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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Detroit Jews ask: Are targeted Israel boycotts the same as BDS? [ssba]

Detroit Jews ask: Are targeted Israel boycotts the same as BDS?

Our petition, Demand Detroit’s Walk for Israel include all supporters of Israel, promted Ron Kampeas to published following article in the the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 

(JTA) — For the second year in a row, the Detroit area’s Walk for Israel has rebuffed the sponsorship of left-wing pro-Israel groups because of their support for boycotting settlements.

At the heart of the dispute is a question of definitions: Is support of a boycott targeting Jewish enterprises beyond Israel’s 1967 borders the same as backing the blanket economic and cultural boycott of Israel called for by the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement? Read More »

Why Detroit’s “Walk for Israel” excludes progressives? [ssba]

Why Detroit’s “Walk for Israel” excludes progressives?

May is a celebratory month for supporters of Israel: Israel’s Independence Day, the Israel Day Parade in New York, and smaller Walks for Israel in cities all over the United States. Detroit is one such city poised to host its eleventh annual Walk for Israel.

We at Partners for Progressive Israel wished to join this year’s Walk for Israel in Detroit. But for the second consecutive year the Detroit Walk for Israel steering committee unilaterally decided to prevent us and Americans for Peace Now from participating. They say their mission is to “unite the metropolitan Detroit community to celebrate the establishment of the modern Jewish State of Israel and support its right to live in peace and security.” So why are they dividing the community by deeming who is and isn’t an adequate supporter of Israel’s “right to live in peace and security?” Read More »

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.

The Right-Wing Tactic All Jewish Leftists Should Be Stealing [ssba]

The Right-Wing Tactic All Jewish Leftists Should Be Stealing

Maya Haber published an op-ed in the Forward today capturing a little of Partners for Progressive Israel’s new Strategic Plan.

In the early 1990s it felt as if the Israeli Left had won. In 1992, the first election I ever voted in, Meretz won 12 Knesset seats. A year later Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo agreements. At that time, my IDF unit was working on a just and fair distribution of water resources between Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan and Syria. We believed the conflict was about to end.

The Right did not accept defeat.

The Left often argues that the Right murdered Rabin and with him our progressive future. But this a partial and biased narrative. The truth is that even before Rabin’s murder, the Right had devised a strategy to win back public opinion. Read More »

Statement on Im Tirzu [ssba]

Statement on Im Tirzu

im tirzu logoPartners for Progressive Israel condemns in the strongest terms the recent campaign of character assassination carried on by the Israeli organization Im Tirzu against the leaders of four Israeli Human Rights organizations, among them B’tselem and Breaking the Silence.  We proudly associate ourselves with the declarations of our sister organizations Peace Now, T’ruah, Ameinu, ARZA, and the New Israel Fund against the Im Tirzu campaign and we express our appreciation of the Meretz party for its defense of these organizations and of free speech and human rights in Israel.  The naming of four leaders of these organizations and the publication of their pictures with labels denouncing them as foreign agents and accessories to terrorism is a blatant lie and an invitation to physical violence against them.  These are the tactics that resulted in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin twenty years ago; and these are the same tactics used by totalitarian parties of the right in Europe in the inter-war period in their successful campaigns to destroy democracy in Italy and Germany.

In view of this serious threat the complicit silence of Prime Minister Netanyahu is ominous.  The Prime Minister, then in the opposition, notoriously was silent during slanderous depictions of Itzhak Rabin as a traitor just prior to his assassination in 1995.  We note with alarm that Mr. Netanyahu has just yesterday even faced down calls by Leader of the Opposition Herzog to condemn similar kinds of incitement against President Rivlin who, although himself a figure of the political Right, had the decency to address the HaaretzQ Conference in New York and salute that newspaper for being the beacon of democratic practice in Israel that it has been over the years.  In reply to Herzog the Prime Minister demanded that Herzog in turn associate himself with the present effort in Israel to scapegoat the organization of IDF Veterans, Breaking the Silence, which publishes testimonies by Israeli soldiers about what actions they were required to take in fighting Israel’s wars and carrying on its brutal military occupation of the Palestinians.

Partners for Progressive Israel is proud to support Breaking the Silence, B’tselem, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and HaMoked as flagship organizations that defend the best qualities Israeli society has to offer.  We call upon the Prime Minister of Israel to repudiate Im Tirzu, require it to reveal the sources of its funding, and dismiss those of his Ministers or others in his government who support its actions.  We call upon American Jewish leaders, in particular those in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, who were quick to denounce the leader of Israel’s Arab bloc in the Knesset for the simple refusal to meet with them in the offices of the Jewish Agency, to join with us in condemning this much more serious breach of democratic practice which invites violence against leaders of human rights and peace organizations in Israel.

