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Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

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.

 

An Unprecedented View of the Iranian Green Revolution – The Movie “The Green Wave”

June 7, 2011 Comments off

Saturday night, we were able to attend another moving movie at The Chicago Human Rights Watch Film Festival: “The Green Wave” about the lead-up to the stolen June 2009 Iranian election and the brutal crackdown that followed. 

The Iranian Green Revolution was in many ways the first modern “technological revolution” because of its innovative use of new age social networking tools like blogs, Facebook, Twitter and cell phones.  This movie reflects this same technology.  Although the film contains some moving interviews of journalists, activists and even a moderate Ayatollah, the bulk of the ‘script’ is taken directly from tweets, blog posts and cell phone conversations.  The images are a mixture of animation (a la that used in the Israeli film, “Waltz with Bashir”), the aforementioned interviews, and most riveting, the use of actual cell phone and other video of the events themselves.  Although the events received pretty wide media coverage at the time, the true scope of both the demonstrations themselves and the brutality of the government crackdown did not really come across on the small screen the it does here.  To underline this point, on one of the demonstration days it is estimated that three million people were in the streets.  This is likely the largest peaceful, public demonstration that has ever occurred in human history.  Anyone interested in trying to understand Iran needs to see this film. 

You can still get a chance to see it on Tuesday, June 7 at 6:30 PM at Facets Multimedia, 1517 Fullerton Ave.,    Info is here.

Echo of “Hebron” movie – Settlers torch police car during court ordered destruction of outpost at Alei Ayin

June 4, 2011 Comments off

Jerusalem Post reports “Top cop’s car torched during Alei Ayin outpost evacuation“.

Judea and Samaria police warned on Thursday that settlement activists “crossed all lines” when they torched the car of the Binyamin district commander while his officers destroyed a small outpost.

A miniature preview of what will probably be one of the biggest sources of violence if a peace agreement is reached with the Palestinians – trying to remove the settlers in areas not included in the new borders.

I Think That There Are Actually People Out There Trying To Paint President Obama As Anti-Israel!

May 26, 2011 2 comments
A political map of the en:Near East in 1135 CE...

SECRET MAP OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S PROPOSED BORDERS

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 themesAnd, 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:

1. Obama at the State Department, May 19

2. Obama at AIPAC, May 22

3. Netanyahu at AIPAC, May 23

4. Netanyahu before Congress, May 24

TOPIC

OBAMA-STATE DEPT

OBAMA-AIPAC

NETANYAHU-AIPAC

NETANYAHU-CONGRESS

         
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
with deeds.
 
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.

Hillel’s Message to AIPAC and all American Jews: Now Is The Time To Make A Two State Solution Happen (Part 2 of 3)

May 23, 2011 Comments off
“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when?”

“And if I am only for myself, then what am I?”

The second phrase of Rabbi Hillel‘s aphorism implores us to attend to the other.  In this context we might also give attention to what is perhaps Rabbi Hillel’s most famous quote. As the Gentile stood on one foot, Hillel summed up the Torah:

The Gentile

“What is hateful to thyself do not do to another. That is the whole Law, the rest is Commentary.”  This is one of the most clear-cut and direct definitions of Jewish Values that one can find (and with a better pedigree than the kishke test) and one that should be appropriately applied to the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people – no matter whether there is a peace agreement or not.

In this context, one of the biggest issues being addressed by AIPAC, the Jewish Federations, and other major Jewish organizations is the “delegitimization” campaign against Israel.   There certainly are people who are purposefully trying to weaken or even destroy Israel by making it a persona non grata among the nations of the world.  But there are others who raise very legitimate questions about Israeli government and military policies.   It is time for the Major American Jewish Organizations to recognize the difference between those who seek to purposely delegitimize Israel as a strategy and those who honestly and objectively are concerned with the treatment of the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and whether this treatment lives up to the standards enumerated in Israel’s Declaration of Establishment.  Currently, virtually any criticism of the Israeli government or military is labeled as “delegitimization”, and any issues raised are blindly dismissed by these American Jewish groups.  Presumably, the argument is that admitting any wrong-doing simply provides ammunition to Israel’s enemies.  The opposite is actually true.  Failing to criticize any Israel policy at all or refusing to recognize obvious, documented incidents only destroys the credibility of the anti-delegitimization campaigns.  In essence, the Major American Jewish Organizations are delegitimizing their own campaigns against delegitimization! 

A simple example:  The day-to-day treatment of the Palestinians as they try to travel through the checkpoints.

Scene from a Checkpoint

I have seen with my own eyes the disrespectful, disdainful, and humiliating way the Palestinians are treated.  It is wrong – plain and simple.  My very first experience crossing into Bethlehem was to witness a nineteen year-old border guard leaning back in his chair in the glass enclosed control booth, talking on his cell phone and simply ignoring an old Palestinian woman trying to show her passport to get into Jerusalem.  It was a very light day and she was the only one in line at that time.  We watched as she waved and waved her papers to no avail.  The guard continued to ignore her.  Finally, after she banged on the glass, he simply waved her along with a sneer of impatience and contempt.  Not the end of the world, one might say.  Perhaps.  But again, I use a simple criterion:  How would I feel if it was my bubbe being treated this way?  Outraged.  And I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t feel the same way.

