Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jonathan Pollak’s Speech Before the Israeli Court That Sentenced Him to Jail for Unlawful Assembly

Jonathan Pollak was convicted and sentenced to three months in jail yesterday – for riding a bicycle in a demonstration that he did not organize, nor was anybody else arrested. Why Pollak, then? Because he is a leading Israeli Jewish activist in the fight against the Separation Barrier; because he preaches non-violence; because he comes from a high-profile family; because Israel is trying to stamp out the non-violent protest movement before it gets even more international press and support.

The law violated by Polak is another antiquated relic of the British mandate. One of the first things I learned in Ulpan thirty years ago is that Israel does not recognize the right to public assembly, that any gathering beyond several people needs a police permit. The law is the law, though in this case, as in others, it was applied selectively for one purpose only – to get Pollak.

Here is Jonathan's speech, which I have shamelessly lifter from the +972 website in order to give it greater circulation.

Your Honor, once found guilty, it is then customary for the accused to ask the court for leniency, and express remorse for having committed the offense. However, I find myself unable to do so. From its very beginning, this trial contained practically no disagreements over the facts. As the indictment states, I indeed rode my bicycle, alongside others, through the streets of Tel Aviv, to protest the siege on Gaza. And indeed, while riding our bicycles, which are legal vehicles belonging on the road, we may have slightly slowed down traffic. The sole and trivial disagreement in this entire case revolves around testimonies heard from police detectives, who claimed I played a leading role throughout the protest bicycle ride, something I, as well as the rest of the Defense witnesses, deny.

As said earlier, it is customary at this point of the proceedings to sound remorseful, and I would indeed like to voice my regrets regarding one particular aspect of that day's events: if there is remorse in my heart, it is that, just as I argued during the trial, I did not play a prominent role in the protest that day, and thus did not fulfill my duty to do everything within my power to change the unbearable situation of Gaza's inhabitants, and bring to an end Israel's control over the Palestinians.

His Honor has stated during the court case, and will most likely state again in the future, that a trial is not a matter of politics, but of law. To this I reply that there is hardly anything to this trial except political disagreement. This Court may have impeded the mounting of an appropriate defense when it refused to hear arguments regarding political selectiveness in the Police's conduct, but even from the testimonies which were admitted, it became clear such a selectiveness exists.

The subject of my alleged offense, as well as the motivation behind it were political. This is something that cannot be sidestepped. The State of Israel maintains an illegitimate, inhuman and illegal siege on the Gaza Strip, which still is occupied territory according to international law. This siege, carried out in my name and in yours as well, sir, in fact in all of our names, is a cruel collective punishment inflicted on ordinary citizens, residents of the Gaza strip, subjects-without-rights under Israeli occupation.

In the face of this reality, and as a stance against it, we chose on January 31, 2008, to exercise the freedom of speech afforded to Jewish citizens of Israel. However, it appears that here in our one-of-many-faux-democracies in the Middle East, even this freedom is no longer freely granted, even to society's privileged sons.

I am not surprised by the Court's decision to convict me despite having no doubt in my mind that our actions on that day correspond to the most basic, elementary definitions of a person's right to protest.

Indeed, as the Prosecution pointed out, a suspended prison sentence hung over my head at the time of the bicycle protest, having been convicted before under an identical article of law. And, although I still maintain I did not commit any offense whatsoever, I was aware of the possibility that under Israeli justice, my suspended sentence would be imposed.

I must add that, if His Honor decides to go ahead and impose my suspended prison sentence, I will go to prison wholeheartedly and with my head held high. It will be the justice system itself, I believe, that will need to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza's inhabitants, just like it lowers its eyes and averts its vision each and every day when faced with the realities of the occupation.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Counting Sheep

It is hard to know which is more outrageous – the crimes settlers commit against humanity (yes, the Palestinians are human), or the crimes some of their supporters commit against intelligence.

The Israeli rightwing blogosphere is crowing because, according to a report on the settlers' media outlet, Arutz Sheva, which has not been authenticated elsewhere, to my knowledge, a West Bank Arab admitted to police that he fabricated a story about settlers burning sheep.

Now let's assume, for argument's sake, that the report on Arutz Sheva is correct. What does that say about the general credibility of reports of settler violence?

At the very least, it says nothing; but more likely, it provides stronger support for their veracity.

How so? Well, in this case, the story was odd from the get-go. As already pointed out in Haaretz, police suspected the shepherd's story – not because settlers don't go on rampage against Arabs, not because they don't conduct pogroms, not because they don't uproot olive trees, not because they don't shoot at Arab children, not because they don't steal land, and not because they don't close up wells….

But because they don't do these things on Shabbat, and the accusation was made that the fire was set on Shabbat.

As Haaretz reported,

Police in the area said they had received a complaint and opened an investigation. They said some of the details were questionable, like the settlers' entering a car on the Sabbath, when most Orthodox Jews do not drive.

Most violent incidents perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians take place on weekdays, police sources said.

Funny that the Arutz Sheva report didn't mention Haaretz's piece on police skepticism. I guess it doesn't consider Haaretz leftist. It's also nice to know that the pogromists rest on Shabbat, although it seems to me that since Yishuv Eretz Yisrael/Settling the Land of Israel is the most important mitzvah for them (keneged kulam/keneged kulam), surely their rabbis could find a heter for settler violence on Shabbat…but I won't go down that road here. Rather, I can hear them complaining about those leftwing "police sources" on the West Bank! What's a poor settler to do when the police has been infiltrated by such "Arab-lovers"!

Again, assuming that the story was fabricated, its fabrication was easily determined, and the fellow who made the complaint admitted the fabrication. If this is such a common occurrence, then why can these settlers only point to one case?

Still, the fact that these settlers either lie or are in denial about settler violence shows that they have not completely lost their tzelem enosh/human image.

Kahane, by contrast, would have bragged about it.

H/t to Martin for calling this to my attention





Saturday, December 25, 2010

Israel Steps Up Its Repression of Non-Violent Demonstrators – Part Two

I have some time to post since my 9 o'clock appointment with Joseph Dana had to be cancelled after he spent 30 hours in jail after being arrested at the Nebi Salah demonstrations. Dana writes a blog that is one of the most important sources of information about the activist movement, and he is featured on the indispensable +972 webzine. (Follow him on Twitter here.) I plan to write about the reintroduction of lethal weaponry by the IDF in unarmed protests when I have some time (most of it will simply repeat what Dana and others have been writing.)

Amira Hass wrote today about the Shabak's harassment of non-violent protesters who are, or have been affiliated, with the Anarchists Against the Wall organization. According to this article, there is a Shabak agent named "Rona," from the Jewish division of the Shabak, whose job is to call the non-violent Jewish protesters and, "real friendly-like," invite them for a discussion. Here is what she said to one of them, Assaf Kintzer, a mathematician and activist, who was jailed twice after demonstrations in the last year and a half. (He also embarrassed the IDF by posting this video of soldiers celebrating after demolishing Gazan houses to Youtube.)

