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.
Not much time here, so here is a short list of events – with no attempt to prioritize:
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
|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
|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…
- Israel: July 14th Movement, Arab Spring in Tel Aviv (arabisperatirugativaptiugoslavii.wordpress.com)
- Israel’s biggest protest in decades overlooked worldwide (rt.com)
Far be it from me to speculate what the motivations would be for people to want to mischaracterize the President’s positions and actions towards Israel, but it certainly appears that there are indeed folks out their who are claiming that, based upon the speeches which Mr. Obama made over the past week, he is the most “Anti-Israel President ” ever. (Shockingly, some of these comments have even been heard from those who are normally fair and balanced). What is even more upsetting is that if I am wrong (which I am known to be occasionally) and those people are correct in saying that he is insidiously anti-Israel, we have a bigger problem. Because that would mean, since their veiwpoints are so closely tied as you will see, that Prime Minister Netanyahu would be the most anti-Israel Prime Minister that Israel has ever had! And somebody had better wake up the Israelis ASAP so that they can drum this guy out of office because things are tough enough without having their country run by an imposter who is clearly as anti-Israel as this Obama no-goodnik.
Why do I say this, you might ask? Because I have actually gone through the transcripts of the four speeches given since last Thursday and discovered something that really is surprising. When you strip away the audiences and all those standing ovations, when you look at the texts of these speeches, not only are each of their positions virtually identical, but they even use almost exactly the same themes. And, everyone talks about the importance of there being “no daylight” between the US and Israel, and I’ve got to tell you, when I compare the differences between Barrack and Bibi’s positions, I am surely not being blinded by the light.
Although a lot was made of the “1967 borders” issue, anyone who listened to the speech or even read the transcript had to understand that “1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps” was all part of a single phrase which should never have been parsed out separately. Also, as the President said in his speech to AIPAC, anyone who has spent any time at all following the current status of the peace process knows that virutally everyone agrees that any agreement will almost certainly involve just that: 1967 borders plus swaps. And when you actually read the details of what Bibi and Barrack both said about this, they really didn’t disagree.
As to the Right of Return and Jerusalem, granted Obama did not agree with Bibi. On the other hand, he didn’t disagree either. What he was doing, it is clear, was trying to bring the parties together using the two issues that various reports (including Bernard Avishai’s NYT Magazine article about Olmert and Abbas negotiations) indicated they were close on: Borders and Security. The idea was that if they could show some progress on these issues, it could build trust and goodwill before moving on to the even more intransigent issues.
So, my only conclusion, as difficult as it is for me to believe, is that there are actually people out there that want to misrepresent Obama’s stand towards Israel. And, heaven forbid, they may even be doing it for political purposes!
Finally, I believe so strongly that the content spoken by Obama and Netanyahu is almost exactly the same (with the partial exception of the Right of Return & Jerusalem issues as stated above), that I challenge anyone out there to prove me wrong. If you can come up with some valid evidence using direct language from these speeches showing me where I have missed significant disagreements, then I have a crisp $100 bill here that I am prepared to give to Magen David Adom. Let me know. I’m up for the challenge. Either way, it’s win-win. Kind of like a peace agreement might be…
Below is a topic-by-topic comparison of selections from the four speeches:
|Borders||The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.||The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.|
|Borders The Sequel||By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation||The status of the settlements will be decided only in negotiations. But we
must also be honest. So I am saying today something that should be said
publicly by anyone serious about peace. In any peace agreement that ends
the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders. The
precise delineation of those borders must be negotiated.
|Borders III||It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.||This compromise must reflect the dramatic demographic changes that have occurred since 1967.|
|Enough with the Borders Already||We will be very generous on the size of a future Palestinian state. But as President Obama said, the border will be different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967.|
|Palestinian Right of Return||Open issue||Palestinians from around the world should have a right to immigrate, if they
so choose, to a Palestinian state. This means that the Palestinian refugee
problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel.
|Jerusalem||Open issue||As for Jerusalem, only a democratic Israel has protected freedom of worship
for all faiths in the city. Jerusalem must never again be divided.
Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel. I know that this is a
difficult issue for Palestinians. But I believe with creativity and goodwill
a solution can be found.
|Israel as a Jewish State||Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace. [Emphasis added]||My friends, this must come to an end. President Abbas must do what I have
done. I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I
said… “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It is time for President Abbas to
stand before his people and say… “I will accept a Jewish state.”
