Hot off the presses.

Here’s my latest, hot off the presses! (If you’re willing to count both today AND the last couple of weeks as “hot”).

  1. Obama’s Peace ‘Pause’ Spells Victory for Bibi (The Forward 4/27/14): “There’s a lot of talk about what Barack Obama and John Kerry should, or can, or might, or won’t do in support of the two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace that has been a stated American policy goal for many, many years, following the collapse of talks. On Friday morning, we learned that Obama has suggested a “pause” in negotiations, to give the parties a chance to consider their futures without an agreement. If history is any guide, though, we know exactly what the U.S. will do at this juncture: Nothing.”
  2. Israel Hires Psychic Uri Geller To Fight Rockets (The Forward 4/23/14): “Really, can you blame them? Faced with ongoing rocket fire on the citizens it’s meant to protect, Israel’s military has done the only truly reasonable thing it could do: It hired a spoon-bending mentalist named Uri Geller.”
  3. “Breakout” – What It Is, And What You Need To Know (Ploughshares Blog 4/23/14): “Whenever the topic of negotiations with Iran comes up, the word “breakout” isn’t far behind. But what is “breakout,” and why is it so important? Breakout time estimates are both a barometer of the time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon and an indication of diplomatic progress to prevent that possibility.”
  4. Annexation Was Always Naftali Bennett’s Plan A (The Forward 4/10/14): “On Wednesday, the multi-portfolioed Naftali Bennett – Israel’s Minister of the Economy, Minister of Religious Services, and Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs – sent a letter to his Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In that letter, according to Israeli Army Radio, Bennett called for a cabinet meeting “to begin the process of imposing Israeli sovereignty on the areas of [the West Bank] that are under Israeli control.” This he called “Plan B,” saying Plan B is necessary because negotiations with the Palestinians have failed – because “the Palestinians have broken new records of extortion and rejectionism. Now. It must be acknowledged that this is some phenomenally well-honed and impressively brazen Orwellian doublespeak. Truly.”
  5. Cross-Border Conversations: Discussing #Irantalks in Israel (Ploughshares Blog 4/8/14): “Given regional tensions, much of the discourse surrounding Iran’s nuclear capacity centers not on the countries negotiating, but on the security needs of Israel. The vital and diverse discourse around this subject was on display last week at a Jerusalem conference on regional security and foreign policy hosted by Ploughshares Fund grantees The Center for American Progress and Molad: The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy.”

Signs of an Iranian-US thaw.

[Note: I actually posted the following a couple of hours before the interview in question aired. I've since done a little editing to make the time-frame a bit less confusing].

On Wednesday night, NBC aired an interview that Ann Curry recorded earlier in the day with newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who won elections in June in a surprising landslide.

Remember back when I said that the situation in Syria is closely entangled with its relationship with Iran, and the American relationship with both?

Before that interview aired, I felt a need to list some of the various indicators that I’ve noticed since just before the August 21 Syrian chemical weapons attack that suggest that President Obama and President Rouhani are both intent on moving our countries away from endless enmity, and toward rapprochement, starting with:

In fact, I’m culling all of the following from a search I did within my Twitter account, but reading a long list of tweets tends to get wearisome, so I’m turning instead to that other fine tool of the modern age: The bullet point.

All of the following reads to me, in sum and in parts, like the careful public face of a lot of fierce whispering in back rooms and corridors and with the help of people like the Swiss, who have long served as Iran-US intermediaries.

