Tag Archives: Palestine

Walking Over to the Other Side of the Pro-Peace Debate

By Scott Fox

Soon after I sat down at my table at a fundraiser sponsored by the local Justice in Palestine chapter, the elderly woman sitting next to me said, “I see you crossed over to the other side.”

What she meant was that I had crossed over to the St. Olaf side of town for the event. Northfield, Minn., has two liberal arts colleges, Carleton and St. Olaf. Carleton is on the east side; St. Olaf is on the west. Even though the two institutions are only a 20-minute walk from one another, it is not too often that students from each school interact.

I could not help but see a parallel between Carleton and St. Olaf and the difference between my beliefs and those of Justice in Palestine. In other words, I could see where they are coming from but it still feels like crossing over to an uncomfortable side.

I am a member of J Street. The conditions in which Palestinians have lived are unacceptable. I even believe that Jerusalem should be divided, as long as Jews have access to the Western Wall. However, when I first found out about Northfielders for Justice in Palestine/Israel, I was hesitant to sign up for the group’s email list. Even though they also advocate a two-state solution, I assume that groups like these are tinged with anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, or just misinformation. Thinking I was possibly being too biased against them, I decided to go to their Palestine Gala Dinner to gain a better understanding.

When I entered the church lobby for the event, I encountered a barrage of posters and pamphlets that were mostly biased in favor of the Palestinians. One poster was calling to “break the bonds” and have the U.S. divest from Israel. One brochure read, “Israel is actually involved in an unremitting and merciless vendetta against the subjugated Palestinian people in order to expel them and acquire their land.” The same brochure did make it clear that not all Israelis felt this way and that people should seek out left-wing Israeli opinions. Overall, the display in the lobbying felt off-putting.

Inside, it was much warmer. The sold-out function had brought in much of the Northfield community, though most of the attendees were gray-haired. Carleton’s Arabic professor and his friends provided Oud music. St. Olaf students dressed in full traditional garb performed dabke dances. Before everyone could eat the delicious spinach pie and mujaddara, Christian, Jewish and Muslim blessings were said. The affair raised money for Bright Stars of Bethlehem, a Christian charity dedicated to helping all Palestinians in the West Bank.

Many of the people there had prior awareness of the complexities of the situation in the Holy Land. At my table, a Lutheran pastor who had led an English-speaking congregation in the Old City of Jerusalem sat next to me. Two young women who had spent a year doing missionary work in Bethlehem sat across from me. The pastor was distressed with Netanyahu but did not place sole blame on any government. He recalled how there was so much optimism for peace when he was in Jerusalem during the 2008 U.S. election. Three years later, he feels that hope has been totally crushed. Feeling the communal spirit and compassion of the people around me, I gained more respect for the group doing what it could to help the oppressed Palestinians.

But the main speaker of the evening, Jennifer Loewenstein, Associate Director of Middle East Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, made the event take a negative turn. I supported her fight for human rights but felt she was unfairly harsh and incorrect in characterizing the Israeli government’s policies.

Loewenstein described the situation as a “brutal, sadistic occupation” where Israelis are starving Palestinians, applying a divide and conquer strategy that isolates West Bank towns. She called Israel’s actions genocidal. With walls around Palestinian areas in the West Bank and Gaza and Israel limiting what food can be shipped into Gaza, conditions may be terrible but not genocidal when the Palestinian Arab population is growing at a faster rate than that of Israeli Jews.

Loewenstein also presented a skewed view of Israeli history with less than accurate statements that emphasized Jews taking Palestinian land without mentioning any reasons for why a Jewish state was necessary such as rising anti-Semitism. She stated that the Arab population rejected the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan not only because they felt Jews were taking land that belonged to them but also because they got the worse half of Palestine, describing their portion of the partition as unfertile desert. Actually, the plan gave Palestinians most of the more fertile Northern Israel. Most of the Jews’ portion of the land was in the Negev Desert.