|Self-Defense||As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself — by itself — against any threat||As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.||When we say never again, we mean never again. Israel always reserves the right to defend itself.|
|Security||Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.[Emphasis added]||Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.||So it is therefore absolutely vital for Israel’s security that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized. And it is vital that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River. Solid security arrangements on the ground are necessary not only to protect the peace, they are necessary to protect Israel in case the peace unravels. For in our unstable region, no one can guarantee that our peace partners today will be there tomorrow.|
|Obama Admin Commitment to Israel||As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.||Yesterday President Obama spoke about his ironclad commitment to Israel’s
security. He rightly said that our security cooperation is unprecedented. He
spoke of that commitment in front of AIPAC. He spoke about it in two
speeches heard throughout the Arab world. And he has backed those words
|Security Cooperation||It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels.||He rightly said that our security cooperation is unprecedented|
|Advanced Technologies||It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies|
|Military $$||And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels.||I know these are tough economic times. So I want to thank the president and
Congress for providing Israel with vital assistance so that Israel can
defend itself by itself
|Thank you all, and thank you President Obama,
for your steadfast commitment to Israel’s security. I know economic times
are tough. I deeply appreciate this.
|Iron Dome||That includes additional support – beyond regular military aid – for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. This is a powerful example of American-Israel cooperation which has already intercepted rockets from Gaza and helped saved innocent Israeli lives. … make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.||I want to thank you all for supporting the Iron
Dome missile defense system
|Agreement Must Be Between the Two Parties||These are the facts. I firmly believe, and repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict.|
|Delegitimization||For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.||You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel. As I said at the United Nation’s last year, “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” and “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”…No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate.|
|Hamas As a Partner||Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.||Moreover, we know that peace demands a partner – which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist, and we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric.||And Hamas is not a partner for peace. Hamas remains committed to Israel’s
destruction and to terrorism. They have a charter. That charter not only
calls for the obliteration of Israel, but says ‘kill the Jews wherever you
find them’. Hamas’ leader condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden and
praised him as a holy warrior.
|Hamas-Fatah Unification||the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel — how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist. In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.||And I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements|
|Israel’s Right to Exist||And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.||My friends, this must come to an end. President Abbas must do what I have
done. I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I
said… “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It is time for President Abbas to
stand before his people and say… “I will accept a Jewish state.”
|Gilad Shalit||And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years.||And you’ve joined
President Obama and me in denouncing Hamas and demanding that it release our captive soldier, Gilad Shalit
|New Proposals?||There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. Administrations.…By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation …If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. [Emphasis added]|
|Palestinian intransigence||So why has peace not been
achieved? Because so far, the Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state, if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it.…You see, our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state.
|Iran||See below||A nuclear-armed Iran would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East…This is why I ask you to continue to send an unequivocal message: That America will never permit Iran to develop nuclear weapons.|
|Obama’s Actions Against Iran||You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Here in the U.S., we’ve imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime. At the United Nations, we’ve secured the most comprehensive international sanctions on the regime, which have been joined by allies and partners around the world. Today, Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system, and we are going to keep up the pressure. So let me be absolutely clear – we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.||It is even worse because there
are many who rush to condemn Israel for defending itself against Iran’s
terror proxies. But not you. Not America. You have acted differently. You’ve condemned the Iranian regime for its genocidal aims. You’ve passed tough sanctions against Iran. History will salute you America. President Obama has said that the United States is determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He successfully led the Security Council to adopt sanctions against Iran. You in Congress passed even tougher sanctions. These words and deeds are vitally important.
|Arab Teaching Hatred||For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them.||They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name
public squares after terrorists. And worst of all, they continue to
perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the
descendants of Palestinian refugees.
- Israel’s 1967 borders ‘indefensible’, Netanyahu tells Aipac (guardian.co.uk)
- “Former AIPAC Official Dodges Questions On Whether 1967 Borders Has Been US Policy â€˜For Yearsâ€™” and related posts (wonkroom.thinkprogress.org)
Today’s unexpected bombing in Jerusalem seems to be just one more violent event in recent weeks. [Unexpected because according to an Israeli police spokesperson on BBC radio, prior to the bombing all was quiet in Jerusalem and there were no indications of an increased terrorist threat. UPDATE: Now they say “Police were prepared.”]. Off the top of my head, here are the events:
1. Tragic murder of the Fogel family in Itamar
2. Last weekend, heaviest mortar and rocket attacks from Gaza in years. And more rockets and mortars today in retaliation for Israeli air force missile response yesterday which killed four people.
4. Grounding of an Iranian cargo plane (a huge Ilyushin IL-76TD) by the Turkish air force. This was the second plane grounded in the last few days. First plane had no contraband, but yesterday, the plane carried a large cache of weapons that was found hidden behind food cargo. The plane was bound for Syria.
5. Now this bombing in Jerusalem
All of these events seem unprovoked, which leads me to speculate that this may be the beginning of the Third Intifada. Just as the Second Intifada took violence to another level from the First, it is likely that the Third will also take things up a notch. As in any warfare, the enemy adapts its tactics. In this sense, it may turn out that the Security Barrier will force the other side to use rockets, mortars and probably new, dangerously innovative weapons and tactics if they are really waging a new widespread operation.
Let us hope not. But I would keep a close watch on events.
- Jerusalem Bus Bombing: The 3rd Intifada Begins? (themoderatevoice.com)
- Barrage Of Rockets Between Israel And Gaza Leaves 1 Dead (huffingtonpost.com)