Open Zion has been a fairly unprecedented publication. Hosted by a mainstream outlet and supportive of the kind of (yes) open discourse that one almost never finds surrounding Israel/Palestine (or broader Middle East issues), OZ’s writers and editors have not always agreed with each other. Indeed, we were often encouraged to express our rather frank disagreement right here on the blog’s front page.
We have always, and undeniably, been a largely Jewish, pro-Israel outlet that is broadly supportive of a two-state peace (whatever the Jewish right may have told you), but for a year Open Zion’s senior editor was an Iranian-American, and we’ve regularly run work by Palestinians who oppose a two-state solution (and one or two who support it)—things that should be entirely unremarkable, but sadly still are not. Moreover, OZ has always been willing to question whatever cultural, political, or religious assumptions currently en vogue regarding Jews who are pro-Israel—another thing that shouldn’t be worthy of note but is. We made some people pretty mad, but we think we gave more people a kind of online home.
If you were one of the many folks who found writers and ideas that intrigued or challenged you at Open Zion, we hope that you will continue to engage with the topics we’ve raised, and might even seek us out as we move on. Following you’ll find a directory of most of Open Zion’s frequent contributors, with Twitter handles. Some are updated constantly, others only now and then, but all of us would like to keep this conversation going. Thanks for a great couple of years.
Three comments on the recent landmark decision by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions, and to express solidarity with the global BDS movement:
First, most readers, even sophisticated readers, have never heard of the global BDS movement. But this will no doubt change if there are more New York Times front-page articles about the movement’s successes.
Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images
Second, even fewer readers have read the anti-boycott reactions appearing in the media in the last few days, written by the usual suspects, i.e., the Zionist baby-boomers whose views of Israel crystallized in the late ‘60s, and who have been repeating their “I-am-against-the-occupation-but-we-cannot-delegitimize-Israel” mantra ever since. Perhaps we should now call them the Ari Shavit generation (for an excellent review of Shavit’s book by a member of a younger Israeli generation, see here).
"There is no doubt that the right-wing's incitement against Arab MKs has an effect."
--Arab MK Ahmed Tibi after a Jewish man threw hot water on his face.
- (Arab) MK Tibi: "This is the result of the incitement," (Jewish) man threw hot water on MK's face - Arab-Israeli legislator approached by man who poured scorching liquid on him at anti-Prawer protest. Tibi had previously symbolically spilled water on Prawer Bill in Knesset. (Maariv, p. 6 and Yedioth, p. 8/Ynet and Israel Hayom+VIDEO)
- Spoken Arabic studies counter anti-Arab prejudice among Israeli students - Program 'succeeded to a great extent in preventing the negative influence of anti-Arab opinion,' according to a Henrietta Szold Institute report. (Haaretz+)
- EU support for labeling settlement products continuing to grow, envoy says - Outgoing EU Mideast envoy says European states in favor of labeling has grown to 14. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- Minister Livnat: Enlightened Left silencing others - Culture minister (Likud) strongly criticizes attempt to call off performance at Ariel (settlement) cultural hall. 'While the world boycotts us but doesn't see it fit to resist Iran or Syria, Israeli actors and artists are campaigning to boycott law-abiding Israeli citizens,' she charges. (Ynet)
- Netanyahu's associates: Livni is responsible for the coalition crisis - People in the Prime Minister's circle claim that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is advancing problematic laws and accelerating collisions. MKs from Yesh Atid: We have no idea what are our party's positions. (Maariv p. 6/NRG Hebrew)
- Israel officially enters lucrative EU R&D program - Israel has been accepted to the EU's Horizon 2020 program a month after striking a compromise with the EU over settlement directives. (Israel Hayom)
- Protesters demand release of activists detained in Bedouin demonstrations - Six adults, four minors arrested at protest in Hura village three weeks ago over government plan to to resettle 30,000 Bedouin residents. (Haaretz+)
- Hamas PM calls for unified Palestinian government with Palestinian Authority - Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip, invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday to a meeting to discuss the formation of a unity government. (Maan)
Will the two-state solution survive to 2013 and outlast this blog? The year which is about to end was ostensibly a good one, particularly in light of the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians thanks to John Kerry’s efforts. In fact, the two-state solution as we knew it (the one based on the birth of a territorially contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, living peacefully alongside Israel) is increasingly less likely to be implemented any time soon.
