Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, for all his faults, has just done something very refreshing: he’s kept his promise. Addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations in Jerusalem last month, Lapid pledged, “I am going to do everything in my power to make sure there will be civil marriages in Israel. The complete dominance of the Orthodox rabbis in Israel over divorces and marriages is an insult.” Today, Maariv reported that Lapid was sticking to his guns, demanding as part of coalition negotiations with Likud-Beytenu that the state give those who can't or won't wed under Jewish law the option of civil marriage.
That change would mark a huge shift in Israeli society, not to mention a landslide victory for Israel’s Jewish secular population, 83 percent of which supports civil marriage, according to a recent Smith Research Institute poll commissioned by Hiddush. Hiddush president Rabbi Uri Regev said that “these findings unequivocally demonstrate that the general public is eager to see civil marriage introduced in Israel, as well as recognition of marriage in the non-Orthodox denominations.” He added that “the elections created a historic opportunity to establish civil marriage in Israel as was repeatedly promised by Yesh Atid chair, Yair Lapid.”
Yair Lapid (L), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, during a reception marking the opening of the 19th Knesset on February 5, 2013 in Jerusalem. (Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images)
It’s worth noting that Lapid’s determination to make good on this promise will likely be eased along, not only by the fact that he has the backing of the majority of Israeli Jews, but by a recent, precedent-setting legal ruling catalyzed by Israel’s gay community. Back in December, when a family court dissolved the marriage of Uzi Even and Amit Kama, it granted Israel's first gay divorce and, effectively, its first civil divorce, too. Experts say that ruling could now act as a precedent for granting civil divorce beyond just the gay community, a shift that could—if Lapid throws his weight behind it—have broad implications for the cause of civil marriage as well.
But Lapid’s not just out to change the way marriage and divorce work in Israel; he wants to change the relationship between religion and state writ large. The other demands he’s voiced in coalition negotiations include easing the conversion process, which is currently defined and controlled exclusively by the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, and increasing public transportation on weekends, which currently does not operate between Friday afternoon and Saturday night in most parts of the country.
Dear Mr. Colbert,
As proud member of the Colbert Nation, I salute you, and I offer my kudos and a hearty huzzah for Tuesday night’s interview with the Ambassador of America’s BFF, Israel. Seeing you with Israel's Ambassador Michael Oren was not unlike seeing into the bed chamber of the most loving couple on God’s green earth—which was, I admit, a tad embarrassing, but Mr. Colbert, you know my love for you is pure.
A screen capture of Israeli Amb. Michael Oren on Stephen Colbert's 'Colbert Report.'
Setting aside that rather arresting image however, if I had to narrow my sheer delight down to one thing, it would be this: Oren, for all his status and (one imagines) fancy dinner parties, has clearly chosen to take on the teachings of America’s most humble pundit and thoroughly embody the Colbert Creed of Truthiness: truth that’s from the gut, not books! Truth that (if I may quote the American Dialect Society of January 2006) reflects "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true"!
Thus, for instance, Oren was able to look you (the very Prophet of Truthiness!) straight in the eye and say “Israel doesn’t get involved in internal politics in the United States”—even though you had already gone to the metaphorical tape and reminded him of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s open support for President Obama’s competitor in the last elections (what was that guy’s name again?). “But Netanyahu wanted the other guy, that’s clear,” you said, and when Oren demurred, you doubled down: “It’s absolutely clear to anybody who’s got eyes in their skull, he wanted the other guy.” (It might be suggested that in this case, the student became the master and Oren pwned you in the truthiness stakes. But it will not be suggested by me, for I am loyal.)
In his article, Robert Cherry begins with a misrepresentation. I have never used the apartheid analysis to refer only to policies inside the pre-1967 borders. “Israeli apartheid” typically refers either just to the West Bank (i.e. Jimmy Carter’s position), or, as in my case, to all of Palestine/Israel as one unit. To quote from Oren Yiftachel, it is about seeing “the colonized West Bank, the besieged Gaza Strip and Israel proper, each with its own official set of rules,” as “one regime system” which privileges Jews and divides Palestinians into different groups granted or denied certain rights
This picture dated 1948 shows a Palestinian woman refugee and her child separated from their home by the 'green line' after the 1948 war. (AFP / Getty Images)
In addition, Cherry leaves out the foundational ethnic cleansing of the Nakba, mass expulsions which enabled a ‘Jewish majority’ to be created in the first place and which stripped most of the Palestinian people of their land—and citizenship—within what became Israel. Cherry’s approach, of exclusively focusing on (selectively-chosen aspects of) life for the minority of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, is simply unequipped for challenging the substance of his apparent target.
