Left-wing Jews in NYC held a debate for and against boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and the whole thing is on YouTube. Voices against feature JJ Goldberg and Kathleen Peratis; those in favor feature Hannah Mermelstein and Yonatan Shapiro.
Peter Beinart is still on his (incredibly polite but) hard-hitting crusade against the Jewish establishment’s lockstep on Israel. First on the NY Review of Books, then bloggingheads.tv, now NPR with Brooke Gladstone. In this 12-minute clip, he politely brushes aside the “self-perpetuating victimization” of Steven Rosen, a 23-year AIPAC senior staffer, and the charge of being anti-Israel for criticizing the Jewish state. Full transcript at NPR, but worth listening to all 12 minutes.
This has started to make the rounds today. Peter Beinart at the New York Review of Books.
The central argument:
For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.
I don’t have much to add to what’s already been written at Tablet and Mondoweiss.
Richard Silverstein is one of my favorite writers on Israel-Palestine. He’s a principled liberal with an eye for political realities, and an unwavering dedication to peace. He tends to be one of the best at cutting through whatever the day’s talking points and divisive arguments are (from both the right and the left) and really getting to the heart of matters. And he’s superb at contextualizing current events in terms of the larger political and cultural struggle for peace.
I kid you not, the best that the brightest minds behind the Israel lobby could devise in preparation for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s upcoming appearance at the UN in New York is taking out this full-page ad in the N.Y. Times, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and saying the way to stop Iran’s ‘unquenchable thirst’ for nuclear weapons is to stop using oil.
I agree with Silverstein that Iran is too often used by Israel apologists as a distraction from more pressing issues, and I too resent the tendency of the organizations behind this ad (according to Silverstein they include AIPAC, the ADL, B’nai Brith, and others) to paint complicated issues as simple goodguys-vs.-badguys scenarios, but criticizing someone who advocates energy independence puts you in a tricky position. Silverstein does address this near the beginning of his post:
Well, OK, not all oil, we can keep guzzling good ol’ U.S. crude, but “foreign” oil is bad.
He’s definitely hitting the nail on the head here: focusing only on foreign oil dependence tends to refocus the debate on energy instead of climate change (which in my opinion is the wrong focus). That being said, anyone paying any attention to the domestic political discourse on climate change knows that some of our strongest allies are the guys with national security credentials and the businesspeople. The former are already on board; the challenge now is wooing the latter. The tripartisan (it is ridiculous that that is even a term) climate bill that was supposed to be introduced last week made some pretty excellent progress on this, but it’s slow going. For some inspiration, here’s what Thomas Friedman thinks Obama should say:
“Yes, if we pass this energy legislation, a small price on carbon will likely show up on your gasoline or electricity bill. I’m not going to lie. But it is an investment that will pay off in so many ways. It will spur innovation in energy efficiency that will actually lower the total amount you pay for driving, heating or cooling. It will reduce carbon pollution in the air we breathe and make us healthier as a country. It will reduce the money we are sending to nations that crush democracy and promote intolerance. It will strengthen the dollar. It will make us more energy secure, environmentally secure and strategically secure. Sure, our opponents will scream ‘carbon tax!’ Well, what do you think you’re paying now to OPEC? The only difference between me and my opponents is that I want to keep any revenue we generate here to build American schools, American highways, American high-speed rail, American research labs and American economic strength. It’s just a little tick I have: I like to see our spending build our country. They don’t care. They are perfectly happy to see all the money you spend to fill your tank or heat your home go overseas, so we end up funding both sides in the war on terrorism — our military and their extremists.”
Climate change is as much, if not more, of a threat to our national security as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two issues make for strange bedfellows, to be sure. But right now we need more bedfellows, not less. These are global problems, and if takes the whole globe in bed together to find solutions, then so be it.
Hey Professor, didn’t anyone ever tell you in school to raise your hand before speaking?
Hadar Susskind, J Street’s policy director, was being interviewed at the gathering by a Haaretz reporter when, according to the reporter, none other than Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz “broke in to the conversation with a verbal onslaught against the group.”
