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). Read More »

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 »

Noam Shuster-Ellaisi is Challenging Traditional Peace Camp Assumptions and Methods [ssba]

Noam Shuster-Ellaisi is Challenging Traditional Peace Camp Assumptions and Methods

During the summer 2014 Gaza war, Noam Shuster-Ellaisi went to a peace rally in Tel Aviv. “Maybe I looked too Mizrahi, maybe I looked like an outsider. I don’t know. But I was forbidden from joining the demonstration.” Across the street, Noam’s family member, the fascist rapper known as the Shadow, held a counter rally for his supporters. They held “disgusting signs,” she said, and sought to beat up leftists and Arabs. Noam, who was raised in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (Oasis of Peace), the only community in Israel where Jews and Palestinians choose to live together, wanted to be with people who shared her desire “to end the madness of that summer.” But the self-appointed guardians of the antiwar rally did not recognize her as one of them. This story in a nutshell, she says, demonstrates the problem of the Israeli peace camp. “Who is allowed in this camp that talks about peace? Who is allowed to hold the word “peace” and say what it means? We have to do serious soul searching and ask how exclusive our camp has been.”

Speaking with Partners for Progressive Israel, Noam argued that pro-peace activists in Israel and the US have been so focused on solutions that they’ve left the Israeli public behind. They’ve been blind to the fact they were mostly engaging Ashkenazi-secular-liberals living in the privileged center. They haven’t reached beyond those lines. As a result, the peace camp became an cliquish club of the educated Ashkenazi middle class. So exclusionary that its self-appointed guardians instinctively identify a young brown woman as the “other” and assume she came to cause trouble.

The failure to engage diverse communities has undermined the peace process and brought its demise. For example, Noam says, the peace camp failed to engage religious leaders even though, “a political process in Israel cannot be successful without serious spiritual backing. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in 1979, when he was Israel’s chief Rabbi, gave a religious ruling saying that the value of life is higher than the value of land. This gave a spiritual backing to the peace agreement with Egypt. It allowed settlers to evacuate the Sinai.” “Who are the spiritual leaders who could potentially support a future peaceful solution?”

Noam is the program coordinator of Interpeace Israel. It’s her job to work with strategic populations in the Israeli society who were previously excluded from the peace process. She engages former soviet Jews, Palestinians, ultra-orthodox women and Likud center officials among others. “It’s very difficult. It takes time and a lot of compromise,” she said. But “how do we know that there aren’t people out there who are our partners? Have we tried? Did anyone ensure that the resources given to the peace camp would be allocated to target diverse populations?”

Noam argues that in our obsession with the solution, we’ve failed to see that the battle lines have shifted dramatically since the 1990s. Israel is experiencing a collapse of the Left/Right paradigm. “Ironically,” she told us, “a funny thing happens” when Israelis watch a debate on television about a resolution to the conflict. On the one hand, there would be “a very traditional centrist-left, maybe a Labor [Party member], Tel Aviv, secular politician, who talks about the importance of separating from the Palestinians to maintain the Jewish and democratic character of Israel. And next to him, there is a member of the current coalition, a rightwing religious Zionist MK, Yehuda Glick, saying, ‘but we want equality. We can continue having a Jewish-democratic and give the Palestinian equality.” Noam says that the camp that perceives itself as the left-center secular Zionist is proposing a resolution that “might be more militaristic, more militant, or at least look like a more rightwing agenda than what the right wing is proposing.”

“Who are we kidding?” she asked. “How can we make twenty-two percent of Israeli citizens divorce their cousins behind the wall?” On the other hand, she says, she cannot empower “an ultra-national-religious activist who aspires to a state of Jewish superiority.” “Where am I between these two failing agendas? There is a dangerous vacuum in the middle.”

Noam is not arguing that the two-state solution is dead. Rather, she challenges traditional peace camp preconceived assumptions of who are “the good guys” and who are “the bad guys.” She demands that they stop seeing every settler, every religious person, and every Russian immigrant as the enemy. She asks that peace activists engage others in their community, judge less, and ask more questions. And she asks that we do the same in our Jewish communities.

This is a fascinating conversation and one you will not regret listening to. If you find it interesting, consider joining our Israel-Study tour in January which will focus on the cultural, economic and social forces promoting and hindering a peaceful resolution to the conflict. You’ll have a chance to meet Noam and others who fight for peace often against conventional wisdon The trip’s goal is to enhance participants’ advocacy tools and discuss how we, Americans, can help steer Israelis and Palestinians toward peace. Underlying the tour is the question why Israelis and Palestinians don’t choose peace and what forces on the ground that can help change this.

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Avi Buskila, Peace Now’s new director is a different kind of leftist [ssba]

Avi Buskila, Peace Now’s new director is a different kind of leftist

Avi Buskila, the new director of Peace Now, is the opposite of a stereotypical leftist leader: his parents emigrated from Morocco, he grew up in the periphery, and he served as a combat soldier in the IDF.

“The left has a hard time understanding me,” Buskila tells Yedioth Ahronoth’s weekend magazine Hamusaf Leshabat. “They want to continue doing the same things that brought nothing but failures.”