Cherry concentrates on “government affirmative action policies” aimed at improving “the economic and educational situation of Israeli Arabs.” I wrote about this phenomenon in 2011, and how “seeing the national economic potential in ‘equalizing the income’ of Jews and Palestinian citizens is one thing—addressing the roots of systematic discrimination is another.” It is those roots that Cherry omits, and so here are some examples of Israel’s legal and political framework of racist privilege:
In her seminal 1969 treatise On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief typically experienced by individuals facing tragedy: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. Benjamin Netanyahu lately appears to have reached Stage 3 as he struggles to digest the electoral battering his Likud-Beiteinu bloc suffered January 22 and tries to assemble a new governing coalition from the wreckage. He went through denial and anger. Now he’s bargaining.
Netanyahu’s approval rating is more than twice that of his closest opponent. (Lior Mizrahi / Getty Images)
In his first stage he tried to recreate the comfortably stable constellation he led in his last term, with the ultra-Orthodox parties to his right, a compliant group of centrists to his left and himself astride middle, unchallenged. His problem was that with his bloc drastically reduced (Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu dropped from 42 seats between them to a combined 31 in their merged bloc) and the ultra-Orthodox stable at 18, he needed a much larger centrist group to give him the needed 61-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset. Unfortunately, the two centrist groups big enough to put him over, Shelly Yachimovich’s Labor and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, both refused to sign on. Yachimovich said she rejected Netanyahu’s socio-economic views. Lapid refused to sit with the ultra-Orthodox. Neither one would budge.
Two weeks into his three-week initial coalition-building deadline, Netanyahu swallowed his pride and sought to recruit a middle-sized faction to his right, Naftali Bennett’s settler-backed Jewish Home. This despite his longstanding personal feud with Bennett. But Lapid had closed off that option by signing a pact with Bennett to go in or stay out as a team. Netanyahu spent the rest of the week trying vainly to separate the duo while angrily railing against their “boycott” of the ultra-Orthodox. “Jews don’t boycott Jews” and all that.
"The information indicates that the military commander had sufficient grounds for assuming, for reasons that were partly security-related and based on the assessment of anticipated future danger, that the security of the area, and alternatively the public's security, required the appellant to remain in detention."
-- Part of the decision by Military Judge Moshe Tirosh in which he explained why he revoked the appeal of Abdul-Hakim Bawatneh to end his administrative detention. The exact same wording was found in the decisions for eight other Palestinians.
- Attacked on vacation: 'Arab, get out of the Kinneret' - Nazareth Illit resident attacked during weekend trip to Kinneret with wife, hospitalized for a fractured jaw-bone; police launches investigation. Haaretz writes that the four Israeli youth arrested are the same ones suspected of beating the Arab street cleaner in Tel-Aviv. (Ynet and Haaretz+)
- Palestinian students force British envoy out of West Bank university - In protest against U.K.'s support for Israel's policies, dozens of students at Birzeit University heckle British consul-general and attack his car, preventing him from speaking on campus. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- After a 20-year battle: Jerusalem Municipality expected to call street after Yeshiyahu Leibowitz - Following the recommendation of retired Judge Yaakov Turkel and the mayor, the committee is expected to finally approve naming a street after the rabbi (who opposed the occupation - OH). The location: Near Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University. (Maariv, p. 16)
- Buses torched in possible protest of new Palestinian-only bus lines - No suspects apprehended yet in Kafr Qasim arson incident. In response to Israeli decision to operate buses designed solely for Palestinian day laborers, Al-Arabiya asks: Do we really need another Rosa Parks? Meretz MK Gal-On calls service "apartheid." (Israel Hayom)
- Ultra-Orthodox could lose mass state funding without spot in Netanyahu coalition - As members of the government, Shas and United Torah Judaism helped direct generous amounts of state funding to the Haredi community. If they are forced to sit in the opposition, that money may be at stake. (Haaretz)
- Two African runners disappear from Jerusalem marathon, apparently seeking to stay in Israel - Both women, who were brought to Israel from Ethiopia for the race, are believed to be in hiding in south Tel Aviv. (Haaretz+)
For the full News from Israel.
When I was giving a talk a few years ago on Israeli-Palestinian relations to a local Jewish philanthropic group, I tried an experiment. “Who can articulate the collective Israeli narrative?” I asked. The participants easily pieced together a story of pioneering, redemption, and ongoing struggle. I then asked the group to do the same for the Palestinians. Hands went up. “We want to drive the Jews into the sea,” many of them said. I gently suggested that while that is indeed an important narrative, it’s probably much closer to the Israeli narrative about Palestinian dreams and desires than it is to the Palestinian collective consciousness itself.
