Friday, March 30, 2007
“Arguing the World” depicted the “New York Intellectuals,” radical Jews of working class background who emerged from the political hotbed of the City College of New York in the 1930s and ‘40s to leave their indelible mark on politics, literature and culture. It focused mostly on Irving Howe, Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Bell. All eventually moved at least somewhat rightward, but only one became conservative. That was Irving Kristol, a founding father of neoconservatism and the biological father of William Kristol, the founding editor of the bellwether neocon periodical, The Weekly Standard. Collectively, they had a tremendous influence on the world of intellectual journalism — founding, editing, reshaping and writing for a host of prominent magazines of opinion, including: Partisan Review, the Public Interest, Commentary and Dissent.
Howe went from being a fierce left-wing (but anti-Stalinist) sectarian to being a highly respected democratic socialist thinker and a popularizer of Yiddish literature in translation. It was he, to a large degree, who introduced Isaac Bashevis Singer to non-Yiddish readers. And, in The World of Our Fathers, Howe immortalized New York’s Jewish Lower East Side. At the same time, he and the other New York Intellectuals battled Stalinism in the ‘40s and ‘50s and clashed with the New Left of the 1960s because of the latter's indifference to the problem of communist totalitarianism.
So far, only Irving Howe of the original four has passed away. Nathan Glazer, although bent from age, is perhaps the most publicly active of the remaining three. Of the three panelists, two are members of the Meretz USA advisory board — Glazer and Walzer (this could constitute a “message from our sponsor”). And Walzer had a small role as a talking head in the movie.
Politically, one could classify the three panelists thus: Ruth Wisse as very much on the right, Glazer in the center, and Walzer on the center-left.
Wisse began with a critique of the film that these intellectuals, all Jews, were not Jewish minded. Glazer demurred to some extent; typical for him, he also agreed to some extent, but pointed out that he was and remains a Zionist or pro-Zionist, and Howe became very Jewish through his embrace of the world of Yiddish. Furthermore, he indicated that there were many hours of interviews not included in the film in which Jewishness was discussed in great detail.
Wisse mentioned her collaboration with Howe on one or more of his works and of having a long friendship with him that became strained because of their growing political disagreements over Israel. Howe became a champion of Israel, but he was supportive of the dovish variety of Zionism, represented by people in the Shalom Akhshav/ Peace Now movement.
Although she and I are not in the same camp regarding Israel, I found Ruth Wisse correct in stating that “Israel is the target of a ‘politics of blame’,” not simply "criticism." Typically, she attacks critics; "never defend" is her dictum. She proudly illustrated this tact by describing her response to an Arab who challenged her at an event by asking, "What about Israel's apartheid policy?" She disoriented the questioner by asking a nonsensical question of her own, "Why did you murder your grandmother?" One may disagree with her on whether this is the best way to respond to the apartheid charge, but it apparently worked for her that day.
Michael Walzer, like Howe a dovish Zionist, stated that “It is possible to maintain a radical critique,” even as one fights against the politics of blame.
Glazer, who had been involved in Zionist groups that advocated bi-nationalism prior to Israel’s independence, very much under the tutelage and influence of Hannah Arendt, pointed out that, although one can see Israel making mistakes at times, “we may come to the point that we have to live with Israel’s mistakes.” I took this to mean that we can remain partisans of Israel’s existence even if we know that it has taken a bad turn.
This related to Glazer’s recounting of Arendt's reply to Gershom Scholem's accusation that she didn't "love the Jewish people." Her response was that she couldn't love the Jewish people or any people – an abstract entity – because loving an entire people makes no logical sense. Arendt could only speak of love with regard to friends and family, people she knew. (Glazer recommends the new anthology published by Schocken Books, “The Jewish Writings,1930-1975 [of Hannah Arendt].”) Still, Glazer noted ironically that Arendt was committed to the idea of a Jewish army even before there was a State of Israel.
Walzer very sagely remarked that while it’s not difficult for him to love a people, he has trouble with the notion of love for a state, which he regards as a form of “idolatry.” This does not mean that Walzer is against the existence of the State of Israel — au contraire. It means that he has no problem with being a critic of this or any state.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
... the old historical Israeli position was: Israel has no responsibility for the Palestinians becoming refugees, the Palestinians are responsible for this because they did not accept the peace plan, and they accepted the Arab call to leave the country. That was the old position. My position, and with this a lot of the New Historians agree, was that Israel is exclusively responsible for the refugee problem, because it planned the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homeland. Therefore it definitely bears the responsibility.Other New Historians, like Morris and Segev, would say that both sides bore responsibility for the refugees: the Palestinians for rejecting compromise and going to war in the first place, the Jews for going beyond military operations that were absolutely necessary to safeguard Jewish lives and for not be willing to discuss any solution which might involve the return of at least some refugees. Still, Pappe’s notion of Israel's “exclusive” responsibility for the refugees is a gross misinterpretation of the facts. Furthermore, he ignores the ways in which Palestinian refugees were purposely kept in camps and discriminated against in most Arab countries where they found refuge, in order to maintain this population as a weapon in the struggle against Israel.
The "David and Goliath" matter is also more complicated than he suggests. Israel triumphed because its soldiers were well motivated and well led and – critically – the Arabs failed to coordinate their attacks effectively. There's little doubt that the Arabs would have won if they had launched a coordinated campaign by their invading armies at the same time that the Palestinian irregulars were still blockading the roads and keeping Jerusalem under siege. But they allowed the Jews to defeat them piecemeal.
Pappe does not have a dynamic view of the balance of forces, which changed dramatically several times. For example, the Jews were in desperate straights early in '48 and turned things around with a series of concentrated counterattacks. Likewise, the Jews initially were very much on the defensive against the Egyptian army in May and June of '48, because they had no tanks, no combat aircraft and no artillery (other than mortars) – all of which the Egyptians possessed – until they were equipped by arms purchases from abroad (mostly via Czechoslovakia at the initiative of the USSR) in the summer of '48.
What you also get from Pappe are some reductionist flights of fancy. For example, the Jews who massively left Arab lands for Israel are depicted as being “de-Arabized” — convinced by the Zionists that they are not Arabs. Their cultural heritage was, in fact, devalued by the Ashkenazi (European) Jews who were the established majority and formed the political and economic elite when the waves of immigrants arrived from Arab countries. But it was the Arab world itself that treated its Jewish minorities as despised or distrusted “others.” If the Jews had been fully accepted as equals and comfortable in the Arab world, there was no way that they would have left.
There is also Pappe’s charge that the Jews were only accepting the UN partition plan for tactical reasons, with the intention of embarking upon ethnic cleansing when presented the opportunity. There are some documented quotes that support this view, but this argument ignores the historical words and deeds of the Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini (an active ally of Hitler during World War II) and other Palestinian leaders of that era, which substantiate their intention to destroy the Palestinian Jewish community. Zionist attitudes at the time were influenced by the observation that the uncompromising anti-Semitism of the Mufti and other Palestinian nationalists presented them with a life or death struggle; the all-out Arab attacks in response to the UN partition vote in November 1947 indicated that they were correct.
And the fact that Ben-Gurion did not press the Jews’ military advantage at the end of the 1948 war to reconquer the Old City of Jerusalem and to move on to conquer all of the West Bank (as Benny Morris, the dean of the New Historians, bitterly observed in a startling interview in Haaretz a few years ago) also undermines Pappe’s viewpoint. Pappe’s thesis similarly does not compute with Ben-Gurion advising from retirement after the great victory of 1967 that Israel should give up the conquered territories as quickly as possible.
There is probably more here that I could contend with, as well as some with which I can agree, but Pappe’s overall view is incredibly biased and tendencious. He is simply not a fair-minded scholar.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Why should I, a Jew from north London, be permitted to take up Israeli citizenship, when that right is denied to a Palestinian who languishes in a refugee camp in Lebanon? Especially when I acknowledge that a large majority of those that left in 1948 were ethnically cleansed by Israeli forces. This is the crux of the issue, and I shall attempt to confront it head on. In my last piece, I tried to demonstrate how Israel's law of return is compatible with universal norms. In this article, I shall suggest that it is neither racist nor unjust to deny the right of return to Palestinian refugees. According to Salman Abu Sitta, the Palestinian right of return is sacred, legal and possible. I believe him to be mistaken on all three counts.