  • Within six days in late August, the CIA admitted its role in Iran’s 1953 coup (see above) and also in aiding Iraq in its use of chemical weapons against Iran in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s; the latter admission came a few days after Syria’s use of chemical weapons outside Damascus. These are both huge, huge scars on the collective Iranian psyche, and are frequently used as short-hand for why Iranians cannot trust the US. The minute I heard about the first admission, I thought “backchannel talks” — and when I heard the about the second, I nearly danced in my chair. For more on why the first is significant, here’s Robin Wright; for more the importance of the latter, click here.
  • Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s new Foreign Minister, spent 30 years of his life in the US and helped negotiate the intelligence assistance Iran gave the Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11 (yes, that really happened).
  • Iran’s parliament fast-tracked a debate on suing the US over its role in the 1953 coup (which is to say: The acknowledgement was acknowledged, but no one’s ready to say it’s no big).
  • State Department statement, August 28: “The United States respectfully asks the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to work cooperatively with us in our efforts to help US citizens Robert Levinson, Amir Hekmati, and Saeed Abedini to return to their families after lengthy detentions.” (Which is to say: “It’s not like we don’t have genuine diplomatic issues pending with you, too. We respectfully ask that you attend to them.”)
  • Iran was intimately involved in the Russian-American negotiations surrounding Syria’s chemical arsenal.
  • A western diplomat told the press that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be dialing back the pressure on Iran in upcoming talks regarding its nuclear program.
  • “Rouhani seems to have chosen [the chemical weapons attack in] Syria as the first big internal debate of his new Administration.” – Time, September 9
  • Iranian state-run Press TV interviews Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif; he says “Getting to yes is our motive for [nuclear] talks.”
  • In an interview held before the Russian-American-Syrian deal was hammered out, Obama told ABC that he and Rouhani have exchanged letters, adding: “Negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult. I think this new president is not going to suddenly make it easy.” (Which is true, but also suggests that, just like Rouhani himself, Obama knows that even as he hints about a possible thaw in relations, neither he nor Rouhani will be served if he paints Iran’s President as a push-over).
  • Reuters: “New Iranian atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi pledged greater cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog [the IAEA].”
  • Der Speigel: Rouhani says he is reported to be willing to decommission Iran’s nuclear installation at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom, if the West lifts sanctions.
  • Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — who, according to the Iranian Constitution, is exactly what his title suggests; thus he holds ultimate authority in the country — told a meeting of  the elite military force the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC): “I am not opposed to correct diplomacy. I believe in what was named many years ago as ‘heroic flexibility’.” He also told the Guards that they must not get involved with politics, which, given the fact that they are in fact deeply involved with the politics of Iran; helped unseat the last reformist President; and were instrumental in the violent suppression of the 2009 post-election protests — is saying something. Note also that the IRGC are the country’s single greatest economic powerhouse as well, including in such areas as civilian infrastructure and engineering, and thus they are not lightly messed with.
  • Rouhani also told the IRGC that they shouldn’t be involved in politics, saying that this had also been the opinion of the republic’s founder, the Ayatollah Khomeini — and while you and I may have no fond memories of Kohmeini, he remains a powerful unifying figure for the Iranian people.
  • On Wednesday Iran unexpectedly released eleven prominent political prisoners, including human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, on the eve of Rouhani’s visit to the US to attend the UN General Assembly. UPDATE: “In his annual message for Iranian New Year in 2011, President Obama specifically singled out Ms. Sotoudeh.
  • Also on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney revealed more details of the President’s letter to Rouhani: “In his letter the president indicated that the US is ready to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that allows Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes.”
  • In Curry’s preview of tonight’s interview with Rouhani, she reports that he told her: “From my point of view, the tone of [Obama's] letter was positive and constructive” and that “he has full authority to make a deal with the West on the disputed atomic program” — which is code for “I have the Supreme Leader behind me.” Oh, and he also says that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons.

And hey, it’s not just me who believes there’s real momentum toward a major diplomatic shift! CIA veteran and Georgetown University professor Paul Pillar wrote today that

Since Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran, he and his appointees have piled up indication upon indication, in their words and their actions, that they strongly want a new and improved relationship with the West and that they will do what they can to bring one about by facilitating a mutually acceptable agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program. 

Diplomacy is a messy, horribly frought business, and lord knows that the US and Iran have bungled many an effort to mend fences. Witness the fact that all that intel sharing in 2001 went absolutely nowhere — that indeed, within months, George W. Bush was referring to Iran as part of an “axis of evil.” Among other issues, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn’t appear particularly interested in any kind of thaw between Iran and the West, and as Pillar says, is providing copious rhetorical ammunition to any hardliners in the IRGC who would rather stay cozy with the Syrian regime and far away from the United States.

