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.

Theo Bikel endorses Israeli artists’ boycott of Ariel [ssba]

Meretz USA President’s speech to the 2010 World Zionist Congress [ssba]

By editor on

Twenty-five years ago, a fellow member of the Hashomer Hatzair movement, stood in a Congress very much like this and called Zionism a monster. However, back then, her remarks were just an exercise in rhetoric.

Today, I’m afraid, all over the world, Zionism is readily associated with occupation and militarism. Many progressive historians are fond of showing that Zionist history was imperialistic and even racist from its beginnings. And even right-wing Zionist movements want to limit the de facto definition of Zionism as a movement that unconditionally supports the Israeli government, even when its policies are pro-occupation and militarist.  “Zionism” has become so dreadful, that even progressive pro-Israel organizations are afraid to use it.

This connection has left thousands of young Jews, who are largely liberal, with an uneasy feeling that often leads to a disconnection from Israel, and sometimes to outright rejection of Israel and Zionism. The current state of affairs is deeply ironic; it was not always this way.

Over a century ago, Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism, proposed the creation of a State for the Jews as the only way for the Jewish people to end its abnormal status as a stateless nation, loathed and rejected everywhere it settled. This political dream, however, could not come without a price, both human and political. As evidenced by his utopian novel Altneuland, Herzl understood this. He therefore believed that the only way to validate the Zionist enterprise was to build “a light unto the nations” that would be a progressive model of justice, democracy, equality and prosperity. Most other Zionist leaders of the time, like Ber Borochov, Nahman Syrkin, or A.D. Gordon, also saw in the birth of the Jewish state the opportunity to create a utopia, and the justification for such an enterprise in the possibility of creating an egalitarian society based on human rights and dignity.

Within a few years, however, Zionists ran up against the reality that the Palestinians also had their own national aspirations, triggering a military conflict that would cost tens of thousands of lives, and corrupt their early idealism. Moreover, the Zionist visionaries would have never imagined that the Jewish national utopia would end up as an occupying power, mainly shaped by pragmatic factors emanating from violent conflict, criticized by much of the world, justifiably or not, as a major violator of human rights. Zionism, at its root, is not only a movement to establish a Jewish homeland, but a philosophical and ideological movement in which the establishment of a Jewish state was seen as a step to affirm humanistic values.

Zionism is not over. The dreams of Herzl and the founders of the movement will not be realized until Israel becomes the exemplary society that they envisioned. It is our job, our duty to reclaim Zionism.  It is our job to teach the world that groups that support occupation ARE NOT Zionist!  Groups that support discrimination and racism ARE NOT Zionist!

I don’t know at what point exactly the world shifted its view of Zionism, which was supported by the left as a social-democratic movement whose progressive achievements included founding the socialist kibbutz. Perhaps it was after the 1967 war.

I believe it is time for a paradigm shift. The peace camp must reclaim Zionism.  Progressive Jews need to speak out for the emergence of a renewed movement whose goal will be to realize the humanistic ideals of the original Zionism: an Israel that will be at the forefront of the fight for human rights and dignity; a prosperous and productive Israel that will rival the rest of the world intellectually and technologically, and use its knowledge for the betterment of humanity; an Israel in which education will be a priority and a major national enterprise, in which children will learn to think critically and creatively, and open to diversity; an Israel in which the Jewish people will feel proud to be part of the renewed Zionist enterprise.

Therefore, I present the following resolution in which we propose that any movement who does not support the core Zionist values of democracy, equality, and freedom of expression should be expelled from the Zionist movement.