Thoughtful modern day “Plagues” to contemplate this Passover – presented by JACPAC – but there is something missing
JACPAC (the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs) a wonderful group of politically active women (and a few men) whose issues center around Israel, women’s rights and now, gun control, have come out with a list of ten modern day plagues to think about this Pesach [Their list follows at the bottom of this post – unfortunately, I couldn’t get the very cool green frog background to copy over]. Their hope is that:
As you gather with your families around the seder table and retell the story of Passover, remember that oppression, hunger, discrimination and violence still plague us all.
However, I thought that given their goal, they left out two of the most important things that we Jews should be thinking about. So, I wrote them the following:
To Marcia, Dana, Janna and JACPAC:
With respect, I believe that you have left out two extremely important plagues:
– The Occupation and the treatment of the Palestinians
– Failure to reach a two state solution
The occupation is one of the most important plagues because of the threat it presents to Israel remaining both a Jewish and Democratic state. It also tends to corrupt a society. I have witnessed this personally when visiting the West Bank and I assume that you have as well. The attitude towards the Palestinians is simply shameful. And it is clearly appears to be an overall policy of the government and military. If this were happening in the US, I am sure that JACPAC would be the first to speak out against it.
For myself, one of the most important aspects of the Seder is the fact that the Haggadah emphasizes the fact that “you” – the Seder participant him/herself – were a slave in the land of Egypt. I think that this is profound. The Haggadah is asking each of us to put ourselves in the shoes of someone that is enslaved and oppressed. It wants us to feel what it is like to be the one who is powerless – as we Jews have been for 2000 years until quite recently.
Now however, the miracle of the success of the State of Israel has put us in an unfamiliar position. The Jewish State (we shouldn’t need the Palestinians to have to bless this description) is now in control of the West Bank and controls access to Gaza. Whether you want to call it” occupation” or not (a la Sheldon Adelson), Israel is controlling the lives of 2.5 million people in the West Bank. How we as Jews handle this situation is a test of Jewish values. The lesson I take from the Haggadah is to remember what it is like to be powerless and oppressed – and if the tables are turned so that Jews are in power, to use that power wisely.
And, I believe that “Treatment of the Palestinians” should come ahead of “BDS” – because there is a connection. BDS scares many of us precisely because we have seen the effectiveness of this tactic before particularly with South Africa. As a matter of fact, many of us Jews were in the forefront of the BDS movement against South Africa. While some of those who promote BDS have the goal of destroying the state of Israel, there are many others who are simply protesting the very real abuses of power and justice that do occur.
The question I would like to contemplate for this Pesach is this: If we keep the land, but lose our ethics, where are we?
I think the Haggadah is telling us that that puts us back wandering in a moral desert.
So, yasher koach, on the list of plagues. It provides much for all of us to consider at the Seder table. I simply wish that you would challenge your membership even further. There are very real facts on the ground in Israel that are hard to look at. But, hiding our heads in the sand, doesn’t change the reality on the ground.
Best wishes to you and your families for a chag kasher v’sameach — a meaningful and sweet Pesach.
First, I would like to know whether Kerry’s diplomatic push is spoken of in a positive or negative manner. That is, whether U.S. getting the sides to the table is a good thing or not – NOT whether the chances of success are good. Not whether there is no partner, etc. That is, does AIPAC support diplomacy with regard to the Palestinians?
I am interested to hear how much support you hear for a two state solution. Again, not whether or not it is likely to come about right now – but whether it is a good idea or not that trying our hardest to work towards that goal or not. In that regard, do you hear anyone talking about the importance of coming up with some solution to the current Occupation? Do people think that the status quo can continue indefinitely? Or, annexation of Judea and Samaria into one Jewish state where the Palestinians have less rights than Jews? Annexation of Judea and Samaria where it’s one person, one vote? Or, again, Do you hear anyone talking about creative solutions, like saying that it might be a good idea to freeze construction in the West Bank temporarily to see whether this might force the Palestinians to ‘put up or shut up’?