It is not just about facts on the ground, which have brought many bad items of news and few good ones in 2013. It is also about the two political and public debates in Israel and Palestine. These may come dramatically into play in the next prisoner release, due to take place in late December―more on this in a minute.
Qalqilya, Palestine. The Wall mural. (Jason Stahl / Flickr)
At the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), we have conducted a Two State Stress Test (TSST), taking the fever of the two-state outcome based on seven different categories: territorial issues; Jerusalem; international diplomacy; security; refugees; Palestinian debate; Israeli debate. Four of them (territories, Jerusalem, security and refugees) are the widely recognized pillars of any negotiation since the mid-1990s. We also factored in the role of international actors such as the U.S., the E.U. and the Arab-Islamic world because, 20 years after Oslo, it would have been a bit Pollyannaish to neglect the role that external players can play in bridging the inherent asymmetry between occupier and occupied. We also took into account the trends within the two political systems and public opinions: positions within the leadership along with opinion polls on the two-state solution and on its single components such as the refugee issue.
Dear Open Zion readers,
Since this blog came into being, my daily review of the Israeli press has been a staple of your Open Zion browsing.
As you may know, I produce the review daily for Americans for Peace Now (APN), the sister organization of Shalom Achshav, Israel’s peace movement. APN runs it on its website under the catchy name News Nosh, and emails it to a large list of subscribers who receive it in their inbox every morning, early enough to have it with their first cup of coffee.
Open Zion will soon close, but News Nosh is not going away. In fact, News Nosh plans to grow. Stay tuned.
If you’d like to continue reading my daily review, please consider signing up for News Nosh. When you subscribe, you subscribe to News Nosh only. APN will not send you any other content—no spam, no solicitation. That’s a promise!
To subscribe, please go to APN’s web page and fill in your name and email address.
If you have any questions or comments, you can contact me through APN at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With best wishes for a happy and peaceful 2014,
While African asylum seekers marched toward Jerusalem, calling for their rights in Israel and freedom from detention without trials, armed fighting raged between rival factions of soldiers in South Sudan on Monday. U.N. diplomats said a few hundred people were killed in the violence.
It’s almost fitting that some of the violence from which Sudanese refugees fled in recent years has ticked up in the last few days, as hundreds of Sudanese, Eritreans and other African refugees participated in hunger strikes and a march from an “open prison” in the Negev to the Knesset in Jerusalem in order to protest Israel’s detention policies.
African asylum seekers protest in front of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in Jerusalem, on December 17, 2013. (Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images)
The violence that some Africans in Israel ran from is very real, and ongoing, but in their new home, they faces new challenges. After reaching Jerusalem this week, the African protestors were re-arrested by Israeli police and immigration officers and bused back to the Holot detention facility.
"The chilling thought that passes through my mind is what would happen if tefillin were burned at Teddy Stadium (in Jerusalem), or if they cut a Jew's sidelocks in Germany."
--Maariv sports commentator Eyal Levi on the tearing up of a Quran by fans of Beitar Jerusalem soccer team at a game against an Arab team. (Maariv Sport/NRG Hebrew)
- Israeli forces kill one Palestinian, wound several others in Jenin clashes - Clashes erupt during Israeli operation to arrest wanted suspect in the West Bank city. Around 25 military vehicles arrived in the camp and fired live ammunition at Palestinians, injuring three people critically. Two people were shot in the stomach and one in the head. (Haaretz and Maan)
- Beitar Jerusalem soccer fans vandalized the Quran of the driver of the Sakhnin soccer team - We thought the charged encounter between the teams ended without incident, but group of fans from the capital made certain to violate the relative peace by damaging a symbol holy to Muslims - tearing up a Quran. Bnei Sakhnin team: "Cursed is the hand that hurt the holy books." (Maariv Sport/NRG Hebrew)
- Political sources say: US and Germany threatened and the IDF military colleges won't move over the Green Line - Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was forced to stop the construction of military colleges on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem because the US and Germany threatened cancellation of cooperation if colleges move. "Our position regarding buildings that are over the Green Line are known," said high ranking German official. (Maariv, p. 4/NRG Hebrew)
- Jerusalem patriarch: Settlement construction 'hampers' peace - Top Roman Catholic cleric in Holy Land, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, delivers Christmas message, says Mideast peace efforts are being 'hampered' by Israeli settlement construction. (Agencies, Ynet)