A lot could still go badly wrong, is what I’m saying.

But for the first time that I can ever remember, it feels like we have leaders on both sides who want it to go right.

How did your Senators vote on background checks? Let them know what you think.

Well, despite the fact that 90% of Americans want to see background checks for gun purchases written into law; despite the fact that the bill actually got a majority of votes in the Senate; and despite the fact that some 3,500 Americans have been fatally shot since the Newtown massacre on December 12 - the Senate voted down the Manchin-Toomey background check bill.

I will be honest: I am so angry, I can hardly see straight. This is not right. By any measure.

At the same time, I agree with the President: This is Round One (you can watch the video of his very powerful, and very angry, statement, below). This will happen, if we don’t lose focus, if we don’t lose our passion. If we continue to stand up and say that something has to change – we will bring that change.

Here’s how we do that: We don’t let up. We keep the pressure on.

Click here to see how the vote broke down, and if your Senator(s) voted yea, please call and thank them, especially if it’s one of these Republicans:

  • McCain (R-AZ) 202-224-2235
  • Kirk (R-IL) 202-224-2854
  • Toomey (R-PA) 202- 224-4254
  • Collins (R-ME) 202-224-2523

If, on the other hand, your Senator(s) voted no, call them and tell them what you think – here’s the list of all the nays, by state, followed by their direct phone numbers* (if you’re looking for email addresses, go here).

CALL THEM.

  • Alabama: Sessions (202) 224-4124  Shelby (202) 224-5744
  • Alaska: Begich (202) 224-3004  Murkowski (202) 224-6665
  • Arizona: Flake (202) 224-4521
  • Arkansas: Boozman (202) 224-4843  Pryor (202) 224-2353
  • Florida: Rubio (202) 224-3041
  • Georgia: Chambliss (202) 224-3521  Isakson (202) 224-3643
  • Idaho:  Crapo (202) 224-6142  Risch (202) 224-2752
  • Indiana:  Coats  (202) 224-5623
  • Iowa:  Grassley (202) 224-3744
  • Kansas: Moran (202) 224-6521  Roberts (202) 224-4774
  • Kentucky: McConnell (202) 224-2541  Paul (202) 224-4343
  • Louisiana:  Vitter (202) 224-4623
  • Mississippi:  Cochran (202) 224-5054  Wicker (202) 224-6154
  • Missouri:  Blunt (202) 224-5721
  • Montana:  Baucus (202) 224-2651
  • Nebraska: Fischer (202) 224-6551  Johanns (202) 224-4224
  • Nevada:  Heller (202) 224-6244 Reid (but Senator Reid gets a pass for voting against the thing he supports for the reasons you can read about by clicking here)
  • New Hampshire:  Ayotte (202) 224-3324
  • North Carolina:  Burr (202) 224-3154
  • North Dakota:  Heitkamp (202) 224-2043  Hoeven (202) 224-2551
  • Ohio: Portman  (202) 224-3353
  • Oklahoma: Coburn (202) 224-5754  Inhofe (202) 224-4721
  • South Carolina: Graham (202) 224-5972  Scott (202) 224-6121
  • South Dakota: Thune (202) 224-2321
  • Tennessee: Alexander (202) 224-4944  Corker (202) 224-3344
  • Texas: Cornyn (202) 224-2934  Cruz (202) 224-5922
  • Utah: Hatch (202) 224-5251  Lee (202) 224-5444
  • Wisconsin:  Johnson (202) 224-5323
  • Wyoming:  Barrasso (202) 224-6441  Enzi (202) 224-3424

*Please note: I copy-pasted these numbers from the Senate website. If something’s amiss (my fault or theirs) you can always call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your Senators by name.

*

Big, big h/t to my internet pal @ferallike, who started tweeting out phone numbers almost immediately upon the completion of the vote.

Senate vote Wednesday afternoon on gun purchase background checks – CALL YOUR SENATORS.

