Political Debate in Israel Turns Ugly

I ran the following in Mashable this morning:

Political Debate in Israel Turns Ugly

Israel has long been known as a loud and boisterous democracy.

It is home to a large number of highly opinionated daily newspapers and satirists who could put Jon Stewart to shame. Opinions regarding the Jewish state judged verboten in the American Jewish community have happily been voiced within Israel itself.

Yet it’s becoming increasingly clear that Israel’s comfort with disagreement — or even political differences — is waning.

In mid-June, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by Palestinian extremists, and almost immediately, crowds of ultra-nationalists began to march through city streets, shouting “Death to Arabs,” and many included the Jewish left in their threats with such chants as “Leftists to the gas chamber!”

There were also several recorded incidents of Jewish mobs attacking Arab-Israelis. And when the kidnap victims were found to have been murdered, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was brutally slain, apparently by three Israelis in retaliation.

Widely shared public horror in the face of the latter event briefly stemmed the tide of fury but, within days, Israel was at war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Israeli Jewish public opinion rallied around the flag and against any who might disagree.

Protests by the political left — whether in support of the Arab-Israeli population or in opposition to the war — were met with threats and outright violence; in mid-July, the Arab-Israeli deputy mayor of Haifa was among those attacked. For their part, police often failed to intervene to stop the threats, or they disrupted anti-war protests and arrested the protesters themselves.

To read the rest, please click through to Mashable.

Do Palestinians have a right to self-defense?

I ran another piece in The Week this morning:

Israel has the right to defend itself. What about the Palestinians?

Early in Israel’s latest round of hostilities with Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement: “No country in the world [would] agree to suffer relentless missile attacks and infiltration attempts.” His words have since been repeated frequently, usually in support (qualified or un-) of Israel’s operation in Gaza.

There is an inarguable truth here: No country would sit idly by under such circumstances. Every state, and every citizen in those states, has a universally recognized right to self-defense.

But what — the question is almost never posed — of the stateless?

The Palestinian people are routinely expected to suffer precisely what Netanyahu describes as insufferable. They’re routinely expected to tolerate relentless attacks and infiltrations, and do nothing.

Let me be very clear: Hamas is not a defensive force. In its resistance to occupation, Hamas has used terrorism and rocket attacks on civilians; both tactics are not only despicable, but they’re also war crimes. When Hamas engages the Israeli military, it could be argued that such engagement is, at least, legitimate (armed force against armed force), but Hamas was not conceived as nor does it constitute a defensive force.

To read the rest, please go to The Week.

Israel, Palestine, Gaza War – how to help.

A few thoughts on how to help the people of Gaza, and how to help Palestinians and Israelis striving to achieve a life without conflict:

Contact your elected representatives and tell them that you hope they will call for, and actively support, an immediate ceasefire.

US Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) ran an op/ed in the Washington Post yesterday doing just that – the easiest thing would be to read it (excerpt below), then include in your email/tell the staffer who answers the phone that you agree with Rep. Ellison and hope your Senator/Rep will join him. They’ll know what you’re talking about, so it will serve as good short-hand. If you’re Jewish – mention itI cannot stress how important it is to stand up and be counted right now (and if you’re Jewish and heartbroken and horrified by this war, please know that you’re not alone – click here).

Click here for the US House contact page (enter your Zip Code to find your Rep); click here for the US Senate. Emails are good, but if you feel up to it, phone calls are better. I’ll be honest: You and I both know that most of your representatives will not do what you’re asking them to do — but it’s important that they know that there are people who want to see it done. This is how change starts.

  • There is no military solution to this conflict. The status quo brings only continued pain, suffering and war. Promoting economic development and social interaction in Gaza is in the long-term security interest of Israel and the rest of the region…. Ultimately, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resolved with a final status agreement, and ending the violence and the blockade is a first step toward a permanent solution.” Rep. Keith Ellison

Speak up. Despite the difficulties in speaking up about this issue, despite how fraught it always seems to be and is especially right now – speak up. Do so politely, and with respect for the humanity on the other side (however so defined) but please: Speak up. The Western world, and the American Jewish community in particular, has maintained silence and thus ignorance for far too long. Please – the only way humanity has ever changed is when people started to talk about change.

