Look, I’m going to say something shocking: I’m a J Street supporter.
I know, you didn’t see that coming. But I’ll also let you in on a secret: I don’t always agree with every single utterance that emerges from J Street’s offices, or from J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, or the Twitter accounts of its various employees. As, I presume, they do not always agree with me. People are funny that way.
And having gotten that out of the way: What is up with Jeffrey Goldberg?
As news of an interim U.S.-Iran deal broke on Saturday night, a J Street employee retweeted (from his personal account) a tweet from Zbigniew Brzezinski, which read: “Obama/Kerry = best policy team since Bush I/Jim Baker. Congress is finally becoming embarrassed by Netanyahu’s efforts to dictate US policy.”
A J Street Conference in September 2013 (J Street)
Now. One could argue about the relative qualities of the two policy teams in question. One could argue with the premise that Congress is “finally becoming embarrassed” by anything. One could even argue as to whether or not Israel’s Prime Minister has tried to “dictate” U.S. policy, but given the multitudinous times that Benjamin Netanyahu has done things like a) stood before Congress and said point-blank that his country would reject stated U.S. foreign policy on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; b) endorsed a Presidential candidate; c) sent a senior cabinet minister to lobby Congress against President Obama’s efforts with Iran; and d) said things like “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily”―I think we can all agree that he has certainly tried to shape American policy. I would go so far as to say that he probably wishes he could dictate policy (as I suspect many leaders wish they could do to other countries: “Trade sanctions? These are not the trade sanctions you’re looking for.”
On Friday, November 15, I put on my favorite Palestinian-themed T-shirt and shimmied over to the Ritz Theatre in Elizabeth, New Jersey to witness Mohammed Assaf perform live. I first stumbled upon Assaf, dubbed the Rocket of Gaza, six months ago while watching clips of bad auditions for the second season of MBC's Arab Idol. Out of the mess of hair gel and heinous voices, Assaf shined. I was mesmerized. He had that “it” factor. I never imagined that less than a year later this boy, who had to beg and bribe his way out of Gaza, would be sitting next to me in the greenroom backstage at the 2,800-seat show he was headlining in the USA.
Mohammed Assaf’s meteoric rise to stardom reads like a movie script. Against all odds, the wedding singer from Gaza captured the world’s attention with his incredible voice and his swoon-inducing smile. On June 23, 2013, Assaf was crowned Arab Idol live on MBC. His winning moment was watched by millions around the world on jumbo-trons in Ramallah, Nazareth, Gaza City and on bar TVs, satellite feeds, and laptop screens throughout the world from London to Santiago to Hollywood. A star was born.
Maysoon Zayid stands with Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf before his concert at the Ritz. (Maysoon Zayid)
It’s a good thing we’re all experts on the ins and outs of nuclear weaponization, uranium enrichment, plutonium rods and heavy water reactors—otherwise we might become dangerously confused by the radically contradictory assessments of the P5+1 Geneva deal with Iran. Here’s a quick guide to help you sort out the finer points.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (second left) shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry next to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (far left) and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (far right) after a statement on early November 24, 2013 in Geneva. (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images)
2. Enrichment: Can they or can’t they?
So, did the deal recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium? Yep, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Nope, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Is the Obama administration a bunch of anti-Semites? Yes, it seems. At least that's what a right-wing writer at the prominent Jewish web publication Tablet seems to think. Lee Smith, a neoconservative columnist for the site, wrote this week that efforts by the Obama administration to warn that new sanctions against Iran could lead to war amounted to anti-Semitic attacks. Why? Because Israel and some of its Jewish supporters in the U.S. opposed such a deal.
The U.S. says if there's no deal, then Iran's program will continue unabated, which could lead to war. Then the Israelis—who have not infrequently been wrong about Middle East WMD programs—said the contours of the reported interim deal proposals would give Iran $40 billion in sanctions relief, which Israel rejects as too high. Or was it $20 billion? The Israelis couldn't keep their stories straight. When the Obama administration pushed back on the Israeli estimates (they say it's around $6 billion), Sen. Mark Kirk lambasted them: he told supporters that Israel's ambassador to the U.S., a right-winger named Ron Dermer, had given him (Kirk) the goods! To Lee Smith, this meant "Sec. of State John Kerry effectively called the Israelis liars."
Bob Kunst protests against a nuclear Iran in front of the White House where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting on March 5, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
So what does Lee Smith conclude? That the Obama administration is "trafficking in stereotypes about Jewish deceptiveness and appetite for blood." That's a stunning accusation.