- Israel government retaliating against violent Bedouin protests with harsh detention - Three weeks after demonstrations against resettlement turned violent, minors are still held under arrest in what some call an "unjustifiable act of revenge." (Haaretz+)
- Prominent Gaza psychiatrist, rights advocate, Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, dies at 70 - Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj -- the founder of a Gaza-based mental health organization -- died at the age of 70 of cancer in an Israeli hospital. A critic of Palestinian as well as Israeli governmental policies, El-Sarraj was imprisoned four times by the Palestinian Authority, according to Al Jazeera. Both Hamas and Fatah paid tribute to him. (Maan)
- Pope's plans for Bethlehem Mass disappoint Israel - Catholic pontiff's truncated trip dashes hope of believers expecting papal-led Mass in Jerusalem. Israeli officials ask Vatican to reconsider holding service only in Bethlehem. (Yedioth, p. 6/Ynet)
I tweet too much. When tweeps follow me, I immediately warn them that I am super annoying and won’t take it personally if they unfollow me for flooding their feed. My addiction to expressing myself in 140 characters finally paid off when a random tweet I posted about wanting to be POTUS' s tour guide in the Holy Land landed me a writing gig at The Daily Beast. On March 20, 2013, my first piece was posted. Nine months later, to the day, the section I was chosen to write for, Open Zion, is closing. This is my final column for OZ and I’d like to dedicate it to the topic I have been avoiding since day one: why I support one secular state and why doing so does not make me anti-Semitic, delusional, or genocidal.
I was born and raised in the great state of New Jersey. As children, we were taught that everybody was equal, regardless of faith, race, ethnicity, and ability. Sexual orientation had not come out of the closet yet, but in my neck of the woods we all got along. I am not naïve and I do realize that racism is alive and well in the United States of America. I am also fully aware that when segregation ended, we didn’t all live happily ever after. No one can convince me, however, that life in America would be better if blacks and whites had stayed separate and unequal. I did not live through the civil rights struggle, but the situation in Palestine mirrors everything I have learned about it secondhand. Millions of Palestinians and Israelis already co-exist and the theory that they need to be separated or else the Palestinians will push the Israelis into the sea is nothing but fearmongering. Palestinians build the illegal settlements. They work in Israeli supermarkets and gas stations.
Palestinian protesters take cover away from tear gas behind Israel's controversial separation barrier during clashes with Israeli security guards following a demonstration against Israeli settlements and its separation wall, in the West Bank village of Nilin on May 31, 2013. (Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images)
In my articles for Open Zion I have written about Stephen Hawking joining the BDS movement and becoming the academic boycott’s poster child. The BDS movement has made great strides—especially with its latest victory, the American Studies Association's decision to endorse the academic boycott of Israel. However, Palestinian villagers are still shopping at settler-owned Rami Levy stores. Rami Levy is the Walmart of the West Bank and while BDS advocates abroad shun Sabra brand hummus, Palestinians shopping at Rami Levy just can’t say “no” to a great bargain. Instead of pushing Netanyahu and the Knesset to implement a settlement freeze, we should instead implore the refugees building the settlements for slave wages to go on strike. This would freeze the settlements by bringing construction to a grinding halt.
I first started advocating for a two-state solution when I lived in Israel, during the first intifada. At the time I was often called an “Arab f-cker.” When the Oslo Accords were signed, I danced in Tel Aviv’s streets.
A few years later, though, when my Jerusalemite husband and I moved temporarily to the U.S., Oslo was already in tatters. In Israel I was still being called an Arab f-cker, but once I’d landed on America’s shores, I found that people like me were more likely to be called “Nazis.”
US President Bill Clinton standing between PLO leader Yasser Arafat as he shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin. (J. David Ake / AFP / Getty Images)
The second intifada broke out. The Jerusalemite and I came to understand that the Israel in which we’d hoped to raise a family—an Israel marked by reconciliation and responsibility—was further away than ever. We decided that we wouldn’t bring our Jewish children to the Jewish State, “for the time being.” I began to write about the politics behind that decision for papers like Chicago Tribune and The Dallas Morning News, and it turned out that in addition to everything else, I was also a bad Jew and—all unto myself—a fifth column.
"The moment you release your pain and you're not constantly absorbed in it, you can also understand the pains of others, and that's what I do."
