Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Three Cheers for Adalah and the Israeli High Court of Justice

The only place where Israeli Palestinians have a chance of having a fair hearing is in court. Even there it has been difficult for them, especially since there is no Israeli constitution. But some of the Basic Laws passed in the last decades have provided the foundation for civil rights in Israel. The struggle for civil rights and equality is an uphill one, and, I have argued, can never be obtained as long as Israel is a state of the Jews, and not of all its citizens. Still, there are sometimes little victories along the way.

Israeli Palestinians in principle can live where they like, but in practice are locked out of the best communities because such communities are run like co-ops -- a "suitability committee" decides if you fit in socially with the community. And no matter how educated, acculturated, or Israeli they may be, Israeli Palestinians are excluded. One couple recently won a temporary injunction that directs the community of Rakefet, which had rejected the couple's application, to set aside a lot for them.

Now one can sing the praises of homogeneous communities, and one can say, with George Wallace, that the law shouldn't force people to associate with people they don't want to. The problem here is that Israel is very much separate but unequal.

You can also argue that Jews are not allowed to live in Saudia Arabia. But who in God's name would support the existence of a Jewish Saudia Arabia? Is that what Israel was supposed to be?

Ah, those uppity Arabs who don't know their place...God bless 'em, and God bless Adallah. Their court victory may only be as temporary as the injunction that the High Court has handed out...but every little victory helps.

Who knows? Maybe some day, God willing, Israel will become a liberal democracy.

Court orders Jewish town to set aside land for Arabs

By Jack Khoury, Haaretz Corresopndent

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday issued a temporary injunction ordering that a plot of land in the predominantly Jewish town of Rakefet be set aside for an Israeli Arab couple who had been previously denied entry to the community for "lack of suitability."

The couple, residents of Sakhnin, said they were denied residency in the town because they are Arab. They added that local authorities in Rakefet and officials at the Israel Lands Authority had found an alternative way to keep them from moving into the town - by stating that according to a "suitability test," the couple was "not socially fit to live in the town, according to expert opinion."

The two petitioned the High Court in February, with the aid of the non-profit group Adalah, asking that an order be issued to allow them to live in the town. Adalah, an organization that battles discrimination against Israeli Arabs, represented the couple in their petition to the High Court of Justice in February.

The couple, Ahmed and Fathina Zvidat, graduates of the archaeology department at Jerusalem's Bezalel College, tried in 2006 to find a place to live in northern Israel. According to the petition, when the two wanted to move to Rakefet, they were required to undergo a "suitability test", in accordance with Israel Lands Authority decision 1015.

In the petition, the couple asked the court to instruct the Israel Land Authority and heads of the Misgav Regional council to ensure their rights to a residential plot in Rakefet. With the aid of several rights groups, the couple also made efforts to outlaw the admission committees, like the one that deemed them unsuitable.

The petitioners maintained that the existence of such committees violates the right of every citizen to choose his or her place of residence in any community built by the state, especially if that community was not designated for a population with specific characteristics.

Among other things, they argued that the "criterion of social suitability is not supported by any existing laws, is vague and unclear, and gives a wide range of discretion to a small group of citizens who decide the fate of many candidates in regard to their residence."

The couple also said in the petition that "our interest is in a public plot of land, in a community for non-specific population, which, by law, must be divvied in accordance with the principles of equality and justice, which dictate that every citizen is entitled to live in this community or that community or any village or city in the state of Israel."

Before petitioning the High Court, the Zvidats filed an appeal with the Israel Lands Authority, asking that the admission committee's decision be reversed, but the appeal was denied.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Two and a Half Cheers for Rabbi Kanefsky

Last Friday my daughter and son-in-law alerted me to an opinion piece written by their former rabbi in Los Angeles, Yosef Kanefsky. Rabbi Kanefsky is a young and dynamic orthodox rabbi, with a strong sense of social justice, and the ability to think outside the orthodox Jewish box. Rabbi Kanefsky called for the importance of putting Jerusalem on the table in any peace negotiation, and just as tellingly, pointed out the moral failings of the settlement enterprise after 1967.

Big deal, you say? Well, for an orthodox rabbi in this country, it is a very big deal. I don't have time to sum up the letter, but you can read about it here.

I had dinner over Rabbi Kanefsky's about two years ago. He is not only a nice guy, but an inspiriing spiritual leader. His shul, Bnei David, is at the vanguard of social issues, including women's issues, for that part of LA. Apparently, he is way ahead of many of his congregants on Israel/Palestine, and certainly the orthodox community, which is divided into ultra-orthodoxy, Yeshiva University orthodoxy, and baal-tshuvah orthodoxy, a la Aish ha-Torah and Chabad -- each group more rabidly and mindlessly religious Zionist than the other.

Why not three cheers? Because Rabbi Kanefsky speaks of the need to compromise for the sake of peace, and not of the need to do the right thing, which is to end a brutal and illegal Occupation and Annexation. Because he takes the standard liberal Zionist line of going back to 1967, but avoids the gut issues of going back to 1897, or to 1947.

Why not two cheers? Because at least he adds this line: "Also included is the need to recognize that we have some kind of obligation toward the people who have been harmed by our decisions." That is a slight realization, but a definite one, of the moral dimension of the Occupation and Annexation. It will not win him friends among the Mafia Moralists.

The road to repentance is made up of many steps. Rabbi Kanefsky has taken several big ones.

Yasher koah, Rabbi Kanefsky

Today the story was picked up by the LA Times here.

What Finkelstein Would Have Said at the Oxford Union

I know I am flogging a dead horse. But Norman Finkelstein's invitation to speak at the Oxford Union in favor of the two-state solution caused an uproar among the supporters of Israel because they assumed he was opposed to the two-state solution. Since his writings do not contain a sustained argument on the question of the final status, the only decent thing to do would be to assume that he would not "throw" the debate, and then to ask him to clarify his position. Luke Tyrell alludes to having done just that when he wrote Finkelstein

"Many people expressed concern that the debate as it stood was imbalanced and people felt that as someone who had apparently expressed anti-zionist sentiments that you might not be appropriate for this debate. I tried to convince them otherwise but was accused of putting forward an imbalanced debate and various groups put pressure on me. "

So...what would Finkelstein have said? I asked him, and this is what he wrote:

"I would have argued it as a purely pragmatic issue, with Palestinians having the final say on whether they accept the settlement insofar as on the basis of international law all the concessions would be coming from their side. I didn't prepare anything because Tryl never got back to me. I had no idea what was going on."

On Amy Goodman's Democracy Now, Finkelstein said:

Since the mid-1970s, there's been an international consensus for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Most of your listeners will be familiar with it. It's called a two-state settlement, and a two-state settlement is pretty straightforward, uncomplicated. Israel has to fully withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza and Jerusalem, in accordance with the fundamental principle of international law, cited three times by Mr. Ben-Ami in the book, his book, that it's inadmissible to acquire territory by war. The West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, having been acquired by war, it's inadmissible for Israel to keep them. They have to be returned. On the Palestinian side and also the side of the neighboring Arab states, they have to recognize Israel's right to live in peace and security with its neighbors. That was the quid pro quo: recognition of Israel, Palestinian right to self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in Jerusalem. That's the international consensus.

It's not complicated. It's also not controversial. You see it voted on every year in the United Nations. The votes typically something like 160 nations on one side, the United States, Israel and Naru, Palau, Tuvalu, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands on the other side

This would not have been to the liking of the pro-Israel crowd. Finkelstein would have argued for the two-state solution, and at the same would have argued that Israel's policies have thwarted the two-state solution.

Which is what I argued in my previous post...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Shalom u-le-hitraot to "Harry's Place"

Here was my parting shot at the Brit blog, Harry's Place, where virtually everything I wrote was misunderstood by my ideological opponents.

