I am very pleased by the news today that the Knesset has indefinitely postponed the vote on the motion to investigate and, ultimately, persecute if not also prosecute, Israeli human and civil rights organizations, whose work is critically important to any accountable democracy.Now for the bad news (from Ir Amim):
I hope that as political support for this anti-democratic legislation continues to erode, that this motion will be relegated to the trash heap as it so rightly deserves in a country whose people remain firmly committed to the values of freedom of expression, rule of law and justice upon which Israel was founded. ...
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The Jerusalem Prize for literature, is an honor awarded biennially at the Jerusalem International Book Fair to writers whose work deals with themes of individual freedom in society. The first winner in 1963 was the philosopher Bertrand Russell and other recipients include Simone de Beauvoir, JM Coetzee, Isaiah Berlin, Susan Sontag and Mario Vargas Llosa. Delivered at the opening ceremony of the 25th Jerusalem International Book Fair on February 20, 2011, here is the powerful text of his speech--clearly a demonstration of "speaking truth to power"--which received a standing ovation from much of the audience:
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
.... In 1984, when Meir Kahane was elected to the Knesset, I brought to the Education Committee a copy of the Nuremberg laws and superimposed Kahane’s political platform. This made the front pages, and most Israelis were shocked by Kahane’s extreme racism. Today, no one is particularly upset that our Knesset has become a bastion of xenophobia.
The rise of racism is a direct outgrowth of our refusal to make peace with our Palestinian neighbors. Yes, it is our refusal. There is a Palestinian partner for peace, and anyone who doubts that is ignorant of the facts. Our publicists and politicians can rewrite the “narrative” as they please, but it will not change the fact that if Israel was serious about making peace on the basis of what has already been negotiated, it would be possible to end this conflict.
I just read a "Letter to the Egyptians" from Danny Hartman (in Ha'aretz) which elicited dozens of responses from Egyptians and others, welcoming his letter but questioning why he was not offering this kind of friendship to his neighbors, the Palestinians.
Without a doubt the Middle East is in flux. The earthquake continues and the after shocks are being internalized. I am numbering the links to articles, not in any chronological order, but to make reading easier.--Lilly:
Monday, February 21, 2011
In this connection, the three great dovish Israeli writers whom McEwan praises–Oz, Yehoshua and Grossman–all have defended Israel's right to respond militarily to attacks, albeit in limited and proportionate ways. McEwan is praiseworthy for not losing sight of what is good (even beautiful) in Israeli culture and society:
The British author Ian McEwan launched an eloquent attack on Israeli government policies in his speech accepting the Jerusalem prize for literature, saying "a great and self-evident injustice hangs in the air".
Before an audience that included Israel's president, Shimon Peres, culture minister, Limor Livnat, and Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat, McEwan spoke of the nihilism on both sides of the conflict.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Airline pilots coming in to land at Belfast airport used to advise their passengers to reset their watches to local time--1688. There is developing in the blogosphere a debate over what year it is in the Middle East--1989 or 1848. Like the foreign policy debate between Democrats and Republicans during the second half of the Cold War, where every foreign crisis was reduced to being either another Vietnam or another Munich depending on which party you belonged to, we are given a choice between only two revolutionary years: the Springtime of Nations of the failed revolutions of 1848 and the "10 revolutions" (10 years in Poland, 10 months in Hungary, 10 weeks in Czechoslovakia, 10 days in Germany, 10 hours in Romania) of Eastern Europe in 1989. Eliminated from consideration are other important revolutionary periods of mass turmoil such as 1830-32, 1916-23, and 1968. ...
Click here for the rest of this posting at his blog.
Friday, February 18, 2011
To be sure, people who ascribe to the BDS formula have a variety of political end games. Some favor a two-state solution with Israel ending the Occupation and the creation of an independent Palestinian state; some favor a bi-national one-state solution, and some are actually anti-Semitic and do not think that the Jewish people constitute a unique nation with the right to self-determination and should never have immigrated to Israel/Palestine. It is important to be honest about the fact that all these groups and individuals holding these various ideas have started using boycott, divestment and sanctions for various reasons.
