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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

Iran: Haven’t We Tried Everything Already?

March 2, 2012 Comments off
 
English: The logo of the Atomic Enery Organiza...

Logo of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (Wikipedia)

One can’t open a newspaper (if anyone still does that anymore) without seeing a lot of F.U.D. about Iran.  What is F.U.D?  Fear, uncertainty and doubt.  “Existential threat”, “zone of immunity”, and “unacceptable” are terms that can be read in almost every article. Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth in these descriptions. On the other hand, there seems to be only a single prescription at this point in time. That, of course, is John McCain’s old tune: “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb-bomb Iran” (Granted the Rx is crafted a bit more elegantly than that).

But are there options?

Haven’t we tried diplomacy and it didn’t work?

You might find an unexpected answer in Trita Parsi’s new book, A Single Roll of the DiceTrita is one of the foremost experts on the relationship between Israel and Iran (his first book, A Treacherous Alliance has been called one of the “few detailed studies examining Israeli and Iranian attitudes and postures towards each other outside the context of U.S.-Iranian relations” by none other than the Rand Corporation in a recent comprehensive white paper:  Israel and Iran – A Dangerous Rivalry)  Trita reviews the month-by-month history of events involving the Iran nuclear program and vigorously argues that for many reasons, including missteps by all parties concerned, diplomacy was constantly being shifted off course.  He especially highlights the little know fact that a diplomatic deal was ACTUALLY MADE in MAY, 2010 with Iran by the Turks and Brazilians – but was essentially rejected because the sanctions’ “train” had already moved out of the station.

Haven’t we tried Sanctions and they haven’t worked?

First, sanctions do appear to be having an effect.  The value of the Iranian currency has dropped almost 50%.  Other economic shifts are being felt.  Second, the latest round of sanctions has only been in place since approximately January 1st – hardly enough time to assess their impact.  Third, even harsher sanctions are scheduled to kick in over the next several months.

There isn’t time in this post to discuss possible consequences of the third option: military action, but suffice it to say that we need to be very upfront and sanguine about potential consequences of either a unilateral Israeli attack or a combined operation with the U.S.  There is no doubt that Iran represents a potentially very serious threat to the entire world – but so did Saddam Hussein.  To ignore the lessons of that strategic debacle is simply gross negligence

Condolences

August 8, 2011 Comments off

Chinook helicopter in action

I just want to express my support for the families of those who lost their lives Saturday night when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan with the largest single-incident loss of American lives since the Afghan War began.  As we have just found out in the past several months, Seal Team Six is made up of the soldier’s soldiers (or perhaps, sailor’s sailors) – the best of the best.  It is a tragic loss for the Seals, the Navy and the country.

I would also like to extend my condolences to the families of all of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And I mean, all.  Thousands of combatants on all sides have been killed – but the numbers of innocent civilians killed is simply staggering – certainly in the hundreds of thousands.

May all of those who died rest in peace.  And let’s hope our President brings the troops home as soon as practicable.

Forget Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – There is a Much BIGGER & MORE SERIOUS Invisible WAR Going On Right Now: The Cyberwar

August 4, 2011 Comments off
Dmitri Alperovitch

McAfee Vice President of Threat Reseach Dmitri Alperovitch

While we spend billions on new fighter jets, refueling tankers, drones and other robotic fighting machines, there is another war going on that is invisible to all of us.  Dmitri Alperovitch, VP of Threat Research at McAfee Security (not exactly some independent hack blogger) has just posted a spine chilling report about a long-term concerted, concentrated (and apparently, successful) effort to steal vital corporate and government secrets:

“I am convinced that every company in every conceivable industry with significant size and valuable intellectual property and trade secrets has been compromised (or will be shortly), with the great majority of the victims rarely discovering the intrusion or its impact. In fact, I divide the entire set of Fortune Global 2000 firms into two categories: those that know they’ve been compromised and those that don’t yet know.”

He goes on to say:

“the majority of the recent disclosures in the last six months have, in fact, been a result of relatively unsophisticated and opportunistic exploitations for the sake of notoriety by loosely organized political hacktivist groups such as Anonymous and Lulzsec. On the other hand, the targeted compromises — known as ‘Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)’ …[that] we are focused on are much more insidious and occur largely without public disclosures. [Emphasis added] They present a far greater threat to companies and governments, as the adversary is tenaciously persistent in achieving their objectives. The key to these intrusions is that the adversary is motivated by a massive hunger for secrets and intellectual property; this is different from the immediate financial gratification that drives much of cybercrime, another serious but more manageable threat.

