THE WEEK THAT WAS (We Wish it Wasn’t) [ssba]

THE WEEK THAT WAS (We Wish it Wasn’t)


Perhaps never before have Israeli and American Jewish liberals felt so angry, frustrated, and, above all, impotent regarding both Israeli and American policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Our red lines have been repeatedly crossed, our warnings have gone unheeded; we have little influence in Washington and less in Jerusalem and we are reduced, Cassandra-like, to cautioning darkly of inevitable catastrophes that will materialize in the near and medium futures.  Perhaps it is all too appropriate that Tisha b’Av is the next holiday on the Jewish religious calendar.

As the week from May 8 through May 15 unfolded, we were barraged by events we oppose and have warned against for years: Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, the glittering and religiously toxic ceremony transferring the American Embassy to Jerusalem and, most horrific of all, the killing of 61 Palestinians and wounding of over 1500 Palestinians at the Gaza border fence as the culmination of the six week ‘March of Return’, led by Hamas, while the ceremony in Jerusalem proceeded.  Israelis supported all of these actions by wide margins.  This is on top of Israel’s biggest air operation in years, directed against the Iranian military buildup in Syria in the wake of Bashar Assad’s apparent victory in the seven-year Syrian civil war.  The other shoe has yet to drop in the latter operation; i.e., whether, when, and how Iran, together with its Hezbollah allies, will retaliate against Israel or maintain its Syrian buildup.

As I sit in a beautiful Jerusalem garden the morning after Shavuot waiting for the heat to drive me indoors, I am forced to contemplate what we on the Left who support Israel but abhor its current policies should do – and what we can do to make our voices heard in effective ways.  While neither Trump nor Bibi will be with us forever, their legacies – and especially the fears they have engendered – will continue to add to the violence and belligerence in the entire region for years to come.

Let’s unpack these issues one by one and see where we are and what we might do about it.

On the Iran deal, there is little we can accomplish.  The question is whether the European powers, together with Russia and China, who also have a stake in a non-nuclear Iran, can make it worth Iran’s while to maintain the safeguards intended to be locked in through the JCPOA.  President Rouhani of Iran is no western-style democrat, but he represents the only effective domestic opposition to the hardline Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC).  We should be empowering him in that opposition, instead of reinforcing the IRGC’s worldview that the West is single-mindedly bent on regime change.  The only hopeful development that can be discerned is that Iran apparently is by no means eager to get into a war with Israel or the US, would prefer to stay in the JCPOA, and may calibrate its actions accordingly, perhaps even including its military activities in Syria.

With regard to Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, they seem to be at rock bottom, which by no means precludes their getting even worse. Nonetheless, it appears that, in the short run, the current Israeli policy of ferocious and murderous response to any Palestinian initiative to change the status quo is succeeding, at least for the moment.  I cannot believe that, at some not-too-distant point, Israel’s almost casual killing of over 100 Palestinians and wounding of over 7000(!) more will not come back and haunt us.

Israel’s actions on the Gaza border have already been raked over from every conceivable point of view and it is hard to add much new to the acrimonious debate, except this, based on years of observing and studying Hamas.  Black-and-white scenarios that separate the “innocent” (ordinary) Palestinians from the “guilty” (Hamas, along with Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other such groups) rarely approximate reality, nor do they lead to effective policy, except in the shortest of runs.  Hamas has now ruled Gaza for exactly ten years and, since Israel makes it virtually impossible to leave, everyone living there must find a way to coexist with Hamas in power.  It seems clear that the “March of Return” was originally planned by independent groups (which should not even exist under the black-white scenario) but Hamas became a major player more recently.

There is no doubt that Hamas members (whether designated as operatives, soldiers, or terrorists) were among the tens of thousands of marchers, but there is likewise no doubt that the vast majority of them were ordinary Gazans, who are utterly fed up with the impossible conditions under which they have lived for more than ten years, and refused to heed the Israeli admonitions to stay home.  Belief that this continuous experience of horrendous living conditions with no realistic hope for change is what brought out the large majority of marchers is invidiously labelled the “Hamas narrative.” The other (Israeli) narrative is that the innocents were paid, forced, or both, and that they were simply a smokescreen for the terrorist arms, bombs, and kites.  In other words, ‘ordinary’ Gazans are solely pawns, to be passively trotted out to be killed or wounded whenever Hamas wishes.