Arguing that J Street “shouldn’t call themselves pro-Israel,” he accused them of prioritizing certain policy positions over others to cast Israel in a negative light. Noting that he, like J Street, opposes settlements, he nonetheless maintained, “But I spend 80 percent of my time supporting Israel.”
Yeah, Dershy! Hit those anti-Israel punks right where it hurts! Seriously, though, this is just pathetic. Compare this kind of angry and reflexive rant to Susskind’s measured and reasonable response:
In response, Susskind told the reporter: “We have disagreements with AIPAC that I don’t want to minimize. But we are all on the same side.”
It should be totally obvious who’s reasonable here and who’s not.
The debate on the Knesset floor (full transcript below the fold!) features the singing of Hatikva; name calling between the Ayalon and the opposition; and buried in there some eloquent vouching for J Street by Meretz, Labor, and Kadima ministers.
Here are some compelling thoughts by Labor MK Einat Wilf:
I think it is important for Israel to have a clear policy about its interaction with [J Street]…while meanwhile not giving up on a big and important part of the Jewish people who want to find a way to maintain a relationship with Israel. We have to know how to bring near those who really want to be near and to draw the line for those who serve interests that are not our own.
And the drivel of a response by Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev:
It is a left-wing organization and it is supported by the Palestinians.
But the gem of the whole conversation is Kadima MK Shlomo Mula:
Some people do not want the Reform movement. After all there are Orthodox people who don’t want the Reform. The next day you are going to say about the Conservatives, then you will say the right and the left. I suggest that we as the state of Israel that embraces the Jewish people, everyone who wants to come and help us, even when we have differences of opinion, it doesn’t matter how they come, you can clarify their positions when you sit down and talk to them, but not with boycotts.
Pressed, Ayalon finally clarifies:
Since you asked what is the policy of the Foreign Ministry towards J Street, I want to be clear about it. We will treat it exactly as we will treat any other Jewish organization in the US, period. There are organizations from the right, organizations from the left, organizations from the center, period.
While the rest of Jewschool was checking out the JStreetlaunches around the country this past week, dlevy noticed that I’d gone on a different route. For the second year in a row, I attended the AIPAC Benefit Dinner at the Marriott Grand Marquis in NYC. My friend’s family are patrons; for the last two years, they have invited me to attend, partially because of my interest in Israel education, and partially because of my ability to overeat at the shmorg like nobody’s business. Regardless of my feel for AIPAC’s politics, I am grateful to my friend’s family for the opportunity to attend and learn with them.
I approach AIPAC with a healthy dose of skepticism, because, in addition to how I hold a pen, and how I waterski, I tend to be quite the lefty. I ran into another friend at the benefit, and her buddy, a member of the young AIPAC group, explained to me what it is AIPAC does in simple terms. Financial support, he said. Lobbying. I explained that I have done research in Israel education, and that I lived in Israel for a year, and he responded with more depth. I asked him if AIPAC supported a one-state or two-state solution, and he replied that it’s more complicated than that. I ruminated over a lot of sushi.
They ushered us into the dinner (some thousand Jews all shuffling from one floor of a hotel to another, I wondered aloud if anybody else felt the horrific irony of the situation) and served us more food, even though, at least in my case, the shmorg had been more than enough.
They talked about their upcoming Policy Conference, saying, “Policy Conference is our Bonnaroo,” to which half of the room laughed, and the other half asked, “What’s a Bonnaroo?” Many of my friends over the years have enjoyed attending Policy Conference because they got to meet politicians, but it was never my cup of tea. I am not attending this year.
The speakers were interesting. Chuck Schumer pointed out that his last name means “protector” and he was going to protect Israel. Another politician also spoke (I missed her name while I was attempting to attack the 1/4 chicken I had no business trying to eat), and misquoted Isaiah 42:6, saying that “Israel is a light until the nations” (emphasis mine, proper translations include “for” “in” “on” and “unto”). I think she was nervous, but still.
