Sunday, July 6, 2014

An open condemnation of the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir

We unequivocally condemn the horrific murder of Mohammed
Abu Khdeir. It was unjustifiable under any circumstances. 
The killing was reprehensible and we hope that the criminals who
did this sickening act are found and prosecuted to the fullest
extent of the law.

Israel is a country run by the rule of law. There are reports that
Jews have been arrested for this crime. If a trial finds that Jews 
are indeed guilty of this unconscionable killing, our condemnation 
is redoubled. The idea that Jews could do such an act fills us with 
shame and horror.

The people who murdered Mohammed do not represent us in any way.
It is not enough to dissociate ourselves from the dreadful act; we must 
also ensure that crimes like this are never repeated.

Just as the appalling murders of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and
Gilad Shaar do not in any way justify the hideous murder of 
Mohammed Abu Khdeir, neither does Khdeir's murder justify the 
violence, terrorism, destruction and incitement we have seen over 
the past few days against Israelis and Jews.

We hope and pray that everyone, Arab and Jew, lives in peace and
security in the region. 

See the full list of signatures at

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Chomsky disses BDS-- and he's STILL wrong about it

This week in The Nation, Noam Chomsky has joined Norman Finkelstein and MJ Rosenberg in distancing himself from the BDS movement. All three are well known as harsh critics of Israel, with added legitimacy and fame (or infamy, depending on your viewpoint) granted to them by virtue of being Jewish.  Yet, starting with the posting on YouTube of Finkelstein's 2012 interview with a BDS activist that became a must-watch for those involved in this issue, they have each called out BDS quite publicly.

Finkelstein was entirely clear about what BDS was about; referring to it as a "cult", he noted the implications of their demands: "We want the end of the occupation, the right of return, and we want equal rights for Arabs in Israel. And they think they are very clever because they know the result of implementing all three is what, what is the result?
You know and I know what the result is. There’s no Israel!"

Rosenberg, in a Huffington Post column a few months ago, gave his message away in the title of a column that, except for a few statements, I could have written myself: 
"The BDS Movement Is About Dismantling Israel, Not The '67 Occupation". He stated "The demands make clear that the movement's goal is ending Israeli statehood, not just the post-1967 occupation......If the BDS goals were achieved, there would be no State of Israel at all. That is why so many proponents of BDS have such a hard time even referring to Israel as a country. It's often the "Zionist entity" or the "occupying regime."  Rosenberg has also denounced one of the leaders of the BDS movement, Ali Abunimah, for open anti-Semitism-- and recognized that Jews on the left tolerate that far too easily: "There is a tendency among Jews on the left, including myself, to argue so vehemently that being anti-Israel does not make one an anti-Semite that we don’t notice when being anti-Israel coexists with anti-Semitism, that one just feeds the other. We should"

Now Chomsky has joined with his denunciation of BDS, but even in recognizing its errors, he continues to get the story wrong. He assesses the 3 demands of the BDS movement but doesn't accurately describe the first.  Chomsky writes "The opening call of the BDS movement, by a group of Palestinian intellectuals in 2005, demanded that Israel fully comply with international law by "(1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall." .  Time out for the referee's whistle. Let's check the actual web page of the BDS Call as of this moment. Here's the same demand there: "1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall".

Oops. No organization pushing BDS considers Haifa and Tel Aviv to be any less "occupied Arab lands" than Gush Etzion or Ariel, and none accepts the right of Israel to exist as the state of the Jewish people within the pre-1967 armistice lines.  That's a yellow card for Noam.   Like Rosenberg and Finkelstein, he does criticize the demand for the fictional "right of return" for descendants of Arab refugees from Israel's War of Independence (a war made necessary by Arab refusal to accept the establishment of the Jewish state).  But unlike Rosenberg and Finkelstein, he fails to clearly point out that the goal of this demand is indeed the elimination of Jewish statehood.  His criticism is solely that this demand lacks support, especially-- as he accurately points out--that it has no basis in international law (contrary to the loud insistence of those touting it as a "rights-based" effort). Presumably if there were more people around dedicated to the elimination of Israel, he would be willing to support it. 

