Sunday, November 30, 2008
In his closing remarks, president Robert Kaplan of the Workmen’s Circle acknowledged that recent events had somewhat eclipsed the conference’s theme. Still, it was a serious and largely successful event.
Ann Toback, the new WC executive director, opened with heartfelt remarks in which she mentioned her discomfort at anti-war demonstrations, because of their frequent anti-Israel overtones. This sentiment was shared by some participants throughout the day, but I wish this had been more of an explicit focus and concern for the conference as a whole.
Showing a certain lack of sensitivity, the feisty former member of Congress, Elizabeth Holtzman, made the jolting pronouncement that Jews played a critical role in bringing about the Iraq war and then asked why Israel is "the only country welcoming George Bush." A problem with her first statement is that it highlights the Jewish ethnicity of most prominent neo-conservative backers of the war rather than their politics. The problem with her second point is that it ignores the understandable human psychology involved in a country that was traumatized by several years of attacks that murdered nearly 1,000 civilians, and is thereby comforted by supportive rhetoric from the president of a friendly power. My complaint with Holtzman has nothing to do with my view of the actual issues, on which I am much closer to her than to those she’s criticizing.
Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Reform movement’s Social Action Center who spoke at the same opening panel, politely took issue with Ms. Holtzman’s sharp tone. He acknowledged that the Iraq war has left both the US and Israel worse off in every way, but the main challenge now is "how to extricate ourselves."
Similarly, in a breakout panel on Israel and Iraq, J Street lobbyist Jeremy Ben-Ami was a study in contrast with the Israel Policy Forum’s M. J. Rosenberg. Ben-Ami’s first year as the founding director of J Street has been remarkably successful in raising money and in electing friendly legislators to Congress. He is informed by his experience to caution against direct attacks on AIPAC, because "you are attacking a community identity" and many of its 100,000 members actually "agree with us" on the issues. Let's "frame our arguments on what we stand for, not on what we are against," he urged. On the other hand, Rosenberg completely buys the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis that equates the "neocons" with the Israel Lobby.
Later that day, Ben-Ami engaged in dialogue with Leslie Cagan, director of the anti-war movement umbrella organization, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). Unsurprisingly, Cagan opposes the Obama campaign plank for a gradual phased withdrawal from Iraq, demanding instead an immediate and complete end to the war "now, not a month from now." With these words, she makes the assumption that an immediate US withdrawal would simply end the war, rather than very possibly cause a new spike in inter-communal violence.
Ms. Cagan declared herself a "secular Jew," a likely statement of solidarity with the audience. In response to a comment from the floor on how the anti-Israel framing of anti-war protests has inhibited greater Jewish participation, Cagan admitted to being more interested in opposing manifestations of antisemitism than anti-Israel expressions; but in what may be a significant step for her, she also stated the need to oppose instances of being "anti-the nation of Israel." Taken at face value, this is something of a departure from the UFPJ’s neutral stance regarding a one versus two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and the UFPJ’s inclusion in its coalition of pro-Palestinian militants who advocate a full "right of return" for Palestinians to what is now Israel.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The conference concluded with a keynote address by "Democracy Now" newscaster Amy Goodman – a bravura performance received with a standing ovation. Ms. Goodman was funny, incisive, discursive and provocative as she moved from the thrill of Barack Obama’s election ("the community organizer in chief") to the battles of Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks against slavery and Jim Crow, and far beyond. She discussed her background as a granddaughter of an Orthodox rabbi, "davening" [praying] in the women’s balcony and how she and her brother recently visited their ancestral home country of Estonia and the Lithuanian setting where her grandfather studied in a yeshiva.
Her first mention of caution, of the need to counter conservative influences on Obama, was to refer to the nasty and thoughtless comment by the father of Obama’s new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel: "Obviously, he’ll influence the President to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to be mopping the floors at the White House."
She elided the two last sentences together to make the statement overtly racist. I can’t say that she meant to misquote Benjamin Emanuel (a pediatrician who grew up in pre-state Israel and was a right-wing Irgun supporter as a youth), but we don’t know from the syntax if he actually meant to emphasize that his son would be pro-Israel and that he’d be there to influence policy (not to mop the floors), or to insult Arabs by contending that they would only be in the White House to mop the floors. She didn’t blame the son for the father’s transgression, but made an issue in claiming that Rahm Emanuel took a week to apologize directly to the Arab community. ("From the fullness of my heart, I personally apologize on behalf of my family and me. These are not the values upon which I was raised or those of my family.")
