Already Know That – But Have To Say It Is A Great Day

October 18, 2011 Comments off

Haaretz: 

IDF: Gilad Shalit back home in Israel after five years in Hamas captivity

Gilad Shalit returns.  The debate will now begin on “what this means”.  Will the one thousand plus reported prisoners to be released begin new violent attacks on Israel?  Does it upstage the P.A.’s bid for membership in the U.N.?  Does this strengthen Hamas’ hand vis-a-vis Fatah?  These questions and more will debated over the next days and weeks.

For now, I believe that we should all be thankful that Gilad is safe and presumably sound.

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/idf-gilad-shalit-back-home-in-israel-after-five-years-in-hamas-captivity-1.390585

Another Rocket From Gaza Today – Will IAF Retaliation Follow?

August 12, 2011 1 comment

Seems that there have been rocket firings every couple of days from Gaza. The latest was yesterday (in Israel – 8/11/11).  But this has been going on for a while. They are being shot mostly into the “Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council” which is the administrative area that includes Sderot.  They have been sporadic, and since the area is quite sparsely populated, usually have done little harm. However, last week, after rockets landed near Ashkelon and Sderot, the IAF retaliated with several strikes in Northern Gaza.  I learned about the attacks live while I was monitoring #J14 on Twitter.  #J14 is the Twitter hashtag for the so-called July 14th demonstrations in Israel.  (If folks out there are not on Twitter, but would be interested in finding out why I think it is by far the best medium for getting news and commentary, please leave me a comment below.  I would be happy to post a blog on why I feel that way and how I use Twitter).  It isn’t clear who is firing the rockets (that is, even though Hamas controls Gaza, there are still multiple rouge factions within Hamas – several of whom are far more violent than the main governing organization), or why.  With the serious domestic turmoil that is going on throughout Israel, if these provocations lead to a major military action against Gaza, it will probably actually strengthen the current government.  Nothing pulls together a country like a good ol’ war.

Anyhow – here are some recent Jerusalem Post posts which provide a flavor of what is going on in the south:

08/11/2011 21:01  Kassam from Gaza lands in Sha’ar Hanegev council; none hurt
08/07/2011 20:35  Kassam lands in Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council; no injured
08/03/2011 11:25  Kassam explodes in Ashkelon, no injuries reported
8/1/2011 11:11 PM  IAF strikes several Gaza targets following Kassam attack
Air Force action comes in response to Kassam rocket fired at southern  Israel, moderately injuring a woman in her fifties.
8/1/2011 10:59 PM  Kassam explodes near Ashkelon, 1 moderately injured
7/31/2011 3:17 PM  Two Kassams from Gaza land in Israel; no injuries reported 
7/28/2011 7:46 AM  Kassam explodes south of Ashkelon; no injuries or damage 

This is clearly terrorism – drip by drip.  But let’s be clear.  It is not: “thousands of rockets raining down on Israel”.  It is not meant to damage property or kill people per se.  Rather, it is meant to instill fear and fray nerves because the possiblity of death is very real.  Nevertheless, at it’s heart, it is really psychological warfare.

But let’s also be clear:  there are indeed 40,000 rockets on the other side of the security fence that would cause widespread death and destruction if used.  Let’s hope, for the sake of both sides, that they never are.

Could The Domestic Social Protests in Israel Be The Greatest Impetus for Moving Towards a Two State Solution?

August 8, 2011 Comments off

Tent 48 - Named for 1948, the Year of the Declaration of Israel as a state

With all of the emphasis (and rightly so) on the domestic economic and political crises here in the U.S. , it may be lost on people that there are huge (and growing) demonstrations against Israeli government social policy going on in Israel virtually as we speak.  Reports are that Saturday night there were 300-350,000 people in the streets.  As Dimi Reider and Azziz Abu Sarah, wrote in an op-ed published last Wednesday,

The protests that are paralyzing Israel began on July 14, when a few professionals in their 20s decided they could no longer tolerate the city’s uncontrolled rents, and pitched six tents at the top of the city’s most elegant street, Rothschild Boulevard. Three weeks later, the six tents have swelled to over 400, and more than 40 similar encampments have spread across the country, forming unlikely alliances between gay activists and yeshiva students, corporate lawyers and the homeless and ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs.

So far, the protesters have managed to remain apolitical, refusing to declare support for any leader or to be hijacked by any political party. But there is one issue conspicuously missing from the protests: Israel’s 44-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, [emphasis added] which exacts a heavy price on the state budget and is directly related to the lack of affordable housing within Israel proper…

Had the protesters begun by hoisting signs against the occupation, they would most likely still be just a few people in tents. By removing the single most divisive issue in Israeli politics, the protesters have created a safe space for Israelis of all ethnic, national and class identities to act together. And by decidedly placing the occupation outside of the debate, the protesters have neutralized much of the fear-mongering traditionally employed in Israel to silence discussions of social issues…

If the protests continue to stir more and more Israelis out of their political despondency, Mr. Netanyahu still holds two possible trump cards: a sudden breakthrough in the negotiations to free the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive in Gaza, or a sudden escalation of armed conflict.