The political Zionists are quite happy that they were allowed to represent the two-state solution at the Oxford Union instead of Norman Finkelstein. Pity that none of them really believe in it.

Indeed, as I have written here before, I know very few Israelis, and almost no diaspora Jews, who favor a true two-state solution in which one state neither dominates, nor is dominated by, the other, a solution in which there is real parity between the states.

Most Israelis I know who say they support two-states, basically support one state -- Israel -- and one 'state' -- a weakened Palestine in a neo-colonial relationship with Israel, what Bibi calls "medinat-minus" a "lesser state." The former will have one of the most powerful defence forces in the world, whereas the latter will be demilitarized, or non-militarized. Even the Geneva Initiative has the Palestinian's state security subcontracted out to a multi-national force.

Now, dear friends, imagine an Israel without a Zahal/IDF -- imagine such a Jewish state proposed to David Ben-Gurion in 1948 -- and what do you think he would have said?

Mind you, I am not a big fan of militaries, or the place the military has played in Israeli society. But as an ex-IDF reservist, and the proud father of four children who have served in the IDF -- and one combat officer who still serves in the reserves -- just as I cannot conceive of Israeli without Zahal, so I cannot conceive of a Palestinian state without a strong military force to protect it, and which serves as a source of its national pride.

If you are opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state that would be equal in power -- economically and militarily -- to Israel, then you are not in favor of a genuine two-state solution.

You would be in good company, by the way. The Palestinian negotiators were willing to give in on the army issue because of their weak negotiating position. They knew it would be a non-starter with the Israelis. That was unfortunate. Where there is no central army, there is inevitably a vacuum in which militias, terrorist organizations, and vigilante squads, rush in.

I don't expect most of the pro-Israel folks reading the blog to understand what I have just written. It took me thirty years to wean myself from the pro-Israel gut reaction: "Are you nuts? What would the Palestinians have to be afraid of? It is they who have been the aggressors since 1920's! Let them prove themselves first, and if they can stop terrorism for a few decades, then we maybe can consider allowing them to arm."

But if you answer like that, then you are not in favor of a two-state solution. You want one powerful state, which has virtual control over the land, resources, and borders of another people -- but without the headache of having to take care of that people, much less allowing them citizenship.

The question is very simple. If you believe that the Palestinians have a right to a state in Palestine, is it less a right, more a right, or the same right as Israeli Jews have? If it is less a right, then you are a one state-one 'state' person. If it is an equal right -- and I assume Jonathan Hoffman believes that it is -- then it is simply unfair for one state to be allowed to fulfill the first and most important function of any state -- protection of its people; whereas the other state is not allowed to fulfill that function. Ditto for other aspects of control.

So are the Zionist here willing to bite the bullet and sign a peace-treaty in which the other side has a modern army and not a mere police force, and a strong economy that could wreak the same damage on Israel as Israel's economy could on Palestine? Alternatively, are you willing, to join a federation in which there will be one federal defence force, a coordinated foreign and economic policy, and a federal board for the use of resources?

If you are not prepared for either alternative, then the irony is that the Palestinians who support the two-state solution are much more two-statist than their Israeli counterparts. Because they do not require of Israel that it disarm, or that it allow the Palestinian state to be equal in power. They are quite willing to have a powerful state like Israel, with which it enjoys a natural rivalry, on its borders.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

How the Israel Lobby Works -- Finkelstein and the Oxford Union

So what's the big deal? Alan Dershowitz did not threaten to sue the Oxford Union, or its president, Luke Tryl, if Norman Finkelstein was invited to speak in favor of the two-state solution. He did not threaten to break Tryl's legs, or to try to cancel funding, or to take him to court. All he did was threaten to write an op-ed against the Oxford Union (which he later did here). And why? Because it seemed absurd to him that a noted anti-Zionist like Finkelstein would argue in favor of the Jewish state. (That is not what the debate was about, but facts don't bother Dershowitz.) Facing Finkelstein would be three speakers who want to destroy the Jewish state, Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, and Ghada Karmi. So how can you invite an "anti-semite" (Dershowitz's words) like Finkelstein to support the Jewish state. What a leftwing farce!

So Alan Dershowitz, exercising his right to free speech, wrote an op-ed and attacked the Union. Other groups also exerted pressure. And the Union, or more precisely, its president, Luke Tryl, caved in under the pressure. This is from what Tryl wrote to Finkelstein in email dated October 17

Dear Dr Finkelstein,

...Many people expressed concern that the debate as it stood was imbalanced and people felt that as someone who had apparently expressed anti-zionist sentiments that you might not be appropriate for this debate. I tried to convince them otherwise but was accused of putting forward an imbalanced debate and various groups put pressure on me. I received numerous emails attacking the debate and Alan Dershowitz threatened to write an Oped attacking the Union. What is more he apparently attacked me personally in a televised lecture to Yale.

I hope that you understand my position, this is not ideal and I would be happy to welcome you as an individual speaker to the Union in a forthcoming term. I know that the President-Elect Emily Partington would be keen to host you in Hilary. I just did not want to see the debate compromised and given the Irving Griffin Controversy I couldn't fight a battle on all fronts.

Best wishes


So, who's to blame? Well, in my opinion, the blame falls pretty squarely on Tryl. Dershowitz was Dershowitz -- a pit bull that misrepresented the debate (it was not a debate about the legitimacy of Zionism), Finkelstein, and the Union. But because of an unflattering op-ed in FrontPage and the Jerusalem Post, you disinvite a speaker?

As if that weren't enough, when the debate was held -- with most of the players changed -- the Union did not repeat to the audience what Tryl had written to Finkelstein. Instead, they said that they had mistakenly invited Finkelstein, not knowing what his views were, or something to that effect.

That's how it works. Either you hang tough or you don't. Tryl folded.

Clearly, Dershowitz and UK Peace Now's Usiskin thought it was more important to get Finkelstein off the panel -- because they simply are incapable of understanding how an anti-Zionist can favor a two-state solution -- then allow the invitation to get through.

I gave up on Dershowitz a long time ago. Apparently UK Peace Now has gone over to the neocons as well.

Time to give up on the Oxford Union.

It's High Noon all over again.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Disinviting Finkelstein to Speak at the Oxford Union

Last week I posted a statement about the academic boycott in which I said that I am not ready to support it. Well, I am still not ready, but I am one step closer after I read about the antics of UK Friends of Peace Now on jews sans frontieres. It turns out that one of the co-chairs of this organization, a Paul Usiskin (this according to the Jerusalem Post), pressured the Oxford Union to drop Norman Finkelstein from a debate on the one-state/two-state solution. You can read about it on Finkelstein's blog. People are accusing Alan Dershowitz of derailing the invitation to Finkelstein -- hardly surprising, if true -- but from what I read, Usiskin is the culprit.

Finkelstein has long been a proponent of the two-state solution, along with his intellectual pere, Noam Chomsky. Chomsky has been attacked by one-staters for that. As I have said before on this blog, Finkelstein's views on Israel are quite moderate -- he does not demand a dismantling of the Zionist regime, or a return of all the refugees, but merely an end to the occupation. He is no Zionist, and he thinks that the founding of the state in 1948 was a mistake. Big deal. The question was not "Do you support Zionism," but "Do you support a one- or a two-state solution?"

This is a question that is endlessly debated among the left, and it would have been a brilliant strategic coup to get a known critic of Israel to argue for two states. After all, many of us think that a one-state solution shafts the Palestinians because it fails to address the question of Palestinian national aspirations.

I have continually preached the importance of forging coalitions with the so-called Zionist left. I am a wimpy liberal -- I want to make a difference, and I know you have to cooperate. I am not expecting Friends of Peace Now to go out on a limb in favor of Norman Finkelstein. But if it is true that they helped derail the Oxford Union debate -- which would, admittedly, have involved a lot of Israel-bashing -- then they should be roundly condemned for it.