But not all BDS actions are about ending the State of Israel. Not all BDS actions are about delegitimization. And not everyone who supports the use of BDS is anti-Semitic.
The mainstream Jewish communities in both the US and Israel have tried to paint BDS in the broadest, bluntest, un-nuanced and most illegitimate terms. The organized American Jewish community has now declared BDS and the delegitimization of the State of Israel as its greatest threats, while a bill working its way through Knesset (the Israeli parliament) would make it illegal for Israelis to boycott their own country. Both these efforts are overreactions that miss the point entirely.
The point is that the Israeli government’s policies of settlement building and Occupation are bad policies that need to end as soon as possible. Building settlements in occupied territory is a clear and gross violation of international law, while the Occupation is a complex system of regulations that daily violate the basic human rights including but not limited to: owning property, the freedom of movement, and habeas corpus. These policies not only erode the moral fabric of Israeli society and diminish the State of Israel’s standing in the international community but they also lessen Israel’s ability to reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians, which is the only way forward if Israel is truly be a democratic and Jewish-majority state.
I still support a two-state solution. I believe in human rights for all people, including the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people. And I believe that if Israel abandons the policies of settlement and the Occupation it can still become a deep democracy. Because of these positions I have come to believe that a limited and specific form of BDS, a targeted boycott of goods and services made in the settlements, is an appropriate tactic to effect change. There must be a freeze on settlement as part of the end of the Occupation, and a boycott that targets those policies is an important way to both express disapproval of those policies and non-violently bring those policies to an end.
In getting caught up in who supports BDS and what their ultimate goals are, mainstream Jewish communities are turning a blind eye to the real problem of illegal and immoral government policies. The settlement and the Occupation policies waste Israeli resources, endanger the lives of Israelis, violate international law and are morally indefensible and repugnant. I would boycott any other country that had such policies. But as a Jew, Israel is not any other country to me. I care more about what Israel does; which is all the more reason why I should boycott the settlements.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
The Meretz USA President and Chair stressed that they were in no way expressing support for the global BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) movement, which advocates the boycott of all of Israel and all Israelis. On the contrary, they said, “American Jews should express their support for Israel’s continued existence within the Green Line by purchasing Israeli goods and services that are made within the Green Line”.
The Meretz USA officials defined efforts to, “boycott, divest from or sanction Israel proper (within the Green Line)” as “misguided and ineffective”, since they, “run[…] the risk of strengthening those forces within Israel opposed to a genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and of alienating many mainstream Israelis of good will”. The use of BDS must also be, “denounce[d] … whenever employed as a tactic to bring an end to the State of Israel,” the Meretz USA President and Chair underscored.
However, Salinas-Fleitman and Bikel stressed, Israel’s uncontestable legitimacy, “does not extend to the settlements created in the occupied territories”.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
When I was a kid, my family, friends, and school all passed various hats, boxes and pledge cards around to raise money for the Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, or Jewish National Fund. This was all about planting trees in Israel.
As I became a teenager, and on into my early 20s, and the situation in Israel became somewhat more fraught for me, I still saw giving to the JNF as one sure way to promote something good without the political entanglements of so many other causes.
Boy was I wrong.
In the town of al-Araqib, in the Negev desert, a JNF bulldozer is standing poised at the village cemetery, ready to plow it down in order to make way for…wait for it…a “peace forest.”
This is the 17th time the village has been razed by the Israel Land Authority, which controls all state land, some of it in partnership with the JNF. The Bedouin claim to this land has been in dispute since 1951 when, the villagers say, they were forced out. Israel claims the land was abandoned, a very familiar claim regarding Arab lands in the wake of a war from which many families, not wanting to get shot or blown up, did flee, expecting to return.
Al-Araqib is one of many so-called “unrecognized villages” in the Negev. By definition, all construction in these villages is illegal in Israel, because the state will not grant a building permit in a village which, technically, “does not exist.”
