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

Enough with the Kabuki Dance in the United Nations [ssba]

Enough with the Kabuki Dance in the United Nations

Egypt granted Obama’s administration some breathing room by withdrawing its resolution to the U.N. Security Council demanding an end to Israeli settlement expansion. Over the last 24 hours, foreign policy experts have been debating whether the US would veto a U.N. resolution containing Obama’s own positions, or weigh in one last time to express its dismay at Israel’s utter disregard for international law.

When the Israeli and American right-wing evaluate President Obama according to whether he is “Israel’s friend” or not, they elide the responsibility of Netanyahu’s government for putting the US administration in such a terrible position. Like a child reacting to being caught stealing by accusing his mommy (in this case the President of the United States) of not loving her, Israel evades the question: are you guilty of the charges against you? Instead Israel prefers to displace its guilt with “If mommy truly loved me, she wouldn’t say such bad things about me.”

The real issue here is that Mr. Netanyahu’s and President-elect Trump’s kabuki dance urging Obama to veto the resolution only unmasks the irresponsibility of Netanyahu’s continued settlement expansion.

Indeed, Netanyahu government’s polices strike at the most vulnerable in both the Occupied territories and in Israel. Settlement expansion ensures continued violence against Palestinians and the deprivation of their human rights. For example, according to Military Court Watch, as of August 2016, the Israeli military has detained at least 2,364 Palestinian children, a monthly average of 394.  Of that total, 591 are between 12-15 years old. This is to say nothing of the 60,000 Palestinian adults the Israeli military detains, the majority of which are in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Is subjecting children to illegal military detention really the values Israel wants to communicate to the world?

But that is not all. To do all this, the Netanyahu government sacrifices the most vulnerable of its own citizens on the altar of settlements. This week it cut billions of shekels from the education, welfare and health budgets to cover the cost of the evacuation of the illegal outpost Amona. The same week, the National Insurance Institute published a report stating there are more than 1.7 million poor Israelis, some 21.7% of the population. Such is the regard the Netanyahu government has for “Israeli security.”

This, of course, is to say nothing about how Israel’s sacrificing of someone else’s blood and its own treasure for settlements perpetually erodes its international standing and, as a result, its own security.

As a Molad report concluded, the Israeli leadership must take responsibility for the violence it has committed against the most vulnerable outside and within its legal borders and the dangers exposed by this rift with its allies. Simultaneously, it must internalize the notion that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must fall in line with the values of Western democracies, and that a continued deferral of such a solution will result in ever-increasing costs for Israel and its citizens.

The kabuki dance has long outlasted its performance date, and the audiences in international community are quite fed up with it.

[Image: the Uprooted Palestinians’ Blog]

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

Our Misconceptions of Israel Undermine our Ability to Advocate for Peace

This blog post was published originally in the Huffington Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call for an Economic Boycott and Political Non-recognition of the Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories [ssba]

Call for an Economic Boycott and Political Non-recognition of the Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories

The following statement was written by David Abraham (University of Miami), Kai Bird (Author), and Todd Gitlin (Columbia University) under the auspices of Partners for Progressive Israel.  If you agree with it, please add your name and affiliation as indicated below.

We, the undersigned, oppose an economic, political or cultural boycott of Israel itself as defined by its June 4, 1967 borders. We believe that this Green Line should be the starting point for negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian parties on future boundaries between two states. To promote such negotiations, we call for a targeted boycott of all goods and services from all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories and any investments that promote the Occupation, until such time as a peace settlement is negotiated between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. We further call upon the U. S. government to exclude settlements from trade benefits accorded to Israeli enterprises and to strip all such Israeli entities in the West Bank from the tax exemptions which the Internal Revenue Service currently grants to American non-profit tax-exempt organizations. The objects of our call are all commercial and residential Israeli-sponsored entities located outside the 1967 Green Line. It is our hope that targeted boycotts and changes in American policy, limited to the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, will encourage all parties to negotiate a two-state solution to this longstanding conflict.

The statement has been published in the NYRB (October 13, 2016) and The Nation (October 26, 2016) and reported in the Forward and in Haaretz.

As of November 8, 2016 there are more than 323 signatories. Their names can be found below.

 

Why Is Goldman Sachs Funding the Settlers of Hebron? [ssba]

Why Is Goldman Sachs Funding the Settlers of Hebron?

Even though the firm’s Charitable Gift Fund consistently gives to right-wing Israeli groups or their U.S. fronts, the Hebron aid is a standout, as the showcase city for the worst of the Israeli occupation.

