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.

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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Shlomo Swirski, Israel is Paying Heavily for the Occupation [ssba]

Shlomo Swirski, Israel is Paying Heavily for the Occupation

BDS advocates often argue that Israel has an economic interest in maintaining the occupation: its military tests weapons on Palestinians and markets them as ‘battle proven'; its security companies export knowledge to foreign police and military forces; and its workforce is highly invested in building and protecting the settlements. Therefore, they argue, the only way to force it to leave the West Bank is a boycott. Only when Israelis feel the consequences of the occupation will they choose to end it.

Dr. Shlomo Swirski, the academic director of the Adva Center and one of the most prominent Israeli sociologists, argue that the BDS advocates are wrong. Indeed, some in Israel profit, but such profits are dwarfed by the damage wrought to the Israeli economy as a whole due to the contraction of economic activity. Moreover, the money diverted to settlements is taken out of the budgets of development towns, the education and health systems. Israelis are suffering everyday the cost of the occupation.

So what is the cost of the occupation to Israel’s economy? And if it’s so heavy, why do Israelis continue voting for the Right?

Listen to our conversation with Dr. Shlomo Swirski

Daniel Ben Simon on the Rift between Mizrahim and the Israeli Left [ssba]

Daniel Ben Simon on the Rift between Mizrahim and the Israeli Left

In 1997 Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak asked Mizrahi Jews to forgive the party for its treatment of the 1950s North African immigration. He got the idea from Daniel Ben-Simon’s book Another Country which tells the story of Benjamin Netanyahu’s 1996 victory. Ben Simon recalled a conversation between Shimon Peres and Shas’ leader, Aryeh Deri. Dari told Peres that “The Moroccans don’t like you. They don’t forgive the Labor Movement for its treatment of them in the 1950s” and advised him to ask for forgiveness. “Mind you, he told Peres, they are not in the Likud’s pocket. On the contrary. They are moderate and tolerant people.” Barak called Ben Simon the night he decided to apologize. Ben Simon thought it might work

I asked him why Barak’s apology was did not help heal the wound. “Barak wanted to steal the oriental vote from the Likud,” he said, “and he won the election. He won the election because the Orientals voted from him in 1999. He had a huge victory. But after the election he went back to being Barak, the Israeli army general who promised change of priorities and did nothing for it. […] He was busy with the Palestinian issue and eventually those orientals saw him as a person who couldn’t keep to his word.” Ben Simon argues that what had to be done then and still hasn’t been done is “a Marshal Plan for the development towns.” Read More »

Tammy Zandberg, The Israeli Progressive Camp Needs Your Support [ssba]

Tammy Zandberg, The Israeli Progressive Camp Needs Your Support

Knesset member Tammy Zandberg (Meretz) told us how Conservative American Jews influence Israeli politics by investing in think tanks and social media campaigns. She explained how the NGO transparency law allows the conservative camp to continue influencing Israeli politics without interruption – while targeting money going to progressive organizations.

Dany Gutwein, The Economic Logic of the Occupation [ssba]

Dany Gutwein, The Economic Logic of the Occupation

Listen to Prof. Dany Gutwein explain the relationship how Israel’s neoliberalism is wedded to the occupation.

Avi Dabush, Building Rainbow Coalitions [ssba]

Avi Dabush, Building Rainbow Coalitions

We had a wonderful conversation with Avi Dabush yesterday. Avi is a dynamic community organizer. He has lead a variety of social and political struggles in Israel. In the last elections, he ran for Knesset as part of Meretz. Throughout the campaign Avi was a leading voice on issues of Mizrahi identity and social justice.

Until recently he was the program director at SHATIL, the New Israel Fund’s initiative for social change. Avi left in January to devote his time to building what he calls “Rainbow coalitions.” He spoke to us about sectarianism which divides Israeli society, and the attempts to build grassroots movements uniting people and focusing on their shared interests. Avi argues that focusing on shared experience allows people to transcended identity differences and focuses on commonalities.

He told us his motto is the African Proverb – “If you want to walk fast walk alone, if you want to walk far, walk together!”

Save Israel Stop the Occupation: A conversation with Akiva Eldar [ssba]

Save Israel Stop the Occupation: A conversation with Akiva Eldar

Listen to our conversation with Akiva Eldar, the Chief Political analyst of Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse and one of the founders of SISO, Save Israel Stop the Occupation.

What is SISO? SISO is a growing worldwide movement that serves as an umbrella for all those who consider Israel’s ongoing rule over occupied Palestinian territory disastrous not just for Palestinians but for Israelis as well. SISO holds that the termination of the occupation will not only end the suffering of the Palestinian people but is also vital to Israel’s security, democracy, prosperity, and world standing.

The Goal: SISO strives to secure the end of the occupation by the 50th anniversary of its inception, in the belief that half a century is more than long enough. Accordingly, SISO is calling on the Israeli Government to decide by 5 June 2017 either to accept the creation of an independent Palestinian state or to extend equal rights to everyone living in the occupied territories until there is an agreed final resolution of the conflict.

The movement will launch its activities in June 2016 and will carry them out throughout the year, culminating in a major event on June 5, 2017 and continuing them until the goal will be achieved.

What will SISO do? SISO will mobilize organizations to join the movement, plan and implement mega-events, develop a series of novel activities in various domains, and enlist the support of prominent personalities. The SISO organizers will develop branding and marketing digital communication and share methods of persuasion and a public relations strategy to guide the movement with the participating organizations and groups professionally, systematically, creatively, and effectively. In addition, the SISO organizers will serve as consultants and provide materials and information through the SISO website to support actions by organizations, groups and individuals. SISO will recruit prominent opinion makers in different fields to empower the movement and its voice. It will mobilize new forces and recruit participants who were not actively involved in the peace camp in the past. SISO will organize various cultural-societal –political events, including mega-events that will create a strong voice.

Rami Hod, Building Constituencies for the Israeli Left [ssba]

Rami Hod, Building Constituencies for the Israeli Left

Rami Hod is the Executive Director of the Social Economic Academy (SEA). He is one of the most strategic thinking people I’ve ever met. He speaks of opportunities, building constituencies, and hope. He believes the future of the Israeli Left is in building support around social and economic interests.

Rami told us about the “quiet revolution” building strength in Israel in recent years. Israelis are becoming more progressive on economic issues. Since 2011 Israelis are organizing in their communities, joining labor unions in vast numbers and demonstrating for their economic rights. They have had many successes: parents mobilized and won free public education for children from the age of three, for example. This is a grassroots revolution that has been unrecognized outside Israel.

Listen to our conversation with Rami Hod. You will not regret it. Read More »

Merav Michaeli, Hope is a Decision [ssba]

Merav Michaeli, Hope is a Decision

We spoke today to MK Merav Michaeli about the achievements of the opposition in the Knesset and the challenges the Israeli Left is facing.

She spoke about the incitement against the Left and how despite the hostile political and media environment the Opposition in the Knesset succeeded in voting down eight bills since the beginning of the year.

“Hope,” she said, “is a decision. The place and the time we need hope the most is when it looks like the situation is hopeless. That is the time when we need to find the hope within ourselves.”

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Listen to MK Michaeli