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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.

 

 

“We’re living in an age of mass uprisings” – Interviewer of filmaker Jehane Neujahim (“The Square”) points out something being missed by MSM and most Americans

March 22, 2014 1 comment

Jehane Noujaim filming The Square. (Courtesty of Noujaim Films)“The Square” is an Oscar nominated real-time documentary about Tahrir Square.  It’s well worth reading her perspective on events in Egypt and her filmmaking in this interview by Ed Rampell in In These Times:  “The Revolution Will Be Filmed”.  When one goes beyond Flight 370 and the Kardashians, it is clear that skyrocketing inequality of wealth and human rights is leading to a period of global unrest that is rarely commented on in the U.S.  It is a good thing that America has football and March Madness, or we might be seeing similar protests here.

Here is the quote that quote my attention:

We’re living in an age of mass uprisings. Every day there seems to be another protest—such as those in Bosnia, Venezuela or Ukraine. What do you make of these mass revolts?

Young people are trying to change their relationship with their government. It’s this exciting time when they’re using a public space as a political tool for change.

Categories: Middle East Tags: ,

To Any of You Going to the AIPAC Policy Conference – Please Send Me a Report

February 27, 2014 1 comment

I know that you will have an exciting time with lots of energy and hoopla.  But I am very curious to hear about the tone and content of what transpires.AIPAC Policy Conference

First, I would like to know whether Kerry’s diplomatic push is spoken of in a positive or negative manner.  That is, whether U.S. getting the sides to the table is a good thing or not – NOT whether the chances of success are good.  Not whether there is no partner, etc.  That is, does AIPAC support diplomacy with regard to the Palestinians?

I am interested to hear how much support you hear for a two state solution.  Again, not whether or not it is likely to come about right now – but whether it is a good idea or not that trying our hardest to work towards  that goal or not.  In that regard, do you hear anyone talking about the importance of coming up with some solution to the current Occupation?  Do people think that the status quo can continue indefinitely?  Or, annexation of Judea and Samaria into one Jewish state where the Palestinians have less rights than Jews?  Annexation of Judea and Samaria where it’s one person, one vote? Or, again, Do you hear anyone talking about creative solutions, like saying that it might be a good idea to freeze construction in the West Bank temporarily to see whether this might force the Palestinians to ‘put up or shut up’?

Do you hear anyone talking about very real everyday facts on the ground in the West Bank?  Like in East Jerusalem that Palestinians are being forced from their homes and replaced by Jews?  Or, about Settler violence (so called “price tag” attacks) including burning of olive trees, torching of mosques, and even firing guns at Palestinians by both settlers and even IDF – with almost no legal recourse?  Or the destruction of Bedouin structures (as flimsy as they may be) that are on their own land?  These are facts which are written about in Israeli papers that should be discussed here as well.  In the same way that the rocket firings from Gaza, or the buildup in arms by Hezbollah, or the fact that Hamas is going broke need to be discussed.  (One excellent thing is there isn’t much to discuss about violence from the West Bank against Israelis because as I understand it, in the last two years, thank God, there has only been one killing of a Jew by an Arab from the West Bank.  That is one too many – but frankly if you look into it, I believe that you will find that it is less than the number of Palestinians that have been killed by settlers and IDF during that same time period.)

Next, I am curious to know whether you hear support for diplomacy with Iran – and what the nature of the agreement is that they would support.  I personally am a big supporter of keeping the military option on the table – but even more importantly, I believe that we need to push very hard to make this diplomatic effort work.  Public criticism of the administration makes very little sense given that we are in negotiations at the moment.  Doesn’t this type of rift show weakness, not strength?  Although AIPAC finally backed off pushing the Senate Sanctions bill when the Republicans tried to force a vote (and they are still trying to force a vote by attaching the language to other bills), they essentially ignored Kerry’s specific call during Senate hearings for them to hold off on this bill until the talks had run their course.  If sanctions were supposed to force the Iranians to the bargaining table, then they worked.  It is time to support the negotiations and the negotiators.  While I have heard the argument that the Senate sanctions bill will provide more leverage, that is not the Administration’s position.  The move in the Senate appears to be more grandstanding than anything else – and particularly now that the Republicans are moving to call a vote.  Wouldn’t it be more effective to work behind the scenes to make sure that the Administration drives a hard bargain?

Also, I would like to hear about the diplomatic proposals that are being discussed.  Although it would best if Iran dismantled their entire program – no enrichment, no centrifuges, no missiles – realistically, they will never agree to this.  It would be too much of a loss of face for them both internationally and domestically.  Therefore, be aware that anyone proposing no enrichment is not seriously supporting a diplomatic agreement.  They aren’t necessarily warmongers – but many do in fact know that the Iranians will never accept this, but it is their way of “supporting” diplomacy while knowing that their position has no chance of acceptance.  Listen carefully to people.   Some will say that Iran must be prevented from getting a nuclear Others will say that it must be prevented from having a nuclear capability.  This is a significant difference and you should listen closely for who says which.  If they say capability, they are usually also saying that Iran must eliminate their entire nuclear program – which as I said above is totally unrealistic.

