Harm Avoided, Harm Done

It’s been a difficult week for those of us who care about a strong relationship between the United States and Israel. The relationship has historically been much more one between the US Congress and Israel than one between any US President and Israel. Additionally, it has always been Israel, not Israel’s Prime Minister, with whom the relationship has been made.

There are good things and bad things about strong relations between individual Prime Ministers and US Presidents. Certainly, it is advantageous to Israel to be able to more readily express policy needs and to expect a positive response. Among the bad things for Israel in dealing with any President is that US Presidents can do tremendous harm to Israel, often just by not helping, much less by doing harmful things such as holding back a veto at the UN Security Council or negotiating an agreement in the region that helps make Israel’s enemies stronger. When the President says in Israel’s direction, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Israel is put in a difficult situation.

This President, in the relationship that he has with the Israeli Prime Minister, tweeting that it would show “great weakness” for Israel to admit Reps. Omar and Tlaib is such a request.

When it was originally suggested to me that Israel would ban Reps. Omar and Tlaib from coming to Israel, my response was “There is no way that Israel would refuse entry to members of the US Congress, period!” I was reassured when Ambassador Dermer, shortly thereafter, echoed that response.

When the Israeli Knesset passed its anti-BDS advocate entry bill a couple of years ago, I thought it was a bad bill, one that would be entirely subjective and would be unevenly enforced. Yet, I thought that no matter how that bill might relate to members of the US Congress, the Israeli government would be strategic enough in its thinking, especially about the long-term US Israel relationship to not apply it to members of the US Congress.

First, there is the obvious reality that Members of Congress approve funding that Israel receives. While it is not true that Members need to visit countries and sites that receive funding in order to conduct their appropriate oversight (clearly that doesn’t happen in relation to other countries and programs that receive foreign aid), it is at best unseemly to prohibit members from coming.

Second, arguments that Israel unduly restricts the freedom of movement and access of Palestinians are prominent in their arguments against Israel. Why take an action that gives fuel to that argument?

Third, it would be expected that the Democratic Party would react badly to having two of  its members excluded, even with some justification, and that the Party’s leaders would have to do damage control. Some members of the Party would undoubtedly call for diplomatic retaliation and arguments against strong support for Israel would receive increased support as Democrats rally the wagons around Reps. Omar and Tlaib.

Fourth, something potentially positive for PM Netanyahu in his own elections, but negative in the eyes of many American Jews on the political left, such a decision would appear to align more closely President Trump with Israel’s leadership.

But we cannot stop there because the situation doesn’t stop there. Reps. Omar and Tlaib submitted an itinerary for their visit to “Palestine,” with no mention of Israel that was organized by Miftah, an organization known for promoting Antisemitism, not just criticism of Israel. See this article by David French about Miftah. The two are known advocates both for the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement against Israel and for a one state solution, essentially wiping Israel off of the map and replacing it with an “Israel-Palestine” which would end the Jewish character of the state, end the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland, and end Israel as a place of refuge for Jews. There is no question that the intentions of the two Members of Congress in that regard is hostile to the government of Israel.

On their trip, we almost certainly would have seen the two promoting the worst stories they could find of oppression and suffering, while promoting nothing that could possibly be construed as positive. They would cry and smile, filled, no doubt, with real emotions to normal concerns and joys as well as doing so in relation to planned and staged PR opportunities. They would come to Israel to exploit and harm Israel, every bit as much as to advocate for Palestinians.

Most of us, who advocate for Israel, including many Israeli leaders, argued that,with all of this understood, Israel is strong enough to deal with a few days of nastiness and PR events. It could handle Rep. Tlaib celebrating with her family in Beit Hanina, while sharing their difficulties with the world, and Rep. Omar talking with Ethiopian Jews about racism. Israel does face challenges. It isn’t perfect. Many of us in the Israel advocacy community would hope for changes ourselves.

That Reps. Omar and Tlaib might well present these challenges in ways that would increase hatred of Israel and could well lead to increased Antisemitism against Jews worldwide is a real concern. There is little doubt in that regard that Israel’s rejection of those opportunities and whatever backlash it may face over denying their entry is better than more elderly Chasidic men being attacked in New York, more attacks against Jewish facilities in Europe, and violent protests breaking out in Israel or terrorism against it. Israel has real concerns about fallout from such a trip as well as fallout from preventing it.