Loewenstein cast blame on Israel’s extremely irrational fear of being driven into the sea even though the Israeli mainland had never been attacked by a foreign enemy until 2006, and its armed forces have always been superior to those of the Arab states combined. But she appeared to forget that Israel’s neighbors invaded the land on its first day of existence, and that Israel frequently faced the threat of attack ever since, and was not always as sure of its military might as it is today. Although Israel has made preemptive strikes in some of its fighting, it was because the threat of an attack was imminent.

“When looking at the conflict, it is two countries saying how much they want peace. But those two countries, the U.S. and Israel, are doing anything in their power to stop it from happening,” said Loewenstein, citing a “military-industrial based economy” in which the U.S’s of high-tech weapons to Israel is extremely beneficial to both countries.

From talking to a few people, it appeared the crowd primarily did not have as extreme views as she does. However, when asking the two young women at my table about whether Loewenstein’s denunciation of Israel was a little too harsh, she said that she was just “preaching to the choir.” At least some of the room supported divestment from Israel, a diplomatic tactic that I feel breaks apart the needed U.S.-Israel dialogue on how to attain peace.

I left feeling a little better about Justice in Palestine groups but remained worried that Loewenstein’s lecture could cause some of the crowd who did not know as much about the situation to leave misinformed. But crossing over to the other side of your beliefs or your town often brings something new.

Israel Boycotts, Now Organic

By Aarian Marshall

Something’s afoot in the Park Slope Food Co-op.

If you are not a local of bourgeois Brooklyn, if the New York Times Metro Section isn’t quite your thing, you may have never heard of the co-op. It began in 1973 in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, founded by a “group of committed neighbors who wanted to make healthy, affordable food available to everyone who wanted it” (according to its website). Today, the co-op is famous for its organic emphasis, low prices, huge membership (roughly 15,000 New Yorkers belong), and rules so strict that one blogger likened the establishment to “a Soviet-style re-education camp.”  Co-op members must work for their groceries—one 2 ¾ hour shift every two weeks.

This kind of participatory grocery shopping creates a community that cares deeply about food—and that has the weekly newsletter and town-hall-meeting packed schedule to prove it. The latest issue to hit the Park Slope Food Co-op? Not that members have been discovered sending their nannies to fulfill their work requirements (that was last month). No: last week, BDS became the hot topic at the Park Slope Food Co-op.

The BDS movement, which urges participants to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel, began in 2005. It was launched by the BDS National Committee (BNC) and was initially endorsed by 170 Palestinian groups. Since 2005, the movement has gained steam: Elvis Costello pulled out of a concert set to take place in Israel; DePaul University discontinued its sale of Sabra Hummus; the University of Johannesburg cut ties with Ben-Gurion University on that grounds that the school was too closely linked to the Israeli military.

Park Slope Food Co-op, then, is just another frontier, another battleground upon which to wage intellectual, socio-political battle. And a primarily intellectual fight it is—the co-op imports few products from Israel, and divestment would mean very little financial skin off that nation’s back. So what does it mean for a food co-op, of all places, to take a political stand?  This question is not unique to the Park Slope Food Co-op—other American co-ops have raised similar ones—but the store is unique in that much of its membership, and much of Park Slope, is Jewish.

Things have changed since the period immediately following the Six-Day War, when being Jewish was synonymous with a pro-Israel stance. For Jewish liberals, especially, supporting Israel is fraught. As of March 2010, a Gallup poll showed that while 80 percent of Republicans viewed Israel favorably, only 53 percent of Democrats felt similarly. A 2007 study showed that only 54% of non-Orthodox Jews under the age of 35 are “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state.”