Share what you know, about the facts (you can get more here) and about those who are struggling even now against the forces of war: People like the Palestinian-Israeli Bereaved Families Forum (people who have all lost loved ones to the violence but work together now toward peace); Combatants for Peace (former fighters from both sides now working together); Breaking the Silence (Israeli soldiers who give testimony from their own experiences about the ugly reality of military occupation); B’tselem (Israeli human rights org with Palestinian field workers in Gaza right now); Just Vision (“increasing the power and the legitimacy of Palestinians and Israelis working to end the occupation and resolve the conflict nonviolently”) — on and on. There are not enough people doing this kind of work, but it is a lie and a dishonor to all who are doing it to ignore their efforts.

Donate. If you have a little to spare, here are a couple of great places that could use the help:

  • UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) – UNRWA is currently housing 236,374 civilians in 86 UNRWA schools – an average of 2,750 per school (many of which have been targeted anyway). Several of their own workers have been killed in the violence. Click here for their donations page; and click here for their Twitter feed, which is a very good, quick way to get a sense of the challenge they’re currently facing.
  • Physicians for Human Rights (Israel) – The Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights; they’re working to get medical supplies into Gaza and have already brought in more than $200,000 worth — they’d like to bring in more. Click here for their donations page.

 

 

My work on the latest violence in Israel/Palestine.

In reverse-chronological order (not including the work I’ve done as a contract writer, because that’s not officially “mine”):

  1. Israel, Palestine, Gaza War – how to help.” – I put together a list of ideas (contact information, links, etc) for helping the people of Gaza, and supporting Israelis and Palestinians who are striving toward genuine peace. (Click here, or just go to the home page – as of Thurs 7/31/14, it’s on the top).
  2. “9 Years Later, Here We Go Again in Gaza” – Israel withdrew (“disengaged”) from Gaza in August 2005 – I argue that its behavior since (and during) the entire disengagement process has been an effort to make a two-state peace impossible, and is in no small part responsible for what we’re seeing on the ground now. There’s a short summary of that behavior, much of which the world appears to have forgotten. (The Forward; 7/30/14)
  3. “Gaza is Trigger for American Jews’ Tension and Dissonance on Israel” – “Anecdotally, in whispers and off-the-record comments, in sudden Facebook defriendings or empty chairs at services, Israel’s most recent wave of hostilities appears to be leading to increasing alienation for a number of American Jews, despite the call for solidarity.” (Haaretz; 7/29/14)
  4. “ADL Needs To Drop Thane Rosenbaum Right Now” – A response to the recommendations of a leading American-Jewish figure that Israel essentially embrace genocide in Gaza. “On some basic level, you forfeit your right to be called civilians when you freely elect members of a terrorist organization… And you have wittingly made yourself targets.” (The Forward; 7/23/14)
  5. “Israel has only two choices: Eliminate the Palestinians or make peace” – In response to another fan of generalized annihilation, this one a member of Israel’s parliament, who suggested “All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for ‘human shields’… Total siege on Gaza.” To which (among other things), I wrote: “In the effort to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these are the only choices Israel has ever really had: Annihilation or peace. All conflict management has ever done is draw out the pain. (The Week, 7/21/14)
  6. “May Gaza Victims’ Memories Be a Blessing” – “We read names. We say names out loud, and hold their souls on our breath. We record names with ink and carve them into stone…. When lives are lost, those left behind do what they can to ensure that the names – at least the names – are not forgotten…. Someone in Israel has taken it upon themselves to perform this sacred duty for people very recently dead, not in stone or ink, but spray paint; the letters are Hebrew, but the names are not.” (The Forward, 7/16/14)
  7. “Where’s Jewish Fury Over Tariq Abu Khdeir Beating?” – “I have no idea what Tariq Khdeir was doing on the day he was savagely beaten…. I saw a boy much like my own, battered like a side of beef. Though the video is silent, still I can hear Tariq’s cries of pain, and imagine the panic coursing through him, just before he blacked out from pain. Shame on those who refuse to see and hear. Shame on them.” (The Forward, 7/11/14)
  8. “Gaza vs. Israel: The never-ending rematch” – On the many, many wars that Israel has fought in Gaza — four in the last eight years. “If we’re trying to uncover a chain of discrete events leading to the seemingly permanent state of war between Israel and Gaza, the waters are muddy.” (Haaretz, 7/10/14)
  9. “Israel’s addiction to military force, its only response in times of crisis” – On Israel’s life-long tendency to use a military sledgehammer in response to every genuine problem — no matter the proven inefficacy of the sledgehammer in times past. (Haaretz, 6/26/14)
  10. Would Israelis Be Kidnapped If Not For Settlements?” – I forgot to post this one on the blog, so I’ll post the top here (The Forward, 6/19/14):