After these speeches, the keynote came from Daniel Gordis. He tugged at the heartstrings, talking about what it’s like for an Israeli parent when they know their child is going to be out partying all night in Israel. I liked when he said that “Israel is the one country with people from the same religion living as a nation, in the same location, and observing their religion the way they were doing 3,000 years ago.” That’s not entirely true, since we don’t have the Temple any more. Actually, what ran through my head was: “Now, with less ritual sacrifice, at least in the traditional sense!” I should work in advertising, no?
Gordis closed his speech by saying, “You want to go to an AIPAC event and hear ‘everything is ok’.” There was a quiet rumble of agreements throughout the crowd. He continued, “It will happen. One day.” “Everything is ok” is awfully subjective, and if you to reach into my brain, “OK” would mean something very different from the “OK” in, say, the brains of my family and friends that choose to live in the West Bank. Whatever your “OK” is, I hope something gets better. Because Israel is a crazy place. And so is Palestine.
The J Street conference was one of the most intellectually and physically taxing experiences I’ve ever had. I learned an incredible amount, met amazing people, and feel compelled to keep educating myself on the issues.
I had an idea for a post near the beginning, and ended up not being able to write it until now because of how tired I was at and following the conference. So this post represents a thought that matured throughout the conference, undergoing numerous changes in perspective as it did so.
The core question I want to ask is: What’s the relationship between a Jewish identity and a political identity? More »
The Attila the Huns of Israel policy, Senators Evan Bayh (as in “bye bye,” D-IN) and James Risch (R-ID) have circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter that questions the fair play role Obama is playing in the Middle East! Backed by AIPAC, it typically showers praise on Israel while putting the full burden of peacemaking on the Arab states. After the successes of forcing Bibi Netanyahu to acknowledge two states and halting new and expanded settlement growth, this is a stupid letter and it deliberately puts a stick in Obama’s tires.
Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, and J Street ask you to call your Senators today. How many calls are we talking to be taken seriously? Do you really want to know? Twenty. Twenty calls per state. Call the switchboard at (202) 224-3121, tell them not to sign until it’s changed to be even-handed. More eloquent script below the fold. More »
I sat down to write a review of Dan Fleshler’s recently published book Transforming America’s Israel Lobby ahead of schedule because I’d heard the Jerusalem Post had dismissed it as irrelevant. The primary criticism JPost levels against the book is that the ideas of Fleshler’s many involvements — IPF, APN, BTShalom, J Street — have “failed gain traction” because those ideas are unpopular. Giving up land to bloodthirsty Palestinians who “reject peace” is the reason Israel has no choice (no choice!) but to pursue her own security single-mindedly.
But those of us who do the work that Fleshler does, building the pro-peace movement, know the real dynamic. The real dynamic is an American Jewish public that has slowly, over the past 20 years, come to realize that Israel is slowly rotting from within, that her politicians are Bushes and Cheneys, and that her military is beginning to lose its professionalism. The year 1948 is over already, and Israel is the dominating power in the region, her military expenditures and GDP are higher than all her neighbors combined.
This is not 1967 either. The Arab League and the Islamic League (72 nations in total) have offered her sweeping acceptance and diplomatic ties in exchange for the one thing Israel should want the most: freedom from managing an occupied territory. Egypt and Jordan, once Israel’s chief enemies, constantly barter her security in the form of ceasefires and intervene diplomatically.
This is not even 2002. The Second Intifada is over. Terrorism is at an all-time low, even counting Hamas’ rockets. Meanwhile, Palestinians are more impoverished, disconnected and ghettoized than ever before — particularly in Gaza. The barrier, checkpoints, and settlements are more pervasive than ever. The failure to produce concessions from Israel via Fatah’s negotiations has yielded newfound support for Hamas’ terrorism. The real question is, when does the Third Intifada start?
American Jews know this, or rather, they couldn’t give you a list like I just did. But they can feel it. The bellicose bluster emanating from the Conference of Presidents feels…odd. Each time Israel overreacts and directs tanks, helicopters, laser-guided precision bombs, airborne drones, cluster munitions, and white phosphorus against a guerrilla terrorism network that relies on bomb belts and home-made rockets, American Jews squirm inside. The discontinuity is palpable. It’s like wearing an itchy sweater.
