The Guns of November [ssba]

The Guns of November

The calendar is currently full of anniversaries and commemoration of major events that happened exactly 100 year ago, during or in the aftermath of World War I, such as the Balfour Declaration on Nov. 2. A particularly horrendous anniversary is already more than three years old; namely, the outbreak of World War I, famously dubbed “The Guns of August,” by Barbara Tuchman, Unfortunately, recent events force inescapable comparisons to August 1914, with Lebanon playing the role of Serbia and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salmon (MBS) of Saudi Arabia as a far too believable Kaiser Wilhelm II, the chief villain back then, though there was (and is) far more than enough blame to go around. Will things now turn out as they did then?

As anyone who’s looked at the news during the last week knows already, MBS last weekend orchestrated (likely demanded) the resignation of Said Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, a Sunni Muslim who has always been close to the Saudis (he’s even a Saudi citizen). Hariri made the announcement from Riyadh, and is still there, leading to strong suspicions he is being detained, though he denied that a week later. Simultaneously, MBS was “appointed” head of a new anti-corruption agency and immediately arrested perhaps 500 leading Saudis on corruption charges, including 11 royal princes, i.e., his cousins. There is no doubt that MBS is using this to change the kingdom from a comfortable oligarchy run for the benefit of the several thousand descendants of its founder, Abdul-Aziz Al- Saud, into an autocratic dictatorship a la Putin, Erdogan, Xi, Orban, Duterte, and presumably the dreams of Donald Trump.

In fact, MBS resembles Trump more than any of the others, being similarly impetuous and inexperienced, though MBS has a better excuse; he is 31 while Trump is forty years his senior. Trump, clearly still glowing from his Saudi welcome in May and its purchase of $110 billion in US arms, has put himself foursquare behind his young friend. Trump also, like Obama before him, has supported Saudi Arabia’s brutal and seemingly pointless air war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has continued since 2015, turning Yemen into probably the worst basket case on earth, with no discernible political advantage.

MBS clearly sees that war, like several others, as really against Shi’a Iran, which has undoubtedly provided some help to the Houthis but no serious expert considers the Houthis an Iranian proxy, though their brand of Islam is a variant of mainstream Shi’ism. Then last week, a Houthi missile apparently landed near Riyadh, allegedly manufactured in Iran, which MBS declared an act of war, backed up by Trump. (By that logic, US gun manufacturers should be held liable for the damage and death their products cause, which extension Trump certainly wouldn’t approve of).

In June of this year, right after Trump’s visit, MBS, in concert with other Gulf states and Egypt, launched a fullscale boycott against Qatar, claiming it supports terrorists. It was immediately clear that their grievance against Qatar, though no democracy itself, rather stemmed from its support of al-Jazeera and its unflattering coverage of other Arab states, as well as Qatar’s independent foreign policy. While Qatar is not a model democracy itself and al-Jazeera has its own biases, it has been invaluable in bringing an infinitely better class of journalism to the Middle East and the rest of the world. Trump immediately tweeted his support for the boycott, though he’s since moderated that, belatedly realizing Qatar is itself a major American ally.

Of course, all this has transpired against the background of the apparent defeat of the “Islamic State” (ISIS) and the victory of Bashar Asad’s forces, now completely beholden to his allies who enabled his victory in Syria’s bloody civil war, namely Hezbollah, Russia and especially Iran (in the latter case “proxy” probably fits.) Hezbollah suffered considerable casualties in Syria, but undoubtedly burnished its reputation, making it that much stronger in its Lebanese home, where it is both an independent (i.e. Iran-influenced) militia and a part of the governing coalition, which presumably leads us back to why the Saudis are disrupting Lebanese politics.

Israel has, of course, been keeping a watchful eye on both Lebanon and Syria, and has even admitted carrying out some bombings in Syria when fighting got too close for comfort, as well as destroying supply caravans headed to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Despite this interdiction, Hezbollah reportedly has now deployed 120,000 missiles aimed at Israel, many apparently with the range to hit Tel Aviv, not to mention Haifa and most of the rest of Israel. Israel of course has its own defensive and offensive capabilities but under these circumstances, if it a war of missiles, it’s hard to believe it would escape unscathed, perhaps more so than in any war since 1948. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, claims that Saudi Arabia is inciting Israel to attack Lebanon, though no evidence has been provided.

President Trump, of course, has played a menacing, if somewhat offstage role in this. He has made Iran his chief bête noir in the Middle East, almost comparable to ‘rocket man’’ Kim Jong Un in Northwest Asia. He has declined to recertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 JCPOA but, characteristically, left it to Congress to decide whether to reimpose sanctions and thus give Iran free reign to move towards a nuclear bomb, though it appears Congress is likely to decline the invitation.