Do you hear anyone talking about very real everyday facts on the ground in the West Bank? Like in East Jerusalem that Palestinians are being forced from their homes and replaced by Jews? Or, about Settler violence (so called “price tag” attacks) including burning of olive trees, torching of mosques, and even firing guns at Palestinians by both settlers and even IDF – with almost no legal recourse? Or the destruction of Bedouin structures (as flimsy as they may be) that are on their own land? These are facts which are written about in Israeli papers that should be discussed here as well. In the same way that the rocket firings from Gaza, or the buildup in arms by Hezbollah, or the fact that Hamas is going broke need to be discussed. (One excellent thing is there isn’t much to discuss about violence from the West Bank against Israelis because as I understand it, in the last two years, thank God, there has only been one killing of a Jew by an Arab from the West Bank. That is one too many – but frankly if you look into it, I believe that you will find that it is less than the number of Palestinians that have been killed by settlers and IDF during that same time period.)
Next, I am curious to know whether you hear support for diplomacy with Iran – and what the nature of the agreement is that they would support. I personally am a big supporter of keeping the military option on the table – but even more importantly, I believe that we need to push very hard to make this diplomatic effort work. Public criticism of the administration makes very little sense given that we are in negotiations at the moment. Doesn’t this type of rift show weakness, not strength? Although AIPAC finally backed off pushing the Senate Sanctions bill when the Republicans tried to force a vote (and they are still trying to force a vote by attaching the language to other bills), they essentially ignored Kerry’s specific call during Senate hearings for them to hold off on this bill until the talks had run their course. If sanctions were supposed to force the Iranians to the bargaining table, then they worked. It is time to support the negotiations and the negotiators. While I have heard the argument that the Senate sanctions bill will provide more leverage, that is not the Administration’s position. The move in the Senate appears to be more grandstanding than anything else – and particularly now that the Republicans are moving to call a vote. Wouldn’t it be more effective to work behind the scenes to make sure that the Administration drives a hard bargain?
Also, I would like to hear about the diplomatic proposals that are being discussed. Although it would best if Iran dismantled their entire program – no enrichment, no centrifuges, no missiles – realistically, they will never agree to this. It would be too much of a loss of face for them both internationally and domestically. Therefore, be aware that anyone proposing no enrichment is not seriously supporting a diplomatic agreement. They aren’t necessarily warmongers – but many do in fact know that the Iranians will never accept this, but it is their way of “supporting” diplomacy while knowing that their position has no chance of acceptance. Listen carefully to people. Some will say that Iran must be prevented from getting a nuclear . Others will say that it must be prevented from having a nuclear capability. This is a significant difference and you should listen closely for who says which. If they say capability, they are usually also saying that Iran must eliminate their entire nuclear program – which as I said above is totally unrealistic.
I am particularly interested to know how much talk there is about the consequences of possible military action – and what the speakers say about it. I haven’t seen the agenda, but I believe that there may indeed be some experts discussing this and I would be interested to know what their assessments are.
Finally, a little prognostication on my part. My bet is that every Congressman and Senator will say the following:
“Israel is our greatest ally”
“Israel shares our values”
“Iran is the greatest threat to Israel, the US and the entire world”
“Iran is the greatest supporter of terrorism in the world” [What ever happened to Al Qaeda?]
“The military option must not be taken off the table” [A very true statement – but how many folks are willing to talk about the exact make up of the military action – and what the resulting risks and consequences might be. Are folks willing to risk Hezbollah raining down hundreds or thousands of rockets on Israel? The question needs to be discussed]
“Israel’s security is our number one priority”
“I love Israel [more than the next guy]”
Don’t get me wrong, these are all good things. Most of these are true statements. However, the answers are so pat, that they border on pandering – and most important, it is not good if this is the level of sophistication with which these people are going to be basing their votes on when it comes to legislation that has such serious consequences for the US, Israel and the entire world.
Looking forward to hearing about the Conference. Have a great trip and enjoy!
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)
As Richard Goldwasser points out in his op-ed “Jerusalem The Divisible” in today’s Times of Israel:
The ostensibly unassailable assumption that Jerusalem must remain Israel’s undivided and eternal capital, however, fails to take into account the evolution of Jerusalem’s boundaries.