Al-Araqib has become something of a cause célèbre and an opportunity for Israeli activists to shine a light on the issue of unrecognized villages and how the state treats this sector of its citizenry. In particular, one incident last year where Israeli police not only destroyed the village, but showed appalling delight in doing so.
The structures that are being destroyed are mostly tents and lapped-together shacks. Even this is being denied to the Bedouin of the Negev. At this writing, the villagers have once again been driven from their homes by a shower of rubber bullets and have massed in the cemetery, watching the JNF bulldozers destroy their homes again, and wondering if their presence (and maybe some last trace of common decency) will at least protect the cemetery.
I’ll remind you again, these villagers are Israeli citizens!
Is this the Israel we were contributing to years ago? Is this really what we put those quarters into the pushkes (charity boxes) of the JNF for? I know I sure didn’t think so…
He spoke from personal experience and most candidly of the opportunities opened by, and of the obvious failures of, Oslo. For example, he provided more detail than I could get directly from Yossi Beilin (the former head of Meretz) on his framework agreement with Mahmoud Abbas delivered to Yitzhak Rabin on Oct 31, 2005. According to Hirschfeld, partially on the basis of these discussions, Rabin had decided to move more rapidly toward the final-status negotiations than he had previously committed to.
Tragically, Rabin was assassinated on Nov. 4. Hirschfeld regards Shimon Peres as a very good prime minister from 1984 until '86, but agrees with me that he made stupendous blunders as Rabin's successor for half a year until defeated narrowly by Netanyahu in 1996. (E.g., Peres unwisely provoked a wave of terror by disturbing a peaceful time with the Shin Bet's killing of "the engineer," a Hamas terrorist.) And Peres did not follow-up on Beilin's trailblazing work with Abbas.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
Grounds for cautious optimism too from Gaza, where the popular movement is a major threat to Hamas rule.
Shlomo Avineri: What Netanyahu should say to the people of Egypt; Gershon Baskin: Encountering peace.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Doug's initial news article concluded with a comment by one of our own, Prof. Leonard Grob: “Academic freedom can be taken to an extreme, which would negate the responsibility of an academic to present a variety of perspectives, said Grob, vice president of the progressive-Zionist Meretz USA. “I come down with a creative middle between academic freedom and academic responsibility.”
I have to observe that Petersen-Overton was hired and then hurriedly unhired in an apparent (and unseemly) response to a political uproar occasioned by his falsely alleged sympathy for terrorism against Israel. But I do question the qualifications of this 26 year-old second year CUNY graduate student to teach a graduate seminar. Doug's newest piece is most helpful in the evaluation by experts of the instructor's course syllabus, which substantiates my view of it as being unnecessarily and unfairly biased:
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
I join all those who mourn the passing of Alan Slifka. I admired his passionate commitment to Arab-Israeli coexistence. When he founded the Alan B. Slifka Foundation through which he could impact his love for Israel and his commitment to Jewish life and coexistence, I knew this was a man I could talk to.
I did not have a personal relationship with him, but I had a deep respect for him. We had a professional relationship. As President of Meretz USA I called upon him for funding support. Always willing to see me, he was always cordial, a true gentleman. He was a man of few words but a man of his word.
In 1991 he published a definitive catalogue of all the groups working on co-existence. This proved to all the naysayers that there were partners on both sides. Alan was gracious enough to support Meretz USA, and I in turn became a supporter of the Abraham Fund. We will miss him.
Mona telling it like it is again: "US: Blinking and Backing Down In Egypt"Here’s [her] contribution to the NYTimes.com Room for Debate panel asking “Is Caution the Right U.S. Strategy?” for Egypt’s revolution.
Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-born columnist and public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues based in New York. She is on Twitter as monaeltahawy.
Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt for 30 years, keeping the country in a state of emergency for every one of those years, overseeing one forged election after the other and maintaining a security apparatus renowned for its brutality.
Which part of the above sentence shows any regard or concern for the Egyptian constitution?
Tuesday, February 08, 2011
Encountering Peace: The roots of democracy on the Nile
Our ability to empathize with the Egyptian masses rather than to only fear them would be greatly enhanced if we learned more about the opposition groups.
