US Ambassador: If UN recognizes Palestine, Congress will punish UN

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

A little-noticed quote from US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, reveals the depth of the United State’s commitment to Jerusalem’s demands and more important, the enormous effect the Israeli lobby has on American Foreign policy.

H/t to The Progressive Realist for picking up this one (my bold):

Discussing the possibility that a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state could pass the General Assembly in September, she [Rice] said, “And this would be exceedingly politically damaging in our domestic context, as you can well imagine. And I cannot frankly think of a greater threat to our ability to maintain financial and political support for the United Nations in congress than such an outcome.”

One should never get tired of repeating this: Without America’s support for it, there would have been no occupation.

(via Ali Gharib)


Akiva Eldar vs. AIPAC and “self-loving Jews”

Posted: December 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Following House resolution 1765, which I wrote about yesterday, Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar goes after AIPAC:

The dominant view among the centrist group of the Jewish community – that “we support every Israeli government, right or wrong” – reminds one of a situation in which a parent finds out that his child is addicted to drugs and hands him his credit card.

The activists of Peace Now and the moderate group J Street, are called “self-hating Jews” by members of the Jewish establishment. People at AIPAC and their allies in Congress are, on the other hand, “self-loving Jews.” Indeed, they love themselves. Especially themselves.

Jews who truly love Israel go to synagogues in New York and tell people that if Jerusalem will not be the capital of two nations, it will never be recognized as Israel’s capital.

Jews who love themselves may know there is no two state solution without dividing Jerusalem, but they prefer to receive enthusiastic applause when making the empty declaration that “a unified Jerusalem is Israel’s capital forever.”

Read the rest here.


AIPAC, a voice for the Israeli Right (updated)

Posted: October 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 21 Comments »

Some thoughts on the destructive role AIPAC and other “pro-Israeli” organizations play in Israeli politics

Mon_Evening_Gala_Banquet_Netanyahu

New York, NY – Recently, I met a friend who works with the US office of an Israeli NGO. He told me of a conversation he once had with a top AIPAC official (since it was a private conversation, I won’t disclose the name of the official here).

“We appreciate the work that you are doing in Israel,” the AIPAC guy told my friend. “We often give it as an example to the fact that Israel is indeed a thriving democracy. But you shouldn’t have opened a US office, and you shouldn’t be lobbying on the Hill.”

I am not sure what words exactly did the AIPAC man used, but according to my friend, his message was clear enough: even Israelis shouldn’t criticize Israeli government abroad.

Attacks by AIPAC on Jewish and Palestinians activists are very common, but what I found interesting in this anecdote is the way AIPAC views Israeli NGO and opposition groups: not as a party that raises legitimate concerns that should be addressed, but as a tool in their PR effort.

This approach was demonstrated again when the head of The Israel Project (TIP), Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, was asked by an Israeli reporter what’s her organization’s view on the Loyalty Oath issue, which caused a political storm in Israel last week. “We didn’t put out a press release,” was all Mizrahi would say, according to JTA’s report.

AIPAC and TIP would probably argue that those are internal Israeli affairs, and that they would support any decision by the Israeli government. AIPAC often claims that it has no position regarding the political debates in Israel, and that all it does is supporting the policy decided by Israeli elected officials.

However, a closer look at the political dynamic shows that AIPAC and groups like The Israel Project and Stand With Us do play a growing role in those so-called “internal” issues, as the anecdote cited above might suggest.

A battle is now raging in Israel, between those wishing to change the political status quo – especially, but not only, on the Palestinian issue – and those wishing to keep things as they are. Netanyahu is clearly a status quo man. He didn’t express one original thought on the Palestinian issue before the elections, and it was only under tremendous US pressure that he was ready to declare limited support in the idea of a de-militarized Palestinian state.

In the last year and a half, and due to political developments in Israel and outside it, Netanyahu feels cornered – and it is AIPAC that comes to his aid (much to the disappointment of many Israelis). By supporting Netanyahu abroad, AIPAC actually does take sides in the internal Israeli debate. It helps maintain the status quo.

