“This can’t be good for anyone.”
It was May of 2012. The manager of my congressional campaign, a Jewish lawyer from Washington, D.C., had found his daily dose of angst dangling from the mirror of my solid, union-label Ford Flex: an air freshener brandishing red, white, green and black in the form of the Palestinian flag. My husband Marty had picked it up at the Middle East food market, less as a sign of solidarity, more as a sign of irony—he liked to ask people riding with us in the car if they knew to which country this flag belonged.
This can’t be good for anyone, our campaign manager said again, even after listening to Marty’s protests. The air freshener went into the glove compartment. It’s probably still there. My husband, the activist, a repeat visitor to Israel/Palestine, was a nuanced thinker frustrated by the sound-bite reality of a national congressional campaign. We both assumed I was pro-Israel: we supported peace, and we were shoestring relatives of prominent Jewish Senator Carl Levin and his brother Congressman Sander Levin.
People arrive to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington on March 3, 2013. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
The idea that an air freshener could dampen my bid for U.S. Congress in mostly rural, conservative Northwest Ohio seemed ludicrous at best. There were few Jews and fewer Palestinians—it remains a district of stalwart Christians, most of whom are unengaged with the Middle East. And of course I was pro-Israel insofar as I was pro-peace; I was a Christian. I was about to learn that I wasn’t pro-Israel enough; at least, not enough to garner an endorsement or any cash support from the political action committee that spreads the wealth to Democrats and Republicans who promise unequivocal support for Israel. Our naivete would soon force me to make a decision that would tip the balance of the campaign.
Late in July, we traveled to Washington, where my campaign manager had scheduled a meeting with AIPAC in a spotless office on H Street. During the interview, I was presented with false dichotomies of the “you’re either with us—or you’re not” variety. I was asked to write a white paper showing my unflagging come-what-may support of Israel, her politics, and her military strategies. I found this deeply unsettling—how could I give a blanket endorsement for Israel when I was far from being able to do so regarding the policies and practices of my own government?
A decade or so ago, as Palestinian suicide bombers and snipers were destroying the hopes for peace that were launched by the Oslo peace process twenty years ago, I visited a Hillel in the Midwest. The students were upset because they had recently been attacked for a program called “A Piece for Peace.” Trying to appeal to other students’ hearts through their stomachs, the activists distributed a piece of cake with a list of Israeli attempts at peace—which Palestinians had spurned repeatedly, culminating with Oslo. Campus Progressives attacked the stunt as “one-sided,” accusing the students of ignoring the Palestinian narrative. I replied: “Do gays give out literature justifying homophobia? Do feminists make the argument for sexism? You are doing activism not academics. It’s legitimate to give your pro-Israel narrative—just as most Palestinians activists give their narrative without ever feeling guilty about ignoring our narrative—or even denying our legitimate national rights.”
I thought of those guilt-ridden activists while reading Peter Beinart’s recent essay critiquing the "American Jewish Cocoon” and calling for more “information” and “empathy” in approaching Palestinians. It is thoughtful—detailing some intellectual and moral blindspots in the mainstream American Jewish mentality. He is right that learning more about the Palestinian perspective and establishing dialogue with Israel’s critics can be informative and constructive. It is challenging—calling out some Jewish intolerance and insensitivity. But, the essay is also myopic—once again exaggerating Jewish guilt and minimizing Palestinian blame and responsibility.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington on March 3, 2013. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
Beinart writes: “One can understand Palestinians’ reluctance to participate in events that make them appear to consent to an unjust occupation.” Why is it so difficult, then, for him to understand Jews’ reluctance to host events that make them appear to consent to an unjust repudiation of their most basic national rights? The widespread, systematic delegitimization of Israel and the less popular yet still prevalent genocidal agenda of many anti-Zionists, remain the proverbial elephants in Beinart’s room, and the mostly overlooked phenomena in his essay.
"After Assad goes, we'll talk on Facebook."
--Captain Shirin Sheli tells what one of the wounded Syrians she treated said to her upon being released from the secret IDF medical facility.