So now it’s back to the 1914 analogy when, it is usually agreed, none of the European powers (with the possible exception of Germany) wanted war, but they found themselves in a horrendous one, nevertheless. Similarly, none of the current players seek a war, with the possible exception of MBS and perhaps Trump, both of whom are anxious to burnish their toughness credentials – and neither of whom has accomplished much in their respective short tenures. Trump has the advantage that a Middle East war would probably not directly involve the US, but you can bet he’d be lustily cheering from the sidelines and supplying as many armaments as he could.

Will cooler heads prevail? In this case, unbelievably, the cooler heads (everything is relative) belong to Bibi Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, the Iranian leadership, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and, perhaps, other Mideast notables such as Turkey’s President Erdogan. None would normally appear on anyone’s list of cooler heads. But here, compared to MBS and Trump, all the others are experienced and, though by no means necessarily adverse to war, probably have a more realistic idea of what war in this context might mean and almost certainly would prefer to avoid it. This is likely in strong contrast to Trump and MBS, neither of whom have any experience with it and don’t seem too worried about its prospect.

I personally think there won’t be a war at this time, though perhaps that is simply wishful thinking. But it is a striking and discomfiting circumstance to find our safety hostage to the ‘cooler’ heads of some of the most dangerous men in the world.

Have you heard of ‘Operation Economic Defensive Shield’? [ssba]

Have you heard of ‘Operation Economic Defensive Shield’?

‘Operation Economic Defensive Shield’ exemplifies how wedded Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank is to its devastating economic policies toward its own citizens.

In March 2002, two days after the terrorist attack on a Seder dinner in Netanya’s Park Hotel killed 30 and injured 160 people, the IDF unleashed ‘Operation Defensive Shield.’ The largest military operation in the West Bank since 1967, the operation sought to retake Palestinian cities in area A and shield the Israeli public from terror. For the first time Israelis in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem felt the consequences of Occupation on a daily basis. Restaurants, buses and clubs were exploded all around. Suicide bombers killed 21 teens in the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv, 16 in the Matza restaurant in Haifa, and 11 in Jerusalem’s Café Moment. Everyone feared a loved one could be next. And the Israeli public was willing to pay any price to end this nightmare.

At that very moment Ariel Sharon’s government also declared ‘Operation Economic Defensive Shield.’ The plan sought to support the growing defense budget to combat terrorism (not only for the IDF and security services, but also the police), while reducing the national deficit.

How? Austerity: a series of drastic cuts to the National Insurance Institute, eroding the social safety net, education, health, welfare, and housing services. Within a year, the poverty level among families increased from 18% to 20%. Read More »

Israeli Progressive Millennials Speak about the Occupation [ssba]

Israeli Progressive Millennials Speak about the Occupation

Bar Gissin, the co-chair of Young Meretz, 28, says her generation, was raised amid continuous conflict with the Palestinians. She was 10 years old when the Second Intifada erupted in 2000. Her generation has no direct memory of glorious years of Oslo. Yet, rather than engage the reality of the Conflict, the leadership of the progressive camp remains stuck in the political rhetoric of the 1990s.

“They refer to the 1990s as a relevant point of reference,” she says about how Israeli’s leftwing leadership confronts the Occupation, “and that’s insane! It happened 25 years ago! All the leaders who were involved are dead and there is no peace. The [peace] process didn’t succeed!”

Her generation, she says, deeply distrusts their party’s leadership. Party leaders refuse to soberly examine the current political conjecture and think they can miraculously win elections and end to the Occupation by relying on the voting patterns from the 1990s. And though they lose time and again, they continuously wax about the glorious years of Oslo.

Gissin stresses the historic role of Israeli Millennials is to rebuild a left that is political relevant and confronts the challenges Israelis experience in 2017 head on. This New Left is a progressive network consisting of labor unions, grassroots social movements, and NGOs. Only such a broad network of activists and organizations, Gissen and her allies stress, can take power and bring an end to the Occupation.

Gershon Shafir – Israel maintains the occupation by denying it [ssba]

Gershon Shafir – Israel maintains the occupation by denying it

Gershon Shafir is the author of the recently published: A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict

In these timely and provocative essays Gershon Shafir inquires “What is the occupation?” “Why has this occupation lasted so long?” and “How has the occupation transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?” in order to figure out how we got here, what here is, and where we are likely to go. He expertly demonstrates that at its fiftieth year, the occupation is riven with paradoxes, legal inconsistencies, and conflicting interests that weaken the occupiers’ hold and leave the occupation itself vulnerable to challenges.

Gershon Shafir is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author or editor of ten books, among them Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882–1914. He is also the coauthor, with Yoav Peled, of Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship, which won the Middle Eastern Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Award in 2002, and the coeditor, with Mark Levine, of Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel, 2012, a collection of life histories.

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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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 »

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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