Israel does have moral and ethical reasons to actively prevent activities that could result in those things and one could argue that in particular with the track record of Representatives Omar and Tlaib in regard to their statements and actions related to Israel and Jews. No few today are relieved that our debate is limited to arguing about the rejection of  visas and not about something worse.

  • Among the things that we are concerned about is that this rejection by Israel of Representatives Omar and Tlaib’s itinerary will result in their embrace and an unwillingness to explicitly and strongly challenge their positions in regard to Israel by leaders in the Democratic Party.
  • What we’re worried about is that this embrace and failure to publicly criticize them will go a long way to aiding the President in presenting the two Members of Congress as “the face of the Party,” not in regard to its racial and ethnic diversity, but in regard to its hostility to general American support for Israel and to a lack of hostility to Antisemitism.
  • We’re concerned about people painting Israel as “Anti-Muslim” which is both untrue and could lead to Antisemitism. We don’t want to see people like the former Vice Presidential Candidate for the Democratic Party, Sen. Tim Kaine, among others calling this a “Muslim Ban” so as to call upon the hatred among progressives for the President while applying it inappropriately to Israel.
  • We’re concerned that the response among progressives will be to lurch toward the positions of the British Labour Party which allowed Antisemitism to flourish in its ranks, positions which promoted criticism of Israel, embraced its critics, and largely ignored for many years even overt Antisemitism.

The appropriate response to Israel’s ban of Reps. Omar and Tlaib is to BOTH decry their positions and intent in relation to Israel and to challenge Israel’s unwillingness to tolerate hearing even harsh criticisms from Members of Congress, who indeed should, as representatives of Israel’s closest ally, be granted appropriate privileges and tolerance based upon that relationship. There is no situation in which an Anti-BDS bill should have made no exception for diplomatic needs at the direction of the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. The law should not be seen as taking the decision out of their hands.

It is said that we see the true character of someone when their inhibitions are gone. The greatest harm done by this decision by Israel is that it has revealed that beneath the cordiality often offered in both directions, for too many, there is a great deal of contempt.

Some harm was avoided. Some harm was done.

Let us hope that those who truly believe in a strong relationship between our nations will be able to repair and rebuild from the damage that has been done. It’s possible that we’ll only need to wait until after the upcoming Israeli elections for that to begin.

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Current Reasonable Resolution to the Conflict 2019

INTRODUCTION: This article is a currently updated assessment of possibilities for a resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians taking into account broader Jewish-Arab conflicts. As relevant events occur, this article will be updated to account for them.

Regional political changes over the past decade have seemingly lessened or even removed pressure from Israel to pursue a “two-state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the near future. While it may be true that there is now less pressure on Israel to make concessions in regard to the conflict, the primary impetus for the entire process remains in place, a desire to maintain Israel as a state providing security for the Jewish people in a broader Jewish cultural environment, while allowing those Palestinian Arabs who live in areas that are in territories that were under the control of Jordan or Egypt after 1948, to have the opportunity to live in a state of some kind of their own.

I specifically do not cite a “two-state” solution at this point, because there is neither a reasonable argument made that Gaza will necessarily have the same government as the rest of the Palestinian people, nor is it certain, or even necessarily possible, for either entity to have what would be considered traditional sovereignty, including full border control. Arguments about a “two-state” solution are often full of assumptions that are not reasonable in 2019.

RECENT CHANGES:

The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by the United States, expressly leaving Jerusalem’s exact boundaries as a part of negotiations, does not truly alter the situation at all, nor have any UN or UNSC resolutions affected the situation, though weakening overall support for anti-Israel resolutions in the UN General Assembly may increase pressure on the Palestinians to compromise going forward. There are limited possible paths to a resolution that provides security and prosperity for Israel as a whole with safe and secure access to major Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem specifically.

The recognition of the Golan as part of Israel by the United States is also unlikely to affect the broader situation. For security reasons alone, prior to the Syrian Civil War, it would have been very problematic to consider returning the Golan Heights to Syria. Following the Syrian Civil War and with the increased presence of Hezballah and Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq, there is no reasonable argument to be made that Israel could risk returning the Golan Heights to Syrian control under any circumstances in the foreseeable future. US recognition was essentially the recognition that the discussion of that had realistically ended.