For the American Jewish establishment—groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations—these statistics are disturbing. Why aren’t Jews coming out for Israel in the way they have in the past, especially when danger, the prospect of a nuclear Iran, looms so large? Barbara Mazor, a leader in the anti-BDS Co-op faction, told the New York Observer that she suspects some kind of “coolness” factor is at play: “From reading [the pro-BDS Co-op member’s] letters from the past two years, they don’t seem to have a terribly sophisticated understanding of the situation [in Israel],” she said. “I think they’re latching onto it like slogans. Like true believers, it’s the cool thing to do. You know, ‘I’m a progressive, and it’s a progressive cause,’ so I think that’s how it’s coming through, very thoughtlessly.” As a native Brooklynite (lo, I have been to the trenches), I feel as if I can confirm this impulse. For many liberal Jews, Israel is staid, embracing it akin to “drinking the Kool-Aid.” If Mom and Dad love it, if Grandma prays for it, it can’t be hip. And for Jewish youngsters on the cutting edge, who like their arugula organic and their kalamata olives fresh and imported, finding the next big counterculture thing—like BDS—is a social imperative.

But perhaps there’s something larger at work here than the fact that Israel has been endorsed by one too many bubbes. In 2010, writer Peter Beinart made waves when his essay, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” ran in the New York Review of Books. “Particularly in the younger generations,” he wrote,

fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, that are finding that young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

American Jewish organizations, Beinart alleged, have handed Israel a blank check—“we will support you to whatever end.” But Israel has made decisions that have simply flown in the face of liberal values, he continued, and though these may be justified in the name of security, a frank dialogue concerning the clash between democratic principles and national safety has just not emerged. Instead, “groups like AIPAC and the Presidents’ Conference patrol public discourse, scolding people who contradict their vision of Israel as a state in which all leaders cherish democracy and yearn for peace.”

Fair enough. But let’s get back to the original question, the one that started it all: should a food co-op take a political stand? Sure, we need a dialogue—but is a trumped-up grocery store the place to start? Way across the country, in Sacramento, co-op members have dealt with similar issues. A BDS campaign that began this summer has generated a spate of local op-ed articles, the majority of which come down against BDS. In a piece published by the Sacramento Press, Steven Maviglio (who happens to be the President of the co-op’s Board of Directors) concludes his tale of organic famers with the following statement: “[Talking to organic farmers] made me realize—despite the recent negative attacks and lawsuits by BDS on our store—what the co-op is all about: supporting local growers and providing organic food to the Sacramento community.”

I’m not sure I buy it.  Both co-ops state that they ascribe to the internationally recognized principles of the cooperative movement, which include, democratic member control.  Despite arguments that it’s not germane, a strict co-operativist would say that if co-op members want BDS Dialogue, that should be what they get.

And maybe that isn’t a bad thing. If we follow Peter Beinart’s line of thinking, then the co-operative conversation happening in Jewish Park Slope does not spell doom for the relationship between liberal Jews and Israel after all. “All points of view really need to be heard,” said one Jewish co-op member. “If we start proposing things like boycotts, it’ll prompt more discussion, and that’ll help educate people.” So perhaps the discussion spilling out onto pages of the Food Co-op’s newsletter (The Linewaiters’ Gazette), the discourse taking place in the cereal aisle (right between the steel cut oats and the organic bran) is a necessary one, one that is long overdue.

A Social Media Intifada

By Adina Rosenthal

Move over “Angry Birds.” The newest up-and-coming iPhone app may be for revolutions. While social media platforms have become commonplace in both our vernacular and daily use, they have also played an important role in fomenting recent revolutions.

In 2009, thousands took to the streets of Moldova to protest their Communist government in what was titled the Twitter Revolution for the platform’s success in galvanizing and organizing the public. When the Iranian government prevented journalists from reporting on the 2009 post-election protests, Iranians flocked to social media outlets to update the world on their plight. Recently, social media platforms took like wildfire in the Arab Spring, empowering people to unite and demand reform from their oppressive governments, resulting in immediate resignations, swift ousters, and, in the cases of Libya and perhaps Syria, war. According to panelists at an Arab Media Forum session in Dubai, “Whether social media led to the Arab Spring or facilitated it, it played a major role in mobilizing Arab streets as they rose against their ruling regime.”

Sitting right smack in the middle of the Arab Spring, Israel should receive a pat on the back for its involvement in the social media phenomenon. But for the country that created the technology behind AOL instant messenger, voicemail and the first high-resolution cell phone camera (not to mention a couple that have named their baby girl “Like,” after Facebook), Israel clearly has a hand in the social media trend. These beneficial innovations may be coming back to bite it in the tuchus.