One year ago, Bashar al-Assad was a pariah in the international community. A political solution to the Syrian crisis that included his government seemed inconceivable, at least to the Western world. Nor could one imagine any international body or head of government sparing a positive word for him and his regime—except for the leaders of Russia and Iran.
Recently, however, Assad has been publicly praised by no less than John Kerry. The UN's Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), has had some kind words for him as well. And now it seems that the U.S. has joined Russia in pressuring the rebels to participate in future talks, in which the balance of power will likely be skewed in favor of the regime (although The Hague has recently ruled out a participatory role for Assad himself.)
A convoy of United Nations (UN) vehicles leave a hotel in Damascus on August 26, 2013 carrying UN inspectors travelling to the site of a suspected deadly chemical weapon attack the previous week in Ghouta, east of the capital. (STR / AFP / Getty Images)
In short, Assad's international standing has improved. And the sad truth is he has reached this point not despite his having used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, but precisely because he did use them.
Over the past several days, two men with impeccable security credentials have said polar opposite things about Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a special Knesset (Israeli parliament) session to swear in Avigdor Lieberman as Israel's foreign minister on November 11, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)
+972 Magazine reported on Monday that Israeli Defense Minister and former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon told a Tel Aviv audience that “When there is a peace process, the Israeli issue comes up in the Palestinian media at the level of de-legitimization and hatred…. Our victims are victims of the diplomatic process. And when we stand firm and do not look like we are about to give up, that’s when we receive quiet.”
As The Times of Israel reported this week, one Swedish woman is trying to bring attention to what she perceives to be rising anti-Semitism in Sweden by applying for refugee status—in her own country. Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is concerned about the longstanding ban on kosher slaughter (outlawed in Sweden since 1937), proposals being floated in parliament to outlaw ritual circumcision, and sporadic demonstrations by neo-Nazi movement members.
Rising anti-Semitism in Sweden has become an increasingly talked-about topic, with much of the spotlight focused on the city of Malmo. Malmo’s Jewish community members believe that the city’s Muslim residents are mostly to blame for the sharp uptick in anti-Semitic incidents over the last few years, partly enabled by what the Jewish community sees as a hostile mayor. Jews reacted strongly against Malmo Mayor Ilmar Reepalu’s comment to a Swedish newspaper that “When people say that we have a right to take your land because we have some form of thousand-year promise from God that this is our land, then it creates conflicts.”
Sweden's Minister for EU affairs, Birgitta Ohlsson (C), Willy Silberstein of the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism (R) and Joshua Kaufman (L) walk outside a synagogue with several hundred Jews and non-Jews during a 'kippa walk' through Malmo on August 18, 2012, to call attention to what they claim is an increasing wave of anti-Semitism in Malmo. (Drago Prvolovic / AFP / GettyImages)
I couldn’t independently verify in time for this piece whether Muslims are most behind the anti-Semitic attacks in Sweden. Nor is that kind of information necessarily publicly available. But here’s what we can say about the situation.
Quote of the day:
Mohammed and Michal to be wed at the Shahid wedding hall in Ramallah.
--Radical right-wing activities reach new level in Jerusalem as they try to discourage romantic relations between Jews and Arabs.
- Israeli Arab undergoes 'humiliating' security check at airport - East Jerusalem businessman Hani Almi's trip to Paris this month turns to theater of humiliations as security personnel force him to board without 'suspicious' shoes, wallet, attaching agent to him in terminal halls. (Ynet)
- Israeli court once again puts off ruling on discriminatory airport security checks - Petition by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, first filed in 2007, maintains that current checks are discriminatory and humiliate Arab citizens. (Haaretz+)
- Border Police destroyed your car? You pay - Suheir Hasima, whose car was damaged by the Border Police, was shocked to discover that when she went to the police to make a complaint for the purpose of receiving compensation, the case was closed due to lack of public interest. (Yedioth Jerusalem supplement, p. 54)
- Gaza food industry struggles from lack of electricity, fuel - The food industry is struggling in Gaza due to the ongoing Israeli economic blockade and intermittent access to electricity. (Maan)
- Over 100,000 Palestinians work in Israel - Over 100,000 Palestinians work in Israel with around 20,000 working exclusively in Israeli settlements. Of this number, 51,100 had an Israeli-issued permit, 34,600 worked without a permit, and 17,600 had an Israeli identity card or foreign passport. (Maan)
- Students from Arab countries registered for the course at the Technion - Hundreds of students from Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia registered for an online course in nano-technology given in Arabic by Prof. Hossam Haick begins in March in Israel. "It will help bring us closer," say Technion people involved in creating the course. (NRG Hebrew)
- Fictitious marriage radical right-wing style - In an attempt to increase awareness to break up romances between Jewish girls and Arab guys, the radical right-wing distributed a flyer announcing the fictitious marriage between 'Mohammed and Michal to be wed at the Shahid wedding hall in Ramallah' and under the names of the parents it was written 'we hope this is not you. They also published a photo of an Arab laborer who spoke with a girl studying in an ultra-Orthodox school, claiming they caught him with a kippah in his pocket and that he was trying to court Jewish girls. Recently they also began targeting business owners who hire Arab employees distributing flyers calling them derogatory names. Radical right-wing activities in Jerusalem have reached a new level. (Moshe Heller writes in Yedioth's Jerusalem supplement)
Nearly two years after an Israeli court halted state plans to sell the last uninhabited pre-1948 Arab village, the site continues to crumble.
