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.
One Important Piece of Action You Can Take If You Believe In Putting The Brakes On The War Train To Iran
This weekend, beginning Sunday, we are about to witness one of the most dramatic shows of Jewish political force in the history of the United States. This is not some anti-Zionist rhetoric – it is simply a fact. AIPAC is going to have over 10,000 people in the DC Convention Center (myself included) at its Policy Conference [for live ‘fair and balanced’ tweets, check www.twitter/beyondzs] – and will have 30-50% of those attending going to lobby on Capitol Hill. Normally, I might say mazel tov – tanks G-t so many care about Israel. But right now, AIPAC is stridently promoting political moves here in the US to lay the groundwork for Israel (alone, or with US overt assistance) to take military action against Iran very shortly. I believe that they do this with good intention, but with flawed reasoning and almost negligent disregard for the outcomes. How can they do this without facing strong, forceful pushback?
- War is easy and its drums are seductive.
- F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty and doubt) cry out to the most base human emotions.
- The politics of our time rewards simplicity and machismo.
So, what is to be done? Here’s the sales pitch:
J Street is having its own Conference three weeks later – from March 24 – March 27. J Street’s position is nuanced and urges caution. Here is an excerpt:
“…Finally, like many American and Israeli security experts such as former Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Ephraim Halevy, we believe that a military strike against Iran would be ill-advised. While unlikely to permanently disable Iran’s nuclear program, a military strike would have dire consequences and runs the risk of igniting a broader regional war. A preemptive attack could also strengthen the current regime in Iran and provide an excuse for it to redouble its nuclear efforts. We therefore oppose legislation authorizing, encouraging, or in other ways laying the groundwork for the use of military force against Iran.”
Further details can be found here: http://jstreet.org/policy/issues/iran/.
If you agree with this postion, you can take concrete action by attending the J Street Conference. Every single person who attends sends a critical counter message to Members of Congress and the President. By doing so, you will be standing up for intelligent debate here at home, for allowing the current round of sanctions time to work, and arguing for a new diplomatic “surge”.
Trust me, Congressmen and women can count – and they will. There will be a simple calculus taking place politically throughout Washington – they will stack up what they see as the constituency pushing for the “military option” versus the constituency that opposes immediate military action in favor of a calmer, more reasoned and examined approach. Any of you reading this who are part of the latter group – need to be in D.C. at the J Street Conference. Period.
I know that it is difficult for people to get away. I know that it is expensive in terms of both time and money (although there is financial assistance available). I know that we all have non-stop schedules. But (and I know that this may sound narcissistic and overly dramatic) I personally feel that we are at a time not unlike Dr. King’s March on Washington, not unlike Breaking Down the Berlin Wall, not unlike Tiananmen Square. That is, there are specific moments in time that actually do affect the course of history. Their outcomes revise the course of world history. They determine the trajectory of the future.
Is it hyperbole to put this moment in that context? Perhaps.
But consider the following:
We are talking about the prospect of America entering its Third War in a little over 10 years with potentially massive consequences in terms of death, destruction and economic upheaval for the U.S., Israel, Iran and the rest of the world. There can be very little doubt that military action against Iran is going to set a new trajectory for the Middle East – and quite possibly the entire world.
So, is that worth taking two-three days of our time? I do not ask this rhetorically nor do I question anyone’s answer to that question.
All that I am saying is that from my personal perspective, we are at a watershed moment for our country, for Israel, and for the world as a whole. We have a chance to do something to influence what direction our government takes. I urge you to join me at the J Street Conference in D.C. March 24-26 and to meet with your Member of Congress face-to-face on Tuesday, March 27. Tell her/him directly how you feel.
For anyone who reads this who would like more information on the Conference, you can find it here http://conference.jstreet.org/
For anyone who reads this who would like to consider going and might want more specific details – please contact me at beyondzerosum.gmail.com and let’s discuss.
For anyone who reads this and is so convinced that they want to sign up right away, please go here http://www.wynjade.com/jstreet12/
Follow BeyondZeroSum at www.twitter/beyondzs
For a thoughtful alternative approach to dealing with Iran, see Foreign Policy blog post: Using religion to restrain Iran’s nuclear program
- Obama Says Military Option on Iran Not a ‘Bluff’ – New York Times (nytimes.com)
- Obama to Israel: ‘I don’t bluff’ (thehill.com)
Best wishes for a happy, healthy and sweet 5772.
May we all work to move the world a bit closer to Tikkun Olam this coming New Year.
Enjoy this cute – though a little bit corny – New Year’s video. I think it will brighten your day.
- L’Shana Tovah (whitehouse.gov)
Is There Anything Funny About Abbas Going to The UN? Watch J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami TONIGHT on COLBERT, and We’ll See
I just wanted to share some exciting news: I’m on my way to New York to appear on tonight’s episode of The Colbert Report (11:30PM EST on Comedy Central)!
Israel politics and the conflict are making headlines everywhere this week; at this crucial time for our movement and this issue, I am excited to make the case for a two-state solution to a wide national audience (albeit against one of the toughest “news anchors” on tv!).
Wish me luck!
Could The Domestic Social Protests in Israel Be The Greatest Impetus for Moving Towards a Two State Solution?
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.
- Israel’s middle class launches mass protest at rising cost of living (rainbowwarrior2005.wordpress.com)