If it were sacred, we would expect the same standard to be held for similar cases. Around 16.5 million Germans were expelled from their homes in central and eastern Europe following the second world war (with around two million killed). Who calls for their right of return? Well over 10 million people were violently displaced during the partition of India in 1947, making it possibly the largest single instance of ethnic cleansing in history. Who calls for their right of return? And, of course, the Jewish exodus from Arab lands, much of which was caused by persecution. But we only hear calls for the Palestinian right of return. This is because the demand is motivated neither by justice nor concern for the refugees, as advocates claim, but by the desire to destroy the Jewish state. [Stein is being harsh, but the world’s crocodile tears (especially from the UN) on the Palestinian refugees, unto the nth generation, is both disproportionate when compared with other such problems and ineffective– Ed.]
Whatever the motivations, though, this would not change the legality of the issue. Advocates of the right of return insist that it is an inalienable right under international law. But this is not so clear. In a short piece, it is impossible to cover all the issues in the legal debate. But I hope the following will at least demonstrate that there is an unresolved debate regarding the question of whether international law demands the right of return. UNGA Resolution 194 famously stated:
"That the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practical date."
For a supposedly unequivocal demand, it is worth remembering who supported and who opposed resolution 194. The Arab states rejected it, as they believed it implied recognition of Israel. So, until 1988, did the PLO. Israel accepted it. This demonstrates that the meaning of the resolution was contested. The Israeli government, after doing its best to remove as many Palestinians as possible, would surely not have accepted a resolution which called for it to allow them back. And ultimately, whatever its meaning, a General Assembly resolution is not binding, a crucial fact which is often forgotten.
Stein’s other essay on the Law of Return, “Homeward Bound,” is also online at the Guardian’s Comment Is Free Weblog.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
All of this diplomatic energy is betting on a positive outcome from the Riyadh summit later this week. Olmert and Livni have both come out with positive statements regarding the Arab Peace Initiative, while not completely endorsing the initiative, there is room to understand that Israel is interested. Israel’s main problem remains the wording of the paragraph on refugees which leaves the issue to be negotiated in accordance with UN Resolution 194 which has been translated into the “Right of Return”. The head of the political office of the Ministry of Defense General (retired) Amos Gilead stated this morning that the right of return is equivalent to the destruction of Israel so, therefore, it cannot be a basis for negotiations. That is the typical Israeli logic on this issue. If, however, the Arab Peace Initiative clearly states that the issue will be “agreed” upon, indicating that there will be an negotiation, it is more than clear that the Arabs understand that Israel will not negotiate itself into oblivion. This paragraph even in its present wording should not deter the Israeli leaders from accepting the initiative as a basis for negotiations.
NY Times columnist Tom Friedman has reported that Olmert has met once again with someone from the Saudi leadership. There was no comment from the PM’s office. For several months now I have been writing to several of the highest ranking Saudi leaders suggesting that a senior representative of the Arab League should come to Israel and Palestine following the Summit to speak directly to the people from the podium of the Knesset and the Palestinian Parliament. We have requested that the Saudis help to raise funds for marketing the Arab Peace Initiative to the public here. We have even proposed that a joint Palestinian-Israeli delegation come to the Summit to present a declaration signed by Israeli and Palestinian public personalities in support of the initiative. Unfortunately, all of our attempts to conduct a bilateral correspondences were not successful. Perhaps some of our ideas did get through, but we have no way of knowing for sure.
The Riyadh summit could provide the Government of Israel with the appropriate ladder to use in order to engage the new PA Government. If Palestine, a full member of the League of Arab States, votes in favor once again for the Arab Peace Initiative, the Government of Israel could state that the PA has in fact granted what I call “explicit conditional recognition of Israel”, meaning that if Israel were to withdraw from the occupied territories, the Palestinian Authority would grant full recognition to Israel. In the meantime, and even prior to the Riyadh summit, it would be most helpful if the Government of Israel were to issue a declaration stating unequivocally that Israel recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to an independent state of their own on the basis of the 1967 borders next to the State of Israel. Israel should also recognize that according to the platform of the new Palestinian Government, President Abbas is fully empowered to negotiate a permanent status end-of-conflict agreement with Israel that would be brought to a referendum of the Palestinian people upon its conclusion.
Still no agenda
Despite the appalling popularity (or lack of popularity) rating of his government with PM Olmert in the front with some 98% of the public voicing no confidence, Olmert is still lacking a political agenda. This government cannot show one achievement since the elections. The only pro-active thing that the government has done is launch the war in Lebanon which in itself is enough reason to hope for its rapid fall. It seems that the main agenda of the government is to protect its members from prosecution and police investigation. One Minister after the other seems to be in front stage facing new allegations of wrong doing and corruption. There were great hopes and promises that the 17th Knesset would be a lot better in quality than the one before it, yet this is proving to be far from the truth.
It is completely bewildering that Olmert does not use the remaining time he has in office to advance a political agenda. He can’t lose any popularity by advancing a plan that might actually do some good for Israel. We have long understood that Olmert is not an ideologue but a practical politician. He does not seem to be wedded to any particular political concept such as the “greater land of Israel” on which he was educated. He came to the electorate with a commitment to advance further withdrawals from the West Bank, mainly from a recognition of the demographic realities. Where is that agenda now? He was wise enough to understand that unilateralism is not the answer but instead of coming to the realization that the alternative to unilateral is negotiations, he has implemented a policy of “doing nothing”. We don’t need leaders who’s policy is to do nothing.
One of the main problems that we face is that the front running alternative to Olmert is Netanyahu and in such a case, Olmert’s “do nothing” is better than Netanyahu’s “do a lot of harm” policies which are sure to come.
The paradox in all of this is that the Israeli public is silent. The public is far from satisfied with the present government but there is no real protest movement. The public supports policies that would advance negotiations and peace but at the same time voice their support for Netanyahu who is surely against negotiations and peace. Perhaps it is because of a total absence of any political alternative being presented to the public other than Netanyahu.
In the coming weeks we may very well be faced with a political upheaval as the Winoegrad Committee on the War in Lebanon begins to release its findings. Olmert may be forced to resign at that point, the question is whether that event would automatically result with new elections. It is possible that a new government could be formed under the leadership of Tzipi Livni, but it is yet to be known if she possesses the leadership qualities that are required to succeed. On the other hand, it seems quite clear that Olmert does not have those qualities so in the face of a choice between Livni and Netanyahu, Livni is without doubt better.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Winograd Commission & Government Corruption
Dr. Beilin spoke first about an event that occurred on Thursday. Following a petition from Meretz MK Zahava Galon, the Israeli Supreme Court decided to publish the minutes of the Winograd testimonies. On Thursday, Shimon Peres’ testimony was made public. In it, Peres said he had been against the Lebanon war from the beginning , a fact that is also reflected in the Government Cabinet meeting minutes. Today, a rally of students asked him why, if he was against the war, did he vote for it? Peres answered that, as the Deputy Prime Minister, he did not feel that he could vote against the Prime Minister. In response, Dr. Beilin released a statement saying that those individuals who saw the danger of the war, but voted for it anyway, misled the country.
Dr. Beilin also predicted upcoming changes in the Israeli government, although he said he did not believe there would be new elections. He indicated that most parties currently in the Knesset would not benefit by risking an election now. If Prime Minister Olmert is forced to step down by the corruption inquiry against him or by the Winograd Commission findings on the conduct of the recent war with Hezbollah, either Peres or Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni might replace him. He seemed to prefer Livni.
The Newly-Formed Palestinian Unity Government
Dr. Beilin asserted that the Unity Government is a very important milestone since it may create more Palestinian consensus in dealing with Israel. Previous negotiations and exchanges have only occurred with the agreement of one half of the Palestinian population. Israel could come to agreements with Fatah, but not impose them on Hamas.
Hamas is now part of the government. Although Hamas still does not recognize Israel, Israel would be mistaken to boycott contacts with non-Hamas members of this government. The Palestinian government should be judged not only by what it says, but also by what it does. What is most important is that this government move to end violence against Israel.
Dr. Beilin also expressed his hope that the Arab League would reaffirm the Arab Initiative on March 28th in Riyadh.
The Syrian Channel
Dr. Beilin noted that many countries, including some moderate Arab states, are against Israeli negotiations with Syria over the Golan. However, he said that he believed that negotiations are in the interests of Israel. It is possible that the Syrian overtures toward Israel are not serious, but even if negotiations prove fruitless, Israel would be better off in honestly indicating that it had tried and showing Syria to have been unresponsive and untrustworthy.
