NOT a New Era for Israelis and Palestinians (for Better and Worse) [ssba]

NOT a New Era for Israelis and Palestinians (for Better and Worse)

President Trump has certainly made good on his promise to shake things up in Washington – and around the world.  I assume most readers of this article are as unhappy and angry about most (if not all) of what he’s doing as I am – and are appalled at the prospect of four more years on this roller-coaster.  But one area seems likely to proceed on its traditional voyage to nowhere, oblivious to Trump’s various promises about a ‘great deal’ and similar nonsense.  That, of course, would be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This is written after a week in which Bibi and Trump held their first meeting as  heads of government, which produced the expected hugs and kisses and, as well, blaring headlines about the U.S. “abandoning” the two state solution, which has already been pronounced dead or nearly so for years.  Maybe it is, probably it isn’t, but Trump’s pronouncement certainly did not cause its demise.  In fact, his statement , like most of his shoot-from-the hip remarks, almost certainly means little, other than giving further impetus to the stalemate (yes, I know it’s an oxymoron) that has prevailed for years.

In fact, probably the only ones really affected by it are the supporters of the Israeli far right in Israel, the US, and elsewhere.  Many of them apparently made the (always dangerous) mistake of taking Trump’s pronouncements seriously.  Sometimes they’re followed through more often they’re not, and sometimes his policy direction is totally different.  Anyone who’s followed the news lately has seen more examples of this than they can keep track of. Trump “promised a series of moves that gladdened their hearts; now they don’t know what to think (welcome to the club!).

Unlike issues such as immigration and trade where he also made very specific promises and has actually attempted to follow through, his Israel/Palestine-related measures have been conspicuous by their absence.  Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem?  Seemingly not happening.  A free hand on settlements? Two softly-worded but unexpectedly clear admonitions not to go crazy with them.  Jared Kushner making peace?  No sign of it.  And even David Friedman, Trump’s nominee as ambassador to Israel, notorious for is particularly vicious slanders and support for the most extreme ideas on the far, far right, is now desperately attempting to appear to be a born-again moderate supporting two states (not that I believe him, obviously).

In fact, one could well argue that Trump’s main effect on this issue so far is to provide a new impetus to those of us who do believe in two states and the long-term viability of Israeli/Palestinian peace, after 8 years during which our hopes were repeatedly dashed.  I should note that I am, on most issues, an admirer of Barack Obama, and even more so now that he has been succeeded by someone appallingly antithetical to the high standard of morality, patriotism, and erudition that Obama set.  But no one can maintain that Obama succeeded with regard to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  His high hopes and ideals invariably flopped and he was out-maneuvered by Bibi Netanyahu at almost every turn.  Unlike with most of his other failed initiatives, he cannot blame the obstruc­tionist Republican-controlled Cong­ress for this. Even his long-overdue absten­tion on UNSCR 2334, condemning Israeli settle­ments, was so late that it had little or no impact.  The only success he had in this arena was in negotiating and pushing through the Iran deal, which is not really “Israel/Palestine,” though it certainly makes Israel safer and removed one of Bibi’s favorite fear points.

Trump’s ignorance of and, seeming lack of concern with the issue forces us now to focus on the parties themselves and removes the vain hope we held for so long that a Hawaii-born deus ex machina would somehow resolve the conflict and sweep away the obstacles erected by the parties themselves.  One thing American liberals (not only, but especially American Jews ) can do is to educate themselves regarding Israeli peace and social justice initiatives, which often get lost in the flurry of internationally-based news.  Israelis are hurting economically – as shown most spectacularly by the 2011 ‘tent cities’ protests – a fact most Americans are only dimly, if at all, aware of.  This is illustrated by a favorite factoid of mine from a 2016 Pew Research Center poll. Thirty-nine percent of Israelis named economic as Israel’s main problem, while only one percent of American Jews thought it was Israel’s most important problem.

Prof. Danny Gutwein of Haifa University is one of Israel’s most prominent public intellectuals addressing this issue and connecting the issues of occupation and economy.  For those planning to attend the upcoming J-Street Conference Feb. 25-28 here in Washington, D.C., he will be speaking there, as well as many others who will be discussing priorities tor this current period.  For more information on Danny Gutwein, see the PPI blog. He will also be speaking on the subject at the University of Maryland in College Park on Feb. 28 and in New York later that week.

This comes at a time when the parameters of the Israel/Arab conflict are changing fundamentally. The cornerstone of Israeli foreign policy for many years was opposition to dealing with the Palestinian issue in an international or regional forum, because it feared being ganged up on by the Arab states.  It is a mirthless irony that Bibi and parts of the Israeli right are now hawking a regional ‘solution’ to the Palestinian issue, based on the very real perception that in recent years many of the major Arab states are now more fearful of ISIL and Iran, enemies of both Israel and those states, than they are of Israel.  However, what the right won’t understand is that the sine qua non for ANY open peace or deals with any Arab country has an absolute precondition of first allowing for the creation of a Palestinian state. The governments of those states realize that their own domestic legitimacy cannot withstand a deal with Israel that ignores the Palestinians. It is time that Bibi recognized that too.