Chomsky also criticizes the United States for casting vetoes in the UN Security Council against biased anti-Israel resolutions. He refers to the veto of a January 1976 resolution backed by the Arab states which he alleges supported a two-state settlement within the international consensus.   Wait, there's the ref again. Let's check the full operative text of that resolution

"1. Affirms:

(a) That the Palestinian people should be enabled to exercise its inalienable national right of self-determination, including the right to establish an independent state in Palestine in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations;

(b) The right of Palestinian refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours to do so and the right of those choosing not to return to receive compensation for their property;

(c) That Israel should withdraw from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967;

(d) The appropriate arrangements should be established to guarantee, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all states in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries;"

So we see a call for a Palestinian state (which was not part of the consensus of the US, Europe or Israel in 1976) and the attempt to give the fictional right of return a more solid standing than just the advisory nonbinding General Assembly Resolution 194 (which, itself, does not include the word "right" when discussing possible return of refugees). Two rather significant points that were not in the international consensus at all, and the second of which would result in an American veto of this resolution were it introduced today. That's a second yellow card and Noam is now off the pitch (at least for today). Even when he's right in finding fault with BDS, he still can't be intellectually honest about either its history or its goals.

It's good that even severe Jewish critics of Israel are waking up to the dogmatic anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism that is baked into the BDS movement. They may be a bit late, having failed to notice that these have been part of the DNA of the movement since its birth in the moral sewer of the 2001 Durban NGO conference, but at least they are now calling BDS and its hateful leaders out openly. It seems that Jewish Voice for Peace has now left itself out alone on the BDS island, as they still stubbornly refuse to see the anti-Semitic hate speech of those with whom they choose to stand.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

We Have To Be Better Than This

The news broke about 12 hours ago that the body of an Arab teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was found in the Jerusalem Forest, while earlier in the day far-right extremist Israelis held a rally in Jerusalem chanting "Death to the Arabs."  While nothing has been proven, it's hard to escape the fear that the reported kidnapping in Beit Hanina last night has led to the deliberate death of an Arab child at Jewish hands. The anger of many Israelis over the murders of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel is still a raw wound, just like the ground in which the boys have been laid to rest, side by side.  And the anger is appropriately directed not just at those who killed the boys, and not just at the Hamas leadership that has relentlessly encouraged kidnap and murder of Jews, but also at those who cheered this act with the obscenities of cartoons and 3 fingered salutes posted on social media, and who handed out candy in celebration. 

But this anger cannot translate into "an eye for an eye". It cannot-- wantonly and deliberately, with malice aforethought-- take the life of a Palestinian child who had nothing to do with the murder of our children. It cannot allow us to sink to the depravity of Hamas.  

I'm not very learned in our texts; I wish I did know them well enough to cite the appropriate authorities here. But I do know that we must not take revenge for the deliberate, targeted attack on our children by a deliberate, targeted attack on theirs. I will not shed a single tear should I hear of the death of those who perpetrated the atrocity of killing Eyal, Gilad and Naftali-- or for any Hamas member involved in attacks on Israelis. I support the IDF acting against those firing rockets at civilians in southern Israel-- and if the rockets continue to be fired, then the IDF response is disproportionate only in the sense of being not as vigorous as it should be.  But if the murder of this child indeed was the work of Jewish extremists, then this act-- and the sentiments that led to it, just as they led to the murders committed by Baruch Goldstein in 1994 -- must be denounced,  

And, if so, it will without doubt be denounced. Not only the government of Israel, but Jewish community leaders the world over will condemn it. That's the difference between those on our side, and those on the other.  We've seen outright cheerleading of the murder of our boys, and we've also seen the craven refusal to condemn it because they were standing on the wrong side of a line on a map-- a line behind which those who hate Israel don't even grant Jews the right to safety anyway!  

It requires more than just denunciation, though. It requires that those responsible be brought to justice.  It requires the end of tolerance for "price tag" attacks, which create a new normal of lawless racist behavior. It requires that the leaders of these extremists be held accountable for the consequences of their incitement, just as we hold the leaders of Hamas personally responsible for what happened on the road in Gush Etzion nearly 3 weeks ago.

We have to be better than this. Not just to avoid giving peddlers of hate and misinformation such as Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal more opportunity to slander Israel and the Jewish people-- though that's important. Not just to try to keep events from spiraling into open warfare in the streets-- though that's critically important. But because if we descend into the same depths of bloodlust and hatred as our enemies, then what have we become?

Friday, June 27, 2014

This is Why

This is why there's a blockade of Gaza. Is this also in part why Jewish Voice for Peace, Free Gaza, ISM, and similar extremist groups want the blockade to be lifted?