Watched by Muslim women, Palestinian, Israeli and foreign peace activists celebrate in their village. (Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images)
When it comes to punditry and prediction about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the motives that each side attributes to the other are crucial. This past week, Haaretz featured an extended interview with renowned Israeli historian, Yehuda Bauer. Now almost eighty-seven, Bauer spoke about his life and loves, the Holocaust, and Israel’s future.
Bauer is aware that current momentum is pointing towards the one-state solution, an outcome he abhors. He suggests that there are those who wish “to dismantle Israel from its status as a Jewish state and to create a Palestinian entity from the sea to the river. This will incorporate Israel and the areas of the PA and Gaza, purportedly as a progressive basis for equality between the two peoples while ignoring the identity and the national impulses only of the Jewish side. They would attack and destroy the entity called the State of Israel. That entails killing as many Jews as possible. In a word: genocide.”
It’s a tendency, he admits, that is being fueled by Israel’s ongoing occupation.
Liberal Zionism seems capable of nothing but hopelessness. Few things portray that as clearly and as succinctly as Roger Cohen’s most recent column for the New York Times, “Zero Dark Zero.” To give credit where credit is due, Cohen does accurately identify some important and relevant points. He argues that “Israelis for the most part are comfortable enough to ignore their neighbors.” He’s right. Israelis, as many analysts have come to conclude in reading the results of the most recent elections, have deprioritized the Palestinian issue.
The New York Times logo is seen on the headquarters building on April 21, 2011 in New York City. (Ramin Talaie / Getty Images)
“Israel’s situation” Cohen writes, “feels sustainable.” And it is. Certainly not morally, but it is absolutely sustainable materially. Israel exploits Palestinian land and resources to profit both economically and politically from occupation. At the same time, the relative costs of occupation have decreased. Defense consumption in Israel as a percentage of GDP is at its lowest rate since the start of the occupation.
And what then is Cohen’s way out of this mess? What ideas does this columnist bring forward to change this material equation? None. What. So. Ever.
What do Benjamin Netanyahu, Bashar al-Assad, Ehud Barak and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have in common? They all thought, at some point in the last decade and a half, that a peace treaty between Syria and Israel was within reach and that it would greatly advance regional peace. The only “visionaries” who opposed the idea make for an odd couple: Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President George W. Bush.
Bashar al-Assad was presented as a reasonable autocrat. Israel would give him all of the Golan Heights and he would sign a peace agreement, thereby distancing himself from Iran and Hezbollah. Maybe he would even kick Hamas out of Damascus.
This citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Revolution Against Assad's Regime which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows dead bodies on a street in Aleppo, Syria Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. Syrian activists say at least 65 bodies, some of them with their hands tied behind their back, found on a river bank in the northern city of Aleppo. (via AP)
Israel’s relationship with Syria has always been complicated. Israelis never had the same ideological attachment to the Golan Heights as to the West Bank. Despite the popular Israeli bumper sticker proclaiming “The People with the Golan,” many of the Golan “settlers” are leftists or centrists. Their relocation, although painful, would be very manageable.
One of the standard defenses against criticisms of the so-called Israel lobby hinges on portraying its detractors as alleging that Washington's pro-Israel groups are "all-powerful." It's of course a caricature of most critics' position: no doubt some true conspiracy theorists buy into this (and should be ridiculed for it), but the criticisms of pro-Israel groups percolating in Washington don't. Dan Luban, a friend and former colleague, has persuasively described mainstream criticisms of the Israel lobby based only on the very reasonable contentions that the groups have "significant influence on U.S. foreign policy" and that this influence is often "pernicious." I use the term "Israel lobby" advisedly, because that's the term Max Boot used—with skeptical quotes—on Sunday in Commentary to attack the straw-man of a lobby that "insidiously controls American foreign policy." But Boot's post is hilariously off-base: its argument can't even be reconciled with the very information he presents. Let's start with his opening paragraph:
If there is any message to come out of Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, perhaps it is a refutation of the commonly heard charge, made most infamously by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer and echoed by Hagel himself, that the dread “Jewish lobby” insidiously controls American foreign policy. How strong can this lobby be if it failed to block the appointment as defense secretary of someone who was widely seen (rightly or wrongly) as inimical to Israeli interests?