I just want you to know that we know precisely the things that you are doing, and they will have consequences. What you are doing now is on the border of the law, and it is very possible that from information that will be collected about you, your actions will be considered illegal. We are up-to-date in all your files. And besides your activity on the West Bank, we know that you are involved in the Israel Business Conference. If you do anything connected to violence that will have consequences.

Hass also wrote about the intimidation of the Hampshire College student, Matan Cohen, at Ben Gurion Airport – who was told he was not suspected of anything -- on the orders of the Shabak, perhaps on the orders of the Prime Minister's Office. After all Cohen was one of the JVPer's who disrupted Bibi's speech in New Orleans.

Hass's article hasn't been translated into English as of this writing; the Hebrew is here

All this is admittedly miniscule potatoes compared to what the Shabak does to the Palestinian they regularly harass, throw into jail, blackmail or bribe into being informers -- all in the name of the "security" of the Jewish state. The extent of that crime, and our complicity in it, will only be apparent, if ever, when historians are allowed access to the Shabak archives

Dana spent 30 hours in jail; his Palestinian counterparts have not yet been released.

He is, after all, one of the Chosen People.


Israel’s Steps Up Its Repression of Non-Violent and Unarmed Palestinian Protests, Part One

Arbitrary Arrest of Palestinian (and Israeli) Leaders Who Preach and Practice Non-Violence

After the initial successes of the non-violent (or, occasionally, unarmed) protests in Budrus and Bil'in, Israel is trying to suppress the protests by arrests, harassment, and even summary expulsion without charges or trial. The last few weeks have seen an increase in the tactics. You want to create facts on the ground in defiance of the High Court's ruling? Arrest the leaders, get the facts on the ground done, then release them. You want to bring in groups of ultra-rightwing settlers to populate an Arab neighborhood? Give an order expelling the leader of the protests from his home based on a 1945 British mandate emergency regulation. You want to arrest a well-known Jewish activist against the Wall? Pick him up on trumped-up charges while he is riding a bicycle in a protest where nobody else is arrested.

I mention here four cases of differing severity – what is common to all of them is that the leaders preach and practice non-violent resistance; Israel persecutes them; America, which claims to care about Palestinian non-violence, and civil society protest (remember Iran?) is silent – as is much of the main-stream media.

Bil'in's Abdallah Abu Rahmah served his jail term of one year for the trumped-up charges of "incitement" and "organizing illegal protests." The Bil'in protests are ipso-facto illegal since they are not authorized by the military. (remember" this "crime" is based on the Draconian IDF military justice system, which affords virtually no rights of protest to Palestinians in the West Bank. In Israel and in Palestine, there is no fundamental right to assemble.) Even if we admit the evidence gathered by kids arrested in the middle of the night and scared to death, the legal definitions of "incitement", if applied to Jews, would have ensured locking up the entire Jewish settler community of Hebron long before Abu Rahman. And what is that definition: ""The attempt, verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order." Notice that it is not necessary actually to disturb the peace in order to be convicted.

But the real kicker is that Abu Rahmah served his sentence and is still not being released. And why not? The official response is "to give the military prosecution more time to appeal the 'leniency' of the conviction". Which translated means – to hold him without trial so he can't be leading protests. By the way, lest some of my readers note, correctly, that the Bil'in protests are not always non-violent, let me hasten to add that even if the Bil'in protesters shot IDF soldiers – which they don't – Abu Rahmah would be wrongly convicted, since he has always himself preached non-violence and himself is non-violent – and, of course, he was not convicted for violence, armed or unarmed, nor has he been accused of violence.

Israel doesn't like the Bil'in protests – so they throw Abu Rahmah in prison. But what is the reaction in the world? The Europeans support Abu Rahmah; the Americans employ their famous double standard in giving Israel a pass when it comes to human rights violations. For futile attempts to get some sort of statement from the State Department see this powerful Youtube video here.

Jerusalem's Adnan Gheith/Jith has been involved in protests against house demolitions and confiscations in Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem, the neighborhood that is at the heart of the de-Arabization project carried out by right wing Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat and the rightwing settler movement El-Ad. Gheith/ Jith has been repeatedly arrested and, to my knowledge, never convicted of anything serious. So how to deal with him? That's easy – use a 1945 British mandate emergency regulation that was concocted against Jews to kick him out of his house for four months, during which time, more rightwing settlers can be moved in and Palestinian houses destroyed. For this story, read Haaretz here. Let's hope a) that the High Court cancels the order and b) the Israeli authorities listen to the High Court. Read about it here.

Jonathan Pollak is one of the most famous non-violent protesters of the Israel Occupation in Israel. A founding member of Anarchists Against the Wall, he is most often associated with protests at Bil'in, Budrus, and other places. Recently he was arrested for taking part in a demonstration on bicycle in Tel-Aviv – the charge was being part of an illegal assembly. He was pulled out of the pack of cyclists by plainclothesmen who proceeded to arrest only him and who allowed the protest to continue. If convicted (the verdict is this week), he faces a 3-6 month sentence. Why was he arrested? Harassment, attempting to deter others, keeping him away from protests. Read about the story here.

Walajeh's Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, formerly of Duke and Yale Universities, who returned to Palestine to fight for justice non-violently, was arrested and later released together with other residents of Walajeh. The fate of the village of Walajeh is simply extraordinary. The villages were expelled from their village in 1948, and then after 1967, they have seen their lands confiscated time and time again for Jewish settlement, Gilo, Har Gilo, and others. Now what is left will be surrounded by a double wall whose purpose is simply to create a ghetto that will allow more land for Jewish expansion. According to the Palestine Monitor, since 2007, the people of Al-Walaja have received four different maps outlining the proposed route of the wall. The first official proposal threatened to divide the town in two parts, completely cutting off one part of the village from the other. After formally complaining to the Israeli high court, the plan for the village was eventually overturned. The current plan for Al-Walaja will see the town surrounded on all sides by the wall. Only one entry and exit point, under complete military control, will remain. The position of nearby settlements mean the Wall will encroach further onto village land, shrinking Al-Walaja before surrounding it.

As I said earlier, the strategy appears to be to crush the Palestinian non-violent protest movement by arresting and removing the leaders from the scenes of the protest.

Where are the "Palestinian Gandhis"? In Israeli jails – for acting according to their principles of non-violence 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

HRW’s Report on the Occupied Territories: “Separate But Unequal” at Best

Human Rights Watch has published a 166 page report that compares Israel's treatment of Israelis and Palestinians in Area C (under Israeli jurisdiction) in the West Bank. Its conclusion: Israel lavishes money on the settlements, their infrastructure, and their quality of life, while spending bubkis on the Palestinians. Worse, there seems to be a deliberate policy of weakening the Palestinian sector, while controlling its lands, resources, and in general making things difficult for Palestinians.