PPI Agrees: Resettle Syrian Refugees! [ssba]

PPI Agrees: Resettle Syrian Refugees!

syrian refugeesPartners for Progressive Israel strongly endorses the statement by its sister organization, Ameinu, of November 20, titled “Stop Demagoguery: Resettle Syrian Refugees.”  As a Jewish Organization in America we are mindful of and mourn those would be Jewish refugees of the 1930s and 1940s who lost their lives after being refused admission to the United States because of similar absurd fears of “terrorists” or traitors among them that are being stoked against Syrian refugees today.  We associate ourselves with Ameinu and other Jewish organizations who have courageously supported the admission to the United States of vetted Syrian refugees.

By the same token we reaffirm our earlier statement associating ourselves with Isaac Herzog and Zehava Galon who called upon the Netanyahu government to admit Syrian refugees to Israel.  We deplore the Israeli government’s refusal to grant refuge to the African refugees already in Israel, or to recognize its responsibility as a bordering nation to offer succor to fleeing Syrians as Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey have done.  We note that Israel, which harbors a large population of Druze who have since its inception been loyal to the State, should respond to the pleas of its own Druze people and save their coreligionists who are directly menaced by the Islamic State. PPI’s previous statement on refugees is attached.

Official Statement on the Current Crisis in Israel [ssba]

Official Statement on the Current Crisis in Israel

Partners for Progressive Israel deplores the outbreak of recent violence in Israel and the occupied territories.  It condemns attacks on innocent civilians and deplores the use of excessive force in response to such attacks. The cycle of violence is unlikely to cease unless the Palestinian population can see an eventual end to the occupation and oppression that have characterized their daily lives since 1967.

Poverty, unemployment and statelessness have continued to produce violence, as they have done continuously for the last 48 years.  The violence is a testimony for the failure of the existing, de facto “one-state” situation in Israel and the occupied territories and the lack of progress toward the promised two-state solution of the conflict.

We call upon the leaders of both Israel and the Palestinians to condemn violence in all of its forms and to recommit to the resumption of negotiations toward a two-state settlement of the conflict.  The two nations who reside in the land deserve sovereign and independent existence, real self-determination, and full civil and human rights as individuals and within separate political bodies.  The continuation of the occupation is incompatible with these ideals, which are accepted now as immutable human rights by all peoples around the world.

The current cycle of violence, which many describe as the Third Intifada, is in fact spontaneous and inchoate aggression by individuals reacting to an impossible, protracted, and seemingly unchangeable reality, and a harsh response by Israel that refuses to recognize the situation that gives rise to the violence. This new crisis in Israel only serves to reemphasize the need for a political solution based on a negotiated settlement. The international community as a whole should call for and if necessary impose the resumption of serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority based on the 1967 borders. The contours of a settlement are known and were twice almost agreed upon by the two sides in 2001 and 2008, and should be based on the Clinton Parameters and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, as since amended.

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 »

Conversations with Israel and Palestine: Nathan Brown [ssba]

Conversations with Israel and Palestine: Nathan Brown

Dr. Nathan Brown is a foremost expert on the rule of law in the Arab world. In this conversation, he discusses the internal governance issues in Gaza since Israel unilateral disengagement in 2005. How much longer can Hamas stay in power? Does the infamous rocket fire demonstrate a growing militancy among Hamas or a slipping of power?

brown-nathanDr. Brown received his B.A. in political science from the University of Chicago and his M.A. and Ph.D. in politics and Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University. He teaches courses on Middle Eastern politics, as well as more general courses on comparative politics and international relations. His dissertation received the Malcolm Kerr award from the Middle East Studies Association in 1987.

For 2013-2015, Dr. Brown is president of the Middle East Studies Association, the academic association for scholars studying the region. In 2013, he was named a Guggenheim Fellow; four years earlier, he was named a Carnegie scholar by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. For the 2009–2010 academic year, he was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

In addition to his academic work,Brown serves on the Middle East and North Africa advisory committee for Human Rights Watch and the board of trustees at the American University in Cairo. He has previously served as an advisor for the committee drafting the Palestinian constitution, USAID, the United Nations Development Program, and several NGOs.