Dr. Beilin explained that he believes the issue of extremist settlers in Hebron is very important and that there have been significant developments there recently. About 200 settlers recently broke into the closed shops of the old market in Hebron (which had been evacuated for “security reasons”). The settlers claim that they purchased the shops from the Palestinians who own them. Importantly, such a deal must have the Defense Minister’s permission, and, at this point, it is unclear whether Amir Peretz gave this consent. Even if the settlers did purchase the buildings, as they claim, their occupancy would not be legal without the Defense Minister’s approval. Similar instances continue to take place.
The US Role
Dr. Beilin observed that, throughout this stay in the US, people have asked him what the US can do to help end the conflict. In the past, he has always asked for a robust American role in mediation, but he is now frustrated and wary of the Bush administration’s ability to do anything positive in this regard. Consequently, his current opinion is that it would be best if the administration refrained from doing anything, on the assumption that it only will do harm if it gets involved. Obviously, he still would like to see the American Jewish community pressing for an agenda of negotiations and evaluating the Palestinian Authority by what it does to reign in violence. He suggests that progressive Jews should be looking forward to the next administration by establishing relations with the presidential candidates.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Many of us were moved by the recent revelations of Otto Frank’s desperate efforts to reach safety in the US prior to the Holocaust, as depicted in the public release of his letters. This resonated with my own family history in that my father had tried to get out of Europe along with my mother and her aunt during this time as well, knocking on and being turned away from most doors. But after two to three years of effort, he finally did succeed in getting US immigration visas.
My parents were fortunate to be living in a not-yet-invaded Yugoslavia rather than their partitioned and occupied native land of Poland. And my father was clever enough, or the recipient of good enough advice, to circumvent a last-ditch bureaucratic attempt of the US consulate to delay physically providing the visas that had already been granted. This maneuver to make my father gratuitously gather proof of transit visas through countries that would be crossed en route to America was, as historians have discovered, in keeping with the orders of FDR’s anti-Semitic assistant secretary of state, Breckenridge Long, to obstruct Jewish immigration as much as possible.
I have a friend who is the daughter of a Jewish refugee mother from Germany and of a Cherokee father from Tennessee. She's fiercely protective of Israel and Jewish rights and similarly concerned with the rights of Native Americans. She hates the fact that Andrew Jackson is on the $20 bill and considers him something like a Nazi for having forced the Cherokee and other tribes west to Oklahoma on a deadly forced march known historically as the Trail of Tears.
I've read and written about Ward Churchill's "A Little Matter of Genocide" (mentioned in Sanders’ article) and I've also met him. He's a brilliant polemicist but also a nasty extremist and not anything like a true scholar. He is a provocateur who couldn’t resist defaming the victims of the attacks on 9/11 as “little Eichmanns” — presumably for being cogs in the wheels of international finance and the US military at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
It's curious that Churchill picks on Lipstadt, Katz and Bauer as Holocaust scholars who are – in his words – "Jewish exclusivists." I would never have heard of Steven Katz except for Churchill mentioning his name, but Wickipedia indicates that he’s more prominent than I had thought.
It seems that Churchill attacks Deborah Lipstadt because, in the course of militantly confronting Holocaust deniers, she has focused appropriately on Jewish suffering. That he picks on Yehuda Bauer is bizarre; Bauer is a left-Zionist Israeli (an old Mapamnik who now supports Meretz) who is anything but an "exclusivist" on the issue of genocide. In fact, he very forthrightly – and perhaps overgenerously – classifies the experience of Polish Catholics in WW II as genocide. Bauer also very readily admits that all genocides are unique and should be studied on their own terms.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I came away from this event – including 40-50 Jewish professionals, lay leaders and friends discussing how to deal with the "Apartheid = Israel equation" – with a renewed respect for the AJC and a sense of gratitude for they’re having pulled this event together, along with its co-sponsor, the Canadian Jewish Congress, which likewise sent an impressive delegation. To the delight of the lefties among us, the presentations included two on US and Canadian trade unions and one that was a case study of Israel advocacy with an explicitly left-wing political party, Canada’s New Democratic Party, by a staffer of the Canadian Jewish Congress who is also an NDP member.
Ex-South Africans Benjamin Pogrund (an anti-Apartheid journalist who is now a writer and peace advocate in Israel) and Hebrew U. emeritus professor Gideon Shimoni were among the participants. About a year ago, Israel Horizons published a version of a comparative paper Pogrund did on Israel and Apartheid.
The level of the discussion was very high and well worth participating in. Among the guest speakers who dropped by briefly, were Columbia U. president Lee Bollinger (an impressively thoughtful individual) and Todd Gitlin (the 60s-era radical and today’s prominent liberal academic). Bollinger expressed concern about the need for students to feel safe in their views, not to be bullied by faculty, and for academic freedom to be safeguarded while also upholding academic standards that require reasonable argumentation and respectful discourse. He admitted that balancing academic freedom with academic standards is an art and not a science that can be measured with precision; he also spoke of the need to maintain the university as politically neutral but not necessarily without taking a stand on transcendent issues.
Gitlin spoke on the fallacy of arguing by analogy, that specific historical occurrences are never exact parallels of those from other times and places. This observation toward the end of the conference had been initially expressed by Prof. Shimoni on the first day, in the vocabulary of the historian.
Unlike what I had feared, the AJC gathering was not satisfied with simply bashing Jimmy Carter, but took seriously the real issues of occupation that Carter raised in his awkward and flawed way. The major distinction that was made is between those who use the Apartheid analogy for “eliminationist” or “unconscionable” purposes – with the intend of undermining Israel’s existence as a Jewish state – and those (like Carter) who employ the analogy for “conscionable” reasons, to eliminate the inhumane hardships and injustices that the Palestinians endure under occupation.
The main difference of opinion seemed to be on whether to simply refute or dismiss the Apartheid analogy or to allow the truth of valid criticisms of Israeli policies. In the end, there was consensus that a good response to the Apartheid analogy can be a nuanced statement that would contain the following elements: “Apartheid is not the issue” but the issue includes ending settlement expansion and occupation on the one side and the need to end violence/terror and to recognize Israel on the other. This concluding formulation was the product of a friendly collaboration between Meretz USA’s executive director Charney Bromberg and one of our new friends from the Canadian Jewish Congress, Manuel Prutschi.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Olmert’s best chance of saving his job lies in making progress toward an agreement with the Palestinians and, ideally, the Arab world in general. Luckily for him (and for Israel) this appears to be an opportune moment on both fronts....
Neither the platform establishing the unity government nor the Arab League Initiative is perfect from Israel’s (or America’s) point of view. Hamas has not agreed to recognize Israel or to fully accept Israel’s previously negotiated agreements with the PLO. The Arab League Initiative still calls for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel (not only to a new Palestinian state) and for an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 borders.
In the eyes of many, these defects make the proposals non-starters, not worth the paper they are written on. But viewing them that way is a mistake. In the case of the Arab League Initiative Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni both now concede that Israel blundered when Ariel Sharon dismissed it out of hand in 2002. Both now say there are elements in the plan worth considering. Although they have not come around to seeing positive elements in the Palestinian unity agreement, that does not mean that there aren’t any which will perhaps only be recognized when the opportunity passes.
That is the story of Middle East diplomacy. Each side insists on seeing a half-empty glass [as] completely empty.
.... Given a choice between seeing the best or the worst in the adversary’s position, they invariably choose the worst. And invariably it is the worst that then happens.
.... From Israel’s point of view, the initiative's calls for the return of refugees and full withdrawal make it less than optimal. But, in a meeting with the Saudi ambassador this winter, Israel Policy Forum was told that the initiative was not a take-it-or-leave-it offer but an invitation to start a process. The Ambassador told IPF President, Seymour Reich, that Israel need only agree to negotiate and Prime Minister Olmert would see how far the Arabs were willing to go.
And now Hamas is saying that it too might endorse the plan, if only to ingratiate itself with the Saudis, the European Union, and the United States.
Dr. Ziad Asali, President of the American Task Force on Palestine and a prominent advocate of the two-state formula believes that is very good news. Writing in yesterday’s Washington Times, Asali said: “The new Palestinian unity government should unconditionally accept the Arab League Initiative as the first serious step toward a meaningful political process. A political tango of statements and actions, ranging from the articulation of Israel's genuine interest in this initiative, even with reservations, to releasing captured Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, as well the release of Palestinian prisoners could initiate a cascade toward a new political horizon.
