Friday, February 27, 2009
I was reminded of that argument this week, after I read Avigdor Lieberman's attempt to portray himself as an A-1 moderate in an op-ed in the New York Jewish Week.
Here is just one of Lieberman's gems: "Yisrael Beiteinu has no objection to the nonviolent expression of opinion. It is violent speech that forms a clear and present danger that we refuse to tolerate."
But what, pray tell, does the man say in Hebrew? Here's just one snippet from the party's platform. Try and find where the party is only opposing "violent speech":
"An important section of Israel's security as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic [sic] state is a law that makes the citizenship contingent on a declaration of loyalty to the State as a Jewish State, to its symbols, to its sovereignty, and to its declaration of independence, and to accepting the obligation to serve the State in military or alternative non-military service. Only he who signs the declaration will be a citizen entitled to full rights and obligations. Whoever refuses will be entitled to the full rights of a permanent resident, without the right to vote or be elected to the Knesset."
Not a word about "violent speech" or even violence as a criterion for anything. If you don't believe me, here's the item in its original Hebrew:
נדבך חשוב לביטחון ישראל כמדינה יהודית, ציונית ודמוקרטית הוא חוק, המתנה קבלת אזרחות בהצהרת נאמנות למדינה כמדינה יהודית, לסמליה, לריבונותה, ולמגילת העצמאות, וקבלת החובה לשרת את המדינה בשירות צבאי או אזרחי חלופי. רק מי שיחתום על ההצהרה יהיה אזרח הזכאי למלוא הזכויות והחובות. מי שיסרב יהיה זכאי למלוא הזכויות של תושב קבע, ללא הזכות לבחור ולהיבחר לכנסת.
Even David Harris of the American Jewish Committee seems embarrassed by Lieberman's sad attempt to dress up in sheep's clothing. In a so-called "rebuttal op-ed" that the Jewish Week prudently ran (although I don't agree with giving Lieberman a legitimate platform in the first place), here's what Harris had to say:
"[H]is essay does not own up to the views he has expressed elsewhere, or, no less important, to the ugly words he has chosen to express them."
In other words, even the AJC - no bastion of progressive Zionism - realizes just how pathetically hollow Lieberman's op-ed is.
(Unfortunately, Harris refuses to condemn Lieberman outright as an irreparable danger to Israeli democracy. Instead, he feels obliged to help whitewash Lieberman (using phrases such as, "Avigdor Lieberman has a point" and suggesting that Lieberman's campaign was just populist politicking) - just like other mainstream American Jewish organizations, including the ADL and ZOA.
But Lieberman is not the only example. Yesterday, Bibi Netanyahu spoke in his polished English to George Mitchell, promising to honor "all international commitments" made by Israel. But here's what his protege, Likud MK Gilad Erdan, had to say today - in Hebrew - about Tzipi Livni's refusal to join a government that didn't support a two-state solution:
"It's sad that Ms. [Livni] is so worried about Palestinian interests that she's ready to damage national unity and the Israeli interest. In doing so, she is placing herself and Kadima on the extreme, hallucinatory left that always justifies the Palestinians, while the residents of the South continue to endure Kassams and the Iranian threat is closer than ever."
In other words, while Netanyahu plays nice in English, his hatchet man brands former Likudnik Livni as an "Arab lover" and "enemy of the State". It all smells very foul.
So each time we hear Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Lieberman, or others kissing up to the American audience, we need to give them a dose of their own medicine and ask: Yes, but what did he say in Hebrew?
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Abu sees Kadima and Labor dooming themselves if they choose to be in a coalition with a Likud-led government. He sees Labor’s precipitous decline from being Israel’s governing party in the early 1990s and again in 1999-2000, to a record low of 13 seats today, as stemming from its decision to serve as a junior partner in coalition with Sharon’s Likud and more recently with Olmert’s Kadima.
You may recall that Ariel Sharon formed Kadima as a centrist offshoot of Likud as a result of his new policy of unilateral withdrawals, beginning with Gaza in 2005, and with further withdrawals anticipated from parts of the West Bank thereafter. These were plans that his successor Ehud Olmert intended to pursue but were waylaid by the war with Hezbollah in 2006, attacks from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, and the mounting corruption probes against Olmert.
Abu is not impressed by either Livni’s abilities as a national leader or her moderate/dovish credentials. And much of Kadima’s Knesset list consists of relative hawks or right-wingers, including Shaul Mofaz, the party list’s number two name and Livni’s main rival for leadership. Still, many former Labor and Meretz voters were attracted to Livni by the exciting prospect of a second woman prime minister and their view that she is a moderate. And in contrast to the 2006 election when most Kadima seats were drawn from Likud, this time out, most Kadima voters were traditional supporters of Labor and Meretz.