Sure, this example doesn’t rise anywhere close to a human rights abuse.  But it does illustrate an important point:  as concerning as the impact of this type of behavior is on the Palestinians involved, the effect on Israeli youth may be even worse when viewed through the prism of Jewish values.  The attitude displayed by this young man (and this was not the only incident like this that we observed) shows a callous disregard for the very humanness of the other.  This sector of the Israeli military has gone from being brave defenders of Israel’s very existence to being masters over the day-to-day lives of others
who are powerless.  As Peter Beinart pointed out several weeks ago when he spoke at Northwestern University, you measure the nature of a people not by how they treat others when they are in a position of weakness, but rather when they are in a position of power.  Israel is taking young eighteen and nineteen year-olds and putting them in positions where they are lording it over men and women two and three times their age.  These young people are allowed to treat the Palestinians with disrespect and contempt.  And either through neglect or purpose, there appears to be little supervision or questioning of these attitudes and actions.  A whole generation is growing up with attitudes that would make our bubbes cringe.  This is the insidious part of the current situation:  the fact is that when a society is in the position of controlling another people it morally rots from the inside (more posts on this to come).  It is time for American Jewish organizations to make realistic, open and candid analyses of Israel’s policies and actions with regard to the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.  They should then state publicly the very real abuses they will almost certainly find.  And finally, openly engage with the Israeli government and military to change or eliminate objectionable behaviors.  To do otherwise calls into question the veracity and integrity of their anti-delegitimization campaigns, but more importantly allows a moral cancer to fester within Israeli society.

While addressing these issues should be done as soon as possible, there are even more pressing needs that require immediate attention as will be seen when we examine the third phrase of Hillel’s admonition.

Hillel’s Message to AIPAC and all American Jews: Now Is The Time To Make A Two State Solution Happen (Part 1 of 3)

May 23, 2011 1 comment

One of the most profound aspects of Rabbi Hillel‘s brilliance was his ability to express the essence of Judaism in basic core ways that doesn’t require the years of study demanded of a Talmudic scholar.  Perhaps the most well-known of Hillel’s aphorisms (which our congregation repeats in song each High Holiday) reflects the essence of what it means to be both a human and a Jew:
“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
 And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
 And if not now, when?”

This statement of simple eloquence seems to be an appropriate  guide to how we, as American Jews, should approach the Israel-Palestinian conflict:

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?”

There is a very visceral connection to Israel for Jews around the world that begins with our historical, Biblical lineage. And whether you are a believer in the divine covenant or a cultural Jew – whether a Jew by matrilineal descent or a Jew by choice – whether an ardent Zionist or an indifferent secularist – there seems to be an intangible link to the land of the matriarchs and patriarchs.  There is also a connection created by the sweat and blood of the early Zionists who really did make the desert bloom.

But what is really at the heart of the American Jewish relationship to Israel is the desire and the need to protect its very existence. The number one goal is to protect and preserve Israel as it is envisioned in its Declaration of Establishment:  as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.

The need for a safe haven for Jews is self-evident to even the most skeptical observer in light of the 2,000 years of the Diaspora culminating in Hitler’s attempt at the Final Solution which was met by apparent indifference from much of the world.  Although some in the world try to deny the Holocaust, that very denial amply proves the point of the need to preemptively prevent another holocaust by maintaining the state open to all Jews without question.  And while some in the West, particularly those of the younger generation, forget or dismiss the reality of anti-Semitism, new currents of this age-old sentiment have been bubbling closer to the surface in dangerous ways.  Though most American young people cannot conceive of a return to the explicit anti-Semitism that existed until the last generation or so, history tells a different story. Although we can hope that the trend will not continue to grow, it would be naive to blithely believe that it won’t.
So, even today, the need for a refuge remains very real.

But, the most prominent message (that often drowns out all others) of AIPAC, the Federations, and many other Major American Jewish Organizations is that danger lurks around every corner: Terrorists waiting to blow themselves up killing innocent women and children; missiles amassed at Israel’s border – now with the capability to strike at the heart of Israel’s civilian population; the specter of a nuclear Iran looming ever closer. Unfortunately, they are right.  There are very, very real treacherous enemies that will not rest until every “Zionist” is driven into the sea.   However, the message conveyed by the Jewish organizations is usually simplistic and absolute.  Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranians represent the devil incarnate – evil and implacable with the sole goal of wiping Israel off the map.  The message preserves the images from 1948 of Israel surrounded by hostile armies ready to cross the border at any moment.  The tone is of tense fear often cloaked in the language of righteousness and the an absolutist version of history.  Again, it is certainly true that there are a significant number of jihadists in these groups who fit this definition – but it doesn’t take much digging to find examples of the voices of moderation in each of these groups.  Ironically, the monolithic characterization actually works to Israel’s detriment.