I hope somebody from there reads this blog and explains.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Are There Any Grounds For Optimism?

Phil Weiss wrote some amusing posts about the CAMERA conference ("Israel's Jewish Defamers"!) in New York City, which he actually plunked down $40 to attend. According to his report, the atmosphere was heavy with the sort of pessimism that one associates with the Jewish neocons, who believe that Israel, that "tiny beacon of western democracy," cannot survive for long in a hostile desert of Arab Islamofascists plotting the next Holocaust, with the help of their unwitting dupes, the self-hating liberal Jews, and the leftwing antisemites, a.k.a, the anti-Zionists.

Phil was heartened by the fact that the average age of the attendees was around 62. In fact, he was so encouraged that he writes, "The CAMERA people are losing and they know it." In my own mean-spirited review of Ruth Wisse's book (which I also posted on the Amazon website) I wrote:

Wisse should ask why no Israelis are writing Hebrew versions of "Jews and Power," and why there is no public in the Jewish state for such books. Or why nobody in Israel under the age of sixty writes the history of the Israel-Palestinian conflict the way she does, unless associated with Shalem Center or Bar Ilan.

So my question here is: is this indeed a generation thing? Are we looking at a generation of American and Canadian Jewish intellectuals, who, picked on when they were brainy little Jewish kids in their public school in the forties and fifties, not cool because they were Jewish, with lingering guilt over their inability to connect unselfconsciously to their Judaism, as had their parent's generation, bought into the Zionist mythology, appropriated Black victimology, and used their often considerable talents of writing, to fight back against the antisemites and the self-hating Jewish liberals --only to find themselves embraced by Christian evangelicals, shunned by respectable intellectuals, banished to a Commentary ghetto, and belittled by the Israeli establishment?

Has the danger passed?

Part of me says yes. Part of me says that there is just no continuation of the Podhoretz-Ozick-Wisse-Foxman-Klein-Levin generation. Even the rightwingers coming up in the ranks (I see them at ZOA meetings at Hillel) cannot use the same slogans and cling to the same myths as the older group. Ruth Wisse can barely use the term "Palestinian". This indeed is a generational thing.

But let's not be too happy too soon. I fratelli Hazony, David and Yoram, Michael Oren, and a whole bunch of AIPAC youngsters, are still there. The profile has changed -- most of the rightwingers are now products of modern orthodox day schools -- and the talk is now less of "Arabs" than of "radical Islam". There is less idealization of Israel, but just as much demonization of the Arabs (though not of the Palestinians, who are considered whiners and schlemiels, terrorists who can't bomb straight.) More Jewish rightwingers are studying Arabic, and Middle East Studies after 9/11 -- and they are not doing it out of a desire to learn the history of Islam, either They are doing it because of the influence of Lewis, Pipes, Oren, et al., the "Clash-of-Civilization" thang, and the desire to protect the interests of Israel, the US, and the Republican party (no need to assign priority; they are all the same interests)

But why stop there? As readers of this blog know, I am not much happier about the "leftwing" of the Israel lobby, neither the think-tanks like the Brookings Institutions' Saban Center for Middle East Policy and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, nor the liberal columnists like Tom Friedman and Richard Cohen, nor Democrats like Hilary Clinton (who was recently, and not surprisingly, endorsed by Charles Krauthammer as the "least objectionable of the Democratic candidates", or words to that effect). In short, one generation comes, the other generation goes --to paraphrase Yizhak Shamir -- it is the same sea and the same Jews.

Yes, Walt and Mearsheimer's book is a best-seller, but so is Podhoretz's book (I forget the title -- something like, "How To Start A World War By Bombing Iran," if I am not mistaken) -- and this, even after the ongoing debacle in Iraq, for which Podheretz and Co. should take some responsibility.

I would like to think that things are changing, but I see no light at the end of the tunnel, except for...

Except for the resistance to the Occupation going on in Israel, and supported by people of good will everywhere.

Except for the Human Rights organizations that are recording the daily violations of Palestinian life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Except for the Israelis and Palestinians, and their supporters, who fight injustice within Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Except for the Palestinians, the children and grandchildren of the Nakbah survivors, who are able, despite all odds, to become lawyers, doctors, engineers, film-makers, and then to become articulate spokespeople for their people. And we will be seeing more of them.

Except for the Palestinians who will not leave their land, who cling to it, and who continue to embrace its life. And except for the Israelis, who, willy-nilly, will have to learn to live with the inhabitants of the land and their descendants. Perhaps it will take generations, but the time will come. If Iron Curtains can fall, then so can Iron Walls.

And, finally, except for those Jews who have resisted the temptation to become nationalist Zealots, who do not hold up Simeon and Levi as role-models, who do not forget that according to traditional Judaism, "pride" is a sin and "Jewish pride" an oxymoron.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More Settler Harrassment of Human Rights Activists

In recent weeks, as Jewish and non-Jewish human-rights groups have increased efforts to publicize Israel's human rights violation on the West Bank, and to help Palestinians with the annual olive harvest, some settlers are becoming more vocal and more violent. Their tactic: disrupt tours sponsored by activists, and then file trumped-up complaints against them. These complaints are routinely dismissed, but they tie up the activists' time, and they discourage people from turning out for the tours.

I received this yesterday from an activist, and it refers to the harrassment of a Rabbis for Human Rights field worker. RHR is now helping in the olive harvest and need volunteers.

Last week, Zacaria Sadah, field worker for Rabbis for Human Rights, along with an RHR volunteer, were chased by cars driven by Itai Zar and settlers from the Havat Gilead outpost who sought to drive them from the road. When RHR called the police, the police arrested Sadah and the volunteer based on a complaint by Zar that Sadah had started a fire in Havat G il ead. They have been jailed for the evening and will be brought to court tomorrow.

Sadah and the volunteer were not in the vicinity of the fire. Farmers from the Palestinian village of Tel have been working today at the intersection of the approach road to Havat Gilead and, thus, were not in the area of the fire. Despite our complaints none of the settlers were arrested.

It should be pointed out that this is not the first time that Itai Zar has made false accusations against the staff and volunteers of Rabbis for Human Rights. Three years ago he accused RHR's former field worker of attacking him, but police photographs showed that this was not the case.

For Arik Ascherman's recent follow-up, see here

And please take a minute to look at the Youtube clip posted two days ago. You see how the extremist Noam Federman, a former leader of the Kach party, breaks up a tour led by Bne Avraham that has stopped next to the grave of the mass-murderer Barukh Goldstein's. As you will see in the video, Federman shoves the tour-leader (a complaint of assault was subsequently filed), and drowns out the tourguide's explanations. Federman later charged that Yehudah Shaul, who is known here as the founder of "Breaking the Silence" was attempting to urinate on the grave. The charge is absurd, but it has to be answered -- counter-complaints were filed.

Please circulate the video. Of course, there are much worse on Youtube. Do a search on Hebron or settlers, and what you see will nauseate you.

Why do Jews only mobilize for Darfur, when these things are happening in their back yard --and in their name?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

B'Tselem's Latest Report on Settler Violence in Hebron

B'Tselem and ACRI have a published a short document on settler violence in the a-Ras neighborhood, where the new settlement established last March continues to grow, despite the Defense Minister's decision to evacuate the settlement. Of course, this is how settlements grow -- they are established, there is a big to-do, the government decides to evacuate them, and they grow. It is a game that Israel plays in order to placate the media, which goes on to another story.

Only this time, several Israeli human rights groups have targeted Hebron by having a presence there, documenting and photographing settler violence. Will it help? Probably not in the short run. But never underestimate the power of documented crimes and injustice on the formation of the character of young Israeli Jews in the years to come.

