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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

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

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 

 

Scathing Attack on J-Street in Today’s Jerusalem Post

August 11, 2011 4 comments

In what was nominally a review of Jeremy Ben-Ami‘s new book, “A New Voice for Israel“,  inIsi Leibler an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post titled ” J Street’s Soft Sell for the Uninformed“, Isi Leibler pulled out every argument to discredit J Street as not being “pro-Israel” that has been used over the past two years .  His arguments use half-truths, lack of context, and every mistake that J Street has ever made (and there have been a few) to malign the organization.  He trots out Gaza, Goldstone, UN vote, blah blah blah.  His conclusion can be summed up as follows:

The dividing lines between J Street and mainstream Jewish groups are not its views, but its efforts to convince Americans to encourage President Barack Obama to pressure the Israeli government. It is surely unconscionable for trendy American Jews to canvass their government to force Israel to act contrary to its will regarding national security, with potential life-and-death repercussions. J Street justifies this on the grounds that Israelis need “tough love,” comparing us to children on drugs who must be pressured into doing what’s good for them, or impounding the car keys of a drunken friend…

The list of J Street’s anti-Israel initiatives is endless. Most are either ignored or played down in Ben-Ami’s misleading book, which could well serve as a case study of Orwellian double-speak, topped by the dishonest manner in which it portrays itself as “pro-Israel”.

I sent a Letter to the Editor of the JP in response to the column that essentially said:

“This is a fantastic* piece of satire.  Some of the facts presented are undoubtedly true – but many of them simply repeat previous criticisms of J Street which have been shown to be half-truths or simply taken out of context.  Since, I doubt that Mr. Leiber is ill-informed about these matters, they are either thinly veiled political polemics, or meant to be viewed in a satirical context.  I assumed the latter because there was a clue that clearly gave it away.  He writes that “in Ben-Ami’s misleading book, which could well serve as a case study of Orwellian double-speak, topped by the dishonest manner in which it portrays itself as “pro-Israel”.”  Once I read that I realized that he had written a piece filled with facts that were either “ignored or played down” that he meant the entire column to be read as a mobius strip of so-called Orwellian logic.

Brilliant.

* Merriam-Webster Online:  Definition of FANTASTIC

1 a : based on fantasy : not real”

Mid-East Peace? Here Is An Organization You Need To Know About: The Council for Peace and Security

July 27, 2011 2 comments

Gen (Ret) Nati Sharoni - Wouldn't you listen to this General?

Who do you think would be most worried about whether or not Israel has defensible borders?  Who would be most wary of trusting the Arabs?  Who might you think would believe that maintaining the settlements, and particularly the outposts, should be a cornerstone of Israeli defense policy?  The obvious answer would be:  former IDF and security (Shin Bet, Mossad, etc.) officers, right?  Think again.

Some of Israel’s most recognized and decorated soldiers, sailors, airforce personnel, security directors and staff have joined together with other prominent diplomats and academics to form the one thousand strong Council For Peace and Security.  The Council describes itself as a “Non-Profit Organization of Experts on Peace and Security”.  One of the statements in its website’s Profile sums up their point of view:

“It (the Council) considers the support of the Middle East Peace Process to be a necessary component of National Security.” 

The Council’s current President, Gen (ret) Nati Sharoni, is going to be in Chicago speaking this Thursday (July 28) at a private home in the city.  I urge you to come hear him.  If you are interested – please email me directly at beyondzerosum@gmail.com.

To understand more about the Council, here are the Guiding Principles that all members must accept:

  • DELIBERATIONS ON SECURITY ISSUES MUST BE NON-POLITICAL 
  • PEACE IS ACHIEVED BY COMPROMISE 
  • THE OCCUPATION IS CAUSING DAMAGE
  • A PALESTINIAN STATE IS NOT A THREAT
  • JERUSALEM, THE CAPITAL OF ISRAEL
  • A PALESTINIAN STATE IS NOT A THREAT
  • ISRAEL MUST REMOVE PROBLEMATIC SETTLEMENTS
  • ISRAEL MUST RESIST PROVOCATION
  • PEACE WITH SYRIA IS A STRATEGIC NECESSITY
  • THREAT OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION 
  • CONSCRIPTION FOR ALL 
  • EQUAL RIGHTS FOR MINORITIES

The members of the Council are not wild-eyed, left-wing radicals whose views can be dismissed with the usual argument of naiveté.  They are seasoned military and security thinkers who have come to the very rational conclusion that Israel’s long term security depends on achieving a two-state solution – as soon as possible.  Disappointedly, I have never heard of the Council For Peace and Security in any of the Jewish circles that I am involved with in the United States. 

To remedy that, J Street is sponsoring nine members to travel the country so that American Jews can listen to the conclusions of these military and security experts.  It is particularly important  because the conclusions they have arrived at are almost 180 degrees opposite from what Mr. Netanyahu’s government is espousing – along with the American Jewish organizations which believe that there should be “no daylight” between American Jews and the Israeli government.  Personally, I think that it is irresponsible  for American Jews not to listen to the point of view of these extremely experienced and battle-hardened military and strategic experts.  Listening only to people who tell you what you want to hear is the easiest way to make tragically wrong decisions.

So, again, if you are available on Thursday night and would like to meet General (Ret) Sharoni (along with Col (Ret) Shaul Arieli), please send me an email at beyondzerosum@gmail.com – and feel free to pass the information along to others who might be interested.

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