Still, in a marvelous turn, Goodman revealed the startling fact that Donald Rumsfeld is the current owner of a former Maryland plantation called Mt. Misery, where Frederick Douglass was once tormented as a slave. And she recalled recently interviewing South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu as he proclaimed his joy at Obama’s victory; then, she said, Tutu immediately started "talking about Gaza. After all, he grew up in apartheid South Africa."
Continuing in a brilliantly seamless stream of consciousness, she described how she and her two producers were arrested and manhandled by the police outside the Republican National Convention. She artfully interweaved the fact that Israel has recently closed off the Gaza Strip to journalists, as its blockade tightens. She entirely neglected to mention the new wave of Palestinian rocket attacks launched in response to Israel’s action against a terrorist attempt to tunnel into Israel.
Even recounting these interrelated actions and counteractions shows how complicated Israel’s situation is, but Amy Goodman consistently examines only one side – the damage done to Palestinians and their supporters. Ms. Goodman is absolutely correct in intoning some great aphorisms: "media covers power, [but] is not for power"; "media is the Fourth Estate, not for the state"; and "only through knowing can we repair." But her extreme anti-Israel bias makes it impossible for her to be a fair and credible source of news and analysis relating to Israel. This is a shame, considering how earnest and well-meaning she surely is in her heart of hearts.
Since there was no Q & A following her speech, there was no opportunity for a public dialogue with her. I may return to say more on this conference. There was a lot to reflect upon. Happy Thanksgiving!
Monday, November 24, 2008
Last year , the Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafy invited the Jews of Libya to ‘come home’. In October, a Jewish delegation did return for the first time in almost 40 years - and was well received. They wished to visit their roots, renew business ties, seek the restoration of Jewish communal sites and compensation for lost property. (A follow-up visit of some 20 Israelis of Libyan origin was scheduled for March 2005, the first time Israeli citizens will have set foot on Libyan soil.) And Libya, anxious to be rehabilitated in the post-Saddam era, seems eager to usher in a new era of reconciliation.
Yet this was not the first time the Libyan leader had asked the Jews to return to the land of their birth. When he made a similar offer in 1975 (‘Are you not Arabs like us, Arab Jews?’), Albert Memmi, the Tunisian-born French writer and intellectual [whom we know also as a supporter of left Zionism -- ed.], scoffed:
"Yes, indeed we were Arab Jews – in our habits, in our culture, our music, our menu. But must one remain an Arab Jew if, in return, one has to tremble for one’s life and the future of one’s children and always be denied a normal existence? We would have liked to be Arab Jews. If we abandoned the idea, it is because over the centuries the Muslim Arabs systematically prevented its realization by their contempt and cruelty." Click here to read this entire enlightening article online at the Jewish Quarterly Web site.
Friday, November 21, 2008
... Obama’s first action as President-elect was to appoint as chief of his White House staff, Rahm Emanuel, a Chicago Congressman [with paternal Israeli roots].
The chief strategist of Obama’s campaign, David Axelrod, is Rahm Emanuel’s [Chicago] chum [the former is a Jew who grew up in Manhattan]. He was given the honor of witnessing Emanuel’s marriage ketuba [marriage contract].
The President-elect has repeatedly proclaimed his support for Israel and he promises to protect its security. All of these facts mean nothing to the anti-Obama Jewish bloggers. They are right and we, the 78 percent of American Jews who voted for Obama, are wrong, and we will soon find out how wrong we were.
One of them goes under the name of Agbenjamin. He or she has been sending out at least one, and some days two, anti-Obama scribbles. When he runs out of vitriol he quotes Arlene Kushner, an American residing in Jerusalem, who is more violent than he is.
On November 10 Benjamin wrote: "They still don’t know the damage they’ve done. Both fuel and electricity will skyrocket in the weeks following the coronation in January. And this will come in the midst of one of the worst winters in decades."
Predicting the weather two months from now is easy for an anti-Obama blogger. The facts are that oil prices have tumbled in anticipation of Obama fulfilling his campaign promise of concentrating on massive development of solar and wind power. Benjamin predicts a large price increase because, he says, Obama will ban drilling. He will not. We will still need oil, Obama says.
... CNN claimed that over 70 percent of Americans in Israel voted for McCain. This figure came from a straw poll organized by a recent immigrant who polled his Orthodox friends. The Economist, a British weekly that the secular Jews read, took a poll of its readers that resulted in 72 percent for Obama.
The Arabs greeted Obama’s election with caution. The Damascus blog in Syria wrote: "Dare we hope that the eight-year nightmare is over?"