The report in English is here; please check out the litany of settler violence here

19 Oct. 07: Hebron: The Israeli Settlement in the a-Ras Neighborhood

Follow-up Document

On 19 March 2007, a new settlement was established, in the heart of the a-Ras Palestinian neighborhood. In the months that have passed since then, despite the decision of the Defense Minister at the time to evacuate the settlement, the settlement has grown. Recently, the settlement was connected to the electricity grid, and construction and renovation work is taking place at the site.

Since the settlement has been established, the harm to the Palestinian residents has increased and they have suffered further infringement of their human rights. Palestinians suffer both from the settlers and from Israeli security forces who have been assigned protect the settlement.

Researchers from B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights found that establishment of the settlement and the failure to evacuate it, have led, for example, to the following:

Extensive abuse and violence by settlers in the new settlement, carried out in front of the eyes of members of the security forces; Abuse and violence by security forces posted on or near the new settlement; Increased prohibitions on movement enforced by Israeli security forces. Failure to enforce the law on violent settlers

During the course of the first six months of the new settlement, B'Tselem and ACRI documented scores of cases in which settlers attacked Palestinians in the area. The attacks include beatings, blocking of passage, destruction of property, throwing of stones and eggs, hurling of refuse, glass bottles, and bottles full of urine, urinating from the settlement structure onto the street, spitting, threats, and curses.

Sample cases:

Settlers attack residents of the Palestinian neighborhood daily, in the light of day and in front of large numbers of soldiers and police who protect the settlement. The army set up a position on the roof of the settlement building and a checkpoint on the road nearby, so it is impossible for an attack to occur in this area that is not within the eyesight of security forces. But, as is the case in the neighborhoods in Hebron 's city center where Israeli settlements have been established, the soldiers and police who witness attacks fail to take sufficient action to stop the attacks and enforce the law. At times, they do nothing. In many instances, Palestinians who sought the aid of security forces standing at the site of the attack were told that their only duty was to protect the settlers. text

Thursday, October 18, 2007

To Readers -- Please Check Out the "Top Posts" Section

If you look to your right, you will see that I have expanded the "Top Posts" section. These are posts that seem to have attracted the most attention of readers, or that I have worked on the most. Next week I will re-label some of the posts so that folks interested in a certain topic can navigate there.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On the Academic Boycott of Israel and the Current Georgetown Brouhaha

The Magnes Zionist has never written a post on the attempts of individuals in the United Kingdom to organize boycotts of Israeli universities, or of Israeli academics. That is because the matter has been endlessly discussed (a brief summary of the arguments appears below), and I have little to add. But events at Georgetown U have convinced me to weigh in.

In 2005 I heard the boycott discussed at al-Quds university in Jerusalem by a panel that included Hilary Rose, one of its main proponents, and activists and academics from Israel, Palestine, and abroad. (The event was sponsored by the Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which organizes excellent fact-finding missions for faculty to Israel-Palestine; see their website here.) My impression was that most of the attendees were not convinced by Dr. Rose’s presentation. This was before the British Association of University Teachers issued a more focused boycott of Bar Ilan and Haifa Universities. The boycott resolution created an uproar, and was subsequently canceled. Last May, the congress of the newly-formed University and College Union in the UK, after condemning Israeli activities toward the Palestinian, decided to circulate among its members a call by Palestinian trade unions to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Last month, citing legal difficulties in implementing its decision, the UCU decided to shelve action on the boycott issue, while allowing for debate on Israel’s policies.

It is difficult to get many academics, even strong critics of Israel, to support the boycott, both for reasons of principle (academic freedom, fear that it constitutes collective punishment) and of tactics (the ineffectiveness of the boycotts, which usually are canceled after prominent intellectuals and groups weigh in on the other side.) By stressing analogies with academic boycotts of South Africa, the boycotters invite two objections: first, that the situation in Israel is not sufficiently comparable to apartheid of South Africa, and second, that the academic boycott of South Africa was not really effective in helping to end apartheid. The response to this is that the situation in Israel-Palestine is as bad as or worse than it was in South Africa, and that academics as a guild should focus on academia, especially since Israeli universities are implicated in the machinery of the Occupation.

I do not support the academic boycott of Israel, mostly because I think it is a counterproductive tactic. I believe strongly in academic freedom, but I am not an absolutist; there are times when academic freedom can and should be restricted, if it will help stop the restriction of even more fundamental freedoms. Under certain circumstances, an academic boycott, like sanctions of all sorts, can be justified – the question is what circumstances, and whether the time is ripe. And my feeling is that the time is not ripe for an effective boycott. Perhaps it never will be.

Franz Rosenzweig, the Jewish philosopher, was once asked if he put on tefillin (“phylacteries”). His reply was, “Not yet.” That is the answer I give to people when they ask me whether I support the academic boycott.

On the other hand, I will not condemn supporters of the boycott or deny that they have done some good. They have drawn attention to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and they have done so in the name of principles that I accept. I do not question their motives or the intentions, only the practical wisdom of what they are doing. I will, if necessary, express my objections to the boycott, but I will not vilify the boycotters.

Which brings me to the current Georgetown brouhaha…

Last summer, the American Jewish Committee sponsored an ad in the New York Times that included a statement by Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, and which was endorsed by many other university presidents, including my own. The letter criticized the UCU for “advancing a boycott” (which it didn’t; it merely called for discussion of the boycott). Bollinger’s statement was seriously flawed in two ways: it said nothing of the context of the British protest against Israeli academic institutions, and, worse, it characterized the attempts at boycotting as “intellectually shoddy and politically biased.” Thus Bollinger went far beyond opposing the boycott on the principle of academic freedom; he implicitly took a pro-Israel stand, which is why the American Jewish Committee seized upon it and started to marshal support among other university presidents.

Note that the university presidents were asked to endorse Bollinger’s statement rather then sign a petition using Bollinger’s language. The difference is subtle, but the former allowed them to go on record opposing the boycott without having to be bound to the statement’s pro-Israel sentiments. But at least for one Georgetown university professor, the endorsement was bad enough. Louis Michael (Mike) Seidman, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown Law School, has written an open letter to President DeGoia, criticizing him for endorsing the Bollinger statement. The full text of the Seidman letter is cited below. Seidman has not been allowed to disseminate his letter to the Georgetown community using the university email or materials. Now that all this is public, he won't need them.

There is a third way between boycotting and not boycotting – and that is the way of critical engagement. No, I am not talking about the type of engagement preached by the “Engage” crowd, a liberal Zionist group in the UK whose main task is to take on the “new anti-Semitism” (boogah-boogah). I mean engaging Israelis and challenging them to conform to their self-image of a civilized and humane democracy. I am always surprised when I meet critics of Israel who tell me that they have not been to Israel nor do they plan to go, on principle. That seems to me an easy way out, not Rachel Corrie’s way, or Jeff Halper’s way, or the way of Machsom Watch or Breaking the Silence.

Go to Israel and Palestine, witness for yourself the human rights violations, become an activist or support an organization – and then write, and talk, and spread the word – not just to the world but to the Israelis themselves. That is a lot better than an ineffectual and counterproductive boycott.

Here is Prof. Seidman’s letter:

Dear President DeGoia:

As an American, a Jew, and a member of the Georgetown faculty for over half my life, I want you to know how disappointed I am that you signed the full-page advertisement that appeared in the New York Times on August 8. I am even more disappointed in the way that you have behaved in the weeks since the advertisement appeared.

The advertisement criticized the boycott of Israeli universities in the most vitriolic and unbalanced fashion imaginable. Instead of reasoned debate about the issue, it resorted to name-calling, characterizing supporters of the boycott as "intellectually shoddy" and "politically biased."