"The Arab League initiative is a good starting point for negotiations between all parties interested in ending the conflict and the occupation. To bring these negotiations to fruition, Israel must accept the need to end the occupation, and the Palestinians must have a government that articulates a clear position for a two-state solution, one that says, ‘we seek to negotiate an independent state along the 1967 borders to live alongside Israel in peace – no more and no less.”
Dr. Asali has it exactly right. What is wrong with exploring the possibilities offered by the Arab League Plan? What is wrong with seeing if there is any “give” in Hamas’ position?
Click here to read full article at IPF Web site.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
He defined Zionism aptly as a “civil rights movement for Jews... [and also about] the right of Jews to be recognized as a people like any other.” He, as well as the others, reminded us how successful Zionism has been, in the fact that for the first time in many centuries, there is no “captive Jewish community.”
Goldberg also memorably spoke of his Gaza Strip interview with Sheikh Yassin (the founder of Hamas) who told him frankly that the Palestinians will be able to wait out the Jews for another 200 years if necessary to defeat them. Three days later, Yassin was dead at the hands of the IDF and Goldberg accentuated this fact with the statement that the Jews also are a patient people, who have been able to endure 2,000 years to reestablish their state.
But readers should understand that Goldberg is a liberal who genuinely wants a negotiated peace. He alluded to Bibi Netanyahu’s recent public declaration about the Iranian threat that today is “1937.” Goldberg remarked in dissent that in 1937, unlike today, the Jewish people had no IDF (armed forces) and no state.
The most left-wing panelist was the former Meretz MK, Naomi Chazan. She began by complaining about the title of the event, “Why Israel Matters”; “it matters,” she declared, “because I am.” She also explained how she as a native and lifelong Israeli has a “New York accent”: the daughter of British Zionists, she spent some formative years in New York, including as a student at Barnard and a graduate student at Columbia.
In her presentation, she decried the fact that Israel now has the largest income gap between rich and poor of any advanced industrial state in the world, having surpassed the US in this dubious honor last year. She also mentioned the remarkable degree to which Israel is a multicultural society, noting that approximately 20% of the population is Arab, 20% recent immigrants (most from the former Soviet Union in the last 15 years), and 20% Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox. The remaining 40% consists of Israel’s numerous components and subcultures, including the old Ashkenazi-Mizrakhi (Jews of Afro-Asian origin) divide.
She sees Israel’s “existential threat” as being to its democratic and Jewish nature, which necessitates ending the occupation of the West Bank. Both Chazan and the next speaker, David Markovsky, lauded the Saudi initiative. Markovsky, a journalist and think-tank analyst who was once an editor at the Jerusalem Post and lived in Israel for many years, was the self-declared “centrist” on the panel. He views the test of the Saudi/Arab League peace initiative as depending upon their willingness to drop its reference to solving the Palestinian refugee problem in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which speaks of the Palestinian right of return, and he commends Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for seeking its deletion. But significantly, Markovsky shares with Chazan the conviction, in his words, that “the solution that doesn’t give dignity to both sides, is no solution.”
The last panelist was the Harvard professor of Yiddish literature, Ruth Wisse, the only true right-winger on the stage. She made a brilliant analysis of the historic role of anti-Semitism as a means for rulers and rabble rousers to use the Jews as a scapegoat, to either shift blame for the grievances of oppressed subjects from their oppressors or for extremists to mobilize support among them to seize and hold power. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, anti-Semites gave “liberalism” and modernity a Jewish face as a way of diverting the discontents of the impoverished masses upon a vulnerable minority.
Wisse related how, in society after society, when Jews were given the freedom to excel and rise in their economic position, their visibility as successful “others” gave rise to powerful counter-currents, to lay them low. She correctly describes anti-Semitism “as the most durable ideology in the modern world,” but she cynically ignores and derides any statements from within the Arab world against racist anti-Semitism as merely “private expressions.”
In the most dramatic interchange of the afternoon, she reacted harshly to moderator Goldberg’s description of a Palestinian refugee he knew in Gaza, whom he described as relatively non-political, whose family fell victim to the 1948 war and fled to Gaza from where they’ve never been able to leave. He sought her response to the question of what is due such an individual. Her reply was to provocatively describe his concern as a “disease,” a word that triggered Goldberg’s ire and consternation.
Prof. Chazan aptly characterized Prof. Wisse’s refusal to see positive signs within the Arab world as “defeatist.” And Markovsky, while recognizing that “reconciliation will take a long time,” urged Israel to respond to efforts at diplomacy, such as the Saudi initiative, arguing that “We can’t wait for perfection.... We have a moment for diplomacy before the conflict is completely religionized.”
In fact, Markovsky has recently returned from Saudi Arabia, where he urged the Saudis to reassure Israel that their support for the “right of return” is basically about the Palestinians settling in their small West Bank-Gaza polity and not in Israel proper. Markovsky sees a new alignment of interests between Israel and the mainly Sunni Arab countries against an axis of militant Shiism emanating from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.
Wisse’s angry and harshly distrustful attitudes are shaped by her own bitter experience as a child refugee, whose family was miraculously among a handful of Jews who were allowed into Canada during the war years; for her family and other surviving refugees, building new lives in new lands was their priority. It’s hard for her to feel compassion toward a people who have, in contrast, allowed themselves to be manipulated for generations into retaining their refugee status and cultivating their sense of grievance rather than trying to put the conflict behind them.
Still, this program was mostly upbeat in its tone. It was noted that Zionism has succeeded in transforming the Jewish people into “subjects” in history from mere “objects.” It was further mentioned that Israel is now home to the largest Jewish community in the world. All the panelists shared a sense of pride and hope in Israel’s remarkable achievements in science, technology, industry and the arts — despite its ongoing problems and its current moral failings with a government riven with petty corruption, scandal and incompetence.
Monday, March 19, 2007
On March 28th and 29th, the Arab League will meet in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to discuss the Iranian threat, tensions in Lebanon, and, most significantly for Israel, the Arab League peace initiative. The plan, which was formulated by Saudi King Abdullah and adopted at the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002, calls for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders; for a “just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194"; and for Israeli acceptance of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and with a capital in East Jerusalem. It also calls for the Arab countries to enter into a comprehensive peace with Israel, “normalize” relations with Israel, and provide security for all states in the region.
As Dr. Mati Steinberg, the former advisor on Palestinian Affairs to the head of Shin Bet (General Security Services), has noted, this proposal signaled a great change in direction for the Arab states: they were now all willing to establish relations with Israel, predicated on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan was also unique for its lack of preconditions: Instead of suggesting that Israeli withdrawal from the Territories precede peace and normalization, the two would occur simultaneously. At the time, however, Israel was not interested due (at least in part) to a tragic coincidence: the Arab League approved this initiative at almost exactly the same instant as the most devastating suicide bombing of the Intifada — the attack on a seder at a hotel in Netanya, costing the lives of 29 Israelis celebrating Passover. This concluded a spate of attacks that collectively cost about 100 Israeli lives and prompted the reoccupation of most West Bank towns and cities by the IDF.
Five years later, the proposal is being pushed by several different sides. The Saudis and other moderate Arab countries like Jordan are frightened by rising Iranian influence. And the US is desperate to make progress on the Israeli-Arab peace process because of its failing policies in Iraq.
As for the Israeli take on the plan, Aluf Benn points out reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic. The Saudi Initiative may represent a new chance for peace; one which could, “save Olmert’s government from the impasse in which it is stuck.” But the upcoming summit in Riyadh could also put Olmert in a difficult position.
One problem may come in the form of Palestinian participation at Riyadh. This week, after more than a month of negotiations, Hamas and Fatah announced an agreement on a unity government. Although the accord recognizes previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, it does not acknowledge Israel?s right to exist and it does not renounce Palestinian violence. As a result, Israel has announced that it will not deal with the government or any of its ministers (although it will continue to talk to President Mahmoud Abbas, from Fatah). The US is expected to endorse this approach.
Akiva Eldar writes that Prime Minister Olmert intends to deal with this situation by “bypassing Hamas,” working with the Arab League rather than the Palestinians. But this will become impossible after the Riyadh summit, when the Palestinian government – with its Hamas component – is expected to agree to the Saudi Initiative. The Israeli government will be unable to work with one without the other.