This fantasy defies belief.  As many have pointed out, any self-respecting person cooped up in Gaza for 10 years would almost certainly seize the opportunity to get the world’s attention for their plight, whether fan or foe of Hamas.  And Hamas is eager to come to some sort of open terms with Israel.  Just last week, it offered Israel a 10 year hudna (truce), which was immediately and contemptuously rejected by Defense Minister Lieberman.  Israel, as by far the stronger party, can and must take the lead in trans­forming Gaza’s reality, of course taking into account Hamas’s response as well.  There is no doubt that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and calls for its destruction, but it also appears to accept the two-state solution in Article 20 its most recent ‘Document of General Principles and Policies’.  Israel must try to ‘engage’ Hamas since it knows it can’t destroy it. Instead, it seems to hew forever to its long- failed policy based on hope that Gazans will throw out Hamas if only their situation becomes horrendous enough, and that they will blame Hamas for the death and wounds inflicted by IDF snipers.

Of course the dichotomy between “peaceful, unarmed marchers” and “terrorists invading Israel” is simplistic and false.  Among the thousands of unarmed marchers there clearly were some who were determined to kill or capture Israelis if the opportunity arose – and it was indeed the IDF’s responsibility to prevent that opportunity.  But the other dichotomy – the one between killing and wounding thousands, on the one hand, and watching passively while the marchers invade Israel, on the other – is equally absurd.  The IDF and Israeli police have successfully and nonviolently confronted numerous Haredi marchers in Jerusalem and evacuated settlers from Gaza in 2005, so it is not exactly without experience in this area.

Finally, there is the specious argument that because the marchers’ official slogan called for the ‘Right of Return’, they were therefore bent on Israel’s destruction and that justified anything the IDF could do to stop them.  The fact is that the 1948 refugees and their descendants, who comprise the vast majority of Gaza’s population, will continue to demand RoR until some realistic alternative is presented to them, such as a genuine Palestinian state.  Those marchers were not in any way an existential threat to Israel, and should have been dealt with as protesters, not invaders.

So I want to invite all those who feel like I do about these calamities to do what they can, whether working on the midterm elections, supporting the many active and progressive Israeli NGO’s working for positive change, or helping to convince their friends and neighbors that this is not the way, and Bibi’s Israel can and must be changed.  And also, please support Partners for Progressive Israel in our educational activities that demonstrate a different way to support Israel, that does not involve lining up behind Bibi.

Paul Scham, President

Tamar Zandberg, Six Year Later and Iran still does not have a Bomb [ssba]

Tamar Zandberg, Six Year Later and Iran still does not have a Bomb

Tamar Zandberg posted on Facebook a response to Raviv Drucker’s Haartetz article asking “What Happened to the Iranian Bomb?” In the article Drucker argues that the entire political establishment adopted Netanyahu’s nightmare scenarios regarding Iran. But In Israel, when the doomsday prophecies fail to predict the future, nobody ever pays a price. “The doomsdayers,” as he calls them, “believe that there’s always some “long term” in which their prophecy will come true.” Read More »

Israel’s Unprecedented Geopolitical Strength [ssba]

Israel’s Unprecedented Geopolitical Strength

It may seem counterintuitive, or even downright strange, but Israel’s geopolitical position is probably stronger now than at any time in the country’s history. This is likely to continue at least in the short-to-medium term, but looming long-term challenges should give some pause to Israel’s current leaders. They should recall that even way back in the 1960s, then-Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol sardonically referred to Israel as “Shimshon der nebekhdiker,” or “poor little Samson.”

It is therefore rich with irony that it is undisputed among Republican presidential candidates that President Barack Obama has “thrown Israel under the bus,” while Hillary Clinton promises “no daylight” between the United States and Israel, instead of advocating policies that would strongly encourage Israel to ameliorate the Palestinians’ untenable situation.  Bernie Sanders, who once spent a year on a kibbutz as a young man, seems to prefer to avoid the issue entirely, which is perhaps a different kind of irony.

