As the news broke of Nelson Mandela’s death and reactions were coming in from around the world I did something I always do in these instances, I turned to cable news. No, I am not a masochist, nor did I turn there to learn about Mandela (for real news I turn to the Internet and Twitter), but rather I wanted to see how the narratives around his life, death and legacy would be created or revised.
Next to me sat my 6-month old child, giggling and drooling as he played with a teething toy, completely oblivious to the gravity of the moment. It dawned on me as we sat side-by-side in front of the TV set, that Mandela would be a part our lives in different ways. For me, I will have lived a portion of my adult life along with Mandela, aware of his accomplishments and able to hear him speak in real time. For my son, by the time he is old enough to learn about political affairs, he will learn about Mandela from a history book—most likely an American one.
The narrative about Mandela that he will likely learn from future American history books was being produced before my eyes by pundits on TV. Mandela was being glorified for his role in reconciliation, for his non-violence and shown in pictures with President Bill Clinton, Queen Elizabeth and other Western leaders.
Excerpt from my article published today on the New Yorker website:
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks at the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Washington, DC, June 5, 2013. (Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images)
“When the Administration finally puts on the table internationally accepted principles for a settlement—principles I offered and America and Europe implicitly endorse—Netanyahu will face an impossible dilemma,” Olmert said. “If he resists, he turns Israel into the new South Africa. But let’s say that, in spite of his ideological reservations, he tries to stay in power and go along with Kerry. What becomes of his coalition? Bennett”—Naftali Bennett, the current Industry and Trade Minister and a leader of the West Bank settlers and scripture hawks—“leaves. Of the twenty Likud members Bibi supposedly leads to some new coalition, he will bring two. He would rather not face that day. It is easier, in a way, to provoke congressional opposition to the President on Iran. This is a total lack of gratitude and a serious misunderstanding of the political culture of America.”
Remember when Yair Lapid was an unstoppable political juggernaut, and Naftali Bennett was his BFF? Remember when their respective parties, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi, did surprisingly well at the polls, and quick as a wink they formed their own little mini-coalition? Remember? About three weeks after Israel’s January elections, Lapid and Bennett told everyone concerned that “the two parties will either enter the government together or retire to the opposition.” The fact that voters on all sides felt betrayed by the alliance mattered little; Lapid and Bennett forged ahead.
Well, there’s trouble in paradise.
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)
So, okay, the trouble’s been there for a while. Lapid’s tenure as Finance Minister hasn’t exactly been a rousing success, and by October, he and his party had lost the affections of about half their constituency. There’s a powerful internal dissonance between Yesh Atid’s stated support for a two-state solution (however ill-informed and poorly implemented that support may be) and Habayit Hayehudi’s unrelenting effort to expand West Bank settlement and unbending attitude toward the West Bank itself: “The land is ours,” Bennett told an audience at Bar Ilan University, before he’d even formed his brotherhood of convenience with Lapid. Or, as he said a few months later to a gathering of settlers:
This is our home. We are the tenants here, not occupiers. The story of establishing a Palestinian state within our country, that story is over…. The central problem is the failure of the Israeli leadership to simply state that the land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel.
Quote of the day:
"Israel has nuclear weapons and it an obligation to hold a public and courageous debate about them. Enough with the ambiguity."
--Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg declares what every other Israeli can't or won't.
- At the first conference in Israel calling for dismantling nuclear weapons in the Middle East, former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg declared unambiguously that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, making headlines in Maariv/NRG. "Israel has nuclear weapons and it an obligation to hold a public and courageous debate about them. Enough with the ambiguity," said Burg yesterday at the conference also attended by the Mayor of Hiroshima.