From dps3:
I took this picture. I was in Israel with some American Admirals and Generals (retired) under JINSA sponsorship as the guests of their Ministry of Defense. At one point during a 9/10 day visit we got down to the Gaza border and this is one of the things we saw. A tunnel starting far back in Gaza - near a civilian area and extending nearly 3 miles long - 30 feet underground - and headed directly for a nearby kibbutz full of Israelis farmers - in Israel proper. The ultimate idea was for the tunnel to come up in the kibbutz where the civilian Israelis could be murdered or taken hostage. The reason for my sending you this picture is to show you what the Palestinians do when they do get the concrete they want (And, in fact, they get HUGE amounts of everything they claim they don’t. The ones currently imposing a real, serious, closure of Palestinian access to everything are the Egyptians, but neither the media nor the United Nations have a word to say about that since the tough guys aren’t Jews). We were told that with the amount of concrete used to build the ceiling and walls of this terror tunnel, the Palestinians could have built a multi-story home for many families or a hospital for their people. But they aren’t interested in their people or in building a real home/state for them, they’re interest in killing Jews and destroying Israel. Anyway, this is one picture I can vouch for. I took it myself with my very best camera. My iPhone. It is less than a month old.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Rolling Stones' "BDS Fail" Song

In about 18 hours Tel Aviv will be treated to perhaps the mother of all BDS fails-- its first Rolling Stones concert. The Stones are even being considerate of observant Jewish fans by delaying the start of their concert until after the close of the Shavuot holiday.

In honor of this event, I took some liberties with one of their signature songs.  

(to the tune of "Start Me Up")

Sod off BDS!
We’re in Israel though you told us “stop”.

Suck it BDS!
You don’t get to be a morals cop.

You’re just spewing rot
You’ve got nothing besides hateful thought
We’re not that naive
So we’re playing here in Tel Aviv, 
Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv

So BDS bye-bye
So BDS bye-bye, 
Am Yisrael Chai!
Spread out the hummus, and tahini,
We’re here in Israel,  it’s an awesome scene!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

More Lies About Discriminatory Laws in Israel

One of the more frequent claims of anti-Israel online activists is that Israel has many laws that discriminate against Arabs; for example, this post on Twitter: 
S. EL-Said {BDS} (@elsaidst)
@NeedAGPS @frankmcdonald60 @DrMikeH49 @ynkutner @nacnudeel lololol is that why it has 50+ laws only applicable to Arab citizens?

Most of these claims are taken from a list provided by Adalah, an Arab Israeli organization that works to enforce civil rights laws for Arab citizens of Israel (good) and has been implicated in BDS activities (very, very bad). 

But let's utilize the lenses of truth to go through a post that Mr El-Said made and actually examine the claims.
He starts by claiming that  "The founding of Israel required a constitution guaranteeing basic rights for all its citizens."  Really? Who required it of them?  Is a constitution required for basic rights? Other countries that do not have a constitution include the UK and New Zealand. Yet citizens of some countries with constitutions (Syria, North Korea) probably don't take much comfort in the rights those documents guarantee to them.  

He then goes on to mention the military laws under which Arab citizens of Israel lived until 1966. Given that these were repealed nearly 50 years ago, I don't know how that qualifies as current discrimination. 

"Palestinian identity is not recognized in Israeli law": Indeed, Palestinian identity is not, but Arab identity is. Are the Bedouin Arabs whose historical migrations were across the Negev and the Sinai "Palestinians"? Even Hamas leaders have questioned whether there is such a thing as "Palestinian" identity:  (though if changing the name on the card would resolve your ire about this, I'm all for it).

"The most important immigration laws—including the Law of Return {1950) and the Citizenship Law {1952}- privilege Jews and Jewish immigration over non-Jews." Absolutely no infringements upon the rights of non Jewish citizens of Israel, as these only affect non-citizens. Israel, as the state of the Jewish people, has the right to establish preferential immigration policies for members of that group, as do a host of countries across Europe and Asia

"Population Registry Law {1965}–Requires all residents of Israel to register their nationality [i.e., Jewish, Arab, Druze] with the Population Registry and obtain an identity card carrying this information." So let's see-- that's ALL citizens affected equally by this law. Clear outright proof of a law only applicable to Arab citizens, right? 

"Identity Certificate [Possession and Presentation] Law {1982}–Residents must carry identity cards at all times and present them to “senior police officers,” to the heads of local authorities, or to police officers or soldiers on duty when requested to do so. Jewish citizens are seldom asked to present their cards, while Palestinians often are." Once again, a law NOT written solely to apply to Arab citizens. 