The Egyptian Chronicle editorialized: "The Egyptian people are glad that Obama won despite his bias towards Israel and his vice-president is a Zionist. Still they are happy because they can’t stand the Republicans any more. Good for the Americans."
The Jewish anti-Obamists have been joined in the attack by anti-Israel polemicists who have labeled Rahn Emanuel the son of a Jewish terrorist. Dr. Bernard Emanuel [a pediatrician] was born in Jerusalem. He emigrated to Chicago after the state was born. But prior to the state he had joined the Irgun. He says that he was a simple soldier and that he never met Menachem Begin.
The underground Irgun fought the British government of Palestine by blowing up bridges and government installations. Their crowning achievement was to blow up the West wing of the King David Hotel which was occupied by the British Government. Many more Jewish workers were killed than their British bosses.
As the first director of Americans for the Haganah in 1947, I was in the business of combating these Jewish terrorists. After Israel was born in 1948, the terrorists became good citizens and leaders of the people. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister and candidate for Prime Minister Tsipi Livni are both children of leading Irgunists.
Dr. Bernard Emanuel came to Chicago, married Martha Shulevitz and fathered three boys two years apart. Rahm was the middle son. He was the mediator when the eldest and the youngest fought, says his mother.
Bernard taught his boys Hebrew and sent them to summer camp in Israel. When the boys were teenagers he and Martha, who had always wanted a girl, adopted the infant daughter of a patient. The baby had been brain damaged at birth.
Rahm entered politics as a fund-raiser for Mayor Daley of Chicago. He was President Clinton’s chief fund-raiser for six years. He left the white House two years before the end of Clinton’s second term to become director of a finance company that arranged mergers and acquisitions.
His income for the two and a half years that he was in business was over $16 million, according to his disclosure to Congress. He ran for Congress four times beginning in 2002, garnering over 70 percent of the vote in every election.
Obama gave him another difficult choice when he asked him to be the White House chief of staff. He has to give up his seat in Congress, where he has become a leader in the Democratic caucus.His wife, Amy, and their three children, who are attending the same Jewish day school that he went to, will lose their close friends in Chicago and will have to establish new roots in Washington.
Rahm Emanuel has maintained contact with Bill Clinton. He talks to Bill about once a month. Eight years ago, towards the end of his second term, Bill Clinton proposed an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which still remains on the table. It is a two state solution, which, more or less evenly divides Jerusalem.
After eight years of lackadaisical incompetence, it will be good to have a team of knowledgeable people discussing how Israel should handle the settlers in the West Bank and bring to fruition two viable states living side by side in peace and tranquility.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Prof. Solomon lectures in the Department of Political Sciences, where he is also Director of the Centre for International Political Studies (CiPS). Currently he is also Nelson Mandela Chair in African Studies at Jawahrlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India.
Hamas and the Quest for Peace by Hussein Solomon
Realizing that there is no realistic prospect for peace between Israel and Palestine unless the Palestinian factions can unite behind one common negotiating position, the Egyptian government planned to host a conference at the Egyptian resort of Sharm-el-Shaikh today [Nov. 10] in an attempt to unite no fewer than 13 Palestinian factions. Click here for the entire article online.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Settlers Who Long to Leave the West Bank by Ethan Bronner
There are 280,000 settlers in the West Bank (200,000 more Israeli Jews live in East Jerusalem, also captured in 1967), and the vast majority are firmly committed to staying and oppose a Palestinian state here. But 80,000 of them live beyond the barrier, and surveys indicate that many would leave. If they did, others might follow voluntarily.
"We did a survey three years ago and again last year, and the results were the same," said Avshalom Vilan, a Parliament member from the left-wing Meretz Party. "Half the settlers beyond the barrier are ideologically motivated and do not want to move. But about 40 percent of them are ready to go for a reasonable price."
Mr. Vilan is a leader of a movement called Bayit Ehad, or One Home, which wants a law budgeting $6 billion to buy the homes of 20,000 families so they can start over inside Israel. Much of the leadership of the governing centrist Kadima Party and the left-leaning Labor Party supports the law in principle, and the government has heard several presentations about it. ...
The law’s advocates say... a settler withdrawal from the West Bank would strengthen the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas. The authority is trying to convince the Palestinian public that two states are possible. The advocates add that the whole point is to start the movement early in order to encourage others to follow suit and begin an orderly process for a politically and emotionally complex undertaking. ...
[Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni has said that as soon as there is a framework for a two-state solution, she is willing to look more seriously at passing the law. ...
