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.

Israel doesn’t need a religious war on the Temple Mount! [ssba]

Israel doesn’t need a religious war on the Temple Mount!

Last week three armed assailants launched an attack on the Temple Mount to ignite a religious war. They killed two policemen. Nevertheless, the State of Israel needs to carefully consider its response. The wrong response could engulf the entire region.

For generations, Jews prayed at the Western Wall and avoided ascending to the Temple Mount. On June 10, 1967, just three days after General Motta Gur had famously declared, “The Temple Mount is in our hands,” the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi said that Halakha (traditional religious law) forbade Jews to visit the site. Two weeks later, the leading Sephardi authority, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, stated that even flying over the site was forbidden. The then Religious Affairs Minister Zerach Warhaftig, a member of the National Religious Party, noted that, “It makes me happy” [that Halakha forbids us from visiting the Mount] “because we can avoid a conflict with the Muslim religion.”

Since the Oslo Accord, the Israeli far Right has been pushing to change the status quo and thus provoke the Muslim world. Why? Because manifesting Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount has become more important than traditional Halakha. For example, in recent years the number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount has grown by 250%. In a survey asking “Why are you going up to the Temple Mount?,” 96.8 percent replied that visiting the site would constitute “a contribution to strengthening Israeli sovereignty over the holy place.”

A few facts:

  • The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is one of the most sacred places for both Judaism and Islam. As a result, it is also one of the most volatile places in the world.
  • In 1967 the Israeli government allowed the Muslim Waqf to continue managing the Temple Mount. This is the status quo. The Waqf is responsible for allowing Muslims to pray and Jews to visit the site.
  • The decision to install metal detectors at the entrance isn’t really about security. It is a continuation of the religious zealots’ attempt to assert Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Do you need proof? Both the IDF and the Shin Bet [Israel’s security service] oppose it. The metal detectors wouldn’t have prevented last week’s attack, because it was done outside the gates.
  • Worse yet, the decision was taken unilaterally without consulting the Waqf. Rather than provide security, these metal detectors are already escalating the situation.

Israel is in a political conflict with the Palestinians; not a religious one with the Muslim world. Zealots on both sides want otherwise. They are eager to bring a religious war to end all wars to the Middle East. We must do everything in our power to prevent them.

The last thing Israelis – or Palestinians – need is a religious war on the Temple Mount. The decades-long political one between them is bad enough. For both sides.

The text was inspired by a Hebrew Peace Now Facebook and Tomer Persico’s wonderful piece, Myth and Modernity: The End Point of Zionism

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.

MK Tamar Zandberg, Netanyahu’s Challenge [ssba]

MK Tamar Zandberg, Netanyahu’s Challenge

Nothing scares Netanyahu more than an opportunity for peace. Not Iran or Israel’s housing crisis. Last week, President Trump hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and promised to do whatever it takes to reach a peace accord. Abbas said it was time to reach a two-state solution and end the Occupation.

And Netanyahu? He rushed come up with excuses. This time, he accused Abbas of lying when he said that the Palestinians were raising their children to pursue peace. Every time there’s the faintest sign that maybe – just maybe – there might be an opportunity to extricate us from a fate of violence and despair, the prime minister immediately shuts it down. Last time he demanded that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state. On another occasion, he claimed that they fund terrorists. This time it’s about how they educate their children. Maybe next time he’ll demand that Abbas light Sabbath candles.

Every Israeli must ask themselves, how did the State of Israel turn from being an active initiator of peace into a state led by a cowardly and frightened leadership refusing the possibility that something might change for the better?

There is a large segment of the Israeli public seeking solutions, not excuses, and unwilling to follow blindly into the next war. We’re here to make it clear that another way is possible.

Translation: Maya Haber

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.

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?

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