The left is growing. We’re already the dominant segment of American Jewry. But translating numbers into political power is the subject of Fleshler’s book. The right wing is deeply single-minded about Israel and they represent the old guard of American Jewish leadership. The new leaders of today are rarely found in the organized mouthpieces that speak in Congress.
Just Wednesday, I participated in a feedback session at the White House organized by J Street and Jumpstart in which 30 representatives of grassroots, innovative Jewish nonprofits met Obama’s office of faith-based initiatives. The 30 orgs in the room represented just 10% of the 300 small orgs founded in the past ten years.
This is the future of the American Jewish community, particularly the 58% of unaffiliated Jews (according to J Street’s poll). This burst of orgs share 400,000 members and a budget over $100 million — if you were the White House, wouldn’t you want to meet an org of that size?
Consider specifically the cornucopia of more progressive groups that exist now that didn’t 20 years ago: Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, JustVision, UPZ (now a part of J Street), J Street and its PAC, Encounter, Jewish Voice for Peace…not to mention over 25 Israeli civil and human rights organizations like Yesh Din, Gisha, ACRI, Breaking the Silence, Ir Amim and B’Tselem. We must learn to become bigger than the sum of our parts, not less, as Fleshler suggests we presently do.
Read Dan Fleshler’s book for a primer on how AIPAC is “not the 800 pound gorilla in the room…just the 400 pound gorilla in the room.” Learn from the past mistakes and triumphs of the pro-peace camp and see how AIPAC’s relations with government have begun to fray over the years. Kick ‘em off their pedestal and consider anew the size of the left and why it’s growing.
Fleshler — a life-long advocate of peace since the beginning — is providing a young person like me invaluable perspective on how far we have come. Now the question for us is, what book are we going to write when we’re 50?
AIPAC is big. JTA shows you the glitz, the shamless fearmongering (holocaust holocaust holocaust), the embarassing charades of politicians trying to pander, and a few courageous words about making peace (with scattered applause I might add):
Brit Tzedek v’Shalom’s annual event brought over 300 participants to Capital Hill — a small but growing presence.
Now J Street and BTShalom will jointly go to Washington, DC, on October 25-28, 2009 to put boots in legislators offices and show that the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement has grown in the past 20 years.
Care about peace? Come to DC. Care about building progressive Jewish life? Come to DC. Care about a future for Israel without occupation? Come to DC. Care about meeting your legislator face-to-face and taking back the Hill from the minority communal leadership who’s relationship to Israel is lockstep, right-wing and stuck in the 1940s?
Dr. David Albert, PhD, teaches Political Science in Austin, TX at Huston-Tillotson University, Austin Community College, and University of Texas – Extension Division.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held their annual Policy Conference in DC this week with 6000 delegates and a plethora of political figures. They are sailing in somewhat rougher political waters than they were last year when all three Presidential candidates – Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain – and all four Congressional leaders (Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner) spoke at their Conference. They face a new President, Barack Obama, who has said he is committed to achieving a two-state solution (and won overwhelming support from American Jews in the Presidential election) and a new Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who is squarely against a two-state solution.
There’s significant room to ask whether or not these increasing calls from Washington for a settlement freeze are a big deal or not. They’re a big deal for sure in that it’s a huge departure from the Bush administration and a sea change in the way Congress is willing to stick its neck out to challenge the conservatives on Israel (a large number of people in the States, including the Jews in the Democratic party). And not that it’s not a big signal to Bibi’s government either: messages of support mixed with messages of “shape up on your obligations” should be coming in loud and clear.
But the settlement freeze itself might not be the most noteworthy of diplomatic gestures. From Bush, it would have been phenomenal! But from Kerry and Biden, this is the most basic of several grander suggestions, including finally mumbling something about two states for two peoples, engaging diplomatically again, and accepting a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas.