Some houses that have been abandoned by settlers unwilling to stay have been filled by young religious families that pay minimal rent and are directed there by the settlers’ leadership. Mr. Vilan, the leftist lawmaker, said that under his law, moving into settlement houses bought by the government would be an offense punishable by up to five years in prison.
One Home has held several dozen meetings around West Bank settlements urging those who want to leave to become active in the movement. ...
"We came for a house we could afford in a good environment," she [Monika Yzchaki of Mevo Dotan settlement] said by telephone. "Many don’t understand that there are a lot of us who are not extremists or crazy. Now I have to show a passport at the barrier to get home. I am now living in Palestine. It used to be that I thought it was my country and they thought it was theirs. Today it is very clear it is their country." She added, "I can name 40 families that want to leave but are afraid to say it aloud."
Asked for her view of a Palestinian state, she said: "I think there should be a two-state solution. You cannot live with people who don’t have independence. They have to learn their own language, teach their children their own heritage. But that is their problem. My problem is that my government has left me behind." Again, the entire article is online at the NY Times Web site.
Friday, November 14, 2008
In the current election campaign, a new paradigm might be emerging, though, in which Meretz gains at the expense of a withering Labor: Witness the large number of senior figures associated with the Labor Party who are in the process of ‘defecting’ and creating a new left-Zionist movement that will run with and support Meretz in the upcoming elections. The latest news flash from Haaretz (scroll down to Friday at 17:27) reports that Labor MK, Major-General (retired) Ami Ayalon, will be part of this movement as well. There are also rumors that Meretz might recruit Labor/Meimad MK, Rabbi Michael Melchior.
Similarly, the latest polls indicate that while Meretz might increase its strength in the Knesset by 40%, Labor is looking at a decline of 1/3 of its Knesset representation. The following articles add insight into the latest developments:
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Now that Halloween is past and the McCain campaign is no longer trying to scare us with Bill Ayres "the terrorist and Obama friend" and Sarah Palin is no longer dressing up as a Kremlinologist, we can begin to concentrate on what an Obama foreign policy might look like. American and Israeli peaceniks, tired of a five year pause in American mediation efforts in the Middle East, are pushing for a rapid re-engagement of America in the Palestinian track of the Middle East peace process. I believe that this would be a serious mistake because the situation is still unripe for peace. This is due to several reasons concerning the Americans, the Israelis, and the Palestinians.
Let’s start with the new administration. Its top primary will be attempting to save the American economy and stabilize the international economy. Then there is the matter of the new Obama healthcare plan and a new energy plan. The top foreign policy priority will be the twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. How to safely withdraw from the former and stabilize the latter is the big question that will demand the attention of the President, his secretary of state and secretary of defense.
Israel faces new elections early next year. This may result in a return to power of Binyamin Netanyahu, who as prime minister nearly killed off the Middle East peace process in the mid-to-late 1990s. He will either form a new version of the right-wing Shamir and Sharon Likud coalition governments or another government of national disunity—a recipe for paralysis.
The peace camp of Labor and Meretz is at less than half of its combined Knesset representation under Rabin in 1992. Labor is at best able to be the junior partner in a Kadima-led coalition. And Israel’s dysfunctional electoral system makes peacemaking difficult if not impossible under the best of circumstances.
The Palestinians are divided between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah on the West Bank. President Mahmoud Abbas lacks a strong domestic constituency within the West Bank. And the Palestinians are still committed to claiming a "right of return," which Abbas (Abu Mazen) would be loath to relinquish due to the nationalistic competition with Hamas. Abu Mazen is in no position to make Palestinian concessions to match the Israeli concessions that the Palestinians justifiably demand.
Does this mean that the new Obama administration can do nothing? Not at all. President Bashir Assad is in a strong position in Damascus. If Israel is willing to give up control of all of the Golan, captured in June 1967, Damascus will be in a position to "normalize" its relations with Israel at least to the minimal extent that Egypt did after 1982. Negotiations under Turkish mediation are ongoing. Obama should use them as an opportunity to implement a policy of dual mediation in conjunction with the European Union. This was the structure that eventually led to success in Northern Ireland, and the Middle East is infinitely more complicated due to greater religious differences, territorial dimensions, settlements, refugees and outside interference. A successful peace settlement in Israeli-Syrian negotiations could serve as a model for dual mediation in the Palestinian track under Obama in a second term or under a future American administration.
A new administration can also explore means of dealing with structural impediments to the peace process from the Israeli side. These include the problems of illegal settlements that have been ignored for eight years under Bush, Israel’s dysfunctional coalition politics, and the weakness of the peace camp. A new administration should quietly explore inducements that might persuade the three main parties in Israel (Kadima, Labor, Likud) to unite to pass major electoral reform in the Knesset. This could take the form of a new form of proportional representation, a mixed system of proportional representation and American style first-past-the-post single member constituencies or simply raising the bar to admission to the Knesset to ban parties that win less than four or five percent of the vote.
