Tag Archives: J Street

Beyond Talk: Five Ways the American Jewish Establishment Supports the Occupation

A new report was just released by If Not Now, an American organization that says it’s “building a vibrant and inclusive movement within the American Jewish community, across generations and organizational affiliations … to shift the American Jewish public away from the status quo that upholds the occupation.”

“Beyond Talk: Five Ways the American Jewish Establishment Supports the Occupation” is a short 35 pages with footnotes to back up the points made in the report.  The pdf can be downloaded for free here.

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Thankfully, more Americans are waking up to the insidious role of the U.S. involvement in the Israeli occupation. This report focuses on the Jewish organizations in America that support and enable the occupation despite the fact that there is a growing schism between these organizations and the younger American Jews who denounce the Israeli occupation.

Some major take-away points from the report:

#1  Directly fund organizations that uphold Israel’s military, economic, and political control over Palestinians’ daily lives.

  • Between 2009 and 2013, 50 American 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations gave over $220 million in tax-deductible donations to settlements and other extreme right-wing organizations, according to an investigation of American and American Jewish organizations’ IRS tax forms by the Israeli daily Haaretz.

#2  Lobby American politicians to put unconditional support for the Israeli government and its policies above Palestinian human rights.

  • The educational arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and organizations such as local Jewish Community Relation Councils send regular delegations of politicians to Israel to boost unequivocal support for the Jewish state while hiding the reality of the Occupation. The limited engagement with Palestinian perspectives on such trips was described by one participant, former U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, as “a sort of token process.”
  • In addition to lobbying for Israel, the majority of Jewish institutions lobby against any and all criticism of Israel’s Occupation. Of all American Jewish organizations with large national memberships, only Americans for Peace Now, Jewish Voice for Peace, J Street, and the New Israel Fund supported the U.S. administration’s abstention in the December 2016 United Nations Security Council Resolution recognizing Israel’s settlements as illegal under international law. The mixture of condemnation and silence from every other national American Jewish organization demonstrates an investment in a status quo that benefits settlement expansion over Palestinian rights.

#3  Amplify prominent individuals and organizations responsible for deepening the Occupation.

#4  Promote a culture within the Jewish community that omits and denies the legitimacy of Palestinian narratives and rights.

  • Many Jewish youth groups promote the state of Israel while barely acknowledging the existence of the Occupation. For example, many camps and Hebrew schools use maps of Israel without the Green Line in their educational materials.
  • Hillel International, which oversees the largest network of centers for Jewish life on college campuses, maintains “standards of partnership” guidelines that prohibit Hillel-affiliated organizations and student groups from hosting or partnering with organizations or individuals that “support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel,” effectively barring engagement with Palestinians opposed to the Occupation.

#5  Silence and intimidate those who oppose the policies of the Israeli government, shutting dissent out of the mainstream Jewish community.

  • In 2014, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which was founded in the 1950s to represent all major streams of American Jewry in national affairs, voted against J Street’s membership; vocal opponents said that it was not sufficiently pro-Israel because it opposed the Occupation.
  • Mainstream Jewish organizations have refused to speak out against and even funded watchlists, like Canary Mission, that vilify individuals and organizations that speak out for Palestinian rights. Canary Mission is a database that catalogues the photos and names of Palestinian rights activists, encourages employers to blacklist them, and has been used as the basis to deny entry to Israel.

The report’s message is clear. American Jews who stand up for human rights and oppose Israel’s occupation must make their voices heard within these organizations that purport to represent them. They must use their influence and power to pushback against the Zionist behemoth that maintains the occupation.

“Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

 

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The Fork in the Road – Building Trust or Digging in Deeper?

There’s certainly been plenty of impassioned rhetoric spewed in recent weeks about the P5+1 agreement with Iran.  (P5+1 stands for the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia plus Germany ). Few people have even read the agreement I suspect, but you can right here on the White House website, all 159 pages, if you really want to.  Frankly, I have no desire to read the fine print, but I think the explanation provided by this nuclear physicist is a good substitute. The State Department’s website has plenty of information about this agreement too.

Former Ambassador Joe C. Wilson spoke in favor of the Iranian nuke agreement this week in Albuquerque at Congregation Albert. Although linked to J Street, the Ambassador made clear that he was speaking only for himself. Two weeks earlier, the synagogue invited a speaker sponsored by AIPAC opposed to the agreement. In good humor, Wilson noted that he didn’t want to be the goy between the two Jews.