And perhaps most disturbing:

What we have witnessed over the past five to six years has been nothing short of a historically unprecedented transfer of wealth — closely guarded national secrets (including from classified government networks), source code, bug databases, email archives, negotiation plans and exploration details for new oil and gas field auctions, document stores, legal contracts, SCADA configurations, design schematics and much more has “fallen off the truck” of numerous, mostly Western companies and disappeared in the ever-growing electronic archives of dogged adversaries. 

Unfortunately, the way our Military-Industrial-Governmental complex works, it will be very difficult to get adequate funding to counter these threats.  And it goes beyond the very real budget issues the US faces.  Frankly, cyber war is invisible.  And that ain’t good.  The M-I-G depends on blowing things upWhy? 

  1. Citizens need to be able to see and feel the threat;
  2. They need to see the results of our troops (or at least, our really cool technologic equipment [drones, robots, etc.]) in action (remember, “Shock & Awe” – better than a Navy Pier fireworks show, eh?); and
  3. Most importantly, when things get ‘blowed up’, they have to be replaced which means the military has to buy more stuff.  For example, a single cruise missile costs approximately $1.2 million dollars.  It is reported that on the first night of the Libyan action, approximately 80 missiles were launched at Tripoli.  80 missiles doesn’t sound like much – but in about 8 hours, our government spent $100 million dollars.  [Come on Tea Partiers – where is your outrage?]

This is a serious stuff…

Tomdispatch Presents A Compelling Essay by Lt.Col.(Ret) William Astore About “The Militarization of America”

June 21, 2011 Comments off

TomDispatch, Tom Engelhart’s excellent blog of critical analysis of America’s global political and military activities, published Lt.Col. Astore’s essay which contrasts the founding principles of the United States – the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, and their concerns about the allure of military power – with the casual acceptance of military thinking within the political context in our current society.  His points can be summarized by the following passage:

It’s both sensible and logical to argue that our president and elected representatives must serve as a check on the military establishment, rather than issuing blank checks to them. It’s both sensible and logical to argue that all wars, as required by the Constitution, must have a Congressional declaration before American troops and treasure are committed. It’s both sensible and logical to argue that, as good as our military is, it ultimately can’t win someone else’s civil war (Iraq) or nation-build in a place where the concept of “nation” is little more than notional (Afghanistan).

Sensible and logical, yes, but such arguments have been made — and roundly ignored. They aren’t given the time of day among serious policy types in Washington, where to question the efficacy and legitimacy of the forces and tactics being used is simply not acceptable. Sharing one brain and one ethos means being incapable of grasping one’s own militarized rigidity or truly recognizing the perils that have been unleashed on this nation.”  [Emphasis added]

Obviously, this concept of the unacceptability of questions permeates American politics – on both sides of the aisle.  One’s opponents’ ideas not only aren’t worth the time of day – but they must be shouted down.  That in itself says something very telling about one’s own ideas.  If your ideas are good, you should not only allow them to be questioned – you should encourage the toughest of questions.  The conclusion has to be that those who fear opposing ideas, must have little faith in their own

Sadly, this concept can also be applied to most of the Major American Jewish Organizations who vehemently oppose debate when it comes to the topic of Israel.   The argument is that disagreements will give fuel to the enemies of Israel.  Undoubtedly, there is some truth that opponents of Israel will try to use whatever they can to delegitimize Israel.  But, there is a larger, more dangerous, truth:  lack of debate leads to bad (and in the case of Israel, perhaps fatal) decisions.

The Militarization of America: How the Military Mindset Is Permeating Our Political Culture and Society | | AlterNet.

A Response To A Recent Comment

June 3, 2011 Comments off

I received a very good comment on one of my most recent posts that deserves an extended response. 

The comment is as follows:

The mistake of the Bush administration was to subscribe to LBJ’s theory that “better to piss from inside the tent……………”, thinking that once Hamas had to pick up the garbage and deliver the mail, they would become more responsible, yet it turns out it just afforded them the opportunity to switch from the mafia to a thugacracy , steal much more which gives them more power to push their #1 agenda: radical Islam and Jihad. Abbas is little better and has shown time and again he is a Holocaust denier and duplicitous. If Israel has a partner in peace even remotely close to Anwar Sadat, this conflict would be settled within 6 months.

You act as if Israel has not lost thousands in their wars of defense and only desires domination. It reminds me of the German-Jewish family standing on the platform before being transported to the camps believing they can’t possibly be such monsters……. ” but, We are German.” This is a time for staying strong as much as we all long for peace.