At this point, the question of discrimination in practice vs discrimination in law becomes relevant. And indeed there is discrimination against the Arab minority in Israel-- just as there is discrimination against people of African origin in the Arab world (ever hear the term "abeed"?) as well as in America, discrimination against First Nations in Canada, and discrimination against non-Russian ethnic groups in Russia. But if all discrimination is "apartheid" then not only does that term lose its meaning, it minimizes the suffering of the black majority in South Africa; just as calling all ethnic strife "genocide" denies the enormity of the crimes committed against the Jewish and the Armenian people. But don't take my word for it: listen to South African Member of Parliament Kenneth Meshoe, who lived under apartheid: 

"Family Unification {2003}– Under the 2003 policy for “family unification” non-citizen spouses and children of Arab Israeli citizens are prohibited from entering Israel [and living with their spouse/parent]. This means if you are a Palestinian from outside Israel, married to an Israeli, you are barred from living with your spouse in Israel. This does not apply to any other nationality beside Arabs. This “interim” provision has been regularly extended, most recently in January, 2011."  This might be the sole example of discrimination codified into law that he was able to find. Of course, context is somewhat relevant given that there is not yet peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel is not under any obligation to admit those non-citizens who are part of a hostile entity. 

"Serving in the armed forces -Israeli Jews (except some orthodox Jews) have to serve in the Israeli army when they turn 18. Most Palestinians are forbidden to serve in the army. Many of the benefits of society are given to people who have served. Preferential treatment of housing, education and other services are given to army veterans."  Forbidden? More like exempted. And yes, just like the US has special privileges for those who serve their country (the GI bill, for example), so does Israel; and those privileges apply to all who serve-- Jewish, Druze or Arab. 

"The Citizenship Law{2008} -Several attempts have been made in recent years to make it possible to strip Israeli citizenship for various reasons related to alleged “disloyalty” to the state or “breach of trust.” All of these attempts have indirectly targeted the citizenship rights of Palestinian citizens. This law allows the citizenship of an Israeli citizen to be revoked on the grounds of “breach of trust or disloyalty to the state.” “Breach of trust” is broadly defined."  And not only is it rarely enforced, Israel does have a legitimate concern about individuals who might be spying for Hamas or Hezbollah. Siding with those who want to kill most of your fellow citizens does have the unfortunate side effect of placing your citizenship at risk.

El-Said goes on to cite various land laws, ignoring the fact that Jews as well as Arabs are prevented from purchasing state lands, which do indeed comprise the majority of land in Israel. Is there discrimination de facto (vs de jure) in land leasing from the state and the management of lands? Perhaps; but once again, the charge was laws that apply only to Arab citizens.

He then moves on to laws that he claims interfere with Arab political participation, failing to note that no Arab party been barred from running a slate for Knesset (though one Jewish party, Meir Kahane's Kach party, was barred for racism). He goes on to claim: "The Law of Political Parties {1982} -Bars the Registrar of Political Parties from registering a political party if it denies “the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State.” In 2002 both Section 7A(1) of the Basic Law and Knesset and the Law of Political Parties were amended further to bar those whose goals or actions, directly or indirectly, “support armed struggle of an enemy state or of a terror organization, against the State of Israel.” These amendments were added expressly to curtail the political participation of Palestinian Arabs within Israel – such as Azmi Bishara – who have expressed solidarity with Palestinians resisting military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza."  Azmi Bishara and his Balad party had their right to run a slate in the 2003 elections upheld by the Supreme Court of Israel. And Azmi Bishara resigned form the Knesset and fled rather than face trial not for expressing "solidarity with Palestinians" but rather for spying for Hezbollah.  In the meantime, Arab parties are represented in the current Knesset, just as they have been since the founding of the state. 

"No Equal Legal Protection- The Israeli courts – guided by the Supreme Court – have consistently decided that discrimination between Arabs and Jews is legitimate based on the founding principles of Israel as a state for the Jewish people; “nationality” is a legitimate basis for discrimination. In the State of Israel vs. Ashgoyev (1988), an Israeli settler was convicted by the Tel Aviv District Court of shooting a Palestinian child. His sentence was a suspended jail term of six months and community service. When challenged, the judge, Uri Shtruzman, said: “It is wrong to demand in the name of equality, equal bearing and equal sentences to two offenders who have different nationalities who break the laws of the State. The sentence that deters the one and his audience does not deter the other and his community.”  I have to give Mr El-Said some credit here. It took a bit of a Google search to find the actual facts, which are in a post from CAMERA about a biased article published by a Marxist anti-Zionist; the details are as follows: "an examination of the author's own source — a document by the Arab rights organization Adalah  — shows otherwise. In Adalah's telling, the court, having found that the defendant "merely shot in the air" and rejected the argument that the defendant "aimed at the child and then shot him," convicted the shooter of "causing the death" of the Arab child. In other words, Ignatiev hides what even the openly partisan Adalah understands is essential information. More strikingly, Ignatiev conceals the fact that the light sentence was appealed by the (Israeli) attorney general and was overturned by a higher (Israeli) court. As Adalah notes:
Following the conviction and the sentence, both Ashgoyev and the Attorney General filed an appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court accepted the appeal of the Attorney General, vacated the sentence imposed by the District Court, and re-sentenced the defendant to three years imprisonment followed by a two year conditional discharge.
In other words, the actual lesson of the case Ignatiev cites, if only readers are given the opportunity to hear all the facts, might be that the Israeli government challenges sentences that appear to be too light, and that its courts overturn those sentences" 