My own view is that at this point in history, a boycott of major Israeli institutions might play a useful role in undermining disastrous Israeli policies, much as the boycott of major South African institutions did a generation ago.

I can nonetheless understand how reasonable people might disagree with this assessment, and your mere opposition to the boycott would not have caused me to write this letter. I do not understand how you could have signed a statement opposing the boycott without any acknowledgment of the actions that gave rise to it in the first place. The statement you endorsed makes no reference to the suffering of the Palestinian people, to Israeli defiance of international law and United Nations Security Council resolutions, to the racism that pervades Israeli society, to Israel's provocative and arrogant insistence that it, alone among Middle Eastern countries, has the right to maintain nuclear weapons, or to the way in which Israeli policies endanger international peace.

To sign a statement condemning the boycott without mentioning any of this is to take a side on a contested political issue. It is to ally oneself with those who deny that these things are true or who minimize their importance. It is analogous to signing a statement condemning the founding of the state of Israel without mentioning The Holocaust.

In the weeks following your signature on the advertisement, you generously agreed to meet with me about it. In our meeting, you stated that you agreed that the advertisement was unbalanced and that it did not accurately reflect your views. You also stated that you believed that corrective action on your part was necessary. You promised that you would get back to me about the nature of the corrective action within two weeks.

Today, I received a letter from you quoting from your statement at a town hall meeting. I can't imagine that you suppose that the statement does anything to undo the damage that you caused with your signature on the advertisement. The statement does no more than to reiterate in marginally more temperate language your determination not to support the boycott. Once again, it completely ignores the tragic suffering of Palestinians and Israeli responsibility for that suffering.

As I have already indicated, I believe that a boycott of Israeli institutions is the most forceful way to communicate our disapproval of Israeli policies. I can understand why a person might believe, as you apparently do, that engagement with those institutions, would be more productive. If we are going to engage, however, I would have thought that we have a special responsibility to frankly and vigorously confront our engagement partners with our disapproval of their conduct. Surely, engagement is useless or worse if it consists of nothing but support for the oppressors against the oppressed. I am afraid this is what your statements so far have amount to. Such support is unworthy of the President of this great University. I strongly urge you to reconsider.


Louis Michael Seidman

Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law

Monday, October 15, 2007

The New York Review of Books Letter on the Annapolis Peace Summit

I don't believe anything will come out of the Fall peace summit. I hope it won't, because any agreement would be at the expense of the weaker party, the Palestinians.

But I am pleased to see that there are people who disagree with me enough to take the time to write to President Bush and Secretary of State Rice with a declaration of principles. I don't agree with all the provisions -- the section on refugees, for example, is still not robust enough, but it definitely goes further than anything before, and I would be happy if it became American policy. However, I know that the reasonable compromise proposed here by leading Americans will be rejected by the Zionists of all stripes, liberals and conservatives, proving for the umpteenth time that Israel and their supporters are not willing to make the minimum effort for a just resolution to the problem of Palestine.

This is from the November 7 issue of the New York Review of Books, one of the only publications in this country that is worth reading on Israel/Palestine.

'Failure Risks Devastating Consequences'

By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, Carla Hills, Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, Thomas R. Pickering, Brent Scowcroft et al.

The following letter on the Middle East peace conference scheduled for Annapolis, Maryland, in late November, was sent by its signers on October 10 to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The statement is a joint initiative of the US/Middle East Project, Inc. (General Brent Scowcroft, chairman, International Board, and Henry Siegman, president), the International Crisis Group (Gareth Evans, president), and the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program (Steven Clemons, director).

The Israeli-Palestinian peace conference announced by President Bush and scheduled for November presents a genuine opportunity for progress toward a two-state solution. The Middle East remains mired in its worst crisis in years, and a positive outcome of the conference could play a critical role in stemming the rising tide of instability and violence. Because failure risks devastating consequences in the region and beyond, it is critically important that the conference succeed.

Bearing in mind the lessons of the last attempt at Camp David seven years ago at dealing with the fundamental political issues that divide the two sides, we believe that in order to be successful, the outcome of the conference must be substantive, inclusive, and relevant to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians.

The international conference should deal with the substance of a permanent peace: Because a comprehensive peace accord is unattainable by November, the conference should focus on the endgame and endorse the contours of a permanent peace, which in turn should be enshrined in a Security Council resolution. Israeli and Palestinian leaders should strive to reach such an agreement. If they cannot, the Quartet (US, EU, Russia, and UN Secretary General)—under whose aegis the conference ought to be held— should put forward its own outline, based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Clinton parameters of 2000, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, and the 2003 Road Map. It should reflect the following:

Two states, based on the lines of June 4, 1967, with minor, reciprocal, and agreed-upon modifications as expressed in a 1:1 land swap;

Jerusalem as home to two capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty;

Special arrangements for the Old City, providing each side control of its respective holy places and unimpeded access by each community to them;

A solution to the refugee problem that is consistent with the two-state solution, addresses the Palestinian refugees' deep sense of injustice, as well as provides them with meaningful financial compensation and resettlement assistance; Security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty.

The conference should not be a one-time affair. It should set in motion credible and sustained permanent status negotiations under international supervision and with a timetable for their completion, so that both a two-state solution and the Arab Peace Initiative's full potential (normal, peaceful relations between Israel and all Arab states) can be realized.

The international conference should be inclusive:

In order to enhance Israel's confidence in the process, Arab states that currently do not enjoy diplomatic relations with Israel should attend the conference. We commend the administration for its decision to invite Syria to the conference; it should be followed by genuine engagement. A breakthrough on this track could profoundly alter the regional landscape. At a minimum, the conference should launch Israeli-Syrian talks under international auspices.

As to Hamas, we believe that a genuine dialogue with the organization is far preferable to its isolation; it could be conducted, for example, by the UN and Quartet Middle East envoys. Promoting a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza would be a good starting point.

The international conference should produce results relevant to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians: Too often in the past, progress has been stymied by the gap between lofty political statements and dire realities on the ground. The conference therefore should also result in agreement on concrete steps to improve living conditions and security, including a mutual and comprehensive cease-fire in the West Bank and Gaza, an exchange of prisoners, prevention of weapons smuggling, cracking down on militias, greater Palestinian freedom of movement, the removal of unjustified checkpoints, dismantling of Israeli outposts, and other tangible measures to accelerate the process of ending the occupation.

It is of utmost importance, if the conference is to have any credibility, that it coincide with a freeze in Israeli settlement expansion. It is impossible to conduct a serious discussion on ending the occupation while settlement expansion proceeds apace. Efforts also should focus on alleviating the situation in Gaza and allowing the resumption of its economic life.

These three elements are closely interconnected; one cannot occur in the absence of the others. Unless the conference yields substantive results on permanent status, neither side will have the motivation or public support to take difficult steps on the ground. If Syria or Hamas is ostracized, prospects that they will play a spoiler role increase dramatically. This could take the shape of escalating violence from the West Bank or from Gaza, either of which would overwhelm any political achievement, increase the political cost of compromises for both sides, and negate Israel's willingness or capacity to relax security restrictions. By the same token, a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas's cooperation. And unless both sides see concrete improvements in their lives, political agreements are likely to be dismissed as mere rhetoric, further undercutting support for a two-state solution.

The fact that the parties and the international community appear—after a long, costly seven-year hiatus—to be thinking of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is welcome news. Because the stakes are so important, it is crucial to get it right. That means having the ambition as well as the courage to chart new ground and take bold steps.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter

Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman and Co-chair of the Iraq Study Group

Carla Hills, former US Trade Representative under President George H.W. Bush

Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, former Senator

Thomas R. Pickering, former Under-Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton

Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George H.W. Bush

Theodore C. Sorensen, former Special Counsel and Adviser to President John F. Kennedy

Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve System

Friday, October 12, 2007

Shades of Pelia Albeck -- Is There No End to Israeli Chutzpah?

