Tag Archives: Israeli Palestinian Conflict

The Goldstone Saga

by Erica Shaps

Every year at Brandeis University there is at least one Israel/Palestine-related event that lights a fire under the campus. My freshman year, it was a well-publicized and well-attended debate between Justice Richard Goldstone and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold over the contents of the 2009 United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (known as the Goldstone Report). To be honest, I remember the speakers’ rhetorical styles better than their arguments. Gold’s voice echoed abrasively, and he came armed with an aesthetically disarming Powerpoint. Goldstone, on the other hand, tried to explain himself calmly in a lilting South African accent. He came across as a gentle Jewish grandfather. Although I disagreed with many of his report’s harshest conclusions, some of which he later retracted, it was impossible to deny that he had good intentions when accepting the mandate. At some point during the debate, I realized I felt terrible for Richard Goldstone.

Justice Goldstone has had an incredibly prolific career, becoming one of the most trusted and respected judges across the globe. The Goldstone Commission played a critical role in even-handedly subduing apartheid-related violence as South Africa began to transition to true democracy. He served as Chief U.N. prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and his efforts were critical in successfully recognizing rape as a war crime in the Geneva Convention.

In spite of this, in many elements of the Jewish community, the judge is now being judged solely based on the Goldstone report. After the report, his own community called him a self-hating Jew and a traitor. It was widely reported that he was initially going to be restricted from his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Various media sources reported that he had a hard time sleeping and was under great distress.

In April, Goldstone wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he expressed regret over some of the Goldstone Report’s conclusions, particularly that Israel killed civilians intentionally. Recently, Goldstone wrote a New York Times op-ed debunking the claim that Israel is an apartheid state. His well-articulated argument against the apartheid claim was particularly potent since he was an anti-apartheid judge in South Africa.

In the wake of these writings, we are seeing the delegitimization and redemption of Richard Goldstone on a very large public scale.

Some commentators are now starting to welcome Goldstone back into the fold of the Jewish community, or are considering “ forgiving him” because of his last two op-eds. Alan Dershowitz, the famed lawyer and Israel advocate who once considered Goldstone a friend, called him a traitor to the Jewish people and stated that the Goldstone Report was written by “an evil, evil man.” After Goldstone published his retraction, Dershowitz wrote an article explaining that Goldstone was moving in the right direction but still “needs to do teshuvah.”

Conversely, many who once lauded Goldstone as a courageous hero now condemn him as a desperate sell-out who is no longer relevant. Some behave as if his last two op-ed articles completely undermine the initial Goldstone Report and his entire body of work. Richard Falk, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights and Princeton professor, wrote that Goldstone had fallen from grace to “this shabby role as legal gladiator recklessly jousting on behalf of Israel” after his New York Times op-ed was published.

I don’t know why Goldstone chose to write his op-ed. But the claim that he did so in an act of “caving in to Zionist pressure” is preposterous. Perhaps he is trying to work toward the same mission he was when he accepted the UN mandate: Pursuing his understanding of justice and truth using the resources at his disposal.

Justice Goldstone’s case reveals some sad human tendencies. When we agree with someone, we quote them endlessly, respect them and use their work to further our arguments and cement our understanding of the universe without guilt or struggle. When we disagree with someone’s conclusions, he is a liar, a traitor, and we are required to be suspicious of his motivations and intentions.  We should be capable of objecting to a person’s work and questioning his or her opinions’ accuracy and validity without character assassinations. I do not agree with all of the conclusions drawn in the Goldstone Report, and think its flaws had some terrible ramifications; I still have immense respect for Justice Goldstone. It is easier to dismiss a person than to dismiss their argument, but for precisely this reason, it is important that we maintain standards of civility in the public discourse.

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.

Where Does This J Street Go?

by Theodore Samets

Summer is a time for sales. It’s a time for vacations. It’s a time to escape work in the afternoon to get to the beach or the golf course.

It’s not usually a time for negotiating the final parameters of an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. The folks at J Street are trying to change that.

For just over a month, J Street has been pushing a campaign they call “Two-State Summer,” which they describe as “a push to support President Obama’s vision for a real and final resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

If you don’t follow J Street on Twitter or like the organization on Facebook, you may not have heard of the campaign, but – get excited – you may soon, because J Street is planning an “August Day (sic) of action to publicly demonstrate broad support for the President’s vision.”