Nevertheless, as Daoud Kuttab writes, Hamas attendance at the summit could actually be positive for the Israelis: “If a Hamas ‘representative’ attends the meeting expected to approve a new Arab peace plan – one acceptable to the international community – this will make the plan binding on the unity government, and, indirectly on Hamas itself.” Indeed, Ahmed Yousef, an advisor to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, recently indicated that Hamas would soon undergo an ideological shift.
A bigger sticking point for Israel may center on the refugee issue – a topic which has always been extremely contentious. Both Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have said they will not accept an Arab League plan that gives refugees the right to return to Israel. The Saudis, in turn, will accept no such preconditions to negotiations.
But does the Saudi plan necessarily give all Palestinians the Right of Return? To be exact, it recommends that the refugee problem find a solution in accordance with UN resolution 194, which “Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so.” Gershon Baskin points out that this clause is not binding as only those refugees wishing to return will do so. Indeed, a 2003 poll indicated that, although the vast majority would not give up their right to return, only about 10% would actually take advantage of it to return.
Baskin also notes that the Saudi Initiative calls for an “agreed upon” solution to the refugee problem, indicating that the issue would be negotiated with Israel. Notably, the Geneva Accord deals with Palestinian refugees in a similar manner.
What happens during the Riyadh summit may be problematic for Israel, particularly if it means that the government must deal with Hamas. Yet, the Saudi plan is also one of the most significant chances for peace that the region has seen in a long time, and it can certainly be taken as a starting point for negotiations. Meretz USA has been saying for months that now is the time to take a stand for peace: what are we waiting for?
Also of note:
* Peace Now reported this week that an Israeli government register shows that 32.4 percent of land held by Israeli settlements is privately-owned.
* A Haifa university survey showed that two-thirds of Israeli Palestinians would remain in Israel and “would approve of it as a democratic Jewish state” were a Palestinian state to be established. The poll also shows 68.4 percent of Jews in Israel fear an Arab uprising.
* Last week, B’Tselem accused the Israeli army of using human shields during a West Bank raid. The Israeli military police have launched an investigation into the matter.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Bridging the Divide: Peacebuilding in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Edy Kaufman, Walid Salem and Juliette Verhoeven, editors, Lynne Reinner, publisher, 2006.
If you are interested in peace or dialogue in the Middle East, Bridging the Divide is a must read. The title alone redeems this work. The authors' hearts are in the right place. The title makes it a much better book than Jimmy Carter's best-selling scribblings about Israeli "Apartheid"....
You won't buy a book because of its title, but the first chapter, by Edy Kaufman and Walid Salem, which chronicles the long history of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue efforts, is an essential resource. The only problem with it is that there is not enough of it. One would like to see a more detailed discussion of dialogue efforts that have been going on abroad as well, and a systematic discussion of various "Track II diplomacy" meetings that are mentioned in passing in various places in the book -- and others that were not mentioned. There are also important chapters by Tamar Hermann, a frank and perceptive joint chapter on Palestinian-Israeli activities by Mohammed Dajani and Gershon Baskin, and informative chapter by Menachem Klein and Riad Malki on Track II diplomacy that you won't want to miss, as well as other treats.
Riad Malki discusses the varieties of Track II diplomacy, pointing out the problem of definition that is bound to plague a new field, and also reminding us that it was the Israeli occupation in 1967 that made such contacts initially possible. Those who insist that the Israeli occupation was the beginning of the problem, should consider... that the problem has a much longer history. The point about "Track II diplomacy," however, is that it is supposed to be unofficial and non-binding. It is therefore revealing and disturbing that Malki complains that some of the supposedly informal "Track II" Palestinian negotiators didn't know the official Palestinian policies and departed from them. Controlling the views of participants obviates the whole point of Track II diplomacy. No divide will be bridged if each side must stick to the official positions of their governments. Click here for Isseroff’s complete review article.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
The truth is that by and large the Palestinians are a peaceful, patient people – and at this pass an angry, humiliated and pained people. Their sin over the last 60 plus years has been their relative lack of organization – set up effectively by the British during their 30-year rule – in the face of the highly organized and effective Zionist colonial project.There is nothing here about the Mufti's pro-Nazi leadership of the Palestinian national movement. Nothing of their violent rejection of the UN partition resolution and of their effort to destroy the Yishuv by force in late '47-early '48. I agree with the writer that the history of 1948 needs to be examined, but it needs to include the errors, sins and crimes of both sides.
Notice also that this guy's concern for "justice" is incompatible with any kind of Jewish state, that he attacks our progressive Zionist position for “merely” being against occupation. Although I don't see Mark Braverman as evil or anti-Semitic, there's something morally obtuse about his non-condemnatory condemnation of Palestinian terrorism – mere "pinpricks" when compared with Israeli power, attacks that don't threaten Israel's existence, etc. On a political level, this guy wants very much to end Israel's existence.
The Jewish People, Zionism, and the Question of Justice by Mark Braverman, Ph.D.
.... Zionism was the answer to the anti-Semitism of Christian Europe. The failure, despite the Enlightenment, to establish Jews as an emancipated, accepted group in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the rise of political anti-Semitism in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century gave birth to political Zionism under the leadership of Theodore Herzl. Zionism expressed the powerful drive of the Jewish people to establish ourselves as a nation among other nations, with a land of our own and the ability to achieve self-determination. This is why, in sermons from synagogue pulpits, in lectures on Jewish history, in classroom lessons for small children, and in spirited discussions about the Israel-Palestine question, you will so often here the preamble "throughout the centuries…," followed by a description of the suffering of the Jews at the hands of our oppressors. Indeed, it's in our liturgy, notably in the Passover Seder. The story of Jewish survival despite constant persecution is in many ways our theme song -- it's in our cultural DNA, it's the mantra of our peoplehood. It runs deep.
This unique Jewish quality is not the product of some cultural aberration or collective character flaw. Developing this particular brand of "character armor" has been part of our survival throughout long ages of persecution, marginalization, and demonization. We survived, in part, by creating rituals, habits and attitudes of insularity, pride and persistence that allowed us never to forget, never to let down our guard, and to always be proud of our stubborn vitality in the face of "those who sought to destroy us." When, in our modern liturgical idiom, we talk of the State of Israel as "the First Flowering of our Redemption," we are reflecting the reality of our survival, the meaning of the achievement of political self-determination in the context of Jewish history. It is good to have survived.
But we must also see clearly the shadow that this history casts on us today. We have striven to be the masters of our fate – but, having achieved this, we must also realize that we are responsible for our actions and for the consequences of these actions. Being free, we have free choice. The tragedy of Jewish Diaspora history, in our own cultural narrative as well as in reality, is rooted in our history of powerlessness and passivity. Zionism came to correct this, and it has undeniably succeeded, indeed far beyond the expectations of Jews and non-Jews alike. But if we now become slaves to the consequences of empowerment, then we are not free, and we are not truly powerful. The Nazi Holocaust in particular casts its shadow over our modern history and the history of the State of Israel. The Nazi's campaign to eradicate world Jewry has become part of our uniquely Jewish "Liturgy of Destruction," the way we Jews throughout the ages have made sense of our suffering by turning to the broader context of Jewish history. From this matrix of vulnerability, victimization and meaning-making comes the Zionist cry, "Never again!" But the modern State in its policies, carried out purportedly to preserve our people, and using the Holocaust as justification for unjust actions, is betraying the meaning of Jewish history. You cannot achieve your own deliverance, even from the most unspeakable evil, by the oppression of another people. Indeed, in this current era of power and self-determination for Jews in Israel, we face risks to our peoplehood that far exceed the physical perils brought by millennia of persecution.
Israel and Palestine: Reality Stood On its Head
The stormy controversy over the Israel-Palestine question today – a controversy that is splitting the Jewish community here in the United States as well as Israeli society, stands as evidence of this risk. The history of conflict and bloodshed between the State of Israel, its Arab neighbors, and the indigenous inhabitants of historic Palestine is the unavoidable and predictable result of the colonialist nature of the Zionist enterprise. Although Zionism, unlike the other European colonial projects, was not directed originally toward the occupation and exploitation of a subject people – the Zionists sought only to create a refuge for a themselves – it is no less a settler colonial enterprise for that. What is uncanny and tragic is that in the current discourse, the roles of the combatants are turned upside down: The Jews are portrayed as the victims, and the Palestinians as the aggressors.