I am particularly interested to know how much talk there is about the consequences of possible military action – and what the speakers say about it.  I haven’t seen the agenda, but I believe that there may indeed be some experts discussing this and I would be interested to know what their assessments are.

Finally, a little prognostication on my part.  My bet is that every Congressman and Senator will say the following:

“Israel is our greatest ally”

“Israel shares our values”

“Iran is the greatest threat to Israel, the US and the entire world”

“Iran is the greatest supporter of terrorism in the world”  [What ever happened to Al Qaeda?]

“The military option must not be taken off the table”  [A very true statement – but how many folks are willing to talk about the exact make up of the military action – and what the resulting risks and consequences might be.  Are folks willing to risk Hezbollah raining down hundreds or thousands of rockets on Israel?  The question needs to be discussed]

“Israel’s security is our number one priority”

“I love Israel [more than the next guy]”

Don’t get me wrong, these are all good things.  Most of these are true statements.  However, the answers are so pat, that they border on pandering – and most important, it is not good if this is the level of sophistication with which these people are going to be basing their votes on when it comes to legislation that has such serious consequences for the US, Israel and the entire world.

Looking forward to hearing about the Conference.  Have a great trip and enjoy!

No Partner?

June 5, 2013 Comments off

 

English: Mahmoud Abbas

English: Mahmoud Abbas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Cynics don’t believe him, but this is what Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday according to Haaretz:

 

“The Arab and Islamic world would be happy to recognize Israel if it withdraws from occupied land, and if a Palestinian state, with its capital East Jerusalem, is established,” he said, adding that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in “very serious” in his attempts to renew peace negotiations.

 

Read more here: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/erekat-palestinians-will-not-allow-kerry-s-peace-talks-efforts-to-fail.premium-1.527814?localLinksEnabled=false

 

 

 

A Tale of Three Airports.

February 17, 2013 1 comment

Ben Gurion circa 1958 Tales of TLV – Ben Gurion Airport

December, 1992 – I will never forget the first time I saw Eretz Yisrael. After a long journey flying over the Atlantic, there was a break in the clouds that revealed bright green, verdant fields dappled in sunshine, looking for all it was worth like the proverbial land of milk and honey. I had never been particularly connected to Judaism, my Jewish identity or Israel, but my heart welled up as I peered out the window. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it truly looked magical.
As we landed and taxied up to the terminal, it was as if we had stepped back in time to the 50’s. There were no jetways at all. Instead, we walked down a portable stairway and got on a bus that took us to the terminal. In some ways, it seemed appropriate — harking back to the Israel of the War of Independence. This was country that had pulled itself up by its bootstraps and wanted to retain that memory.

April, 2005 – Reaching landfall over Israel was still exciting. Looking through the window, it seemed that there was a large superhighway that hadn’t been there the last time. This time when we landed, there was no portable staircase, but instead, a typical jetway as seen in any modern airport. We had arrived at Terminal 3 – Ben Gurion’s brand new showcase. We walked off into a sparkling state of the art airport. I was awed as we walked down The Connector (the long corridor from the Airside building to the Landside building) greeted in royal fashion with sparkling ceiling-to-floor glass windows on one side and beautiful granite and Jerusalem stone on the other. It was a (literal) shining example of the progress and success of this little nation. Israel was now a first-world country.

Ben Gurion-Connector

February, 2013 – Flying in over the Mediterranean has become old hat. Highway 1 running past the airport to Tel Aviv looks crowded with cars streaming in and out of this city, just like any other in the Western world. But this time, as I disembark from the plane and get through the jetway, the first thing I notice is that the gray carpet looks worn and dirty. Not quite shabby, but close. And as we walk through the corridors, I can’t help but observe that all of the windows are dirty. They look as though they haven’t been washed since the last time I was here. Perhaps, this too is a symbol of being a first-world country in this decade:  government has no money to spend to maintain its infrastructure. Whatever the reason for it, it makes Israel now seem like a country in decline – or perhaps one that just doesn’t care what impression it made on those coming to visit it. Frankly, it was strikingly disappointing and depressing.

Categories: Israel, Middle East Tags:

How Jews Should Relate to Palestine

February 6, 2013 1 comment
It's obvious what is Israel and what is Palestine - isn't it?

It’s obvious what is Israel and what is Palestine – isn’t it?

I very intriguing post about conceptualizing Israel, Palestine and our relationship with them.  This is from Jerry Haber, a pseudonym for an Orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor who blogs as The Magnes Zionist. 

As a religious Jew, I believe that the Jew qua Jew has three homes: the state of which she is a citizen; the Jewish community of which she is a participant, and the land of Israel. Jews do not need political sovereignty in an exclusivist ethnic state in order to feel at home in that land. In fact, increasingly I am feeling less at home in the State of Israel, then in the United States.

Read the entire post (which came via Israeli blogsite +972) here:  How Jews Should Relate to Palestine

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