So El-Said has gone where even Adalah feared to tread. 

"The Nakba Bill{2011} – Persons marking Nakba Day as a day of mourning for the establishment of the State of Israel will be sentenced to prison. In the wake of public protests, its wording was changed to state that persons marking Nakba Day shall be denied public funds." Once again, a bill that specifically does NOT apply only to Arabs. The bill never passed in the original form; the version that passed specifically fine local authorities for holding Nakba Day events that specifically supported "armed resistance" (eg terrorism) against Israel, or defaced the flag or national symbols. Of course, a country has no obligation to have its public funds used for demonstrations against the very existence of the state, which is what the "Nakba Day" events are all about. 

And (finally, having spent 1.5 hours of my life that I can't get back sorting through all of these half-truths or flat-out lies) we get to the last one: 
"The Emergency Powers (Detention) Law {1979} and the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance {1948} – have been used to detain Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel without benefit of trial and without permitting contact with lawyers. The Criminal Procedure (Powers of Enforcement, Detentions) Law {1996} has been used to target Palestinian protests and make mass arrests to stifle political decent."

Even B'tselem, the Israeli human rights watchdog that leans over so far in favor of Palestinians that its view is often entirely upside down, puts the lie to this: "Over the years, Israel has also held a few Israeli citizens in administrative detention, among them settlers. These cases are scarce and most of the detainees were held for short periods."

Israel does use administrative detention widely against Palestinians in the territories, who are not citizens of Israel. But again the topic at hand is laws that discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel. 

Note that El-Said ends his post with a faked quote from Albert Einstein. I guess if you're going to lie, you might as well go all in.  I guess we'd have to call this an S El-Said {BDS} FAIL.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

This I believe

Just like everyone else who has taken to Twitter, I find the ability to interact with others is often constrained by the artificial 140 character limit. When dealing with a situation of the complexity of the Israeli-Arab conflict, it's far too easy to get misinterpreted.  So this post is designed to be a handy reference that allows me to just post the URL and say "this is what I stand for".

I suspect that this specific post will be edited fairly frequently because it's hard to be exhaustive, and the situation does change. Nonetheless, for anyone who thinks they know what I believe based on a one sentence tweet, here are the principles on which I stand:

1. The Jewish people's right to national self-determination in at least a portion of our historic homeland is inviolable. That's what Zionism is about.

2. The Jewish people's right exists not because of the Bible, because non Jews don't have to accept the Torah, any more than we are obligated to live under Sharia law because of what is written in the Koran. Those rights exist because of history. The history of the Jewish people is--literally- carved all over the land of Israel.  We can stand in 1700 year old synagogues in the Galilee, we can pray at the Western Wall built in the time of Herod and we can walk in the tunnel by that wall and see the columns of the Temple pushed over that wall by Roman soldiers over 1900 years ago. We can walk through the water tunnel in Jerusalem built by King Hezekiah over 2700 years ago.  This was the land of our people, and we are the only people indigenous to that land who have an unbroken history as a people and an unbroken connection to that land over those centuries.

3. That right is expressed in the state of Israel, which is the state of the Jewish people-- just as Ireland is the nation-state of the Irish people, Turkey that of the Turks, and so on.  It does not mean a theocracy-- a state run by rabbis. The ultra-Orthodox rabbinate has far too much control over Jewish life in Israel, but the state is not run according to ultra-Orthodox Jewish law. Otherwise, it would look like Islamic theocracies (see under: Iran, Islamic Republic of) in its treatment of women, LGBT people, or those following other religions.  