First, ignoring the moderate voices has the effect of strengthening the more radical elements.  Examples of some moderation include the Green Movement and current inter-governmental turmoil in Iran, the voice of Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal
saying that he will conditionally accept an agreement with Israel, and the recognition that both Hezbollah and Hamas have social and political arms which provide necessary services to their populations.  Not recognizing these moderate elements only supports the radicals’ contention that the Israeli and American governments are blindly seeking to destroy the Muslim world.  It is hard to see how widening the gap between Islam and the West does not increase the influence of the radical Jihadists.

More importantly, simplistic characterizations lead to a dangerously poor understanding of the complexity of one’s enemy, Israel’s geo-strategic situation, and therefore the best ways to avoid attacks as well as the most effective ways to defend against them should they occur.  Tactics will always change as facts on the ground change.  For example, in a recent conference call, Major General (Ret) Natan Sharoni, a member of the Council for Peace and Security, pointed out (in response to the criticism that President Obama has taken with regard to his explicit public endorsement of setting the borders based upon the 1967 borderswith land swaps) that the importance of “defensible borders” has diminished significantly.  The concept of “defensible borders” is really based on a misunderstanding of the current state of military technology and military tactics. What he said was that we no longer have huge armies massed on the border of Israel.  In  1948, Israel was threatened by standing armies from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan and Egypt.  But today, neither Iran nor Iraq have expeditionary forces. Egypt and Jordan have both signed peace treaties with Israel, and Syria cannot and will not act alone.  The inveterate framing of the military threat as that of conventional armies attacking across physical borders is now highly unlikely. Instead, General Sharoni points out that the military threat now comes from 1.Terrorism, and 2.Missiles. Neither of these threats is particularly mitigated by borders per se.  In addition, although he did not mention this factor, the logistical
capabilities of 2011 including helicopters, cellular and satellite communication, and naval capabilities, make the military advantage of cutting off Israel’s North and South quite a bit less critical than it was in 1948.  And while military strategists and tacticians can certainly debate these assertions, it is precisely the benefit of debate which the mainstream Jewish organizations need to recognize and embrace. Rehashing the old naïve and simplistic phrases that we constantly hear from AIPAC, the ADL,  the AJC, et al, prevent a
realistic assessment of the military threats facing Israel.

But there is an even more insidious danger to the Jewish People that arises from the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict: that is the transformation of the State of Israel into a country whose values are no longer representative or even recognizable as “Jewish”.  That is to say, Jewish values as expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Establishment: “[Israel] will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”  It seems impossible to see how many recent actions and proposals of the current Knesset meet these criteria.  I use a simple litmus test to determine whether or not Israel’s actions reflect my personal Jewish values.  It is not the legal definition of whether Israel’s actions fit the letter of international law.  It is not whether Israel has the right to defend itself (of course, it does). It is not whether some world leader denounces Israeli actions. No, my test is simple.  It is called the kishkes test.  When I read the newspaper, listen to the news, or see something on TV, do I cringe and feel a deep sense of shame in the pit of my gut – my kishkes?  If so, then there is something inherently wrong with the action.  Ironically, one of the unshakable demands of the current Israeli government is that the Palestinians unequivocally recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”.  By my way of thinking, we need to be even more concerned that Israel recognize itself as a Jewish state in accordance with its Declaration of Establishment.

Hillel’s admonition to be “for myself” rings true in every one of the above contexts with regard to how American Jews should relate to Israel.  But Hillel also posits that it is not sufficient to think only of one’s self.

Precept 1: The Endgame for Israel

March 29, 2011 Comments off
David Ben-Gurion (First Prime Minister of Isra...

Image via Wikipedia

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up somewhere else” – The Great Yogi

In analyzing and developing policies, an obvious prerequisite is defining and understanding your desired outcome:  The Endgame.  One of the problems that often occurs when people are talking about Israel, Palestine and the rest of the Middle East, is that they talk past each other.  They almost immediately get caught up arguing facts (or myths), history, speculation, generalization, demonization, almost any damn “-ation” you can name.  But often they never bother to try to understand the framework of their arguments.  What is the outcome that they are looking for?  How can one determine if they are right or wrong unless they know what goal they are trying to achieve.

It seems that the endgame for Israel was defined at its very birth.  It goes back to the original Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel which David Ben-Gurion read aloud in the sweltering heat of the former Dizengoff home, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on 5 Iyar 5708 (May 14, 1948).  The very essence of what the country stands for is contained in the 13th paragraph:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

I don’t think there can be a clearer, more succinct ideal that any of us who love the State of Israel could set for her.  And it follows from that that this should be the standard which the people of Israel and their institutions (government, the military, economic, and religious) should be measuring themselves against.  And fellow Jews everywhere should be  supporting Israel in reaching for that ideal. 

So, in summary, when analyzing policy decisions, using this definition, the endgame is the sustenance of Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.

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