Monthly Archives: February 2011

At J Street, Attempting to Redefine “Pro-Israel”

By Niv Elis

In its second-ever conference in Washington, DC this week, the self-described “Pro-Peace, Pro-Israel” lobby group J Street drew some 2,000 left-leaning Israel supporters.

By its very existence J Street, has sparked a conflicted and sometimes angry debate within the Jewish community as to what it means to be “pro-Israel.”  Before J Street, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held a virtual monopoly in Washington on the term pro-Israel.  For AIPAC, it meant supporting a “strong U.S.-Israel relationship” by keeping disagreements out of the public spotlight and, more broadly, supporting the policies of the democratically elected government in Israel, regardless of who was in power.  But critics, including many J Street supporters, accuse AIPAC of being more sympathetic to the conservative Likud party and promoting its hard-line policies.

J Street has its own critics, who argue that it provides political cover for those who undermine or delegitimize Israel.  After all, they say, how can publicly criticizing Israel and its policies be construed as “Pro-Israel?”

In order to get a better understanding, Moment asked participants in J Street’s conference what being pro-Israel meant to them.  These are some of the responses:

“It means supporting the best interest of the state of Israel, which means supporting peace.” -Yahel Metalon, New York, NY

“To me being pro-Israel means caring deeply about Israel, its security, its fate and the fate of the Israeli people.  It means hoping for a better Israel, making it a more democratic, safer place for all its citizens to be.” –Shiri Ourian, Moshav Kfar Neter, Israel

“I support a peaceful Israel that is there forever, living in peace, that can count on being secure in its future.  I have a dream of seeing Israel at peace forever and would love to see that come to pass in my lifetime.”  -Bruce Pollock, Rochester, NY

“I think being pro-Israel is about really having the conversation about the future of Israel, where you want it to go and helping to shape that in the present in every capacity whether it’s social, political, economic, educational, all of it.  It’s tying conversation and activism.”  -Darya Shaikh, New York, NY

“I have no idea.  I’m from Israel.  I grew up there and moved to New York in my twenties, so I really can’t answer that question.  This conference is the first time I ever felt there was a viable, Jewish American Left that I can associate with.  I haven’t felt that since I moved from Israel.” -Avi Criden, Israel

“It means defending Israel, when necessary, against its very real enemies, providing for its security and also defending its democratic institutions and ensuring that it can have a stable future as a prosperous, democratic and peaceful state.”  -Ben Alter, New Haven, CT

“It means to be for Israel, for the state, for the survival of Israel.  How do you demonstrate it?  Don’t hate yourself.” –Isi Tenenbom, Hamburg, Germany

“It means thinking about everything in a slightly different way.  I feel a push and a pull, a need to be involved.  I’m afraid to be involved.  Where do you stop with that involvement?  It’s this love conflict and it takes a lot of excitement and motivation to consider things in a different way” –Hilda Blyer, Ottawa, Canada

“I think it’s important for American Jews to be concerned about social justice in at least two countries.  In my mind it’s the obligation of American Jews to assert their concern that Israel be activated as a force for peace, in its interest and in America’s interest.” -Marvin Sparrow, Boston, MA

“I guess to support both a physical place, in terms of a home land—a safe place for Jewish people to go and a place where Jewish people from around the world can feel culturally and spiritually fulfilled in some way—and that includes it being a place where people’s rights are respected.  Ultimately I think that pursuing peace and respecting the rights of others are a very important part of being pro-Israel.  To me being Jewish has to involve justice, and I don’t want to have to choose between those values and having that physical place for safety.” -Daniel Marans, Washington, DC

“I have no f*cking clue.  That’s kind of why I’m here, isn’t it? -Raphaela Wyman-Kelman, New York, NY

What do you think it means to be “Pro-Israel?”  Leave us a comment and let us know!

Additional reporting by Sala Levin

Israel Next on Arab Revolutionary Agendas

By Gabriel Weinstein, Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

Yoram Peri, seated, and former Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler. SHFWire photo by Gabriel Weinstein

On January 1, no one would have predicted protesters in Tahrir Square would oust Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Gadhafi’s iron grip over Libya would start slipping away. Could an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement be the next game-changing event in the Middle East?

According to Professor Yoram Peri of the University of Maryland and former Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler, the revolutionary fervor sweeping the Middle East could present an ideal opportunity to finally settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peri said that, although the uprisings in Arab world focused on domestic issues, it is only a matter of time before the lingering Israeli-Palestinian conflict becomes the focus of the greater Arab world.