- Israel pledges to raze settler structures built on Palestinian land with forged deeds - The buildings, to be torn down by March, are part of a stone enclosure on the slopes of the Givat Ze'ev settlements, on the lands of the village of Jib. (Haaretz+)
- Israel, U.S. carry out joint missile test in the Mediterranean - Russia had detected the launch of two ballistic 'objects' toward the sea, Russian media reported earlier; U.S. Navy earlier denied having any involvement in the launch. (Haaretz)
- Italy donates 60 million euros to Palestinian Authority - The Italian government announced Wednesday that it will donate 60 million euros to the Palestinian Authority over a three-year period. (Maan)
- Joyriding Palestinian car thieves alarm Ben-Gurion Airport - Stolen truck broke through perimeter barrier and only stopped when its tires were shot out by a guard. Police suspect Palestinians lost their way. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Officer who hit Danish protester to leave IDF - Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner, the deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade who was caught on tape hitting a left-wing Danish protester with his rifle in April 2012, strikes a plea bargain involving two months of community service and his resignation. (Israel Hayom)
- Police to resume using tasers gradually, under tighter restrictions - Order caps two-week suspension of officers’ use of controversial stun guns, which came after cops used them repeatedly on man who did not resist arrest. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- WATCH: Israel Hayom editors review the Top 5 political flops of 5773 - The Israel Hayom English editors' panel discusses the top political blunders of the last Jewish year, including the muddy Chief Rabbinate race, Finance Minister Yair Lapid's repeated flubs, the Israeli Embassy in Ireland playing foul twice, and more. (Israel Hayom)
A short follow-up on Syria. President Obama's decision to take his intended military action to Congress is constitutionally satisfying, and politically shrewd, for all the obvious reasons. But it has another virtue, if Obama and Kerry have the wit to exploit this. As Haaretz's Barak Ravid argues in this deft and largely ignored column, it reopens the diplomatic window, which is the only way Obama can contribute to the least of bad outcomes in the Syrian chaos.
The heart-breaking fact of Syria is that the regime will commit atrocities to avoid defeat. When you have the power, and the dread of being undone, you act with otherwise unimaginable cruelty; Thucydides knew this, Hobbes knew this, and no doubt Obama's read Thucydides and Hobbes. Egyptian generals just killed almost 1,500 people to thwart the Muslim Brothers and Israel killed almost 1,500 (and 400 children) in Gaza to try to end missile strikes in 2009. Chemical weapons are worse than phosphorous bombs, presumably, but mainly to bystanders.
Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Corker, R-Tenn., speaks with reporters as he arrives for a classified briefing on Syria in the Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013. (Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)
The question is, how to curtail the violence that produces more desperate violence? The McCain-Graham answer is that, ultimately, you end violence by killing violent people and supporting peace-loving people to victory. There is a grain of truth here; Grant's armies committed atrocities in defeating the South and Eisenhower's armies committed atrocities in defeating Nazism. McCain and Graham want us to believe that, while the Free Syrian Army, General Idris, etc., do not represent established democracies, they and their forces have democratic principles in mind—and can win. Just for the sake of argument, let's pretend that we never heard of Kanan Makiya and Achmed Chalabi.
On Friday I wrote that Israeli Finance Minister and Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid had forbidden his Members of Knesset from attending a holiday party scheduled for today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; Lapid was of the opinion that attending the event would undermine Israel’s negotiating position. I expressed some wonder at this decision, however, because just two weeks earlier, three Yesh Atid MKs had not only met with Palestinian officials in Budapest, they and the Palestinians had agreed that a future peace deal would look very much like the Geneva Accord, a draft agreement that includes two states based on the 1967 borders and a shared Jerusalem.
Well. It turns out that Lapid need not have worried: Abbas’s own people have put the kibosh on the party:
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas canceled a pre-Rosh Hashana toast with more than 30 ministers and Knesset members that was set for Tuesday because he came under pressure from the anti-normalization movement in Ramallah.
Abbas invited the Knesset’s Caucus on Ending the Israeli- Arab Conflict to his headquarters in Ramallah after a Palestinian delegation was greeted by 30 MKs and ministers and a Palestinian flag at the Knesset on July 31. That meeting emphasized the need to have a show of force in Ramallah to boost the nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
But the anti-normalization movement, which is strong inside Abbas’s Fatah party, criticized him for meeting such a high-profile Israeli delegation so soon after the IDF killed Palestinians in recent incidents in Jenin and Kalandiya.
Mahmoud Abbas gestures while exiting the stage after addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2011 in New York City. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
As an American-Israeli Jew, I can’t presume to tell Palestinian nationalists how to approach my people. Me and mine are in the position of power in this conflict, and those who struggle against military occupation have a limited number of tools at their disposal. And indeed: The Israeli military just killed Palestinians—if Palestinians had just killed Israelis, it’s a good bet that Israeli parliamentarians would not be going to Ramallah for a pre-holiday toast. (Moreover, as Peter Beinart so eloquently documented in the New York Review of Books yesterday, American Jews have their own anti-normalization movement—we just don’t call it that).