Buskila talks about the kind of posts he encounters in left-wing groups on social media. For example one person wrote: “We’ve gathered the savages and brought them to Israel, and now they are destroying us,” meaning Jews of Mizrahi descent. “After all, right-wingers equal Mizrahim, equal religious,” he says.

But Buskila says has no intention of being the “left’s pet Mizrahi.”

“I won’t apologize for serving in the IDF longer than Naftali Bennett or for living in the periphery longer than Miri Regev,” he says defiantly.

“The portrayal of the left as old and Ashkenazi is accurate. There are a lot of people in the (peace) camp who would rather see us fail than give up their control. They refuse to recognize that it’s time they retire and leave. But I have news for them—they are going to lose control and if they don’t, we’ll take it from them, both in the political parties and in organizations. The left, in many ways, failed to speak to the people. For years, it just told everyone why they are wrong.

“The left doesn’t respect the painful narrative of fear. I don’t doubt my mother’s fears. She spent most of her life in shelters under the threat of rocket fire. Speaking their language means I’m not preaching, and I’m not constantly explaining to someone why he’s wrong. It’s not about coming from Tel Aviv to tell a Netivot resident that his fears and the discrimination he feels are nonexistent bullshit. I accept what they’re telling me.”

Maya Haber’s translation of the article was published in Ynet. Continue reading.

Our Misconceptions of Israel Undermine our Ability to Advocate for Peace [ssba]

Our Misconceptions of Israel Undermine our Ability to Advocate for Peace

This blog post was published originally in the Huffington Post.

A participant in a recent progressive discussion on Israel voiced an emphatic frustration: “My Israeli family doesn’t care about the occupation. All they want to talk about is the price of milk!” In private conversations, many of my American friends say they find it difficult to speak to their Israeli families and friends. They want to discuss the occupation and a two-state solution, but these topics halt in a dead end. Most Israelis relate to the two-state solution much like they relate to the Messiah. Yes, they want it to come. But they don’t necessarily believe it will, at least not in their lifetime. Nor do they know how to bring it.

The feeling of strained communication is mutual. Daily worries consume Israelis: the price of milk, the number of children in their kids’ daycare, and how to pay next month’s rent. They perceive Israel as a divided society and understand voting through an ethnic, local and religious lenses. So when their American families and friends relate to Israel as a “Start Up nation” populated by a homogeneous Jewish community divided only by its position vis-à-vis the occupation, they naturally feel frustrated. They often utter in response a version of “you don’t know what it’s like to live here.” Israelis sense that their American friends sit on the moral high ground, speak of the evils of the occupation and Jewish values, but are tone deaf to the economic difficulties facing them.

A recent Pew survey shows this gap in hard numbers. While four-in-ten Israeli Jews cite economic issues (inequality, rising housing costs, etc.) as the single biggest long-term problem facing Israel (this number is higher among Arabs), when U.S. Jews were asked the same question, almost none (1%) mentioned economic problems, and two-thirds cited various security issues as the biggest long-term problem facing Israel.

This gap has revealed itself as an obstacle to peace. Though J Street has grown large, strong and effective, and even accomplished ‘the impossible’ – helping pass President Obama’s Iran deal despite of Netanyahu’s objections —- as long as Israelis vote against a two-state solution, J Street’s increased influence inside the United States falls flat when trying to convince the average Israeli to choose peace.

If we want to steer Israelis’ vote toward peace and to an end the occupation, we must abandon the language of universal morals and develop sympathy for their daily reality. We have to understand that the majority of Israelis live substantially different lives than the average American Jew.

The cost of living in Israel has substantially risen in the last decade. Salaries, however, have remained stagnant. The median income in Israel is $21,000 a year. The cost of a standard home comes to more than 12 years of average pay. That’s twelve years without eating, raising kids or paying utility bills. Worse yet, this is an average for Israel as a whole despite significantly cheaper cities in the periphery. In Jerusalem, a person earning an average wage (roughly $22,000 a year) would have to work for twenty-one and a half years in order to afford an apartment. Compare these figures to Manhattan, where the median apartment price is indeed high, around $916,000. But Manhattan’s median income is three times higher than in Jerusalem. A median apartment in Manhattan costs a little less than fourteen years of labor.

For many Israelis daily economic life is precarious. A couple of years ago a survey asked Israelis “If you encounter an unexpected expenditure of 8,000 shekels [roughly $2000] would you be able to cover it either from your own savings or borrowing from family and friends or a credit card loan?” Seventy percent of Israelis said that they would not be able or would have significant difficulties finding the money. This percentage has been growing gradually every year. This means that at least 70 percent of Israelis are experiencing economic insecurity – if they needed a root canal, or their refrigerator or the car breaks, they would be lost. Over the last decade more and more middle class educated Israelis and families with two breadwinners gradually fell under the poverty line. Today one in three children in Israel is poor. A third of the workforce earns minimum wage.

As long as the pro-peace community chooses a language of universal human rights, the Israeli media can continue portraying us in pro-Palestinian colors. Only developing an understanding to Israelis’ daily lives will allow us to puncture their shield of suspicion and help steer them toward peace and to an end the occupation.