4. To those who say that "a religion shouldn't have a state", there are two answers: The first is that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, not the Jewish religion. We have identified ourselves as a people for 3000 years, and nobody else gets to deny us our self-identification. The second is that there are almost 60 countries that identify themselves in their constitutions as "Islamic". Some of them cite Sharia as their source of law. So if you want to campaign against countries based on religion, have a go at some of them. (Though for your personal safety, you shouldn't do that from within the territory of those countries.)

5. Therefore, anti-Zionism-- opposing the right of the Jewish people to a state, while supporting that right for all other peoples, especially the Palestinians-- is anti-Semitism in a modern, politically acceptable form. It's a double standard fueled by prejudice, and excused by lies and rationalizations.  Trying to play the victim by falsely charging "whenever we criticize Israel you claim it's anti-Semitic" is nonsense. When such criticism crosses the lines of Sharansky's "3-D" definition-- delegitimization of Israel, demonization of Israel, double standards applied to Israel not applied to other democratic nations-- it's anti-Semitic. There's plenty to criticize about Israel and its government without crossing the line into hate speech. Those who claim that they oppose all nation-states based on ethnicity have a right to that opinion. But when their list of nations to target for elimination starts-- and ends-- with the one Jewish state, their moral principle has disappeared.  Just as when the American Studies Association voted last year in favor of an academic boycott of Israel; their president, Curtis Marez of the University of California at San Diego, gave his rationale for boycotting Israel compared to dozens upon dozens of other countries with far worse human rights records: "One has to start somewhere".  When "somewhere" is always the Jewish state, and that "somewhere" is where these efforts also finish, then "someone" is promoting anti-Semitism. 

6. Israel being the state of the Jewish people does not mean that non-Jewish citizens of Israel should not have equal civil and political rights. On the contrary, our tradition demands that they do.  In cases in which Israel has fallen short, it is in that regard like every other country which has a minority people among its citizens.  None is perfect. And Israel's record in that regard can be compared favorably with other Western democracies, especially as some Arab citizens of Israel openly identify with and support those who wish to eliminate the Jewish state.

7. Israel currently occupies lands it conquered in June of 1967, known as Judea and Samaria to some, and as the West Bank to others (a name that came into use only during the Jordanian occupation). The Palestinians who live there are under varying degrees of military occupation based on where they live.  Ariel Sharon called it occupation, so I can too. That doesn't make it illegal, per se. This area did not have a legitimately recognized sovereign once the British Mandate expired. The British had gained control not only in the time-honored fashion of conquest, but subsequently via the largest international organization that existed at the time, the League of Nations. After the failed attempt to invade and destroy Israel in 1948, Jordan occupied the territory.   Israel gained control of that territory in 1967 after Jordan--despite warnings delivered to King Hussein in the first hours of the Six Day War-- attacked Israel.  The difference between Israel's occupation and the Jordanian one is that Israel was attacked from that territory and had the right to defend itself including taking the territory from which it was attacked.  

8. I support the idea that there should be a Palestinian state in part of Judea and Samaria. Palestinian self-identification is a recent phenomenon, arising in the 1920s only after the start of the modern Zionist project, and can be legitimately questioned not only because of that, but because of numerous statements made by Palestinian and other Arab leaders. 
Nonetheless, there now exists a group that identifies themselves as a separate people from their Arab neighbors, and if Israel is going to relinquish claims to territory across the Green Line, it will be to a Palestinian entity.  

The prerequisite for a Palestinian state is that its leaders agree to live in peace and mutual recognition with Israel, the state of the Jewish people-- and that they tell this to their own people in Arabic. This means that there will not be any exercise of the so-called "right of return", which does not in fact even exist for descendants of refugees.  

 As the Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in 2010

"To achieve eventual peace, the international community needs to pressure Palestinian leaders to forgo their claim to Haifa and Jaffa and confine their people’s right of return to a future Palestinian state — just as the Jews will need to forgo their claim to Hebron and Bethlehem and confine their people’s right of return to the state of Israel. That is the only possible deal: conceding my right of return to Greater Israel in exchange for your right of return to Greater Palestine." 

The problem, however, is the same in 2014 as it was in 2010, in 2000, and in 1947. As Klein Halevi continues:

"A majority of Israelis — along with the political system — has accepted that principle. On the Palestinian side, the political system has rejected it."

Until and unless the Palestinians agree to this, Israel is under no obligation to allow them to have a state to be used to further their aims of destroying Israel. 