Thankfully, the settlements are the least controversial request. And there’s every evidence that on this issue Netanyahu will behave like the proverbial horse dragged to the waterhole and told to drink. But it’s one of many changes in American foreign policy (THANK THE LORD ALMIGHTY) and it’s the easiest one to swallow. So drink, Bibi, drink. If you do it right, you can claim “The American’s made me do it,” and preserve your political skin while still advancing peace in the region.
P.S. BTShalom, J Street and Americans for Peace Now all sent action alerts TODAY supporting Obama’s diplomacy. Thanks for reading our blog, and of course for commenting if you like what’s written here. But seriously? Call your Representatives and tell them yourself.
The Jewish community is actively discussing the likelihood of the Obama administration pressing Israel on the peace process. So far, the administration has sent some signals by appointing Mitchell and such, but they haven’t done much to press the new Netanyahu government.
I think their decision to begin a process towards lowering barriers with Cuba is certainly a signal of their approach to foreign policy. It is particularly important, because they are challenging the Cuban American Foundation’s long-standing opposition to an opening to Cuba and the Castros. Their role on Cuba policy is the closest parallel we have to AIPAC’s role on Israel policy. Obama is taking them on. His actions so far are relatively small and basically non-controversial. Even Sen. Mel Martinez is supporting his actions. But they seem to suggest the beginning of a gradual process to overturn a foreign policy taboo. The timing is important, too. Obama took this act in the lead-up to a Latin American trip. This suggests to me that it is possible that Obama may be planning to take some actions to pressure Bibi on the peace process in the lead up to the rumored June Israel trip.
There are some big differences between Israel and Cuba policy. There are significant indications of generational change in the Cuban community on this issue. I see much less of that in the Jewish community. There are significant indications of real change in a positive direction from the Cuban government. Israel has just elected a more recalcitrant government. Also, the Cuban community has long been a Republican stronghold. Obama doesn’t need them to win Florida and doesn’t need Florida to be re-elected. Conversely, the Jewish community is a staunch Democratic group that voted for him overwelmingly (and donated to him in large numbers) and helped him win in several key states. He faces greater political risk challenging AIPAC than he does the Cuban American Lobby. Jimmy Carter and Bush Sr. took significant re-election hits by challenging the Jewish community on the peace process and Obama knows that as well. Obama seems to have some bipartisan support for Sen. Dick Lugar among others for shifting Cuba policy while he is likely to meet stiff resistance from most Republicans and the Christian Zionists to changes in Israel policy. Also, the Cuba policy shift is more of an economic shift and there is support from various farmers and trade lobbysts for changing Cuba policy. There is little in the way of obvious economic lobbies to change US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I think Cuba offers us an indication that Obama’s instincts are to challenge foreign policy taboos and try to resolve decades old conflicts through diplomacy and compromise. But he will do so cautiously, graudally, and strategically. He will challenge influencial foreign policy interest groups if the political costs are not too high. Of course, we don’t know how far he will go. But clearly, the issues around Mideast policy are more entrenched than those around Cuba.
Many of you have already had a chance to see a video from the recent: “Why We Need a Liberal Israel Lobby” at the 92Y in New York. The following is a letter written by an attendee at Monday night’s program to Rabbi Steve Gutow, one of the panelists and current executive director of the JCPA. We have also emailed this letter directly to Rabbi Gutow and have invited him to respond. He has been informed that we encourage his response as part of an open conversation and would welcome a full response to be posted on our blog.
Dear Rabbi Gutow,
I was fortunate to attend the panel discussion “Why We Need a Liberal Israel Lobby” at the 92nd St. Y this past Monday evening. While I very much enjoyed the conversation, and I thought your presence on the panel really improved the discussion in a number of ways, I have to say I was generally dismayed by your positions. Your point of view was, if not entirely divorced from reality, heavily influenced by the position you hold in the Jewish American establishment, what your co-panelist Eric Alterman jokingly referred to as “the Official Jews,” and you spent as much time trying to establish your bona fides as a “liberal” as you did trying to dismiss the notion that there was any lack of liberalism in the American public discourse with regards to Israel policy.