Since the organization’s birth, J Street has tried to claim that they were one of the only Jewish organizations that strongly supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ignoring widespread support for the idea across party lines and throughout the Jewish community, they’ve worked to label those who oppose their efforts as opposed to peace.

It hasn’t worked. Instead, they’ve been mired by accusations – among others – that the organization isn’t actually pro-Israel and concerns over J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami’s lies about George Soros’s support for the organization.

Yet their newest plan seems ill conceived, even for J Street. Instead of focusing on the upcoming U.N. vote on a unilateral Palestinian declaration of a state, which is a great threat to the peace process J Street claims to support, they’ve continued their selfish, go it alone attitude with their “two-state summer.” (The organization itself does not take a stand on the vote, instead encouraging “diplomatic efforts” that would make such a vote “unnecessary.”)

This is all despite the fact that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, refuses to sit down with the Israeli government and negotiate. How does J Street propose reaching the two-state solution they claim to so actively desire if they can’t get Abbas to agree to negotiations?

By hosting strategy sessions in the States.

J Street openly claims to be President Obama’s “blocking back” on Israel policy. So far, they haven’t had more success than President Obama or anyone else in bringing the two-state solution to fruition.Maybe this is because they are more focused on claiming support for two states as their cause and theirs alone instead of recognizing that a passion for such an agreement is at the heart of most American Jewish organizations and most American Jews.

The two-state summer campaign is showing that J Street may just be the Jon Huntsman of Israel organizations. (Or is Jon Huntsman the J Street of the Republican primaries?) Despite protestations that they have widespread support, the organization seems to be at risk of losing the only folks who really do follow their efforts: the media. There’s been little coverage, if any, of the “two-state summer,” which is J Street’s current focus. Perhaps the media has realized the minority of American Jews on whose behalf J Street speaks.

For those who care about Israel and the US-Israel relationship and who genuinely desire a peace that keeps the Jewish state safe and secure while creating an independent Palestinian state, it is becoming clearer every day that J Street is not the answer. Instead, the organization helps to elevate anti-Israel voices (like the J Street-endorsed Rep. Lynn Woolsey) and works against the efforts of the democratically-elected Israeli government.

But if J Street proves me wrong and shows that YouTube videos and strategy sessions in Manhattan are the way to peace before the autumnal equinox, more power to them. I’ll tip my cap and write them a check.

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.

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.

Loving Israel The Right (Or Left) Way

By Amanda Walgrove

Last week, Sarah Palin visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of Israel’s right-wing coalition, including Likud Chairman, Danny Danon. Many have questioned whether or not this was an early campaign move; many GOP members who may throw their hats into the Presidential ring—Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Haley Barbour—have recently made visits to Israel as well. “It’s not the Ames straw poll, but I do think a visit to Israel is an important stop for folks who are running for president,” Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matthew Brooks told Politico. “So much of what our commander-in-chief will deal with in the White House is rooted in this part of the world.” Besides being a shiny credential on the checklist for candidacy, Palin’s visit also serves to put another face to the name of what has become an increasingly conservative stance on what it means to be “pro-Israel.”

Tea Partiers have been split between what Walter Russell Mead has deemed the “Palinite” and “Paulite” approaches to foreign policy. The “proactive” tactics Palin  endorses call for maintaining a tight alliance with Israel. Garnering significantly less support from the GOP is Ron Paul’s “passive” approach, which suggests that America distance itself from the Israeli-Palestine conflict and avoid supporting one over the other. Speaking out about the need to condemn Palestine for attacks on Israel, Republican House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, responded to the recent bombing in Jerusalem by saying, “The White House must do more to tamp down anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian territories. That’s why I support bipartisan efforts in the House and Senate that call on the White House to put an end to anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian territories.” But how has the median Jewish American constituency reacted, considering the latest tragedies that Israel has faced?