Yesterday in these pages, Brent Sasley ran down some of the chatter around the position of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (or, as Sasley aptly said, lack thereof) on a Congressional vote about whether or not to strike Syria. Sasley relayed a quote from an administration official to the New York Times, where the official called AIPAC "the 800-pound gorilla in the room," underscoring AIPAC's influence and potential importance to the Syria vote.
Later Monday, the TImes updated the article with a paraphrased statement from an administration official to the effect that AIPAC had become active on the issue. It read like this:
Administration officials said the influential pro-Israel lobby group Aipac was already at work pressing for military action against the government of Mr. Assad, fearing that if Syria escapes American retribution for its use of chemical weapons, Iran might be emboldened in the future to attack Israel.
The New York Times logo is seen on the headquarters building on April 21, 2011 in New York City. (Ramin Talaie / Getty Images)
Today, that reference has been removed from the piece, by Jackie Calmes, Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt, with several others contributing. The latest iteration online doesn't even contain the quote about the "gorilla," though the simian reference lives on at a separate link in a version of the article that apparently appeared in the print edition today. I drew the now-entirely-missing line from the left-wing writer M.J. Rosenberg, the first person I saw to notice it'd gone missing. (You can examine some of the changed versions of the stories here, here, and here.)
Thanks to Netflix, viewers outside of Israel can catch a glimpse of a compelling 2012 Israeli film that premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. A “triumph of low-budget filmmaking,” as Variety calls it, Room 514 is a cinéma-vérité-style meditation on psychology, morality, identity and politics. Set in two locations—an IDF interrogation room and a city bus, and with such a small personnel footprint that even the one required extra is the director himself—the film follows the attempt by Anna (Asia Naifeld), an IDF soldier three weeks shy of being released from her military service, to extract a confession from a soldier accused of beating a Palestinian man.
Written and directed by Sharon Bar-Ziv (an actor in the 1987 Israeli hit film Late Summer Blues), Room 514 raises sticky questions about the incendiary admixture of law, politics, gender, security and justice in the project of Israel’s West Bank occupation. The erotic undertones of military machinations are never far from the surface as viewers are treated to sexually-charged interrogation sequences, and extended sex scenes between Anna and her commander—where else, but in that same interrogation room.
Asia Naifeld plays an investigating army officer in "Room 514," a critically acclaimed Israeli film newly released on Netflix. (credit: publicity still)
As her commander tries to warn her away from pursuing the case (“This is bigger than drugs, than bribes, even bigger than arms. It’s politics,” he tells her), and her Russian mother incessantly calls her on her cell phone anxious about impending household bills, Anna’s determination hardens.
“I'm critiquing the way the American Jewish community operates because I think we're hurting ourselves, and Israel, through our isolation from Palestinians. As Jews and Zionists, I want us to do better."
--Peter Beinart in a new article discussed in Haaretz+.
- Israeli forces demolish Jericho home, assault residents - Israeli soldiers destroyed a house and cattle farm belonging to Deifallah Rashayda and Jihad Rashayda, leaving 12 family members homeless in the Jericho village of Fasayil. Five women were hospitalized after soldiers assaulted them with their rifle butts. (Maan)
- World's literary stars sign Israeli petition against destruction of Palestinian villages - Nobel laureates in literature and other prominent writers sign petition by David Grossman against destruction of villages in southern Hebron hills. (Haaretz)
- Israel pledges to demolish synagogue, yeshiva at West Bank settlement - State promises court to tear down buildings by next March after finding land is owned by Palestinians, purchase deeds were forged. (Haaretz+)
- Roadside bomb targets IDF patrol on Gaza border - Attack near Kibbutz Nahal Oz causes no casualties or damage. IDF Spokesman said it was the "second incident of this type in three days." (Israel Hayom)
- Israel closes Ibrahimi Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron for Jewish new year - Israeli authorities will close the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron to Palestinian worshipers during the Jewish new year, a Palestinian official said Monday. (Maan)
- Hamdallah to start international trip seeking financial support - Caretaker Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah will begin an international tour this week to secure financial support for the Palestinian Authority. He seeks $500 million to cover the PA's budget deficit. (Maan)
- Jordan condemns forming new prayer plaza at Western Wall - According to Jordanian news agency Petra, Jordan condemned Minister Naftali Bennett's initiative to construct a new prayer area south of the Western Wall for the Women of the Wall. (Ynet)
Last week, Politico ran a story on the silence of Jewish pro-Israel lobby groups regarding U.S. intervention into Syria, with a focus on AIPAC. It’s a fair question to ask: AIPAC’s mandate is the strengthening of the U.S.-Israel relationship, it is one of Washington’s most powerful lobbies, and the Syrian civil war does affect American and Israeli interests in the region.