--Arab Israeli actor Elias Mattar on his role portraying a Holocaust survivor. (Ynet)
- Lapid and Bennett agreed: Money for Judea and Samaria in exchange for budget money for Birthright - The solution was made possible after the finance minister pledged to transfer 88 million shekels for settlements, which led to the agreement by Habayit Hayehudi to release funds for the programs that bring students from overseas to visit Israel. (Maariv, p. /NRG Hebrew)
- Israeli forces hold military drill in between Palestinian homes - 5,000 heavily armed Israeli soldiers arrived in the village of Arab al-Rashayida near Bethlehem at dawn Tuesday and held a military drill for several hours in between residential homes. This also caused damage to the village's water grid. (Maan)
- Israel confiscates private Palestinian land near Nablus - Israeli authorities confiscated ten dunams and restricted access to 500 dunams of private agricultural Palestinian land in the village of Qusra south of Nablus on Tuesday. The land is located between the village and an illegal Israeli settlement outpost called Esh Kodesh. (Maan)
- "There has been a hostile takeover of lands around Jerusalem" - This is what the Knesset Subcommittee on issues of Judea and Samaria (W. Bank) determined in a hearing on the subject of Palestinian construction in E1. The subcommittee also demanded to regulate (Palestinian) Bedouin settlement living there. (NRG Hebrew)
- (Jewish) Pro-Bedouin protester released to house arrest after more than two weeks jail - No evidence that Eldad Zion was violent during demonstration, says judge, though he may have assaulted police later. (Haaretz+)
- Missing Gaza man detained by Israeli forces - Omar Ismail Wadi, 22, from Gaza, who was reported missing by his family over a month ago is being held in an Israeli jail. He was detained by Israeli forces after crossing the security fence between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip. (Maan)
- 'Pro-Israel' discussion in New York ends in walkout, insults and recriminations - A night to remember at the 92nd Street Y, as Commentary editor John Podhoretz storms off the stage, leaving puzzled panelists and a stunned audience. (Haaretz+)
Cheerleaders advocating a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel have reacted with understandable dismay to the bombshell remarks dropped by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a press conference in South Africa during the memorial events for Nelson Mandela last week.
“No, we do not support the boycott of Israel,” Abbas told reporters. “But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal…But we don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel. We have mutual recognition of Israel.”
Israeli left-wing activists sign a petition against the suggested "boycott law", in front of the Justice Court in Tel Aviv on July 12, 2011, after the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) passed a law penalizing persons or organizations that boycott Israel or the settlements.
It wasn’t quite a denunciation of the BDS campaign, but the remarks threatened to transform the boycott from its self-image as the principled projection of native Palestinian policy to the bastard foreign child of freelance troublemakers.
It’s been a turbulent six weeks for Benjamin Netanyahu. First came the nuclear deal between the P5+1 (the five permanent member states of the U.N. Security Council and Germany) and Iran—a “historic mistake,” Netanyahu declared. But last week Iran pulled out of a new round of nuclear talks after Washington expanded its sanctions blacklist to target a dozen more Iranian companies. The Iranians claim the move is against the spirit of the deal and Iran’s chief negotiator Abbas Araqchi said his country was now considering an “appropriate response.” The Israelis are pleased.
Israel argues that the Iranians have come to the table because sanctions are hurting so now is the time to increase the pressure on them—not to ease up. The imposition of more sanctions is therefore a good thing.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line on a graphic of a bomb while discussing Iran during an address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2012 in New York City. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)
But this is shortsighted. That Iran is negotiating because of the sanctions is true, and the argument that more pressure should be applied has merit; but in the end it would be unlikely to succeed. The recent deal shows Iran compromises when it is weak, but history shows this has its limits. The Iranians are masters of suffering obstinately. During the Iran-Iraq War, Iran experienced almost total isolation (and all the problems this brought) due to the international disgrace that rightly followed the 1979 hostage crisis. But far from convincing Iran to come to terms with Saddam Hussein, Iran continued fighting far beyond what was needed to repel the Iraqis, and indeed what was logical. When the Islamic Republic finally agreed to peace, its leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, likened it to drinking a cup of poison.
Over my 14 months as a blogger at Open Zion, the forum whose purpose has been to “foster an open and unafraid conversation about Israel, Palestine, and the Jewish future” while promoting a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conundrum, I have learned a few things. With this, my 50th contribution for the site that is, sadly, closing in a few days, here are some reflections.