For example, thousands of activists are members of “Boycott Israel” groups on Facebook. These forums are used to organize boycotts on products, encourage divestments from Israel, and incite hatred of Israel with graphic and violent imagery. Recently, a Facebook page titled, “Shakira: Say NO to apartheid and YES to Freedom For Palestine,” implored the pop singer, a UNICEF ambassador and advocate for quality education worldwide, to cancel a scheduled trip to Israel, to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference (she went anyway).

However, these boycotts seem innocuous compared to a recent iPhone application that called for a Third Intifada (“Uprising”) against the Jewish state. “The Third Intifada” app provided users with news about upcoming Palestinian protests, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic articles and information on the web, and activities that called for violence against Israel. Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, sent a letter to Apple founder, Steve Jobs, asking him to remove the app “and thus continue the tradition of Apple applications dedicated to purely entertainment and informative purposes and not serve as an instrument for incitement to violence.” Apple removed the app a week later, noting that it violated Apple’s store policy. Edelstein also successfully lobbied Facebook to remove the “Third Intifada” group last March.

Despite Israel’s success in removing the “Third Intifada” application, it still feels like Israelis are treading on a new battleground, the brink of an intifada of a different sort. A “Social Media Intifada,” to be exact. While not innately violent, such an intifada could potentially affect Israel’s economy and lead to violence, as recent events in the Middle East have proven. After the Second Intifada, Israeli tourism reached a twenty-year low, foreign investment slowed, and public perception of Israel faltered. How can Israel prevent a sequel on the social media battlefield?

Not always at the peak of its public relations game, Israel has recently focused additional resources on their PR strategy. Last summer, the Foreign Ministry was granted NIS 100 million to focus on social media, 60-70% of which would target leading social media figures as part of a new PR campaign to “cultivate Israel as a brand.” Additionally, Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, recently made an unprecedented move by enlisting the aid of European PR firms to combat Israel’s deteriorating image around the world. He explained that “with proper and professional work in the field we can significantly improve Israel’s standing and support for it.”

Additionally, Israelis and Jews from around the world are well-known for their social media prowess (just think Mark Zuckerberg) According to a recent poll, the average Israeli spends almost 11 hours a month surfing social networks, more than any other country in the world. From facebook groups that call for “buycotts” to purchase Israeli goods to an IDF twitter account, to boycotting rising prices on cottage cheese, Israel is no stranger to using social media to raise awareness, provide answers, and combat hate speech. Such social media savvy will be critical in countering anti-Israel rhetoric and creating a positive image for Israel. Israelis and Jews alike are up to the task.

So, in the spirit of Facebook: The social media trend? Like. Israel’s initiative to rebrand itself and counter hate speech? Like. The name of “Like” for a child? Not so much.

Back to the Future: Obama’s Peace Plan

by Amanda Walgrove

In 1967, the 25th amendment to the constitution was ratified, the U.S. was in the thick of the Vietnam War, Benjamin Netanyahu first joined the Israeli army and the Six-Day war ended with a U.N.-mediate ceasefire established between Syria and Israel. The year 1967 brought the release of The Doors’ self-titled debut album, Elvis Presley’s marriage to Priscilla Beaulieu, the inaugural Superbowl game on network television, and the birth of Julia Roberts. What a different world it was. Tweeting was still something that only birds could do and revolutions were not started on Facebook, because back then a facebook was a company photo album.

In late May, President Obama delivered a speech that sparked a wealth of controversy and a barrage of criticism after he insisted that Israel and Palestine return to their 1967 borders. Netanyahu urgently responded that the 1967 borders would be impossible to return to because they are indefensible. There are geographical and demographical changes that have occurred in the past 44 years and these cannot be overlooked.

