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Could The Domestic Social Protests in Israel Be The Greatest Impetus for Moving Towards a Two State Solution?

August 8, 2011 Comments off

Tent 48 - Named for 1948, the Year of the Declaration of Israel as a state

With all of the emphasis (and rightly so) on the domestic economic and political crises here in the U.S. , it may be lost on people that there are huge (and growing) demonstrations against Israeli government social policy going on in Israel virtually as we speak.  Reports are that Saturday night there were 300-350,000 people in the streets.  As Dimi Reider and Azziz Abu Sarah, wrote in an op-ed published last Wednesday,

The protests that are paralyzing Israel began on July 14, when a few professionals in their 20s decided they could no longer tolerate the city’s uncontrolled rents, and pitched six tents at the top of the city’s most elegant street, Rothschild Boulevard. Three weeks later, the six tents have swelled to over 400, and more than 40 similar encampments have spread across the country, forming unlikely alliances between gay activists and yeshiva students, corporate lawyers and the homeless and ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs.

So far, the protesters have managed to remain apolitical, refusing to declare support for any leader or to be hijacked by any political party. But there is one issue conspicuously missing from the protests: Israel’s 44-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, [emphasis added] which exacts a heavy price on the state budget and is directly related to the lack of affordable housing within Israel proper…

Had the protesters begun by hoisting signs against the occupation, they would most likely still be just a few people in tents. By removing the single most divisive issue in Israeli politics, the protesters have created a safe space for Israelis of all ethnic, national and class identities to act together. And by decidedly placing the occupation outside of the debate, the protesters have neutralized much of the fear-mongering traditionally employed in Israel to silence discussions of social issues…

If the protests continue to stir more and more Israelis out of their political despondency, Mr. Netanyahu still holds two possible trump cards: a sudden breakthrough in the negotiations to free the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive in Gaza, or a sudden escalation of armed conflict.

Moreover, the impending United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood in September imposes a deadline of sorts on the protesters. If Palestinians react by marching on Israeli army checkpoints to demand freedom, Israeli protesters will have to choose between losing internal support by siding with the Palestinians, or abandoning any claim of a pro-democracy agenda by siding with the Israeli soldiers charged with suppressing them.

Interestingly, It didn’t get much press reporting here in the U.S., but the night after this op-ed was published, the Israel Air Force conducted several bombing raids in northern Gaza.  However, unless Bibi has some pull with Hamas that nobody is aware of, this was a legitimate (in Israeli terms) response to several rockets that had been launched at Ashkelon and Sderot the previous day.  Obviously, from Didi and Azziz’ point of view, whoever fired these rockets (not necessarily the Hamas government itself – there are various factions both within and outside of Hamas which hold varying degree of militancy) played directly into the hands of Netanyahu  by providing a pretext for this military action which could potentially take the spotlight off of the domestic protests.  For now, the raids have not the averted the attention of the demonstrators – as shown by the fact that the largest turnout yet was on Saturday night.

Bibi finally began to react to the protestors this week with new proposals for more government subsidies for housing and new building.  But the protestors don’t seem to be buying that and Bibi is trying desperately day-by-day to get the situation under control.  

So, we will just have to watch and see what happens.  Certainly, one eventual outcome could be the fall of the current government.  And that is what this post’s title refers to is just that.  If the government does fall – though it might be based solely on domestic issues – it might well be replaced with a new government that at the same time makes a significant change in Israel’s foreign policy.  They might really understand the dangers inherent in the status quo, and do everything possible to make a two state solution happen.

UPDATE on Danny Ayalon: Twitter Warfare Between Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic and DFM Ayalon Himself

July 29, 2011 Comments off

Seems that Jeffrey Goldberg’s blogpost yesterday inspired a response from Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon in the flesh (or at least, in the Tweet). Which led to a response from Goldberg, and so on back and forth.

 Marc Tracy of the Tablet Magazine [which, if you are into “Jewish”, is worth checking out] frames the exchange as a twelve round prize-fight.

Ayalon vs. Goldberg, on Twitter

Let’s get ready to rumble!

Gentlemen, you know the rules: Twelve rounds, obey my instructions at all times, no hits below the belt, and keep it to 140 characters. Ding-ding!

