Tag Archives: Israel

Israel’s Highless Marijuana

by Daniela Enriquez

A new oxymoron is born. After non-alcoholic beer and decaf coffee, the world is finally ready to welcome “highless” marijuana. Israeli scientists working at Tikkun Olam–the first and largest medical cannabis cultivator in Israel–created a new variant of the plant capable of easing patients’ pain without getting them high. All of this happened recently near Tsfat and, let me say, there couldn’t have been a better place for it. Located in northern Israel, Tsfat is the birthplace of kabbalah, Jewish mysticism.

Two questions arose in my mind when I read about the news. How did they do it–and why?

Let’s start with the second question. Like many, I thought that the high produced from cannabis was the reason why it is used with terminal patients and people suffering from terrible pain. Apparently, this is just partially true. Cannabis has more than sixty constituents, called cannabinoids, two of which are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiolol (CBD). In spite of their extremely long, highly scientific-sounding names, their goals are quite simple.

THC is the component that affects the brain’s receptors and thus, is responsible for the well-known “high” effect caused by smoking marijuana. On the other hand, CBD is the component with anti-inflammatory effects. Scientists at Tikkun Olam realized that, by taking out the THC from the cannabis plant and enriching it with CBD, they could obtain a “highless” marijuana, also known as Avidekel.

I talked to Zach Klein, head of development at Tikkun Olam, to find out more; below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

When did your team start its work on Avidekel?

About three years ago. The work we do is based on agriculture and cross fertilization of plants—that is the basic process we are working on. One reason why we started to work on medical highless marijuana was the pressure we received from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They really wanted the CBD plants.

Can you explain in a few words the different uses of CBD and THC?

CBD can be used much more as a medical instrument for therapy; THC is also therapeutic, but has an immediate effect on symptoms, which CBD doesn’t have. So, there is a big difference.

Why bother creating a marijuana plant without the high effect?

When I heard about the idea of creating Avidekel, a CBD plant without THC, I thought, “Why?” Since then, I followed the scientists’ research–for example, now I am in Germany waiting for the opening and welcome reception of the ICRS Conference, the International Cannabinoid Research Society. I followed the conferences and the scientists to see and hear what they learned and what they knew about this plant. In the last few years they talked a lot about CBD, about cannabidiol, and it is very interesting. However, whatever I heard was almost exclusively theory: All the research had been done on animals, and only in laboratories, despite the fact that cannabis was already known as a good thing to use for medical purposes.

A year and a half ago, we started a project in a nursing home. We made cannabis available for the institution to give to their patients. Of course, they are not people that want to smoke in order to get high; they do it as part of their medical treatment. We were using a very high THC plant with almost no CBD. For the patients in the nursery, it was sometimes so much THC that they couldn’t cope with the mind-altering effect. Some of them couldn’t use the medicine, the cannabis, at all. When we started using CBD, the picture changed. Patients who couldn’t stand the effect of THC were able to use this cannabis with CBD. One of the things cannabidiol is capable of doing is lowering the psychoactive effect of THC. Used by itself, CBD is an anti-inflammatory and lowers pain when it comes from an inflammation: Lowering the inflammation enables a lower level of pain.

Why should someone use Avidekel rather than a normal pain killer?

Some painkillers have side effects: They can cause addiction and are poisonous for the human body. Patients with kidney-related problems can’t use the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. On the contrary, Avidekel has no known side effects.

Why should someone use Avidekel rather than a normal pain reliever?

The first question to ask is, “Why should someone use cannabis, at all?” and not just why Avidekel. Why should we use cannabis for medical purposes since it is considered a drug? Despite that, for some reason, some governments in the world, among them the Israeli government, decided that cannabis is a good thing to use in medical situations where nothing else can be of any help. That is the first reason why we started to use marijuana: When everything else didn’t work, we tried to use it and thought, “Maybe this can help.”

Have you already tested Avidekel on humans? If not, when are you going to start?

We have tried it on a few people and we got good responses. It is not the same kind of response as the one obtained from normal marijuana. It doesn’t have the dramatic immediate effect caused by THC, but after 10 days or two weeks, people start to feel better. We are now approaching clinical trials with Avidekel. Of course, it is going to take a few months, but we already have the initial approval by the Ministry of Health and the physicians who would work on it.

Should patients be free to choose between tradition marijuana and Avidekel?

Of course, they should have the right to choose. We don’t offer just two different strands of medical marijuana. We have several kinds of plants with combined percentages of CBD and THC. In this way, patients can try different typologies and choose the best for them.

What kind of patients benefit from either regular cannabis or Avidekel?

People who use medical cannabis and Avidekel come from several different kinds of diseases. Pain can have many different causes.