It should be kept in mind that the French Fourth Republic, with a coalition system similar to Israel’s, was incapable of withdrawing from Algeria. It took a De Gaulle and pressure from the military to implement major constitutional reform. Possibly similar pressure will have to come from outside.
Labor is suffering from demographic disadvantages compared to the Likud and Kadima (for historical reasons these two parties appeal more to Russians and Mizrahi Oriental Jews). It is also experiencing a backlash from a peace process gone bad (as is Meretz) and from poor performance in the Second Lebanon War. Unless an organized viable party constituency for a realistic two-state solution can be created in Israel, Israel will remain as incapable of making peace as the Palestinians are at present.
And Obama must show Israel that continuing to erect illegal settlements is not cost free. Secretary of State Condi Rice failed to extract a price for settlement expansion during the Olmert government. Unless Washington can prevent Jerusalem from continuing to colonize the West Bank, Hamas might be able to either topple the Fatah administration in the West Bank or rally the Palestinians into expanding the Intifada into a new terrorist war that will provoke another Israeli invasion of Gaza. Although the time for a final settlement is not yet ripe, Washington will have to engage at some serious level, to keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from boiling over, even as it deals with more pressing priorities elsewhere.
Thomas Mitchell, Ph.D., is a graduate of Hebrew University and the doctoral program in international relations at the University of Southern California. He specializes in research on deeply divided societies – particularly Arab-Palestine, Northern Ireland, and 19th century America.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
When it comes to the question of the Middle East, one must not only hope, but also demand, that the Obama administration will learn from the tragic mistakes of his predecessor, who left Israeli-Arab diplomacy to atrophy for almost seven full years.
There is ample reason for optimism. Standing before an AIPAC audience in June, Mr. Obama clearly committed himself to reversing President Bush's head-in-the-sand approach and being a proactive President when it comes to the Middle East:
"As President I will work to help Israel achieve the goal of two states--a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security and I won't wait--I won't wait until the waning days of my presidency. I will take an active role and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start of my administration."READ MORE ...!
Sunday, November 09, 2008
In 1963, two months after Dr. Martin Luther King said that he had a dream, and Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary sang "How many roads must a man walk down/before they can call him a man" before hundreds of thousands of freedom marchers in the heart of Washington, I came from New York to live on Kibbutz Barkai in Israel, a few kilometers from the West Bank border.
On Friday, November 22nd, the kibbutz held an evening of local artists, and as a product of the folk song revolution sweeping America, I sang, together with my even younger wife Nava, the first Israeli rendition of Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind." This came naturally, given that she grew up in a progressive housing complex in the Bronx. One of her older brother's friends was Richie Havens, a child of one of the few black families in the neighborhood, who was to sing "Freedom" a few years later at Woodstock, and her father had fought against fascism in Spain in the Lincoln Brigade, which inspired so many songs of struggle like "Viva La Quince Brigada" and others.
As for myself, after 8 years of studying the piano like a good Jewish boy, I had discovered the guitar, the "People's Song Book" and "Sing Out!" magazine, which had inspired a revival of folk and protest music. As a contemporary of the new generation of singer/songwriters like Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and Paul Simon, it seemed natural to pick up a guitar and sing, in Washington Square, on the New York subway or before the lawn in Washington in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
And it seemed natural to sing "Blowin’ in the Wind" on our first Friday night on a kibbutz, a noble experiment in communal living with a national and a universal message, which philosopher Martin Buber had declared was "an experiment which has not failed." [But] That evening we were stunned to learn via the BBC that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, a man who when he had been elected had offered promise of a new vision for America and the world. And even if his record was flawed, the promise had remained until it was so tragically cut short on that dramatic day in Dallas. Later more promises were cut short with the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King.
Still, Sam Cooke sang "A Change is Gonna Come." And later Lee Dorsey sang "Yes We Can." And today we are still trying to grasp the incredible image of President-Elect Barack Obama, standing alongside Vice President-elect Joe Biden, with the promise of a better future for America and the world.
As Vice Chair of Democrats Abroad – Israel, I have found myself giving an endless marathon of interviews in the past few months to the Israeli and international media.
On November 4th, on the day of the 13th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin which cut short another promise, I climbed three flights of stairs in a crumbling building in the poor and crowded religious town of Bnai Brak to give an interview to the ultra-Orthodox radio station "Radio Kol Chai". One of the station's staff said that all of his friends in the United States are afraid of Barack Hussein Obama and intend to vote for McCain.