Consider the following scenario: an ultra-orthodox Jew, walking to shul in a bad neighborhood, is inadvertantly (let's hope) shot in the head by a policeman. Because of his injury the victim needs the services of a caregiver. When the court comes to assess the amount of compensation, the policeman's attorney argues that his client should not pay for the caregiver, since the caregiver is probably a female, and Jewish law and orthodox custom forbid a man and women from remaining in the same room together unless they are married, or unless one of them is deathly ill.

Such a defense would be "beyond chutzpah," right? It is arguably worse than the classic "murdering-your-parents-and-claiming-clemency-on-the-grounds-of-being-an orphan" definition of chutzpah.

Not to the Israeli government.

According to Meron Rapaport writing in Haaretz here,the state called in an "expert witness," a Col. Moshe Arad, to argue that Arabs, specifically Muslims, would not employ female caregivers because that would be a stigma on the Muslim woman, who would be living away from her family, in the house of a strange man. (Apparently, Moshe Arad lives in some Middle Eastern country where caregivers are not from the Phillipines.) Hence, Azam Daher, who was severely handicapped as a result of unnecessary Israeli fire (according to the court) in the first intifada, should not receive compensation from the government for a caregiver.

I swear I am not making this up.

Is there any limit to the state's chutzpah? As Gideon Levy recently pointed out in "Mohammed al-Dura Lives On",

According to data collected by human rights group B'Tselem, Israel is responsible for killing more than 850 Palestinian children and teenagers since al-Dura was killed, including 92 in the past year alone. Last October, we killed 31 children in Gaza.

But ask many Israel-supporters about killing Palestinian children and they will respond that the IDF was not responsible for the shooting of Mohammed al-Dura, the poster child of the Intifada al-Aksa, the only Palestinian child that the world remembers. Al-Dura's death meant something because the video of the death, which may or may not have been doctored, "blackened" Israel's name in the world. Such supporters will spend hours trying to prove that the whole thing was an anti-Israel libel. How much time will they spend talking about the other 849-plus children killed by the Israelis? Beyond the stock answers ("Palestinians don't value the lives of their children; they exploit them to make the Jews look bad"), not much.

Which reminds me of the "Jenin Massacre" libel -- no, I don't mean the Palestinan claim that there was a massacre in Jenin; rather, I am referring to the Jewish libel that the Palestinians continued to claim that there was a massacre past the first 48 hours of battle fog. As soon as the facts were known, every single Palestinian news agency and official accepted that there was no massacre. And yet you still hear Israel supporters bringing up the libel. No, Fatima, there wasn't a massacre in Jenin. Whoopee! But there were massive war crimes -- but hey, who cares, as long as there wasn't a massacre.

Which brings me back to Peliyah Albeck, the legendary head of the civil department in the State's Attorney's Office, who, like the railroads' lawyers in all those B-westerns who used dubious arguments to drive the homesteaders off their land, used legal tricks to expropriate Palestinian land.Albeck in 1991 rejected a demand for compensation by a Palestinian whose wife had been "inadvertantly" killed by the IDF. Her argument: since he had one less mouth to feed and to support, he was financially better off by his wife's death and not deserving of compensation.

I swear, I don't make this stuff up...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Reviews of Walt and Mearsheimer: Moving Past the “Lobby” and Getting Stuck in the “Middle”

The reviews of Walt and Mearsheimer’s book-length version of the “Israel Lobby” in the mainstream media have run from the mixed to the negative. More accurately, they have been negative, with some crumbs thrown to the authors for having raised certain questions and broken certain taboos. The consensus of the reviews that I have seen is that the book is a one-sided indictment against Israel’s policies and supporters, a screed that needs to be "balanced." That certainly seems to have been the view of the Washington Post, which commissioned Samuel Freedman to review the Israel Lobby together with Abe Foxman’s “refutation,” The Deadliest Lies. Freedman, who teaches journalism at Columbia University, and who wrote an interesting book called Jew vs. Jew a few years back, has a lot to say against both books. To his credit, he takes Walt and Mearsheimer much more seriously than Abe Foxman, whose silly little book I leafed through in Barnes and Nobles. Freedman is an intelligent man and a first-rate journalist. But his implied conclusion that the truth lies somewhere in the middle reveals him in all his glory as a liberal Zionist – hardly the fairest reviewer for a book on the Israel Lobby. And yet, virtually all the reviews in the major media outlets have been by liberal Zionists, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

By “liberal Zionism” I mean the view that supports the state of Israel as founded in 1948 by political Zionists like Ben-Gurion. While liberal Zionists are often critical of Israeli policies (especially those advocated by the Israeli right and their hawkish allies, e.g., the settlements), they assume that a) that there are always "two sides" to the Israel-Palestine story, and b) a lot of justice is on the Israeli side. So when they read works by such disparate authors as Walt and Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, Tony Judt and Norman Finkelstein, they cannot refrain from saying, “Yeah, but what about the responsibility of the Palestinian side for the mess?” This is because they fundamentally accept the Zionist narrative of Jewish history that culminates in the State of Israel, and they reject the Palestinian narrative that a foreign settler movement displaced the natives who, as the majority population in Palestine, had every expectation of a belonging to an Arab Palestine with a Jewish minority.

Now, one can favor Israel over the Palestinians without accepting the justice of the Zionist narrative. One can argue that Israel is a state recognized by the United Nations and that there is a prima facie case for favoring a state over a non-state collective, a favored position that will evaporate when the Palestinians get a state. But this is not the position taken by the reviewers. To a man, they appeal to the comfortable (and banal) adage that the truth lies between the two extremes. The difficulty, however, is that they locate the “center” in the Zionist camp. Those who take a position that dissents from political Zionism, even if that position accepts de facto the state of Israel, are considered "dogmatic" and "one-sided".

The triumph of Zionism in this country is not so much that nobody "moderate" today questions the wisdom, or the justice, of the establishment and continued existence of a Zionist state. Rather, it is that nobody "in the middle" questions the correctness of the Zionist narrative that justifies the Jewish claim to a state at the expense of the Palestinian claim. Because if some body did, then the failure to establish a strong and vibrant Palestinian state sixty years after the UN recommended creating .such a state, a state that is at least the equal of the Jewish state, would not allow that person to sleep at night.

I am not saying that reviewers should have been chosen who reject the Zionist narrative. But why not ask people who have no vested interest in either narrative to review the book? Or, if liberal Zionists, are being asked, why not liberal Palestinians, like Rashid Khalidi (who happens to be critical of the book’s thesis.)

As long as the world does not impose a solution that levels the playing field between Israeli Jew and Palestinian, there is no point in talking about “balance”. The situation there is incredibly skewed in favor of Israel, which has virtually all the cards, and against the Palestinians, who have virtually none.

Let me demonstrate Freedman’s fundamental acceptance of the liberal Zionist narrative with the following passage.

It is certainly the right of Mearsheimer and Walt to advance these arguments, and their analysis of Camp David in particular echoes that of Robert Malley, one of the American mediators there. There is no lack of Israeli culpability in the Middle East morass, most obviously for the settlement enterprise. Still, one can leave this book with only the faintest realization that the political majority in Israel had been prepared to withdraw from most of the occupied territories to conclude a peace agreement with a Palestinian state -- until the Al-Aksa intifada brought terrorism as deeply into sovereign, pre-1967 Israel as the Tel Aviv beachfront. Having withdrawn from all of Gaza in 2005, Israel received a steady barrage of rocket attacks, which undermined public support for further disengagement from portions, at least, of the West Bank. The authors do not have to concur with the Israeli reaction to those events, but they prove their intellectual dishonesty in barely even mentioning them...Thus, while Mearsheimer and Walt endorse a two-state solution, they still lump into the nefarious Israel lobby some of the very diplomats -- Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross, to name two -- who tried to negotiate precisely such a peace agreement.