Patients with inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s disease, have a very difficult life. When they use medical marijuana, with THC, they can feel the difference but sometimes the psychoactive effect makes it impossible for them to have a normal life. If we make them feel better but they are unable to work or leave their houses, we have only accomplished half of our goal.

Now, we are able to give them a high-CBD, low-THC plant that can give them relief, without a high psychic activity and bring them back to their normal lives.

Klein told me that the best success while studying medical marijuana was with Holocaust survivors stricken by nightmares of Nazis and concentration camps. Cannabis helped them to sleep again: “The Nazis and nightmares are all gone—and with them the fear. This is one of the most exciting aspects of what we do.”


An Israeli Olympics

by Daniela Enriquez

The build-up to the Olympics is always a busy one for those participating. The athletes need to be in good shape and well prepared in order to succeed, the flag-bearers for the opening ceremony have to be chosen and heads of state are called to take photos with their national teams.

As with other countries, Israel’s July was full of “Olympic” contingencies and problems to solve. First of all, the decision to hold the opening ceremony on a Friday night led Shimon Peres to remain home, refraining from flying to London in order to respect Shabbat. The decision made by the Israeli president is admirable and well represents the culture of his country; I wonder whether we will follow his example and abstain from watching the opening ceremony this Friday evening…

Thumb up for President Peres!

The second issue regards the initial decision made by the BBC Olympics 2012 website, to list Jerusalem as the national capital of Palestine, rather than of Israel, leaving a blank space under the name of the Israeli capital. Requests for an explanation came from all over the country, including from the press and politicians. Bewildered by the BBC’s decision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used Facebook to launch an appeal to all supporters of “Israeli Jerusalem.” This social network campaign is called “Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel,” and already has almost 20,000 fans. After this protest, BBC Olympics 2012 decided to move Jerusalem to Israel, living a blank where Palestine has formerly had a capital city. Complicating the situation, the BBC website located Israel in Europe, while Palestine remained in Asia.

Definitely, thumbs down for BBC!


However, the most serious problem relates to the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, in which 11 Israeli Olympic athletes and coaches were taken as hostages and killed. The International Olympic Committee is refusing to observe a one-minute silence, requested by the state of Israel, in honor of the people who lost their lives in that terrible event. Israel has not given up on this, and the quarrel over whether or not there will be a moment of silence remains open, with many public figures–including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney and NBC sportscaster Bob Costas–joining the call for a moment of silence. Iranian athletes let the world know that, in the event that the Committee decides to respect the Israeli request, they will keep the silence along with the rest of the world.

I am holding my thumbs on this, and await Friday!

In the meantime, still shocked by the terrorist attack in Bulgaria, Israeli and British forces are working together to assure the highest level of security for all athletes at the games.

Before checking out the Israeli Olympic team of 2012, let’s have a look at how Israel did in past games. Israeli athletes seem to be especially good at canoeing, judo and sailing. In the last event, they won two bronze medals in 1996 and 2008 and a gold in Athens in 2004. In 1992, the Israeli team earned one silver and one bronze medal in judo, and another bronze in 2004. Finally, during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Israel took the third spot in canoeing. To summarize, overall they have won one gold, one silver and five bronze for a total of…..seven medals.

Come on Israel, you can do better! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!

This year’s Israeli team is composed of 37 members, 19 men and 18 women, who are set to compete in several fields. Among these are badminton, artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, judo, sailing, shooting, swimming, synchronized swimming and Tennis.

Two members of the Israeli team have unusual stories: Donald Sanford and Zohar Zimro, two athletes with very different stories but two things in common–their love of sports and an acquired Israeli citizenship.

Sanford was born in the United States and his Olympic journey started at Arizona State University. As a student there, he met Danielle, an Israeli girl from Ein Shemer, a kibbutz in northern Israel. The two fell in love and got married. Even though Sanford was not raised as a Jew, he got to know the religious traditions and culture of Israel through his wife’s family. Sanford eventually decided to make aliyah, obtaining an Israeli passport and citizenship. After beginning his career in the 1500-meter dash, Sanford soon switched to the 400-meter dash, in which he will compete this year.

Zohar’s story is different from Sanford’s, but similar to those of other Africans who, as he did, emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel in the late 1980s, following their Zionist dream. The marathon runner described his life as a “Cinderella story” which brought him closer than ever to fulfilling his biggest dream: “achieving something historic at the Olympics” in order to be remembered forever in Israel.

What to say? Yalla, Zohar! Yalla!

The most famous character of the Israeli Olympic team had a bit of drama: Baby Bamba, the vetoed Israeli mascot. The cartoon was initially chosen to be the mascot of the 2012 team, but in March, it was removed from the list of mascots. Its fault? Looking too similar to the logo of a popular children’s snack.