Moment Of Truth: Senate To Vote On Background Checks

It’s a moment of truth for the centerpiece of Congress’s efforts to curb gun violence — the first major effort in nearly two decades. Defeat would be a huge blow to the cause and to the families of the Newtown, Conn. shooting victims who have urged Washington to act.

Call them, call them, call them – and if you’ve already done this once, please do it again, even if your Senators are Republicans and you know they’re opposed. They need to hear from us over and over – nearly 3,500 Americans have been fatally shot since the Newtown massacre on December 14.

  • The US Senate: 202-224-3121. If you’re not sure who your Senators are, find them by clicking here (if you’d rather send an email, you’ll find that information here, too).
  • The White House: 202-456-1111 Let President Obama know that  you support his efforts, and encourage him to continue to fight the fight.

Sample scripts/letters:

  1. When speaking with a Senator who’s opposed to the bill: “Hi, I’m calling from [location], and though I know that the Senator doesn’t plan to vote in favor of background checks, I wanted to make sure s/he knows that I support the bill currently being considered in the Senate. Background checks are nothing more than basic common sense, and having them in place could have saved some of the nearly 3,500 Americans who have been fatally shot since Newtown. I very much hope that the Senator will reconsider his/her position.”
  2. When speaking with a Senator who supports the bill or may be on the fence: ”Hi, I’m calling from [location], and I just wanted to make sure that the Senator knows that I support the White House gun control initiative. I think the President’s plan, in particular the idea of background checks, is simple common sense, and I very much hope that the Senator will vote for the Senate bill in question.”

h/t TPM

“GOP Opposition Mounts To Background Checks”; “Democrats Scramble To Keep Gun Control Bill Alive”

Democrats Scramble To Keep Gun Control Bill Alive:

Senate Democrats were desperately working Tuesday to keep alive the modest bipartisan legislation to expand mandatory background checks to some gun sales, claiming momentum in public and offering new concessions to skeptical senators in private.

GOP Opposition Mounts To Background Checks:

Republican opposition is growing to a bipartisan Senate plan for expanding background checks for firearms buyers, enough to put the proposal’s fate in jeopardy. But the measure may change as both sides compete for support in one of the pivotal fights in the battle over curbing guns.

The Senate was continuing debate Tuesday on a wide-ranging gun control bill, with the focus on a background check compromise struck last week between Sens. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Manchin said the vote on that amendment was likely to be delayed from midweek to late in the week, a move that would give both sides more time to win over supporters.

Call them, call them, call them – and if you’ve already done this once, please do it again, even if your Senators are Republicans and you know they’re opposed. They need to hear from us over and over – nearly 3,500 Americans have been fatally shot since the Newtown massacre on December 14.

  • The US Senate: 202-224-3121. If you’re not sure who your Senators are, find them by clicking here (if you’d rather send an email, you’ll find that information here, too).
  • The White House: 202-456-1111 Let President Obama know that  you support his efforts, and encourage him to continue to fight the fight.

Sample scripts/letters:

  1. When speaking with a Senator who’s opposed to the bill: “Hi, I’m calling from [location], and though I know that the Senator doesn’t plan to vote in favor of background checks, I wanted to make sure s/he knows that I support the bill currently being considered in the Senate. Background checks are nothing more than basic common sense, and having them in place could have saved some of the nearly 3,500 Americans who have been fatally shot since Newtown. I very much hope that the Senator will reconsider his/her position.”
  2. When speaking with a Senator who supports the bill or may be on the fence: “Hi, I’m calling from [location], and I just wanted to make sure that the Senator knows that I support the White House gun control initiative. I think the President’s plan, in particular the idea of background checks, is simple common sense, and I very much hope that the Senator will vote for the Senate bill in question.”

h/t TPM

President Obama: Free Jonathan Pollard.

With John Kerry in Jerusalem, Jonathan Pollard’s Israeli supporters have found an opportunity to bring their case before the American government:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jonathan_Pollard.pngPetitioners campaigning for the release of jailed Israeli-American spy Jonathan Pollard planned to mark his 10,000th day in U.S. prison on Monday by holding a vigil outside U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s Jerusalem hotel.

