"I don't know what the goal of this government is. Does it want to keep all of the land in our hands, like most of the coalition wants? Does it want to go towards a two-state solution?"
--In an interview with Maariv, former deputy prime minister and Likud MK Dan Meridor expresses doubt in the present government's intentions to reach a peace agreement.
- Settlers destroy 50 olive trees south of Hebron - Settlers from Susiya raided agricultural land next to the illegal settlement in the Hebron Hills and damaged 50 trees Thursday. (Maan)
- Military alarmed by MKs breaking the law in Hebron - Recent events in which ministers, MKs and rabbis intervened in illegal practices by Jewish settlers raise concern in defense establishment. (Haaretz+)
- Official: Israeli forces hang flags on Ibrahimi mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs) - Israeli forces on Wednesday placed Israeli flags on the walls of the Ibrahimi mosque and set up tents in the eastern courtyards, mosque officials said. (Maan)
- Settlers confront Palestinians picking olives in Salfit - Israeli settlers attacked Sami Yousef Radad, 60, and his wife from al-Zawya in Salfit while they picked olives on their land. "...(they) kicked me and my wife off my land at gunpoint," he said. (Maan)
- The Garden of Bil’in: Seedlings in tear gas canisters - Palestinian who lives near security fence spent years collecting tear gas canisters in which she planted seedlings. (Ynet+PHOTOS)
- Israel plans bid for U.N. Security Council seat - Western diplomats expect it to be a hard sell, given the antipathy of most members of the non-aligned nations bloc to Israel. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- Protesters cut through Israel's wall near Jerusalem - Arab and foreign popular resistance activists cut three holes in the wall which separates Jerusalem from nearby Abu Dis on Thursday, to affirm the right to reach Jerusalem. (Maan)
- How many more Palestinian women have to be murdered? - September was the most violent month this year, with seven women killed in Gaza and the West Bank. (Haaretz+)
- Twitter chairman exchanges tweets with Rohani's account - Jack Dorsey says it's 'inspiring' to see Iranian president on Twitter, asks 'are citizens of Iran able to read your tweets?' (Ynet)
For the full News from Israel.
Last Sunday, at the J Street Conference, I participated in a panel on “How Israel Can Represent All Its Citizens While Staying True to Its Jewish Character.” My interlocutors were Amal Elsana Alhjooj and Ruth Calderon. I decided to speak extemporaneously rather than deliver what I prepared. The latter appears below.
Should Israel be a state of its citizens or a Jewish state? We often hear this question. We also hear, even in the written promotional materials for this J Street session, that a Jewish state might aspire to be “a light unto the nations.” Perhaps we should just learn from the nations for a change.
Bernard Avishai (left) with MK Ruth Calderon at the 2013 J Street Conference (J Street)
Israel, it is said, is a nation-state, legally, in fact, the “Jewish and democratic state,” a phrase adopted in the Basic Law of Human Dignity, whose meaning is hardly self-evident. The first formal expression implying “Jewish and democratic” was in the Biltmore Program of May, 1942, calling for a “Jewish Commonwealth integrated in the structure of the new democratic world.” The UN Partition Resolution of 1947 called for a Jewish state and Arab state, including strict democratic protections for minorities in each state. It also called for an economic union, but never mind.
CAIRO--John Greyson and Tarek Loubani remain in Tora prison because of the video footage, pictures, camera and computer equipment found in their possession says a spokesperson from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.
According to Badr Abdellatty, a Foreign Ministry representative claiming to speak for the Prosecutor’s Office, the two Canadians have been held because of their presence at an unlawful demonstration and for allegedly resisting security forces. The new accusations are considerably less severe than the claims originally listed by the prosecution.
An injured supporter of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is treated on the floor of the Fateh Mosque at Ramses Square on August 16, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt. (Ed Giles / Getty Images).
“When they were arrested they were found with a memory stick with footage and pictures,” says Abdellatty adding that that the film was from inside the Fateh Mosque near Ramses square, which had turned into a makeshift field hospital that protesters were later hauled up in. “When police searched their hotel room they found equipment to do live broadcasts and a small drone helicopter with a camera on it,” he adds in reference to a remote control video camera device.
The Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project has just come out with an expansive survey of American Jewry. Titled “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” it provides lots of data on a range of issues, but especially how U.S. Jews conceptualize Jewish identity. Indeed, Josh Nathan-Kazis of The Forward noted that the information “will probably drive American Jewish policy for the next decade.”
Looking at the raw data raises a number of questions and issues that need further exploration. Here’s a list of five, each of which is tied to the other. Indeed, dealing with some of them requires answering others first.
Jews mark Rosh Hashanah at Brooklyn Bridge Park along the East River during a traditional Tashlich ceremony on September 5, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)
1. Who is Jewish? The survey found multiple factors that make up Jewishness: religious practices, ideological principles, mere identification as part of the community, humanist values, the Holocaust, emotional attachment to Israel, food, and (my favorite), a particular sense of humor. Around whom, then, do community organizations, especially those involved in national politics, organize? What are the boundaries of the Jewish community, and might it depend on the issue?
“In Israel you can’t ‘cop-out.’ It is not that sort of country and we are not that sort of people. America had to use the television screen to bring the horrors of the Vietnam War to the population. In Israel we don’t need television. The radio reports a clash in Lebanon with Israeli wounded. Ten minutes later the helicopter goes over your house on the way to Hadassah Hospital, and you look at your wife and both of you wonder whether your son is on board that helicopter. The war is in your drawing room without television.”
The above quote is from Israel After Begin, a book I published almost 30 years ago, and it shows how much Israel has changed for the worse in the last three decades, because today most Israelis do “cop-out.” Our confrontation with the Palestinians almost never reaches our living rooms, and a majority of my fellow citizens have shut their eyes and their ears to the distress of millions of Palestinians, human beings who live only a few miles away.
Image from the Israeli film "Bethlehem."
A new film, just released, has at least brought the conflict into our cinemas. When it is released on television, presumably next year, maybe it will at last return it to our living rooms. Bethlehem, directed by Yuval Adler, is set in the time of the Second Intifada around 2001. The movie, which had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival before being released here, tells the complex story of an Israeli Shin Bet (General Security Services) agent and his young Palestinian informer. The teenager’s brother is the local commander of the Al-Aksa terrorist group, and the main target of the Shin Bet.
"The history of detentions of the battling for the freedom of their people, in all countries, including our parents who fought for our freedom, teaches that there is no better school for terror than prison."
--Ze'ev Tzachor argues that it's time to have a public debate about the Shin Bet's system of detaining and imprisoning Palestinians.
- Israel freezes plan to build Jerusalem park encroaching on Palestinian neighborhoods - Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz says proposal, which would hem in two East Jerusalem neighborhoods, has no 'particularly sensitive natural value.’ (Haaretz+)
- U.S. State Dept: Shutdown could hit military funding for Israel - The Obama administration had requested $3.1 billion for Israel for the 2014 fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, the day U.S. political stalemate forced a partial shutdown of government. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- Supreme Court rejects citizens' request to change nationality from 'Jewish' to 'Israeli' - Court rules against change in identity card registration, citing that there is no proof of the existence of a uniquely 'Israeli' people. (Haaretz+)
- Palestinian women visit Tel Aviv to promote peace - Parent’s Circle Family Forum enables Israelis, Palestinians to participate in exchange visit program, joint projects; events encourage reconciliation in midst of harsh reality. (Ynet)
- Grenada, Haiti recognize the State of Palestine - Grenada and Haiti have officially recognized the State of Palestine in a ceremony held at the United Nations headquarters in New York City last Friday. (Maan)
- The female spring: How Arab women change the face of Israel's local elections - A women’s umbrella group predicts a 150-percent increase in the number of Arab women on local councils after the October 22 vote. (Haaretz+)
- Hundreds of Palestinian troops deploy near restive West Bank camp - Officials say security forces assemble in response to rise in unrest in Jenin. (Agencies, Haaretz and Maan)
For the full News from Israel.