But Israelis aren’t the only ones with “Olympic” problems. July is the month of Ramadan–so it won’t be easy for all the Muslim athletes who will need to compete on an empty stomach.

No Gaga Here: Extreme Summer Camps in the Middle East

By Rebecca Borison

While I grew up at a Jewish summer camp playing Gaga, kids growing up in slightly (read: very) different areas than me are partaking in slightly (read: very) different activities in summer camp. The Times of Israel recently published two separate articles on Extreme Summer Camps. The first article discusses a Hamas-run Gaza summer camp, where “activities include walking on knives, cleaning beaches and experiencing life as a security prisoner in an Israeli jail.” Five days later, the Times of Israel released a second article about a right-wing camp in Ramat Migron, where the girls learn “self-defense techniques, how to construct temporary dwellings and basic agriculture.”
So we have two camps representing the extremes of Israelis and Palestinians. But let’s take a closer look at these camps.

We’ll start with camp “We will live honorably” in Gaza. Now that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) no longer runs summer camps in Gaza, “We will live honorably” is the only option for kids in Gaza. This Hamas-run camp attracts around 70,000 kids from across the Gaza strip.  According to one of the camp directors, Omar Aql, the camps try to “strengthen the importance of volunteer work and create a clean social environment.” For example, campers participated in a campaign to clean the Nuseirat beach.

But then there are some disturbing camp activities as well. Campers are introduced to a model of an Israeli security prison in order to “reenact the daily suffering of Palestinian prisoners,” according to the Palestinian Maan news agency. The “prison” consists of an investigation room, a detention room, a confession extortion room, a solitary confinement room, a courtyard and an infirmary.
At Camp “Hilltop Youth,” the campers partake in some disturbing activities as well, learning krav maga in order to fight against any Arabs that may happen to attack them. The girls are also introduced to extreme living arrangements, spending four days without electricity or running water.  Unlike the “We will live honorably” camps, the “Hilltop youth” camp is one of many summer camps available in Israel. An Israeli child can have a normal camp experience at Camp Kimama or Camp Tapuz.

Both camps promote the immense value of devotion to one’s people. A camper from Gaza named Abdulaziz A-Saqa explained, “We learned that Palestinian prisoners suffer greatly for the Palestinian people.” One of the campers at Ramat Migron named Esther told the Israeli Newspaper, Ma’ariv, “Whoever comes here isn’t looking to go to a luna park (amusement park), rather to fight on behalf of the State of Israel.”

Both campers have been taught to devote their lives to their nation. They are instilled with a great sense of patriotism—to the extent that they will fight no matter the cost.

While Gaza camp counselor Abdul-Ghafour denies that the camp is training future Hamas militants, it definitely appears to be a strong possibility. Why else would these campers need to learn how to “slide over thorns using his elbows for propulsion” and run and jump through flaming hoops? According to the Washington Post, the campers are “told to fight Israel to liberate Palestine.”

According to Ma’ariv, the goal of the “Hilltop Youth” camp “is to train and recruit the next generation of warriors to settle the hills.” They even bring in speakers from the settlement movement, such as MK Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Yes, that sounds just as extreme as training Gaza youth to be Hamas militants, but there is one crucial difference between the two: the camps’ relationship to their nation. The camp in Gaza is organized by Hamas. As the ruling power in Gaza since 2007, Hamas is not only condoning such camps but is funding and running them. The camp in Ramat Migron, on the other hand, is run solely by extremists. According to Ma’ariv, “security forces came to the outpost tens of times and destroyed the wooden shacks that the youth had built,” but each time the youth return to rebuild it. The State of Israel is not supporting extremists. They are trying to stop them. In fact, Ramat Migron is scheduled to be evacuated by August 1.

You can make an argument that likens these two camps, and you could make an argument that contrasts the two.  What it comes to at the end of the day is does the camp represent an extremist minority or an extremist people.

TIAA-CREF Divests from Caterpillar

By Julia Glauberman

In recent weeks, TIAA-CREF, a leading financial services organization that manages nearly $500 billion in assets, has announced that it will remove Caterpillar, Inc. from its socially responsible investment portfolio and to sell Caterpillar’s shares, which are worth around $73 million. Like the company’s move to divest from companies with business ties to the Sudanese government three years ago, this decision comes after much contentious debate on the subject.

Caterpillar has recently been the target of criticism for selling bulldozers to the IDF, which uses the machines to demolish Palestinian homes in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, TIAA-CREF’s public relations department has avoided citing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the source of its decision, instead pointing to Caterpillar’s recent downgrading in MSCI’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) ratings index.