Before you say, "Ho hum, tell me something I don't know," I urge you to read the report, or at least the main findings here. One finds important case studies that are examined in great detail. It's one thing to know that there is discrimination. It's quite another to read the extent. Even the jaded will be shocked.

Here are some of the summary findings

(Jerusalem) - Israeli policies in the West Bank harshly discriminate against Palestinian residents, depriving them of basic necessities while providing lavish amenities for Jewish settlements, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The report identifies discriminatory practices that have no legitimate security or other justification and calls on Israel, in addition to abiding by its international legal obligation to withdraw the settlements, to end these violations of Palestinians' rights.

The report is based on case studies comparing Israel's starkly different treatment of settlements and next-door Palestinian communities in these areas. It calls on the US and EU member states and on businesses with operations in settlement areas to avoid supporting Israeli settlement policies that are inherently discriminatory and that violate international law.

"Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits," said Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director for external relations at Human Rights Watch. "While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp - not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes."

Israeli policies control many aspects of the day-to-day life of Palestinians who live in Area C and East Jerusalem. Among the discriminatory burdens imposed on Palestinians that Human Rights Watch found are Israeli practices of expropriating land from Palestinians for settlements and their supporting infrastructure; blocking Palestinians from using roads and reaching agricultural lands; denying access to electricity and water; denying building permits for houses, schools, clinics, and infrastructure; and demolishing homes and even entire communities. Such measures have limited the expansion of Palestinian villages and imposed severe hardships on residents, including leaving them with limited access to medical care.

By contrast, Israeli policies promote and encourage Jewish settlements to expand in Area C and East Jerusalem, often using land and other resources that are effectively unavailable to Palestinians. The Israeli government grants numerous incentives to settlers, including funding for housing, education, and infrastructure, such as special roads. Those benefits have led to the consistent and rapid expansion of settlements, the population of which grew from approximately 241,500 inhabitants in 1992 to roughly 490,000 in 2010, including East Jerusalem.

In most cases where Israel has acknowledged differential treatment of Palestinians - such as when it bars them from "settler-only" roads - it has asserted that the measures are necessary to protect Jewish settlers and other Israelis who are subject to periodic attacks by Palestinian armed groups. But no security or other legitimate rationale can explain the vast scale of differential treatment of Palestinians, such as permit denials that effectively prohibit Palestinians from building or repairing homes, schools, roads, and water tanks, Human Rights Watch said.

Moreover, in addressing security concerns, Israel often acts as if all Palestinians pose a security threat by virtue of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, rather than narrowly tailoring restrictions to specific individuals who are shown to pose a threat. The legal prohibition of discrimination prohibits such broad-brush restrictions.

"The world long ago discarded spurious arguments to justify treating one group of people differently from another merely because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin," Bogert said. "It's time for Israel to end its policies of discrimination and stop treating Palestinians under its control markedly worse than Jews in the same area."

So convincing is the HRW report that even its nemesis NGO Monitor apparently finds little to quarrel about, besides disagreeing with the some "rhetoric" and "baseless accusations". NGO Monitor does not dispute any of the data, nor does it show where the report contains inaccuracies, exaggerations, or falsehoods. Instead, NGO monitor criticizes HRW for the timing of its report, implying that were it to have waited until a better time, there would be little to complain about. For the rather silly boilerplate response we have come to expect from the well-funded slime machine, see here

Needless to say, NGO Monitor's whining about not taking into context terrorism (hello – what terrorism has there been in the last five years?) does not respond to the HRW's claim above that this discrimination has nothing to do about security. Of course, one could claim that taking land from Palestinians, making their lives miserable, and punishing them collectively, is the best way to deter them terrorism. That may be NGO monitor's argument.

In any event, support for HRW's claim that little of this discrimination is about Israelis security is corroborated by Breaking the Silence's forthcoming 500-page book of soldiers testimonies about the Occupation. More on that later.

Of course, we all know that BtS is funded by the NIF and European governments, rahmanah letzalan (NGO Monitor also has never disputed any of BtS's findings, either. It's must easier to slime it through guilt by association…with European democracies that Israel considers allies!)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Leading Israeli Military Historian: Israel Must Leave the West Bank Now – And Can Do So Unilaterally

Martin van Crevald, one of Israel's leading military historians, and no peacenik, has published a piece in the Forward that makes the following claims:

1) Israel is militarily in an extremely strong and secure position.

2) Holding on to the West Bank will be detrimental to Israel's future (in fact, he says that he will tell his grandchildren to leave such an apartheid country if Israel doesn't withdraw)

3) It would be preferable for the withdrawal to be negotiated, but not necessary.

4) It would be preferable for a Palestinian state to be demilitarized but not necessary.

5) Withdrawal from Gaza was very successful for Israel's security.

Van Crevald is no peace-nik. Words like "justice," "peace," "rights," "self-determination" don't issue from his pen. He is only concerned with one parameter, Israel's security. I think he is mistaken on many points, including some pf the ones he mentions here.

But if you are trying to make the case for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank to your brother, the Israel Lobbyite, I suggest you use some of van Crevald's arguments.

Money quote from the conclusion:

Keeping all these facts in mind — and provided that Israel maintains its military strength and builds a wall to stop suicide bombers — it is crystal-clear that Israel can easily afford to give up the West Bank. Strategically speaking, the risk of doing so is negligible. What is not negligible is the demographic, social, cultural and political challenge that ruling over 2.5 million — nobody knows exactly how many — occupied Palestinians in the West Bank poses. Should Israeli rule over them continue, then the country will definitely turn into what it is already fast becoming: namely, an apartheid state that can only maintain its control by means of repressive secret police actions.

To save itself from such a fate, Israel should rid itself of the West Bank, most of Arab Jerusalem specifically included. If possible, it should do so by agreement with the Palestinian Authority; if not, then it should proceed unilaterally, as the — in my view, very successful — withdrawal from Gaza suggests. Or else I would strongly advise my children and grandson to seek some other, less purblind and less stiff-necked, country to live in.

h/t to Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, for drawing my attention to this.




Thursday, December 16, 2010

More Petitions Against the Rabbinical Manifesto

Two more petitions against the rabbinical manifesto prohibiting the sale and rental of property to non-Jews, both originating from modern orthodox Jewish circles, have garnered hundreds (and soon thousands) of signatures. One originates from Israel; the other from America. Comparing the two is a worthwhile exercise in the difference between Jerusalem and Babylonia, or between Yavneh and the Upper West Side.