Lifta, burrowed in the slopes at the Western entrance to Jerusalem, was temporarily saved as is: pastoral, dilapidated and frozen in time. The Jerusalem court ruled in February 2012 that the Israel Land Authority could not sell to luxury developers until they contracted the Israel Antiquities Authority's conservation wing to survey more widely.
The ILA and IAA did not answer questions about when a new survey will begin. But dozens of Israeli and Palestinian architects, engineers, urban planners, sociologists, anthropologists, ecologists, zoologists, and university students have already started independent professional surveys―as volunteers.
Yaaqub Odeh, A Palestinian man originally from the village of Lifta (background), which was abandoned during fighting in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, speaks to the press near Jerusalem on February 10, 2012. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP / Getty Images)
The Coalition to Save Lifta, founded three years ago, is comprised of concerned Israelis and Palestinians as well as Lifta descendants and natives who fled or were expelled during the 1947-8 war; many live in nearby east Jerusalem or Ramallah.
Quote of the day:
“The test is not what the writer meant but what the reader understands.”
--Justice Edna Arbel said in response to State Prosecutor, which does not want to indict far-right-wing rabbis on incitement for book, 'The King's Bible,' which they wrote about conditions in which killing a non-Jew is permitted.
- Editors of extremist Jewish website to be charged with incitement - Announcement of pending indictment against editors of 'Hakol Hayehudi' comes as state prosecutor delays decision to charge far-right rabbi in another case of alleged incitement to violence. (Haaretz+)
- 11-year-old Palestinian boy detained in Jerusalem for throwing rocks - Malik Daana, 11, was handcuffed by Israeli forces and taken to a police station from a barber shop in Ein al-Lawza neighborhood in Silwan, E. Jerusalem for allegedly throwing rocks, his father said. (Maan)
- Israelis ask: where have all the mall guards gone? Rumors of a reduction in the number of guards at important public and commercial institutions are making the public feel less protected. (Haaretz+)
- University students rally for Arab cleaning lady suspended from job - Fatma Shitawi, a Hebrew University worker, fought on behalf of other workers who complained of sexual harassment and lack of vacation days. The contracting company who employed her: a complaint was filed against her for theft. The students: They are falsely accusing her. (Maariv, p. 14/NRG Hebrew)
- Brandeis suspends partnership with Palestinian university over Nazi-style march - Boston university to re-evaluate relationship after march at Al-Quds' Jerusalem campus. (JTA, Haaretz)
- Ancient coin that Bennett flashed on CNN was illegally removed from Israel - The antiquities law bars the removal of any antiquity from the country without written permission. (Haaretz+)
The spelling and pronunciation that one uses to refer to one of the Mediterranean's oldest continuously inhabited sites are telling choices. Since the Crusaders, Western maps have labeled it Acre. Its Hebrew spelling is pronounced “ah-koh,” while the Arabic is best transliterated as “Akka.” The choice of the filmmakers behind "It's Better To Jump" to include the Arabic transliteration in their publicity materials is the closest they come to declaiming a determinate political stance.
The ongoing gentrification of Akka is the issue at the center of the film, which premiered this week as part of the Other Israel Film Festival in Manhattan. The city is the site of a number of other struggles as well: economic, political, cultural, historical―even culinary, as attested by a coda about the origins of hummus. That there is a culture war happening in Akka is never so evident as when Arab inhabitants of the city, speaking to the camera in English, use the Hebrew pronunciation of its name.
A still shot showing children preparing to jump off Akka's sea wall in the documentary 'It's Better To Jump' (Courtesy of Other Israel Film Festival)
The ostensible focus of "It's Better To Jump" is the sea wall that the eighteenth-century ruler Daher al-Omar erected as a deterrent to would-be invaders. For centuries, the viewer is told (and eventually shown, although he is made to wait), the Palestinian children of Akka have participated in a rite of passage that consists of taking a running leap off the wall and into the water thirty feet below. The running start is necessary to avoid the rocks that, a Palestinian subject tells the camera, once nearly broke his back.