TIAA-CREF’s apparent desire to distance itself from this decision and any related controversy is not surprising. Prior to MSCI’s revision of its ESG index, TIAA-CREF released a statement in response to calls to divest from Caterpillar that included the following: “While TIAA-CREF acknowledges participants’ varying views on Israeli and Palestinian policies and the Gaza Strip and West Bank, we are unable to alter our investment policy in accordance with those views.” But unlike TIAA-CREF, MSCI has acknowledged the conflict as one of three “key factors” that led to the ESG index revision.

Since TIAA-CREF’s announcement of its decision to divest, groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), and the Rachel Corrie Foundation are claiming the divestment as an indisputable victory. Whether or not the MSCI and TIAA-CREF decisions resulted directly from the actions taken by these groups, advocates of divestment surely have reason to celebrate. This is especially true for Craig and Cindy Corrie, parents of the late Rachel Corrie and creators of the foundation that bears her name. Rachel Corrie, a college student from Olympia, Washington, was killed in Gaza in 2003 after putting herself between a bulldozer and a Palestinian home.

Since Rachel’s highly publicized death, the Corries have brought lawsuits against both the State of Israel and Caterpillar. While they are still waiting on a decision from the Haifa District Court, which will be handed down in late August, their case against Caterpillar in the United States has already been dismissed, appealed and dismissed again. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision on the basis that, among other things, the judicial branch cannot and should not make rulings that affect foreign policy.

The decision also noted that even if the court possessed the power to make such rulings, Caterpillar could not be held accountable on the charges of aiding and abetting war crimes or violating any other international laws because the corporation is not a “state actor.” Furthermore, Judge Wardlaw, the author of the final decision, points out that the case is further complicated by the fact that all of Caterpillar’s contracts with the IDF have been approved and financed by the U.S. government as far back as 1990.

Despite the clearly controversial nature of Caterpillar’s involvement with the IDF and the potentially massive negative impact of the downgrading in MSCI’s ESG index, Caterpillar seems to still be faring well financially. Recent reports from Bloomberg, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal point to impressive risk-adjusted gains, high dividend payouts, and increased global sales. Nevertheless, it should be interesting to see how the ESG downgrading, as well as the divestments by more firms like TIAA-CREF that may follow, will impact Caterpillar and its involvement with Israel.

Miss Holocaust 2012?

by Rebecca Borison

As the number of remaining Holocaust survivors inevitably diminishes, many have attempted to record the survivors’ stories, through books, videos or other means. Taking a new—and somewhat bizarre—approach to commemorating the survivors, Israeli aid organization Yad Ezer L’Haver has announced that they will be hosting a beauty pageant for female Holocaust survivors. The 65 original contestants, ages 78-92, have been narrowed down to the top 14, and they will now compete for the titles of Pageant Winner, Miss Congeniality and Audience Favorite.

The pageant is set to take place tomorrow. Not surprisingly, it has drawn much criticism and questioning.

In my middle school Hebrew class we were each paired up with a Holocaust survivor to interview. I sat in awe as I listened to this strong woman recall her life story. She looked like your typical bubbie, but she had gone through travails that few others could understand.

To this day, that is the picture I have in my mind: sitting in her living room, listening to her stories. And that, in my opinion, is the most appropriate way to honor Holocaust survivors.

Having Holocaust survivors strut down a runway just seems incredibly inappropriate. How is that honoring their heroic lives? How is that remembering the atrocities they went through? It seems like the beginning of a crude joke.

And to make things even worse, people have been writing the most distasteful comments on the Facebook event for the pageant. Nir Gilboa commented (in Hebrew), “And the 2012 beauty queen of the camp is… number 2434326523.” Alex Polonsky followed in suit with, “They’re always so thin in these competitions.” Others commented that the refreshments would be potato peels and that the winner would be called “Miss Block 6.”

I know that many argue that humor is the only way to deal with such horrifying issues, but I can’t help but feel disheartened by the whole conversation. This is no way to honor our predecessors.

And yet the event director seems unaffected by the responses. He told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot that they decided to have the pageant “to show that the Holocaust survivors, with all the history they have experienced, are still women who want to celebrate themselves, have fun, and live…If someone raises an eyebrow, let them. We are doing this with a good attitude and pride.”

It just doesn’t feel right to me. If you wanted to celebrate these Holocaust survivors, why not honor them all with a banquet and give them each an award? A beauty pageant though…?

Model Citizens

by Rebecca Borison

Bar Refaeli

Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, newly crowned the hottest woman in the world by Maxim magazine, will likely be relieved to know that, at 5’8″ and 127 pounds, she meets the requirements of the new Israeli law mandating that models maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI).