It’s important to understand that AIPAC’s influence is really felt only when it comes to supporting the Israeli Right. Let’s assume Israel elects a Left-wing Prime Minister that signs a peace deal. This imaginary Prime Minister won’t need the help of AIPAC on the Hill (because even a Republican Congress won’t object to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement), but he will face intense opposition – both at home and from the elements in the Jewish community in the US. I do not think, though, that pro-Israeli groups such as AIPAC, TIP or Stand with US will engage in an intense effort to promote the peace deal and to fight the opposition in the American community.

In other words, in the current political context, only the Israeli hawks, the settlers and the extreme-right benefit form the work of AIPAC and the rest of the so-called pro-Israeli organizations. Left wing and centrists leaders don’t need their help.

This dynamic is well understood with the Israeli peace camp, which often feels frustration and anger over the actions of AIPAC. Only in the US can AIPAC pretend to represent “all Israelis” (and let’s not forget that twenty percent of Israelis are Arabs). In recent months, AIPAC fought against the American demand to extend the partial moratorium on construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In other words, in the most controversial issue in Israeli politics in the past few decades, AIPAC has taken the side of the “greater Israel”. No elaborate rationalization can change this simple fact.

Last summer, when the effort by various peace organizations and political parties to stop the colonization of Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem – a key issue for the success of the peace process – was met with an even greater mobilization by the representatives of the organized community in Washington to fight back American pressure around Jerusalem. During this confrontation, a hundred peace activists and public figures, residents of Jerusalem, even sent a public letter to Eli Wiesel, begging him to stop “supporting” Israel on this issue.

The politics of AIPAC – which are viewed as the voice of the entire Jewish community – make many peace activists wonder why American Jews don’t support the Israelis who share their liberal values, and instead choose to be – as a friend of mine bluntly put it – “cheerleaders for the occupation”.

I don’t think US Jews are “cheerleaders for the occupation”. On the contrary, in my conversations with them I sense great concern and anxiety over the path Israel has taken, especially in recent years. But I also feel that many of them are confused, ill-informed and misguided by the people who claim to carry their political message to Washington.

If I had one piece of advice I could give my Jewish friends in America who truly wish the best for both Israelis and Palestinians, it would be to prevent AIPAC – and similar organizations – form claiming to speak in their name. The truth is they are speaking for the political interests of Lieberman and Netanyahu.

UPDATE: after publishing this post, a colleague sent me this link to an article published last year by Douglas M. Bloomfield, who spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC. Mr. Bloomfield is quoting sources in AIPAC that remember how the organization coordinated its policy in the nineties with (then) opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, in an effort to stop the peace process:

One of the topics AIPAC won’t want discussed, say these sources, is how closely it coordinated with Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1990s, when he led the Israeli Likud opposition and later when he was prime minister, to impede the Oslo peace process being pressed by President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

That could not only validate AIPAC’s critics, who accuse it of being a branch of the Likud, but also lead to an investigation of violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

“What they don’t want out is that even though they publicly sounded like they were supporting the Oslo process, they were working all the time to undermine it,” said a well-informed source.

“After Rabin came in in 1992 and said he wanted to make peace and signed the Oslo accords, and the U.S. was supposed to pay the tab, every restriction on all political and financial dealings [by the Palestinians] came out of our office,” said the insider. “We took full advantage of every lapse by [Yasser] Arafat and the Palestinians to put on more restrictions and limit relations,” the source added.

One of the topics AIPAC won’t want discussed, say these sources, is how closely it coordinated with Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1990s, when he led the Israeli Likud opposition and later when he was prime minister, to impede the Oslo peace process being pressed by President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

That could not only validate AIPAC’s critics, who accuse it of being a branch of the Likud, but also lead to an investigation of violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

“What they don’t want out is that even though they publicly sounded like they were supporting the Oslo process, they were working all the time to undermine it,” said a well-informed source.

“After Rabin came in in 1992 and said he wanted to make peace and signed the Oslo accords, and the U.S. was supposed to pay the tab, every restriction on all political and financial dealings [by the Palestinians] came out of our office,” said the insider. “We took full advantage of every lapse by [Yasser] Arafat and the Palestinians to put on more restrictions and limit relations,” the source added.


Pro-Israel event that looks like a tea party

Posted: June 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

When that’s the way your supporters look, you need to ask yourself what has gone wrong. Here is nutcase Rep. Michele Bachmann (1:06) winning applauses from a pro-Israel crowd in a California rally, while Peace Now man (3:25) is booed so hard, the organizers try to calm things down (with very limited success).