“If things will continue it won’t take much—weeks—that the Israeli-Palestinian issue will become the focus,” Peri said at a forum sponsored by the Middle East Institute Wednesday.

But the recent re-emergence of negative Arab stereotypes in the Israeli media and the infusion of religious emotion into the context of the conflict will prevent Israel from pouncing on the opportunity. He added that in the wake of the Arab uprisings, Israel has crafted its Palestinian peace strategy around a worst-case scenario instead of mounting a serious attempt at peace.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu demonstrated Peri’s argument last week in a speech on the future of Egypt and the Palestinian peace negotiations when he said, “I cannot simply hope for the best. I must also prepare for the worst.”

“That’s a very typical way of thinking by most Israelis when they look at their future,” Peri said.

He said it is unlikely the government will take “a very brave step” desired by more liberal Israelis because of the increasingly conservative tint of the Israeli ruling coalition and a potential election looming.

Wexler echoed Peri and said that, although the stage seems set for finally resolving the conflict, it will most likely not happen if the world relies on Israeli and Palestinian leadership to take the initiative. Both at the forum and in a recent editorial in Politico, Wexler stressed the United States must intervene as quickly as possible to end the conflict. He predicted that if diplomats continue to wait for the crisis to resolve itself, “some catastrophic event will occur” in the West Bank or Gaza that could thrust Israel and the Palestinians into another conflict. He said he is not confident Netanyahu or Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas will lead a diplomatic charge.

“The unfortunate reality is the decision rests here in Washington,” Wexler said. “And it rests with the Obama administration.”

Wexler said the recent events in the Middle East have made it the best time to rekindle peace talks. He called on the Obama administration to partner with Great Britain, Germany, France and other European countries to mediate talks between the two sides.

Peri agreed with Wexler’s call for international intervention. He said Israelis and Palestinians’ perception of the conflict as a zero-sum negotiation has prevented substantial progress from being made in the past. He said American intervention helped propel the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty because both sides were promised generous American military and economic aid.

“A third partner, and it only can be the United States and not Europe, can change the structure of the conflict to a non-zero-sum game. And therefore without…American support it will not be achieved,” Peri said.

The continued idleness of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will escalate the costs of the conflict. Both sides know what the basic outlines of a peace treaty will look like and need to muster the political will to strike a deal.

“To negotiate a half meter here, half a meter there that’s not the topic.…The issue is the will,” Peri continued. “The question is the price. Now what will be the price for not achieving an agreement.…Perhaps by showing both Israelis and Palestinians the price today is much higher than it used to be, that might change the perspective.”

Accept Friend Request?

by Amanda Walgrove

It’s Complicated between Israel and Egypt. After Israel Unfriended Turkey last year, she has only had one longstanding friend remaining in the Middle Eastern Network. Last month, many Egyptians responded that they would be attending what some have deemed the “Facebook Revolution” in an effort to overthrow Hosni Mubarak’s regime. An event invite that was scheduled to begin on January 25, 2011 continued through February 11 as Israel watched, anxiously reloading her News Feed and fending off other friends’ frustrating requests to buy sheep on Farmville. Although Egypt’s account was briefly Deactivated, the revolutionaries eventually hacked Mubarak’s Page and gave his password to the Muslim Brotherhood. The world watched nervously as Egypt’s Profile Picture changed from a stunning frame of Mubarak to a chaotically crowded scene pervading Tahrir Square. When Israel logged in and was prompted to answer, “What’s on Your Mind?” she was faced with conflicting emotions. Would this revolution mean a possible transition into a democratic system, or a dangerously anarchic period in which Israel would be thwarted by radical Islamists and inevitably Unfriended by Egypt?

Israel needed to take a stand if she wanted to provide support to her Middle Eastern Friend. It would be a brash move to click the “Like” button on Egypt’s most recent Status Update: “Mubarak no! Democracy now!” After all, she could always go back and Unlike the status later if need be. Unfortunately for some, namely Hosni Mubarak and ’tweens disenchanted with Justin Bieber’s new haircut, Facebook has yet to offer a Dislike button. Although the Camp David Accords remained the highlight of Israel and Egypt’s Friendship Page and they can publicly share “Democracy” under their Common Interests, relations have recently been tenuous and now looms the possibility of beginning a dangerously Open Relationship.

One assertive action that Israel took during the tumultuous revolution was to open her doors to twelve American study-abroad students whose Education Info used to boast Egyptian universities. These students were invited to continue their Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, representing another way in which the youthful constituent played a role in this historic event.