Here you have, in a nutshell, the faith of the liberal Zionist. Israel is indeed responsible for much of the Middle East morass, “most obviously for the settlement enterprise,” as if everything pre-1967 was just hunky-dory and could be solved by a simple withdrawal to the 67 borders -- by ceding “much of the occupied territories,” and concluding it all in Geneva or Camp David with a peace agreement. It seems that according to Freedman, the Israel-Palestinian conflict could have been solved via Oslo, were it not for the al-Aksa intifada, “that brought terrorism as deeply into sovereign, pre-1967 Israel as the Tel Aviv beachfront.” Aside from the fact that this factually incorrect -- Palestinians blew up Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv before, during, and after Oslo, it assumes that Israelis were ever willing to conclude a peace agreement with the Palestinians that would create a strong, secure Palestinians state. As I have written before, this is pure balderdash. Nobody in Israel, except those on the extreme left, have ever supported the establishment of a Palestinian state -- rather, they support an emasculated demilitarized “state” that could survive only because of its neocolonial relation to Israel, and that would never pose a threat to the security of the Jewish state. That the state of Israel would pose a threat to the security of the Palestinian state is dismissed -- after all we are Jews, and we honor agreements.

Freedman, qua liberal Zionist, seems to believe that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. That is also balderdash, as many people have written many times. Israel never “withdrew” from Gaza; it redeployed its troops for the most part on the other side of the "Green Line" and later imposed a crippling siege against Gaza, when the Palestinians elected Hamas. So what really happened was that the Israelis who felt that Gaza could be most effectively controlled by the presence of settlers and IDF troops lost out to the Israelis who felt that Gaza could be most effectively controlled by withdrawing the settlers and the IDF. But the control of Gaza "for the security of Israel" was never once in doubt.

This is the classic Zionist debate – the sort of “Jew vs. Jew” that Freedman should have written about: How does one control the maximum amount of territory with the minimum responsibility for the native Arabs? Had Ariel Sharon been interested in giving peace a chance – and, to his credit, he never once even hinted in that direction – he would have negotiated a withdrawal with the PA, and, more importantly, he would have negotiated a final settlement. But the Gaza withdrawal was never about paving the way to peace – and Sharon had the guts to say that. In fact, the unilateral Gaza withdrawal was intended to humiliate the Palestinians by implying that negotiating with them made as much sense as negotiating with wild animals. (Remember the liberal Zionist Benny Morris’s solution for the Palestinians in his interview with Ari Shavit – put them in cages.) Only a liberal Zionist, who identifies troop-redeployments with peace overtures, can spin the Gaza withdrawal as an opportunity for peace.

Because Freedman is a liberal Zionist – and I criticize not him for that, only the editors who asked him to review the books without demanding him make full disclosure -- he is shocked that Walt and Mearsheimer lump Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross in the Israeli lobby. How dare they throw these two liberal peacemakers into the same camp as Abe Foxman, AIPAC, Daniel Pipes, and Norman Podhoretz? I mean, how many times were Indyk and Ross called self-hating Jews by the rightwing? And how hard did they labor for peace?

But the truth is that virtually all Jews in the US, from the far right to the Peace-Now-Meretz-Tikkun left, are a part of the Israel Lobby, or if you don’t like that term (I don’t), they are strong supporters of Israel, each in their own way. Again, this is not a criticism – believe me, some of my best friends are liberal Zionists (full-disclosure: I am a card-carrying member of Meretz, although, in my defence, I joined the party just to vote for Yossi Beilin in the primaries) . To see how deeply Zionist a Dennis Ross is, one needs only read a few pages of The Missing Peace. The fact that he doesn’t share the “Islamofascist” neuroses of Podhoretz and Pipes doesn’t make him into a centrist on Israel-Palestine.

So, who is really in the middle and not just in the "middle"? Well, Walt and Mearsheimer, Carter, Chomsky, Khalidi, for a start. They are all willing to allow a strong Zionist state in Palestine -- more than I can say for most Israelis with respect to Palestine. In fact, most of the one-statists I know of are in the center -- they do not call for a transfer of populations against their will. If you are for transfer -- either Palestinian or Israeli Jewish -- then you are most definitely not in the middle. If your willing for your national self-expression to come at the expense of the other group's national self-expression -- then you are definitely not in the middle.

Because the Zionist narrative has been accepted by the mainstream liberal press in the US, (but not by Middle East experts), one doesn’t need an AIPAC or a Foxman or a Dershowitz to make the case for Israel. The latter will always serve as the “bad cops” to “good cops” like Tom Friedman, Richard Cohen, Dennis Ross, etc. The real question is – and Walt and Mearsheimer don’t raise it – why has Israel been so successful in getting the Zionist narrative accepted? It is not just the alleged political clout or money of an Israel Lobby. There may be many factors -- liberal Christian guilt for Christian antisemitism, sympathy for the Jews after the Holocaust, the shared Judaeo-Christian heritage on the Bible (the secret weapon of the Zionist), the success story of Jews in the US, including the high intermarriage rates, which makes it more difficult for Christians to act against members of their family. The Palestinians have failed to make the same impact on the consciousness of American non-Jews as have the Jews. They haven't been around as much. And they are "oriental" in the a way that ashkenazi Israelis are not.

And they are Arab, and, mostly, Muslim.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dror Etkes on JNF's "Blatant Hypocrisy"

Note: the following was posted after yom tov ended in Israel, so no criticisms about violating yom tov are relevant:

From Ynetnews

Jnf's Blatant Hypocrisy

Dror Etkes

October 4, 2007

It appears that the High Court discussion over the insistence of the Jewish National Fund, which controls about 13 percent of land in Israel, on its right to continue its policy of refraining from leasing out land to Arabs will soon reach the final stretch. JNF's claims in response to the petition of Arab citizens, who it refuses to lease out land to, is that the land it owns is not national land, but rather, assets that were bought for their full price for Jews only, and therefore the JNF has the right to refuse to lease them out to non-Jews.

This argument can be easily disproved, as there are many immigrants who are not Jewish in accordance to Jewish law, but who are nonetheless residing on land leased out to them by the JNF. It is therefore clear that the relevant criterion for JNF officials is not "who is Jewish?", but rather, "who is Arab?", with the main objective guiding the JNF (even though it is unpleasant to declare this openly) is to continue preventing Arabs in the State of Israel from enjoying equal access to land resources. By reading the response provided by JNF representatives to the High Court, it is easy to identify the contradiction in the way JNF presents its connection to the State of Israel. On the one hand, its attorneys claim that it is an independent body completely detached from the State of Israel's official institutions, and therefore is not at all obligated to adhere to the values of civilian equality. On the other hand, they demand not to undermine the fund's status – a result of the exceptional official powers it enjoys via the law pertaining to the relationship between the World Zionist Organization, which JNF is part of, and the State of Israel. Therefore JNF is attempting to enjoy both worlds: Maintain the immense official power trusted in its hands, while at the same time arguing that its blatantly discriminatory policy does not undermine the values of equality.