I responded that the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews are only 10-15% of American Jewry, that all the rest are either Reform, Conservative or secular, and that about 75% of the American Jewish community were going to vote for Obama. I added that he should be concerned that as a fundamentalist evangelical Christian, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, apparently believes in the rapture and end of days scenario, which says that all Jews should ingather into Israel and then convert or go to hell. The senior interviewer at the station, an intelligent secular guy who was born in South Africa and had been deputy editor of the right-wing "Makor Rishon" newspaper, understood where Obama was coming from, and why he was inspiring the younger generation.
Later that evening, Brazilian TV interviewed me at Mike's Place on the Tel Aviv boardwalk, asking about my expectations from a prospective Obama administration. When we finished the interviewer said to me that "the hopes of billions of people around the world are with Obama tonight."
On the morning of November 5th, the day after the elections, I found myself on the roof of the Arab-owned Aboulafiya Restaurant in Old Jaffa, overlooking the Mediterranean beach and the Tel Aviv shoreline. This time, a powerful reflection of the changes taking place in the Middle Eastern media landscape, it was Al Jazeera, which has offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The crew, an English woman, a New Zealander and some Israeli Jews and Arabs, reminded me of the types that were drawn to Abie Nathan's Voice of Peace radio station, motivated by a mixture of adventure and idealism (and unlike the Voice of Peace presumably a decent salary).
In constant contact with there home base in Doha the capital of Qatar, a live broadcast was bouncing back and forth from Gaza to Ramallah to Tel Aviv. The counterpart commentator representing the Israeli right was former Israeli ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon, who recently came out of the closet as an extreme right-winger, joining Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party. As we argued (politely, in whispers, about their transfer plan, which he insisted on calling a "reorganization of the borders" plan) Jackie the interviewer firmly said to us, like an English schoolmarm trying to bring back the Mandate to maintain order, "Quiet! We are about to go live."
Ayalon tried to correct history, saying that he was "misinterpreted" if anyone believes that he supported McCain, and he added a sound-bite that the interviewer liked, that he hopes and believes that "Obama will treat the Iranians with an iron fist inside a velvet diplomatic glove."
I said that, from the perspective of my dual role as Vice Chair of Democrats Abroad-Israel and Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, Obama's victory creates new opportunities for progress in the Middle East, and in the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab peace process. While noting that no one should doubt that the Obama administration will maintain the so-called "special relationship" between America and Israel, the important thing is that in addition to providing political, military and economic support, his administration has committed itself to being engaged, from the beginning, in actively helping to promote the peace process. And I added that this should and will be based on active cooperation with Europe and the Arab Peace Initiative.
The times they are a-changing. New opportunities are a-coming. Yes we can.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Permit me to say that I am deeply moved. I wish to thank each and every one of you, who have come here today to take a stand against violence and for peace. This government, which I am privileged to head, together with my friend Shimon Peres, decided to give peace a chance – a peace that will solve most of Israel's problems.
I was a military man for 27 years. I fought so long as there was no chance for peace. I believe that there is now a chance for peace, a great chance. We must take advantage of it for the sake of those standing here, and for those who are not here – and they are many.
I have always believed that the majority of the people want peace and are ready to take risks for peace. In coming here today, you demonstrate, together with many others who did not come, that the people truly desire peace and oppose violence. Violence erodes the basis of Israeli democracy. It must be condemned and isolated. This is not the way of the State of Israel. In a democracy there can be differences, but the final decision will be taken in democratic elections, as the 1992 elections which gave us the mandate to do what we are doing, and to continue on this course.
I want to say that I am proud of the fact that representatives of the countries with whom we are living in peace are present with us here, and will continue to be here: Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco, which opened the road to peace for us. I want to thank the President of Egypt, the King of Jordan, and the King of Morocco, represented here today, for their partnership with us in our march towards peace.
But, more than anything, in the more than three years of this Government's existence, the Israeli people has proven that it is possible to make peace, that peace opens the door to a better economy and society; that peace is not just a prayer. Peace is first of all in our prayers, but it is also the aspiration of the Jewish people, a genuine aspiration for peace.