It is worth reviewing Israel’s markedly changed security situation since its establishment in 1948. At that time Israel considered itself in genuine existential danger from the Arab world, and with good reason. This danger lessened with its victory in the 1967 Six Day War, and the Jewish state’s safety from an Arab attack was largely sealed with its 1979 treaty with Egypt. However, a sense of insecurity still pervaded Israel once it became clear that peace with Egypt was not going to be followed by normalization with the rest of the region.  Read More »

The Iran-Saudi-US Balancing Act – and Israel: Something Must Give [ssba]

The Iran-Saudi-US Balancing Act – and Israel: Something Must Give

A slightly different version of this article was first published by the IPI Global Observatory

The first milestone in implementing the Iran nuclear deal has come and gone. As the agreement’s proponents expected and opponents denied would happen, Iran has poured cement in its Arak reactor and rendered it unusable. More unexpected was the prisoner exchange that accompanied it, with Iran releasing four Americans and the United States freeing seven Iranians. In addition, Iran captured and then quickly released a group of US Navy personnel whose boats had drifted into Iranian territorial waters—a fact that the US did not contest.

The reactions to these developments from opposing sides were predictable. Supporters of the deal—most world leaders and domestic supporters of US President Barack Obama—saw it as proof of the efficacy of diplomacy in general and the president’s policies in particular. Opponents of the deal—most Israelis and members of the US Republican party—saw it as a humiliating capitulation. All Republican candidates vying for nomination for this year’s presidential poll declared that things would be very different if they were in power. Read More »

Why the Iran Nuclear Deal Merits Support [ssba]

Why the Iran Nuclear Deal Merits Support

There was some delay in getting this published, but I’m grateful that it’s out there.  What follows is an abridged version of my op-ed , “Why We Need the Iran Nuclear Deal,” published in the September 24, 2015 issue of the Jewish Journal (Boston):                         

. . .  The final deal is stronger than expected. The critics keep talking about its 10-year timeframe but, in fact, most of its provisions are set in a 15-year timeframe or longer. The permitted number of centrifuges is relatively low. Though some feared that an effective “snap-back” process for sanctions was unattainable, the deal’s provisions actually stymie Iran or even Iran together with Russia and China from blocking reimposition of sanctions if Iran cheats.

A 15-year timeframe is being portrayed by some as inadequate.  . . .

Fifteen years is more than enough time for the pro-Western younger generation in Iran to take over or at least achieve considerable power in the society. It is more than enough time for Israeli and American technology to improve anti-missile defenses,  . . .

. . .  There is no stronger sanctions regime to be had. Rejection of this deal will bring about the collapse of sanctions, not their strengthening. The other alternative is military action against Iran. But U.S., Israeli and European experts agree that military action will set Iran back only 3-4 years.  . . . Read More »

Israelis from America Support Deal with Iran [ssba]

Israelis from America Support Deal with Iran

We, who grew up in America and chose to live in Israel, wish to express our support for the JCPOA. We believe that it offers the most realistic and pragmatic way to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, and makes an important contribution to stability and security in the Middle East.
We agree with the support expressed by former Mossad Head Ephraim Halevy, former Dimona scientist Prof. Uzi Even and former General Security Services Head Ami Ayalon, who said that the deal is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives”.
As people who are raising families in Israel, many of whom have served in Israel’s wars and who share the risks of living here, we are appalled and offended by the vicious and uncalled for attacks against Congressman Nadler, the claim that he has “blood on his hands”, is a “Nazi collaborator”, etc. We believe that Congressman Nadler and the other supporters of the deal which has been negotiated with Iran are voting in the best interests of both the United States and Israel. And we are happy to see polls which indicate that the majority of American Jews support the agreement.
We know that there are other concerns connected to Iran’s aspirations and activities in the Middle East that still have to be dealt with, and are convinced that they will be, with a combination of determined and wise diplomacy, backed by military strength.
To conclude, as dual Israeli-American citizens, we want to express our thanks to President Obama, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moniz, Undersecretary Sherman and the leaders of Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany for negotiating this agreement, which we believe is in the best interests of the Israeli people, and of all people living in the Middle East. Read More »

Dershowitz takes victory lap, but loses JCC Iran debate [ssba]

Dershowitz takes victory lap, but loses JCC Iran debate

Alan Dershowitz is a lifelong Democrat who sees himself as very much a liberal.  Even in terms of Israel, he touts his professed support for a two-state solution with the Palestinians and contends that expanding West Bank settlements are a bad idea.  He has suffered for this with insults and heckling at predominantly right-wing gatherings, such as organized by the Jerusalem Post in New York, two years ago. 