By the early 1990s, most Israelis realized that some form of separation between the Israeli and Palestinian populations was essential for the future well-being of Israel. Furthermore, it was understood that the most reasonable way to accomplish that goal was to promote the creation of some sort of Palestinian state. This has not changed. A significant majority of Israelis continue to hold this general view, but some specifics have changed

Most Israelis now believe that more stringent security measures must be put in place today than would have been considered essential in the year 2000, 2007, or even 2010. Events in Gaza since the year 2000 and events in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Iran since 2009, along with changes in the way terrorism is conducted, have dramatically changed the security requirements that Israel will require on the Jordanian border and for ongoing security requirements within the West Bank.

Most people now believe that Gaza and the West Bank will likely remain separate political entities to a significant extent going forward. The leadership of Gaza, Hamas, has been in a heated military conflict with Egypt for over a decade that in recent months has lessened somewhat but remains tense. In recent times, there has been little response among Fatah supporters when Hamas or Islamic Jihad have engaged Israel in Gaza. There is no assumption that the two sides should be supportive of one another.

Meanwhile Hamas would have to be removed from power before Egypt’s anti-Muslim Brotherhood government substantially improves relations with Gaza. In the meantime, claims of authority over Gaza by the Palestinian Authority are not based in the PA’s ability to govern there, but instead out of the belief that the West Bank and Gaza are remnants of a larger entity, Palestine, that should remain connected.

This narrative has necessitated solutions to the conflict for the Palestinians that do not prioritize the needs of the people of the West Bank as opposed to Gaza and at the same time result in harsh policies by the Palestinian Authority against the population of Gaza, such as shutting off their electricitydenying medical care, or cutting off funding generally. Realistically, we are now in a situation in which possibilities for improvement in Israeli relations with the Palestinians should be separated into two different sets of relations: Israel-Palestinian Authority and Israel-Gaza.

In regard to an achievable solution on the whole, however, what I originally proposed in 2014 largely remains what I would propose today. Some things that I suggested at that point in time might be necessary, now are unquestionably so.

A REASONABLE RESOLUTION:

The reality continues to be that what is possible for Israel to concede in regard to resolutions of the conflict is not enough for the Palestinian side to prioritize reaching an agreement over and above continuing to fight; and what is demanded by the Palestinian side is seen as more harmful by Israeli leaders than continuing to face violence and anti-Israel activism.

Israel’s improved relations with the Sunni Nationalist powers and the BRIC nations, Brazil, Russia, India, and China (I left out South Africa on purpose), have resulted both in an improved likelihood in achieving a good solution for Israel and in a reduced need to try to do so.

This all said, the idea that there is an obvious solution to the conflict with generally agreed upon parameters that could be easily achieved misrepresents the reality. Here are five major issues:

  1. There is no solution that addresses the realities of Jerusalem that can please both sides and many possible solutions would result in nightmare scenarios for the future.
  2. While the “Right of Return” of Palestinian refugees to homes in Israel is almost certainly not a viable possibility, no alternative is likely to be politically, much less religiously, acceptable to Palestinians.
  3. There may have been discussions about “territorial swaps based on the 1967 lines,” but there are numerous problems that are obfuscated by that simple summation.
  4. Movement of people between Gaza and the West Bank may be necessary for Palestinian unity, but it is a security nightmare for both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and more recently for Egypt and Jordan.
  5. Finally, Israeli control over the Jordanian border seems to be mandatory for the foreseeable future in order to meet the security concerns for Israel, Jordan, and a future Palestinian state in any form.

Let’s start by looking at the last of the five. International forces have all failed miserably to halt sectarian violence. Suggestions that any international force could step in and prevent Islamic militants from moving into the West Bank and causing problems for both the Palestinian Authority and Israel are laughable. International forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Sinai, Sudan and other places in the region have proven incompetent in maintaining security, preventing rearming of militant groups, or even in preventing major wars and genocides. This means that any agreement will necessarily have Israeli troops on the Jordanian border for a long time into the future and it will be unreasonable to set any final date by which that would be forced to end.