There are enemies of peace who are trying to hurt us, in order to torpedo the peace process. I want to say bluntly, that we have found a partner for peace among the Palestinians as well: the PLO, which was an enemy, and has ceased to engage in terrorism. Without partners for peace, there can be no peace. We will demand that they do their part for peace, just as we will do our part for peace, in order to solve the most complicated, prolonged, and emotionally charged aspect of the Israeli-Arab conflict: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
This is a course which is fraught with difficulties and pain. For Israel, there is no path that is without pain. But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war. I say this to you as one who was a military man, someone who is today Minister of Defense and sees the pain of the families of the IDF soldiers. For them, for our children, in my case for our grandchildren, I want this Government to exhaust every opening, every possibility, to promote and achieve a comprehensive peace. Even with Syria, it will be possible to make peace.
This rally must send a message to the Israeli people, to the Jewish people around the world, to the many people in the Arab world, and indeed to the entire world, that the Israeli people want peace, support peace. For this, I thank you.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
.... Released in English translation in Britain in July, Israel and the Family of Nations: The Jewish Nation-State and Human Rights, though accessible to the educated layman, is a thoroughly researched academic work. ... The authors are Hebrew University history professor Alexander Yakobson, a former Meretz activist and Peace Now member with a regular op-ed column in Haaretz, and renowned professor of constitutional law Amnon Rubinstein, a Meretz minister of education in the Oslo years [and a retired Meretz MK– ed.] and author of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.
This background informs their argument. This is not a book that defends government policies. As Yakobson explained in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, ... the two scholars are tackling ... "an ideological assault ... on the basic premise of a Jewish state and the two-state solution."
"Internationally this is a very widespread argument," Yakobson notes. "Tony Judt in the New York Review of Books wrote that the very idea of a Jewish state is ... an anachronism...." The significance: Judt "is not some Trotskyite or radical. He belongs to the liberal mainstream. ..."
... they quote Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling arguing that Israel must change its Law of Return for the sake of the "normalization and democratization of the state." Kimmerling is one representative of those learned detractors who argue that Israel's relationship to the Jews of the world, its favoring a particular group of non-citizens (the Jewish Diaspora) over other non-citizens, is discriminatory and even racist.
But, note Yakobson and Rubinstein, this view ... is actually opposed to the theory and practice of democratic states, particularly in Europe.
Their proof is exhaustive. In 2001, they write, a commission of European legal scholars was convened to advise the Council of Europe on constitutional issues "that conform to the standards of Europe's constitutional heritage." It concluded, in the authors' words, that "it is a recognized European norm that a nation-state can maintain official ties with its [ethno-cultural] 'kin' outside its borders and treat them preferentially in certain areas, including immigration and naturalization."
Thus, the European lawyers, sitting as the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the "Venice Commission"), not only praised the connection of "kin minorities" abroad to their "kin states" through ethnic and cultural ties, but in their report noted "favorably the growing tendency of kin states" to act to protect their ethnic minorities abroad - minorities who are not and have never been citizens of that state.
In fact, legislation offering both favorable naturalization and some benefits without naturalization to non-citizen "kin minorities" can be found in Ireland, Greece, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Russia and Armenia. International agreements protecting kin minorities exist between Austria and Italy (establishing specific rights for German-speakers in Tyrol), Denmark and Germany, Italy and Slovenia and among several "new democracies" in Eastern Europe.
In Germany, the constitution and subsequent legislation have conferred on all ethnic Germans from ex-USSR countries the right to automatic citizenship. As the book explains, "This applied to a large population of ethnic Germans living in those areas for hundreds of years, without any civic or geographic connection with the modern German state."
Even Finland, "a long-standing Western liberal democracy" with a national identity that includes all citizens, the Swedish-speaking alongside the Finnish-speaking, has a Finnish-speaking law of return. According to this legislation, ethnic Finns who emigrated from modern-day Finland to lands in Russia and Estonia as far back as the 17th century enjoy Finnish governmental assistance in preserving their ethno-cultural identity where they live, while their immigration to Finland is expedited and defined by the state as a "repatriation" to their homeland.
... Indeed, the Palestinians themselves will enjoy such a relationship with their own extensive diaspora, Yakobson points out. "Everyone understands that if and when there is a Palestinian Arab state it will have a law of return within its boundaries. ..."
... In dealing with the argument equating Zionism with colonialism - a favorite in both academia and Arab politics - the authors once again bring homegrown Israeli anti-Zionists into the ring.
The claim that Zionism was "a movement of 'pure' colonialist settlement" is taken from the writings of Ben-Gurion University professor Oren Yiftachel, who explains in passing that this is true despite a few "clear differences when compared to other colonialist movements." These differences, he elaborates in a footnote, are "the character of Zionism as an ethnic-national project rather than an economic one; the refugee status of most of the [immigrating] Jews; a loosely connected network of Jewish communities in the Diaspora rather than well-organized mother states; and the concept of 'the Return to Zion' anchored in the Jewish tradition."