The first, here in Hebrew, begins with a strong protest against the rabbinical letter, "which employs expressions that appear to be taken from the vile language used by minority-haters in other times and places.

We, the undersigned, graduates of yeshivot and seminaries, and others committed to the Torah of God, wish to hereby express our shock and sharp protest to the aforementioned letter. This is not our way and this not our Torah.

We protest against turning the halakha into an instrument of advancing a racist ideology. We protest against the destruction of human dignity. We protest against the deliberate damaging of the delicate fabric of relationships between Jews and Arabs in our land. We protest against the irresponsibility shown towards Diaspora Jews.

The letter goes on to claim that the halakhic sentiments of the rabbinical manifesto expresses more their own ideology than the unequivocal voice of the tradition. Mention is made of more tolerant halakhic precedents from the middle ages and the modern period.

We desire a Torah whose ways are peace and comfort, a Torah of loving humans who were created in the Divine image. We desire a Torah that is not alien to the achievements of democracy and its values – the advancement of human rights, the obligation of the majority towards the minority….

We desire to strengthen the hands of rabbis who do not hesitate to speak out at this time with another voice, a voice that integrates the love of Torah with the love of mankind.

The letter is a fine one; my only criticism is that the headline of the petition is the verse from the Bible, "You know the soul of the strangers, since you were strangers in the Land of Egypt" The Palestinian Arab may be a stranger in the Land of Israel according to Jewish tradition, but he is a native of Palestine, and a native-born citizen of the state of Israel. If I can register that reservation next to my name, I will sign the petition, which as of this writing, had 1262 signatures. It speaks to me as an orthodox Jew, if not as a citizen of what purports to be a modern, democratic state.

The American rabbinical petition once cites a verse referring to non-Jews as strangers, although, to be fair, neither petition makes any Biblical verse part of the actual letter.

Do not pervert the rights of the stranger . . . and remember that you were once a slave in Egypt (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

To our rabbinic colleagues in Israel,

We, rabbis serving in congregations and communities across the world, are turning to you for your assistance and leadership at a time of crisis. The recent halakhic ruling from community rabbis in Israel that forbids leasing apartments to non-Jews has caused great shock and pain in our communities. The attempt to root discriminatory policies based on religion or ethnicity in Torah is a painful distortion of our tradition. Am Yisrael knows the sting of discrimination, and we still bear the scars of hatred. When those who represent the official rabbinic leadership of the State of Israel express such positions, we are distressed by this Chillul HaShem, desecration of God's name.

This degradation of the Torah threatens both Israel and our communities. We struggle to maintain a strong, loving relationship between Jews outside of Israel and the Jewish state. Every day, that challenge grows more difficult. Many of our congregants love Israel and want nothing more than the safety and security of the Jewish homeland, but for a growing number of Jews in America this relationship to Israel cannot be assumed.

Statements like these do great damage to our efforts to encourage people to love and support Israel. They communicate to our congregants that Israel does not share their values, and they promote feelings of alienation and distancing. Further, these attacks on the principles of our prophets, which form the basis of Israel's law and society, provide justification for anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment across the world.

Many of you have raised your voices in the past, and have dedicated your lives to pursuing a just society in Israel. You have taught us that the discriminatory attitude expressed in that halakhic ruling does not reflect the belief of the majority of rabbis and Torah scholars or the people of Israel, and for that reason, we turn to you. For the sake of our people, our Torah, and Israel, we beseech you to take a strong public stand and oppose those who misrepresent our tradition.

בברכה, שבמהרה ציון במשפט תפדה

Note that the racism card is not played here, as in the Israeli petition (although that may be due, partly, to the poverty of the Hebrew language when it comes to words denoting bigotry; giz'anut ("racism") covers a variety of sins.) Note, also, that the tone is one of turning to Israeli rabbis for guidance. And note, finally, that the bulk of the letter appeals to the negative consequences for support of Israel. The letter is less sharp and more deferential than its Israeli counterpart – as befitting the inferiority complex of many American Jews.

No matter – a big yasher koah to all the rabbis that signed it. And it is particularly gratifying that most of the rabbis are non-orthodox, representing all segments of the Jewish religious world.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Breaking the Silence Publishes the Most Important Book of the Year on Israel/Palestine

The Israeli NGO "Breaking the Silence," composed of IDF veterans who record soldiers' testimonies about their behavior toward the civilian population of the Occupied Territories, has published the most important book of the year on Israel/Palestine* – a mammoth volume that makes Wikileaks's disclosures and the Nixon-Kissinger tapes look tame.

For these are not leaked documents. These are the testimonies of ordinary Israeli soldiers concerning four key aspects of the Occupation: "Law-enforcement," "Separation," "Fabric of Life," and "Deterrence/Prevention." The book is not merely a neutral presentation of all the testimonies. It shows that the primary aim of the IDF's presence in the Occupied Territories is not the security of the state of Israel, but the control of the lives, property, and resources of the Palestinian civilians. It also shows that the IDF's soldiers primary partners in the control are the West Bank settlers.

This is not the conclusion drawn by some wacko leftwing anti-Zionist Swede – this is the conclusion that is drawn from testimony after testimony of Israeli combat soldiers.

The English translation of the Hebrew book will be available as a book in a few days. The group plans to distribute it widely. When it is available on Amazon, I will let readers know.

In the meantime, the magazine +972 is publishing extensive excerpts from the book I urge you to read those excerpts and the analyses by the +972 crowd. If there are testimonies that they don't publish, and I find the urge to publish, I will do so.

By the way, check out Breaking the Silence's new website here

(* Full disclosure: I helped translate parts of the book into English.)

Hillels Should Engage, Not Boycott, Jewish Voice for Peace

In an op-ed on the JTA website Wayne Firestone, President and CEO of the Hillel, has articulated guidelines for local Hillels' sponsorship of students groups. ("Sponsorship" includes allowing student groups to use Hillel facilities.) The need for these guidelines is apparent: chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace have been sprouting on campuses like mushrooms after the rain, and some of the Jewish activists in these groups are involved Jewishly and at Hillel. Apparently, there have been incidents where local Hillels have allowed JVP to use their facilities, and this has annoyed parents, donors, and the national office. Rather than include all Jewish groups that are motivated inter alia by ahavat Yisrael (the love of the Jewish people) Hillel has decided that the litmus test for sponsorship to be ahavat medinat yisrael (the love of the State of Israel) So a rightwing ultranationalist group like Zionist Freedom Alliance, which doesn't recognize the Palestinian people and asserts that the Jews have sovereign rights over every inch of the Land of Israel from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, is kosher; but Jewish Voices for Peace, which supports self-determination for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, is treif:

Hillel will not partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice:

* Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders;

* Delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel;

* Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel;

* Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior toward campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.