The even bitterer irony is that for most of its existence, Israel has claimed that the enmity of the Arab states prevented peace.  Now, it is the Arab states who want peace – otherwise Bibi wouldn’t be hawking his regional plan – but the settlers and their allies who support the occupation refuse to allow progress on that front. They are essentially holding Israel hostage to their messianic dreams – and harming Israel’s real security, which can only come with its recognition of a Palestinian state and the peace with most, if not all, Arab states, which would follow. They are the true dangers to Israel.

I am not at all blasé regarding the very real threats that President Trump poses to the US and to the whole world.  However, he may be (totally inadvertently) doing a real service to the grassroots efforts to further Israeli/Palestinian peace.  But there is no time to lose!  He may well say something completely different tomorrow.

Holocaust Scholars speak out against President Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel [ssba]

The following letter, signed by a variety of esteemed Holocaust scholars,  was presented to members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations prior to their hearing on David Friedman today, as part of a broad push of liberal Jewish organizations, among them Partners for Progressive Israel, to oppose Friedman’s nomination.

Dear Senators,

As scholars specializing in study of the Holocaust, we strongly object to the way President Donald Trump’s nominee to be US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has distorted and misused events during that tragic period in order to advance his own political goals.

In approaching the Holocaust, we believe that one must show scrupulous respect for the facts as well as respect for the victims in all their humanity. We must also acknowledge the unique nature of the tragedy we are describing. To do otherwise is to dilute the moral and historical significance of this subject in human history.

We are especially troubled that Mr. Friedman has repeatedly compared fellow members of the Jewish community whose views on Israel differ from his own to “kapos” or even “worse than kapos.”

The historical record shows that kapos were Jews whom the Nazis forced, at pain of death, to serve them in the concentration and extermination camps. These Jews faced terrible dilemmas, but ultimately were made into unwilling tools of Nazi brutality. To brand one’s political opponents, members of one’s own community, as kapos, merely for engaging in legitimate debate, is historically indefensible and is a deeply disturbing example of the abuse of the Holocaust and its victims for present political gain.

Mr. Friedman also trivialized the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust in an effort to discredit women who accused Donald Trump of sexual assault.  At that time, he declared, “While the revelation of Mr. Trump’s demeaning comments caught on tape some 11 years ago brought him, as one would expect, widespread negative attention, The New York Times ran with the story with all the journalistic integrity of the worst gossip rag. If only the Times had reported on the Nazi death camps with the same fervor as its failed last-minute attempt to conjure up alleged victims of Donald Trump, imagine how many lives could have been saved.”

Reporting on the Holocaust as it occurred is a complex historical question Friedman oversimplified for the sake of politically expediency.  Coverage of the serious allegations against President Trump is wholly unrelated to the Holocaust.  We reject the use of the Holocaust to reinforce contemporary political messages and view this tactic as grossly trivializing the historical reality of the death and concentration camps.

These examples show a callous disregard for history and for the suffering of the victims of Nazism.  As such, they are unbefitting of one who would become a diplomatic representative of the United States and call into serious question his capacity to serve the United States honorably and successfully in this role.

We hope that you will keep Mr. Friedman’s disrespectful and politically cynical use of the Holocaust in mind as you consider his nomination to serve as our ambassador to Israel.