As of now, the relationship between Israel and Egypt remains Complicated. While recent Facebook developments now provide them with the ability to publicize that they are in a Civil Union or Domestic Partnership, it’s a good guess that neither of those options will be acted upon. Egypt will, however, be carefully monitoring any Wall-to-Wall exchanges between Israel and Gaza. Other pages, such as those of Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority will have to be sufficiently stalked in order to stay abreast of new developments. Who knows what might be surreptitiously discussed on Facebook Chat? Overseas, Israel and America are tightly linked, but as America fumbles with its foreign policy, Israel may be prompted to begin sending out new Friend Requests. Plenty of Notifications are expected to pop up in this continued period of dangerous unrest in the Middle East. In the meantime, Israel is hoping that while Egypt is in a transitional state, they will avoid creating problems with international allies. With any luck, unnecessary Poking will be kept to a minimum.

NGOs Fail Palestinian Women at the UN

By Paula Kweskin

In April 2010, a 32-year-old woman was shot to death in a town in the northern Gaza Strip.  Several men, including her father, were arrested for the crime.  A year prior, a girl from a Palestinian village south of Qalqilya was smothered to death by her brother.  In 2005, a father murdered two of his daughters and badly injured a third for an alleged sexual affair.  In December 2008, two Palestinian girls were killed when militants’ rockets directed at Israel fell short of their targets.  Two years later, a teenage girl was injured in central Israel when Hamas militants fired rockets on her kibbutz.

Unfortunately, at the UN review of Israel’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in January, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) squandered the opportunity to give voice to these Palestinian and Israeli victims. Instead, they pursued a politicized, anti-Israel agenda, which excludes victims that do not fit an ideological paradigm.

In advance of the review, the Israeli government and various NGOs submitted statements for consideration regarding the women’s rights record in Israel.  NGOs and civil society actors could have highlighted discrepancies in the workplace, human trafficking, gender violence, and other obstacles facing women within Israel. (Israel asserts they are not responsible for the application of the Convention to the Palestinian Authority or Gaza, but some NGO submissions focused on these populations as well.) Notable submissions failed to mention these issues; others avoided an honest discourse on gender discrimination entirely.

One such joint NGO submission, co-authored by Palestinian NGOs Badil, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, blames injustices suffered by Palestinian women on  Israeli “apartheid” and “occupation.”  These NGOs attribute violence against Palestinian women solely to settlers and Israeli security forces. In their distorted perspective, Israel’s security policies, not the local authorities charged with providing key services, are responsible for the lack of adequate healthcare for women in the Palestinian Authority.

Similarly, the NGOs claim, without evidence, that “cultural discrimination can also mean that girls are more likely to be withdrawn from school as a result of these [i.e. settler violence] incidents, with parents particularly fearful for the safety of their daughters.” More probable factors for students’ withdrawal, such as early marriage and societal obstacles to education, are ignored.

In a supplemental submission, Badil argues that “Israel’s repeated military incursions

characterized by the indiscriminate and excessive use of force” causes unemployment and poverty in the Palestinian Authority. The $3 billion in annual foreign aid to the PA, that could be used to improve the situation of women, is absent from Badil’s discussion.

Domestic violence was not discussed in the NGO submissions either. A 2005 survey revealed that over 60 percent of Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian Authority were psychologically abused by their husbands, 23 percent had been beaten, and 11 percent experienced some form of sexual violence.

So-called “honor” killings in the Palestinian Authority have increased in recent years and are treated with impunity.  According to a 1999 UNICEF report, two-thirds of all murders in the Palestinian Authority and Gaza are “honor” killings.  These crimes go unpunished and laws grant impunity to those who kill based on “family honor.” In interviews and press releases on their websites, the NGO authors have decried “honor” killings and the lack of legal protection for Palestinian women; yet they are silent when given a forum to address these problems before a UN committee.

By ignoring these realities, which do not conform to the narrative of Israeli violence and Palestinian victimization, these NGOs demonstrate that the advancement of Palestinian and Israeli women’s rights is not their aim. Rather, they hijack an international platform and the rhetoric of human rights to demonize Israel, using Palestinian women as pawns to advance a singular political agenda.  These groups have abandoned the women they purport to advocate for, and as such, have once again called into question the sincerity of their pursuit of universal human rights.

Paula Kweskin is a legal researcher at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution.