A press photo of Max Boot provided by the Council on Foreign Relations and a banner on the stage of AIPAC's 2013 Washington conference. (Council on Foreign Relations - Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
Of course, neither Walt and Mearsheimer nor Hagel ever made the charge that the Israel lobby "controls American foreign policy"—and I challenge Boot to proffer an example stating otherwise—but that's not the funny part. In the next sentence, Boot writes, with my emphasis: "AIPAC—the most powerful pro-Israel group in Washington—actually sat out the whole fight ostensibly because it wants to affect policy, not personnel decisions." So let me get this straight: Hagel's confirmation proves that groups which didn't oppose Hagel are not all-powerful because they couldn't stop him? Wrap your feeble minds around that one, children; never you mind that even powerful lobbies sometimes lose. It's worth noting that the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League—two other centrist pro-Israel groups—raised concerns about Hagel, but didn't oppose his confirmation. And even though Josh Block, the head of the increasingly right-wing group The Israel Project, was one of the most visible opponents of Hagel in the press, the group's Jerusalem office dodged when asked if the organization's official position was to oppose the nomination. It's precisely the emergence of groups on the right and on the left that have made speaking of the pro-Israel lobby as a monolith more and more hollow: noting the distinctions between different pro-Israel groups would have rendered Boot's point on Hagel moot because no centrist or liberal group actually opposed confirmation.
Joe Biden speaks AIPAC extremely well. In his speech yesterday at the group’s annual policy conference, he invoked Judaism just enough to suggest cultural familiarity (“I’m a little jealous that he [Obama] gets to be the one to say ‘this year in Jerusalem’” when he visits Israel this spring) but not so much as to unsettle the relatively secular crowd. He knew what the Jews of AIPAC are proud of (Israel’s “astonishing world-leading technological achievements”) and what they’re anxious about (“it’s critical to remind … your children” that “the preservation of an independent Jewish state is … the only certain guarantor of freedom and security for the Jewish people”). He knew that AIPAC-ers want to wield political influence (“Many of you in this hall have been my teachers, my mentors and my educators”). But he also knew that, paradoxically, they want to believe that most American Christians are instinctive Zionists already (“My father was what you would have called a righteous Christian”).
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is seen on screens while addressing the American Israel Public Affiars Committee's annual policy conference at the Washington Convention Center March 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
The audience loved it. Many of the Jews who heard Biden speak carry in their mind memories of parents and grandparents who were too marginal, timid, and fatalistic to pressure America’s government to act to save their brethren in Europe in the 1940s. For their children to assemble near the Capitol, eating kosher food and being pandered to by the most powerful gentiles in the land, represents more than just American Jewish success. It represents American-Jewish redemption. If this were the Purim story, Biden would be King Achashverosh. The AIPAC audience would be Queen Esther: loved by the gentile king and bold enough to use that love to save her people in its hour of need.
I get the yearning to use American Jewish power to safeguard Jewish lives. I get and admire it. What’s awful is the refusal to acknowledge that Jewish power can be abused. And central to that refusal is the language AIPAC and its allies have created to talk about Palestinians, millions of whom live largely at the mercy of Jewish power, as noncitizens in a Jewish state. It’s a dishonest and dehumanizing language, and, unfortunately, Biden speaks it extremely well too.
John Kerry’s unscheduled meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Monday during his first official trip abroad was anything but a rogue moment for the new secretary of State.
While the original itinerary had been expected to include Jerusalem and Ramallah—until the White House rerouted its top diplomat elsewhere in the region—the impromptu working lunch signaled that Kerry’s much-touted “obsession” with Mideast peace is also shared by President Obama.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to become the next Secretary of State in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
“I don’t think Kerry is a maverick,” said Hussein Ibish, senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. He called the meeting “very significant” because it shows that “Kerry, with the encouragement of President Obama, is willing to spend some political capital and some energy on investigating the extent, very early on,” of opportunities for progress between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I’m sure it had (White House) blessing,” said Steven Simon, until recently senior director for Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council, of the meeting in Riyadh. “It makes diplomatic sense.”
When an organization such as AIPAC gathers in Washington, it's meant to serve two purposes: deepen members’ ties, and lobby for a particular position on the Hill. We’re allowed to call it lobbying (though, heaven forfend, we must not refer to AIPAC as the “Israel lobby”) because that’s what AIPAC calls it: when the conference winds up its Tuesday morning session, attendees will be bussed over to the Capitol, for lobbying appointments.