… The movement to see Pollard pardoned has gained increasing support among both Israeli and American Jewish leaders and officials.

I will freely admit that I’ve long been of the opinion that if you do the crime, you should probably be willing to do the time, and in Pollard’s case, this has meant a life in prison as a result of breaking his country’s laws regarding a little thing known as espionage. Which, you know, is kind of a big deal. Not to mention that Pollard broke his plea bargain commitment to avoid press hoopla at the sentencing stage, and not to further mention that the entire case provides fodder for those who would unjustly accuse American Jews of dual loyalty. Dude, how you gonna do that to your people?

Yet lately I’ve begun to come around to the notion of granting Pollard clemency—though I will also admit that my change of heart is not entirely altruistic.

As Lawrence Korb (Assistant Secretary of Defense under Clinton) recently told reporters: Pollard has now served 28 years for crimes that typically receive a seven-year sentence. There’s a difference between spying for an enemy (à la Aldrich Ames or Robert Hanssen), and spying for an ally, and Jonathan Pollard wasn’t exactly the first hyphenated American to spy for a friendly foreign government. Moreover, Korb noted, “Jonathan did not provide anything to the Israelis that would compromise American security.”

Then there’s the fact that Pollard was held in solitary confinement for seven of those 28 years, plus the fact he’s up for mandatory parole in November 2015.

First of all, I cannot in good conscience dismiss the importance and impact of those years of solitary confinement, and given sentencing precedents, I’m pretty well convinced that simple fairness suggests Pollard could reasonably be released at this point. He wasn’t exactly passing documents to the Soviets, and not to put too fine a point on it, but: Nobody died.

Then there’s this other thing, the point at which my thinking grows decidedly less altruistic: President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are giving every impression of wanting to produce a breakthrough on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Whether they’ll succeed is an entirely different matter, but as Obama’s trip last month proved—starting with the fact of the trip itself, all the way through to the last-minute phone call to Turkey—diplomacy is, more often than not, advanced by the pulling of levers far away from the problem at hand.

I don’t like Jonathan Pollard, and I think what he did was pretty indefensible. He’s not on my Fantasy Seder  list.

But to be perfectly blunt: Israel’s right wants him released, there’s no compelling reason not to release him, an argument can be made for clemency, and he’ll be up for parole in two and a half years anyway—and bringing Pollard home to Israel would be a public relations coup for Netanyahu. If he has Obama to thank for it, another lever is pulled (plus—bonus! America’s institutional Jewish leaders have one less thing to complain about).

I realize that I’m essentially suggesting using Jonathan Pollard as a bargaining chip, and as long as I’m admitting things, I’ll admit that I’m not at all comfortable with the idea. People are people and deserve to be treated with human dignity, regardless of their legal status.

But given the circumstances, and given my conviction that there are some pretty good reasons to let the man go, I’ll make my peace with that discomfort. Especially if pulling that lever might help move us closer to a genuine and secure peace for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

And that’s the question, really: Would clemency for Jonathan Pollard, a traitor who managed to also make life harder for his own community, actually help bring a two-state solution closer? If so, Mr. President, I say: Release him, and let Israel celebrate as much as they want.

But make sure you’ve got a solid deal in your pocket first. As an Israeli, I can assure you: My other government’s promises aren’t worth a lot more than Pollard’s loyalty.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Reid: Senate could vote on gun measures as soon as Thursday.

It’s looking like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may bring new gun measures to a vote in the Senate as early as Thursday:

Reid said that he would move to cut off debate on a gun control law on Tuesday evening with hopes of beginning votes as soon as Thursday on existing Democratic legislation passed out of committee last month….

The Nevada senator’s position has been strengthen[ed] as a series of Republican senators – in the face of mounting pressure from President Barack Obama – have said they would not join with their more conservative colleagues to force Reid to produce a filibuster-proof 60 or more votes to move forward with debate on gun legislation.

Speaking on the Senate floor this morning, Reid invoked his own father’s suicide as he pressed for background checks:

“Sometimes people in a fit of passion will purchase the handgun to do bad things with it… even as my dad did, kill themselves. Waiting a few days helps. Requiring a simple background check every time a gun is sold is common sense.”