Recently it appears that JNF's legal advisors realized that the likelihood that High Court judges would be able to refrain from demanding a change to the status quo is low, and therefore they decided to shift to the gimmick phase. And so, after the PR people and spokespersons exhausted the utilization of the dead in their services, headed by Herzl, who passed away in 1904 and whose entire public activity took place in cultural, political, and economic contexts that are vastly different than those faced by the sovereign State of Israel today, they turned to enlisting the living for their cause. The public stage saw the return of the "Second Intifada Army Chief," Moshe Ya'alon, who is seeking along with a group of dignitaries to join as a respondent to the petition, as someone who may be harmed as a former and present donor to JNF. This is the same Ya'alon who in an August 2002 interview with Ha'aretz spoke about "etching Palestinian consciousness" and characterized himself as a "humanist, liberal, democrat, and seeking peace and security." And there, unsurprisingly, it turns out that the lessons of "democracy" passed on to Ya'alon during his long military service in the territories, occupied by Israel in 1967 but never annexed, are the same ones that continue to guide him to this day in his civilian activity West of the Green Line.

Palestinians are natives of this land

Through the political debate taking place within Israel, we discover time and again that many Israelis refuse to reconcile themselves to a basic historical truth, which apparently threatens the sense of national justice many of them were raised and educated with: The Palestinians are natives of this land and have been living here for generations, while the vast majority of Israelis are the descendents of immigrants who arrived here under various circumstances over the slightly more than past 100 years.

This prosaic fact, in and of itself, does not make the Palestinians nicer, more noble, or wiser than any other nation. It also doesn't make them right in every matter. However, the most important moral point derived from this fact is that the Palestinians too have a collective right to enjoy the limited land resources offered by this country. The Palestinians have the right to refuse to accept the monopoly that the State of Israel demands for itself in practice in all matters pertaining to shaping the physical space where both peoples are living.

While West of the Green Line the State of Israel trusted the process of "liberating the land" (that is, pushing out the Arabs) in the hands of an anachronistic body like the JNF, which adopts deliberate discrimination against Arab citizens, east of the Green Line it trusted the same mission in the hands of settlers who are acting with clear understanding that their methodical violations of the law are a price the State of Israel is willing to pay wholeheartedly, as long as the objective of banishing Arabs from as much West Bank land as possible is achieved.

The similar side to both stories is the enlistment of contractors to do the job and the privatization of official functions adopted by the State, while it rolls its eyes heavenwards and self-righteously each time someone dares characterize the State of Israel's policy as racist. And what if the Palestinians dare rebel and engage in another intifada? No problem, we'll call Ya'alon to come back and etch their consciousness.

Monday, October 1, 2007

"Breaking" News -- "Breaking the Silence" Launches New Website; Plans February Trip to the US

"Breaking the Silence," the IDF veterans group that collects testimonies from soldiers about inappropriate behavior towards Palestinian civilians, has launched a new website. Please take a moment to check it out here.

"Breaking the Silence" may be coming to the States in February. Stay tuned for details.

Some of you may remember that the last time "Breaking the Silence" visited the US, the Zionist Organization of America unsuccessfully tried to get the Union of Progressive Zionists ousted from the Israel Campus Coalition because the latter sponsored the group on several campus. I reported on the trip in the Magnes Zionist's first post, here. Heck, the controversy even made Walt and Mearsheimer's book on the Israel Lobby.

What was heartening about the whole affair was that mainstream Jewish organizations strongly backed the position of the UPZ. The truth is that "Breaking the Silence" is not a bunch of off-the-wall draft resisters, but veterans and reservists of the IDF, some of them combat officers. Unlike Senator John Kerry, who, as a decorated officer, was one of the leaders of Vietnam Vets Against the War, the group "Breaking the Silence" takes no official stance on the question of withdrawal from the West Bank. They simply want to provide Israelis and their supporters the truth as they see it about some of the Israel's activities of the IDF on the West Bank.

Anyway, don't take my word for it. I am neither a member of, nor a spokesman for, the group. Please check out their website

Still More Good News from Israel -- A Tribute To Chaim Brovender

In honor of Sukkot I am featuring the stories of some Israelis who bring credit to Israel and to the Jewish people. The holiday will be over soon, and then I will go back to "Israel-bashing," according to some, "telling it like it is" according to others.

(To the four people in the People's Republic of China who are reading this blog, my apologies for saying things in this post that may not be comprehensible to you, unless you happen to be Jewish. )

After forty years of teaching Torah to thousands of Jewish men and women, Rabbi Chaim Brovender left this summer the yeshiva (seminary) that he had founded in 1976, “Yeshivat ha-Mivtar,” or as it will be called forever to those who attended it -- “Brovenders”.

Rabbi Brovender effected a revolution in Jewish modern orthodoxy by founding two yeshivot– one for men, and one for women -- where the emphasis was on teaching beginners, or near-beginners, how to learn on their own the traditional texts of Judaism, especially Talmud. Until he came on the scene there were few orthodox institutions for beginners, and those that existed were “factories” for turning students into observant Jews, and marrying them off to newly-observant women. The idea that one could actually teach a twenty-year old college student how to learn Talmud at a high level was unthinkable. But, together with a series of great teachers, including the incomparable Rabbi Jay Miller, that is exactly what Rabbi Brovender did. He created generations of Torah learners, most of them orthodox, some of them ultra-orthodox, some not-observant at all. But what brought them all together was their ability and desire to grapple with the traditional texts of Judaism, especially the Talmud – learning it, discussing it, talking about it, and, more than occasionally, living it.

There are teachers of Torah and there are teachers of Torah. What is rare about Rabbi Brovender, aside from his famed sense of humor, is his religious moderation in all things -- except in learning Torah, where he “inclines to the extreme”. This moderation includes his views on zionism and the State of Israel. Rabbi Brovenders has always considered himself a religious zionist, but he has never, to my knowledge, been a follower of the religious ideology – Leibowitz would say, “idolatry” -- associated with Gush Emunim and the West Bank settler movement. I recall how much he disliked facile and superficial religious explanations of historical events. In this, he inherited some of the moderation, and caution of his teacher, Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, of blessed memory, whose religious Zionism, though real, was moderate and nuanced. Some of the zealots occasionally questioned Rabbi Brovender about this; those who did not know him well were surprised to see him defending, albeit obliquely and diplomatically, the Oslo peace process.

At the outset of the Second Intifida, when Palestinan tempers were running high, he mistakenly entered the village of Beit Jallah and was lynched and severely beaten by a mob of angry Palestinians.The incident was referred to in some of the press coverage of his “retirement” dinner, as well as the tribute video. But Rabbi Brovender never liked to make much of the incident. He did not draw nationalist (or racist) lessons from it, and I don’t think it changed his basic thinking on Palestine, which included the necessity of territorial compromise. Did he feel that he was a Jew being beaten by a mob for being a Jew? Yes. Did that turn him into a detractor of accomodation with Palestinians. No.

If Rabbi Brovender’s politics aren’t as far to the left as mine, then they aren’t as far to the right as hardliner Dore Gold’s, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, and one of my classmates at the yeshiva. In fact, for a religious zionist, Reb Chaim was extraordinarily apolitical. Maybe I am na├»ve to think this; but this is the Chaim Brovender I remember, a rabbi who was skeptical about everything -- except the power of Torah to transform people.

Rabbi Brovender’s singleminded devotion to teaching Torah showed me how diverse, non-fundamentalist communities can be created inside and outside of Israel with the love of Torah as its heart. Rabbi Saadia Gaon, the ninth century polymath and leader of rabbinic Jewry, famously said that “Our community exists only through Torah.” Rabbi Brovender has spent his life getting all different kinds of Jews from all different kinds of backgrounds to learn Torah. Where the Jewish fundamentalists of Gush Emunim have settled in the land as “worshippers of trees and rocks,” he has settled in people’s hearts. While others have preached a philosophy of kula sheli – “all of it belongs to me” – he has taught that what really is important is kula shelanu “all of it belongs to all of us”.

For Reb Chaim, a le-chaim. The "spiritual settlements" of Torah that he has built will last forever as the batim neemanim be-Yisrael – the trusty dwelling-places of the Jewish people. That "territory" is as deep and as broad as the ocean.