After 8 rounds, he has Goldberg up – but judge for yourself.  It’s very clever and an enjoyable read:  http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/73556/ayalon-vs-goldberg-on-twitter/

 

 

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, Shills For The Settlers

July 28, 2011 1 comment
Daniel Ayalon

Image via Wikipedia

In a very interesting story, Danny Ayalon, Israeli’s Deputy Foreign Minister and one of the notoriously right-wing members of the Netanyahu government has made a video supporting the occupation of the West Bank – er, excuse me, Israel controlling the “disputed territories” (after you watch the video, you will understand).  But, the truly interesting part is that the images used in the video were exactly the same as those used for a pro-settler lobbying group.  Gal Beckerman in the Forward says:

Ayalon’s video is identical, image for image and in large part word for word, with one he made in May for the YESHA Council, the organization that represents and lobbies for the settlers.

Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/forward-thinking/#story-1#ixzz1TLSq1YTs

 

It is a great piece of propaganda.  Watch it here:

 
 

I’m Back

July 23, 2011 Comments off

It’s been quite awhile since you’ve heard from me – and I apologize for that.
I could tell you that I’ve been on vacation, that I’ve been very busy with work and family, and that I’ve been meeting with various folks all summer. While that is all true, the fact is that events in the Middle East (and perhaps even more so, here with domestic politics) have left me both depressed and dumbfounded.  As many have said, we seem to be on the way to a “train wreck” in the Middle East, and I feel like it’s an extremely excruciating one.  Kind of like watching that fantastic scene from “The Fugitive” (the movie, not the TV series) where  they are transporting Harrison Ford downstate by bus, a fight ensues and the bus goes over a railing and ends up straddling some train tracks with a huge freight train barreling down on it.  There is a tremendous crash which allows him to escape into the woods. The train crash is shown in intimate detail, from several different angles, and as the engine caroms off the track, we see dirt and metal and wood flying all over the place as the train’s inertia keeps tearing through the underbrush.*  All of the time, Harrison Ford is trying to hop away with his arms and legs shackled.  Pretty good analogy for what is happening in the Middle East from all sides – the Palestinians, the Israelis, us and the Europeans – trying to avoid the fallout from the prospective UN vote.  Oy! 

And unfortunately, that ain’t the only thing going on.  Here is my current rundown of agita producing events:

Middle East:

  1. Upcoming September vote in the UN where the Palestinians will be seeking recognition as a State
  2. The erstwhile flotilla and fly-tilla of “humanitarian” aid headed for Gaza
  3. The recent passing in the Knesset of an “anti-boycott law” wherein anyone who supports a boycott of Israeli products, services etc. can be sued for both actual and potential(!) damages.
  4. As always, new announcements of continued settlement activity. 

Domestic:

  1. The Republicans refusal to compromise on a balanced package to raise the debt ceiling.
  2. The Republicans ability to lie with a straight face – and have the public not able to see it.  We had 8 years of the “no tax increase” policy under Bush and it destroyed the economy.  (However, it did result in the largest transfer of wealth to the top 1% of the country in history.  And I thought that the Republicans were against redistribution of wealth?)
  3. The Democrats inability to come up with virtually any effective messaging.  If I hear the “corporate jet-owners” and “big oil companies” one more time I’ll puke – it just isn’t working.
  4. Obama’s refusal to get mad as hell – and call out the Republicans. (He’s starting to, but it is a case of too little too late.)
  5. I have hardly  heard one commentator speculate that the Republicans actually have no interest in raising the debt ceiling because if the economy melts down, so do Obama’s chances of reelection.  I hate to be so cynical, but it appears that the Republicans have no qualms about the doomsday option because they will be able to blame the disaster on Obama and the “unreasonable” Senate Democrats who refused to bring their Cap and Trade (oops, Cut, Cap and Balance) bill to the floor.  And those same Senate Democrats who wouldn’t bring their own budget bill to the floor.  (Of course, they forget to inform the American public the minor detail that the way our forefathers set up the Constitution, budget bills can only be originated from the House.) 