Defending his initial remarks at an address to AIPAC a few days later, Obama reiterated his statements in hopes of clarifying them. Obama insisted he hadn’t said anything new in his speech when he mentioned the 1967 borders, remarking that he was only highlighting a continuation of policy from previous administrations. He felt that he was publicly saying what had always been privately believed. He continued to defend his statement and modify it at the same time. According to Obama, redefining the borders would be based on “mutual swaps,” meaning Israel and Palestine would decide on a border that is different from 1967 but allows them to account for the geopolitical changes that have taken place since then. So they won’t be the 1967 borders, but they will be similar. He even quoted the Talmud, adding, “So long as a person has life, they should never abandon faith.”

Somewhat assuaged, AIPAC issued a statement commending Obama on his speech, citing his commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and his “his recognition that Israel cannot be expected negotiate with a group that denies its fundamental right to exist.” Even Netanyahu backed down a bit from the severity of his previous remarks and said that he was “determined to work together” with the president to advance peace.

After trudging through this week’s speeches, rebuttals, and the commentaries, it seems that Netanyahu and Obama wholeheartedly agree on the necessity to preserve a strong and secure Israel, supported by an alliance with America. They can even tout the same key phrases such as “advancement of peace” and “defense of democracy.” It is only how to go about accomplishing these things for which they seem to have trouble coming up with a compromise. Obama said that he and Netanyahu disagree, as friends do, but have always had an open and honest relationship. Both even agree that there is no time to debate and fumble with foreign policy objectives as Israel sits in a hotbed of political turmoil and terrorist threats. But how speedily can peace negotiations be finalized with Palestine when Israel and its ally can’t even determine how to approach such a peace deal?

Along with abortion and gay rights, Israel support is increasingly becoming a hot button political issue, leaving the Jewish vote for the upcoming election in flux. NPR recently ran an article questioning if American Jews were much more concerned with domestic issues, such as health care, than they are with Israel. Still, Obama and GOP hopefuls seem to be scrambling for those votes in any way possible. In a conference call earlier this week, Obama begged Jewish reporters not to perpetuate the hype that is in any way anti-Israel. Meanwhile, it was just announced that Haim Saban, a billionaire Israeli-American donor to the Democrats has announced he won’t be donating to President Obama’s re-election effort. He feels that Obama needs to show more support of Israel and make a visit to the Jewish homeland.

Although the U.S. remains a powerful and crucial ally for Israel, in the end, it’s not our call on how Israel sets its borders. And with Palestinian aggression, it may not be Israel’s call either. Chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council Marc R. Stanley responded to Obama’s AIPAC speech, saying, “Support for Israel isn’t a Republican issue, it isn’t a Democratic issue, it is an American issue. The future safety and security of a democratic, Jewish State of Israel is safeguarded when we all work together, not when we resort to petty political games and finger pointing.” In the near future, there are decisions to be made, votes to be cast, and ultimately, lives to be protected. Going backwards to account for the future may not be possible.

Moment Magazine Launches Tweets4Peace Contest

Moment Magazine is thrilled to announce the Tweets4Peace contest.  Lengthy tomes have been written about the Middle East conflict, which ranks among the world’s most intractable.  Amid the mountains of scholarship, research, and analysis, Moment seeks new ideas in the shortest, simplest form possible: Twitter updates.

Through June 30, the Rabins, Sadats, Gandis and Kings of the world are invited to submit their solutions to Middle East peace via Twitter using the hashtag #Tweets4Peace.  At a time in which peace appears distant, the contest represents an opportunity for fresh thinking and new ideas.  Aside from the obvious reward of bringing peace to the Middle East, the contest winner will receive a 1-year subscription to Moment in addition to a special peace prize (look out, Nobel), to be announced.

Moment Magazine, an award-winning bimonthly with a flagship print publication, lively website, comprehensive digital version, celebrated blog IntheMoment, popular thrice weekly e-newsletter The Fix and much more, was co-founded by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Elie Wiesel in 1975 and relaunched in 2004 by journalist and entrepreneur Nadine Epstein. As an independent voice, Moment includes points of views that transcend ideological and denominational divides; highly-diverse interpretations of religious thought; a food section for thinking people called “Talk of the Table;” award-winning in-depth features; and first rate book reviews edited by former New York Times Sunday Book Review editor Mitchel Levitas. Contributors include Calvin Trillin, Cynthia Ozick, Wolf Blitzer, Yossi Klein Halevi, Theodore Bikel, Erica Jong, Dara Horn, David Margolick, Dani Shapiro and many others.