Abu sees a need for a new configuration of the center-left and left that would reclaim these voters. He also notes that 70,000 Israelis "wasted" their votes by casting ballots for several lists on the left that individually failed to pass the threshold of two percent required to make it into the Knesset. These included Greens, a Green Leaf party (dedicated to the legalization of marijuana), the liberal Orthodox Meimad (who had left its alliance with Labor to ally with a group of Greens), and an independent list formed by a rebel personality from Labor, Efraim Sneh. Abu hopes for an alliance that would include Labor’s traditional base as well as these 70,000 "lost" voters. In his view, Meretz can no longer sustain itself as a progressive beacon whose policies are then adopted by the larger parties; Meretz would need to be part of a larger bloc contending directly for power.
As for peace, he sees Israel as having an opportunity to pursue a treaty with Syria, which in turn would weaken Hezbollah and Iran as threats. But Israel would have to be willing to pay the price in terms of losing control over the Golan Heights.
He’d like to see Israel take up the Arab League peace offer. He noted approvingly that the refugees’ component of the Arab offer mentions UN Resolution 194, which he reads as providing Israel with sovereign discretion on who is admitted to Israel, thereby defanging the "right of return" issue.
Abu mentioned the 250 tunnels used for smuggling from Egypt into Gaza, but still movingly expressed compassion for the people of the Gaza Strip, indicating that Israel destroyed or damaged 10 percent of the buildings there. In noting the heavy toll of civilians (more than half of the 1300 Palestinians killed), he recalled Israel’s state of national mourning over its 3,500 war dead in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 – a magnitude of loss still felt by Israel 35 years later. He said that this death toll for Palestinians, especially from this smaller population of Gaza, will have a lasting impact. (Click here for Ron Skolnik's analysis of Abu's talk.)
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Meretz, in its alliance with the "New Movement" – an impressive group of former supporters of the Labor party, environmentalists and other social activists – appeared to be on the verge of contending with a much-weakened Labor party for the main parliamentary home of the Zionist center-left and left. Instead, the war in Gaza intervened and the joint New Movement-Meretz list fell from poll readings of at least eight seats to an actual result of three – down from the outgoing delegation of five.
Abu provided his analysis of what went wrong: There was some defections of traditional Meretz support by staunch doves to the bi-national, predominantly Arab and non-Zionist Hadash party; these voters were disappointed by Meretz statements of support for the initial stages of both the Lebanon war of 2006 and the recent Gaza war.
Basically, the party leader in both cases endorsed the principle of Israel’s right to self-defense against Hezbollah and Hamas respectively. As the Lebanon war ground on, Meretz called for a cease-fire. In the case of Gaza, it warned from the beginning against a ground invasion. But for some Meretz activists and supporters, this position was insufficiently dovish. Still, Abu indicated that this loss to Hadash was a relatively minor 5,000 votes.
A more serious blow came from a basic misunderstanding of Israel’s complex electoral system. Many Meretz votes were lost to Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party, falling for the line that if Kadima won more seats than any other party, Livni would be able to form the next government, which would be more moderate than a government headed by Netanyahu and Likud. While Livni is more moderate on the peace process than Netanyahu-- who ran at the head of a very right-wing list and on a platform that would retain all settlements and not compromise on Jerusalem-- it is not the party that wins the most seats that gets to form a government, but the party that heads the largest ideological bloc of compatible forces. This is normally the party that wins more seats than any of its competitors, but it does not have to be. To be continued...
Monday, February 23, 2009
Bradley Burston, a Haaretz columnist, has reacted to this turn of events with an acerbic column on "how Hollywood likes its Jews"; he contrasts Kate Winslet's win for Best Actress for portraying a Holocaust-related character with the loss for "Bashir." He even quotes Winslet in an awful-sounding snippet in an interview with Ricky Gervais about why she has chosen to play a role in such a film:
Gervais: You doing this, it's so commendable, using your profile to keep the message alive about the Holocaust.
Winslet: God, I'm not doing it for that. We definitely don't need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It's like, how many have there been? You know, we get it. It was grim. Move on. I'm doing it because I noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust, you're guaranteed an Oscar. I've been nominated four times. Never won. The whole world is going, 'Why hasn't Winslet won one?' ... That's why I'm doing it. Schindler's bloody List. The Pianist. Oscars coming outta their ass ...
Kate Winslet is a marvelously talented English actress who is married to the well-known film director, Sam Mendes, who happens to be a Jew. She fully deserved her Oscar for "The Reader"; I don’t agree with Burston that her work in "The Reader" (as opposed to "Revolutionary Road") was less than stellar.
Still, there’s a cynical edge to this exchange that I find appalling, but it evidently helps Burston make his point that "Hollywood knows exactly how it likes its Jews: Victims. Civilian victims. Targets of genocide. None of this Goliath stuff. None of these pre-emptive, disproportionate, morally amorphous behaviors."
