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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

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

 

 

 

Secretary of State Kerry Channels J Street Talking Points in his Speech to the AJC

June 5, 2013 Comments off

On Monday, Secretary John Kerry gave the most significant foreign policy speech of his short tenure as the head of the State Department.  When listened to in conjunction with the speech that President Obama madeJohn Kerry 6-3-13 in Jerusalem in March, it becomes clear that this administration has put the Israeli-Palestinian issue at the very top of its foreign policy agenda despite all of the other pressing matters in the world.

I believe that anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian issue should take a half-hour and listen to this speech because it clearly lays out this administration’s beliefs about what needs to be done – and done soon.  You can access it here:   Sec of State Kerry’s Remarks to AJC 6/3/2013

Kerry’s points were straightforward:

These are almost verbatim the talking points that J Street has been using since its inception in 2008.  One of J Street’s primary missions has been to support the American administration to put this issue on the front burner – and it is obvious that President Obama and Secretary Kerry have done that.  It is now time for the rest of the American Jewish community to join in.

President Obama’s Plans Trip to Israel: Hopefully It Can Break the Logjam

February 6, 2013 Comments off

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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