For more information on the Tweets4Peace contest or to arrange an interview with editor and publisher Nadine Epstein, contact Niv Elis at (202)-363-6422 or nelis@momentmag.com.

Now What? How Israel Should Respond to Palestinian Unity

By Sophie Taylor

In light of the recent upheaval in the Middle East, Moment’s Niv Elis spoke to 16 experts on what the changes mean for Israel and how it should move forward in light of those changes. While the range of thinkers expounded upon many different scenarios, none could predict what happened next; today, the opposing Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas met in Cairo and proclaimed a unity deal, complicating peace efforts for Israel and the United States.

Here are what a few of the thinkers in our roundup have had to say about the newest development:

Aaron David Miller, who argued in Moment that Israel lacks a coherent strategy in the face of dramatic change, writes in Business Week:

 “This peace at home will guarantee greater political conflict with both Israel and the U.S. and, if Palestinians aren’t careful, tensions with the broader international community. One thing is clear: An already mortally wounded peace process is, for now, dead.”  He also notes that “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gains some maneuvering room. After all, how can anyone criticize Israel for not wanting to deal with a Palestinian Authority that has Hamas in it? U.S. President Barack Obama’s hopes to revive the peace process—never terribly realistic—will become dimmer still.”

Daniel Levy, who encourages Israel to make clear its desire to for a sovereign Palestinian state in our roundup, now tells the Guardian:

“Palestinian division, playing so-called ‘moderates’ against ‘extremists’, had been a cornerstone of US (and Israeli) policy. If the Palestinian unity deal holds – and caution is well-advised with the details yet to be agreed, and with a history of false dawns – that cornerstone will be no more.”  Yet, “this time, Fatah’s move appears to be a more calculated and profound break with past practice—and the anticipated opprobrium of the US seems to weigh less heavily.”

Meir Javedanfar, who thinks new developments in the Middle East provide an opening for Israel in its rivalry with Iran, tells the Christian Science Monitor:

“The PLO-Hamas rapprochement will be a boost for Netanyahu—albeit in the short term. He can say that [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas is now in with a group that doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist…Israel is going to be forced to show compromises due to the higher credibility which the international community seems to be giving to the Palestinian side, especially the PLO under Abbas.”

M.J. Rosenberg, who says that Israel should work to negotiate with the Arab League Initiative, rather than just Palestine, writes for Political Correction:

“In fact, the [U.S.] administration’s demand that Hamas recognize Israel in advance of any negotiations with Israel could well ensure that there won’t be any. So could our demand that it accept all previous agreements negotiated by the Palestinian Authority.”  In that view, “There is only one demand we should make of Hamas, that it cease all acts of violence.  Hamas has, in fact, lived up to that commitment during various cease-fire periods with Israel. In partnership with Fatah, it would likely do so again.  In any case, a mutual cease-fire is a reasonable demand, one that would facilitate negotiations. But the people issuing demands in Jerusalem and in Congress seem to have no interest in negotiating. Their goal is delivering for Israel which, of course, is a way of delivering for their campaigns.”

We don’t yet know how long the unified Palestinian government will last or what it will mean for Israel, but check out our article “What Is Israel’s Next Move In The New Middle East?” for fascinating insights as to what Israel’s top priorities should be.

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Olive Conflict

By Lily Hoffman Simon

When Noah’s ark ended its forty day journey, Noah sent forth a dove, which returned to him with an olive branch. The olive branch indicated the end of the flood and reappearance of land, and symbolized the restoration of justice to humanity (Genesis 8).  Since then, the olive branch has become a symbol of peace in the Jewish and Western traditions.  But recent history concerning olive trees in the West Bank seems to contradict this peaceful association.