Note that ideological sins are coupled with sins of civility; one wonders whether Hillels have banned rightwing Jewish student groups after heckling pro-Palestinian speakers.

Note also that excluding the groups that "deligitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel" is a very broad category. Groups on the right have criticized NIF, J Street, and Israeli human rights groups for that. Last spring, parents of Penn students tried to have J Street banned from using the Penn Hillel facilities.

Why is all this mistaken from Hillel's standpoint? Well, according to its website, "Hillel's mission is to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world." One needn't be a Peter Beinart to realize that many Jewish students on campus support justice for the Palestinians, and many are increasingly getting involved in the BDS movement – and that includes liberal Zionists who think that partial divestment, like a boycott of settler products, is an effective way to draw attention to the horrors of the Occupation. Heck, even J-Street has said:

We note positively that some promoting BDS tactics are trying to narrow the scope of boycotts or divestment initiatives to oppose simply the occupation and not Israel itself.  The Palestinian Authority, for instance, calls not for a boycott of Israel itself or Israeli goods, but of settlement products, unlike the all-encompassing boycott of Israel promoted by the global BDS Movement.  J Street, however, will not participate in targeted boycott or divestment initiatives. 

This is clearly a reference to JVP's campaign and is hardly a call for boycotting the boycotters.

Hillel has every right to promote a pro-State of Israel and pro-Zionist agenda. But making adherence to Zionism a litmus test for participation at Hillel, of all places, is counterproductive. Hillel should be inclusive of all Jewish groups and all Jewish ideologies, Zionist, non-Zionist, anti-Zionist. I can understand it not wishing to sponsor non-Jewish groups like SJP (Students for Justice for Palestine); its "mission" is towards Jews on campus. But groups like JVP often attract Jews who are not that connected to Hillel. Why won't Hillel reach out to those groups?

Fortunately, Hillels are run locally and not by a national office. I am personal friends with some Hillel directors who feel secure enough in their position and their identity to formulate their own guidelines. I trust their judgment and their knowledge of the campus scene to guide them to do the right thing and engage JVP.

After all, I don't look forward to the day when a thousand Jewish JVPers dress up as Barukh Spinoza and picket Hillels on campuses throughout the countries. What I would rather see, as a college educator, former board member, and current supporter of my local Hillel, would be for local Hillel directors to engage JVP student groups.

Why not start by having a Hillel-sponsored event that explores the limits of Hillel's policy of exclusiveness – inviting JVP and other groups to discuss the question civilly?

Engage, not boycott – isn't that the message Hillel wants to get to the Jewish students?

h/t to Rob Browne



Matt, thanks for the clarification.


Now can I get you to admit that there is a difference in approach to JVP by J Street, which respectfully disagrees with them, and Ameinu, which considers them beyond the pale, and not worthy of being part of the Jewish communal discussion on Israel?


Look at J Street's statement on BDS. It "notes positively" the attempts to limit BDS to partial divestment and partial boycott" -- and then says that J Street will not take that route. It does not diss JVP; it disagrees with them.


And speaking of J Street (by now you have gathered that I highly respect that organization as a model of progressive Zionism, though I don't agree with it) -- look at their position on Gaza after the Gaza Op that got them in so much hot water with Rabbi Eric Yoffe (a progressive Zionist in your eyes?) They took what I considered to be a responsible progressive position -- blasting Israel for its conduct of the Gaza campaign in real time, at a time when other organizations inside and outside Israel (Meretz, for one) were stuttering -- Meretz lost a seat to Hadash for that blunder. And while J Street disagreed with elements of the Goldstone report, it condemned the delegitimization and demonization of Goldstone not only by the right but by many mainstream groups -- and J Street took the heat for that.


Progressive Zionism has had a history of selling out on its progressiveness, such as socialist Zionism has had a history of selling out on its socialism. As a progressive Zionist, I am sure you are familiar with Zeev Sternhell (himself a progressive Zionist)'s book, Israel's Founding Myths, in which he shows how Labor Zionism abandoned socialist principles for its nationalism.


All that having been said, I still maintain that it is possible to be progressive and Zionist -- and you will see many progressive Zionists protesting side-by-side with Palestinians and non-Zionist Jews at the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan demonstrations here in Jerusalem.


That spirit of cooperation has already has its effect on campuses where J Street U and JVP coordinate their activities -- a model of the coalition building I am calling for.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On The Rabbis’ Manifesto and the Moral Limitations of Liberal (yet Religious) Zionism

Negative reactions to the rabbinic manifesto prohibiting the rental and sale of properties to Arabs continue to pour in. This post will discuss three that appeared in today's Haaretz.

The first, and most significant, is the letter written by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshiva of the Har Etzion yeshiva, and one of the leading rabbis of the moderate wing of religious Zionism. The full text of the letter in Hebrew appears here, but its salient points appear in Haaretz English here

"There is no doubt the arguments in the letter are based on sources from the sages of blessed memory, and generations of halakhic tradition, but the document in general leaves one with the impression that it builds its conclusions on assumptions that reflect a particular, but not the only possible, halakhic approach."

Lichtenstein highlights the commandment prohibiting housing to non-Jews or idol-worshipers in the Holy Land. He lists four examples of misinterpretation in the letter, and of the authors ignoring other opinions in the Gemara and halakha. He says the ruling that anyone selling an apartment to a Gentile must be ostracized "is completely false."

"We should state the obvious: In the balance are key questions .... The readiness and ability to consider extensive factors linked to halakhic content and their connection to historic and social reality necessitate a wider discussion."

Rav Aharon attacks the simplistic and tendentious interpretation of sources and wonders how it can be that orthodox rabbis were unable to see the negative consequences of publishing such a letter. While his position will not make a lot of my readers happy – he is, after all, an orthodox rabbinical authority with certain theological and ethical commitments – he does present a reasonable conservative position.

In the same Haaretz article we are told that another prominent orthodox rabbi, rosh yeshiva, and former member of Knesset, Haim Druckman, wants to reformulate the manifesto so as to distinguish between "good" and "bad" Arabs. A good Arab is one that is loyal to the Jewish character of the state; another is one who is not. Anybody with a brain in his head can see that there is no essential difference between his position and that of the original manifesto.

But the most disappointing response was contained in an advertisement sponsored by forty-two Jewish organizations that promote the study of Jewish religion in Israel, or are guided by it, such as the Shalom Hartman Institute, the Hebrew Union College, the Torah ve-Avodah movement, Rabbis for Human Rights, etc. With all its considerable merits, the counter-manifesto exemplifies the moral and political limitations of a Zionism that bases itself on a liberal interpretation of Judaism.