The law, passed in March, requires models to provide a recent medical report at every photo shoot that shows that the model is healthy and has a BMI above 18.5. In order to maintain that BMI, a 5’8” model would need to weigh above 119 pounds.While individual fashion shows have started to issue similar rules, this seems to be the first government-mandated regulation in the world. Lawmakers in Israel hope that the law will show young girls that being unhealthily thin is not desirable.

According to a 2000 World Health Organization survey, more than 70 percent of girls (grade 6-10) in Israel want to change their bodies, and about half of them said they felt “too fat.” Two percent of Israeli girls between the ages of 14 and 18 have severe eating disorders.

A 2011 New York Times article suggests that eating disorders may disproportionately affect Israeli girls as well as American Orthodox girls. Rabbi Saul Zucker, educational director for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, explains, “If we don’t confront it, it’s going to get worse.”

In addition to BMI regulations, the law requires Israeli advertisers to fess up if they are digitally altering pictures; the manipulated images must include a clearly written notice.

Israel is to be commended for being the first country to take this huge step. Not only will this law be saving the lives of models, but it will also be promoting a healthier body image for young girls. While the effect the law will actually have remains to be seen, it is a great first step. Obviously the lawmakers haven’t waved a magic wand that will erase eating disorders and body-image issues from the country, but they’re showing that these issues are on the government’s radar. That’s huge.

Stay tuned for a new Knesset law allowing doctors to involuntarily hospitalize anorexia patients whose lives are in imminent, immediate danger.

Escape from Freedom?

By Martin Berman-Gorvine

As Passover approaches, I have been reading the psychologist Erich Fromm’s 1941 work, Escape from Freedom. Writing when Nazi Germany was at its height, Fromm sought the reasons why so many people felt their freedom to be “an intolerable burden” that they wished to escape. The questions he raised are still vital.

We often think of people who live under tyrannical regimes as helpless victims. This neatly avoids the problem that even the most monstrous regimes enjoy some level of popular support, without which they could not continue to function; and even worse, that a people granted the vote may freely elect a dictatorship, as happened in Germany in 1932 and as appears to be happening in Egypt today.

Why does this happen? In the case of Egypt, we can begin with the failure of the old regime’s ideology of “pan-Arab nationalism” as championed by the wildly popular dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser, who died in 1970. Nasser’s enmity to Israel was later abandoned by his successor Anwar Sadat, who signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state in 1979, although not before launching a devastating war of his own, the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

After Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamists bitterly opposed to the treaty, the dictator Hosni Mubarak came to power and ruled for almost three decades, preserving the letter of the treaty with Israel while discouraging “normalization” and encouraging anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media, most notoriously in a 2002 TV series, “Horseman Without a Horse,” which was based on the anti-Semitic fantasy “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a text originally composed by the secret police of Czarist Russia but now ubiquitous in the Muslim world. While he was far from being the Arab world’s most vicious dictator, Mubarak mismanaged the Egyptian economy while allowing corruption to flourish, leaving an impoverished and deeply religious people vulnerable to the slogan “Islam is the answer” (which begs the questions, which Islam? whose Islam? Questions the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more extreme “Salafists” have already answered, and woe betide anyone who draws different conclusions.)

Hatred of America and Israel, already encouraged by Mubarak despite the billions in U.S. aid he received, is at the heart of today’s political Islam, whatever the Muslim Brotherhood’s extremely canny spokesmen may pretend to gullible Western reporters. The Middle East Media Research Institute reports that, “In addition to antisemitic content, articles on the [Brotherhood’s] site also include praise for jihad and martyrdom, and condemnation of negotiation as a means of regaining Islamic lands. Among these are articles calling to kill Zionists and praising the September 9, 2011 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo – which one article called a landmark of the Egyptian revolution.” So how surprising is it that we are now witnessing the slow death of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty? In case any Egyptian harbors doubts about the wisdom of a new anti-Jewish jihad, recalling perhaps the disastrous wars of 1948, 1956, 1967, 1969-70 and 1973, MEMRI reports that state-owned TV is again showing “Horseman Without a Horse.”

The Torah teaches us that while the yearning for freedom is innate, so is the yearning for a Pharaoh who tells us what to do while “benevolently” providing for our needs. This is what our ancestors demanded in the wilderness to which they had escaped from Egyptian slavery, driving Moses and even God Himself to the verge of despair. What terrified the Israelites was the prospect of freedom as a barren wilderness; that is, a negative freedom consisting of the removal of all restraints. It is what today’s Egyptians, beset by poverty and violent crime, think they are glimpsing as well; and so two-thirds of them have turned for answers to Islamists who claim to have a direct line to God Himself. What these dangerous people have to offer is not a return to the medieval Islamic caliphate, but a religion-infused version of the twentieth-century totalitarian political movements that claimed tens of millions of lives. We have to start telling the truth to ourselves as well as the people of Egypt: that what they are building is not freedom, but a bridge into the abyss.