Friday, February 20, 2009
Nevertheless, Zand's theory appears to contradict the fact that Jews have not sought new adherents to Judaism for about 1800 years; they have accepted converts somewhat reluctantly. To actively proselytize within either Christian or Muslim dominated societies during most of this time (and even in many Muslim countries today) would have been to court death.
It would be pernicious if the main intent for the promotion of Zand’s book (as opposed to a dispassionate discussion of it) is to deny both the Jewish connection to the land of Israel and even the existence of a Jewish people as such. Most peoples or nations have a somewhat mythic history that reinforces a sense of who they are. This doesn't mean that these nations don't exist or have no right to claim nationhood.
This is one of the lessons I drew from an insightful book by Prof. Rashid Khalidi: Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (Columbia University Press, 1997). He makes the point that “National identity is constructed; it is not an essential, transcendent given....” Khalidi proceeds to relate how Palestinians didn't see themselves as a distinct people until well into the 20th century. Just as anti-Zionist writers and activists would never think of denying Palestinians their understanding of themselves as a people, they should not be denying the Jews their sense of peoplehood – a consciousness born of centuries of persecution, discrimination and worse, not to mention strong religious and cultural continuities.
The notion that each and every Jew has an ironclad ancestral link to the Biblical homeland is something of a myth. The contention that most Jews have no ancestral connection to the land of Israel does not seem credible to me. But even if this were true, to insist on its significance for the issues of our day discounts the role of an evolving historical consciousness in shaping the fact of peoplehood. This would deny the Jewish people the same right to self-determination that progressives demand for other peoples. (This links to Part 1, if you've missed it.)
Thursday, February 19, 2009
In a way, this is not startling. The Zionist movement successfully remade the Jewish people as a nation in the land of Israel. It took a series of scattered religious and ethnic communities and – with the ‘help’ of pervasive and (eventually) genocidal antisemitism – gathered them up and transformed them. This is sometimes referred to as the “Zionist Revolution.”
Unfortunately, the kind of scholarship that Segev writes about – and I don't know how good it is – is being used polemically to delegitimize Israel. As Segev indicates: "Prof. Zand teaches at Tel Aviv University. His book, When and How Was the Jewish People Invented? (published by Resling in Hebrew), is intended to promote the idea that Israel should be a 'state of all its citizens' - Jews, Arabs and others - in contrast to its declared identity as a 'Jewish and democratic state'."
Our liberal or left-Zionist perspective is that Israel can and should be both a “state of all its citizens” and “Jewish” in a non-theocratic and cultural sense. Most of Segev’s discussion has to do with Shlomo Zand’s contentions about converts to Judaism (as well as Palestinian Jewish converts to Islam) and the medieval Turkic Khazar people, whose ruling elite adopted Judaism.
The actual origins of the Jewish people are surely not altogether simple to discern. The factual basis of the Exodus from Egypt and the founding of the early Hebrew tribal confederacy is cloudy. The Exodus may be more myth than fact, or perhaps the experience of one particular group of people that was then embraced by all Hebrews as their common history.
The historical evidence for the original kingdoms of David, Solomon and then of the northern and southern kingdoms (Israel and Judah) seems fairly solid, although probably not exactly as related in the Bible. That there was a later liberated country of Judea, which became an independent kingdom for over a century, is beyond a doubt. It also seems pretty clear to me that most ancient Jewish communities in the Mediterranean world had an ancestral connection with the so-called Holy Land; but this could be a legitimate focus for scholarly research and fair-minded debate. The origins of Jews in Ethiopia, and other parts of Africa and Asia, are not clear and may not have much of a physical connection to ancient Israel.
And there may well be some link to the Khazars for at least some Ashkenazi Jews. But scholars of linguistics tell us that Yiddish developed from Jews who moved east from France and along the Rhine in Germany; this is important because it is evidence that any Khazar connection was an add-on to the Ashkenazi population, not its origin. To be continued...
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
"Obama's America is going to be even-handed in the Middle East not only because that is what Obama is, but because it is what most Americans today expect and want. Younger people, in particular, cannot even imagine that anyone would suggest that even-handedness is bad. To them, that is like saying that the best referee is one who bends the rules to favor one team.
"It is offensive to assume that even-handedness is bad for Israel. To decry even-handedness as intrinsically anti-Israel is to argue that any fair observer will choose the anti-Israel position. That is as perverse as it is wrong. And it is insulting to recommend that the United States be anything but an honest broker in the Middle East."