No one can claim to be surprised at Benjamin Netanyahu's United Nations General Assembly address. But given the historic outreach by Iran of late—a mutually conciliatory week at the U.N. capped by the first contact between an Iranian leader and an American one since 1979—observers were bound to hang on Bibi's every word. The word he used the most, of course, was "Iran" itself: Netanyahu let his arch-enemy's name pass his lips some 70 times during the address. A few mentions were even positive, as when Netanyahu began by lauding the ancient Persian king Cyrus's freeing of Jews in captivity—in stark contrast to his previous Biblical comparisons. From Cyrus on, however, it was all, to borrow another Biblical allusion, fire and brimstone.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the 68th United Nations General Assembly on October 1, 2013 in New York City. (Andrew Burton / Getty Images)
The hawkish Israeli prime minister's speech delivered on all the grounds one might expect: Netanyahu called for maintaining, and perhaps even increasing, pressure on Iran, and restated that Israel would attack Iran if deemed necessary. He focused on Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, deriding the moderate cleric, again, as a "wolf in sheep's clothing." He read from Rouhani's memoirs and speeches (a risk, given his dubious past readings), raised his alleged role in previous acts of oppression and even terrorism, and asserted Iran's determination to build nuclear weapons. "Ladies and gentlemen, I wish I could believe Rouhani," Netanyahu announced, mispronouncing at every instance the Iranian leader's name. "But I don't because facts are stubborn things, and the facts are that Iran's savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani's soothing rhetoric."
Only some of Netanyahu's facts weren't. "Iran is developing nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said, at worst contradicting and at best omitting any modicum of nuance in reading America's—and Israel's—intelligence assessments about Iran's nuclear work. "And since Rouhani's election—and I stress this—this vast and feverish effort has continued unabated." And yet Netanyahu took credit for forcing Iran to slow its own nuclear progress, claiming that his General Assembly speech last year led Iran to reprocess nuclear fuel, rendering it useless for a potential bomb—an argument just as flawed as when the Washington Post made it, but nonetheless one that fails on its own terms to paint a picture of "unabated" progress. Then Netanyahu said that during the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Iranian regime "led wild chants of 'death of the Jews'"—a "fact" the Israeli-Iranian scholar Meir Javedanfar and BBC Persian correspondent Bahman Kalbasi both said was flatly untrue (revolutionaries did chant "death to Israel," which may be worthy of disdain, but isn't the same thing). “It really is jarring to see that, the extreme element, and how far he was willing to push it," said Iran expert Gary Sick, to the New York Times, of Netanyahu's speech. "He did himself harm by his exaggerations.”
On October 1, the 68th United Nations General Assembly's final speaker of 2013 took the stage at the U.N. headquarters in New York City. Benjamin Netanyahu, representing Israel, was tardy in getting his paperwork in and ended up in the unfortunate position of going last, after all the big names had gone home or passed out. Normally, being a closer at a world-class event is an honor, but in the case of Israel at the UNGA it was the equivalent of being the last comic to go up at an open mic at 3:30 a.m. with only seven Swedish tourists and your mom left in the audience. When Bibi stepped up to the plate, he looked like he'd stayed up too late the night before at the J Street conference and would much rather be snoozing than giving a speech at the useless U.N. The state of Israel had also ignored a bevy of U.N. resolutions, which had to make being there, center stage, a bit awkward for the PM.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the 68th United Nations General Assembly on October 1, 2013 in New York City. (Andrew Burton / Getty Images)
Netanyahu's speech left me quite bewildered. At first I thought Bibi was Iran's new leader, Dr. Hassan Rouhani's hype man. Kind of like the Dennis Rodman to Rouhani's Kim Jong Un. Like a professional emcee introducing the next act, Bibi rattled off a slew of Rouhani's credits: “This dawg has served on the Islamic council, loves cats, and was most recently elected the President of Iran. Give it up for Dr. Hassan Roukkkkkhani!” However, this was no sparkly introduction. This was a cautionary tale. The kettle was adamantly calling the pot black as Netanyahu accused Iran of doing all sorts of shady things with nuclear power. The types of things only cool countries like America and Israel, who refuse to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, are allowed to do.