In truth, it is the Palestinians who are the victims: dispossessed, powerless, and pained. In every way, the Jews are victorious and all-powerful. The Jews of Israel are, to be sure, pricked by acts of popular resistance on the part of Palestinians. But in the perspective of the current power balance, these are pinpricks, no more. At the same time, this resistance, fueled by the desperation and humiliation of a displaced and occupied people, has been amplified and exploited by political forces within and outside of Palestine. As terrifying as acts of resistance such as suicide bombings and cross-border shellings are, Israel's current hegemony, power, and certainly her security are not threatened by these acts. Suicide bombings are horrible and terrorizing. But it is too easy, too convenient to tar an entire people with this brush, which is precisely what has happened. The image of the Palestinians as a violent people, as "terrorists" bent on the destruction of Israel, is not a true picture.
The truth is that by and large the Palestinians are a peaceful, patient people – and at this pass an angry, humiliated and pained people. Their sin over the last 60 plus years has been their relative lack of organization – set up effectively by the British during their 30-year rule -- in the face of the highly organized and effective Zionist colonial project. They are paying for this now as they face the ongoing dismantling of their economy and their infrastructure, and the continuing program to disable their leadership and ability to self-govern. Israel has taken over where Britain left off – and with far greater efficiency and thoroughness. [Note again how this completely gets the Palestinian side off the hook with the ahistorical claim that they were only victims — completely ignoring their recourse to war in an attempt to destroy the Yishuv in the months leading up to Israeli independence in May 1948.]
The Jewish Discussion
.... One particularly "slippery" form of denial, of this failure to grieve, is how some Jews take issue with some of the actions of the Israeli government while still avoiding confronting the fundamental issues of justice. This can take several forms. The first is the "pragmatic" approach, which can also be called the appeal to "enlightened self-interest." "The Occupation," so this position goes, "was a mistake. It's bad for Israel. Denying self-determination for Palestinians and subjecting them to the humiliation of a military administration breeds hatred and desperation, which is then visited upon Israelis in the form of violence." Some American Jewish organizations, hoping to avoid being marginalized by the mainstream community, or labeled "Pro-Palestinian" adopt this position, ignoring the issue of justice.. "Israel," they say, "should smarten up and change its policies if it wants to live in peace and limit the economic drain of unending conflict." In informal conversations with some Jewish Americans who articulate this position, I have heard confessions that their position is really much more extreme with respect to their feelings about Israeli policy, but that they feel it important to hew to this line for strategic purposes, in order to maintain credibility with the Jewish establishment as well as with government legislators.
A second kind of denial, for me more serious and more disturbing, is to be found in the ranks of what has come to be called the Jewish Progressive movement. In his critique of this element of American Judaism, Jewish Liberation theologian Marc Ellis notes that whereas this element of Jewry critiques aspects of Jewish ascendancy by recognizing the validity of Palestinian aspirations, it limits the scope of the critique by accepting the need for this same Jewish ascendancy as a solution to Jewish history. This viewpoint acknowledges the issue of justice, but attempts to do this within the context of Jewish mainstream assumptions of entitlement with respect to the rights of the Jews to historic Palestine. "If we can just clean up this messy business of the Occupation," say these people, "things will come out alright, and we will be able to enjoy the land with a clean conscience." This viewpoint limits the discourse to actions post-1967: it denies the history of Palestinian displacement prior to that. Indeed, Progressive Jewish organizations avoid discussion of the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning "catastrophe" used to describe the ethnic cleansing of three quarters of a million Palestinians from historic Palestine by Israeli forces between1948 and 1949. Indeed, progressive Jews have been known to become quite irritated with fellow Jews who raise it. Finally, it avoids the fundamental question, which is how a Jewish state, founded as a haven and a homeland for Jews, can be a true democracy, providing justice and fair treatment for its non-Jewish citizenry. It avoids the related and equally fundamental question of demography – the issue that, above all others, drives Israeli foreign policy and fuels the current political and military conflict. On the whole, Jews outside of Israel across a wide spectrum from "establishment" to "progressive” want to avoid these questions – indeed, they are off limits. [This paragraph represents a complete denial of the Zionist peace camp, which recognizes the brutal reality of the Nakba and continues to work for equal rights under law for all Israeli citizens, Jew and non-Jew alike.]
This is denial – it is a fundamental failure to accept the consequences of Jewish actions in pre- and post-1948 Palestine-Israel, and thus a failure to grieve over the particularly Jewish tragedy from which we as Jews suffer today. Returning to the pre-1967 borders (as if that will ever happen) will not make everything better. It will not make Israel a just society with respect to its Palestinian citizens. It will not erase what was done to the Palestinians who were driven out of their cities, towns and villages in 1948. It does not place the issue of justice as primary. Rather, it places the interests of Israel as primary, and promotes an entitled, supremacist, paternalistic stance with respect to non-Jewish inhabitants of historic Palestine, on whichever side of the final status border they may reside when a political settlement is finally achieved. It pre-empts our horror over the crimes we are committing and the suffering we have caused. It muffles our own cries of pain over our sins and our cruelties. It squelches the agony of confronting the contradictions and the excruciating dilemmas. It blocks the discussion. It closes our hearts. [In other words, because the Palestinians suffered as a result of their bad political leadership, which refused to come to a peaceful accommodation with Israel in 1947-48, Israel must forever be condemned and bear the cost.]
Conclusion: ... Our Accountability
.... As Jews we sought political self-determination, and we got it. Now we must behave in accordance with principles of justice and in accordance with international law as an expression of universally agreed-upon principles of justice. As Jews, we are confronted daily with this choice as we witness the illegal and oppressive actions of the Jewish state toward the Palestinian people it is so rapidly displacing. Empowerment – political empowerment – presents a mighty challenge to values. The Prophets knew this well, continually speaking this truth to the power structures of their day. To the crushed and exiled Jewish people of his time, Second Isaiah declared that redemption and comfort was coming, but only when the people acknowledged the divine meaning of their suffering. To my coreligionists in Israel and America, I say that we will ultimately survive as a people only to the extent that we can understand how our own suffering makes us part of humankind, and responsible for suffering wherever and whenever it happens. It was Roberta Feuerlicht, the Jewish ethicist who famously wrote, "Judaism survived centuries of persecution without a state; it must now learn how to survive despite a state." [How clever and how pompous!]
Mark Braverman lives in Bethesda, MD. He is a member of Jewish Voices for Peace and serves on the boards of Partners for Peace and the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
One of the key issues on the table between Israel and the Palestinians is the so-called "right of resistance." Quartet and Israeli conditions for recognition of the Palestinian government include an end to violence, while Palestinians continually uphold the "right of resistance," which is a major principle of the Palestinian Prisoners' Letter. In practice, resistance always seems to include suicide attacks, shootouts and rocket attacks on civilians. Intentional attacks against civilians are crimes against humanity and cannot and should not be tolerated by the international community, nor should they be justified by "peace" groups....
March 9, 2007 - I was discussing with a friend the possibility of Israeli-Palestinian (or more generally, Jewish-Arab) dialogue. She sent me an article, entitled "Palestinians Debate 'Polite' Resistance to Occupation." It reports widespread distrust within the Palestinian community in any notion of a non-violent intifada. A member of Hamas put it like this: "Nothing can be achieved through resisting the occupation in a polite way."
....Non-violent resistance – Of course, nobody can deny the right of people to protest an injustice. If there were hundreds of thousands of Palestinians peacefully demonstrating for their own state and for peace it would be an effective and moral act. That doesn't mean that all non-violent actions are good and moral. What would you think of a non-violent demonstration in support of apartheid or the "rights" of child-molesters?
.... Resistance against an occupation army is permitted by international law. Nobody would claim that the acts of the French Maquis or Russian or Polish or Jewish partisans against the Nazis were wrong, or that resistance to German occupation in World War I was not a moral act. However, if the representatives of the occupied people have an agreement with the occupier, it is questionable whether they can subvert that agreement by claiming the right to "resistance."
Murder of civilians – Suicide bombings, rocket attacks and other violence directed against civilians is just plain wrong, whether they occur in Iraq or in Israel. They cannot be justified as "resistance."
Click here for the entire article online at MidEastWeb for Coexistence.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
One of the worst examples of how simplistic they were: to demonstrate the fundamentally “racist” nature of Israeli society, they write that Israeli citizenship is based on the principle of “blood kinship.” They ignore the fact that Israel has 1.3 million Arab citizens. They were obviously confused about Israel’s citizenship laws.