- Israeli military closes probe into death of Palestinian protester Mustafa Tamimi - This is the second time in recent months that an investigation into a death of a Palestinian protester ends in no charges. (Haaretz+ and Maan)
- PM, President honor Mossad's 'best' agents - Intelligence agency holds ceremony in honor of most outstanding agents. Peres, Netanyahu commend agents for their work. (Yedioth, p. 1/Ynet and Israel Hayom)
- Hundreds demonstrate in Be'er Sheva against Bedouin relocation - Arab MKs call on John Kerry to get involved. (Haaretz+ and Maan)
Sudanese, Lebanese students enroll in Open University - Massive free open online courses attract scholars from all across the world, even from countries that do not recognize Israel. 'Our belief is that it's the right thing to do,' says school's manager, 'In my eyes, it's a revolution.' (Ynet)
- Amidror: US view of the Middle East is changing - Yaakov Amidror, former head of Israel's National Security Council, says, "Dependence of the U.S. on the Middle East is waning." Amidror says Israel must decide whether to export natural gas to several countries in the region or to China. (Israel Hayom)
- French Hill neighborhood: Apartment for Jews only - Owner of apartment in Jerusalem neighborhood (over Green Line) offers it for rent on website for 3,300 shekels a month with one condition: Rental is "For Jews only." Ad sparks storm on internet. A Facebook user named Maqbula Naser posted it on FB with the words "Shamelessly." She says the ad was removed by the website at her request. This is not the first time apartment owners in neighborhood adjacent to Issawiyah declare they will do business only with Jews. Three months ago, a Jewish family in the neighborhood asked (far right-wing activist) Arieh King for help finding a Jewish buyer. (Yedioth Jerusalem, p. 8)
The day before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Oct. 1 address to the U.N. General Assembly, the Israeli leader travelled to Washington for a meeting with Pres. Barack Obama. Like the speech, the subject of the meeting was Iran and, according to recent reports, Obama told Netanyahu about back-channel contacts between his government and the Iranians. The next afternoon, Netanyahu excoriated the newly inaugurated Iranian moderate Hassan Rouhani in his speech: "Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the eyes"—Netanyahu stumbled over the words—"the wool over the eyes of the international community."
One can't help but assume Netanyahu thought Obama among those international dupes. Indeed, the speech marked the opening salvo of an Israeli public campaign to influence a potential deal, but at times appearing aimed at scuttling it. Israeli officials have attacked diplomacy, the eventual deal having been struck, and even U.S. diplomats conducting talks (though the latter only when cloaked in anonymity).
Benjamin Netanyahu uses a chart as he speaks about the Iranian nuclear program during the United Nations General Assembly. (Stan Honda / AFP / GettyImages)
Throughout the diplomatic wrangling and, eventually, after the agreement was struck in Geneva, Washington pro-Israel figures ranging from think tankers to pundits to members of Congress reminded the public and the administration that Israel must have its concerns addressed. Noting the public rift, some took to influential D.C. outlets to press their case. Two such figures from a pro-Israel think-tank, Robert Satloff and Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute, stressed "repairing the torn fabric of U.S.-Israel relations," and urged that the Obama administration must "reassure [Israel] that it understands these reservations and takes them seriously."
As befits our new age of social media, one of U.S. peace envoy Martin Indyk’s first acts on the job was to send out a tweet. "This is not the end...”, he wrote, quoting Churchill’s famous 1942 speech, “not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
While Indyk has remained very tight-lipped about the substance of the end-game he is pursuing, he hasn’t hesitated to make it known that when a deal is done, it will be vital to have a groundswell of public support from Israelis, Palestinians and Americans to validate it and ensure it is pushed through to implementation. In one of his few public utterances, at the J Street Annual Conference in late September, he stressed that Netanyahu and Abbas “need to know that they will have the support of their peoples and they will have the support of people like you, who care to see this conflict ended once and for all.”
President Mahmoud Abbas (C) meets with U.S. envoy to the peace process, Martin Indyk (2L) September 17, 2013 in Ramallah, West Bank. ((Thaer Ghanaim / PPO / Getty Images))
Indyk should know; as a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel during the late 1990s and early 2000s, he witnessed first-hand the unraveling of what had been hailed as an historic peace agreement, the Oslo Accords. He subsequently became a Board member of the New Israel Fund, the main bridge between American donors and Israeli progressive civil society, which since 1979 has dispensed more than $200 million to over 800 organizations, and has built the kind of grassroots mobilization potential to wage the battle for public opinion should an equitable peace agreement emerge.
In the days since the P5+1 signed the First Step Understandings (FSU) with Iran to freeze and roll back its nuclear program, much has been written about the strengths, weaknesses and uncertainties embedded in the deal.
Nothing that has been published about this agreement, including all the detailed analysis that has listed its limitations, should change the view that this was a necessary and constructive first step toward the widely-shared goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry during a press conference following a meeting at Netanyahu's Jerusalem office on December 5, 2013. Kerry insisted that Israel's security was a top priority in talks with Iran on its controversial nuclear programme after an initial deal was signed. (GALI TIBBON / AFP / Getty Images)
This agreement is not a final, comprehensive resolution of the issue. Instead, it aims to provide time for the international community to hash out a more permanent arrangement with Iran while preventing the advancement of its program. Serious issues remain to be addressed in a permanent deal, and this interim period should be used to thoroughly test the true intentions of the Iranian leadership, with eyes wide open.
"I want a homeland that does not require the occupation of another people in order to maintain itself."
--Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin slams the prime minister for putting Iranian nukes ahead of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. (Haaretz)
- Senior cop reprimanded for smacking Israeli Arab protester - Film of Nakba Day rally in 2011 debunks former deputy Galilee commander Cmdr. Kobi Bachar's claim of self-defense. (Haaretz+)
- Plot to ambush Jerusalem cars born of Jew hatred, police say - Police lift gag order over last Thursday's stone-throwing attack on Jerusalem car that resulted in serious injuries to an infant girl, announcing five arrests. After seeing injuries to infant girl, suspects devise alibi. (Israel Hayom)
- Israeli army hopes to reduce arrest of Ethiopian soldiers by 15 percent - Soldiers of Ethiopian origin comprise just 3 percent of army personnel, but they constitute 13 percent of the population in military prisons; goal is part of greater plan to support community. (Haaretz+)
- Soldier, you entered the (Palestinian) territories off-duty? You're getting a criminal file - IDF decided to worsen punishments following numerous incidents of soldiers who entered the Territories: 40 were caught in the last three years. IDF fears they will be kidnapped to be used as bargaining chips. (Yedioth, p. 16/Ynet)
- Israel to simulate chemical attack by suicide bomber - Defense Ministry says next week's drill was planned long ago, and is not linked to any specific event. (Haaretz+)
For the full News from Israel.
Every policy decision made by any country ultimately hinges on its government’s understanding of a single question: What is that country’s character? The question is of course implicit to votes on, say, health care or education; rarely is it on such stark display as it has been in Israel in recent days.
The Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev (also called the Prawer Plan) is slated to come before the Knesset during its winter session, and—as is true for so many of the Netanyahu governments’ policies—is being greeted with horror by many in Israel and the international community. Demonstrations held this past Saturday to protest the bill were broken up with great (and largely ignored) violence by Israel’s police force—men, women and children, Israeli Jews and Israeli Bedouin, beaten and bloodied, physically threatened and hauled off to jail.
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)
Prawer purports to resolve outstanding land ownership issues between the state and the Bedouin population of the Negev (at a cost of $5.6 billion), but despite government efforts to paint a rosy picture, the bill’s actual purpose is painfully clear: To forcibly remove tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens from the villages in which their people have lived since the founding of the state or before, with minimum input from the Bedouin themselves, in order to clear the area for Jewish communities. What Prawer recommends, simply put, is ethnic cleansing.
My given name is Mattathias. This, as you may know, is a sort of shibboleth for the most acutely Semitic among us, one of the very most Jewiest names that there are to be found. I am quite happy with this name. The Mattathias for whom I'm named happens to be the hero of the story of Hannukah, which happens to be my favorite holiday, if only for culinary reasons.
My historical namesake, Mattathias ben Yochanan, was a backwoods priest from Judea who is widely revered for having ignited, in 167 BCE, the war that became known as the Maccabean Revolt. Commanded by a Seleucid officer to offer a sacrifice to the pagan gods of the Seleucid Greeks who were then occupying Judea, Mattathias refused. When another Jew stepped forward to do so, Mattathias killed both the Jew and the Seleucid officer in anger, then fled into the wilderness with his five sons and the immortal line “Whosoever is zealous of the law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me.”
A giant Menorah is seen at Nyugati square of Budapest in front of the building of Westend railway station on December 4, 2013. (ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP / Getty Images)
This is the beginning of the story that is celebrated on Hannukah. You may know the rest of the story: Mattathias dies, and his son Judah Maccabee (“Judah the Hammer.” Really.) leads his followers to victory over the Greeks. There's also something in there about oil miraculously lasting for eight nights.
As expected, the leadership of the American Studies Association voted—unanimously—to recommend that its membership approve a formal boycott of Israeli educational institutions.
Cue the music now: handwringing from American Jews, sweeping generalizations from left-wing academics.
Amid the sound and fury, the ASA leadership’s decision is at once measured and confused.
Demonstrators hold a placard urging the international community to take action against Israel's settlement policy in the occupied territories as left-wing Israeli and foreign peace activists join Palestinians in a protest. (Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images)
Measured because the resolution now being put to the ASA’s membership is not a true boycott. Israeli academics—and those, like me, who have degrees from Israeli universities—would still be allowed to participate in ASA-sponsored conferences, give lectures on campus, and so on. The ASA boycott only extends to “formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions” and “scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions.”
As such, the limitations the ASA boycott resolution places on academic freedom are, themselves, quite limited. It is an institutional boycott, rather than an individual one.
When he visited in Rome earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made headlines with his undiplomatic selection of gifts for the Pope, including a book on the Spanish Inquisition authored by his own father, the late historian Ben Zion Netanyahu.