** All signatories are signing as individual scholars and do not necessarily represent the views of their institutions.

Signed,

Andrew Mathis, Adjunct Professor, University of the Sciences
Atina Grossmann, Professor, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Cooper Union, New York
Avinoam Patt, Director of the Museum of Jewish Civilization, University of Hartford
Beth Lilach, Senior Director of Education and Community Affairs, Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center
Christine E. Schmidt, Adjunct Professor, Gratz College and UMUC
Deborah Dwork, Rose Professor of Holocaust History and Director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Clark University
Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, Emory university
David Abraham, Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Miami
Elissa Bemporad, Associate Professor of History, CUNY
Gabriel Finder, Associate Professor and Ida and Nathan Kolodiz Director of Jewish Studies, University of Virginia
Henry Greenspan, Lecturer, Social Theory and Practice, University of Michigan
Hubert Locke, John and Marguerite Corbally Professor of Public Service (Emeritus) , university of washington
Idit Gil, Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication, Faculty Membe, The Open University of Israel
Jared McBride, PhD, History, UCLA
Jay Geller, Associate Professor of Modern Jewish Culture, Vanderbilt University
Jeffrey Blutinger, Assistant Professor of History, Co-Director of Jewish Studies, California State University, Long Beach
Jeffrey Koerber, Assistant Professor of History, Chapman University
Jennifer Marlow, Adjunct Instructor in History, Gratz College
Joanna Michlic, Honorary Research Fellow, The UCL Centre for Collective Violence, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, UCL, London
Joanna Sliwa, Archives Project Specialist, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)
John-Paul Himka, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Alberta
Kate Brackney, PhD Candidate, Department of History , Yale University
Ken Waltzer, Professor Emeritus, Social Relations and Policy, Michigan State U.
Laura Brade, PhD Candidate, Department of History , University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Lawrence Baron, Professor Emeritus of Modern Jewish History, San  Diego State university
Leah Brown, Gallery Educator, Museum of Jewish Heritage
Leonard Grob, Professor of Philosophy and Coordinator of Philosophy Studies , Fairleigh Dickinson University
Lori Lefkovitz, Ruderman Professor and Director of Jewish Studies Program; Professor of English; Director, Humanities Center, Northeastern University
Marion Kaplan, Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies; Skirball Professor of Modern Jewish History, New York University
Matthew Girson, Associate Professor, Art, Media, and Design, DePaul University
Nancy Civin, Retired high school teacher and Holocaust scholar,
Omer Bartov, John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History and Professor of History and Professor of German Studies, Brown University
Paul Jaskot, Professor of History of Art and Architecture, DePaul University
Ranen Omer-Sherman, Endowed Chair of Jewish Studies, University of Louisville
Simone Schweber, Goodman Professor of Education and Jewish Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Veronica Grodzinski, Ph.D.   Modern Jewish History / Art History / German History, Alumna UCL  London and Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Waitman Beorn, Lecturer in the Corcoran Department of History , University of Virginia

Social Justice Centers: What Americans can learn from the Progressive Israeli experience [ssba]

Social Justice Centers: What Americans can learn from the Progressive Israeli experience

In the last few months since Donald Trump’s election I have been feeling the need to translate the experience of progressive Israeli activists and compare it to our own challenges here in the US. The similarities between Israel and the US today are striking. The administrations’ attacks on the media and the courts; hiring and firing officials based on loyalty tests, but most importantly the social polarization. In Israel like here in the US there is a sense that progressives and conservatives speak different languages, have different interests, different values. Progressive Israelis have acquired much more experience managing this hostile political environment. They learned a lot from their past failures. And I believe we can benefit from their experience.

Izzy Carmon and Noam Melki’s piece on the establishment of social justice centers is a format I think Americans would find interesting. After the last election, the Hashomer Hatzair Life Movement convened to discuss what they could do to improve the political environment in Israel. They realized that Israel’s periphery lacks civil society. In Hadera, Naharia or Rehovot, there are no institutions that allow citizens to work together identifying their shared interests and acting as a political force. They decided to form spaces which would facilitate a progressive understanding of Israeli society, teach organizing and activism.

One more important detail: Israeli electoral maps show clearly that the periphery votes overwhelmingly for the Right. The Hashomer Hatzair Life Movement established communes in the periphery to educate and model progressive values.

Izzy coordinates the center in Rehovot. Noam coordinates the one in Hadera. Izzy and Noam believe that bringing people together to learn and experience shared interests and values is a tool to fight social polarization and the government’s incitement.

Translation: Maya Haber

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David Friedman is a trigger on Jerusalem’s Ticking Bomb [ssba]

David Friedman is a trigger on Jerusalem’s Ticking Bomb

avid Friedman’s confirmation hearing is fast approaching and we must stop it. Since the U.S. ambassador to Israel isn’t a policy making position, why is it so important to stop it?

Because Mr. Friedman will not be perceived as a fair broker

As a known advocate of illegal West Bank settlements, Mr. Friedman will only develop relationships with the Jewish ultra-right. By confirming his appointment the U.S. will indicate that it has disqualified itself from fulfilling a role as fair broker or mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Because by supporting illegal settlements Mr. Friedman effectively trashes international law.

The Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) prohibits countries from moving population into territories occupied in a war. Should the U.S. change its position on the legality of settlements, it will defy the U.N. and abrogate an international consensus that has held for almost 70 years.

Because by appointing Mr. Friedman the U.S will embolden Israel’s pro-Greater Israel forces and open the door for the annexation of parts of the West Bank.

This is already happening. In the last few days the Israeli government is openly discussing the annexation of Ma’ale Adumim.

Because Mr. Friedman disregards the dangerous consequences by insisting on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Ever since Congress mandated the embassy’s move in 1995, every president has invoked an executive waiver stating that moving the embassy is not in the America’s national interest. But why not?

· Moving the embassy potentially will bring about an explosion of violence. As Danny Seidemann puts it “The fact is, we have never witnessed a geopolitical move as potentially shocking and infuriating to the Palestinian sector as moving the embassy. Such a move will tell the Palestinians: “Abandon hope. Political processes – negotiations, diplomacy, and the like – will not only not help you, they will harm you.”

· And experience teaches us that violence that begins in Jerusalem very rarely stays in Jerusalem.

· Islamic terrorist organizations will rally support around what they will argue is a threat to Al Quds. U.S. embassies around the Muslim world could be targeted.

