Friday, November 28, 2008

Standing Up Against Hate

(I join with the rest of the civilized world in sending my deepest sympathies to the entire nation of India, and to the families of those murdered in the terror attacks in Mumbai, including the families of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg of Chabad).

While there is often legitimate concern about how Jewish youth in America relate to Israel, especially with the climate at many American universities being very difficult for Zionists, there are occasional bright spots that surface.

At UC Berkeley, tensions have been running particularly high lately between "Students for Justice in Palestine" (said definition of "justice" usually involving the end of Jewish self-determination in the Jewish homeland) and the pro-Israel group Tikvah. Yet despite that, one member of Tikvah took it upon himself, alone, to take a stand against the racist attitude that only the Jewish people, among all peoples of the world, are not entitled to self-determination. He delivered a speech to the student Senate that also referenced efforts to expel the president of Tikvah. Matt's speech is copied below, and needs no further comment except "Yasher Koach":

"There is much racism on this campus that should not go unreported. So, publicly, before the Senate tonight, I should like to report something that happened to me. Monday I noticed a huge crowd gathering on the opposite side of Sproul from me, by the Peace Not Prejudice sign. Many shirts were passed out, and I myself, believing firmly in the words “peace not prejudice” with all my being, almost went to get one myself. I say almost because of what I have seen people wearing such shirts do.
The group was wearing Peace not Prejudice shirts, keffiyehs around their necks, and waving two enormous PLO flags. While I will not get into how these symbols make me feel, what I will say is that if this is truly Peace not Prejudice week, then why were there no Indian, Pakistani, Indonesian, Argentine, or whatever else flags appearing on campus? I could not tell whether or not this was a part of Peace not Prejudice Week.
As I saw it fit that there should be more diversity in the symbols seen on campus that day, I stood in the middle of Sproul, alone, and waved the Israeli flag overhead for hours. I did not go over to dance with them as I felt this would lead to a confrontation, and avoiding a confrontation was a top priority of mine.
A member of Kesher Enoshi approached me, chastised me for making it seem like there was a separation between the two groups. Though I did not agree with her at the time, I do now. She took the Israeli flag and ran to dance with them.
I myself decided to run over, take the flag, wave it, and dance with all of them. Why not? Of course, then I noticed that the few people not wearing Peace Not Prejudice shirts were wearing shirts that show the map of Israel covered in a keffiyeh. This, in my mind, shows a desire to erase and hide Israel from the map. I had not danced for one minute before I was excluded from the circle of dancing, and told that I had to stand away, to the side. At this time, the group began to chant: “Palestine is Arab, Palestine is Arab.” I have confirmed this with several Arabic-speaking friends of mine. So then, by this reasoning, as a Jew, if I wanted to live in “Palestine”, would I be allowed to even though I am not Arab? If this is not racism, my friends, I don’t know what is. Peace, not prejudice. Then, Students for Justice in Palestine executives took me aside and told me that if I wanted to dance there, I had to issue a public apology on behalf of the pro-Israel community at Berkeley. I will NOT apologise for waving my people’s flag. Additionally, I was told they were worried about me being violent. How was it at all violent that I was waving the Israeli flag and dancing, smiling? Unless of course they were concerned that an anti-Semite among them might take offense and start a fight.
Refusing to let myself be baited into an aggressive reaction, as I am sure these executives were intending, I took the moral high ground and left the situation, returning to the opposite side of Sproul. As I resumed my place near the Tikvah table, very shaken and on the edge of tears, several Yemeni girls from the Muslim Student Association and several Indian girls from the Peace Not Prejudice coalition came to speak to me. They informed me that Peace Not Prejudice did not endorse this pseudo-demonstration, assured me that I was in the right, apologised, and commended me. I thank G-d there are still some sane students left on this campus. Peace, not prejudice.
This initiative to remove my colleague John Moghtader from the ASUC Senate frankly goes hand in hand with what I experienced Monday. It is a racist ­yes, I said it, racist ­attempt to shut out Jewish pro-Israel voices that have done nothing wrong and have not committed acts of violence, an initiative led by an individual who was indeed successfully sued for libel last year and continues to Facebook-stalk myself and my friends for his blog, which I liken parts of to a modern-day Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Speaking with One Voice

As readers of this site have noted, we occasionally comment on activities related to Israel in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have reported on appearances at a local Presbyterian Church by anti-Israel activists Anna Baltzer and Alison Weir. Last week I went to check out a different event--a different Presbyterian church, a different group, and a different message. The new group is called From Here To Peace; it is a new local grassroots group formed around a single concept: that the only viable way to get a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to have two states for two peoples, rather than trying to eliminate the state of Israel in favor of a so-called "binational" state that would quickly become yet another Arab state and eliminate Jewish self-determination in the Jewish homeland.

As its first event, From Here To Peace brought representatives from OneVoice , itself a grassroots movement in Israel and the Palestinian territories dedicated to the concept of two states for two peoples. OneVoice is attempting to build grassroots support among both Israelis and Palestinians for a two state solution on the basis of an end to occupation and violence, and thereby to place pressure on the leadership of both sides to negotiate such a solution. It describes itself as "political but not partisan", not taking specific positions on contentious issues such as borders, Jerusalem, and details of a solution to the refugee problems but rather trying to develop grassroots consensus where it can be found and building from there. When presenting programs in the US and in Europe, it brings both an Israeli representative and a Palestinian representative to speak and to answer questions.

This event took place at, and was co-sponsored by, Westminster Presbyterian Church, whose pastor is the remarkable Reverend Douglas Huneke. Reverend Huneke is notable for his outspoken and courageous stands against anti-Israel positions taken by his own church body, the Presbyterian Church-USA.