.... THE MOST organized part of the opposition is of course the Muslim Brotherhood. We have very shallow knowledge of this movement, its leaders and its platform. With completely open and free elections, there is a justified fear that the Muslim Brotherhood could win a large part of the vote. We can expect it will participate in the next elections and if surveys and public opinion research are correct, it will win about 25% of the parliament.
Monday, February 07, 2011
This accompanies his revelation on Facebook: "Here are the makings of a peace plan--preview from next Sunday's New York Times Magazine, providing the definitive account of what came out of Abbas' and Olmert's 36 meetings. Our only hope is an American president willing to embrace their achievement, bridge the small gaps, and rally the world to an American package."
Avishai's analysis seems to be the real deal behind the "Palestine Papers" leaked to Al Jazeera a couple of weeks ago; he is more complete and fair-minded than Al Jazeera and the UK Guardian were. And he indicates that both Abbas and Olmert have been crying out for American mediation to iron out the relatively small gaps in their negotiating positions:
There are two ways to think about the impact upon Israel of the collapse, fast or slow, but inexorable, of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. The first is to be concerned for Israel. The second is to be concerned about Israel. ...
Friday, February 04, 2011
Given the momentous events taking place now in Egypt, it’s important for those of us who care about Israel to remember that the assault on Israeli democracy from within is continuing to move forward.
Luckily, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) is maintaining its vigilance. They sent a chilling update regarding three bills that are moving forward in the Knesset. I include their brief reports on each bill (in italics below) followed by own comments on each.
Parliamentary Committees of Inquiry:
The Knesset House Committee finalized the details of two separate but related parliamentary committees of inquiry, to be headed by MK Fania Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beitenu) and MK Danny Danon (Likud). This decision was made despite the pointed legal opinion presented by Eyal Yinon, the Knesset Legal Adviser, who stated: "The parliamentary committees discussed here are the first-ever to deal with clearly ideological matters and from only one side of the political map (...) The establishment of such committees creates an atmosphere that harms basic democratic rights."
The letters of appointment for the two committees will now be returned to the Knesset plenum for final approval. Knesset factions from the center and left of the political map have already announced that they will ban these committees.
I’ve written about this in the past. It is truly shocking that this measure can go forward despite the strong words of Knesset’s own Legal Adviser. It needs to be stressed that these committees target only one side of the NGO spectrum, which is the biggest problem with them. Both of these committees are charged with investigating different aspects of foreign funding and involvement with the activity of Israeli NGOs. Kirshenbaum’s is to investigate the foreign funding of left-wing NGOs. Danon’s is a bit more obscure, being tasked to investigate foreign “activities against the state” and the organized acquisition of state lands. Presumably, this last was prompted by a Palestinian businessman’s attempt to by the land of the East Jerusalem settlement of Nof Zion recently.
The issue of transparency is a red herring. With all the talk about transparency, none of the MKs trying to indict NGOs has been able to point to a single example where an organization has not complied with the existing transparency laws. This is nothing less than a witch-hunt and an assault on dissent, the very definition of an anti-democratic action. It’s worth noting that even Likud ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin agree with that assessment, and we can be sure they have no love for B’Tselem, Peace Now and similar groups.
Funding from Foreign State Entities Bill
The Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee has approved this bill for its second-third reading in the plenum. The vote in the plenum will probably be as early as next Monday. Following intensive lobby efforts by ACRI, the version that will most likely be submitted for vote is a somewhat toned-down version. For example, civil society organizations will be required to report on funding every three months (instead of annually, but not immediately as was the original version of the bill); and if public campaigns are funded by foreign state entities, it will be required to publish that in the campaign.
Even in its toned-down version, this legislation is clearly selective and politically motivated. ACRI fully supports transparency and we already publish all donations on our website, and so it is not clear how this bill intends to improve transparency. Furthermore, if the bill was truly out to increase transparency, it would include not only donations from foreign state entities, but also from foreign private donors, which are frequent funders of the activities of extremist organizations and groups in Israel.