Although his arguments did not prevail, his overlarge ego dominated his debate with Peter Beinart at the Manhattan JCC, Sept. 3, on the Iran nuclear agreement.  Beinart listened in some astonishment and chagrin as Dershowitz invented his own facts in attacking the Iran deal.  By way of contrast, I’ve never heard Beinart argue more fluently and confidently. 

Their major point of contention was in how thorough and prolonged are the agreement’s provisions to safeguard against an Iranian bomb.  Dershowitz tends to argue by selectively quoting (or misquoting) Pres. Obama to the effect that it’s only a ten-year deal, rather than 15 to 25, with Iran’s commitment to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty binding it “in perpetuity,” as Beinart contends.  Read More »

Unpacking Bibi’s Iran Deal Strategy [ssba]

Unpacking Bibi’s Iran Deal Strategy

For some of us the period since July 14, when the nuclear agreement with Iran was announced, has been immensely hectic. I and many of my friends have been reading, commenting, publicizing petitions to Congress, and generally doing our best to get the word out that most American Jews do not oppose the deal and that many (most, according to some reliable polls) support it. Some of us think that the deal is a triumph of diplomacy; others think there is simply no alternative. Obviously, lobbying has been intense and increasingly bitter on both sides.

As I write this on Saturday night, Sept. 5, it looks like the deal will pass, since more than 34 senators (all Democrats) have said they support it. Perhaps we will reach 41 senatorial supporters, which would prevent the Senate from disapproving it, and thus avoid a certain veto by President Obama. Republicans have vowed to do their best to prevent it from going into effect, and hope that if they win the presidency next year, the next president will annul US approval, as he or she will have the right to do.

This may be a good time to examine why Prime Minister Netanyahu broke all diplomatic precedents by actively opposing an American president on a major American debate, especially when it was probable that Obama would win. This question of “why?” has become a cottage industry in Israel, where even many who oppose the deal have condemned Bibi’s heavy-handed strategy as calculated to seriously alienate the United States, Israel’s primary ally. We who support the deal should keep in mind that we only won this round – assuming we did – because the congressional deck was for once stacked for us; constitutionally we only needed 1/3 of one house of Congress. The fact is that Bibi’s and the Republicans’ arguments – which are essentially the same – seem to resonate with about half the American people. Of course Bibi knew he would most probably lose, whatever he was telling people. Everyone knew that the numbers were against him. Read More »

JLC Condemns Hate Speech in Iran Debate [ssba]

JLC Condemns Hate Speech in Iran Debate

As you may already know, the leadership of PPI supports the P5 + 1 nuclear agreement with Iran, which is currently under review by Congress.  At the same time, many of us are distressed by the level of invective being interjected into this debate.  President Obama has noted this in his recent interactions with representatives of the Jewish community (especially regarding the personal attacks aimed at Rep. Jerrold Nadler).

Our friends at the Jewish Labor Committee have issued this statement on exactly this concern:

Jewish Labor Committee Condemns Hate Speech against Members of Congress for Positions on Proposed Iran Nuclear Deal

September 1, 2015 – New York, NY: Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Jewish Labor Committee, issued the following statement earlier today:

The Jewish Labor Committee condemns the recent spate of hate speech directed against members of the United States Congress because of their position on the pending Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program. Read More »

Gershom Gorenberg supports Iran deal [ssba]

Gershom Gorenberg supports Iran deal

In this column in the American Prospect, (“What a No Vote on the iran Deal Would Mean“), Gershom Gorenberg’s writes as an Israeli whose personal security and that of his family is on the line. He makes the observation that if he had remained in the Los Angeles area rather than making aliya to Israel over 40 years ago, Brad Sherman (pictured above) would be his representative in Congress.  His article’s sub-title: “To keep their seats safe, Chuck Schumer and Brad Sherman are willing to make Israel much less safe.”

This is the core of Gorenberg’s piece: Read More »