Israeli rejectionism?

Posted: June 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recognizes Jewish rights in Israel, and is ready for a two state solution with some borders modifications that will allow Israel to keep some of the bigger settlements.

In a meeting in Washington with 30 Jewish leaders, among them those who supports Netanyahu’s government such as AIPAC and ADL, Abaas declared that if Israel accepts a solution based on the 67′ borders, direct negotiations can resume.

Haaretz reports:

The Palestinian president said during the discussion that he had in the past proposed creating a trilateral commission to monitor and punish incitement, but that Israel did not agree to it.

When asked what he could offer Israelis to show that he was serious about peace initiatives, Abbas reminded the participants that he had addressed the Israeli public in an interview on Channel 10. “Why wouldn’t Bibi go to Palestinian TV and do the same?” said the Palestinian president.

“I would never deny [the] Jewish right to the land of Israel,” Abbas then declared.

A few months ago, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that he is ready to have the Palestinian refugees return to the Palestinian state (rather then Israel), so basically, it can be said that all of Israel’s major concerns have been met by the Palestinians. We need to appreciate the price Palestinian leaders are paying at home for such declarations.

Yet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to show very little enthusiasm for the diplomatic process, and his senior cabinet ministers keep opposing any concessions. Deputy PM Moshe Yaalon just recently said in an interview to Yedioth Ahronoth that “nobody in the seven ministers cabinet (the Government’s decision making forum) believes we can reach an agreement.”

The reason for Israeli rejectionism lies in the internal political dynamic in Israel. No matter what Palestinians say or do, Israeli leaders have no real incentive to go through the extremely difficult process of evacuating settlements. This is why they are preparing the public for a failure of the negotiations, even though we now have the most moderate Palestinian leadership ever.

UPDATE: Laura Rozan’s report of Abbas’ meeting with Jewish leaders refers to a couple of important issues which Haaretz didn’t mention: PM Olmert’s “generous offer” which the Palestinians supposedly turned down, and the demilitarization of the Palestinian state:

It was his first such public forum speaking event in Washington ever, Brookings’ Vice President and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk noted when he introduced the Palestinian leader, who he said he had known since 1993.

(…)

Indyk pointed out that it’s generally understood in the West that Abbas did not accept the proposal Olmert offered, based on 1967 borders and agreed land swaps, but Abbas said they were still negotiating when Olmert stepped down amid an Israeli corruption investigation.

“The man has said in the clearest of terms he accepts Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assessment of a demilitarized state,” former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) told POLITICO Thursday. “He doesn’t want tanks, he doesn’t want missiles, he wants an internal security force.”


“If the line has not yet been crossed, where is the line?”

Posted: May 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

An interesting article from Peter Beinart on the the New York Review of Books. Though he overestimate the power and presence of the liberal left in Israel right now, Beinart does hit the point regarding not only the carte blanche the Jewish establishment is giving Israel, but also on the dangerous effect this blind support has on the Israeli society.

There is an epidemic of not watching among American Zionists today. A Red Cross study on malnutrition in the Gaza Strip, a bill in the Knesset to allow Jewish neighborhoods to bar entry to Israeli Arabs, an Israeli human rights report on settlers burning Palestinian olive groves, three more Palestinian teenagers shot—it’s unpleasant. Rationalizing and minimizing Palestinian suffering has become a kind of game. In a more recent report on how to foster Zionism among America’s young, [Republican pollster Frank] Luntz urges American Jewish groups to use the word “Arabs, not Palestinians,” since “the term ‘Palestinians’ evokes images of refugee camps, victims and oppression,” while “‘Arab’ says wealth, oil and Islam.”

Of course, Israel—like the United States—must sometimes take morally difficult actions in its own defense. But they are morally difficult only if you allow yourself some human connection to the other side. Otherwise, security justifies everything. The heads of AIPAC and the Presidents’ Conference should ask themselves what Israel’s leaders would have to do or say to make them scream “no.” After all, Lieberman is foreign minister; Effi Eitam is touring American universities; settlements are growing at triple the rate of the Israeli population; half of Israeli Jewish high school students want Arabs barred from the Knesset. If the line has not yet been crossed, where is the line?

hattip: Joseph dana.