This is the latest version of what was once called the Elkin Bill, named for the Likud MK that started these legislative efforts. Once again, this is selectively targeting the left despite the fact that no one has come up with any specific allegations, much less evidence, that any of these groups have not met the reporting requirements for their funding.
On the other hand, as Hagai El-Ad, ACRI’s executive director who wrote the update I’m quoting above, points out, settler groups are funded largely by private foundations and individual major donors from outside Israel, mostly the United States. There is also the matter of Israeli government funding of settlements, which was investigated in 2004-5 by Talia Sason, and uncovered a great deal of illicit and non-transparent government funding of settlements and “illegal outposts” (wildcat settlements that are illegal under Israeli law, not only international law under which all settlements are illegal). Sason also stated that despite their investigation, there was a great deal of funding they were unable to track.
One would think that, given this weighty report commissioned by none other than Ariel Sharon, this would merit investigation rather than entities that have always been transparent and clear…
Acceptance to Communities Bill
The Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee passed a slightly amended version of the Acceptance to Communities Bill, which will now be passed to the plenum for its second-third reading. The accepted amendments to the bill are applying it only to the Negev and Galilee regions and only to communities of up to 400 family units (instead of the original 500).ACRI views both amendments as insufficient, leaving private citizens with the authority to grant state-owned lands at their own discretion, thus promoting continued discrimination of Arabs, new immigrants, single parents, same-sex couples, people with disabilities, and others.
This bill is an attempt to legalize discrimination in Israel. This has often presented a problem for Jewish Israelis who wish to live exclusively with other Jews. The court is compelled to strike down discrimination in housing based on religion or race. Often, as is also true in the United States and other places, people who want to keep certain other people out can find ways to do it in individual cases, but when the discrimination is blatant, courts will rule against it. Israel is no exception.
So, the Knesset is trying to give courts the power to support discrimination, at least in small communities. The bill is clearly directed against Arabs, but Hagai is quite correct when he points out that it will inevitably be used to bar other classes of people.
All of these measures are big steps in the war against democracy being waged by the right wing in Israel. Those of us who care about Israel’s future need to keep our eye on this. It’s tough to do right now with all that’s happening in Egypt and the massive implications that has for Israel’s future, but if Israel is to have a future as a democratic state, we can’t take our eyes of these proceedings even for a moment.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
About 15 years ago, an American clinical psychologist interviewed me about my childhood heroes, as part of a project on role models for peace activists. Well, being New York-, or (to be more exact) Brooklyn-born and bred, my first childhood hero was Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the pioneering black baseball player, the first one to break the color barrier that existed in American professional team sports. His struggle against adversity had a tremendous appeal to a Jewish youth, a member of a minority group within American society and a child facing the grown-up world.
Two other childhood heroes were another black athlete, Jesse Owens, who in front of Hitler had deconstructed his racial superiority theories by winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics; and the great Native-American athlete, Jim Thorpe, who was outstanding in track and field, football, baseball and basketball.
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
First of all, forget anything you may have heard about Jordan going the way of Egypt. The sudden replacement of the prime minister in times of popular grumbling is pretty routine here and the new government will probably quell the protests, which were pretty small to begin with. Notice that the protests have been against the government (i.e. ministers), not the king, who many people dislike but tolerate because the alternative is too frightening. So no, the internet has not been shut off here and won't be anytime soon. There is nothing going on here that even approaches a reason for that to happen. Jordan is not Egypt.
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
The future of Israel is not linked to the corrupt, nondemocratic regimes we call "moderate," but to the masses of people who take to the streets demanding rights.
.... My heart is with the Egyptian people facing an autocratic regime, whose leaders have denied them basic freedoms and pillaged the wealth of Egypt, transferring much of it to bank accounts abroad and living in palaces overlooking the Nile while millions of citizens live on less than $2 a day.
At the same time, like all Israelis, I feel fear and concern – what will be the future of the peace between our countries? Even though the peace has been cold, it has been stable and has removed existential threats.