9. Israel's settlements in Judea and Samaria are an obstacle to peace; they are not THE obstacle, or even the major obstacle, to peace. Any issue on which Israel and the Palestinian leadership disagrees is an obstacle to peace. This includes borders, refugees, water rights, Jerusalem, and incitement as well as settlements. The fact that they are not the major obstacle to peace is quite easily proven: ask any of the anti-Israel activists you will come across online (or on the street) the following question: if Israel were to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines (which were explicitly stated in those 1949 agreements as not being recognized borders) and to uproot every Jew living beyond those lines, would you then accept the right of Israel to live in peace as the state of the Jewish people?  Most of them will honestly answer "no". (The others are either lying or hanging out with the wrong crowd.)

10. Ultimately, the conflict will be settled in only one of several ways:
---Israel will annex Judea and Samaria, with or without giving its Arab residents the vote. The latter will lead to near-immediate serious consequences from Western democracies so is not realistic.  

---the Palestinian leadership will agree to a state in exchange for peace and mutual recognition with Israel, accepting the right and legitimacy of the Jewish people to our own state. 

---Israel will be militarily defeated by the Arabs and the Jewish population will be killed, expelled, or if allowed to remain, live under Arab rule.

---Israel will agree to give up Jewish national self-determination and have the Jews live as a minority under Arab rule. 

The chances of the last option are even lower than of Israel being militarily defeated.  So unless one of the first two comes to pass, the current situation will continue.

11. Ultimately, it is the people of Israel through their elected government who get to make the decisions about their future. We can disagree with those choices but we aren't the ones who have to live with their consequences. Just as those of us in America don't decide to forswear our allegiance to our country over disagreements with the current (or previous) administration, we shouldn't abandon our support for Zionism over differences with the policies of Israel's current (or previous) government.  We can criticize those policies, but those of us who don't live in Israel need to maintain a degree of humility that should accompany our choice not to move there and place our fates with our fellow Jews there.  

12.  Finally, it's vital that those of us who support the fundamental principle of Zionism-- the Jewish people's national rights-- try to maintain our discussions with each other within the bounds of civil discourse.  We may disagree--vigorously-- on how best to keep Israel safe and secure, but our disagreements pale in comparison with those who endorse the BDS movement, those who deny the Jewish people's national rights, those who openly call for Palestine "from the river to the sea".  So let's remember that while our disagreements are often vital and important, none of us are guaranteed to have a monopoly of wisdom on the best choices for Israel.  

There you have it. An even dozen-- at least for the moment. 

Updated June 20, 2014:

13. As one of my mentors, Ami Isseroff z"l, would often note: Israel advocacy is not tied to any other agenda. It's not to be inextricably linked to supporting the Republican party, or to gun rights, or to climate change denial on the one hand. It's also not dependent on promoting abortion rights, or economic equality, or immigration reform on the other hand. It doesn't involve the Affordable Care Act or the Keystone XL pipeline. 
 I've got Twitter followers on either side of all of these issues. And while I have my own positions on them, I'm happy to work with those who hold different opinions-- as long as we're working on promoting the truth about Israel. But don't assume that, just because we agree about Israel, that I agree with the rest of your agenda.  
Israel is the one issue in this country on which liberals (OK, not far leftists), moderates and conservatives can agree, as shown by pro-Israel votes in Congress with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. Let's keep it that way.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

To Ali Abunimah-- Let's have a debate

Anti-Israel activists have frequently complained that our Jewish community institutions are not open to hosting their point of view. While I completely support that policy, in the firm belief that doctrinal anti-Zionism is indeed the modern, politically correct form of anti-Semitism, it does reduce the opportunities for members of the pro-Israel community to debate anti-Israel partisans.  It's not that the anti-Zionists are really seeking honest debate; they're happy to get the camel's nose into the tent, as it were, to start undermining those Jewish institutions--especially on campuses. And their typical campus or community events typically feature a panel with an anti-Israel Arab, and then for "balance", an anti-Israel Jew.  But an open, honest, moderated debate between pro- and anti-Israel activists is a rare event.

One of the more prominent members of the American anti-Israel community is Ali Abunimah. Born in Washington DC, educated at Princeton and the University of Chicago, and now a resident of Chicago, Abunimah has written a book called "One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" and now has a new book "The Battle for Justice in Palestine" for which he is embarking on a speaking tour.  He'll be in Berkeley on April 22.

I'm sure that Ali, as a professional writer and speaker, is more than willing to defend his ideas against challenges-- he is undoubtedly ready to justify his support of BDS and of Hamas, and his calls to eliminate the Jewish people's right to national self-determination.  