"Some 2,400 years ago, in Asia Minor, Alexander the Great, with a well-aimed stroke of his sword, untied the Gordian knot. Barack Obama can do the same to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with well-aimed words and action. He must, unequivocally, boldly and clearly, declare that there has been a quantum change in the way that the U.S. government views that conflict. That continuing with the policy of talking about peace while acting in a way that completely contradicts that speech is no longer acceptable. He must declare, in conclusion, that failure is no longer an option; that, in other words, success is a foregone conclusion -- ‘foretold’ (like in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s story, The Chronicle of a Death Foretold). That it must happen at the end of a predetermined period of time -- which can be one, two or three years – when a solution considered fair by an international panel of wise men, or independent arbiters, will be adopted and implemented.
"The American president must take the initiative to do that because the Israelis and the Palestinians are unable, and/or unwilling, to do it by themselves. The former, as shown by the election results of February 10, 2009, have moved radically to the right; the latter are badly divided." The full essay can be found here.
Similar, though not identical, in tone are comments of former Meretz chair, Yossi Beilin, to Haaretz, which reports:
"In the wake of the election, Beilin supports a government headed by Netanyahu 'with Lieberman and the Kahanists.' He says that only a right wing deprived of a left-wing fig leaf will be compelled to adopt the diplomatic initiatives of U.S. President Barack Obama's administration."
It's understandable why progressives have started to pin their hopes on Barack Obama & Co. Israel's election results left little room for optimism.
But even if the US gets into the mix, it won't be able to be effective without there being domestic constituencies in Israel and Palestine to play to, and peace activists doing the "grunt work". In other words, for American intervention to succeed, there needs to be an Israeli peace camp and a Palestinian peace camp who realize that Obama can't do it alone.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Three days after the Israeli elections, it is a time of licking wounds for the Israeli left.
Notwithstanding Kadima's one-seat advantage over the Likud, 28-27, there is certainly no reason for Kadima or the center-left to celebrate, as the final results put Israel's right-wing in firm control of the Knesset, with 65 out of 120 seats. These results do not bode well for either peace or civil rights in Israel.
The odds-on favorite to become Israel's next Prime Minister, therefore, is Bibi Netanyahu of Likud, whether this is at the helm of a purely right-wing government, or in partnership with Kadima. A government based on Likud and Kadima, though in some respects more palatable as it would diminish the influence of Avigdor Lieberman, could still not reasonably be expected to vigorously advance peace with the Palestinians.
Just as sad is the vote tally of the two parties who brought the Oslo agreement to Israel 16 years ago. From their 1992 election totals of 44 and 12 seats, respectively, Labor and Meretz are looking at 13 and 3 this time around. Earlier this week in Haaretz, Akiva Eldar offered a closer look at why the Meretz party lost its initial, promising campaign momentum and ended up suffering a stinging electoral setback.
Talk has already begun regarding a possible realignment on the Israeli left.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
"Vote early and vote often" was the advice I received from a friend in far-off Maine on the morning of the Israeli elections. Well, I voted early, but unlike some ultra-Orthodox Jews who brought ID cards from Brooklyn belonging to their late relatives, only voted once.
Soon afterwards I headed out to be an observer at a polling booth in the heart of Tel Aviv, to make sure the elections were kosher. We even received an official visit from a representative of the State Comptroller's office, who interviewed the secretary, chair and observers, to make sure that democracy and the rule of law were being maintained.
Well, the system is still functioning, and all 33 parties representing the broad spectrum of the Israeli electoral system, from the extreme right to the extreme left, plus esoteric parties like men's rights, down with the banks and the weird combination Graduates of the Green Leaf (legalize pot) and Holocaust Survivors Party all had piles of notes with their party's letters behind the voting booth. But the foundation of Israeli democracy is eroding in the face of a rise in support for fundamentally anti-democratic right-wing parties.
"We're on the Road to Nowhere" sang David Byrne and the Talking Heads on the radio in the background, an accurate sound-track for my feelings, as a cross-section of Tel Avivians came in to vote. I only knew a few of the hundreds who came in to cast their ballots. One was senior Haaretz commentator Yoel Marcus. When I challenged him about the strange, contradictory positions expressed by the paper's lead editorial writers, criticizing the Zionist left for not being unequivocally against the Gaza War in the beginning yet later advocating support for Tzipi Livni against Netanyahu, despite being one of the trio that initiated the war, he smiled and responded that "a variety of opinions was healthy for democracy."
That evening I went to the Tzavta Club for Progressive Culture in Tel Aviv, to watch the results together with the leaders and campaign activists of the left-Zionist Meretz Party. At exactly 10 p.m., when the first exit polls were announced on three parallel screens showing Channels 1, 2 and 10 simultaneously, a cheer went up from the audience when it became clear that Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima Party was ahead of Netanyahu's Likud. However, that moment of mini-euphoria was quickly replaced by a general sense of depression, when the overall picture became clear.