An Iranian-Israeli Love-In?

by Kelley Kidd

Recently, Facebook has been bombarding me. Not with its usual memes and Spotify updates, but with a slew of politically oriented statuses and photos. This is usually fairly inevitable, but lately it’s transcended the typical circle of acquaintances who regularly post items from political blogs or links to news articles. In fact, certain messages have become trendy. First it was the mass movement against SOPA, aided by Google and Wikipedia. Kony 2012, an Invisible Children campaign, became the next hot topic. People get excited to be a part of a movement, to make their voices heard, and to stand in solidarity about something worthy of passion.

The latest of these explosive trends is the newly blossoming Israel Loves Iran campaign. Founded by Ronny Edry, the campaign began with a simple poster he created to send a message of love and understanding from Israel to Iran. Quickly, his modest gesture took off, giving birth to a widespread and large-scale exchange of message, images and discussion directed toward forging a connection between two politically estranged peoples.

The hope, ultimately, is to make an impression in politics—Iranians and Israelis want to make their leaders see that war is not an option in their eyes. Of course, the people with the power are not the same as those posting warm messages. For many, the potential for this movement not to affect anything on a grand political scale makes it a failure, worthless—another example of “slacktivism,” activism that refuses to move beyond the comfort of the couch and the safety of a computer screen. For many movements, such a complaint may be applicable, as it devolves into memes and likes from people who have no goal beyond being a part of whatever passion is trending. However, this cynical view, if it applies to any such movements, does not hold for the case of Israel Loves Iran.

First of all, it is inherently significant that Iranians, whose contributions to the site have been meaningful but commonly anonymous, are contributing at all, as many have said “they feared for their lives if they used their real name.” Iranians who have posted share messages of love, compassion and support. The posts note thousands of years of coexistence, express gratitude and love, and show us that, as one Facebook user in Iran promises, the sense of hatred between the two nations “was invented by the propaganda of the regime” and that the “Iranian people, apart from the regime, do not hold a grudge nor animosity against anyone, especially not the Israelis.” The mere act of sharing these messages demonstrates how committed the Iranian people are to communicating them; these people are not able to voice their complaints and defy their regime openly and freely, and their commitment to doing so clearly indicates their commitment to the cause. There is no slacktivism when even making your voice heard puts your life at risk.

The movement is a positive one, regardless of its direct political impact. The challenge, but also the beauty, of grassroots movements is that you do not see results immediately. The change is inherently bottom-up, and therefore slow to be enacted. Nonetheless, any eventual change has massive strengh and enormous support—a loud, clear voice that cannot be ignored. In this case, the change is a fundamentally meaningful one. People are learning to see one another as real people, to meet and connect with the “Other.” The hope is to influence political decision by taking a clear stance against war, but even if the movement fails to grow to that scale, its impact within the people is significant.  Alliances and wars are usually decided by the powers that be, but Israel Loves Iran may give us a chance to see how much change the Powers that Become can make.

The AIPAC/J Street Color War

by Charles Kopel

A new spring ritual has taken form for American Jews concerned with Israel activism. The AIPAC Policy Conference, a mainstay in the American Zionist establishment for 53 years, is attracting larger and larger groups of delegates to Washington, DC each year. These delegates gather from around the country to address the importance of strengthening the “U.S.-Israel relationship.” The third annual conference of AIPAC’s self-proclaimed rival, J Street–aimed at fostering a network of supporters to advance its “pro-Israel, pro-peace” agenda–is wrapping up today in the nation’s capital. This division of the Israel lobby into two separate camps proves to be a comfortable accommodation for the increasingly polarized spectrum of American Jewish views regarding both the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the potential nuclear threat from Iran.

An added dimension of this division, however, is that the conference faithful of both organizations now assemble each year for a sort of color war. Not only does each group aim to advance its own agenda; it takes swipes at that of the other group. Of course, this is more of a reality for J Street, which remains, in its youth, a small and ineffective opposition lobby that struggles to find its legitimacy with attacks on AIPAC. The establishment body AIPAC, however, has achieved a legendary position of power and influence in United States policy, reflective of the general success of American Jewry, and serving as an endless quarry of fodder for anti-Zionist thinkers and conspiracy theorists. To AIPAC, J Street is beyond the pale of “pro-Israel,” more critical of Israel’s actions than those of its enemies. To J Street, AIPAC represents an old American perception of pro-Israel, ignorant of the beliefs and sentiments of both the younger generation of American Jews and of the majority of Israelis.