Movement between the northern and southern West Bank could be easily ensured, even if direct access between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea was maintained. However, with the level of militancy in Gaza at present, traffic between the two Palestinian territories will need to be closely monitored. There is no way that people could simply be allowed to travel through Israeli territory on their way to and from Gaza at this point. Remember that Egypt has regularly sealed off its own border with Gaza because of threats coming from Gaza and that Israel has fought multiple wars with militant groups based in Gaza. There are ways to substantially increase economic cooperation between the territories, but because of the weaponry available in Gaza, all shipments to Gaza and even from Gaza will need to be closely monitored for years going forward from a peace agreement. There are no easy resolutions to the situation in Gaza and many involve significant risk.

Because there are a significant number of Hamas supporters in the Southern West Bank, the Palestinians themselves have concerns about Hamas supporters living in the southern West Bank bringing their militancy to the north. This is an internal Palestinian issue, but requires ongoing security support for the Palestinian Authority itself, so that it can maintain control in the West Bank.

Regarding the Jordanian border, it is the case that Israeli control over the Jordanian border enables less stringent controls on the Israeli-West Bank border. Without Jordanian border control, more stringent security would need to be put in place on the internal border in light of terrorist threats. That in turn would severely harm economic interaction between the two nations and do grave harm to tourism within Palestinian areas, as it does now when border security is increased.

This certainly impacts the question of the nature of a “Palestinian State” that does not control its borders. Add to this that the Palestinian entity would also not control its water supply and would need to also be provided energy and you end up with a situation in which a Palestinian State would be dependent upon Israel for numerous essential things, from water and energy to business and tourism in addition to security.

It would reasonable to argue that the proper national status for such an entity is at best something similar to that of the Vatican in Italy. Interestingly, both the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority have Observer State status in the UN.

The Palestinians need enough territory and the proper kind of territory to form a viable state. The realistic idea at hand in the negotiations is not that the Palestinians are entitled to all of what was Jordanian occupied territory 1948-1967. The latter concept is an impediment to negotiations, for among other reasons, because it violates the most basic concept of the negotiations, that Israel must have secure borders after a peace agreement. Without them, future violence is ensured and any agreement that the two sides reach will not be worth the paper on which it is written. The 1967 lines were far from secure.

The Separation Barrier, with some possible exceptions, runs along the path that provides the necessary security against terrorism that Israel requires. Thus it is the current route of the Separation Barrier, not the 1967 lines, that is the most viable basis for negotiations. There are opportunities for that path to be altered during negotiations and some Israeli settlements may end up on the Palestinian side following such negotiations.

It is certainly the case that new settlements and outposts constructed on the Palestinian side of the barrier create new impediments to making any solution work for the Israelis, because it increases the cost of what would have to be yielded in a final status agreement.

The idea of “territorial swaps” itself is problematic because it specifically implies two falsehoods. First, it implies that the Palestinians have a right to negotiate from a position that they never held, namely authoritative control over the West Bank, and that their claim to that much land, much less all of that specific land, is superior to Israel’s claim to it. While there may be public sentiment to that effect across much of the world, it is a legal fiction. Control of the land is an obviously essential characteristic of any valid claim to it. Legal control passed from the Ottomans to the British to Jordan to Israel with each in turn applying its control over the laws and population of the territory, demonstrating control.

Moreover, the concept of “territorial swaps” would involve trading one piece of land for another. Would the Palestinians really consider land near Gaza or abutting the southern West Bank as equivalent to neighborhoods around Jerusalem or in the Galilee? Of course not. The presentation of this concept as a simple basis for negotiations is then flawed.

The Right of Return would seem to be the easiest of the problems to overcome. There is no way that Israel can bring in hundreds of thousands, much less several million, Palestinians and maintain the character of Israel as a Jewish state. Neither can Israel bring in hundreds of thousands of people hostile to its existence and not face civil war and strife.

Reasonable alternatives to the Right of Return include restitution, but any financial settlement for properties would likely be far less than actual value today and would certainly not be preferable in many cases to ownership of the land. By way of comparison, Holocaust survivors have received millions of dollars in restitution for losses which at the time of the restitution agreement were worth well into the tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars.

Those who see the conflict as an Arab-Jewish one, rather than an Israeli-Palestinian one, might well insist that restitution be paid by Arab nations to the Jews whose properties they seized. They argue that the net result would be that Arab nations would be required to pay out more in restitution to the Jews than the Jewish state would to the Arabs.