Eleven minutes into the address, I gave up on waiting for Netanyahu to mention She Who Must Not Be Named (Palestine) and went to grab a snack. When I got back at the 17-minute mark, Bibi was still droning on about Iran. Netanyahu had pulled out all the stops and went punny. He quipped that, “Rouhani thinks he can have his yellow cake and eat it too.” Someone should remind Netanyahu that Rouhani learned it from watching him and that this is the United Nations, not a comedy club. Eight minutes later, Netanyahu was still going on about how Rouhani was just Ahmadinejad minus the Members Only jacket. I kept waiting for the Palestinian delegation to leap up like Glenn Close from “Fatal Attraction” and shriek, “Palestine will not be ignored, Bibi!” Unfortunately, they—like everyone else—had already gone home.
Childhood is a beautiful and strange thing. Before we truly learn how precious it is, it is already over. For many Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation childhood ends even earlier than you’d think. The commonplace elements of a child’s life in Palestine, which under normal circumstances would be filled with school books, football and games with friends, is instead interrupted by the harsh realities of occupation that include soldiers, checkpoints, walls, discrimination and racism.
When childhood ends for a Palestinian under occupation is impossible to tell. Many who try to carry on with a normal life under the circumstances hope to enjoy the innocence of youth without having it shattered by the oppressive regime that surrounds them. Not all are so lucky. Atta Sabah is one of them.
An Israeli soldier prevents a Palestinian boy from riding his bicycle in the streets that are blocked to Palestinian residents, in the West Bank city of Hebron on June 20, 2012. (Hazem Bader /AFP / GettyImages)
I spend more time than most focused on news from Palestine and the Middle East and every so often there is a story I learn about that I heard nothing of previously. In a situation where death and violence has become routine, not every bullet or victim registers a headline. So when I heard Atta’s story I decided it had to be highlighted, not because it is particularly unique but because it is commonplace and yet unheard of.
CAIRO—An eerie tranquility has settled over post-coup Cairo as the army’s crackdown forcefully continues in Sinai while Egypt’s jails fill with opponents of military rule. There are few protesters on the streets, while pictures of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the general who led the overthrow of deposed President Mohammad Morsi, adorn store front windows.
Contempt for foreigners, accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to undermine national interests by the government and much of the local press, is a common sentiment on the streets. The detention of two Canadians, John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, which was extended for another 45 days last Sunday, illustrates the repressive and hostile atmosphere.
Chocolates decorated with portraits of Egypt's army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are displayed at a shop in Cairo on August 27, 2013. (Marwan Naamani / AFP / Getty Images)
“There is a lot of xenophobia right now. I think that would flow into every aspect of Egyptian life, including judiciary and the state,” says Adam el Shalankany, a lawyer for Greyson and Loubani, about the impact of the political climate on his client’s situation.
In high school I was a member of the modern Orthodox youth movement, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. We sang and danced to scores of niggunim for hours on end. But the song I loved the best was one not danced to: “Ani Maamin” (I Believe). Almost all Jewish Israelis know the words, the powerful melody, and the deep emotion of its message: “I believe with a complete faith in the coming of the Messiah. And though he may tarry, yet I will wait for him. I will wait for him all the days of my life.”
The deep meaning of the song is that whether or not the Messiah comes, and whether or not there really is a Messiah waiting to come, the yearning for what his arrival would mean, and the injunction never to lose hope for mankind, are values in and of themselves that help make life worth living. Much of the intelligent and passionate piece that Avner Inbar and Assaf Sharon have written in response to my New York Times op-ed piece—“Two State Illusion”—is their own version of Ani Maamin. It is an anxious yet defiant song of resistance against despair by professing against all odds “complete faith” in the coming of the two-state solution.