As of this day, Tuesday April 9, at least 3,346 Americans have been fatally shot since the Newtown massacre.

If you want to support the President and Senator Reid as they push for new gun measures, here are some simple ways to do that (and if you’ve already done this once, please do it again — they need to hear from us over and over):

  • Call the US Senate: 202-224-3121. If you’re not sure who your Senators are, find them by clicking here (if you’d rather send an email, you’ll find that information here, too).
  • Call the US House: 202-224-3121. If you’re not sure who your member of Congress is, find him or her by clicking here (if you’d rather send an email, you’ll find that information here, too).
  • Call the White House : 202-456-1111 Let President Obama know that  you support his efforts, and encourage him to continue to fight the fight.

Sample script/letter:

Hi, I’m calling from [location], and I just wanted to make sure that the President/Senator/Representative knows that I support the White House gun control initiative. I think the President’s plan, in particular the idea of background checks, is simple common sense, and I very much hope that the Senator/Representative will support/not block upcoming legislation.

Obama: “Tears aren’t enough.”

Update: As of Tuesday, April 2, the number of Americans fatally shot since the Newtown massacre has risen to 3,292; that’s 239 additional deaths since the President spoke on the issue last week [see below], and it includes 4 year old  Rahquel Carr, shot in Miami-Dade in a parked car. For details on those statistics, please go to Slate; for Rahquel’s story, please go here.

***************

This morning, the President spoke about gun violence and the need for new laws:

I ask every American to find out where your member of Congress stands on these ideas. If they’re not part of that 90% who agree that we should make it harder for a criminal or somebody with severe mental illness to buy a gun, then you should ask them why not. Why are you part of the 10%?

There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t get this done. But the reason we’re talking about it here today is because it’s not done until it’s done. And there are some powerful voices on the other side that are interested in running out the clock, or changing the subject, or drowning out the majority of the American people to prevent any of these reforms from happening at all. They’re doing everything they can to make all of our progress collapse under the weight of fear and frustration, their assumption is that people will just forget about it.

…I want to make sure every American is listening today. Less than 100 days ago, [Newtown] happened. And the entire country was shocked. And the entire country pledged that we would do something about it and this time it would be different. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.

There’s one thing that I’ve said consistently since I first ran for this office: Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change.

*

I watch this man speak a lot. Every time he speaks on this issue, he is alight with righteous anger — and he is not backing down. I am so grateful.

In the [fewer than] 100 days since the Newtown massacre, 3084 Americans have been fatally shot. Yesterday, it was 3,053. That’s what we’re looking at: about 30 new gun deaths every single day.

If we want to make an effective change in those kinds of numbers, we have to let Congress know, because as he keeps reminding us, the President cannot do it alone.

Here’s what you can do (and if you’ve already done it once, please do it again):

  • Call the US House: 202-224-3121. If you’re not sure who your member of Congress is, find him or her by clicking here (if you’d rather send an email, you’ll find that information here, too).
  • Call the US Senate: 202-224-3121. If you’re not sure who your Senators are, find them by clicking here (if you’d rather send an email, you’ll find that information here, too).
  • Call the White House : 202-456-1111 Let President Obama know that  you support his efforts, and encourage him to continue to fight the fight.

Sample script/letter:

Hi, I’m calling from [location], and I just wanted to make sure that President Obama/Senator XXXXX/Representative XXXXX knows that I support the White House gun control initiative. I think that things like background checks, limits on magazine capacity, and a ban on assault weapons are common sense, and I think it’s so important to also work with inner city communities to address their particular needs — less than 1% of urban populations are responsible for about 70% of all shootings in cities, and it’s tragic that so many people are held hostage to that violence.

Useful resources:

Please call. The President’s righteous anger and dedication is not enough — this is our job. Please call.

h/t Steve Benen at Maddow Blog.

An alternative itinerary for Obama’s Israel trip.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barack_Obama_and_Ze%27ev_Bielski_048.JPG

Obama on his previous trip to Israel, in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mishkanot Sha’ananim – which is not at all far from Misedet Ima.