The center-left suffered a resounding defeat, with the right bloc having 65 seats to the center-left's 55 seats, and Avigdor Lieberman's anti-democratic Yisrael Beitenu Party was now the 3rd largest party, with 15 seats, with Labor, the historic social democratic party which established and led the country during the first decades, coming in only 4th with 13 seats.
We now have pupils of the avowed anti-democratic racist Rabbi Meir Kahane sitting in the Knesset. During the campaign, it was revealed that Lieberman was actually a member of Kahane's Kach Party in his youth, while new MK Dr. Michael Ben-Ari of the far right National Union Party says that Kahane was his mentor, and he would like to employ two of the worst settler right-wing agitators, Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir as his parliamentary assistants.
Yisrael Beitenu's anti-Arab campaign slogan "Without loyalty there is no citizenship", coined with the aid of American neo-con political strategist Arthur Finkelstein, recalls the worst of the McCarthy period in the United States. We've come a long way from the original vision of the founders as enshrined in Israel's Declaration of Independence, which said that the state would "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."
In retrospect, it's actually surprising that we didn't reach this point earlier. Perhaps it was only natural that a society living in a constant state of conflict, with periodic wars, would generate anti-democratic tendencies and the desire for "strong leaders" to cope with the challenges. The key to maintaining and preserving Israel's increasingly fragile democracy remains a comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflict.
So where do we go from here? First of all, it's still not clear whether Netanyahu or Livni will be the next prime minister. On election eve we were all treated to the surrealistic spectacle of two victory speeches, since both leaders claimed that they were winners. I listened carefully to Netanyahu's speech, who, despite his Revisionist right-wing views, was modeling himself on Barack Obama's inclusive inaugural speech, trying to speak both for those who elected him and those who did not (despite the protests in his home audience). It's clear that he is very wary of the only glimmer of hope on the Middle Eastern horizon, the election of Obama as the 44th President of the United States, who has resolved to "aggressively pursue" Israeli-Arab peace.
Will there be Israeli and Palestinian leaderships capable of responding to such an American initiative? And if there aren't, will the international community, led by Obama, together with international civil society, be capable of finding realistic ways of facilitating the progress towards peace which is so much in the interest of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples?
Today my tendency is to say: if the Israeli people voted for the right, let Netanyahu and the far-right form the government, and then let's see if their prescriptions can offer realistic answers to the country's political and economic challenges. And meanwhile, let the left recoup, reevaluate, and prepare for the next round. The alternative option was expressed by Yoel Marcus in today's Haaretz (13.2.09), what he calls "a government of national salvation" based upon Kadima, Likud and Labor, leaving Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu Party out in the cold.
Friday, February 13, 2009
An open letter to President Obama - a way to Peace in the Middle East
This letter reflects the views of a growing number of Israelis, and Jews around the world, who passionately believe in the right of Israel to exist within secure borders. We also believe in the right of the Palestinian people to live in their own State, alongside Israel. And both peoples have the right to live in dignity, democracy and peace.
The history of both peoples has been a long liturgy of mistakes and worse on both sides. There is right and wrong on both sides, and we can go on trawling through our own versions of history forever, blaming the other side and justifying our own actions. But you cannot kill ideology with bombs; bombs kill people, not ideas. Meeting violence with violence only breeds more hatred. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.
We need a new vision. It is time to take on board Einstein’s dictum that “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it”. It is time for a new consciousness, a new way of seeing, that cuts across the mire of complicated politics, accusations and mistrust that we have dug ourselves into.
Here is a simple and practical solution to bringing peace to the Middle East. America gives vast amounts of aid to Israel, much of it going on arms. If America were to continue to give this money, but demanded as a precondition that a large percentage of it [say at least 50%] was to be used by Israel to rebuild Gaza, the whole of the Middle East would be transformed in one go. The Palestinians – both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas – would be invited to join with Israel in the rebuilding as equal partners. We would also hope to have on board other partners: America, the EU, Egypt, other moderate Arab states. Look at what this could achieve:
* The siege of Gaza would de facto be lifted and the borders between Gaza and Israel would be open
* If Hamas saw the huge benefit of being involved as equal partners, they would be transformed from a terrorist organization into a partner for peace. If they refused, they would be completely marginalized, as the majority of Palestinians in Gaza would no longer need or want them.
* After the devastation in Gaza, Israel must be involved with its reconstruction. It would have American and world support, which would also serve to counteract the negative hard-line implications if Binyamin Netanyahu were to be elected Prime Minister in the forthcoming elections.
* This new situation on the ground would de facto create a new and peaceful atmosphere in which negotiations for a two-state solution could move forward and at last bear fruit.
* This would also create fertile ground for a peace treaty between Israel and Syria.