One might, then, expect it to take a public position on the biggest issue of the day, U.S. strikes against the regime’s military assets. And after President Obama announced he was going to Congress for authorization for the attack, observers began wondering—with some claiming more confidently—that AIPAC would become much more active. Apparently White House officials even fear what AIPAC will do. If Obama is seen as not enforcing his red line over Syria, how, one hinted, would this “800-pound gorilla in the room” view the Administration’s Iran policy.
Then-Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in 2008 (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
I wouldn’t expect AIPAC to play a prominent role in the debate over Syria, though, because (1) there’s so much uncertainty around President Obama’s Syria policy; (2) Syria is simply not one of its priorities; and (3) there is concern over being tarred with a position of supporting American wars in Israeli interests.
Throughout her career as an artist, 36-year-old Zoya Cherkassky has not lacked for public interest, critical acclaim, or financial compensation. Her pieces have been shown in premier Israeli art galleries for over a decade. Her work is continually covered in the mainstream media. And her sketches fetch anywhere from $5,000 to five or six times that amount.
A four-year stint in Berlin allowed Cherkassky to challenge herself artistically, and prove that she was a big fish in any bowl, small or large. But in 2009, she returned to Israel, wanting to work with the raw human materials that she knows best. Since her return, she has embraced traditional painting techniques, taking her easel out into the street and capturing everyday people in their natural elements.
In recent years, Cherkassky's work has focussed on the experiences of Jews who, like herself, immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990's. The piercing portraits of embarrassing Russian-Israeli culture clashes have earned her widespread notoriety on the social media circuit.
"Sandwiched between two Arab civil wars, expecting nothing from the peace talks, quietly legalizing discrimination against its minorities—Israel's year of superficial calm."
Don Futterman sums up a less than positive year in Israel ahead of Rosh Hashana.
- Sharp rise in settlement building starts - Despite government's efforts to increase construction in bid to reduce housing prices, slowdown in building starts ongoing since 2011. While first half of 2013 sees 6% drop in number of building starts in Israel, construction in Judea and Samaria up 141%. (Ynet)
- Dozens of Palestinians protest against Hebron settler house - People gathered outside of a property belonging to the al-Rajabi family and demanded that settlers leave the premises. The Israeli high court is due to hold a session on Monday to decide the fate of the property, which has been disputed for years. (Maan)
- Bill equalizing labor rights for (Israeli women working in) West Bank handed back to military - Netanyahu delays cabinet vote on controversial Struck Law to give the IDF a chance to issue an order equalizing the rights of women working over the Green Line to those inside Israel proper. (Haaretz+ and Israel Hayom)
- Netanyahu: Law discriminating against women in West Bank to be amended - According to PM, controversial bill initiated by MK Struck to amend law that discriminates against women beyond Green Line will take effect by October, either by army order or by applying Israeli law on territories. (Ynet)
- Israeli forces reopen Hebron road after 12 years - The al-Harayeq gate south of Hebron will be open 24 hours a day as of Sunday. In July, Israel opened the road for eight hours daily, ending a 12-year closure that began during the Second Intifada. (Maan)
- Lapid meets Palestinian finance minister - Finance Minister Yair Lapid met in his office with his counterpart in the Palestinian Authority, Shukri Bashara. The two discussed different options to expand the economic cooperation between the two entities. (Ynet)
- Shin Bet foils Hamas terror attack on Jerusalem mall - Five operatives from East Jerusalem planned to plant bomb during the upcoming Jewish High Holy Days. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
Secretary Kerry's trenchant, rallying speech laid out the case, but he and President Obama surely know that attacking Assad in ways constrained by their corresponding principles of action—"no boots on the ground," "limited in scope," or, as former ambassador Ivo Daalder put it on the PBS Newshour, "a punitive strike ... to send a message to the regime that this kind of behavior is unacceptable"—is something like trying to stabilize the picture on an old TV set by smacking it. What good it does bears no relationship to how good it feels.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement about the use of chemical weapons in Syria at the State Department on August 26. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Anticipating Kerry's speech, I checked in again last night with my friend Charles Glass in London, a reporter who knows Syria and Lebanon as intimately as any American. A graduate of American University of Beirut, he's covered the region for 40 years; he was once held hostage by Hezbollah, accompanied the invasion of Iraq, and reported from Aleppo last year. He was preparing to fly to Damascus as we spoke.