 

 

 

 

 

Denmark’s Jewish Heritage

by Kayla Green

Many experiences come to mind when one imagines a trip to Copenhagen, including seeing the famous statue of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, visiting ornate castles and indulging in decadent smorgasbords. However, what is not as well known is the rich Jewish history and multitude of Jewish sights at the fingertips of any tourist visiting Denmark’s capital.

The Danish-Jewish community has been thriving for 400 years and is the oldest in Scandinavia. Today there are about 7,000 Jews in Denmark, the majority of whom  live in Copenhagen. Denmark’s Jews range in origin from Spain and Poland to Germany and Russia.

The Danish Jewish Museum gives a good first taste of Jewish Copenhagen. The building was designed by Daniel Libeskind, whose Studio design study was selected in February 2003 as the master site plan for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center Site, and who also designed Berlin’s Jewish Museum. The museum itself is truly a sight to behold—in true Libeskind style, the architecture and décor are ultra-modern, from the sloped blond-wood walls to the interactive screens that provide visitors with additional information and videos. At the entrance of the museum, there is a video describing the Jewish community in Denmark in which Libeskind, who is of Polish-Jewish descent, discusses the flourishing community. Libeskind based the museum’s architectural design on the idea of mitzvah to symbolize the rescue of Danish Jews in 1943 and the peaceful coexistence of Jews in Denmark.

The rescue on which the museum is based truly exemplifies the relationship between Denmark and its Jewish community. In October 1943, when Hitler ordered that Danish Jews be arrested and deported, many Danes took part in a collective effort to evacuate their country’s Jews to nearby neutral Sweden. The rescue allowed 7,000 members of Denmark’s Jewish population to avoid capture by the Nazis while 481 were sent to Thresienstadt. The rescue, or “Mitzvah,” is considered to be one of the largest actions of collective resistance in the countries occupied by Nazi Germany. Over 99% of Denmark’s Jewish population survived the Holocaust.

The memory of this astonishing resistance, as well as the thankfulness of the global Jewish community, is represented by Israeli artist Bernard Reder’s sculpture, “Wounded Woman,” located in Churchill Park behind the Museum of Danish Resistance. Reder’s passion for the subject is obvious in the piece, which depicts a group of intertwined stone nude female figures twisted together in strong support. The sculpture, unveiled in 1969, was presented by the State of Israel to the Danish people in appreciation of their support.

Aside from the Danish Jewish Museum and the “Wounded Woman,” Copenhagen boasts several other symbols of the positive relationship between Denmark and its Jewish community. The Copenhagen synagogue is situated in the oldest part of the city, in a building constructed in 1830-1833 based on drawings by Professor G.H. Hetsch, who was also responsible for the design of  St. Ansgar’s, Copenhagen’s Catholic cathedral. The synagogue sits behind a high gate—its brown façade blends well with its neighbors, but the gold Hebrew lettering notifies passersby of its Jewish heritage.

One of the most exceptional sights in Copenhagen is Israel’s Square. The small, centrally located park contains a large memorial stone, erected in 1975 with the following inscription: “This stone from the Holy Land is a gift to the Danish People from friends of Denmark in Israel 1975 – And night fell and morning came”. More than anything, this memorial displays that the positive sentiment that characterized the relationship between Jews and Denmark in the past still exists, and will continue to do so.

Jews Support Both Life and Choice

By Steven Philp

On Friday the House of Representatives passed a measure to suspend $330 million of Title X federal funding for Planned Parenthood on the grounds that tax dollars should not be granted to organizations that provide abortions. According to ABC News, votes were generally split along party lines: 240 to 185, with ten Democrats voting in favor of the bill and seven Republicans against. Debate concerning the measure was held the previous evening, including an emotional testimony by Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) about her personal experience with abortion. Responding to a graphic depiction of the procedure by Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), Speier explained that she had elected for an abortion at 17 weeks. She continued, “For you to stand on this floor and to suggest, as you have, that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous.” Speier then outlined how the removal of federal funding has little do with relieving the budget deficit, but rather is representative of a conservative vendetta against Planned Parenthood.

The author of the amendment, Representative Mike Pence (R-IN), argues that although the public supports legal abortions, they do not want to see their tax dollars pay for them. According to an article posted on Politico, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) agreed with Pence stating, “The time has come to respect the wishes of the majority of Americans who adamantly oppose using taxpayer dollars for abortions.” Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in the current congress. His views were echoed last month by Orthodox Rabbi Yehuda Levin, President of Jews for Morality and national spokesperson of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. In an interview with the New American given before participating in the anti-choice 38th Annual March for Life, he explained that “the traditional Jewish position on abortion is that the sanctity of the life of the unborn child and pregnant mother come first and foremost. Judaism does not sanction abortion on demand. In fact, abortion is forbidden in almost all circumstances.” At the rally he led the crowd in chanting “Defund Planned Parenthood!” He was joined by a number of religious leaders from across faith lines who oppose the use of tax dollars by organizations that perform abortions.