In 2012 the Goldman Sachs Charitable Gift Fund granted $18,000 to one of the most violent and discriminatory communities in the West Bank – the Jewish community in Hebron. Hebron is a perpetual nightmare. About 700 Jews live in tiny fortified urban settlements at the center of a city inhabited by 180,000 Palestinians.

The settlers of Hebron are known for violence. There are multiple videos online in which they yell “Death to Arabs!” and paint hateful Hebrew graffiti on the doors of Palestinian stores. Their children rampage through Palestinian markets, kick over tables with goods, and wreak havoc. Hebron settlers are also known to attack Israeli soldiers on the rare occasions they’ve attempt to curb the settlers’ violent activities. In parts of downtown Hebron Palestinian residents installed nets and metal grates over the streets to catch the garbage that settlers routinely throw from their windows.

Hebron is the showcase city for human rights organizations to bring tourists to when they want demonstrate the worst of the Israeli occupation. The largely abandoned historic center of Hebron is known as “The Ghost Town.” The Israeli Defense Forces have welded the doors of Arab shops shut and prevent Palestinians from entering much of the area.

Here IDF soldiers segregate the roads and force Palestinians to use a narrow, unpaved and rough pedestrian passageways while their Jewish neighbors walk on the main street. Here the Jewish community worships the terrorist Baruch Goldstein, an American-born physician, who entered the Ibrahimi Mosque at Abraham’s tomb in Hebron in February 1994 and massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers and wounded 120, before being beaten to death with a fire extinguisher.

So why did Goldman Sachs Charitable Gift Fund, a foundation connected to the world’s most powerful investment bank and run by Goldman Sachs’ top executives, donate $18,000 to the Brooklyn-based Hebron Fund that bankrolls this humanitarian nightmare?

On their IRS tax records, Goldman Sachs Charitable Gift Fund declared the purpose of the gift was “International Humanitarian Program” to needy Hebron families. With revenues of $2,250,000 the Hebron Fund can deliver from hunger quite a few of the 700 Jewish settlers of the city.
Grants to the Hebron Fund are not an isolated occurrence. There is a clear pattern in the Fund’s giving to Israel rightwing groups or their American fronts. In 2012-2013 they gave $708,000 to the American-Israel Education Foundation, AIPAC’s educational arm; $15,000 to the American Jewish International Relations Institute, a right wing organization which “monitors, tracks, and combats anti-Israel voting patterns at the United Nations”; and $6,100 to the American Friends of the Likud Party.
Though the case of granting money to the Jewish community of Hebron is particularly striking, we should see the funding of the Hebron settlement as only one example in the context of hundreds of millions of dollars backing the full range of West Bank settlements.
The Jewish community of Hebron is one of many that violate international law by settling on occupied land. The Geneva Conventions prohibits a state from transferring its own civilian population into territory it has occupied. As long as Israel chooses not to annex the West Bank, it cannot transfer its population there. And yet, between 2009-2013, American nonprofits funneled $220 million dollars to Israeli settlements to fund everything from yeshivas’ air conditioners to financial aid to families of Jewish terrorists.

Most American administrations since 1967 have had a clear position on Israeli settlements: they oppose them. In 2011, when the U.S. vetoed the UN Security Council’s resolution condemning Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, said the decision “should not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity.” In response, Israel’s close allies Britain, France and Germany put out a joint statement explaining they had voted for the resolution “because our views on settlements, including east Jerusalem, are clear: they are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace, and constitute a threat to a two-state solution. All settlement activity, including in east Jerusalem, should cease immediately.”

Moreover, some eighty percent of American Jews support a two-state solution and it’s clear to all that settlements undermine it. So when Goldman Sachs gives money to the Jewish community of Hebron, not only does it operate in violation of international law, against the policies of the Obama administration, it also breaks with the American Jewish consensus.

So why did Goldman Sachs Charitable Gift Fund grant $18,000 to the Hebron Fund?

The op-ed was originally published in Haaretz.

Reflections on the World Zionist Congress [ssba]

Reflections on the World Zionist Congress

This article was contributed by Rachel Sandalow-Ash. Rachel is a co-founder of and national organizer for Open Hillel, a grassroots movement of Jewish students and young alumni working for pluralism and open discourse on Israel-Palestine in Jewish spaces on college campuses and beyond. She was a delegate to the 37th World Zionist Congress as part of the World Union of Meretz faction, having run on the Hatikvah Slate.  A 2015 Harvard College graduate, Rachel grew up in Brookline, MA and now lives in Philadelphia. The views presented here are Rachel’s own and do not represent the views of Open Hillel, Partners for Progressive Israel, or the World Union of Meretz.