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)
In the first video, we’re told that the world is “increasingly dangerous,” and that “the partnership between between the U.S. and Israel must continue to grow and strengthen.” We’re called on to urge our members of Congress to declare Israel “a major strategic partner” of the U.S., giving Israel the opportunity to avail itself of “unique privileges and collaborations.” In the second, we’re told that Iran “poses a strategic threat to the United States, and an immediate threat to Israel.” We hear about the arms that Iran has provided Hamas and Hezbollah, and that “nothing is more dangerous than Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”
Like Caesar's Gaul, all progressive American Zionists and their organizations are divided into three parts.
The first part, probably the largest (I will call them Happy Zionists), continues to believe what they have believed for 10 or 20 years or more—that soon, certainly during their lifetime (even those who are pretty old) Israel and Palestine will make a deal and the inevitable two-state solution will become a reality. For this faction, hope is a strategy. In its ever-optimistic view, a lot of really bad news is viewed as something else entirely. These folks find new cause for hope every Monday and Thursday. In their liberal Zionist organizational board meetings; in reports they receive from their own analysts as well as from Israeli colleagues, they are told that things are dire but looking up.
Tiziana Fabi / AFP / Getty Images
Take the success of Yair Lapid. His party, Yesh Atid, did unexpectedly well in the recent Israeli elections. He has made it abundantly clear that he will never divide Jerusalem. Everyone knows this is a deal-breaker. Yet Lapid’s success makes Happy Zionists happy.
And President Obama, our beloved President Obama: Progressive Zionists were going to give him Jewish cover and he was going to Israel to make a deal—the very idea that launched J Street. There is no reason at all to believe that he will do so in his second term, but don’t try to tell that to Happy Zionists.
"First people should live in peace, and then there will be peace between governments."
--Rabbi Menachem Froman of Tekoa, a settler and a peaceseeker, died yesterday.
- Palestinian attacks in West Bank and Jerusalem surged last month - Shin Bet releases data showing sharp increase in Molotov cocktail attacks and other violent incidents in February. (Haaretz+)
- IDF courts in West Bank cancel just 2.6% of Palestinian administrative detention orders - Report summing up activities between 2009 and 2011 also shows Israel's High Court of Justice has never accepted a single Palestinian’s petition on such an order. (Haaretz+)
- Hamas offers Israel collaborators temporary amnesty - Week-long campaign offers reprieve from typically harsh punishment for working with Israel in exchange for apology and information. (Haaretz+ and Israel Hayom)
- Israel accuses Hamas of keeping Gaza crossing shut - The Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza has been closed since Thursday, despite Israel's decision to reopen on Sunday; Israeli officials say Hamas trying to wrest control of Palestinian side from the PA. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- 'Obama will visit Israel even if no coalition formed' - American official tells Israel Hayom that U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Israel later this month whether or not a new Israeli government has been established by that time. The official said this was because Obama's intended audience during his upcoming trip is the Israeli public, not the government. (Israel Hayom)
- Netanyahu: I'll discuss Pollard's release with Obama - Prime minister meets with spy's wife ahead of US president's visit, promises to try and promote his early release. (Ynet)
- Feiglin removed from Temple Mount again - Likud-Beitenu MK tries to enter Dome of Rock, stopped by member of Waqf, later removed from Temple Mount compound. (Ynet)
- Kerry and Abbas hold surprise meet in Riyadh to discuss Israeli-Palestinian talks - The unscheduled meeting was added to Kerry's agenda at the last-minute, as the two leaders' visit to Saudi Arabia coincided; the U.S. secretary of state is currently wrapping up a nine-nation tour, his debut official trip abroad. (Agencies, Haaretz+)
For the full News from Israel.
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference, stated that Prime Minister Netanyahu—leader of the Likud party—has always been willing to stick his neck out for a two-state solution:
Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken consistent risks for peace. In 2009, when he got up at Bar Ilan University and made the two-state solution the official position of the Likud party, that was a risk. When he froze settlement growth for 10 months, that was a risk. When he got up and said in front of U.S. Congress that he understood that there’d be settlements beyond Israel’s borders in the event of the creation of a Palestinian state, that was a risk.
Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren arrives to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington on March 3, 2013. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
In reality, though, none of these things have been terribly risky, because Netanyahu’s Likud party has shown through its follow-up that it’s never really taken the two-state solution seriously. In fact, as Lara Friedman detailed in a Peace Now report, “by every objective measure, the Netanyahu government has demonstrated that it is determined to use settlements to destroy the very possibility of the two-state solution.” That’s true of the Likud of the past—consider the fact that, during Netanyahu’s 10-month settlement “freeze,” construction never actually stopped, and was redoubled right after the freeze expired—and it’s even more true of Likud today. So much so, that the two-state solution can’t be considered the position of the Likud party in any meaningful way, despite what Oren would have AIPAC believe.
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.