* With Hamas either on board, or marginalized, Iran would lose its power base in Gaza.
* Seeing the huge benefits of peace would have a ripple effect outwards and would surely influence the situation in Lebanon as well.
* This would send a message to the world that America gives aid, not arms, and is ready to extend a hand to anyone who will shake it.
* Peace in the Middle East and the establishment of a Palestinian State would surely vastly reduce extremist Islamic terror in the wider the world.
There is a story about the sun and the wind. The wind was always boasting that he was much stronger than the sun and he wanted to prove it, so he challenged the sun to a contest. Just then, they saw a man walking along the street wearing a thick overcoat. The wind suggested that whoever could get the man to remove his overcoat was the stronger. The sun agreed. The wind tried first, huffing and puffing and blowing more and more fiercely. But the harder he blew, the more tightly the man wrapped his coat around him. The wind could not get him to take off his coat. Then it was the sun’s turn. The sun shone more and more brightly and soon the man, feeling its warmth, removed his coat.
The force of the wind has been blowing across the Middle East for far too long. It is time for the gentle warmth of the sun. Of course there are huge challenges in implementing this. Some people say that this is naïve. But look where the “clever” ones have got us! New vision often brings skeptics. But with the will and the courage, it can be done. As someone said, not so long ago, “Yes we can!” Yes, we can.
If you broadly agree with the sentiments of this letter, please send copies to President Obama, Mrs Clinton, Senator Mitchell, the Middle East envoy, Gordon Brown, David Miliband, Tony Blair, and anyone else you think can move it forward. If you wish, add your name. If people in power are inundated with our letters, it could change the course of history. Each one of us can make a difference. Thank you.
Thank you Meretz for your time and help.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
... the more dovish circles among the traditional voters accused the party of betraying its basic principles in supporting the Second Lebanon War of 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last month. [Actually, Meretz opposed the ground assaults in both conflicts, with a split in the ranks regarding the use of air power.– ed.] Traditional Meretz voters are unforgiving of indecisiveness and cannot disregard unnecessary wars. Some of these hardcore voters, thus, supported the even more left-wing bi-national party Hadash.
...Meretz also paid a heavy price for the fragmentation within the left wing bloc. Almost two of the seats that should have gone to Meretz went to the Green Party-Meimad and to other smaller niche parties with similar platforms, like the Green Leaf Party.
...However, it looks as though the deadliest blow was dealt in the final days before the election. The close tie in the polls between Kadima and Likud, and the campaign messages that whichever of the two would gain more seats, would be tasked with forming the next government, compelled Meretz voters, considered involved and educated citizens, to abandon their party and vote for Kadima in efforts to "rescue" Israel from a Benjamin Netanyahu-Avigdor Lieberman coalition. ...
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Unfortunately, our friends in the Israeli Meretz party are not getting the attention and support that they deserve. Please check out the brand new World Union of Meretz Web site and read at least one of the following two articles posted there from Haaretz: "I’m voting Meretz" by Amos Schocken (the publisher of Haaretz) and "Meretz leader to Haaretz: Two-state solution on last legs. Ari Shavit Loves Jumas"
As for the election itself, aside from looking on with a mixture of hope and dread (perhaps a larger dose of dread), I must agree with Yossi Alpher’s observation on Israel’s dysfunctional electoral system, from the Americans for Peace Now Web site:
If you still have the time and patience for online reading, you might check out my new piece at the "In These Times" magazine Web site.
... the four leading parties–Likud, Kadima, Yisrael Beitenu and Labor– will end up with somewhere between (in descending order) 25 and 15 mandates. Four medium-sized parties whose philosophies encompass nearly the entire spectrum of secular Zionist views are a recipe for lack of governability, to say nothing of lack of a viable peace process.
Once again we are reminded that the Israeli political system, while offering ultra-democratic representation to the most isolated minority and sectarian views, is ill-suited for the task of governance, and particularly for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Monday, February 09, 2009
There have been a lot of references recently to NYTimes articles on Gaza, and I think that Ethan Bronner is doing a very good job of reporting the nuances of what's been happening.
Yet we just witnessed a very unusual display of journalism by Haaretz this [past] week. There was Ari Shavit's hatchet job on Tzippy Livni, which I felt smelled of chutzpa, since all of the sources for his negative accounting of her personality were unnamed. There may be a lot to criticize about her, but that's not the way to do it.
Then we had Let Netanyahu Win by Gideon Levy, since a Netanyahu-Lieberman government will reveal "the true face of Israeli society", bring the Palestinian Authority to an end, and force the international community to broker a solution.