    On Monday the New York Times reported that the recent abduction of three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank has raised a “hushed debate [within Israeli society] over the conduct of Jewish settlers.”

    While I think it’s fair to point out that Israel’s reactions to the kidnappings have been marked more by anger and prayer than debate (however hushed), the simple fact that any questions whatsoever have been posed in conversation with an American reporter is significant and reflects a broader shift in attitudes toward the settlement project.

    Earlier this month, Justice Minister (and one-time right-wing stalwart) Tzipi Livni was quite blunt: “It’s time to say things exactly as they are: The settlement enterprise is a security, economic and moral burden that is aimed at preventing us from ever coming to [a peace agreement].” Moreover, a recent study found that a growing majority of Israelis no longer support that enterprise.

    It’s important to note, however, that if the citizenry shares Livni’s general sense of disapproval, they do not appear to share her reasoning: 71% of those surveyed say settler violence against Israel’s military keeps them from “identifying with” their settler brethren; 59% say the settlements are bad for Israel’s relationship with the U.S…. In fact, while 52% support a full or partial withdrawal from occupied territory in the framework of an accord with the Palestinian Authority, 31% support full or partial annexation — where the difference lies between partial withdrawal and partial annexation is unclear.

    All of which is to say: …the average Israeli still doesn’t appear to understand that every problem raised by the settlements is a necessary outcome of their very existence. Click through to The Forward for the rest.

Me & the zeitgest – we’re like *this*.

So it happened again – I wrote a thing, and someone else was writing about the same thing. My old boss Peter Beinart wrote “Gaza myths and facts: what American Jewish leaders won’t tell you” for Haaretz, and I wrote “9 Years Later, Here We Go Again in Gaza” in The Forward.

Peter:

The point of dredging up this history is not to suggest that Israel deserves all the blame for its long and bitter conflict with Hamas. It does not. Hamas bears the blame for every rocket it fires, and those rockets have not only left Israelis scarred and disillusioned. They have also badly undermined the Palestinian cause.

The point is to show—contrary to the establishment American Jewish narrative—that Israel has repeatedly played into Hamas’ hands by not strengthening those Palestinians willing to pursue statehood through nonviolence and mutual recognition. Israel played into Hamas’ hands when Sharon refused to seriously entertain the Arab and Geneva peace plans. Israel played into Hamas’ hands when it refused to support a Palestinian unity government that could have given Abbas the democratic legitimacy that would have strengthened his ability to cut a two state deal. And Israel played into Hamas’ hands when it responded to the group’s takeover of Gaza with a blockade that—although it has some legitimate security features—has destroyed Gaza’s economy, breeding the hatred and despair on which Hamas thrives.

Me:

Even as war continues to rage, August will mark the ninth anniversary of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Dubbed a “disengagement” by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the retreat was greeted enthusiastically by the institutional Jewish community. A full-page ad in the New York Times, spearheaded by the Israel Policy Forum and signed by 27 organizations, praised the plan as “courageous.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations greeted Sharon as “a great and patriotic leader,” and even AIPAC came around, if with a caveat:

“If the Palestinians transform Gaza into a reasonably well-functioning, reasonably peaceful place — not necessarily Sweden — then the world won’t have to pressure Israel to do this in the West Bank,” said Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director.