He goes on to give an extremely brief – but enlightening – outline of some of the highlights of the history of Jerusalem’s boundaries. His conclusion:
Abraham Lincoln once posited, “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” So it is with Jerusalem. Calling the Palestinian village of Beit Hanina Jerusalem doesn’t make it Jerusalem. At least not in a way that has any meaning for the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem. Perhaps that is why two of Israel’s past prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, were prepared to cede the Palestinian neighborhoods in present-day Jerusalem to a future Palestinian state.
Netanyahu Makes Big New Plan: He has agreed to Sit Down with Palestinians and Negotiate Based on ’67 Borders With Swaps. Of course, this has this been the Understood Basis Since 1993. Oh, and didn’t Someone Else mention this less than three months ago?
First, here is the report from the AP via Yahoo News:
TV: Israel agrees to negotiate over pre-’67 lines
“…In a speech about the Middle East in May, Obama proposed negotiations based on the pre-1967 line with agreed swaps of territory between Israel and a Palestinian state. Netanyahu reacted angrily, insisting that Israel would not withdraw from all of the West Bank, though that was not what Obama proposed.
Now Netanyahu is basically accepting that framework, according to Channel 2 TV, offering to trade Israeli territory on its side of the line for West Bank land where its main settlements are located…
Part of the reason, he [an anonymous Israeli official] said, was that Israel is seeking to persuade the Palestinians to drop their initiative to win U.N. recognition of their state next month, something the Palestinians are doing out of frustration with stalled peace efforts.
In an eerie parallel to the debt crisis Kabuki theatre that we have been watching here in the U.S. (and it is far from over, IMHO – this has just been the warm-up, wait until we really get to election season), the Israelis and the Palestinians have each painted themselves into a corner – on opposite side of the room. Netanyahu’s ‘refusal’ to negotiate based upon ’67 borders with swaps was like taking the negotiations back to square one. Not only impossible, but insulting. On the other hand, Abbas’ plan to go to the UN is fraught with dangers – probably more for himself than for Israel. One of General Sharoni’s points when he was in town last week was that Abbas needs to “deliver some goods” for his people or his leadership will weaken significantly. On the surface, if the Palestinians are able to obtain “observer State” status in a vote by the General Assembly” (the U.S. will almost certainly veto full admission to the U.N. in the Security Council), it would appear to be a victory for Abbas. However, nothing on the ground will change. As a matter of fact, Israel could well tighten its security regimen in anticipation of increased resistance – whether violent or non-violent. Therefore, the “expectation gap” of the Palestinians in the West Bank could well expand – which could actually bring the situation from simmering to boiling – and could possibly spin out of control.
Bottom line: Signs are that Abbas will jump on this opportunity right away and use it as a rationale for postponing the push to the UN. Then, the question will remain as to whether this is just a gambit on Bibi’s part to head Abu Mazen off at the UN pass – or whether he is really ready to move the peace process forward.
But there is another issue that the American Jewish community – and the U.S. Congress for that matter – must face. Will those who mercilessly criticized the President back in May, now “apologize” to him? Shouldn’t they? Because less than three months after the President was excoriated by Netanyahu, members of Congress, and many in the American Jewish community – the Prime Minister of Israel has now come around to exactly what Obama presented regarding borders in his two speeches (you can read key passages from those speeches here: https://beyondzs.com/2011/07/23/another-look-at-the-obama-and-netanyahu-speeches-given-in-may/). I hope that all who criticized the President then, will now come out and admit they were wrong in doing so. Or, alternatively, I hope they will level the same criticism at Prime Minister Netanyahu as they did at Obama back then.
Rhetorical Question: If “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” was so terrible in May – how can it be a good idea now?
- Netanyahu said to be ready to deal on borders (cbc.ca)
- Middle East peace process boost as Netanyahu ‘ready to negotiate borders’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- Netanyahu signals new Palestinian state talks (independent.co.uk)
- TV: Israel agrees to negotiate over pre-’67 lines – Houston Chronicle (news.google.com)
- Report: ’67 Borders Agreement (timesunion.com)
- Israel ‘ready to negotiate borders with Palestinians’ (telegraph.co.uk)