The counter-manifesto certainly begins well enough. Under the title, "No to Racism in the Name of Judaism," it sees the rabbinic manifesto as part of a struggle against humanistic values, and the love of humanity. But here comes the money quote:

We, the heads of organizations and institutions that study and teach Torah believe with all our heart that the Torah of Israel [i.e., the Jewish people], and its development in the Land of Israel, must distinguish between friend and foe, between the aggressor and the resident stranger, of whom the Torah said: "The stranger who lives with you will be like the citizen (ezrah). And you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt, I am the Lord."

What is to be concluded from this passage if not that Arab native citizens of Israel are to be loved as "resident aliens"? What is the essential difference between these sentiments and that of Rav Haim Druckman mentioned above? True, he has a more expansive notion of what constitutes a "foe", and he feels less the noblesse oblige of the liberal religious organizations. But the advert fails to mention the equal rights of all citizens qua citizens. And why doesn't it? Because the minute you appeal to ancient sources to give your viewpoint authenticity, you leave behind modern notions of "rights", "equality" "citizenship." In their desire to show that Judaism and democracy are integrated with each other, the Jewish organizations have altered democracy beyond recognition.

I saw a copy of this statement circulating last week, and I noted my objections then. There already were more public objections to appealing to the concept of "loving the stranger" in reference to Palestinian natives (non-citizens are something else.) Whether these objections were noticed by the framers of the text of the advert I don't know. But this much is certain: to consider a native population – made a minority by expulsion and ethnic cleansing – as "alien" is morally despicable. I am an orthodox Jew, but I don't need to ground my moral convictions on a verse, especially if it is utterly inappropriate. At the very least, the advert should have taken notice of the problem, if only by implication.

It is statist Zionism that made the Arabs strangers in their own land. The problem is not with the texts of Judaism but in their simple-minded application to modern circumstances. I realize that adverts cost a lot of money, and manifestos are not the place for nuance. I also assume that some of the signatories were aware of the problem, gritted their teeth, and signed anyway.

But here in a nutshell we see the moral limitations of a Judaism informed by liberal statist Zionism. If Judaism and democracy can be integrated, it has not been by the framers of this advert. Were I a Palestinian Israeli, I would be deeply disappointed, though not surprised. In the same issue of Haaretz, conservative politician Moshe Arens holds the statements and actions of Israeli Arab politicians responsible for the negative Israeli Jewish attitudes towards Arabs.

Apparently, they don't behave politely like the aliens they are.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

On the Municipal Rabbis’ Manifesto Against Selling or Renting Apartment to Non-Jews in the Land of Israel

Recently a large number of Israeli municipal rabbis published a "manifesto" that forbids the renting or selling of flats to non-Jews in the land of Israel (Palestine). The publication of the manifesto has caused a public uproar, with the group being attacked by secular and liberal religious Jews on the one hand, and by Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, the leader of the "Lithuanian" school of haredi Jewish, on the other.

The manifesto, its publication and the response (which is not over yet) are all worthy of separate and detailed discussion. But here I will make a few points.

The manifesto, though authored and signed by rabbis, is not formulated as a statement of Jewish law, even the sort of statement that would be on a pashkivil/poster in orthodox neighborhoods. There are few citations of halakhic authorities, and no hint of disagreements or divergences within the literature. There is a confusion between two separate prohibitions, lo tehanem (lit. "You shall show them no mercy," but understood by the rabbis as "You shall not give them any resting place in the land"), and lo yeshvu (lit., "they shall not dwell in the land.") There is no recognition that some rabbinic authorities don't view these prohibitions as applying nowadays for various reasons. As Rabbi Elyashiv (or his personal secretary pointed out), the leniency allowed by Rabbi Abraham ha-Kohen Kook that allows Jews to sell land the land to Arabs in the shmittah year, once a major dispute between religious Zionist rabbis and the haredim, assume that neither prohibition applies today (at least not in their full force) And there are arguments brought in the manifesto that have never been adduced in serious halakhic discussion before (e.g., "selling an apartment to a non-Jew lowers the price of the surrounding houses and causes monetary loss to Jews"; one could make the same argument to prohibit selling apartments to religious Jews in secular neighborhoods.)

This manifesto should be compared with one signed by leading haredi rabbis who opposed the Gaza disengagement five and a half years ago.

We wish to make manifest our opinion – the opinion of Torah (daas Torah) -- that it is forbidden to sell land or a house in the Land of Israel to a gentile, even one who does not worship idols or an Ishmaelite (Arab), even where there is a great loss or emergency, for it is the opinion of all the early authorities that it is forbidden to sell land in the Land of Israel to a gentile who did not accept upon himself the seven Noahide commandments

Nissim Karelitz, Aharon Yehuda Lebi Steinman, Michal Yehuda Leifkowitz, Hayim Kanievsky, Zalman Nahman Goldberg

Note that the phrases introduced by "even" betray the halakhic complexity of the issue, although the last sentence overstates the case. In any event, it should be pointed out that the above haredi rabbis were reacting to a different circumstance – the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and not the sale or rental of flats to Israeli citizens. Still, this was a fairly unusual proclamation, solicited by the opponents of the withdrawal, and, as far as I know, unprecedented in other Israeli withdrawals. The relevance of lo tehanem to territorial compromise has been debated by everybody dealing with the subject. Rabbi Elyashiv himself was sympathetic to the rabbis opposing the disengagement, and his own position in the current case is hardly a liberal one. He, too, apparently forbids the sale of property to non-Jews if it can be done discreetly, but fears that the blowback to the public declaration will endanger Jews in Israel and abroad. The hard-line position of the haredi rabbis has its halakhic ancestry in the well known responsum of the Hazon Ish against Rabbi Kook's leniency. The Hazon Ish labored to build an extremely strong brief against any sort of leniency in selling land in order to allow secular Zionist pioneers to work the land. It had nothing to do with the question of renting or selling flats to Arab residents of Israel.

What we have in the manifesto is not a halakhic document but a political/philosophical document that draws on certain Jewish precedent to give it weight. One can find similar documents authored by Muslim authorities, or simply tribalist bigots like the segregationists in the American South, or xenophobic politicians and legislators in today's Europe (and in Israel). The voice may be the voice of Jewish tradition, but the underlying philosophy is that of tribalistic bigots everywhere. Take away the halakhic rhetoric and you will have the view of most Israeli Jews, who will not countenance a blanket law forbidding the sale of property to Arabs, but who will favor laws that allow communities to decide whether they want to accept Arabs as residents. The fact that advantaging your own kind means disadvantaging the other is not recognized by most Israelis, secular or religious.