Former Ambassador Joe C. Wilson

Former Ambassador Joe C. Wilson speaking at Congregation Albert 8/26/15

Americans might best remember Ambassador Wilson for his role in exposing the Bush Administration’s lies about Saddam Hussein obtaining yellow cake from Niger. Bush needed to fabricate a reason to go to war, and after Wilson exposed his lies in an article in the New York Times, the Bush Administration exposed Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent, ending her career. Her book, Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent was Betrayed By Her Own Government has been made into a movie and I understand Sean Penn plays Wilson. Now, I have to see it!

On to serious matters.

Ambassador Wilson says the Iranian nuke agreement is both a technical and political agreement. Scientists from both Sandia Labs and Los Alamos Labs were involved in the negotiations. Iran has agreed to “very intrusive and comprehensive inspections” with very close oversight for the next 15-25 years.

The IAEA negotiated a “side agreement” with Iran on technical issues that has apparently created some angst among the naysayers, but Wilson didn’t appear concerned. He said Congressman Jerry Nadler, a Jewish Democrat from New York, has written the best piece about the agreement that he’s read.

Presentation at Congregation Albert - Albuquerque, NM

Presentation at Congregation Albert – Albuquerque, NM

“We can’t trust the Iranians!”  Wilson said it goes both ways, the Iranians don’t trust the Americans. We don’t need to trust the Iranians to live up to the agreement because there are mechanisms in the agreement to allow inspections and the scientists tell us that no one can remove nuclear traces within 24 days (the time designated in the agreement within which Iran must let IAEA inspectors to come in and look). Our scientists are telling us that there’s no way Iran could surreptitiously build a nuclear bomb without the world knowing about it. That argument against the agreement sounds like a red herring to me.

“Iranians will still have centrifuges — even after signing the agreement.”  They will be required to reduce their stockpile of centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,104 (I think is the # Wilson said.) Fewer is better than allowing them to continue to build new ones, which would be the case without the agreement.

Centrifuges

Centrifuges

“What will the Iranians do with the $150 Billion returned to them when the embargo is lifted (I think that’s the # I heard)?”  I don’t think Wilson speculated about the answer, but said the U.S. will be the big loser in a “profound way” if we fail to sign the agreement. “Our standing as a world leader will be sorely tested” and will “play right into the hands of the extremists in Iran.” “See, we told you the Americans can’t be trusted.”  Wilson doesn’t believe it would be in Israel’s long-term strategic interests to walk away from the agreement either. Retired members of the Israeli security support the agreement.

This doesn’t mean that the relationships between Iran and the rest of the world will come up all roses, Wilson said.  But this agreement will give the world 10-15 years to pursue confidence-building actions in the region. The negotiating process brought together allies, adversaries and competitors …. really a first!  “It’s a good deal to benefit the region.”

Question from the audience: “What happens if the U.S. doesn’t sign?”

The U.S. Congress would have to override President Obama’s veto. Then everything would be up in the air. Both the U.S. and Israel will be isolated from the rest of the world. Other countries will do business with Iran. Wilson believes the Iranian moderates won with this agreement, and the hardliners lost out. If the U.S. fails to sign, then the hardliners’ position is strengthened.

Ambassador Wilson said that Israel needs to find peace with its neighbors. This agreement gives Israel time to do that. Wilson did not hide his disdain for Netanyahu or AIPAC, which he said is an arm of Likud and divides all of us.  AIPAC shapes the discussion in a toxic way.

“Agreements lead to potential new agreements.” 

“De-escalation of tensions leads to further de-escalation.”

Iranians have a very long memory. Americans don’t. If the U.S. fails to sign onto this agreement which we played a leadership role in designing and negotiating, future generations of Iranians will understand they can’t trust America.

I was going to ask about the letter in the New York Times written by Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian lead negotiator, urging the only nuclear country in the Middle East to follow suit now and agree to negotiate a nuclear free Middle East.  But someone else from the audience asked a related question, which Wilson deflected so I didn’t think he would answer my question.

I left the gathering at Congregation Albert believing that Congress is really standing at a fork in the road — with an opportunity to build trust in this volatile region or dig ourselves deeper into conflict and war. This is a very important decision for our members of Congress, for our nation’s future influence in foreign policy, and future generations. I hope they make the right decision.

Jafar Panahi, a leading Iranian film director (who has won numerous international awards including the Golden Bear in the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in 2015), supports the Iran Deal, as do many others.

Thanks to the talented Mike Swick who recorded the Ambassador’s remarks, here’s the entire 1+ hour video.

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al-Nakba Day on Capitol Hill

Lora squinting in front of the US Capitol

Lora squinting in front of the US Capitol

Today I visited Washington, DC where the Capitol Building is getting a facelift. My goal was to connect with staff in each of the offices of the New Mexico delegation to talk about al-Nakba.  It went something like this . . .