But the height of Haaretz unique journalism this week was the combination of an editorial which said no reason to vote for Meretz because when the chips were down, it didn't oppose the launching of the Gaza military operation on day one, and therefore is not a leftwing party - coupled the following day with a major op-ed by the publisher Amos Shocken headlined I'm voting Meretz - and a very supportive interview with Meretz leader Jumes (MK Chaim Oron) by Shavit Meretz leader to Haaretz: Two-state solution on last legs ..., plus the lead letter in the Hebrew edition was a letter from former Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni protesting the editorial.
So where do I stand? I'm voting Meretz too. And the reasons are the following:
1) Meretz, though I was unhappy with the position expressed by Jumes and those leaders who represented the party at the outbreak of the war, is the party who's overall values and positions I most identify with, in the area of war and peace, promotion of a realistic political solution to the conflict based upon a two state solution, and its positions on a whole slew of social, economic, educational, environmental and human rights issues, a pluralistic society, separation of religion and state, equality between Jewish and Arab citizens, gay rights, workers rights, etc. etc., everything which falls under the heading of a truly Jewish and democratic state.
2) The Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu racist phenomenon poses a serious danger to Israeli society, and Meretz is the only Zionist party which has declared that it will not sit in a government together with Lieberman (and Netanyahu), the only Zionist party to challenge Lieberman directly. Meretz MK candidate Mossi Raz has been participating in panels at high schools around the country, and he says its frightening to see how enthusiastic many of the youth are about Lieberman and his ideas.
3) Today, I still think there is a possibility that Livni, and not Netanyahu, will be the next PM (granted that Netanyahu is the more likely one). To enhance the chance of that possibility, I have been recommending to people to vote for Meretz, or at least to vote for one of the partners to a potential center-left bloc: Kadima, Labor or Hadash (which would support such a government from the outside). Kadima and Barak's readiness to sit with Netanyahu and Lieberman in the eventuality that Netanyahu becomes PM is what leads me to say that Meretz is the best option. And I would add that to vote for either the Green Party, the Meimad-Green Movement or the Pensioners, all of which are expected not to vote the minimum threshold needed to get into the Knesset, would be like voting for Ralph Nader in the American elections, a wasted vote that could cost the center-left one or two crucial seats in the Knesset.
4) Jumes is really a different type of anti-politician, with integrity, and he offers a clear contrast to all of the other party leaders. Despite my disagreements with him, I also think he managed to encompass the different conflicting views within Meretz about the Gaza War in a very effective manner. He also encouraged the establishment of the New Movement partners with Meretz, and if it weren't for the war, Meretz was predicted to win between 8-10 seats with the energy aroused by the infusion of new blood into the party.
5) And finally, the Meretz MK candidates are all excellent, very good current and potential parliamentarians.
I was at the Meretz campaign launching in the trendy Hangar 11 in the Tel Aviv port area after the war ended. Over l,000 excited people were there, and I just want to relate a few vignettes.
Two people who came out #1 in past Labor primaries were there, Uzi Baram and Avram Burg. Baram, a former Labor Party chairperson, said that he was used to speaking in the context of a party that was either government, or an option to replace the government. However, given what Barak has done to the Labor Party, he felt that the only party left that represented his views about Israeli society is Meretz, and that's why he came.
Two West Bank settlers were there, and they spoke from the audience, saying that they wanted to thank MK Abu (Avshalom) Vilan for advocating the Evacuation/Compensation law. They say that at least 50,000 settlers on the other side of the Green Line are ready to move back to Israel, if and when the law will be enacted. All they need is the funds to rebuild their lives.
A principal of a high school from Ashdod was there, which suffered from rockets during the war, and he said that he had just joined Meretz because he is very disturbed about the direction that Israeli society is going in, and Meretz represents the values that he wants to educate his students towards.
The executive director of the organization of long haul trucks (50,000 drivers) also said he joined Meretz 2 weeks ago, because although he represents private enterprise, they want to treat all there drivers fairly, and he said that only Jumes in the Finance Committee was ready to give serious attention to their request for reform of laws, and they know that Meretz #2 former MK Ilan Gilon will be fighting for workers' rights. He said that sitting next to him in the crowd was an Arab director of a fleet of 300 taxi drivers, who feels the same way.
The young representatives of Hashomer Hatzair and the Arab pioneering youth group spoke passionately and eloquently about the future of Israeli society.
Lawyer Talia Sasson, # 7 on the Knesset list, the author of the Sasson report on the illegal outposts, and one of the reps of the New Movement partners of Meretz, expressed her appreciation for having been welcomed to Meretz as an outsider, and felt proud to join the political struggle, alongside those who have already given so much of their time, dedication and efforts to the struggle over the future of Israeli society.
Similar thoughts had been expressed by # 3 on the list, journalist and environmental activist Nitzan Horowitz, at an earlier meeting of the Meretz Convention. Since he lives with a male partner, Horowitz will also be representing the gay rights interests.