· Moving the embassy will prejudge the permanent status issue of Jerusalem, in direct violation of the Oslo accords, which states: “It was understood that several issues were postponed to permanent status negotiations, including: Jerusalem…”

For the case against moving the embassy to Jerusalem read Danny Seidemann’s report and Hussein Ibish’s piece in Foreign Policy.

Three Reasons Not to Move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem [ssba]

Three Reasons Not to Move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem

Since Congress mandated the American embassy relocate to Jerusalem in 1995, every US president has invoked an executive waiver stating that such a move is not in America’s national interest.

To be clear: opposition to the US embassy in Jerusalem is not to deny Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Rather, keeping the American embassy in Tel Aviv is a strong symbolic statement in support of a peaceful, mutually agreed resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Currently, no country has its embassy in Jerusalem. The last two nations to quit Jerusalem were Costa Rica and El Salvador, which relocated their embassies to Tel Aviv in 2006.

But why?

Read More »

Hashomer Hatzair and AJYAL Educating Syrian Refugees [ssba]

Hashomer Hatzair and AJYAL Educating Syrian Refugees

Hashomer Hatzair, its Arab division AJYAL and Natan-International Humanitarian Aid are fundraising to create an educational center for Syrian refugees on the island of Chios in Greece. Hashomer Hatzair and AJYAL counselors will operate the center and train local educators. So far they have raised about a quarter of the capital needed to get the project running.

“Chios is the closest island to Turkey and about 4,000 refugees reside on it,” says Yair Liebel, the Hashomer Hatzair coordinator for the project.

“Since March the European borders have closed to refugees, yet the flow of refugees arriving by sea has only increased. Refugees arrive by ship to Greece or Italy,” says Liebel. “Greece doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the flow of refugees. The problem is much larger than anything that a local municipality could handle. So the local authorities are trying to prevent the refugees from making a life in the camps. They are not even allowed to engage in the simplest activities like cooking or cleaning.”

The AJYAL and Hashomer Hatzair members were frustrated, witnessing daily disparaging images of Syrian refugees; they decided to focus on what they could do best – education. “We are planning on establishing an educational center in a rented space. Our goal is to attend to people’s real needs, especially the needs of youth,” says Liebel. “There are approximately 1,000 children and teens in the camp. Three hundred kids attend school for 6-9 hours a day. We will take part in existing activities and plan activities for young adults aged 17 to 25. Our plan draws on the Israeli youth movement model. ”

“These are kids who don’t have much to do. They sit idle most of the time,” says Renin Kahil, the AJYAL coordinator. “We want to give them the tools and know-how to take responsibility for what’s happening there. We want to create a youth movement with them.” Kahil says and explains that they intend to emphasize “informal modes of activities.”

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The youth activists hope to find local partners to help them build the center of informal education. “Many Syrian refugees are professionals. We hope to find teachers who will work with us to open training courses for instructors. We want to leave behind a structure that will work after we leave, “says Liebel.

The first educational group will include three Jewish and three Arab councilors. Arab-Jewish cooperation is highly significant. ” AJYAL is central to this mission not only because its members speak Arabic, but also because creating the center is a rare opportunity to work together and transcend national divisions. This cooperation is particularly important in the current political climate in Israel.”

“It’s true that we speak Arabic and can communicate with the refugees, but it’s going to be a joint venture of AJYAL and Hashomer Hatzair,” adds Kahil. “I hope that this will become the refugee’s educational center and many will join it. We were interested to see how Israelis respond to this project. We didn’t expect to encounter such excitement. The project reminds us that it’s human to care for others, despite the political divisiveness here in Israel.”

David Tversky published the original article in Davar Rishon, January 24, 2017

Translator: Maya Haber

Editor: Ayala Emmett

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Tamar Zandberg, Overt Racism in Umm al-Hiran [ssba]

Tamar Zandberg, Overt Racism in Umm al-Hiran

The ‘car ramming’ incident in Umm al-Hiran should be investigated. This is the only way to find out exactly what happened before declaring that it was a premeditated attempt to ram into the police. There is too much evidence that the police and government irresponsibility to conclusively determine the results of the investigation and suggest the incident was an ISIS attack.  After all the investigation hasn’t even began.

This will not bring comfort to Erez Levy, the late policeman’s family. But Erez Levy was sent into a battlefield in a war which the Israeli state has declared on its citizens. This particular battlefield was not in the occupied territories. Nor was it on enemy land. It happened here, in the Negev, where the concept of a shared society should have come true. Officer Erez Levy and citizen Moussa Abu al-Qian paid with their lives for this war.

Instead of a symbol of shared society, Umm al-Hiran has come to represent one of the most striking injustices in Israel’s history. The government’s insistence to establish the Jewish settlement of Hiran on the land of the Bedouin village Um al-Hiran is a rare case of overt racism which is impossible to obfuscate or excuse. What else can you call the demolition of a settlement of citizens of one race in order to build a settlement for citizens of another? And all that within the sovereign borders of a democratic state? Umm al-Hiran is one of the most shameful stains on Israel’s history. And the fact that ministers, journalists, media and political activists defend and justify the injustice is a moral stain that we will find difficult to explain in the future.