Staffer: Welcome to the office. We always like to hear from our constituents.

Lora: Thank you for taking time to meet with me. I have a personal interest in the Middle East (and I proceeded to share a bit about my background to set some context).  Have you heard of al-Nakba?

Staffer: Nope!

Lora: Maybe you know about Israel’s Independence Day which was celebrated yesterday.

Staffer: Oh sure.

Lora: When the Zionists declared the new State of Israel in 1948,  they began to forcibly expel over 750,000 indigenous Palestinians from their homes, businesses, and land. Many were killed. Over 500 Palestinians villages were destroyed. That expulsion is referred to as al-Nakba or “Catastrophe” in English, which continues to this day.

Staffer: <furiously scribbling notes>

Lora: What does the Senator / Congresswoman think about Israel & Palestine?

Staffer: Well, Israel has a right to defend herself, but we think Israel’s bombing of schools and hospitals last summer was over the top.

Lora: The situation in the Gaza Strip is dire. More than 2,000 Palestinians (most of them civilians) were killed last summer. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds of families remain without shelter today. The status quo cannot continue. In fact, the U.N. issued a report in the summer of 2012 that said the Gaza Strip would be unlivable by 2020!

Staffer: Yes, but the situation is complex. What do you think the Senator / Congresswoman should do?

Lora: Well, we could begin by recognizing the State of Palestine.  “Direct negotiations” between Israel and Palestine will not be fruitful if the international status of the parties remains unequal. This week Pope Francis recognized the State of Palestine.  And as of October 2014, 135 of the 193 member states of the United Nations have recognized the State of Palestine.  I think it’s long past time for the U.S. to recognize the State of Palestine too.

Staffer:   Hmmmm! OK.

Lora: You know that the official U.S. policy regarding Israel/Palestine has been consistent for decades and under the Administrations of both parties. Carrots haven’t worked, it’s time to use sticks. Expressions of “concerns” about Israel’s settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories (a violation of international law) have not resulted in any change.

Staffer: What kind of sticks?

Lora: Such as reducing the $3+ Billion/year the U.S. taxpayers give to Israel;  supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; and refusing to shield Israel from criticism at the United Nations.

Staffer: What’s BDS?

Lora: <exacerbated but remaining calm> You know, like what we did with South Africa to help end the apartheid regime? And since Congress heard Netanyahu speak in March, maybe an invitation  to Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s permanent observer to the U.N., and former President Jimmy Carter, to speak to Congress would be helpful. Shouldn’t Congress hear from both sides?

Staffer: When an important vote comes up, the Senator / Congresswoman always asks staff “who have we heard from in the District about this issue and what did they say?”

Lora in Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham's office sitting with the office dog - Mattie.

Lora in Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham’s office sitting with the office dog – Mattie.

Which leads me to the point of this blog post. Don’t take it for granted that your members of Congress understand the issues in the Middle East. Reach out to them, call or write, and tell them what you think. Although the AIPAC and J Street lobbyists are known to Congressional staffers, other groups (Jewish Voices for Peace) and individuals may be unknown. We need to be heard in Congress. It’s easy (check out this website) and there’s no excuse not to.

My hunch is that not a single member of Congress has heard of al-Nakba. I know the staffers of the New Mexico delegation hadn’t.

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Goliath and PEP

The Lensic in Santa Fe holds 821 people but last night I think they must have squeezed in a few more to hear Amy Goodman (Democracy Now) and Max Blumenthal. I only got in because my friend had the foresight to pick up tickets early. If you missed out, I think the program will be available online next Sunday — check here.

Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, NM

Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, NM

The focus of the evening was Max Blumenthal’s new book — GOLIATH: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel — Nation Books (2013). Unlike his earlier book — REPUBLICAN GOMORRAH: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party — which received a boatload of attention from media and talk show hosts, this time the reception in the U.S. has been silence. Amy Goodman interviewed him about his book here and here, but you might be hard-pressed to find any other interviews.

Why the silent treatment, even from some of the “liberal” and “progressive” media? Blumenthal shared PEP with the audience, an acronym I first heard this summer, “Progressive Except Palestine.” I’ve used PEP to describe several Facebook friends who, needless to say, have chosen no longer to be Facebook friends!

I’ve never understood how many self-described “progressives” can have a blind spot when it comes to Israel-Palestine. Last night, I think I came up with an explanation.