# 10 on the list Arab candidate Esawa Freij, he sounded like he was trained in public speaking in Hyde Park or Union Square, said that while wishing he was higher on the list, he is determined to conitnue struggling for the common cause.
Jumes summed it all up with a call not to give in to apathy or fatalism, and the declaration that every vote counts.
And finally, if I weren't voting for Meretz, and didn't agree that every vote counts, I have a great deal of admiration for 35 year old Asma Agbaria-Jahalka, who established and leads the little Da'am Party. Born in Jaffa, she first sought answers in the Islamic movement, but after studying at a university, she was exposed to more universal values, and entered political life to try to represent workers rights on a totally egalitarian basis - her number 2 is a young Jew, Nir Nadar, who decided to do the same thing. She is the only other female leader of an Israeli party today, and she is the only Arab candidate who spoke both Hebrew and Arabic in her campaign ads, an expression of her encompassing views.
I saw her appear two years ago at a WIZO panel of women candidates for the Knesset, and she even impressed that audience, which is quite a feat. So I wish her well, particularly since she says that the goal is to continue struggling for the values she espouses, in or outside of the Knesset.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
And as the Israelis have with Hamas, Sri Lankan government forces are charging the Tamil Tigers with hiding behind "human shields" and then proceed to attack civilian areas anyway. An estimated 70,000 people have died in this conflict since it began in 1983. But since most of the world doesn't have a dog in this fight, the atrocities and human rights abuses committed by both sides are mostly ignored. We should not expect a movement to boycott Sri Lanka any time soon.
But please do not read this as endorsing Israel's ground operation in Gaza. This posting is meant to provide perspective, as well as to make a wry observation.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
If you search the party's website a bit, you will find references to "peace" if you click on the "National Security" issue and scroll down a while, well below the most prominent issue, Iran. And here's what you'll learn at the Likud website:
- A Likud-led government won't carry out any unilateral withdrawals
- A Likud-led government would reject any compromise on Jerusalem
- A Likud-led government would express no-confidence in negotiations with the Palestinians, since the process is "misguided". Since the Palestinians aren't ready for a historic compromise, goes the Likud argument, Israel should abandon the diplomatic track, and turn to developing the Palestinian economy instead.
Internationally imposed solution, assertive/coercive American diplomacy, a decision to move past the old Oslo process, the consideration of international trusteeship for the Palestinian territories. Desperate times require desperate measures, Prof. Chazan seemed to be hinting.
Perhaps we will yet be spared the image of a Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu coalition, in which Avigdor Lieberman, now revealed by Haaretz to be a former member of the racist "Kach" movement, would certainly play a senior role. But unless all the pollsters have it wrong (and it's happened before!) or the Israeli voter gets a quick change of heart, we will be looking at an Israeli government that - at best - is proposing to put the peace process into the deep freeze.
With the two-state solution in danger of diplomatic extinction if we don't move fast, Prof. Chazan's emphasis on new "creative" strategies for peace must be taken to heart.
Sunday, February 01, 2009
From my point of view, the Gaza fighting (it was far from a war) brought us no advantages whatsoever. Hamas will regain their full murderous capacity within a short time; we did not even manage to stop the arms smuggling, though perhaps it will be more limited, if the Egyptians collaborate. We did manage to do two things: increase the hatred felt for "the Jews" among Gazans, and fortify the Iranian presence.
Iran now has two footholds on the Mediterranean shore, both of them with our generous help: Lebanon, where our 2006 adventure enabled our dear friends of the Hizbullah to more or less capture Lebanon, and Gaza, where the Sunni allies of the radical Shiite Iranian regime are the undisputed sovereigns, having in the last few days murdered most of what remained there of the Fatah elite.
The air strike was, in my humble view, justified and justifiable. The land incursion led to nothing except to the destruction of thousands (!!!) of homes and 600 (roughly) civilian deaths, including 300 children.
In my view, the whole Western and Israeli concentration on the Iranian nuclear issue is totally skewed. If they want to have a bomb, they will have it, sooner or later, but of course cannot use it, because then their main strategic aim, namely to become the dominant local power in the Middle East will be negated – everyone will turn against them. Also, if they want to use such a bomb against Israel, half a degree mistake in the angle of the path of the missile will annihilate the Palestinian people, and in any case they will have destroyed the Moslem Holy Places in Jerusalem.
The bomb will be used as a threat, as a form of pressure, because the Iranians have two major aims: control of the Gulf, and eliminating Saudi and Egyptian preponderance in the Arab Middle East. The bomb is a clever Iranian diversion. And of course, their ideological agenda is to gain control, first of the ME, then of as much of the world as they can. They believe in it. Hamas is the Sunni version of this, and, intellectually, it is more radical than the Shiite version.