Dominating the American Jewish landscape, the right-leaning AIPAC fully supports the policies of any Israeli government, including the current one, stating on its website, “AIPAC works to secure vital U.S. foreign aid for Israel to help ensure Israel remains strong and secure.” Jeremy Ben-Ami, creator of the three-year-old J Street, felt that this conservative domination left a gap for American Jews who wanted to commune and raise money for a more peaceful solution to conflicts between Israel and Palestine. While a tagline of “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” has a positive ring to it, the controversy lies in the idea that Palestine should not be reprimanded for attacks on Israel, but rather, they must be persuaded to make a peace agreement. For supporters of J Street, questions arise such as: Is someone anti-Israel if he or she believes that the Palestinians deserve the same rights as the Jews? Can someone be pro-Israel without fully supporting the Israeli government’s decisions?

Israeli lawmakers held a hearing on Wednesday to decide the answers to these questions, discerning what role Jews living outside the country should have in Israeli policymaking. A recent poll showed that only 14% of Israelis had ever heard of J Street and only 19% believed that the American Jewish community should provide unconditional support for Israeli politics. However, right-wing Israeli politicians, believing America’s support to be crucial, think that J Street verges upon  treason by not backing the decisions of the Israeli government. Lawmaker Otniel Schneller, a member of the centrist Kadima party, said at the hearing, “J Street is not a Zionist organization. It cannot be pro-Israel,” suggesting that J Street’s display of love for Israel “has strings attached.”  While extreme critics of J Street have labeled the lobby group “anti-Israel,” Danon said he would call for a committee vote to have J Street labeled a pro-Palestinian rather than a pro-Israeli group, a move Ben-Ami said could compromise J Street’s appeal in the United States.

Without having to label any group or belief as the “anti,” it’s easy to see that there are different definitions of what people consider to be “pro-Israel.” After the recent brutal murder of the Fogel family in Israel, representatives from the left and right sent letters to President Obama, advising him on how to stand with Israel in the conflict with Palestine. Obama’s dedication to the “Pro-Peace” sentiment is supported by J Street and its passionate followers, but remains  neglected by Netanyahu’s administration. Meanwhile, Republicans have been accusing Obama of taking a weak stance in supporting Israel, especially after his reluctance to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy.

Ahead of Palin’s visit to Israel last week, an Obama official reportedly joked that the Netanyahu was “waiting for President Palin.” But preoccupation with American campaign strategies, lobbyists, and party lines seems increasingly distracting during a time of violent unrest in the Middle East. The real problem is that powerful stances on foreign policy are becoming dangerously polarized, to a point where disingenuous jabs will be made from each side.  AIPAC was recently condemned for using the recent bombing in Jerusalem in its fund-raising and J Street has been accused of criticizing other organizations in order to promote a more leftist standing. Instead of figuring out who is centrist, hypocritical, leftist, or conservative, the focus should be put back on a practical strategy for the safety of Israeli citizens and the ways in which America can use its resources to help.

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

The Hypocrisy of Boycotting

by Daniel Hoffman

Many European and American students are familiar with academic boycotts of Israel, campaigns which emerged in the United Kingdom in the midst of the second Intifada and resurface from time to time on campuses when an “Israeli topic” is debated. These are occasions for pro-Palestinian activists to demonstrate and ask for relations with Israeli universities to be banned.

Recently, two events in France have reinvigorated these old and passionate debates. The first episode was the cancellation of French pop singer Vanessa Paradis’ concert in Tel Aviv, probably a result of political pressures (though her agent claimed it was for professional reasons). Similar  cases have happened in the past with other Western artists, such as Elvis Costello and Gorillaz.

The second event took place in one of France’s most prestigious universities, the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS). Bestselling author Stéphane Hessel, a vociferous detractor of Israeli policy, was supposed to speak in a “Solidarity with Palestine” conference, which was supported by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a campaign calling for an economic boycott of Israel. The event was ultimately canceled, the ENS reminding those involved that the boycott of Israel is forbidden under French law. The controversy became virulent when several pro-Palestinian organizations accused the university of having given in to the requests of pro-Israeli committees.

Gatherings celebrating Israeli culture are also opportunities for boycott
supporters to spark polemics. During the 2008 book fair in Paris, where
Israel was the guest of honor, a national debate was raised after Muslim countries refused to take part in the event. Boycott actions are most likely to be launched when fighting erupts in the Middle East. After the Gaza flotilla raid, in June 2010, a French cinema chain decided to cancel the screenings of an Israeli movie, though the movie was completely unrelated to the conflict.