As luck (or possibly behind-the-scene conversations) would have it, the whole disengagement plan was conceived to help Israel avoid international pressure — if not quite in the way Kohr seemed to be suggesting. As Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s adviser and confidante, acknowledged in a pre-withdrawal interview, Gaza was to be sacrificed in order that Israel could better hold on to the West Bank.

The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a [diplomatic] process with the Palestinians….

In keeping with the contention that “there is no one to talk to,” Sharon didn’t even coordinate the withdrawal, much less negotiate it, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel simply pulled up stakes, and gave the party with which it had been in a diplomatic process since 1993 nothing to show for its efforts.

Unsurprisingly, Hamas announced that its rockets had made Israel turn tail, and — in the absence of a credible competing claim — declared victory. Less than six months later, Palestinian legislative elections were held, and Hamas narrowly won. As is now abundantly clear, Hamas did not transform Gaza into “a reasonably well-functioning, reasonably peaceful place,” or, indeed, “Finland.”

Most Israelis/Jews/Westerners who discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict point to the information in that last sentence, the falling rockets and recently-discovered tunnels (or, more accurately, “recently-announced tunnels” given that Israel has apparently known about them for some time) and say “That’s why Israel has to do this — it’s all Hamas’s fault!”

And I do not want to suggest, for even a moment, that Hamas is not responsible.

To read the rest, please click through to The Forward.

In which I sense the zeitgeist. [+ update!]

Today I ran a piece in Haaretz in which I examine the fact that for many American Jews — maybe not the Famous Jews, but the ones who most often speak in whispers — the current war in Gaza is a huge stumbling block now standing between them and Israel, or (worse yet) them and their Judaism — and oddly enough, two Famous Jews also wrote today about the challenges they now face in that very same regard. I’ll blockquote them (Roger Cohen in The New York Times, and Jonathan Chait in The New Yorker), and then give you the top of my own piece.

Roger Cohen, “Zionism and Its Discontents”

I am a Zionist because the story of my forebears convinces me that Jews needed the homeland voted into existence by United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947, calling for the establishment of two states — one Jewish, one Arab — in Mandate Palestine. I am a Zionist who believes in the words of Israel’s founding charter of 1948 declaring that the nascent state would be based “on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”

What I cannot accept, however, is the perversion of Zionism that has seen the inexorable growth of a Messianic Israeli nationalism claiming all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; that has, for almost a half-century now, produced the systematic oppression of another people in the West Bank; that has led to the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the very West Bank land of any Palestinian state; that isolates moderate Palestinians like Salam Fayyad in the name of divide-and-rule; that pursues policies that will make it impossible to remain a Jewish and democratic state; that seeks tactical advantage rather than the strategic breakthrough of a two-state peace; that blockades Gaza with 1.8 million people locked in its prison and is then surprised by the periodic eruptions of the inmates; and that responds disproportionately to attack in a way that kills hundreds of children.

This, as a Zionist, I cannot accept. Jews, above all people, know what oppression is. Children over millennia were the transmission belt of Jewish survival, the object of what the Israeli novelist Amos Oz and his daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger have called “the intergenerational quizzing that ensures the passing of the torch.” No argument, no Palestinian outrage or subterfuge, can gloss over what Jewish failure the killing of children in such numbers represents.

Jonathan Chait, “Why I Have Become Less Pro-Israel”

Netanyahu appeared on several occasions to approach the brink of agreement, but pulled back in the face of right-wing pressure within his coalition. Numerous figures in the story attempt to plumb the Israeli Prime Minister’s psychology — does he truly have it in him to go over the brink and make peace, or is he merely bluffing? — but the exercise turns out to be ultimately futile. Either Israeli politics or Netanyahu’s own preferences kept Netanyahu from striking a deal. And since that failure, the most moderate leadership the Palestinians ever had, and probably ever will have, has been marginalized.