Last Friday in the West Bank village of Qaddum, Israeli security forces detained four Palestinian children, aged four through nine. According to the children and other witnesses, the boys were standing by and watching as local young men burned tires at the village's weekly anti-occupation protest. SocialTV, an independent Israeli initiative that places its reports on YouTube, interviewed the children, below.
Israeli riot policemen arrest a Palestinian boy, identified by locals as Mohammed Taha, in the east Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Issawiya on May 15, 2012 (Ahmad Gharabali / AFP / GettyImages)
The arrest of children is not a new phenomenon in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In July the Israeli media obtained footage that shows soldiers arresting a 5 year-old boy in Hebron. The Israeli human rights organization B'tselem has also published video showing soldiers waking children up at 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning to take their photographs and note their names. According to B'tselem, this is far from an isolated incident.
Driving through the Jordan Valley, it’s easy to think no one lives in this sparsely populated northeastern region of the West Bank. The landscape is stark and monochrome, a burnt yellow scene. But when you stop along Route 90 at a Palestinian village or farm—or even an Israeli settlement—you realize something: People live in the Jordan Valley. But some live better than others.
In “The Fading Valley,” director Irit Gal brings Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley and their economic struggles into sharp relief. Against beautiful shots of desolate landscapes, with hills cut by lines of shadow and light, and a topical focus on water access, Gal uses intimate character portraits to show the challenges of life and labor under Israeli military occupation.
A still shot showing a Jordan Valley Palestinian farmer in the documentary 'The Fading Valley.' (Courtesy of Other Israel Film Festival)
Quote of the day:
"I heard one of them saying he's in favor of human rights but not civil rights [for Palestinians]. Meaning, they shouldn't be allowed to vote. It’s like in South Africa."
--Former cabinet minister Dan Meridor wonders what happens to the morals of his party, Likud.
- Israeli soldiers get six months in jail for beating blindfolded Palestinian - Military judges ruled the soldiers had harmed the man's body, his dignity and 'the IDF’s image as a moral army.' (Haaretz+ andYnet)
- Bedouins call on court to save their Negev village - 'The court could avoid making a clear ruling,' says attorney for Umm al-Hiran villagers. 'The bench is very mixed and anything could happen.' (Haaretz+)
- Palestinians cast first-ever vote in UN General Assembly - After status upgraded last year, Palestinian delegation participates in international decision-making. (Agencies, Ynet)
- Former Likud minister bashes own party for pushing apartheid legislation - In an interview with an American student, Dan Meridor laments Likud’s departure from its roots. (Haaretz+)
- Palestinian father of IDF soldier gets Israeli ID after nine-year wait - Hussein married and later divorced an Israeli woman, but his son's IDF service made him eligible for permanent residency. (Haaretz+)
- Israel Air Force strikes Gaza in response to rocket fire - Israeli military attacked empty building, Hamas says; no casualties reported. (Haaretz)
- As US clout wanes, Russia inks arms deal with Cairo - Russian Technologies chief Sergei Chemezov says Egypt also expressed interest in combat jets and helicopters. The deal comes as U.S.-Egyptian relations continue to waver over Washington's criticism of the July 3 military coup. (Agencies, Israel Hayom)
- In rare public display, Iranian Jews rally in support of nation's nuclear program - Iranian Jewish community, the largest in the region outside Israel and Turkey, tends to keep a low profile. (Agencies, Haaretz+PHOTOS)
Israel’s Bedouin population is in the hearts and minds of American Jewish clergy this week, as 780 rabbis, cantors, and rabbinical and cantorial students have signed a letter demanding that the government of Israel withdraw the Prawer-Begin plan. Under the proposed legislation, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Bedouin would be displaced from their homes in the Negev.
“It is precisely because of our deep commitment to the State of Israel and the prophetic values of liberty and justice on which it was founded, that we, as rabbis, are so distressed by the potential for the use of force to resettle Bedouin and destroy their villages,” said Rabbi S. Ayelet Cohen, vice chair of T’ruah, in a press release.
Bedouin protesters gather during a demonstration against the Israeli government's plans to relocate Bedouins in the Negev desert, in the southern town of Rahat, in the Israeli Negev desert on August 1, 2013. (David Buimovitch / AFP / Getty Images)
Other North American Jewish groups have issued similar calls, including the Reform and Reconstructionist movements. In recent days, Ameinu, on whose board I sit, has also jumped into the fray: “as Zionists who never forget the eternal bond between our people and the land of Israel, we are extremely sensitive to Bedouin Israelis’ ties to their traditional villages,” its call to action states.
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.