UPDATE: it seems that this article is making some noise. Many friends and contacts of mine have mailed or posted it, and Jstreet issued a statement echoing Beinart’s concern.


Liberal Jews and Israel / a case of split personality disorder

Posted: January 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

taglit

Last Saturday I met an Israeli-American friend who came for a short visit from his studies in Europe. We talked some politics, and finally came to an issue which always puzzles me: the fact that American Jews are unwilling – almost unable – to criticize Israel, both in public and in private, and even when Israeli policies contradict their own believes. My friend noted that if some of the articles on the Israeli media – and not even the most radical ones – were to be printed in the US and signed by none-Jews, they would be considered by most Jewish readers like an example of dangerous Israel-bashing, sometimes even anti-Semitism.

I’ve became more aware of this issue myself since I started writing this blog. Things I say or write which are well within the public debate in Israel are sometimes viewed as outrageous by American Jewish readers; at the same time, events which would make the same readers furious if they happened in the US – for example, the Israeli municipality which tried to prevent Arabs from dating Jewish girls – are met with indifference.

Naturally, I’m generalizing here. Between millions of Jews you can obviously find all kinds of voices – and this is part of the reason I hesitated before writing this post – but I think one can recognize some sort of mainstream opinion within the Jewish community, which both echoes the official Israeli policies, regardless of the identity of the government in Jerusalem, and at the same time, turns a blind eye on events which might distort the image of Israel which this community holds. And this is something which is hard to understand.

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All known data indicates that the vast majority of US Jews supports the democratic party, and many consider themselves as liberals (Barack Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote). Yet except for a group of well known activists, you can hardly hear these people criticize Israel, which is not exactly a picture-perfect liberal democracy.

I am not talking here about the old Jewish establishment or about AIPAC. AIPAC are professional politicians. Their status is based on their connections to the Israeli governments, and their ability to promote Israeli interests in Washington. Breaking up with Israel – even just criticizing Israeli politics – will not just hurt their status, it will simply leave them unemployed. Expecting AIPAC or other Jewish leaders with good ties in Jerusalem to declare that, for example, Israel should lift the siege on Gaza, is like asking an insurance lobbyist to speak in the name of the public option.

Naturally, I don’t expect anything from Jewish neo-cons either. These people like Netanyahu, they supported George Bush, and they will go on speaking about culture wars and Islamo-Facists versus Judo-Christians even on the day Ismail Haniya converts to Zionism. You can agree or disagree with them, but at least their views are consistent.

With the Liberals it’s quiet a different story. It’s obvious they care much about Israel, and some of them are very passionate about politics and extremely well-informed about what’s going on here, but from time to time, I get the feeling they hold back some of their views.

I don’t think many liberals, if they really are ones, can accept the siege on Gaza. Even if they think that Hamas is to blame for the current state of affairs, surly they don’t support collective punishment against 1.5 million people, do they? What would they say if the US was to seal the areas in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan where the insurgents are hiding, not letting even basic supply in or out, preventing civilians from growing food or working, and practically leaving the entire population on the brink of starvation? I presume many Americans will oppose such policies.

But let’s leave geo-politics aside, and talk about the current wave of anti-Arab legislation in Israel. There are things happening here on a daily basis which would make most American Jews go out of their minds if they occurred to Afro-Americans in Alabama or to Native-Americans in Oklahoma, rather than to Arabs in the Galilee. Take for example the temporary order preventing Arab citizens who marry none-Israelis to live with their partners and children here, or the new legislation which will make it legal for Jewish neighborhoods and settlements to refuse to accept Arabs. Is this something Americans – not just liberals – would tolerate? I’m not even talking here about the de-facto discrimination of Arabs, but on a legal effort to introduce ethnic segregation in Israel. Isn’t that the same issue Jews fought against throughout our entire history? Weren’t American Jews an important part of the civil right movement? What’s the difference between Blacks in Birmingham and Arabs in Katzir?