The publication of the manifesto is interesting in its own right because its signatories are public officials, supported by the state. In my opinion, this should be the focus of the public response. Public officials have been disciplined in the past for voicing public opposition to the first Lebanese war; government employees are expected not to call to disobey laws that forbid discrimination in housing. As for the Jewish religious response, one should expect these rabbis not to be invited, honored, or included by the moderate orthodox. When the Orthodox Union, for example, publishes the sermons of such rabbis on their website, they should be called on it by the few liberal orthodox Jews left in that movement. Of course, this will have little effect, because of the downhill slide of much of modern orthodox Jewry into what one may call "Kahanism lite."

As for the response- well, I suppose we should be thankful that most of the Israeli public (though agreeing with much of its discriminatory attitude towards gentiles) is still not ready to accept a blanket proclamation of this sort.

But, once again, serious Jews should ask themselves – what do we have to blame for this perversion of Judaism, and why it is so deeply entrenched in the Jewish state?

And the answer is simple. Take an intensely nationalist movement and interpret in the most ethnic way imaginable; then force the establishment of a state against the wishes of the inhabitants; give educational autonomy to the most illiberal elements of society; allow them to become drunk with the power over the Arabs; foster parochialism, narrow-mindedness, and religious chauvinism, take away the influence from gentile society and the fear of goyyim, and you have this extremely unattractive thing called "Israeli Judaism," or at least a large part of it.

Has Israel been good for the Jews? Maybe. Has it been good for Jewish religion?

Hizhakta oti – you made me laugh.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Shylock, Fagin, and Finkler: Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question

Fink – "an unpleasant, contemptible person"; "a strikebreaker"; "an informer". The slang word is an Americanism, which may have Germanic roots, and is not common in England.

Move over Shylock and Fagin -there is a new star in the firmament of negative Jewish characters in English Literature, the anti-Zionist Jew of Howard Jacobson's new novel, The Finkler Question. While he is in his anti-Zionist phase, Samuel Finkler has only two positive character traits: Like Shylock, he is concerned with the pursuit of justice (though not for his own people); like Fagin he is faithful to his friends (but not to his people, or his wife.) Until Finkler becomes disenchanted with anti-Zionism he is an odious fellow; selfish, arrogant, hypocritical. A professional philosopher specializing in ethics (since he is an amoralist he can rationalize cheating on his wife), Finkler relishes his role as public intellectual, talking head, and household name. He gladly accepts an invitation to appear on the BBC program Desert Island Discs, despite the fact that he knows little and cares less about music; for him the appearance is a "career move." And when Finkler announces on the show that he is ashamed of being a Jew because of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians (after duly noting about how important Judaism is to him), he joins a club of "ASHamed Jews" -- not because he has serious ideological affinities with the members but because some of them are quasi-celebs who admire his "courage" for speaking out. In the company of Jews who are ashamed about Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, Finkler finds his Jewish métier; indeed, only as a self-hating anti-Zionist Jew can Finkler be truly Jewish. As his wife, a convert to Judaism, puts it,

Have you forgotten that you don't like Jews? You shun the company of Jews. You have publically proclaimed yourself disgusted by Jews because they throw their weight around and then tell you they believe in a compassionate God. And now because a few mediocre half household-name Jews have decided to come out and agree with you, you're mad for them. Was that all it ever needed? Would you have been the goodest of all good Jewish boys if only the other Jewish boys had loved you earlier? I don't get it. It makes no sense. Becoming an enthusiastic Jew again in order to turn on them…Remember what it is you really want, Samuel…Sam! And what you really want isn't the attention of Jews. There aren't enough of them.

In Jacobson's universe, the main reason a Jew concerns himself with the human rights of Palestinians – not just their welfare but their rights – is to curry favor with the goyyim. Later in the book he speculations that Jewish critics of Israel may judge their own by higher standards. For Jacobson, the only Jews who are ashamed of the behavior of Israel are Jews like Finkler – or worse, Jews who are entirely ignorant of what Judaism has traditionally been about

The group was nothing if not heterogeneous. It included Jews like Finkler, whose shame comprehended the whole Jew caboodle and who didn't give a hoot about a High Holy Day, and Jews who knew nothing of any of it, who had been brought up as Marxists and atheists, or whose parents had changed their names and gone to live in rural Berkshire where they kept horses, and who only assumed the mantle of Jewishness so they could throw it up…to be an ASHamed Jew did not require that you had been knowingly Jewish all your life.

In short, ASHamed is a group of self-hating-unJewish-Jews, offended to their core by the label, an assortment of caricatures that are grist for the satirist's mill. And what of those Jews whose Jewish identity consists solely in their being proud of Israel? What of the Israeli hasbara-niks? Are they not the proper butts of satire? They don't appear in this book.

Were Sam Finkler to remain an anti-Zionist he would be no more dimensional than the stereotypes that are members of the ASHamed Jews club. But as one of the three main characters of the novel he is required to possess some depth, something to distinguish him from the easier targets of the author's satire. So Jacobson has Finkler undergo a conversion from moderate anti-Zionism to moderate pro-Israelism, a conversion or return to the fold that (surprise, surprise) washes away his previous character flaws. Once Finkler is partially redeemed we hear no more of his odious character. For Maimonides there could be no moral atheist; for Jacobson there can be no moral anti-Zionist (unless she is a Palestinian, or an overly moral Jew).

Fortunately, Finkler's conversion has nothing to do with any good argument; the one that Jacobson has him making at a public meeting in a climactic passage ("How dare a European gentile single out Israel for moral opprobrium") would be enough for him to be kicked out of any philosophy department. No, the process is more tribal. At first, Finkler draws the line of his anti-Israel activism at boycott – not just academic boycott (which would make sense for an academic) but any partial boycott or divestment, even of the Occupied Territories. And why? Because Finkler is struck by his older Jewish friend Libor's rhetorical question, "Whoever boycotted his own family?" Libor, we are told, is a proud Jew from the Austro-Hungarian empire (Libor would have been only a few years old when that empire dissolved, but no matter; such liberties, like calling an Israeli male philosopher "Avital," or having ideological settlers wear black hats, will not be noticed by most readers.) If Libor knows anything about Jews at all, he should know that they have been boycotting each other since the days of the patriarchs. And, more to the point, Finkler has been boycotting them all his life. So why Libor's anti-boycott sentiments would have an effect on him makes no sense to me.

Whatever. The next step of Finkler's road from anti-Zion occurs – where else? – at a feast of Jewish delicacies. It seems that Finkler prefers eating cholent, tsimmes, and pastrami to arguing in favor of the "anti-Semitic members" of his club. As often with secular Jewish writers of my generation, Jacobson locates the yiddishe neshomoh somewhere within the digestive system. A more serious step is when Finkler, hearing that his son has knocked off an orthodox Jew's black hat after a debate at the Oxford Union over Israel's right to exist, calls him a "fucking anti-Semite" and sees in his progeny the revenge of his betrayed wife. Forget Divine retribution amd The Merchant of Venice -- the retribution of the Jewish people is now Measure for Measure (middah ke-neged middah).