So, Ali-- let's have a real debate. Not a circus-like event in front of your river-to-the-sea cheering section, but at a legitimate venue, with a moderator acceptable to both of us. Let's debate what is clearly the core of the issue-- the right of the Jewish people to have a state in at least a portion of the historic Jewish homeland. You want to re-litigate the 1947 endorsement by the United Nations of dividing the British Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state? Let's have that discussion, with all of its ramifications. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

On free speech, Hillel, boycotts, and knife wielding jihadi wannabes

(originally published in j weekly, January 9 2014)

The Dec. 20 issue of J. featured two views touching on the issues of free speech and civil discourse as it relates to conversations about Israel. Both are thoughtful, well written and make some valid points. And both, in their own ways, are wrong.
That’s a very presumptuous comment on campus issues from someone who is neither professor nor student. Yet the issues raised by Ryan Ariel Simon (“SFSU student’s call for civility starts with ‘I feel your pain’ ”) and professor Ari Y. Kelman (“Stifling voices hurts students, free exchange of ideas”) are those in which not only the Jewish community, but also the community at large, are stakeholders.
Hillel International, whose position on the limits of sponsored events was challenged by Kelman, is a Jewish community institution. San Francisco State, in the news yet again for hate speech directed at Israel, is a publicly funded institution subsidized by California taxpayers.
The issues at SFSU are clear. Mohammad G. Hammad, the president of the General Union of Palestine Students, crossed a line with his glorification of murder and his knife-wielding threats against Israeli soldiers — and those who support them. Simon suggests the core of this issue is a lack of empathy, a “refusal to recognize or understand the pain of the other.” He appropriately attempts to span that divide by acknowledging that some Jewish soldiers, during and after Israel’s War of Independence, did have some responsibility for Palestinian civilians taking flight.
Indeed — this has been well documented by historians such as Benny Morris and Israeli authors such as Ari Shavit, and has been a subject in Israeli political discourse for years. And the broad center — as well as all of the left — of American pro-Israel groups recognizes the Palestinians’ desire for a state of their own. Thus they support peace between Israel and a future state of the Palestinian people living side by side and with mutual recognition. They host talks by Morris and Shavit, and by others like them.
Yet the response from the “pro-Palestinian” side is a near-complete rejection of peace and a refusal to recognize Jewish history in the land of Israel, with the insistence that “from the river to the sea, Palestine must be free” — free of a Jewish state, that is. Hammad and the GUPS have a track record of extremist, demonizing speech, though brandishing a lethal weapon and threatening to use it to behead an Israeli is a new low, even for them.
Getting “pushed beyond our comfort zones” doesn’t mean having to accept graphic, specific threats from those who evince a desire to kill. Let’s be honest: If the type of bloodthirsty hate demonstrated by Hammad had been aimed at African Americans or LGBTQ individuals — or Muslims — the response by the SFSU administration would have been swift and strong.
Simon feels that outside pro-Israel groups should have taken their direction from the Jewish students before acting. Given the fact that SFSU is a public institution, its stakeholders include all of the people of California. Nor are Hammad’s rants protected by “academic freedom” — he’s not a faculty member, and his activism is not part of his coursework. Pro-Israel groups did not come onto campus uninvited, which would have escalated an already difficult situation. Nor did they try to press an agenda except for urging the administration to uphold exactly what Simon calls for: civility of debate.
Kelman, in his piece, states that those who support the decision by Hillel International not to allow Hillel groups to host anti-Zionist speakers are hypocritical if they also condemn the American Studies Association boycott. That’s comparing apples and oranges. Hillel is an organization with a mission that includes support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It would be a violation of that mission, and a breach of trust with its funders, to host a speaker who opposes that.
The ASA, on the other hand, is an ostensibly scholarly organization with a mission to promote the study of American culture. As an organization of academics, it has taken a position against academic freedom in support of a narrow and biased political agenda unrelated to its mission. And it did so by using the only tactics by which the BDS movement can engineer a victory: stealth resolutions without advance notice, and stacked debates at which the opposing side is prevented from presenting its case. One can easily recognize ASA’s breach of the principles of academe while simultaneously supporting Hillel’s objectives.
There are always limits to speech that institutions will present. The NAACP is not going to host David Duke as a speaker, nor is the Democratic Party going to have Sarah Palin speak at its convention. Nor have we seen Muslim Student Associations host presentations by Zionists, although we have seen them forcibly shut down such presentations. The debate is not really about unlimited free speech — it’s simply about where we, within our community institutions, decide to set those limits.