Blumenthal described what he witnessed in the Gaza Strip during a ceasefire in Israel’s 51-day assault (“Operation Protective Edge”) this past summer.  I’m still scratching my head, trying to understand how he managed to get into Gaza through the Erez Crossing.

Max Blumenthal, author of GOLIATH

Max Blumenthal, author of GOLIATH

In addition to reciting facts and figures, many Arabic and Israeli names rolled easily off his tongue, as if they were neighbors or good friends. The Gaza fishermen who took him out on the sea one night. Max Steinberg, a Jewish jihadist from Los Angeles, who joined the elite Golani Brigade in Israel and died in Gaza this summer. The men in Gaza who served Blumenthal tea while standing in front of a pile of rubble, their destroyed homes. He mentioned Refaat Alareer by name — a university professor in Gaza and Editor of Gaza Writes Back — and I decided right there and then that I would ask Blumenthal to autograph a book for Refaat which I plan to deliver when I return to Gaza.

Max Blumenthal and Amy Goodman

Max Blumenthal and Amy Goodman

Blumenthal spent 4 years researching Goliath. About the research, he says:

Thanks to my U.S. passport and Jewish heritage, I have been able to report from the frontiers of Israel-Palestine with relative ease, receiving favorable treatment from ethnic profiling experts at Ben Gurion International Airport, passing effortlessly through checkpoints, and cruising from the West Bank to Tel Aviv on highways made off limits to most Palestinians. I spent months living in Ajami, a rapidly gentrifying Palestinian ghetto just south of Tel Aviv; in central Jerusalem, an increasingly frenetic hotbed of Jewish religious nationalism; and in Ramallah, the occupied, seemingly prosperous capital of a Palestinian state that may never be. I have interviewed leaders of Israeli political parties and leaders of Palestinian protests…These are the stories of people living under a regime of separation, grappling with the consequences of ethnic division in a land with no defined borders.

Imagine 89 families (entire families) wiped out or “liquidated” by the Israeli military this summer. Blumenthal says that raises the question of of genocide. I would agree.

He just returned from the Russell Tribunal, the People’s Tribunal, earlier this month where he presented testimony about possible war crimes. Listen to some of the horrific stories he heard in Gaza. (15 minutes)

Max Blumenthal came under fire from liberal Zionists for portraying Israel in such a critical manner, but Operation Protective Edge has proven him right, and now those liberal Zionists have nothing to say. The reality of Israel today is much worse than what he describes in Goliath.

“The mask is off” Israel now and Blumenthal believes there has been a “massive shift in public opinion in the U.S.”  There are now more Jewish Voices for Peace chapters on university campuses in the United States than there are J Street chapters, whose members have been moving to JVP in droves.

When asked by a member of the audience to speak about AIPAC, Blumenthal acknowledged it was the second most powerful lobby (after the NRA) in the U.S. but it has no base; it’s top heavy and buys off the the elites.

Max Blumenthal  autographing book for Refaat Alareer

Max Blumenthal autographing book for Refaat Alareer

Blumenthal is a great story-teller (on paper and in person) and his descriptions of Shu’jaya and Rafah and Gaza City drew me back to my Palestinian friends with both great sadness and joy because his experience mirrored so many of my experiences when I lived there.

The evening’s take-away message for me — the one I don’t want to forget — is that there is no hope of reforming the State of Israel or ending the military occupation from the inside. Israel has moved so far to the right politically, and Israelis have been so isolated from Palestinians, that Blumenthal believes they’re preparing for a permanent occupation of Palestine. Force has to come from the outside in the form of the BDS movement, in international public opinion, and from action at the ICC to hold Israel accountable.

P1290495

So here’s my PEP theory — why self-described progressives can turn a blind eye towards the injustices that Israel’s military occupation is perpetuating on Palestinians.  Some of these PEPs are good Jews who visited Israel during their impressionable years on a “birthright” tour, just like Max Blumenthal did when he was a young man, and accepted without question the “special” stories they heard. To challenge those messages now would (1) make them feel foolish or (2) upset their moral universe in which Israel = good and Palestine = terror/bad.

Psychologically, when someone’s identity is so tied up into a place (Israel), he can’t acknowledge the evil warts that exist in that place without acknowledging his own warts. Even though, rationally speaking, a state and an individual don’t have to be so intertwined, Israeli leaders don’t want any daylight to exist between the State and the good Jew so that they won’t question the actions of the State. And that’s why I fear that my friends and family who find themselves intertwined with the State of Israel in this way are in for a very big fall.

Friends at the Lensic following Max Blumenthal's presentation.

Friends at the Lensic following Max Blumenthal’s presentation.

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