The Negev has room for everyone. Bedouins are about 30% of the Negev’s residents and inhabit less than 3% of its land. Do we need to remind people that these are Israeli citizens? So it’s racism when government officials say that Umm al-Hiran took over land and when the Housing Minister says the Negev should be returned to Jewish hands. Not to say anything about the public crackdown on MK Ayman Odeh, while he was lying wounded in a hospital. It’s evil.

We need to create a different future for the Negev. This is not only our moral duty, but also a good civil and political policy.

What happened yesterday in Umm al-Hiran is the exact opposite. I don’t want to believe that our leadership is so cynical and cruel that it would escalate the situation in the Negev in order to divert attention from the Prime Minister’s corruption investigations or the political crisis with the right and the settlers. To prove to us that this isn’t the case, the government must go in the exact opposite direction: stop house demolitions, return to dialogue with its citizens and make a sustainable plan for the Negev. Before it’s too late.

This is a statement by Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, translated from the Hebrew by Maya Haber:

Meet Israel’s Bernie Sanders: MK Ilan Gilon [ssba]

Meet Israel’s Bernie Sanders: MK Ilan Gilon

The original article was written by Nir Yahav and published in Walla Magazine on December 22, 2016. We thank Dana Mills for translating and Peter Eisenstadt for editing.

In early December, to the surprise of Israel’s right-wing government, the Knesset passed MK Ilan Gilon’s bill on a preliminary reading making disability benefits at least equal to the minimum wage. In effect the bill would more than double the monthly allowance paid to the disabled to equal the minimum wage. Currently disability benefit is 2,341 shekels ($616), while the minimum wage is 5,000 shekels ($1,315).

Gilon, who has been trying to further this bill for years, was so moved he could not stop his tears. ” I cry easily” he admits smiling. “All week long I am tough and on Wednesdays when all proposed my bills fall through in the Knesset, I cry. Even now just speaking about it, I feel weepy. This is the fifth time I propose this bill. That morning I was about to remove it as I knew it would fail again, but at the last minute I decided to go through with it.  I got to the podium and said: “look, for years I’ve been explaining to you about this bill. Now explain to me why you oppose it after speaking so beautifully for disabled people yesterday on Disability Day. I managed to convince five coalition MKs to leave the hall and not vote.” And the bill passed preliminary vote 42 to 39, despite the treasury’s firm opposition to the proposal, due to its cost.

“Look at the enormous tax breaks the government gave Israel Chemicals Ltd.” Today, Israel’s four largest exporters pay only 4% tax, compared with 12.4% a decade ago. “I am fed up with this ‘social’ etiquette. I can’t stand it. The only kind of justice I believe in is distributive justice.”

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Raising disability benefits and making it equal to minimum wage will cost 1.4% of the state’s budget. Mr. Finance Minister, don’t a million and a half Israelis worth 1.5 percent of the budget? Raising the benefits to a minimum. Ilan Gilon

 

But this was only the preliminary reading. Your Disability Allowance Increase bill must pass three more Knesset votes and it can still be toppled.

True, but to me all the channels of hope have been opened. I don’t think time can be brought back. I want to cooperate with the government and allow Netanyahu to take this bill. I am willing to compromise. The state has the money, it will cost only 6-7 billion shekels [$1.8 billion] over two years. I want to build a model in which people get their benefits according to their status and pay taxes according to their income, including their benefits. That is the fairest policy. My model builds a security net against anxiety. I plan to expand the political basis of this matter and create a situation in which the government can’t ignore it. They understand they can’t reverse matters. I now have a significant moral achievement, and if the bill passes it will be the groundwork to change legislation, meaning that the state takes back it responsibility for its citizens. This is my goal: giving the responsibility back to the state. Because abandoning citizens is worse than paternalism.

“I think the richer should be taxed more heavily, because I think society’s biggest problem greed. Had I written the Ten Commandments “thou shall not covet” would come before “thou shall not steal.”  People who steal baby food from a grocery store are not the problem. The problem is the filthy rich. Look at Israel Chemicals Ltd’s tax breaks, look at the tax breaks tycoons are getting. An ideal society for me is a society in which people know to ask themselves once a day what they give to the country and twice a day what they get from the country. This will be a society which is not terrified about tomorrow. But our government uses scare tactics to rule. It’s weaponizing our wonderful multiculturalism to create alienation and separation.”