I guess that part of the reason for not criticizing Israel is that many Jews are extremely sensitive to the existential threat Israelis sense, so they don’t like to speak against security measures taken by Israel, since it’s not them who would be hurt when these measures are lifted. This is understandable, but many of the problems the Arab minority faces has nothing to do with national security, but with the desire of many in the Israeli public – and their elected officials in the Knesset – to make Israel not just a Jewish state, but a state for Jews, and Jews only. It’s not about terror, just racism.

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Given the sense of shared history and even close family ties between the two communities, there is something very natural with the American-Jewish community’s desire to take side with Israelis in what seems as its conflict with the Arab world. I guess taking sides also means avoiding looking at some of the faults of your partner. But the problem with the Jews’ attitude towards Israel is much deeper than that, and it shows the most on issues which have nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict, and are purely an internal matter of the Jewish people.

Here is an example: as we all know, the Orthodox Jewish establishment has an official statues in Israel (unlike most Western countries, state and religion are not separated here, and the chief Orthodox Rabbi has a position similar to this of a supreme court justice). The same Orthodox establishment is very hostile to none-Orthodox Jews, which happen to make most of the American Jewish community. A few weeks ago, Fifth-year medical student Nofrat Frenkel was arrested for wearing a talit at the Kotel. I expected all hell to break in the States. After all, this concerns Jews’ right to practice their faith in the most holy place in the world. I wouldn’t say the event went unnoticed – I saw some blog posts and articles referring to the incident, and Forward published Frenkel’s account of the day – but it certainly wasn’t enough for people in Israel to notice. If American Jews spoke on this matter, it was with a voice that nobody heard.

Now imagine the public outrage if Frenkel was arrested anywhere else in the world for wearing a talit. Read the rest of this entry »


What moratorium? Netanyahu playing games

Posted: November 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The top news item this evening on walla.co.il – Israel’s most popular web site – reads as follows: “Netanyahu in a message to Obama: Abu-Mazen has no more excuses”. I think this sums it all up. The settlements moratorium PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced was never intended to re-ignite the peace process. It’s not a step toward the Palestinians. It is, as Netanyahu all but put it himself, a message to the White House, asking it to get off our back, and start blaming the Arabs for the occupation, like they did until a year ago.

Netanyuahu and Barak know very well that the Palestinians won’t settle for this. A moratorium that does not include Jerusalem, does not include public buildings, does not include projects already under construction, does not include “security needs”? – what is it exactly that it does include? No wonder all the Right wing’s ministers but one voted for it!

In the State Department’s briefing today, George Mitchell was walking a thin line: wanting to praise Netanyahu, but at the same time being very careful not to say that the Americans got what they asked for:

The steps announced today are the result of a unilateral decision by the Government of Israel. This is not an agreement with the United States, nor is it an agreement with the Palestinians. United States policy on settlements remains unaffected and unchanged. As the President has said, America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

We recognize that the Palestinians and other Arabs are concerned because Israel’s moratorium permits the completion of buildings already started and limits the effect of the moratorium to the West Bank – concerns which we share.

As to Jerusalem, United States policy remains unaffected and unchanged. As has been stated by every previous administration which addressed this issue, the status of Jerusalem and all other permanent status issues must be resolved by the parties through negotiations.

And if the US thinks that’s not enough, how can a Palestinian leader agree to negotiate with Netanyahu now? It will be as if he is saying “go ahead, do your stuff in Jerusalem. I’m cool with that.”

Abu-Mazen can barley hold on to his post right now, with Israel is doing all it can to undermine him. This week Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman declared again that the Palestinian Authority asked Israel to invade Gaza. Imagine what happens to the Palestinian president if he sits to talk with Netanyahu and Liberman, when they not only humiliate him this way, but declare that they will go on settling East Jerusalem?

Here is a naïve question: why is it the world that has to beg Israel to stop building the settlements? The whole goal of this 42 years old project was to prevent the establishing of a Palestinian state or handing back the West Bank to Jordan (it was funny to hear Sarah Palin says that the settlements has something to do with housing needs for Jews. Then again, I wonder if she can find the West Bank on a map, or the entire Middle East for that matter). Now, if Israel is going to evacuate most of the area anyway – and Netanyahu said so himself, didn’t he? – Why go on building there? Why move there people that you will have to evacuate and compensate in a few years?

Israel is playing games, and it’s all too familiar. Read the rest of this entry »