What is wrong with these campaigns? Is the the fact that they are anti-Semitic? Certainly not: boycott supporters are obviously not all anti-Semites. Is it the fact that they are unfair? That can’t be. Unfairness is too subjective a notion and can hardly be demonstrated.

No, there is something else. The main problem with these campaigns is that they are first and foremost hypocritical.

Their first hypocrisy lies in the very definition of the word “boycott.” The term is so vague and nebulous that it cannot correspond to a single reality. What is the boycott about: food products, academic exchanges, people themselves or any Israel-related object? Which geographical area is concerned: the settlements only or all of Israel? Should the boycott be launched without debate or should it be preceded by a discussion on its appropriateness? Most supporters don’t answer such questions.

A historical reference often invoked when trying to justify the boycott is South Africa. This is a fallacious analogy. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has
absolutely nothing to do with apartheid. You might think Israel is wrong. You might even think it maintains some discriminatory policies. But it is untrue to pretend that there is any political similarity between today’s Israel and 1980s South Africa. Apartheid was a system that legally segregated inhabitants of the same country on a racial basis. Israelis and Palestinians are two different peoples. The comparison with South African blacks is a mistake, and perhaps even an insult to Palestinians. It casts doubts on their ability to self-determinate. For any sincere friend of the Palestinians, the apartheid argument is not tenable.

Neither is the moral argument. Here again, the reasoning deserves to be pushed to its end. Israel can be targeted for a boycott–but so could any number of other countries. Should China be boycotted for the repression of Tibetans, Uyghurs and so many other ethnic groups? Should India be condemned for its intolerable castes? And what about Russia, not really beyond reproach with the Chechens? What about Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma, Sudan, or even the United States? Should we boycott them all?

Shouldn’t we take a moment to wonder if this boycott is useful for Israelis and Palestinians, if it favors dialogue or if, instead, it exacerbates the region’s tensions? Arguing that the boycott is counterproductive must not elude the issue of criticizing Israeli policy—it makes the criticism even more necessary. But it also asks for more efficient ways to move forward.

Stop Screaming, and Start Talking

By Lily Hoffman Simon

Imagine the following: on one side of the room, there is a group advocating for Palestinian liberation. Facing them is a group advocating for the unilateral support and strength of Israel. Everyone is either yelling at each other or casting menacing glares across the room, and most people who walk by avert their eyes. A recent example at McGill Univeristy occurred when the presence of former Israeli soldiers on campus led to protests from Palestinian Rights Groups and a spirited defence by Jewish groups. If you have been on a university campus recently, this image is probably not that surprising. Preoccupied with screaming, the people standing on opposing sides tend to be unable to hear what the other party is saying. By screaming so loudly about their own views, each side is silencing the voice of the other. This silencing only serves to worsen to conflict.

It is important to understand that the conflict in the Middle East cannot simply be divided into two opposing sides. There is an immense amount of nuance in the differing perspectives that reveal the situation to be much more complicated than “us” versus “them.” On campuses, as elsewhere, however, the complexity is often ignored, and the conversation is forced into two opposing poles.

The inability of involved parties to hear the voices of those who differ from them is one of the fundamental causes in the continuation of the conflict. The success of Palestinian nationalism will only come when the rest of the world, including the Israeli government, hears the voice of the Palestinians. By continually re-asserting physical dominance over the Palestinian people, the Israeli government is refusing to hear, or really acknowledge, the people’s plight, preventing any change. The same can be said in defence of the opposing side.  The stability and security of Israel will only come when the rest of the world is able to hear, and listen, to the plight of the Jewish people throughout history, and thus understand the motivation of the Zionist movement.

This inability to hear and understand others is exactly what is happening on campuses around North America. By forcing the discussion around two opposing sides, which inevitably conflict, the voice of everyone in between that dichotomy is silenced.

What the Israel/Palestine discussion needs most on campuses, and elsewhere, is for people who care about the issue (and those who don’t) to be able to listen. This kind of open discussion is usually criticized, because it doesn’t necessarily go anywhere in itself. This notion is false, however; truly listening to others enables us to understand and build connections, humanizing those who are usually seen as the enemy.  Groups that engage in this kind of dialogue are slowly springing up on campuses. For example, at McGill University, one group, Omeq, is trying to ignite this kind of grassroots dialogue for anyone interested.