The physical realities of the conferences demonstrates the organizations’ power differential quite well: This year’s AIPAC conference gathered 13,000 delegates, more than 1,000 of whom were students, and included visits from more than half of Congress, addresses from President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Peres, minority leaders from both houses of Congress, and Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. The conference operation was a logistical masterpiece, with organizational finesse and visual productions that speak to the lobby group’s undeniable importance.

The J Street conference, in contrast, gathered only 2,500 delegates, 650 of whom were students, with no top-ranking government officials. The conference operation was messy, reminiscent of a small-scale synagogue gathering, and with a bizarre and extensive hodgepodge of participating organizations–the New Israel Fund, Peace Now, Rabbis for Human Rights, B’Tselem, Givat Haviva, Tikkun Magazine and many more–not all of whom even share similar political stances.

It is therefore with good reason that J Street classifies itself as a “movement” and not a lobby. Its conference seemed at times to be a summit of somewhat like-minded organizations, uniting under the banner of a group that has its own particular party line and a lobby group to advance it.

A much more important distinction between the conferences was the demographics of the presenters at each. An elementary understanding of each organization’s purpose is more than enough to account for this distinction. AIPAC, whose essential goal is to be a Washington advocate for the positions of the elected Israeli government , featured mainly American politicians among its speakers, as if to tell the delegates and the world: “Just look–the American government already overwhelmingly supports the decisions of the Israeli government!”

J Street, whose essential goal is to be a Washington advocate for the positions of the American Jewish population as regards Israel, featured mainly Israeli speakers at its conference, as if to tell its delegates and the world: “Israelis themselves want us, the American Jews, to use the unique power of citizen lobbying in order to urge Washington to pressure Israel toward a two-state peace agreement with the Palestinians!”

This difference in perspective has wide-reaching effects on the image of Israel that emerges at the respective conferences. For delegates of AIPAC, Israel is a hazy, amorphous idea, a distant reality that supports Jewish values, democratic government and the rule of law, one that shares interests with the United States and has legitimate and far-reaching security concerns. Thousands of Zionists attending the conference learned to see Israel through the lens of American leaders–as a “strategic ally,” a place of some ideological and emotional value, a sheet of foreign financial aid figures and a basis for promises of military action.

Delegates of J Street, however, learned to see Israel as a living and breathing reality, a Jewish reality, with troubling complexities and too many flaws for comfort. They heard from intellectuals and authors like Amos Oz, social protest leaders like Stav Shaffir, women’s rights advocates like Anat Hoffman and left-wing Israeli politicians like Ehud Olmert, Amram Mitzna, and Avishay Braverman. They were presented with a uniquely Jewish imperative for peace, ranging from Oz’s secular, pluralistic Judaism to Hoffman’s “Women of the Wall” religious-feminist movement to Rabbi Donniel Hartman’s Orthodox presentation of “aspirational Judaism” and its relationship with “aspirational Zionism.” They were told that, sure, Israel has great security concerns, but that the threats posed by its current policies to its Jewish values are of greater consequence and greater urgency. Ultimately, it was added, these threats will compromise Israel’s security even more drastically.

That great security concern at AIPAC’s conference, was, of course, the threat posed by Iran; little time or interest was given to any other Israeli concerns. Hardly a word was said about the status of the Palestinians or the historic social developments that transpired in Israel since last year’s conference. Where survival in the face of an enormous enemy is concerned, all other causes are allowed to fall by the wayside. For this reason, Bibi, who has concerned himself diligently and loudly with stopping Iran, received a welcome from the AIPAC 13,000 far warmer than he would ever receive anywhere in his own country, where the people’s conscience grasps far more than one singular Israeli issue.

At J Street’s conference, however, Iran was considered mostly a diversion created by the Likud machine to avoid action on Israel’s real pressing problems—peace with its neighbors, Palestinian autonomy and social reform. Sure, Iran is a real and serious threat, the J Street speakers said, but it is a threat shared by the whole world. Israel has its own problems to deal with first. Also, they added, survival is worth very little when it comes at the expense of national values.

In these different perspectives lies the flaw of each lobby group’s repertoire: a deep transgression of omission. AIPAC presents what Israel is on paper, and what the concept of Israel looked like in 1948 (with, of course, a great deal of accolades for the small nation’s start-up miracles and high-tech achievements), but says nothing of the real status of Arabs in Israeli society, of the women who are made to ride in the back of buses in Haredi communities, of the Jewish state’s socioeconomic gaps now perching at the second-largest in the western world, of the recent slew of anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset (aimed at weakening the ability of NGOs and human rights groups to operate within the country), of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s concerted attempts this week to assert his administration’s control over the future of the Channel 2 news network, and of the threat to Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state posed by the basic reality of millions of disenfranchised Palestinians living under Israeli military authority.