Viewed in this context, the campaign of Israeli air strikes in Gaza becomes a horrifying indictment. It is not just that the unintended deaths of Palestinians is so disproportionate to any corresponding increase in security for the Israeli targets of Hamas’s air strikes. It is not just that Netanyahu is able to identify Hamas’s strategy — to create “telegenically dead Palestinians” — yet still proceeds to give Hamas exactly what it is after. It is that Netanyahu and his coalition have no strategy of their own except endless counterinsurgency against the backdrop of a steadily deteriorating diplomatic position within the world and an inexorable demographic decline. The operation in Gaza is not Netanyahu’s strategy in excess; it is Netanyahu’s strategy in its entirety. The liberal Zionist, two-state vision with which I identify, which once commanded a mainstream position within Israeli political life, has been relegated to a left-wing rump within it.

Me, “Gaza is Trigger for American Jews’ Tension and Dissonance on Israel”

It’s hard to sketch an absence or reproduce a silence. It’s easier to report whispers, but those who whisper often seek anonymity. And anecdotes, of course, are not data.

Yet anecdotally, in whispers and off-the-record comments, in sudden Facebook defriendings or empty chairs at services, Israel’s most recent wave of hostilities appears to be leading to increasing alienation for a number of American Jews, despite the call for solidarity. For many of these members of our community, the sensation comes as a deep, identity-shaking shock.

To read the rest of this, please click through to Haaretz.

UPDATE:

Then this morning (Wednesday, 7/30), Ezra Klein ran his own version of these columns: “Why I have become more pessimistic about Israel.”

Why it’s almost like I know a thing or two.

 

 

ADL Needs To Drop Thane Rosenbaum Right Now.

(Oops! Forgot to post this last week!)

*****

So. Can we talk about Thane Rosenbaum?

You probably already know that Thane Rosenbaum — who likes to talk about being a human rights professor — wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing that the Gazan noncombatants are fair game in this war, because “they” voted for Hamas and “invite [Hamas members] to dinner with blood on their hands.”

Setting aside the fact that Hamas (being awful) hasn’t held elections since 2006 — and also setting aside the fact that Gaza’s overwhelmingly young population includes hundreds of thousands of people who couldn’t have voted for Hamas had they wanted to — there are of course numerous problems with this analysis, starting with the Geneva Conventions.

To read the rest, please click through to The Forward.

Mike Bloomberg flies to Tel Aviv.

A moment of Israel-Gaza realness, in the form of a screen grab from my Twitter timeline:

bloomberg jul 22 2014

And there you are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel has only ever had two choices.

On Monday, I had a piece about the current round of Israeli-Palestinian violence in The Week:

Israel has only two choices: Eliminate the Palestinians or make peace

Israeli lawmaker Moshe Feiglin is right.

Last week, Feiglin, a member of the Knesset on the extreme-right flank of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, laid out in the ultranationalist media network Arutz Sheva his plan for “achieving quiet in Gaza,” starting with:

One warning from the prime minister of Israel to the enemy population, in which he announces that Israel is about to attack military targets in their area and urges those who are not involved and do not wish to be harmed to leave immediately. Sinai is not far from Gaza and they can leave. This will be the limit of Israel’s humanitarian efforts. Hamas may unconditionally surrender and prevent the attack. [Arutz Sheva]

Feiglin continues from there: “All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for ‘human shields’… Total siege on Gaza. Nothing will enter the area… Civilians may go to Sinai, fighters may surrender.”

Bottom line:

Gaza is part of [the Jewish people's] Land and we will remain there forever… Subsequent to the elimination of terror from Gaza, it will become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews. [Arutz Sheva]

Though he urges annihilation, Feiglin stops just short of genocide, differentiating between Palestinians who cede their rights to self-determination and self-defense from those who respond to foreign occupation with violence. Other Israeli voices have not been so measured.

….

And they’re right, these Israelis. If Israel’s goal is to rid itself of Palestinian nationalism and resistance permanently, forever and aye, a plan like Feiglin’s is the only one that might work.

Clearly Palestinians still dream of statehood, and “managing” the conflict has failed.

To read all of this article, please click through to The Week.

A message from a young Israeli woman to the people of Gaza.

 

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