OK, so I am going to try to overcome my doldrums and begin explaining why I am so upset by some of these issues – and you should be to.  But my next post will actually be about some very positive news – the current tour of several extremely prominent Israeli military and political figures who have come to the U.S. to discuss their assessment of the urgency of coming to a two-state agreement as the only way to assure Israel’s security.  They are here to discuss the Israel Peace Initiative and the activities of the Council for Peace and Security in Israel.

 

*By the way, that was a REAL train crash in The Fugitive that they set up and filmed – however, I would guess that Harrison Ford wasn’t actually running from it!  Check out the aftermath 18 years later:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFGNkkWf4_M&feature=related

Breaking News: Salam Fayyed Says He Is Going To Remain As Palestinian Prime Minister

June 22, 2011 Comments off
Salam Fayyad - World Economic Forum Annual Mee...

Image by World Economic Forum via Flickr

Bloomberg News has reported that Salam Fayyad plans to remain as Palestinian Prime Minister.  The significance of this is that Hamas has previously stated that Fayyad is unacceptable, so if this holds up it almost certainly means that the unification deal between Hamas and Fatah will fall apart (as has happened before – and therefore was predicted by many).  Fayyad is very well liked and respected in the West because he has a PhD in Economics from the University of Texas, he has cleaned up a tremendous amount of corruption, he has administered the country such that the current economic growth rate is claimed to be about 7%, and finally, his Palestinian police force has worked so well with US General Dayton and the IDF that many checkpoints were able to be eliminated.

Come to think of it – those are probably the same reasons that Hamas rejected him.

From the Bloomberg report:

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said he will resist pressure to resign and aims to continue in office while the rival Hamas and Fatah factions try to form a joint government.

Fayyad, speaking to reporters today in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said he wants to at least complete his two-year plan to build the institutions for Palestinian statehood that are supposed to be ready in August.

Former AIPAC-er Keith Weissman Talks About AIPAC’s Influence on U.S. Policy for PBS’ Frontline

June 12, 2011 Comments off
American Israel Public Affairs Committee logo

Image via Wikipedia

In a just released interview by Robert Dreyfuss for Frontline’s Tehran Bureau, Keith Weissman talks about his stint at AIPAC.  Weissman and fellow staffer Steve Rosen were indicted for espionage for allegedly passing documents to Israeli intelligence officers.  These charges were eventually dropped – and the whole incident appears to be nothing more than the usual Inside The Beltway exchange of information that goes on 24 hours a day.

In the interview, Weissman paints a very flattering picture of himself and his influence within AIPAC.  The most interesting details concern Iran – his personal point of view along with AIPAC’s: 

The reason why I want to tell this story now is, we may be going down a path, helped along by the American Jewish community, and maybe even Israel, that is going to be worse even than the one we’re on now – some sort of military confrontation with Iran. That worries me. Because they will be able to blame [it] on the Jews, to a great extent,” says Weissman, who worked at AIPAC from 1993 until 2005, much of that time as the group’s deputy director of foreign policy. Though Weissman disagrees sharply with those who say that AIPAC played a critical role in pushing for the 2003 U.S. decision to invade Iraq, he believes a war with Iran — which he says “would be the stupidest thing I ever heard of” — might well be blamed on AIPAC’s leaders and their constituents. “What the Jews’ war will be is Iran,” he says. “Not Iraq.”:

Most of the rest of the information that he reveals isn’t necessary anything new – but does  lend credence to what many observers have already presumed.  One of the most interesting assertions is that following the Oslo peace process, AIPAC moved away from the Rabin government because they did not agree with his movement towards peace:

“Because of AIPAC, with the assistance of the right-wing in Israel, who — even though they weren’t the majority in Israel then — they’d come over and have very close contacts with AIPAC’s leaders, prominent financiers, and donors, in order to influence policy…. It was all because of the money that would go from the American Jewish community to politicians in the United States. The pro-Israel bloc in Congress has nothing to do with parties. It had to do with friendship and loyalty. I learned this over time. This is the secret of AIPAC’s power, its ability to fund campaigns. When people got together, they’d find ways, even if they’d given a ton of money to AIPAC, they’d still find ways to get money to candidates, Republican or Democrat.”