Another example: after detailing all kind of human rights violations that Israel perpetrated in the territories in the last few years, they pose a question:
But isn’t Israel entitled to do whatever it takes to protect its citizens? Doesn’t the unique evil of terrorism justify continued U.S. support, even if Israel responds harshly?That is, at the very least, a questionable way to describe Palestinian motives for terrorism. In the ‘90s, there were suicide bombings just about every time Israel was poised to make a concession. Those who pulled them off weren’t trying to force concessions. They were vying for power with Fatah within Palestinian society; they were making a declaration that negotiations of any kind with the Zionist entity was unacceptable. The motives for Palestinian terrorism deserve a lucid, careful discussion. They gave it a throwaway line that would work well at an Israel-bashing rally at Berkeley. One finds that kind of simplistic summarizing throughout the paper.
In fact, this argument is not a compelling one, either. Palestinians have used terrorism against the Israeli occupier, and their willingness to attack innocent civilians is wrong. This behavior is not surprising, however, because the Palestinians believe they have no other way to force Israeli concessions.
But I don’t want to sum up all of the evidence they trot out and give a point by point analysis of all the flaws. There are plenty of those available on the Internet that are worth reading. A guy named Dan Fleshler wrote a piece in the winter issue of Reform Judaism [reprinted in ISRAEL HORIZONS and at the Meretz USA Weblog] , which refuted one of the most troubling arguments they made — that the invasion of Iraq was a war for Israel.
But those of us who have often disagreed with AIPAC and its allies need to do more than carp about the inaccuracies in Mearsheimer and Walt, or in Jimmy Carter’s book. Because some of their most important premises are true. They over-reached when they categorically dismissed the mutual interests of Israel and the U.S. But it is also true that, when American Presidents avoid criticizing Israeli settlement expansion, that is not in America’s interests. When this administration raises only a few, quiet objections to the route of a security barrier that sometimes cuts through Palestinian villages and olive groves, that is not in American interests. When this administration puts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the back burner and does little to foster negotiations, that is not in America’s interests. And there’s not much doubt that one of the reasons for this American passivity is the work of AIPAC and the conventional Israel lobby.
By conventional Israel lobby, I’m referring to AIPAC, the staff of the Conference of Presidents, some of the so-called centrist groups that generally go along with them on key legislative issues, like the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee. Mearsheimer and Walt have a much more expansive definition, but let’s not worry about that now.
Conventional wisdom in Congress and the White House is that if you stand up against Israel, you’re going to get attacked and badgered by a well-organized, well-funded lobby with an active grassroots constituency. Mearsheimer and Walt have it right when they claim:
The Lobby’s influence causes trouble on several fronts. It increases the terrorist danger that all states face, including America’s European allies….By preventing U.S. leaders from pressuring Israel to make peace, The Lobby has also made it impossible to end the Israeli Palestinian conflict. This situation gives extremists a powerful recruiting tool, increases the pool of potential terrorists and sympathizers, and contributes to Islamic radicalism around the world.There is ample evidence of this. MichaeI Massing gave some telling examples of how this works in practice in his article on Walt and Mearsheimer in the New York Review of Books:
In late 2000, when the intifada began, [a] former Clinton adviser told me, there were cases in which Israel used what seemed to many to be excessive force, such as breaking the bones of young Palestinians, and exacerbated the conflict in doing so. But if administration officials had said anything that smacked of 'moral equivalency', he observed, it would have gotten us attacks from Congress, the media, and interest groups. After a while, he continued, officials begin to shy away from saying anything that might become controversial domestically, leading to self-censorship in speech and action. There were many policy initiatives we were considering where we'd have to address how certain domestic constituencies would react.What Mearsheimer and Walt leave out, of course, is that allowing the status quo in the territories to continue is not in Israel’s interests, either. That is why the work of the M&W boys was so disappointing. They could have been helpful to those of us who often disagree with the conventional lobby. They could have done a careful analysis of that lobby’s machinery of influence, the mechanisms of its power. An honest assessment would have given practical lessons to American Jews and others who want to either transform the mainstream, pro-Israel forces in Washington or replace them. But by exaggerating the power of the Israel lobby, they made our job more difficult,
If M&W had scratched the surface, guess what they would have discovered? They would have found chinks in the conventional lobby’s armor. If they had been doing an honest assessment, they would have found flaws and weaknesses. And, in finding them, they would have provided hope to American Jews who often don’t feel like the lobby speaks for them. The less it comes across as an irresistible political object that no force can remove, the easier it will be to recruit more American Jews to either replace or transform it.
Take the power of American Jewish money, for example. Mearsheimer and Walt note that: “Money is critical to U.S. elections and AIPAC makes sure its friends get strong financial support from the myriad pro-Israel political action committees. Those sees as hostile, on the other hand, can be sure AIPAC will direct campaign contributions to their opponents.”
Well, that’s true. And, in my experience, it’s disheartening to peace activists who believe that we cannot possibly come close to matching the power of AIPAC’s money machine. But just how much is this money machine generating for members of Congress? When it comes to the impact of political fundraising, AIPAC’s important tool is the widespread perception that it is a major source of campaign gifts. That perception is often not reflected in reality.
You can follow the role of money in American politics by going to the website of the Center for Responsive Politics. They study federal election records and break down contributions into what they call “industries.” There is the energy industry. There are retirees. And there is the pro-Israel industry, which consists of PACS and individuals who mostly toe the AIPAC line.
In 2004, PACS and individuals categorized as “pro-Israel” contributed about $6 million to federal candidates and parties. That’s not a small amount. But pro-Israel industry was ranked 39 out of the 80 “industries” listed by the Center. Lawyers, the top-ranked industry, contributed more than $85 million. The real estate industry gave about 35 million, six times as much as the pro-Israel industry. These and corporate interests are the major league lobbyists when it comes to financial contributions. Compared to them, AIPAC and its friends are minor league.
One key aide to a friendly Congressperson told me that “Except when they are really trying to punish somebody, which doesn’t happen that much, the AIPAC types contribute, at most, maybe 10 percent of a campaign.” Usually, he indicated, they contribute much less. And, usually campaigns could survive easily without these contributions.
So it is true that most members of Congress are reluctant to cross AIPAC. And one of the reasons is the fear of losing campaign contributions. Or the fear that AIPAC’s money machine will punish them by funding their opponents, a fear that is also mentioned by Mearsheimer and Walt. But it would not be inconceivable to diminish the conventional lobby’s hold on Congress.
If American Jews who backed Israel’s peace camp launched a massive, well-organized, sophisticated effort to raise money for politicians, Congress and the White House staff might stop being gutless. Our government might be more balanced, more pro-active when it deals with Israel and its neighbors. I have been told that one of the ideas contemplated by the people working on the so-called “Soros initiative,” the alternative Jewish lobby, is to set up some dedicated PACs – Political Action Committees that would counter the ones fueled by AIPAC supporters. That would be a welcome, long overdue development.
When leaders of the mainstream Jewish community attack Mearsheimer and Walt for exaggerating the conventional Lobby’s power, they do it because they are concerned that the exaggeration will feed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. They’re not wrong. We should be concerned about that.
But I believe progressive Zionists also have another reason to show that Mearsheimer and Walt assigned too much power to AIPAC and its allies. We need to encourage the loyal Jewish opposition in this country to get off their butts, and speak louder and spend more money.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Let me begin by conveying what is the most appalling thing about the Mearsheimer-Walt work and the controversy it has generated. They wrote a paper and an article in the London Review of Books this past spring. Based on the firestorm it caused, they got an advance of three quarters of a million dollars from Farrar Straus and Giroux to expand their arguments in book-length form. I have been peddling a book proposal with a sample chapter on many of the same issues they are dealing with. And I can’t get to first base with any publishers. That alone is deeply offensive to me.
My take on their work is summed up in a letter I wrote to The Nation, in response to one of their writers, Philip Weiss, who quoted me as complaining about the sloppy scholarship and glib generalizations in the Mearsheimer-Walt report [reproduced below, in part]:
...I told my friend Philip Weiss that America would benefit from candid conversations about the pro-Israel lobby in the public sphere. But I also said that if academics are going to venture into this explosive territory, they should be very careful to get their facts straight and avoid using simplistic generalizations to sum up very complex events and trends. Mearsheimer and Walt did neither.
As an activist for Israel's peace camp who has been skirmishing with the conventional Israel lobby for decades, I would have welcomed an informed, scrupulously documented and honest critique of that lobby by two distinguished scholars. What I read was an elaborate attack ad that was riddled with so many inaccuracies, omissions and unsubstantiated assertions that, as Michelle Goldberg put it in Salon, it seemed expressly designed to elicit exactly the [hostile] reaction it has received. The power of the Israel lobby is something that deserves a full and fearless airing, but this paper could make such an airing less, not more, likely.”