But Bibi didn't come to the “eternal city” just to preach to the pontifex about the persecution of Jews in Medieval Spain.
ROME, ITALY - JUNE 13: In this handout provided by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi walk through the grounds of Villa Madama during meetings on June 13, 2011 in Rome, Italy. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO via Getty Images)
As Israel seems at odds with the U.S. and other Western allies that have signed an interim agreement with Tehran, Italy is Netanyahu's last friend in Europe―at least, when it comes to Iran's nuclear program. Yet this situation is not going to last long, unless Netanyahu puts some effort into it.
In politics, friendship is tricky business. When it comes to his government’s relationship to Israel, though, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper tries to keep things simple.
Last Sunday, Harper was feted at the annual JNF Negev Dinner in Toronto, where he was presented with the honor of a bird sanctuary in the Hula Valley in northern Israel to be built in his name. The dinner also coincided with the announcement of his first planned visit to the country to take place in the new year. Wearing all black, Harper announced to the guests that he was going to show them “love and affection” by playing a few classic rock songs for the crowd.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper March 2, 2012 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO via Getty Images)
In his remarks, Harper spared no opportunity to laud Israel while criticizing its neighbors, referring to Israel as the “homeland of the Jewish people...a light of freedom and democracy in what otherwise is a region of darkness.”
I’m not sure why—three months after my latest New York Review of Books essay came out—my old magazine, The New Republic, this week published a former Israeli government official attacking it. But they have my thanks.
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. President Barack Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden deliver remarks at the White House during a Hanukkah reception December 8, 2011 in Washington, DC. Win McName / Getty Images
In the first paragraph of his critique, Shany Mor accuses me of calling the American Jewish community a “‘closed intellectual space’, where voices not entirely supportive of hawkish Israeli policies are simply not heard.” Really? What I actually wrote was that the organized American Jewish community is a “closed intellectual space, isolated from the experiences and perspectives of roughly half the people under Israeli control.” That’s entirely different. Obviously, the organized American Jewish community hears “voices not entirely supportive of hawkish Israeli policies.” Thomas Friedman has no problem speaking to Jewish groups. My essay was about the Jewish establishment’s unwillingness to open itself to Palestinian voices. Mor’s paraphrase is blatantly false. And we’re only in the first paragraph.
From there, Mor accuses me of never defining a standard of openness against which the organized American Jewish community should be judged. Perhaps, he suggests, I should have “invent[ed] some epistemic standard of what an open intellectual space should aspire to be.” Actually, my standard was less pretentious: Is it good for the Jews? “Even from the perspective of narrow Jewish and Zionist self-interest,” I write, isolating your constituents from Palestinian experiences and perspectives is “folly.” It not only makes it harder for American Jews to feel empathy for Palestinians; it makes it harder for them to effectively “defend Israel’s legitimacy” because they “don’t even understand the arguments against it.”
Yesterday morning I woke up to the disturbing news that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had arrested both the father of one of my dearest friends in the world and my brother-in-law. Why, you ask? They dared to point out the fact that the emperor, Mahmoud Abbas, has been running all over Ramallah without clothes. To be clear, Abu Mazen was not really prancing about naked; but if he was, you better not tweet about it or post a video on Facebook of his bare behind. If you do, you too my friend could end up in jail because Mahmoud Abbas has been channeling the late Kim Jong Il of North Korea and stepped up efforts to quash dissent among the fed up Palestinian people.
Abbas, whose term as president has been up for almost half a decade, is getting a little too comfortable in his fancy dictator shoes. For the past year, his thugs have been arresting journalists, bloggers, and your average Ali posting on Facebook. Anyone who dares challenge the loathed leader is fair game. George Canawati, the voice of Radio Bethlehem 2000, has been arrested multiple times for his candid and often hilarious critiques of the Fatah mafia family. Sami Al-Sa’i of Wattan News agency was also interrogated multiple times and threatened with slander charges if he didn't shut up about the ongoing final status negotiations being a joke. The PA has also arrested several college students representing opposing political factions during the Palestinian University campus elections.
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas speaks during an exclusive interview with AFP at the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority headquarters, on November 17, 2013 in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images)
Replacing democracy with a dictatorship seems to be Fatah's new strategy for beating Hamas, who trounced them in the 2006 parliamentary elections. The PA has also been channeling Anonymous and honing its hacking skills. Not only do they troll the statuses and tweets of their haters; they’ve also taken to hacking into users’ inboxes and threatening to use private correspondences against them if they don’t pipe down about the corruption the current leadership is legendary for. Using Palestinians’ personal lives against them is a play torn out of the Israeli handbook and the Palestinian Authority is not ashamed to use 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.