Though the advent of Oslo raised hopes among Israelis and Palestinians alike that a peace accord might work, inside AIPAC there was strong discontent with Oslo and its implications, and a lot of sympathy for hardliners in Israel, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the bitterest opponent of Oslo and its backers, including Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister. As M. J. Rosenberg, a former AIPAC official, has documented, AIPAC moved steadily to the right from the 1980s onward. According to Weissman, that happened mostly because the group’s biggest donors were right-wing American Jews who identified with Likud rather than the Labor Party and other liberal Israelis. Many of its donors and some its staff split from AIPAC during the Rabin-Oslo era to work with more right-wing groups such as the Zionist Organization of America, says Weissman. After Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist opposed to giving up the occupied territories, an increasingly right-leaning Israel and AIPAC moved more and more into sync. As Weissman tells the story:

“So Rabin is shot. I mean, he won Oslo in the Knesset by one vote! You could imagine that in America there was similar opposition [to Oslo]…. AIPAC had spent the last 15 years helping the Likud, so you’ve got people there that were sucking at the teat of Likud, that was how they viewed things. That’s why so many people left AIPAC. A lot of them went to join ZOA and a lot of them also contributed to the work of Daniel Pipes. When Rabin came in, they had taken their money and left, and there was a lot of turmoil. At the time, I remember, they’d send me around the country, to fundraisers, with a lot of older people, and I would be yelled and screamed at, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this!’ Donors were leaving, taking the money, and that’s really their bread and butter, the lay leadership. AIPAC’s donors were very active in the organization. Very. They were major elements in making policy, in determining the agenda, who the leadership was.

[…]

“I tried my best to sell the peace process. But I tried to sell it in the context of what AIPAC was, that this was the way that Israel could become a permanent Middle East country. But the ideological war inside the Israel lobby, collectively, was extremely bitter — and very close, you know, the tally of votes was very close. I would argue that while most American Jews are probably center-left, the rich ones, the ones who give to organizations, the ones who are involved in politics, tend to be more to the right. Those are the ones who were close to the Israeli government when it was run by the Likud.”

Rabin, in his last years, was angry at AIPAC’s obstructionism, says Weissman. (According to M. J. Rosenberg, in New York Rabin met with liberal Jewish donors and asked them to help finance what become the Israel Policy Forum as a very small but not ineffective counterweight to AIPAC.)

“Because of AIPAC, with the assistance of the right-wing in Israel, who — even though they weren’t the majority in Israel then — they’d come over and have very close contacts with AIPAC’s leaders, prominent financiers, and donors, in order to influence policy…. It was all because of the money that would go from the American Jewish community to politicians in the United States. The pro-Israel bloc in Congress has nothing to do with parties. It had to do with friendship and loyalty. I learned this over time. This is the secret of AIPAC’s power, its ability to fund campaigns. When people got together, they’d find ways, even if they’d given a ton of money to AIPAC, they’d still find ways to get money to candidates, Republican or Democrat.”

Read the entire story: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2011/06/aipac-from-the-inside-1-isolating-iran.html

Jewish Obama Donor Defection Story is Way Overblown

June 9, 2011 Comments off
Barack Obama

Image by jamesomalley via Flickr

Right wing bloggers have been trying to create a story line that some large Democratic donors are not going to support President Obama because of his recent speeches about the Middle East.   On her Commentary blog Contentions, Alana Goodman, said: 

One of the most important Democratic donors in the past two decades, whose generous contributions helped pay for the DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C., has indicated that he will not contribute to President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, because of the administration’s stance on Israel.

The thrust of Goodman’s blog post was to continue to build the story that Obama anti-Israel.  And further, that it is hurting is chances of fundraising.

However,  Washington Post’s Greg Sargent decided to follow-up and go straight to the source.  In his blog yesterday, Sargent quoted Saban as follows:

“If solicited, I will absolutely write a check to the level allowed by law,” Saban said. “I don’t agree that he’s anti-Israel.”

Sargent characterized it like this:

Saban told me that he did not view Obama as anti-Israel and that he would donate the maximum to Obama’s campaign if asked. And while he said he had problems with the timing of Obama’s announcement, he stated that he has no problem with the substance of Obama’s position, and said conservatives had misrepresented it in order to drive away Obama’s Jewish support.

 

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