I wouldn't mind so much the negative stereotyping of Finkler (in his anti-Zionist phase) and his fellow "ashamed Jews" were Jacobson a bad Jewish writer or a good gentile writer; after all, there is a "distinguished" British literary tradition of anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes, as well as anti-Semitic writers. What disturbs me is that Jacobson is a very good Jewish writer who purports to care about Jews and Judaism. I haven't read a lot of his work, I am sorry to say, but I did read and love Roots,Schmoots, his Jewish travelogue. My pleasure in reading his account of his tangle with Phil Chernofsky and other rightwing American Israelis at the orthodox NCSY Center in Jerusalem was enhanced by my acquaintance with the people involved. But now I am saddened that in his writing – both novelistic and publicistic – he has gone the way of the American playwright David Mamet in demonizing and trivializing Jews who, as Jews, are critical of Israel's human rights record, or of Zionism. Sure, it is easy to satirize them, as it is easy to satirize anybody. And I don't doubt that Jacobson genuinely believes that many of them are self-hating Jewish ignoramuses. And, yes, he wrote this after Gaza, when the folks at Engage were working full-time to combat the "new anti-Semitism." Who knows? Were he to hear some of the same sentiments of ASHamed coming from me, he may be more indulgent. "Oh, Jerry, you are different; you live in Israel; you and your children have served in the army; you are orthodox; you are a professor of Jewish studies." Or, "You are American; you have no idea how anti-Semitic the campaign to delegitimize Israel in Britain has become."

I am tired of both those responses. Jacobson excludes from his Jewish universe the principled Jewish critics of Israel's policies and some of the uglier aspects of Zionism; more, he ridicules them into cherem/ostracism Now, cherem by ridicule is not without precedent in Jewish history. When the maskilim/enlighteners used it against the hasidim (see Joseph Perl's Revealer of Secrets) it failed miserably. As long as Israel behaves the way it has behaved towards Palestinians, Jacobson's ridicule will also fail.

But how I wish that ridicule was turned against better targets by a writer of Jacobson's talents! There are a lot more Phil Chernofskys (and worse) out there, Howard, than there were when you wrote about them. You want to do something for the Jewish people? Please write your next novel about them and stop demonizing the Jewish anti-Zionists and critics of Israel.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Zionist, Yes; Progressive, Maybe

I have never accepted the view that "progressive Zionist" is an oxymoron (well, there goes half of my readership). For one thing, "progressive" or "liberal" (synonymous, for the purpose of this post) Zionists are generally progressive on other issues besides Israel. They may not be Noam Chomsky progressives or Ralph Nader progressives, but they are at least Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow progressives, and I am feeling expansive today. If they are even the least tad irked at Pres. Obama for Afghanistan or Guantanamo, that's good enough for me. Also, progressive Zionists oppose the Occupation and the settlements. While their memories of settlements only go back to 1967, they are still to be preferred to the "chauvinist center" represented by Likud, Kadima (a weaker version of Likud), and Labor (a weak version of Kadima)

But when push comes to shove, many progressive Zionists I know will let their Zionism trump their progressiveness. As one pointed out to me, the State of Israel is the bedrock of their Jewish identity. So while they can conceive a tactical compromise on their progressive values, they cannot countenance any move by any third party that will have the slightest negative effect on Israel (such as the pain felt when a prominent pop singer cancels her appearance in Tel Aviv). They will support military aid to Israel but will oppose Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, even though such military aid supports the Occupation, whereas the BDS movement is directly directed against the Occupation. They will sit in an Israel forum with people that advocate policies that have already destroyed the possibility of a two-state solution (like the Zionist Organization of America – the group that has done more harm to the interests of the State of Israel than a hundred Ahmadinejads). They will disagree strongly with that group and argue vociferously against it.

But why will they sit in coalitions with the likes of ZOA, but not with the likes of JVP? It cannot be because the ZOA is less harmful to Israel's true interests than, say, JVP. After all, ZOA supports Israel the way it is now, a "hafradah state" (as a Hebraist and a Zionist, I resent the use of a loan-word, Apartheid, when a perfectly good – and more accurate -- Hebrew word will do.) So what the progressive Zionist groups are saying is that although they oppose a hafradah state, which is very much the reality today, they will not sit with groups that support self-determination of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, but have no official position on the political framework of that self-determination. And they will never sit with other groups that wish to End the Occupation who are not Jewish.

Of course, it is the right of any group not to join coalitions. It will say, "We support things that we can support, and on our terms. Fine – as I reported earlier, both JVP and J Street protested the Hebron Fund annual dinner (Ameinu wasn't there, as far as I know). It was not a joint protest.

But my point is that groups like J Street and Ameinu have to be open to new bedfellows when it comes to the struggle to end the Occupation, and at the very least, they have to support those groups, especially the Jewish ones, from deligitimation in the Jewish street.

Kenneth Bob, the President of Ameinu, thinks that JVP is beyond the pale (or cannot be taken seriously in Jewish communal discourse) because of some of their positions. He is entitled to that view, of course. I know people who say that Ameinu can't be taken seriously in Jewish communal discourse because of its criticisms of Israel's actions in the Gaza flotilla and the siege of Gaza. But rather than play the delegitimation game – which ZOA is a master of – wouldn't it be better to affirm unequivocally, once and for all, that JVP is as legitimate a player on Israel as is ZOA? What is worse – calling for the US government to end its military aid to Israel, a call that is obviously symbolic in the present climate, or giving verbal support to the two-state idea while not allowing the US to employ *any* sticks in pursuit of that goal. The "call" may allow Zionist progressives to sleep more soundly at night (some people write blogs for that purpose). But if Ameinu is serious about the call, it should be view JVP as an ally in the struggle, albeit one whose positions and tactics are not always kosher in Ameinu's eyes.

In Israel, progressive Zionist parties have been consistent in their defense of the rights of Arab non-Zionist parties. Is it too much to ask from progressive Zionists in the US to emulate their Israeli brothers and sisters and, at the very least, not diss JVP in public?

(I would ask that other groups in the End the Occupation coalition be shown similar respect. People sometimes write to me, "Jerry, you have gone on record as supporting a selective version of BDS (so does J Street, by the way; they don't call it BDS, though; I do). Aren't you worried about the motives of some of the groups who are in that coalition? "My answer to them is I am generally not. The point of a coalition is that groups and individuals get together for a common goal, despite their differences. Of course, I have my red lines; I wouldn't join a coalition with Neo-Nazis Against the Occupation.

But Palestinian groups are different. It's about time that progressive Zionists make their choice of coalitions, exchange one set of "strange bedfellows" for another, and get serious about salvaging the two-state solution, if it can indeed be salvaged.

Don't diss them.