Moreover, the impending United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood in September imposes a deadline of sorts on the protesters. If Palestinians react by marching on Israeli army checkpoints to demand freedom, Israeli protesters will have to choose between losing internal support by siding with the Palestinians, or abandoning any claim of a pro-democracy agenda by siding with the Israeli soldiers charged with suppressing them.

Interestingly, It didn’t get much press reporting here in the U.S., but the night after this op-ed was published, the Israel Air Force conducted several bombing raids in northern Gaza.  However, unless Bibi has some pull with Hamas that nobody is aware of, this was a legitimate (in Israeli terms) response to several rockets that had been launched at Ashkelon and Sderot the previous day.  Obviously, from Didi and Azziz’ point of view, whoever fired these rockets (not necessarily the Hamas government itself – there are various factions both within and outside of Hamas which hold varying degree of militancy) played directly into the hands of Netanyahu  by providing a pretext for this military action which could potentially take the spotlight off of the domestic protests.  For now, the raids have not the averted the attention of the demonstrators – as shown by the fact that the largest turnout yet was on Saturday night.

Bibi finally began to react to the protestors this week with new proposals for more government subsidies for housing and new building.  But the protestors don’t seem to be buying that and Bibi is trying desperately day-by-day to get the situation under control.  

So, we will just have to watch and see what happens.  Certainly, one eventual outcome could be the fall of the current government.  And that is what this post’s title refers to is just that.  If the government does fall – though it might be based solely on domestic issues – it might well be replaced with a new government that at the same time makes a significant change in Israel’s foreign policy.  They might really understand the dangers inherent in the status quo, and do everything possible to make a two state solution happen.

After the Optimism of the Arab Spring – Mayhem Returns All Over the Middle East

August 4, 2011 Comments off

Not much time here, so here is a short list of events – with no attempt to prioritize:

Hama, Syria Under Fire 

1. Syria – Tanks rolling into Hama to violently put down civilian rebellion

2.  Israel – Protests in the streets re: housing, etc and other, mostly economic, issues.  Tent city (Twitter: #tent48) in Tel Aviv

3.  Israel – Settlers disrupt protests by engaging protestors with slurs and obscenities (#j14)

4.  Israel – Gaza fires missiles into Southern Israel (Sderot & Ashkelon) – luckily only minor injuries

rockets - AFP - April 10 2011 An Iron Dome missile outside Ashkelon responding to a rocket launch from the Gaza Strip in April 2011.
Photo by: AFP

5.  Gaza – Just minutes ago, Israel retaliates with large bombing raid on Gaza.  Early reports are a couple of children injured

Gaza IAF airstrike AFP 24.02.2011 A Palestinian man walking at a destroyed beach front facility in Gaza City on February 24, 2011 following an Israeli air strike the previous night.
Photo by: AFP

6.  Israel – Knesset continues to move to the right with its legislation – anti-boycott law, proposals to reduce rights of Israeli-Arabs, etc.

7.  Palestine – Meeting last night to finalize plans to appeal to the UN for recognition

8.  Lebanon – Hezbollah rattling sabres

9.  Egypt – Mubarak going on trial

Visceral anger at Mubarak and his inner circle helped unite Tahrir Square during Egypt’s 18-day uprising [EPA]

10.  Libya – Fighting drags on

11.  Iran – Announces new missile a few weeks ago

Raouf Mohseni/AP – Iranian revolutionary Guards personnel watch the launch of a Zelzal missile during military maneuvers outside the city of Qom on Tuesday.

Other than that, not much going on…

Breaking News: Salam Fayyed Says He Is Going To Remain As Palestinian Prime Minister

June 22, 2011 Comments off
Salam Fayyad - World Economic Forum Annual Mee...

Image by World Economic Forum via Flickr

Bloomberg News has reported that Salam Fayyad plans to remain as Palestinian Prime Minister.  The significance of this is that Hamas has previously stated that Fayyad is unacceptable, so if this holds up it almost certainly means that the unification deal between Hamas and Fatah will fall apart (as has happened before – and therefore was predicted by many).  Fayyad is very well liked and respected in the West because he has a PhD in Economics from the University of Texas, he has cleaned up a tremendous amount of corruption, he has administered the country such that the current economic growth rate is claimed to be about 7%, and finally, his Palestinian police force has worked so well with US General Dayton and the IDF that many checkpoints were able to be eliminated.

Come to think of it – those are probably the same reasons that Hamas rejected him.

From the Bloomberg report:

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said he will resist pressure to resign and aims to continue in office while the rival Hamas and Fatah factions try to form a joint government.

Fayyad, speaking to reporters today in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said he wants to at least complete his two-year plan to build the institutions for Palestinian statehood that are supposed to be ready in August.

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