J Street presents what is supposedly a liberal Zionist ideal, and a genuine effort to save the soul of Israel. Its narrative seems, however, to include no room to blame anyone but the Likud-led coalition for Israel’s misfortune. No recognition of rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli civilians. No examination of the factors that led the last serious round of peace talks to devolve into a murderous Palestinian intifada. Little acknowledgment of the role of today’s Palestinian Authority intransigence in stalling the negotiation process. (Robert Danin, former head of Quartet Envoy Tony Blair’s mission in Jerusalem, and current senior fellow in the Council on Foreign Relations, shared at the AIPAC Policy Conference that, in his personal experience, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has no coherent peace negotiation policy at all, but just employs tactics variously to ensure that at the end of each day, he remains in power, and Israel remains demonized.) Little acknowledgment of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s great success in bringing home captured soldier Gilad Shalit, whose plight had for five years been at the forefront of the Israeli collective mindset, and whose safe return was undoubtedly among the most momentous occasions in modern Israeli history.

Some of these realities did emerge at the conference’s breakout sessions. The various guest speakers–intellectuals, journalists and generals–conducted informational lessons that at times acknowledged the history of Palestinian terror, PA intransigence, and the role of Netanyahu in the Gilad Shalit deal. But the plenaries, with the great big statements of J Street policy, were something else entirely. The throngs of delegates were told only how crucial a two-state solution is for Israeli security and values (which it is), how much of an obstacle the settlements pose to such a solution (which some certainly do) and how terribly the Likud administration has abused the democratic system in Israel (which, arguably, it has). But there was no room for nuance concerning these subjects, and no room for right-of-center Israeli voices–another legitimate segment of the Jewish reality in Israel.

J Street also prides itself on the political/historical narrative offered by American Jewish voices such as J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, provocative journalist and author Peter Beinart, and historian, author and oleh Gershom Gorenberg. All three of these men have recently written books arguing against Israeli settlement policy, and advocating for a new form of pro-Israel mentality based on the liberal Zionist aspirations of the younger generation of American Jews. Beinart in particular aroused a firestorm recently when he published an op-ed in the New York Times, in anticipation of the release of his book, which enjoined American Jews to boycott the West Bank settlements in order to save Israel (somehow assuming that afflicting the livelihood of private settlers, whom he maintains are not necessarily themselves guilty, will influence Israeli policy). It is worthwhile to note that references to this position at the J Street Conference received mixed responses from the delegates.

J Street claims that the positions of these three innovators represent the authentic voice of American Jewry, and its young generation in particular. In response, Bret Stephens wrote three weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, “one wonders why organizations more in tune with those ‘real’ views rarely seem to find much of a base.” Stephens’s claim is hardly compelling when considered in light of J Street’s short history and its attempt to compete with an old, entrenched establishment like AIPAC. Only several years down the line, in light of the success or failure of J Street to expand and thrive at that point, can Stephens’s contention be honestly assessed.

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On the opening night of the J Street Conference, renowned Israeli author and social critic Amos Oz delivered a stunning plea for two-state peace. In doing so, he acknowledged differences of opinion concerning Israel’s future. “Zionism has always been a surname,” he said, “not a first name. No one person was ever allowed to claim Zionism for himself.” This point was well taken, and the vast divide between the different Zionist camps in Israel and America perhaps illustrates it quite well.

Still, the color war presentations of AIPAC’s and J Street’s conferences reflect this attitude quite poorly. It is true that the two organizations help complete the spectrum of politics within American Jewish activism for Israel. And it is entirely legitimate for any one Israel group to pursue only its agenda and leave other aspects of Israel aside. Nonetheless, the insistence of each group on considering only the support for its own agenda in a vacuum, ignoring any and all contravening evidence, leaves behind a sense of lifeless, unproductive dialogue–not entirely unlike the 21st century incarnation of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

Editor’s note: A version of this article appeared in Yeshiva University’s The Commentator.

March Comes In with AIPAC and Goes Out with J Street

March is bookended by two Israel-related conferences in Washington this year: the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, attended by about 13,000 people, was held the first weekend in March, and the coming weekend marks J Street’s third national conference. So, what does it mean to be pro-Israel? Moment asked 24 writers and thinkers–including Israeli novelist Amos Oz and journalist Peter Beinart, both of whom will be at the J Street conference–to tell us what they think it means to be pro-Israel today.