In other words, Yakobson and Rubinstein note with some sarcasm, "Zionism is in every sense a colonialist phenomenon ... except for its being a national movement not motivated by an economic profit motive, that it grew out of Jewish distress and was implemented by people definable as refugees, that the settlers did not have a colonial mother state and that the connection to the Land of Israel was part of the traditional historic identity of the Jewish people." .... one is left with the sense that those arguing against the possibility of a Jewish and democratic state (and often against the viability of modern Israel) are more the victims of intellectual laziness than rabid ideology. Perhaps the clearest example of this is the claim made often in the Arab world and Western academia - and even among some Jews - that the Jews are merely a religious community and not a people, and therefore don't "qualify" for a nation-state.
"On the Left, it is usually said that 'peoplehood' should be defined by the people in question and not externally. This is why we rejected Golda Meir's statement that the Palestinian Arabs are not a distinct 'Palestinian people.' We claim for the Jews the same privilege," Yakobson insists. "The international community explicitly recognized the Jews as a people with national rights - the UN in voting for partition and a Jewish state in 1947, and the League of Nations which supported a 'Jewish national home' in Mandatory Palestine. Even those who speak of a binational state, like Judt, must base this on the premise that there are two national peoples, two national communities."
Most importantly, the Palestinians themselves "accept that there are two peoples here. In all their constitutional documents, the Palestinians define themselves as the Palestinian Arab people, part of the Arab nation. They never claimed that the Jews in this country are a religious community within the Palestinian people. In fact, maybe the only thing Jews and Palestinians agreed on is that they belong to two different peoples."
In short, he says, "the whole argument is absurd." So absurd, in fact, that Yakobson wonders if "the right to national self-determination is some kind of a club with a 'no Jews allowed' sign hanging at the entrance. The principles of national self-determination are widely accepted by the Left worldwide as a universal principle. We support this right when it comes to the Palestinians. Why do many people on the Left refuse to apply this principle to the Jewish people?"
AT THE end of the day, Yakobson and Rubinstein are doves, and their motive for writing the book reflects that sensibility. Efforts to undermine Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state are not just intellectually dishonest, Yakobson argues, but they are actually preventing peace....
"Whoever supports a two-state solution should know that you cannot then evade the question of the legitimacy of the Jewish state. If you attack the idea of a Jewish national home as colonialism and imperialism, you are contributing to the conflict and to the price the Palestinians have paid. And clearly," Yakobson adds, "it is the Palestinians who have paid most of the price."
This article can be read in full at the Jeruselam Post Website.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Ms. Barag knows that Israel has legitimate security concerns; she is not "anti-Israel" or anti-Zionist. But the indignities and abuses heaped upon the Palestinian population by an overly rigid and bureaucratically entrenched system that Israel expanded as a result of the Intifada, in the name of security, has long term impacts that undermine Israel’s security by inspiring hatred.
Machsom Watch (MW) opposes the occupation of the West Bank but Barag – a petite grandmotherly figure – states that "both parties have a full right to self-determination" and that "the State of Israel has a right, even duty, to protect its citizens." And if the checkpoints and security barrier (fence/wall) were built along the pre-June ‘67 Green Line, she says, their organization would not exist. Yet she sees the 93 manned checkpoints, the 630 unmanned barriers and a number of "flying checkpoints" (sudden and temporary in nature) as primarily serving the interests of nearby settlements.
As an Israeli citizen, she is "embarrassed" by what she and her colleagues witness. Her stories are heartbreaking: of Tafiq, a Palestinian whom MW advocated for when soldiers punished his young son for not responding to them, without knowing that he was mute and retarded. MW then responded to Tafiq’s calls for help as his wife was going into premature labor at night and they were blocked at a checkpoint from getting to a hospital; Tafiq’s wife gave birth as the young soldiers dawdled over their pleas to let them pass, and the baby died. Or of another Palestinian man whom they helped get diagnosed with the urgent need for a liver transplant but bureaucratic delays caused to die before he could secure passage to Jordan for treatment. Or of farmers blocked by the security barrier from their crops by the fence/wall to their west, with their children similarly blocked from school, as the few gates are opened only at inadequately minimal times.
The arbitrariness of Israeli rule in the West Bank is insidious and maddening. As Ms. Barag sees it: "The system applies a never-ending creativity to tire out and aggravate those going through the checkpoints, crushing their patience and their honor to the bone." Read more about this at Dan Fleshler’s "Realistic Dove" blog.