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Meetings Last Week with Members of the Knesset About the Current Situation in Israel and Operation Protective Edge

August 5, 2014 Comments off

The KnessetLast 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.

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.

 

 

One Important Piece of Action You Can Take If You Believe In Putting The Brakes On The War Train To Iran

March 3, 2012 Comments off

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 ConferencePeriod.

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 

 

Shana Tovah

September 29, 2011 Comments off

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.

Is There Anything Funny About Abbas Going to The UN? Watch J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami TONIGHT on COLBERT, and We’ll See

September 23, 2011 Comments off

From Jeremy Ben-Ami –

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!).

Let your friends know on Facebook, Twitter and via email, and tune in at 11:30 PM EST.

Wish me luck!
– Jeremy

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.

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