First, a little history is necessary. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in 1967. The Palestinian inhabitants of the territory are not Israeli citizens.  Some areas of the West Bank are entirely under Israeli control, while other areas have an autonomous Palestinian governmental body. However, Israeli settlements in the West Bank impede the development of Palestinian autonomy.  Amidst this complicated political and territorial situation, olive trees have unexpectedly emerged as a tool of land appropriation.

In the West Bank, where the question of who “owns” plots of land is legally murky, the person using and tilling the land usually receives default possession.  As a result, Palestinians in the West Bank can hold on to more land by planting olive trees. Settlers claiming Biblical sources as their deed to the land respond by planting trees of their own.

Yet the saga doesn’t end there.  The olive rebellion has turned into a bloody feud, as Jewish settlers have responded to the Palestinian olive trees with torching, uprooting, and violence.  The human rights organization Yesh Din has reported 69 accounts of damage to Palestinian trees in the past 4 years, acts that result in economic decline, environmental deterioration, humiliation, and even physical harm to Palestinians.

The olive tree is central to Palestinian rituals, historical agricultural practice, and economic growth through the production of olive oil.  In this light, Palestinian tree-planting can be viewed as both a cultural and political act by the Palestinians. But the prominence of olive trees throughout the Israeli landscape presents the importance of the tree to the Jewish tradition as well.  In the parallel plantings, it is apparent that the olive trees are not simply about land appropriation, but also ethnic devaluation of both Israelis and Palestinians.

The complications concerning olive trees in the West Bank degrade the importance of an international symbol – the olive branch itself. The tree’s connotation is sadly transforming into one of power struggles, violence and ethnic conflict instead of peace and justice. However, there is some hope, given the development of peace and community initiatives that maintain use of the olive tree as a positive symbol (examples include The Olive Tree Initiative, and even the infamous Dr. Bronner’s soap which uses olive oil from joint Israeli-Palestinian production).  Despite the symbol’s newfound defamation, the olive branch may yet be reclaimed as a sign of peace.  Before that can fully happen, the olive branch’s place in Middle Eastern ethnic life must be respected.

When we talk about the Middle East

By Symi Rom-Rymer

I think Thomas Friedman can read my mind.  Just as I sat down to write this blog post, I came across a new op-ed of his that addressed my very topic.  (Hat tip to Mr. Friedman)

In his op-ed, Friedman takes on recent efforts by Western political leaders and entertainment personalities to delegitimize Israel.  He argues that Israel is a complex and multi-faceted country that deserves to be seen and understood in all of its nuance rather than as a symbol of unfettered cruelty.  Furthermore, he gives his readers a glimpse into the Israeli psyche and shows just how it fits into the context of the greater Middle East.  But more importantly, he demonstrates that simplistic views, such as the ones put forth by Britain’s Prime Minister or Oliver Stone, serve not to ameliorate the situation, but rather simply prolong the anguish for all involved.

Friedman’s views may not be particularly novel, but his words rang especially true for me in the wake of a rather emotional conversation I had with a new Brazilian acquaintance, Peter (not his real name).  We were both participants in a journalism training course in Prague and were relaxing at a bar with friends at the end of an intense week.   Suddenly, one of the people in our group mentioned that Peter’s last name is also common Brazilian Jewish name.  Teasingly, I turned to him and suggested that he might actually be Jewish.  His immediate reply of: “no, I don’t want to be Jewish,” didn’t bother me until he added that the reason he didn’t want to be Jewish because of Israel.   He felt that Jews were selfish in their dealings with Palestinians and in their refusal to give more land to the Palestinian state.  Blindsided, I didn’t quite know what to say.  I had expected a simple answer of “I don’t want to keep Kosher” or even, “I’m Catholic, why would I want to convert?” My immediate response—although unsaid—was to reply defensively and demand to know what was so bad about Israel.  Another part of me wanted to give him a crash course in Jewish politics and explain the huge rifts within the American Jewish community over that very topic.  A third part of me felt grateful. Continue reading