The making of Ilan Gilon

MK Ilan Gilon was born in the town of Galatz in Romanian Moldova. When he was seven months old he was struck by Polio. He was paralyzed and suffered a severe lung edema. The doctors didn’t expect him to live. Miraculously he came through and only his right leg remained paralyzed. He says his luck as a child  was his size. “I had a limp, but I was a very large kid and scared the entire neighborhood,” he remembers. “That is why I survived the kids’ mean behavior. Whichever way you look at me, I’ll always be a Special Needs child, a son of a mother who packs oranges for a living and an electrician father. I am hardcore working class, that is my caste, this is the reality I lived: the scruffy Ashdod hood among Romanian, Moroccan and Iraqi immigrants. That is why I identify first with the disabled and oppressed and I will never disengage my view point.

Weren’t you mocked as a disabled child?

I never considered myself disabled. One day one of the kids in class said to me:’ you know, when I look at you, I don’t think about your leg at all.’ It changed my life. When I was in the sixth-grade I told my mum that I couldn’t walk 40 Kilometers with the other kids at the youth movement. She looked at me and said: “just like there are people who walk 80 kilometers on two feet, you can walk 40 kilometers with one.” There, in my childhood, I gained compassion towards disabled people. To this day, I answer anyone who calls me and return calls to whoever needs me. I feel the public sponsors me and and I need to solve the people’s problems, or at least try. This reflects my memories of vulnerability. I wish people would be “weak enough to feel and strong enough to change reality.”

Gilon immigrated to Israel when he was 9 years old. Until the fourth grade he attended a special needs class and sat near the teacher. He says, he was a very mediocre student and “couldn’t sit still.” One day the teacher asked the class how much is seven times eight. “I knew the answer because in Romania they teach how to multiply in the first grade. The teacher was astounded and transferred me to a regular class. I served on school committees and was elected chair of the school’s Students’ Union”.

Gilon’s mother, Rachel, influenced him more than anyone else. Speaking about her, Gilon’s tone softens and his eyes moisten: “she was the type of woman who threw herself into everything. She didn’t make any concessions for me. When I was a child I had many surgeries, because of my paralysis. I remember once afrer a surgery  my mother, who was a small, slender woman, carried me, a huge child in her arms. That is what she was like.

My mother always said I shouldn’t go to demonstrations so that I wouldn’t be on television. I told her, “mum, I am going to demonstrations because I want to be seen on TV”. The paralyzing fear of state authorities which they had brought with them from Romania stayed with my parents. My father, who was a simple man but the kindest in the world, was fearful of my political affiliation. He didn’t understand why I couldn’t join a mainstream party like LIkud or the Labor Party.”

Party Politics

Meretz used to be a large party. Where did it fail?

“I am not the only component of the party. I am trying to do what I think is right. My entire world view is based on one verse of Psalms: ” Turn from evil and do good: seek peace and pursue it.”

I don’t always succeed, but I try. The prophets Jeremiah,  Isaiah and Amos are my kind of prophets. They speak of the three divisions: the distribution of national wealth, the distribution of the land and the distinction between church and state. Sometimes I think there are people on the Left who love humanity more than they love human beings. We must establish relationships formed on emotional connection. At the end of the day decision making is emotional.”

Why is Meretz failing to connect to voters?

“I don’t know. If I knew I would solve the problem. I can’t explain it in words. We just don’t have it. We need to make people feel that we are there for them, that we care. Unfortunately it’s not happening. […] I am not sure I would do a better job than Zehava Galon [Meretz chair]. But I am quite certain that if the ideas are good, the problem must be the people.”

What do you think about the idea of uniting the Labor party with Meretz?

“You’d be surprised, but I’d go much further than that. The current situation, and I’m not exaggerating, it’s like an eclipse, we need to form a very wide coalition to save the country. Everyone from Yesh Atid to the Joint List should join in order to get rid of the “BibiBennet” phenomenon [Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennet of the Jewish Home]. Even some coalition forces could join as well as the ultra-orthodox parties. I went so far as pursue this it, though so far the plan fell through because of peoples’ egos.”

“I’m fed up the current rules of the political game. Nowadays, every loser who enters politics hangs up curtains in his Mazda [official government car] and roams around as if there is a broomstick up his arse. Their ego is huge, they are greedy and politics amplifies those bad qualities. Sometimes this brings out anger and frustration in me, I could hit them even. If I didn’t calm myself down by making jam, I’d have to be under psychiatric care day and night.”

The Conflict

Maybe the Left’s problem is that your two-state solution needs revisions? Maybe you should consider one-state solution?

“Do you think a one state solution is plausible before the Palestinian national liberation happens? I don’t think so. I think it’s a necessary stage just like the founding of Israel was necessary. National liberation is a basic condition.”

Will there be a stage in which you will realize the two-state solution is unattainable?

“I admit that the implementation of that idea is becoming harder, but it’s still possible. Israel has a partner. Look at the disengagement from Gaza. Why couldn’t we identify a partner, reach an agreement, and sell the [settlements] houses, maybe for half the price, instead of demolishing them? What interest brought us to disengage without an agreement?”

Do you think an agreement would have prevented the missiles from Gaza?

“I don’t know, but that’s how you build trust. Mahmoud Abbas was a partner all along and he is still a partner.”