First, no one loves a liberal Zionist. This became increasingly clear to me as I, a liberal Jew who was accustomed to debating Jewish hawks on the subject of Israel, became frequently pummeled by the far left. The creepiest example is when an anti-Zionist website sought to compare my ethics-based call for a two-state solution to the worst of Jim Crow proponents in the American segregationist era. Of course, many voices on the other side of the spectrum still sought to argue that I was “demonizing” Israel or engaging in “propaganda” or simply in too much “tough love.” Still others were bothered by my position as a Canadian calling out Israeli excesses when my political privilege was won by my country’s founders “on the backs of others.”
Israel's security fence snakes along the Green Line border with the West Bank, as it turns north-east from the Israeli red-roofed community of Bat Hefer on January 30, 2004. (David Silverman / Getty Images)
Second, if familiarity breeds contempt, anonymous familiarity seems to fuel it even more. Visitors to the blog will be familiar with the quickly rising heat in many of the comment threads where sniping commenters frequently take cover behind their internet code names. But perhaps the most intriguing comment I received was one with a code name that suggested more intimacy than I was accustomed to. It was a handle consisting of the first part of a Canadian postal code, one that situated the writer precisely in the neighborhood near my synagogue.
It’s OK for the American Studies Association to judge the country with a double standard. Denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state is another story.
On Monday, the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli universities. I think such a boycott is dead wrong. Unfortunately, the most common criticisms of it miss the point.
Since the decision was announced, the primary line of attack has been that boycotting Israel constitutes a double standard. In Tablet, Liel Liebowitz even created a handy little chart of countries that violate academic freedom more than Israel, and yet aren’t being boycotted by the ASA. Jeffrey Goldberg and Larry Summers claimed that applying a double standard to the Jewish state represents anti-Semitism, whether the ASA’s members recognize it or not.
I find this deeply unconvincing. Of course Israel isn’t among the world’s worst human rights abusers. Of course boycotting it—and not China or Iran—constitutes a double standard. But so does most political protest. In the 1970s, American Jewish groups picketed the Bolshoi Ballet to demand freedom for Soviet Jews.
Were there actions illegitimate because they weren’t also protesting Idi Amin and Pol Pot, who were at the time committing far worse crimes? In 2010, dozens of cities, performers and professional groups boycotted Arizona because of its draconian immigration law. Were their actions immoral because they didn’t first boycott Zimbabwe? In the mid-1990s, the United States waged humanitarian war in Bosnia and did nothing in Rwanda, where the slaughter was worse. At the time, United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali suggested that this constituted a double standard, perhaps even a racial one, and he was right. But I’m still glad America stopped genocide somewhere.
"What does the snow harmony in the West Bank indicate about the chances of peace? Nothing. When the snow melts, the party will be over."
--Senior Yedioth political commentator reviews the cooperation between Israeli settlers and soldiers and Palestinians in the West Bank during the snow storm of the century. (Nahum Barnea, Yedioth/Ynet)
- U.S. academic group votes to boycott Israel - The American Studies Association, which has 5,000 members, cites 'Israel's violation of international law and UN resolutions' among reasons for boycott of Israeli academic institutions. (Haaretz)
- Bennett says anti-leftist-NGO bill doesn't go far enough - 'This masochism has to stop,' says Habayit Hayehudi leader. (Haaretz+)
- Israeli army shoots two Lebanese soldiers on border - 'Missing' Lebanese soldier surfaces after Israeli killed on border. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- Netanyahu delays transfer of military colleges to Mount Scopus - The new campus [which is over the Green Line in E. Jerusalem - OH] has received all necessary approvals, including final approval of the Regional Committee back in 2012, but transfer was suspended by the Prime Minister. Due to the delay, which may result in cancellation of the program, the IDF is examining alternative sites. (Maariv, p. 1/NRG Hebrew)
- Netanyahu's point man on Bedouin relocation says plan still on track - Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog contradicts former minister Benny Begin's announcement that plan has been shelved, says he will continue preparing for implementation. (Haaretz+)
- "Venice" in the Middle East: This is how the storm struck in Gaza - Thousands of families abandoned their homes, fishing boats in the streets: the storm flooded the Gaza Strip. Thanks to Qatar's contribution electricity has resumed. (Maariv, p. 12/NRG Hebrew+PHOTOS)
- Israeli government deal ties Birthright funding to subsidies for ultra-Orthodox yeshivas - Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi parties agree to free up $51.3 million for Birthright and Masa in exchange for restoring yeshivas' funds for foreign students, if they adopt Zionist programming. (Haaretz+)
It’s OK for the American Studies Association to judge the country with a double standard. Denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state is another story.