President Obama will arrive in Israel next Wednesday, only to have to leave again on Friday. In that rather slim stretch of time, he will (among other things): attend formal receptions; lay wreathes at graves; discuss Syria, Iran, and negotiations with the Palestinians; venture into the Palestinian Authority to meet with President Abbas and visit the Church of the Nativity; tour an exhibit of Israeli technological innovations, a model of ancient Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (all blessedly at the same museum); visit a battery of the U.S.-funded Iron Dome anti-missile system; and give a public speech (per Ynet, “the Americans have requested the presence of at least 1,000 Israelis”).

Other than the big speech and Iron Dome review, this is—in essence and particulars—the Standard Trip. It’s the same trip taken by virtually every foreign dignitary to ever land at Ben Gurion Airport, a trip designed to make powerful people feel that they’ve been seen, and regular people feel that their culture has been respected. Alas, the Standard Trip has nearly nothing to do with the lives of actual Palestinians or Israelis.

I’m painfully aware that there’s nothing to be done about this. Diplomatic protocol, time constraints, and security concerns are such that, indeed, the Standard Trip tends to steer well clear of actual lives.

But in my ideal world, Obama would pull up a chair at Jerusalem’s Misedet Ima (“Mom’s Restaurant”), order the best kubeh soup he’s ever likely to encounter (I personally prefer the kubeh matfunyah, but the kubeh khamustah is delightful as well), and just talk with folks.

I’d like the President to talk with the brave Israeli women facing down the state in the name of religious freedom; I’d like him to talk with the brave Palestinian activists facing down the occupation with nonviolence.

I’d like him to ask Palestinian day laborers who now ride segregated buses why some of them like the new lines, and Israeli human rights activists why they’re protesting anyway. It might be that no Palestinians would be allowed into Jerusalem to have this conversation—perhaps Obama could ask someone why it’s so hard for Palestinians to get anywhere, within the West Bank or into Israel.

I’d particularly like the President to speak with people like Bassam Aramin, whose 10-year-old daughter was shot by Israeli security forces, and Elik Elhanan, whose 14–year-old sister was killed by a Palestinian terrorist. Both men were once combatants in this horrible war, but both laid down arms in favor of pursuing a just peace through organizations like the Palestinian-Israeli Bereaved Families Forum and Combatants for Peace.

But I’d also like Obama to speak to settlers who believe that their maximalist dreams cannot now be undone, and Palestinians for whom all talk of a two-state solution is now anathema. I’d frankly even like him to sit down with Hamas, because I want the American President to really hear just what the two-state solution—the very solution he and his Administration support—is up against, how many true believers stand poised to make such a peace agreement impossible.

Starting, in my opinion, with the Prime Minister. With the soup gone (and maybe some stuffed grape leaves too), I’d ask Obama to speak frankly with Netanyahu about the many and varied ways he and his government have worked to bring about the failure of any attempts the White House might ever make toward peace. I’d ask Netanyahu to explain why the Jerusalem of which he speaks so forcefully bears so little resemblance to the Jewish people’s actual holy city.

And then I’d like the President to load up the cars and take a short drive over to Israel’s Security Barrier.

It’s true that on his way to meet Abbas and then back from Bethlehem, Obama will see the Wall (it’s 25 feet tall in Jerusalem and currently 305 miles long, so it’s hard to miss) but there’s nothing quite like standing in the shadows and trying to imagine 25 feet of towering concrete slicing through your own town, your own farm, your own family.

As things stand, nearly every part of the President’s trip could be achieved with good WiFi and a friend to lay the wreathes (seriously: click here for the Dead Sea Scrolls;click here for the model of ancient Jerusalem).

But getting to hear the stories of people who live every day with the heartbreaking reality created in no small part by American inaction, and then simply bearing witness at the base of what serves as the single best metaphor for the entire conflict—that’s the kind of thing that requires one’s actual presence.