Let me be clear: I am not trying to accuse you of insufficient liberalism. I believe that your work on promoting social justice, working towards racial equity and tolerance, assuaging the devastating effects of poverty and defending civil liberties are genuine and valuable. What I am accusing you of is avoiding the basic premise that makes a panel like Monday’s and an organization like JStreet both possible and necessary: that the overwhelming majority of American Jews are not affiliated with a synagogue or Jewish organization, as such the views expressed by the leadership of synagogues and Jewish organizations vary significantly from the views of American Jews as a whole, and that on questions regarding Israel, it is very difficult to publicly express views that do not hew to a very narrow orthodoxy within the context of the synagogue-and-organization-based Jewish community. More »
By the same token, everyone thinks they’re for peace. JTA cheif Ami Eden’s blog post today picks up on where The New Republic and the Jewish media has begun fighting over the labels of “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace”. And this could be a pretty elementary conversation about labels meaning different things to different people, but I think a simple fact remains:
The nature of “pro-Israel” is changing. But though I’ve seen “pro-peace” hijacked by the pro-bombing rallies of the New York JCRC, for example, it has yet to take hold among Israel advocates that pursuing immediate peace policies and not just having peace inclinations is what defines a dove voice from a hawkish voice.
Ami notes “hawks” and “doves” beg further definition. His example is when Ariel Sharon moved right-wing and left-wing simultaneously by not negotiating with the Palestinians but withdrawing from territory regardless. But this was not a dove maneuver because it was a classic example of avoiding-the-real-problem Israeli diplomatic ju jitsu which sidesteps the issue as a whole. (Unilateral ceasefires anyone? Ju jitsu indeed, this kung fu Jew would know.) No progress towards establishing a Palestinian state was made and Israeli security concerns went unaddressed — akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. (Worse, in this case as the credit for Israeli withdrawal was not handed to Fatah’s openness to negotiations but taken implicitly by Hamas’ violence.)
The status quo is what remains defined as “pro-Israel” — separate legal systems for Jewish settlers and Palestinians which resemble apartheid, the continued expansion of settlements, the limitation of economic viability by closed borders, and the humilitation of checkpoints and lack of self-determination. Only the pursuit now of policies which actively make progress towards Palestinian demands can be considered pro-peace. They will not receive all their demands, and neither will Israel. But the active prevention in Congress by AIPAC or ZOA or JCRCs of pushing compromise by Israel is in effect pro-conflict, pro-violence and pro-onesidedness.
A backtrack is also not pro-peace, which is Gaza case in point. The Gaza mission accomplished nothing and it cost so much — in terms of Israel’s international standing, its prevention of the rockets, its dismantling of Hamas, and ultimately its ability to end ongoing strife. A pyrric victory. The pro-Israel rallies embedded the feeling among Jews of moderate stripes that while they supported Israel’s right to defense, “pro-Israel” meant something bloodthirsty.
Ami Eden is very good to bring this up — that pro-Israel isn’t owned by any Jewish political sector and we’re all ostensibly looking for safety and stability in the Mideast. But there is a distinct measure of being pro-peace. And it will continue to be needed as a modifier “pro-Israel, pro-peace” until the Israeli government and the lockstep American Jewish defense orgs make pursuit of an end compromise their active work. Until then AIPAC, ADL, AJC, the JCRCs, the Conference of Presidents, et al are not pro-peace, they’re pro-status quo. And the status quo is not peace.
Call your Representative and your two Senators (find them here) and tell them:
Hi, my name is [first name] [last name] from [hometown], [state]. As a Jewish constituent who supports Israel, I urge the Senator [or Representative] to call for U.S. leadership in establishing an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and southern Israel by all sides in concert with the international community.
If the [Senator/Representative] intends to make a statement about the crisis, I ask that it acknowledge the suffering and civilian injuries and deaths on both sides.
I very much hope that we see an end to the hostilities very soon. Thank you.
It takes 1 minute for each call. You can report successful calls to Brit Tzedek.