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.
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 made 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:
- Israel’s security is top priority. However, “best way to truly ensure Israel’s security today and for future generations is by ending once and for all the conflict with the Palestinians…by reaching a negotiated resolution that results in two states for two peoples…A realistic one-state solution simply does not exist for either side”
- This is the time to move forward
- A negotiated solution (which would include a demilitarized Palestine) is needed
- We must recognize the “Palestinians’ fundamental aspirations” for a state of their own
- Time is running out for a two state solution
- The status quo is not sustainable
- The Palestinian Authority has shown its commitment to non-violence and nation building
- What will happen if there is not a negotiated solution? Any or all of the following:
- Widespread civil disobedience, possibly leading to a third intifada
- Going back to the UN for more recognition
- Going to the International Criminal Court
- Peace pays in economic benefits to all
- The Arab League has re-emphasized its Peace Initiative – with the addition of allowing for land swaps
- The American Jewish community must use its voice in pushing leaders to take bold steps for peace
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.
- When Kerry says ‘both sides,’ AIPAC says the Palestinians (jta.org)
- Kerry warns Israel that status quo cannot hold (washingtonpost.com)
One Important Piece of Action You Can Take If You Believe In Putting The Brakes On The War Train To Iran
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 Conference. Period.
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
- Obama Says Military Option on Iran Not a ‘Bluff’ – New York Times (nytimes.com)
- Obama to Israel: ‘I don’t bluff’ (thehill.com)
In what was nominally a review of Jeremy Ben-Ami‘s new book, “A New Voice for Israel“, in 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.
* Merriam-Webster Online: Definition of FANTASTIC
1 a : based on fantasy : not real”
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org – and feel free to pass the information along to others who might be interested.
- Israeli ex-generals, diplomats press for U.S. role in peace talks (jta.org)
- Poll Shows Shift In American Jewry View Of Israel (lezgetreal.com)
- Guy Ziv: The Generals vs. Netanyahu (huffingtonpost.com)