I hope the President’s advance team is doing at least some of this in his stead. And that someone gets him take-away from Ima’s.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Dear Mr. President – If you wouldn’t mind, a small edit.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:President_Barack_Obama.jpgEarlier this week, a ripple of dissatisfaction rolled across the Progressive internet regarding five words in President Obama’s State of the Union address.

“We know our economy is stronger,” the President said, “when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.”

“Our wives, mothers, and daughters” – it’s a rhetorical device that the President often uses in speeches, and in this case, it came in service of workplace equality and confronting domestic violence. As I’ve said before, many times, this President is a feminist, and I believe that his discussion of and action on these two issues is evidence of that. So you know: Huzzah!

Alas, no. A petition has been created at WhiteHouse.gov calling on Mr. Obama to change his rhetoric. It reads in part:

This “our wives, mothers, and daughters” phrase is one he routinely employs, but it is counterproductive to the women’s equality the President is ostensibly supporting.

Defining women by their relationships to other people is reductive, misogynist, and alienating to women who do not define ourselves exclusively by our relationships to others. Further, by referring to “our” wives et al, the President appears to be talking to The Men of America about Their Women, rather than talking to men AND women.

Sigh.

I mean: Yes, I agree notionally with pretty much all of this. Referring to women “exclusively by our relationships to others” is harmful, etc, but a) I weary of people who choose not to consider the source  (or even acknowledge any credit due – Barack Obama “ostensibly” supports women’s equality?); and b) it’s a rhetorical device.

As the American Prospect’s Monica Potts commented in her Twitter feed the next day, “it’s a rhetoricians trick, not the same old misogyny.” It’s a way to draw the listener in and create emotional intimacy with abstract issues, one I employ in my writing frequently. In the same speech, the President also said “we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations…” – same device. It works because the speaker is saying to his audience: “Imagine the people you value in your life, and join me in caring for all people like them.”

But then (and I hate when this happens) I started to think about it, and while I will neither be signing the petition nor complaining to or about the President (who is a feminist), here’s where I think an actual problem lies: Men who are leaders and opinion shapers — particularly of a certain age — are far, far more likely to say “wives, mothers, and daughters” than they are to say “husbands, fathers, and sons.” The President frequently refers to himself as these last three things, but I can’t recall (and take that for what it’s worth) him saying “our husbands, fathers, and sons,” or anything like it. At the State of the Union, “son” came up once, in the aforementioned context, “fatherhood” was also mentioned once, and “husband” not at all.

Ultimately where this leads, whether intended or not, is the Othering of women, by which I mean: The undergirding of such speech patterns becomes “I am a man talking to men about women” — the normative, default “American” is, thus, a man, and women are the Other. (Or, in the petition’s words: “the President appears to be talking to The Men of America about Their Women, rather than talking to men AND women.”)

For this to not be the case, the speaker has to also refer to men with relational language, at least now and then. Mr. Obama could say “Americans know that our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters are given the same rights that our husbands, fathers and sons enjoy” — and: Boom. Problem solved, with the added advantage of introducing a turn of phrase that expresses a caring relationship with men, language too infrequently heard.

To my mind, there’s nothing inherently wrong with referring to women in this way, as long as it is not, in fact, exclusive — whether or not we personally “define ourselves exclusively by our relationships to others,” most of us do exist in those relationships. The language just needs a tweak, an expansion, to be more inclusive.

And so I shall neither sign, nor complain — but I will make a request:

Dear Mr. President,

You and I are of the same generation, and we were both raised to a great extent by our grandparents. Like me, you often sound like you’re about 20 years old than you are, and sometimes that’s very sweet and feels familiar. Sometimes, however, you sound a little bit Stone-Agey, as when you inadvertently make it sound like the Americans you’re talking to are exclusively male (see above blog post). When you do this, you inadvertently damage the causes I know you espouse: Equality, mutual respect, and a better future for all Americans.

I would be grateful if you could work with your speechwriters to achieve an even more inclusive vocabulary than you already use. I’m certain many other American women (and men) would be similarly grateful.

Thank you so much for all you do to advance feminist goals and move us toward a more perfect union.

Sincerely,

Emily L. Hauser

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