A political Animal

Gilon was first elected to Knesset in 1999. In the following election in 2003 he was seventh on the Meretz list, but the party won only six seats.  Gilon found himself unemployed and opened a restaurant in his home city of Ashdod.  Three and a half years later he sold it (“I was enslaved to the restaurant). Simultaneously he presented both on the radio and TV. There he met Uri Urbach [an Israeli Religious Zionist writer, journalist and politician who served as Jewish Home MK and Minister of Pensioner Affairs. Urbach died in 2015].

“He was my soul mate” Gilon says. “As a member of the rightwing Jewish Home party, his politics was utterly different from mine. And yet he was 100% similar to me in the way we viewed people. We understood each other. We both cried for the same reasons. He was an exemplary man and I miss him”. After six years out of the Knesset Gilon was re-elected to Knesset in 2009, 2013, and 2015.

Gilon deeply appreciates President Reuven Rivlin. “Voting for president Rivlin was the best vote I cast in my political life. He is just the right man for the job. Once someone came to me and said ‘do you know he supports a greater Israel?’ I said, ‘at least he has opinions’. Rivlin hasn’t disappointed me once. After he was thrown out of chairing the Knesset, he sat on the back benches and never missed a day of dull work. When he was elected he movingly said “long live the state of Israel.” I was moved with him. Rivlin, like me, cries easily. I love him very much.”

Are you frustrated that you can’t influence from within the government?

“Of course, it’s terribly frustrating. It’s very difficult to always be on the defensive and never pass bills.”

Which minister would you have liked to be if you were part of the government?

“I haven’t thought about it. Everyone says I would have been Welfare Minister, but I think I’d like to be Transportation Minister. The only thing I’m certain of is that I wouldn’t go to do something I have no idea about. I am a very task orientated person and deep inside I feel like a pizza delivery boy who needs to get the pizza to its destination, regardless of what I do.”

Despite the various roles Gilon held in the Knesset, and the socially orientated bills he promoted and advanced, he misses working for the Ashdod municipality most. In 1993, he ran for the Ashdod city council and became vice Mayor. He served for six years and furthered important projects in the city.

“This was my most fruitful time politically, ever. I could visually see the impact of my work. There are many education and cultural institutions in Ashdod that I know exist because of me. In 2008 I wanted to run for Mayor, but I had no chance. The city is 22 percent ultraorthodox, a third post-soviet immigrants who vote for Avigdor Liberman, so it would have been impossible for me to win. But if I thought I could become mayor, I would leave the Knesset right now. Ashdod is my soul. I see the views of my childhood as I get older. Is there anything more wonderful than that?

Do you meet settlers?

“I meet everyone. I don’t boycott anyone. I don’t have an argument with the settlers, I have an argument with the government’s policy. I am a person who finds it hard to move, so I totally understands that people don’t want to leave their homes.”

Do you mean the Amona settlers? [Amona is an illegal outpost built on private Palestinian land, which Israel’s high court ordered to demolish]

“Yes, Amona too. I don’t have a quarrel with them. If it were up to me, during the disengagement from Gaza, I would have lifted the residents of Gush Katif while they were asleep to their new homes without shaking their lives. They should have been treated like people. The government sent them to Gaza and it was responsible. Everyone has potential to be my allies. As far as I am concerned the ultraorthodox and the Arabs have the most potential because they are victims of dark deals done on their back.”

“My generation is a crappy generation. We disappointed both our parents and our children. We didn’t build our parents’ dreams and we allowed them to fall without a safety net. And we didn’t prepare the state for our children. When I meet young people I don’t tell them to make do with scarcity. I tell them to make do with what they need to be happy. We live in a greedy world in which few eat a lot and many eat little. It’s a world with many Trumps and few Leonard Cohen and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Will there be change after this difficult time?

“I hope so. I can feel the alternative forces coming. I visit many pre-military academies and communes and meet young people in their 20s who dream of finding a spiritual-ideological catharsis, not only on the West Bank or in Goa [India, the escape for many young Israelis]. They want to build a society based on life and not on eternal war.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu makes them vote for him. How does he do it?

“Fear. Petrifying fear.”

Only through scare tactics?

“His success is a combination of his scare tactics and the left’s inability to respond properly.”

Could this change if there was a appropriate leftist leader?

“Possibly, But I don’t think this is a job for one person. It’s the work of many.”

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHUWhat do you think about the recent Netanyahu artistic installations?

“I don’t understand much about art. But I really liked the gold plated statue of Netanyahu in Rabin Square. It is important to have one in Rabin Square. North of Korea has such  sculptures. I’m sure Erdogan has one in Turkey. So why not here?”

Do you see an erosion in freedom of speech in Israel?