October 22, 3:00PM, West Jerusalem. The large auditorium at the International Convention Center is in chaos. “We’ve run out of time,” says the chair of the meeting. “All further resolutions will go to the Zionist General Council.” Delegates left, right, and center are rushing the stage. But the chair won’t budge on the schedule. Lacking other options, we vote to conclude the 37th World Zionist Congress. Maybe 70% of our votes are processed by the electronic voting machine; the chair deems the vote good enough. Delegates, alternates, and party staff stream into out of the room, hugging each other goodbye and making plans for shabbat.

A few miles to the North, East, and South, East Jerusalem Palestinians wait behind blockades and checkpoints to reach their homes and neighborhoods; the “united city” is more divided than ever. Several people have already died when these checkpoints prevented them from getting to the hospital.

—–

first world zionist congress

When Hatikvah, the US progressive Zionist slate first asked me to join their list for the World Zionist Congress, I was deeply confused (wait, wasn’t that Herzl’s thing from 1897? That’s still around?) and deeply conflicted. As a candidate, I would have to sign the Jerusalem Program, a Zionist loyalty oath of sorts, when I had spent the past two years leading a campaign against Jewish communal loyalty oaths. I would be required to donate to the Jewish National Fund, which maintains discriminatory land use policies in Israel and is instrumental in building settlements beyond the Green Line. And perhaps worst of all, I knew that the World Zionist Congress makes decisions involving Israeli government money (a large portion of the World Zionist Organization’s multi-million dollar budget comes directly from the government) and impacting Israeli society; yet non-Jewish citizens of Israel are not allowed to vote or participate in the WZC.  

And yet, in the end, political pragmatism won me over. The World Zionist Organization controlled over $50 million on its own; along with the Jewish Agency, it oversaw an additional $470 million or so.  That was real, tangible money that could be spent on building settlements and maintaining the Occupation — or, alternatively, on fighting poverty and promoting racial and economic justice. Not that many people voted for the World Zionist Congress. If I ran and got my friends to vote, we could make a real difference. At least so I hoped.

Read More »

It’s About Settlements, Not BDS [ssba]

It’s About Settlements, Not BDS

Hiam Simon (Ameinu’s COO) and I responded to a false assertion that PPI supports BDS.  Both Dr. Scott David Lippe’s charge and our response were  published in our local New Jersey community weekly, The Jewish Standard, as letters to the editor.  This is most of our letter:   

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement was established in July 2005 by 171 Palestinian organizations to promote the general boycott of Israeli companies and companies doing business with Israel, the general boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions, divestment from Israeli companies and companies doing business with Israel, and international sanctions against the State of Israel. For many years, Partners for Progressive Israel and its predecessor organizations have actively opposed this movement as a general attack on the Jewish state and the Israeli public.

But we don’t believe Dr. Lippe was particularly interested in investigating either our personal views in opposition to the BDS movement or those of Partners for Progressive Israel. He is interested in promoting a particular agenda in support of West Bank settlement activity. So let’s discuss this real agenda, and the substantive differences between us. Read More »

David Abraham on Al-Jazeera debating about BDS [ssba]

David Abraham on Al-Jazeera debating about BDS

PPI board member David Abraham was on Al-Jazeera’s The Stream discussing and debating the BDS movement, with a BDS supporter and a pro-Netanyahu Israeli. Here’s the video:

What if Ruth would have lived in Israel today? [ssba]

What if Ruth would have lived in Israel today?

The following is an excerpt of my new piece in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle:

More than any other holiday, Shavuot, which we enjoyed at the beginning of last week, celebrates compassion and empathy. Based on the Book of Ruth, it tells the story of Naomi, her husband and two sons, who emigrated from Bethlehem to the nearby country of Moab. Naomi’s husband and sons died in Moab, but not before her sons married local women. Ten years later, Naomi returns to Bethlehem with her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth, and they live in destitution. Ruth gleans Boaz’s field to support Naomi and herself. Eventually, Ruth and Boaz fall in love, marry and birth King David’s grandfather. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Read More »

PPI’s Irwin Wall speaks to the BBC about Netanyahu’s visit to Congress [ssba]

PPI’s Irwin Wall speaks to the BBC about Netanyahu’s visit to Congress
Irwin Wall

Irwin Wall

PPI board member, Irwin Wall, was invited by the BBC to comment on  Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington. Irwin did an excellent job of  explaining why Partners for Progressive Israel opposed Netanyahu’s  Congressional speech

Listen to the full  conversation below.