Yet the debate seems misplaced, as Planned Parenthood is prevented by law from using the $330 million it receives from the federal government for abortions. Instead these funds are funneled in to preventative health services including contraception, pregnancy screening and counseling, cancer screening, and HIV testing. This was touched upon by a letter sent to Congress by several branches of the Reform movement—including the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis—urging the House to vote against the amendment. Although the letter outlined the need to keep money spent on abortions apart from federal funding, it stated that “Jewish tradition is emphatic about the importance of the community providing health care for its most vulnerable residents. Supporting Planned Parenthood in its efforts to reach millions of under-served men and women helps us fulfill that commandment.” It is unfair to prevent Planned Parenthood from providing life-saving services on the grounds that the organization also allows for abortions, a non-federally funded and legal procedure. Whether one is pro-choice or anti-choice, Jews are pro-life: As the letter states, “all life is sacred in Judaism;” Planned Parenthood provides many essential services beyond this single procedure to millions of men and women each year. It should only make sense that Jews of all denominations “stand with Planned Parenthood.”

Keeping Up With the Times: Digitizing Holocaust Archives

By Amanda Walgrove

The rapid growth of technology, characteristic of the twenty-first century, has altered methods of human relation. Communicating through Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and email correspondence can make interpersonal connections seem trivial and dispassionate, but technological advancements can also produce meaningful intimacy. For example, we can video chat with estranged loved ones on the iPhone and reconnect with old friends through social media networks. The resources of cyberspace not only affect how we communicate, but also how we access, preserve, and retain information.

On the eve of International Holocaust Day, Yad Vashem announced that the world’s largest collection of Holocaust archives would be incorporated into Google’s overwhelmingly vast pool of virtual documents. Yad Vashem began digitizing their collection in the 1990’s but collaboration with Google is a vast leap for any remote assemblage of archives. What was once only accessible to those who visited the museum on a hilltop in Jerusalem is now available at the fingertips of anyone with Internet access. Now 130,000 photographs from the Holocaust archives can be sifted through with the aid of the world’s largest search engine.  Adding to the ease of the search process, the photographs have been scanned using optical character recognition. This means that during a search a photograph can be identified using any text in the picture, even if it is inscribed or written in another language. After locating an image on Google, the picture will then link to Yad Vashem’s website where users are encouraged to add their own text in the “Share Your Thoughts” section. To allow for immediate circulation, there are options to link the page to Facebook, Twitter, and Google Buzz. Family history can be published and distributed in cyber space instantaneously, but this isn’t the first time Google has teamed up with Yad Vashem for these purposes. Due to their first cyber collaboration in 2009, Holocaust survivors were able to post testimonials on their own YouTube Channel. Still, this recent project marks only a stepping-stone in Google’s plans to annex Yad Vashem’s collection of millions of documents, survivor testimonials, diaries, letters and manuscripts.

For Google employee, Doron Avni, this technological merger meant a chance to search for an image of his grandfather with the click of a button. Avni is a policy manager at Google’s research and development center in Israel and once the project was finished, he immediately took advantage of the opportunity. A recent New York Times article featured his search as a prime example of how history can be unearthed from Yad Vashem’s recent circulation project. Avni’s grandfather, Yecheskel Fleischer, was taken in 1941 after he was released from a Nazi-run prison in Lithuania. After locating the photograph of his twenty-seven year old grandfather, Avni was then able to type in the details of his family’s story.

While historical and familial bridges may be gapped, there are always risk factors that accompany the widespread digital circulation of vital information. John Palfrey, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, said that there are concerns about “the central role a company is playing in the preservation of the world’s cultural information.” Although these photographs are not physically tangible in cyberspace, the opportunity for a broad audience to access these documents will have a profound educational impact as well as a sentimental one. “What my grandfather wanted was for the next generation to know about the Holocaust,” Mr. Avni said. “He would have been inspired by this, to know his message is now being communicated to so many people around the world.” The easiest way to access the next generation is through the twenty-first century’s social, educational, and political playground: the World Wide Web. Google’s gradual acquisition of Yad Vashem’s primary sources will enhance the way in which the memory of the Holocaust can be shared and passed on by those who survived and those who left documents behind.