I don’t know, but I’m sure that we haven’t had threats like “if you don’t do x, I won’t fund you.” Is this Soviet Russia? It’s easy for me to say this without appearing condescending because I am just a punk from Ashdod. “I am not a condescending man who has seen all the Chekhov plays and knows literature inside out. I understand that Miri Regev [Culture Minister] has political needs. I understand it works for her and for the media. But I don’t think she understands where she’s leading. This is the fourth Knesset I serve in and it has never been this humiliating. There is an overflow of people who are simultaneously mean, stupid and hard working. This is a lethal combination. When stupidity is combined with viciousness, it’s dangerous.

The original article was written by Nir Yahav and published in Walla Magazine on December 22, 2016.

Translations: Dana Mills

Editing: Peter Eisenstadt

Enough with the Kabuki Dance in the United Nations [ssba]

Enough with the Kabuki Dance in the United Nations

Egypt granted Obama’s administration some breathing room by withdrawing its resolution to the U.N. Security Council demanding an end to Israeli settlement expansion. Over the last 24 hours, foreign policy experts have been debating whether the US would veto a U.N. resolution containing Obama’s own positions, or weigh in one last time to express its dismay at Israel’s utter disregard for international law.

When the Israeli and American right-wing evaluate President Obama according to whether he is “Israel’s friend” or not, they elide the responsibility of Netanyahu’s government for putting the US administration in such a terrible position. Like a child reacting to being caught stealing by accusing his mommy (in this case the President of the United States) of not loving her, Israel evades the question: are you guilty of the charges against you? Instead Israel prefers to displace its guilt with “If mommy truly loved me, she wouldn’t say such bad things about me.”

The real issue here is that Mr. Netanyahu’s and President-elect Trump’s kabuki dance urging Obama to veto the resolution only unmasks the irresponsibility of Netanyahu’s continued settlement expansion.

Indeed, Netanyahu government’s polices strike at the most vulnerable in both the Occupied territories and in Israel. Settlement expansion ensures continued violence against Palestinians and the deprivation of their human rights. For example, according to Military Court Watch, as of August 2016, the Israeli military has detained at least 2,364 Palestinian children, a monthly average of 394.  Of that total, 591 are between 12-15 years old. This is to say nothing of the 60,000 Palestinian adults the Israeli military detains, the majority of which are in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Is subjecting children to illegal military detention really the values Israel wants to communicate to the world?

But that is not all. To do all this, the Netanyahu government sacrifices the most vulnerable of its own citizens on the altar of settlements. This week it cut billions of shekels from the education, welfare and health budgets to cover the cost of the evacuation of the illegal outpost Amona. The same week, the National Insurance Institute published a report stating there are more than 1.7 million poor Israelis, some 21.7% of the population. Such is the regard the Netanyahu government has for “Israeli security.”

This, of course, is to say nothing about how Israel’s sacrificing of someone else’s blood and its own treasure for settlements perpetually erodes its international standing and, as a result, its own security.

As a Molad report concluded, the Israeli leadership must take responsibility for the violence it has committed against the most vulnerable outside and within its legal borders and the dangers exposed by this rift with its allies. Simultaneously, it must internalize the notion that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must fall in line with the values of Western democracies, and that a continued deferral of such a solution will result in ever-increasing costs for Israel and its citizens.

The kabuki dance has long outlasted its performance date, and the audiences in international community are quite fed up with it.

[Image: the Uprooted Palestinians’ Blog]

Pres. Trump and the Jews [ssba]

Pres. Trump and the Jews

The following is being published in French in “Cahiers Bernard Lazare,” the publication of Le Circle Bernard Lazare, a French affiliate of the World Union of Meretz:

The astounding victory of Donald Trump is the most significant of a wave of recent electoral upsets that have been riling the world — beginning with Netanyahu’s triumph in 2015 and continuing in the past year with the British “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union, the rejection of a peace deal in Colombia, and the election of the murderous maverick Rodrigo Duterte as president of the Philippines.  These results mostly contradicted the polls and confounded widespread expectations. 

Like the other disturbances, Trump’s election reflected deeply-felt anxiety, anger and unhappiness with the status quo.  And they all targeted scapegoats against whom to vent these feelings. 

Most American Jews are uneasy about what to expect.  Hillary Clinton earned a clear majority of Jewish votes (about 70%) that usually goes to the Democratic nominee.  Neoconservatives, the heavily Jewish Republican-aligned movement of hawkish internationalists and social moderates, deserted the Republican nominee en masse, with most either voting for Clinton, a third party candidate or with a write-in protest ballot. 

Trump’s explicit scapegoats were Muslims and illegal immigrants (mostly Hispanics), but antisemitism also showed its face during this campaign in vicious attacks on social media (especially Twitter), by some of his supporters, against Jewish journalists who dared to criticize — or simply honestly report on — Trump’s record as an individual and the conduct of his campaign.  Neoconservative views on Trump especially angered his supporters.  A report of the Anti-Defamation League counts 2.6 million tweets “containing language frequently found in anti-Semitic speech” from August 2015 to June 2016.  These include more than 19,000 “overly anti-Semitic” tweets directed against 800 journalists. Read More »