....These scholars had an opportunity to give people who are inhibited about criticizing Israel and its lobbyists some lucid arguments and facts to help them overcome those inhibitions. They blew it....
Here is how Walt and Mearsheimer explain America’s Middle East Policy: First, they show why support for Israel is not and has never been in America’s strategic interests. Next, they explain that there are few moral justifications for American support for Israel, because much of Israeli policy has been immoral. So here is their money quote: “If neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America’s support for Israel, how are we best to explain it? The explanation lies in the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby.”
That kind of reductionism is so simplistic it is almost bizarre.... These are two of the country’s leading political scientists. They must know that people in their field have identified all kinds of influences that go into the sausage-making process of American foreign policy: the influence of bureaucrats and the bureaucratic process, domestic politics, the group-think that settles into any organization.
The classic study of this kind of interplay is Essence of Decision by Graham Allison, which analyzes the different factors involved in the Kennedy Administration’s decisions during the Cuban missile crisis. Stephen Walt has said it was the first book he read in graduate school. You wouldn’t know it from his paper on the Israel lobby.
To Mearsheimer and Walt, apparently, America’s Middle East policy is a function of a massive Israel lobby and Jewish money, nothing more. In their work, they don’t go into the nuts and bolts of how decisions are made. They just show some of the way this lobby operates. And they assume the lobby is the main reason why American policy has been so disastrous.
To understand why that makes no sense, all we need to do is remember that one of most supportive Presidents Israel has ever had was Richard Nixon. Besides being an outright anti-Semite, he didn’t care at all about the Jewish vote. A very small percentage of his campaign contributions came from Jews, like Max Fisher. According to Kissinger’s memoirs, Nixon used to brag about how the Jewish lobby had no influence on him.
And yet Nixon was responsible for a massive increase in military and financial aid to Israel. He’s the one who established the ties between the military-industrial complexes of both countries that exist today. Why? Because he believed Israel was a bulwark against Communism, not because of Israel’s lobby. So one reason why Mearsheimer and Walt caused such a furor is that they ignored all the complexities and nuances, all the reasons why foreign policy decisions have been made that had nothing to do with the Israel lobby.
Another reason, as I noted, was sloppy scholarship. If you’re going to make a case for Jewish influence in an academic paper, you damn well better have your facts straight. These guys were incredibly careless. To be continued.
Friday, March 09, 2007
If we look at the Middle East, most countries have in their official names "Arab" or "Islamic," even though most have non-Arab or non-Muslim minorities. Obviously, we know about the Islamic Republic of Iran and we know about Saudi Arabia, which didn't even allow Jews to set foot there until Henry Kissinger started visiting as secretary of state in the 1970s. Even the new consitutions of Iraq and post-Taliban Afghanistan enshrine Islam in some important sense. Meretz supports a Jewish state but not a Judaic one, or what Orthodox Jews call a Torah state, analogous to the Islamic Republic of Iran or other Islamic countries. But all of these countries have legitimacy on their own terms, even if we pluralist-minded liberals and progressives would prefer that they were more open to pluralism and individual human rights.
In discussing Judt, we should know that he does not believe that the two-state solution is possible. He sees the populations too intertwined and 250,000 or more armed settlers in the West Bank as making this impossible. According to him, "The true alternative facing the Middle East in coming years will be between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians." According to opinion polls, most Israelis and most Palestinians continue to see things differently, preferring two states; and Judt acknowledges that his binational idea would not be easy to achieve, that it's a mixture of realism and utopianism.
An ancestor of Meretz, the old Hashomer Hatzair --- when it was also a political party and not just a Zionist youth movement --- favored binationalism prior to the war of 1948. But then it was a noble effort to ward off further conflict. It is not intuitively obvious that the solution to half a century of violent conflict since is to throw the warring parties together into one state. I once had occasion to ask a friend of Meretz USA who is to our left and a self-defined non-Zionist, Prof. Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University, about the one-state solution. His answer: We are living in the one-state solution, meaning that in one state, one people will always dominate the other.
Prof. Judt has nothing to say about the realization first made by Yossi Alpher in the mid 1990s that most West Bank settlements and most settlers are clustered in blocs near the old Green Line. As discussed in the Geneva Initiative, moderate Israelis and Palestinians understand that a trade of territories between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is desirable to facilitate peace, removing perhaps 75,000 Israeli settlers but not the far greater challenge of 250-300,000. In not even mentioning Geneva in his writings on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Judt underscores how he's not an expert on the Middle East.
On Dec. 4, 2006, Judt was honored by a packed auditorium at the NYU School of Law, where the president of the university introduced him to make a speech entitled, "Liberal Intellectuals in an Illiberal Age." Israel and the American Jewish community were not major subjects of his speech but they were both mentioned scornfully. Click here to read more on this event of last year.
There is much more that I can say, including on some personal interactions I've had with Prof. Judt.... I used to look forward to reading his frequent book reviews in The New Republic. What is profoundly disturbing to me is that a liberal such as he, not an extremist, questions Israel's right to exist.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Like Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, Prof. Tony Judt has left the realm of scholarship and entered into advocacy. Judt is an internationally renowned historian at New York University. He's an English Jew, about 58 or 59 years old, with a specialty in modern European history. He readily admits to having been the British Mazkir [director] of the left-Zionist youth movement, Dror, in the 1960s and to having lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a year or two.
He opened a new chapter in his public profile with an article in the NY Review of Books on Oct. 23, 2003 called: "Israel: The Alternative." This instantly made him both more famous and controversial. Let me read a section that gives you the gist:
The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European "enclave" in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a "Jewish state"—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded— is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.I agree with much of this analysis; I don't doubt that there is an overlap in values and concerns between Prof. Judt and ourselves, but Judt throws the baby out with the bathwater in challenging the legitimacy of any kind of Jewish state — which he defines as "a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded" — but this is not the kind of Jewish state which we in Meretz USA or the Meretz party in Israel support.
In one vital attribute, however, Israel is quite different from previous insecure, defensive microstates born of imperial collapse: it is a democracy. Hence its present dilemma. Thanks to its occupation of the lands conquered in 1967, Israel today faces three unattractive choices. It can dismantle the Jewish settlements in the territories, return to the 1967 state borders within which Jews constitute a clear majority, and thus remain both a Jewish state and a democracy, albeit one with a constitutionally anomalous community of second-class Arab citizens.
Alternatively, Israel can continue to occupy "Samaria," "Judea," and Gaza, whose Arab population—added to that of present-day Israel—will become the demographic majority within five to eight years: in which case Israel will be either a Jewish state (with an ever-larger majority of unenfranchised non-Jews) or it will be a democracy. But logically it cannot be both.
Or else Israel can keep control of the Occupied Territories but get rid of the overwhelming majority of the Arab population: either by forcible expulsion or else by starving them of land and livelihood, leaving them no option but to go into exile. In this way Israel could indeed remain both Jewish and at least formally democratic: but at the cost of becoming the first modern democracy to conduct full-scale ethnic cleansing as a state project, something which would condemn Israel forever to the status of an outlaw state, an international pariah....
I don't think that our definition would trouble most Labor Zionists or other Zionists either, but Meretz supports an Israel that is Jewish in the sense that it respects certain cultural conventions of the Jewish majority of the population: the calendar is influenced by the Jewish week (with the sabbath falling on Saturday, not on Sunday, and the weekend being Friday and Saturday) and that Passover, the High Holy Days, and other Jewish holidays have a significance on a par with Christmas and Easter in this country; Christmas and Easter are not simply honored as religious holidays here, but mainly as cultural conventions of a majority of the US population.
And, vitally important: Meretz supports a Jewish state that is also a state of all its citizens, respecting the aspirations of non-Jewish Israelis to equal rights as citizens. This would mean, for example, that Israeli-Arab towns and neighborhoods should have equal funding for public works and education and that Arab citizens feel an equal stake in Israel as their state — as indicated in Israel's declaration of Independence: to "ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex...."
Recall that Judt articulates the notion that Israel has arrived "too late," making it "an anachronism." But who defines what's too late? More than one person has told me how this is reminiscent of Arnold Toynbee (a renowned British historian of the last century) calling the Jewish people a "fossil." Click here for Part II.