Conversations on campus probably won’t shape the situation in the Middle East that concretely. However, through discussion, if people’s or ‘our’ ears are truly open, we will see the strong parallels between different narratives, and connect with the situation of others. Listening not only enables us to develop much-needed empathy, but also affects all our actions outside of the dialogue, including voting practices, and other activist work. For example, The Forward details how a forum in between eight women emotionally invested in the Middle East affected their work outside of their conversation in profound ways. This type of discussion is especially important on campuses, where youth, who later in life will become the leaders on this issue, develop the strongest sense of global and interpersonal understanding. Only when this dialogue starts will the Palestine/Israel discussion, argument, war, or whatever you choose to call it, finally change.

The Heart of the Jewish People

By Doni Kandel

Living in the Old City of Jerusalem for eighteen months was enough for me. While I’m eternally appreciative of Jerusalem, it is loud and overcrowded; the Old City is no exception. However, there is no more significant religious or cultural place for the Jewish people than the City of Gold. The Kotel, the wall that millions upon millions of people visit year round to celebrate, mourn, plead for answers and show gratitude, is the modern epicenter of Jerusalem’s Jewish importance. This is why the latest attack on Israel’s right to Jerusalem, that Israel has no claim to the Kotel, is not just a political chess move but an affront to the Jewish nation.  Those who decry Israel’s attempt to hold on to Jerusalem claim that Israeli refusal to cede ground in the city is an obstacle to peace. However it is the inability or unwillingness to acknowledge the inextricable link between the Jews and Jerusalem that is peace’s true impediment. The Kotel is the heart of Jerusalem, which is the heart of the Jewish people. Extricating one from the other is not an option.

Jews have laid claim to the Temple Mount, along with the rest of Jerusalem, since it was conquered by King David over 3,000 years ago. The Western Wall served as one of the outer walls of the Temple mount, built by King Solomon and rebuilt after the Persian Exile.  It’s no secret that Jerusalem plays an integral role in Jewish religious practice and culture–but its religious significance tells only part of the story of Jerusalem’s importance to Judaism.

Jerusalem’s legendary history serves as an ever-present metaphor for the trials and triumphs of the Jewish people. Jerusalem, the Old City in particular, has been besieged and sacked numerous times throughout the ages. Yet, somehow the City of Gold has always hung on, if only by a few threads, to rise from the ashes and rebuild. The recently rebuilt Hurva, a massive synagogue in the Jewish Quarter that was destroyed during the War of Independence, is a primary example of Jerusalem’s persistence.  Until it was restored to its original glory, those who wished to pray at the Hurva prayed at its ruins. The Jewish nation has similarly survived repeated persecution and attrition, if only by its bootstraps, to regroup, rebuild, and live on.

At the end of every Passover seder we exclaim, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” This is not an aspiration for a destination weekend, but an expression of the sheer longing for salvation.  And “Im Eshkacech” the hymn sung at every Jewish wedding and many other times proclaims, “If I forget Jerusalem, let me forget my right hand.”  This important hymn equates Jerusalem with the courage and force of the Jewish people, as represented by the powerful right hand.

Jerusalem also houses numerous paradoxes, which symbolize the conflict within every Jewish soul. The name “Yerushlayim” has within it the word shalom or “peace.” Yet, the Old City is surrounded by fortified walls that serve as a safeguard to its most precious landmark from war. Judaism is beholden to an undercurrent of tension between love of peace and a need for strength and self-preservation. The paradox of Jerusalem is in fact the paradox of the Jewish people.

Those who seek to remove the Jewish people from Jerusalem, especially the Kotel, either fail to recognize the indestructible bond between them or, worse, are acutely cognizant of it. Attempts to convince the world otherwise is a true affront to peace. Turning the Western Wall into a political talking point will not decrease its significance in the Jewish people.  The acceptance of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people is the only way the people of Israel will be able to fulfill the hopes described in its national anthem of living as a “free nation in our land.”  The anthem says as much, concluding “the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”