My reply:

Actually, the history of Hamas post the 2006 election (which as you correctly imply was encouraged by the Bush Administration) is mixed.  Although much attention, including decidedly biased accusations against Israel, continues to focus on Operation Cast Lead, collective memory seems to forget that there was a six month ceasefire agreement signed in June, 2008 which held quite well through November, 2008 (Hamas reduced the number of rockets from about 300 in May to about 20 per month (per NYT report  December 19, 2008) when the rocket fire began again.  The reasons that the cease-fire broke down  was an incursion by IDF troops into Gaza on November 4 to eliminate the threat of a tunnel being dug to the Israeli side of the border presumably to allow for the kidnapping of additional IDF soldiers.  According to the IDF, Hamas responded with 61 rockets on November 5 aimed at Israeli civilian populations, but essentially curtailed the bombardment at noon.  Obviously, each side defended its actions based upon each of their interpretation of the facts.  This essentially was the beginning of the end of the cease-fire, and led to Operation Cast Lead.

 My point here is not in any way to defend Hamas’ use of rocket fire indiscriminately aimed at civilians, nor to question Israel’s right to defend itself militarily (it certainly has that right), but instead it is to address two very important strategic questions: a) whether Hamas can be trusted to comply with any agreements, and b) to consider the strategic effectiveness of Operation Cast Lead.

 The facts seem to indicate that Hamas can be somewhat trusted to comply with agreements.  The cease-fire was enforced pretty well by Hamas leadership.  Although the Hamas charter is an abhorrent document that cannot be ignored, and it is clear that there are people both inside Hamas and in other organizations like the Al Aqsa Brigade and the Islamic Brotherhood who clearly continue to seek the destruction of Israel and the killing of all Zionists anywhere in the world, the evidence provided by the cease-fire is that there are more moderate and pragmatic elements within Hamas who were strong enough to control the more radical elements.  In addition to this circumstantial evidence, I have heard the same from people who have met directly with Khalid Mashaal and other Hamas leaders.  My argument is that both Israel and the United States are better off supporting the moderate elementsRejecting these moderate elements only strengthens the hands of the radical elements.  That is seemingly not in Israel’s long-term best interests.

This is actually supported by evaluating the current situation post-Cast Lead.  Reports indicate that there are now twice as many rockets (with both enhanced range and guidance systems) in Gaza as there were before Operation Cast Lead.  Would it have been better or worse without Operation Cast Lead?  No one can say.  But I think that one can say that the strategic threat from Gaza is much worse today than it was in July-October, 2008 during the cease-fire.  As Secretary of State Clinton said during her speech at the 2010 AIPAC Policy Conference, technological developments are not necessarily on the side of the Israelis.  Iron Dome is an amazing technological success.  But I don’t think it is a strategic success.  Why?  Each Iron Dome missile reportedly costs close to $35-50,000.  Each of the 40,000 Hamas’ rockets (and presumably a similar number of Hezbollah’ rockets on the Lebanon border) cost hundreds of dollars each, let alone artillery and morter shell.    So, even without a nuclear weapon, Iran’s de facto control of these organizations poses a very real existential threat to Israel’s population today.  I have heard all of the arguments against “linkage” and I agree that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the cause of Islamic jihadism, however that it does not automatically follow that the converse is not true.  That is, I think that the creation of a Palestinian state could be the biggest blow to Iran’s aim for increased hegemony in the region .  (But that is an entirely separate topic).

Precept 1: The Endgame for Israel

March 29, 2011 Comments off
David Ben-Gurion (First Prime Minister of Isra...

Image via Wikipedia

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up somewhere else” – The Great Yogi

In analyzing and developing policies, an obvious prerequisite is defining and understanding your desired outcome:  The Endgame.  One of the problems that often occurs when people are talking about Israel, Palestine and the rest of the Middle East, is that they talk past each other.  They almost immediately get caught up arguing facts (or myths), history, speculation, generalization, demonization, almost any damn “-ation” you can name.  But often they never bother to try to understand the framework of their arguments.  What is the outcome that they are looking for?  How can one determine if they are right or wrong unless they know what goal they are trying to achieve.

It seems that the endgame for Israel was defined at its very birth.  It goes back to the original Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel which David Ben-Gurion read aloud in the sweltering heat of the former Dizengoff home, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on 5 Iyar 5708 (May 14, 1948).  The very essence of what the country stands for is contained in the 13th paragraph:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

I don’t think there can be a clearer, more succinct ideal that any of us who love the State of Israel could set for her.  And it follows from that that this should be the standard which the people of Israel and their institutions (government, the military, economic, and religious) should be measuring themselves against.  And fellow Jews everywhere should be  supporting Israel in reaching for that ideal. 

So, in summary, when analyzing policy decisions, using this definition, the endgame is the sustenance of Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.

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