David Buimovitch / AFP / Getty Images
The reality is that God will not announce that the messiah is not coming. Nor, regarding a negotiated two-state solution, will he announce when the “point of no return” has actually been passed. But there is a great difference between the two. There’s really nothing to lose by declaring the Messiah son of David will come, even if he will not. But there is a tremendous amount to lose by continuing to advocate two-state plans that cannot be implemented when the evil designs of others can exploit that error.
"There could be no greater legacy for America than to help to bring into being a Palestinian state for a people who have suffered too long, who have been humiliated too long, who have not reached their potential for too long, and who have so much to give to the international community and to all of us."
These words—among the strongest ever made by a senior American official about the importance to U.S. foreign policy of establishing a Palestinian state—were delivered in 2006 by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the keynote speaker at the first annual Gala of the American Task Force on Palestine.
This was widely reported in Israel but almost totally ignored in the Arab world. An insightful Israeli noted that Palestinians should regard Rice's speech as their own "Balfour Declaration," unequivocally committing the United States to the creation of a Palestinian state.
ATFP's galas are a celebration of Palestinian Americans, their dignity and pride, their culture and their contributions to the United States and the world. And they are also an unparalleled statement of the mainstreaming of Palestinians and Palestine in the United States.
While delivering her keynote speech at the opening of the J Street Conference on Saturday night, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said, “I believe that there is one thing [Israelis and American Jews] should unite behind. I know that Israeli soldiers will do everything they can in order to avoid loss of innocent life. I know it for sure, because they are our children… I know the values that they were raised with and I know they apply these values when we send them to defend our families.”
The contrast between her words and my experience as an Israeli soldier made me shift uncomfortably in my seat.
Tzipi Livni giving the opening night keynote address at the 2013 J Street conference (J Street)
It is easy to be galvanized by Livni's righteous rhetoric of soldiers raised with humanistic values humbly marching to secure the State of Israel. I was one of these soldiers. I served as a sergeant in an elite sniper unit of the paratroops. Back then, I truly believed I could be a humane and benevolent soldier. I was determined to be the good guy. And yet I managed to follow orders when directed to use a Palestinian as a human shield, even though I knew the Israeli Supreme Court had already officially barred the practice.
One of my favorite quotations is one attributed to the French thinker Jean Baudrillard. “Once you are free, you must ask who you are.” This is true, I think, for individuals, groups, and nation-states—including the Jewish people, in our founding myth of Exodus followed by Sinai. At first, we are adolescents, yearning only for release from bondage to others. But then, finally, we’re free. And then what?
The “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization J Street—at whose conference I and other key Open Zion contributors, most importantly Peter Beinart, have occasionally spoken—likewise seems in that awkward-in-between stage between youth and identity crisis.
Vice President Joe Biden giving the keynote address at the J Street 2013 conference (JStreet)
I’m not at the J Street conference, so I watched what I could online (only a few sessions were available) and followed the live-tweeting of much of the rest. From what I gathered, though, the convention followed the same pattern evidence at these types of events: lots of discussion about why the organization is important, some laments about the lack of support from the broader community, and a rehashing of old arguments. Still, this year’s conference did have a dynamic to it, which—while it might not be immediately translated into concrete action—at least demonstrated the vitality of the organization.
Participants applaud in a plenary session of the J Street national conference on September 28, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (J Street)
First, the old stuff. As a left-leaning organization with a strong left-wing base, including a large student presence, faced with criticism that it’s not part of the Jewish pro-Israel mainstream, it’s not surprising that there were lots of discussions about the same old things: the occupation is bad, Israeli society is increasingly unequal, Israeli democracy is threatened, why the Netanyahu government is dooming everyone, and so on. There were also the necessary claims about why J Street is so important for American Jews and for Israel (AIPAC makes the same claims about itself).
I get that these kind of conventions aren’t about setting an organization’s policy. But I think J Street took a positive step in that direction, by bringing in a diverse range of speakers from different areas to throw out new ideas on a broad set of issues. And that’s what makes this year’s conference so important and worthwhile.
A deal on Iran’s nuclear program and U.N. sanctions regime has been reached. But the U.S., Iran and Israel seem to be interpreting the same agreement quite differently.