Of the 60-70 people present, about half were recognizable from anti-Israel events such as the Baltzer and Weir speeches. This was probably a good thing--after all, those who already support the national rights of the Jewish people in our homeland don't need to be convinced.

As to the program itself, a film by OneVoice described the organization's position against violent extremism on both sides and commitment to non-violent action and the "language of mutual recognition". The film also noted that OneVoice has offices in Tel Aviv run by Israelis, and in Ramallah and Gaza run by Palestinians, though the US-based staff member did note that their activities in Gaza have been met with harassment by Hamas. Following the film, the two OneVoice members spoke about their work with OneVoice. The presentation by Malaka, the Palestinian woman from Tulkarm was interesting--she described how when she was growing up (she is 29), she and her friends could easily travel to Israel and throughout the West Bank and Gaza; however, with the outbreak of the Second Intifada, life changed dramatically because of checkpoints, travel restrictions, and IDF incursions. Without intending to, she verified what Israel advocates have been saying for years-- that the checkpoints were a response to the terrorism being inflictged upon Israeli civilians. The Israeli representative, a 24 year old from Tel Aviv named Uri, had served in the Israeli Navy prior to attending Tel Aviv University where he became involved with OneVoice. He noted that he majored in both biology and diplomacy-- the latter skill proving a very useful one during the Q&A period.

Most of the questioners were clearly hostile to Israel, and addressed questions to Uri as if he were representing the Government of Israel rather than a peace group. He was asked about an incident the previous night in which the Israeli Navy had detained anti-Israel activists offshore of Gaza (which of course he could not discuss in detail as he wasn't privy to any details of this), and he responded to accusations that the Israeli Navy would open fire on Gaza fisherman just for target practice by saying that those accounts were simply wrong. He also handled a question about an alleged home demolition in Israel by talking about trying to overcome extremists on both sides of the conflict (I think that the implication was lost on the questioner). The two representatives clearly did not agree on everything-- Uri talked about ending the occupation but perhaps with minor territorial adjustments, but Malaka insisted that Israel will have to withdraw from every inch of lands conquered in 1967. In answer to a question about the role of US aid to Israel, Uri suggested that with a peaceful settlement Israel will have less need for US aid, while Malaka thought that the purpose of US aid is to help create conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. However, in response to a very direct question about support among their people for a "one-state" solution, both Malaka and Uri were in complete agreement-- such an arrangement would not be acceptable because each group wants its own national identity, its own civic institutions, and control of its own territory. Interestingly, Malaka was the one who spoke about Palestinians not being able to exercise their national rights as a minority.

Concern was raised by some in the pro-Israel community that this event would be yet another in a depressing series of events featuring a Palestinian anti-Israel speaker "balanced" by a Jewish anti-Israel speaker. Those who were there saw something different-- an articulate young Israeli who did not criticize his country but spoke about a future of a state of Israel at peace with a state of Palestine, and a young Palestinian who, while certainly critical of the occupation, spoke clearly about the exact same solution as the only road to peace. It's a message that needs to be heard more.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Unattributable Gaza Updates from Oxfam

Last month, we published the curious story of Oxfam and its e-mail updates on the situation in Gaza; recipients were explicitly warned that any information in those e-mails was not to be attributed to Oxfam as it could not be verified (though obviously it was good enough for Oxfam to distribute to its recipient list).

Not surprisingly, in the through-the-looking-glass world that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this story even "curiouser and curiouser". It turns out that Mr. Mohammed Ali Abu Najela, listed on Oxfam's e-mail alerts as "Advocacy and Media Researcher, Oxfam GB, Gaza Strip - Occupied Palestinian Territories" probably has a great deal of experience in advocacy and media. He has been a guest on "progressive" radio stations, on programs with titles such as "Palestinian Resistance against Zionism and US Imperialism"(Canadian radio station CFRO, April 2006). (Hat tip to Lurene for recognizing his name). It's not that surprising that NGOs like Oxfam would rely on local activists in Gaza, since kidnappings of journalists and aid workers have made it a dangerous place for infidels. But then of course one must recognize that staged news photos or NGO reports (whether attributable or not)become just another part of the Palestinian propaganda war against Israel.

Then today I received another e-mail from Michael Bailey in Oxfam's Jerusalem office. This e-mail, however, made no mention of Oxfam at all-- it was a press release directly from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights regarding the border closing between Gaza and Israel. Not surprisingly, this document made no mention at all of the fact that the border was closed as the result of fighting that developed when Israeli soldiers went a few hundred yards into Gaza to destroy a tunnel being built under the border between Gaza and Israel. (That tunnel would of course have no use other than to allow terrorists to infiltrate Israel.)

So now it appears that Oxfam's e-mail list is being used to circulate information directly from other Palestinian NGO's. The fact that the agenda of PHCR equates Palestinian "human rights" with the elimination of the Jewish state of Israel doesn't seem to bother Mr. Bailey. PHCR states on its website that "the Oslo accords failed to address the essential elements of the Palestinian question -- the right to self-determination, the right to an independent Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the removal of Israeli settlements from the OPT." Of course, calling for the so-called "right" of return (a right that does not, in fact, exist for descendants of 1948 refugees) is Pal-speak for calling for the demographic elimination of the Jewish state.

Oxfam UK claims that it "recognises the right of the State of Israel and a viable, independent, Palestinian state to exist within secure borders where all citizens can live in security and dignity." So why is it now using its Jerusalem office as a mouthpiece for a group that opposes this?

Once again, Michael Bailey can be reached in Jerusalem at 2 656 6234 ext 223. He has not responded to an e-mail request for his comments on the previous piece.