And I came away from our conversation believing what Kerry surely understands, that there are essentially two strategic choices for the U.S., the first diplomatic, the second, significant armed intervention. Neither presumes that a limited military action is a "message," unless, that is, the intended recipient is not Assad, but Lindsay Graham.
A story about Hebron made it to international news outlets again this week: a group of Israeli soldiers from the Givati Infrantry Brigade were filmed dancing at a Palestinian wedding. One soldier was carried around on the shoulders of various wedding attendees. Why were they there? Most likely, they were simply on patrol, heard familiar music, and "asked" to come in and dance. Because no Palestinian says "no" to a soldier in Hebron. It's pretty much impossible.
The Arab residents of Hebron call their city al-Khalil. Khalil in Arabic means friend, and Khalil al-Allah is the friend of God. In the case of Hebron, they mean a particular friend: Abraham, known in the Bible as "Abraham my friend." The Hebrew name Hebron, also used in English, comes from the root HBR, which also means friend. I have been walking the streets of this city for three and a half years, since I was discharged from the IDF, guiding tours for Breaking the Silence. It is a fascinating city, beautiful and filthy, which manages to epitomize all of the complexities of the occupation in one place.
Israeli soldiers point their guns at Palestinian stones throwers during a clashes on August 27,2013 in the city center of the West Bank town of Hebron. Hazem Bader / AFP/ Getty Images
Last Thursday, I was sitting on a barstool on stage at Azure in Ramallah telling jokes to a gaggle of my local comrades who had come to enjoy an evening of stand-up comedy. If that show had been scheduled for this week, it never would have happened. On Broadway we say, “The show must go on," but in Palestine when you have four dead—including one at the hands of your own leadership—there is nothing to laugh about and the show most certainly would have been cancelled.
At the crack of dawn on Monday, Israeli operatives entered Qalandia Refugee Camp to arrest an alleged enemy of the state. I don’t know what they were expecting, but they were met with what most Israeli incursions into the camps encounter: a barrage of stones, Molotov cocktails, and anything else that can be thrown, slung, or shot. When all was said and done, three Palestinian lay dead, including a U.N. worker who witnesses swear was caught in the crossfire on his way to work. Those who lost their lives were Yunis Jahjouh, 23; Jihad Aslan, 21; and Robin Zayed, 34.
Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian youth in the West Bank's Qalandiya refugee camp on August 26, 2013. Israeli security forces shot dead three Palestinians and wounded 19 others in a clash in the Qalandiya refugee camp, Palestinian hospital officials told AFP. (Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images)
Robin Zayed, a father of four, was the UNRWA worker who got gunned down. I have never met a Palestinian named Robin, and I am desperate to know the story behind his name, but he is gone now and there are more important questions to ask. Why did the Israelis choose to enter the camps on the same day as talks were scheduled? How many of us would walk through live gunfire to get to work? It seems like a perfectly good reason to call in sick or take a personal day to save your own life. How many are forced to live like this daily? You can't call in sick every day.
Tel Aviv is known locally as "the Bubble," and, sometimes, the “state of Tel Aviv.” I prefer “republic of Tel Aviv,” but aesthetics aside, it is a small city that resembles Greenwich Village on steroids, and entirely differentiated from the rest of the country in the same way that New York is not quite “Real America” (to borrow a phrase).
I moved here last summer from New York, the city that makes all others feel like glorified small towns. But Tel Aviv is one great town, so the comedown wasn’t at all unpleasant. The downtown area of Tel Aviv is remarkably large for a city of only 400,000 and even for a metropolitan area of about 3 million (which, admittedly, is about half the population of the country.) Tel Aviv is deeply impressive for its sophistication, culture, arts scene, hipster penetration levels, outrageous prices, gorgeous beaches and boulevards, and for the sheer availability of things.
Photo of the author's desk in Tel Aviv on August 30 2013 shows a box on the right containing a gas mask. Credit: Gabriel Sassoon
Much of the time, Tel Aviv feels about as distant from the Arab-Israeli conflict as Berkeley, where I have lived, and Sydney, where I am from. Usually the bombs do not fall here, and there is a surreality to it when they do. Last November’s rockets from Gaza, and the bus bombing around the corner from where I live, were shocking, to be sure, but almost immediately became lost in the activity of a city that epitomizes the Zionist ideal of Jewish normalization. It is easy to forget you are in Israel, let alone the Middle East.
Tel Aviv's residents are broadly supportive of the peace process with the Palestinians. People here tend to share the belief that two states for two peoples is the only viable vision for maintaining both the state’s Jewishness and its democracy. I am of this cultural and political milieu, even if I am not from it.
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.