Finally, there is no resolution to the situation of Jerusalem that will please both sides and there are few solutions that will maintain the security of the city, its economic and civic viability, and access to its archaeological and holy sites for people of all faiths. Jews will be able to securely access the Old City of Jerusalem with its holy sites only if they remain under Israeli sovereignty.

Furthermore, there is no way to maintain security in the area of the holy basin specifically, the area centered on the Temple Mount, unless Israel controls the entire basin from the top of the hill of the Mount of Olives to the west. Neither is it possible for Silwan, to the south of the Temple Mount, to be under Palestinian control for the same reason. I would argue that the entirety of City-of-David-connected Silwan should be a nationally controlled archaeological park and a major tourist site, instead of being, as it is now, a privately enterprise, owned by the City of David Foundation, which has admittedly done a reasonable job overseeing one of the best tourist sites in Israel. The area between the northern access to the Temple mount and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus also must realistically remain under Israeli sovereignty or Hebrew University will be cut off from the rest of Jerusalem.

One could argue, and many do, that the neighborhood of Isawiya, northeast of Mount Scopus, could be put under Palestinian sovereignty along with areas to the southeast of Silwan such as Abu Dis. The area known as E1, between the large Jerusalem suburb of Malei Adumim and Mount Scopus, also abuts Abu Dis and is an obvious connector between the southern and the northern West Bank.

E1 is an area that would make sense to be included in the territory of each side, but to place it on either side of a barrier would create a major problem. If it is on the Palestinian side, Malei Adumim becomes an island, surrounded by Palestinian territory. No Israeli government could allow this. If E1 remains Israeli, someone traveling from Bethlehem to Ramallah through Abu Dis and Anata would have to travel at least ten additional miles to do so, going around Malei Adumim unless a road were constructed that allowed for travelers to cross from south to north through E1. Such a road or tunnel would become essential in such a scenario. Meanwhile, northern Jerusalem’s near suburbs like Ramat Shlomo are certain to remain on the Israeli side in any reasonable peace agreement.

What is holding up the possibility of any agreement in the near future is not willingness on the part of Israel to make concessions, but a willingness on the part of the Palestinian side to admit the reality of what I discussed above. This means that no amount of pressure brought on Israel by European nations or the United States can realistically do anything to advance the peace process. The only effect of such pressure is harm to Israel. In order to advance the peace process, America and European nations, as well as Arab nations, need to help the Palestinian side reach an understanding of a reasonable resolution that is viable. Things like recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital are steps in this direction.

Admittedly, once the Palestinians are in a position to agree to the necessary compromises, the make-up of the Israeli governing coalition will become more important in moving forward. With a final status agreement possible, the Israeli left would be much more willing to make necessary concessions to work with the Center Right of the political spectrum in order to help it become a reality and the Israeli electorate could well shift support to parties who would more strongly pursue an agreement.

I have often referred to this solution as a “2 1/2 state solution” with Israel and Gaza as completely separate political entities and the West Bank as a semi-separate entity within the security control of Israel. I believe that it is time to think outside of the box and that those who continue to insist on full independence and full border control for the Palestinians in the West Bank are actually doing grave harm and putting off the prospects of peace.

For the most part, Israel has already accepted a significant majority of what it can and must concede for peace. The question is simply, “Will the Palestinian side choose to accept what is reasonably possible at the negotiating table if it is offered?” The answer to that depends on which is more painful, accepting a peace they don’t like or continuing to fight a battle that cannot be won and at the cost of suffering and death in every generation.

At this point, efforts to improve the economic prospects of Palestinians in both areas, to increase the amount of territory under Palestinian Authority control in the West Bank, and to promote economic and strategic interaction and diplomatic normalization between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Arab nations are the most likely efforts to bear fruit, while benefiting all involved.

The reasons to go this route are manifold. Long term peace requires long term coexistence and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Establishing that effectively going forward is vital to developing an environment conducive to negotiating the political aspects necessary to resolve the conflict. A number of additional issues affect possibilities for Gaza, many of which are not related to issues under Israel’s control, but to promote any sort of lasting peace there almost certainly requires that a well-established and stable peace between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank precede it.

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The Orthodox View of Peoplehood and President Trump

I’ve been speaking about Antisemitism quite often of late, both the right wing traditional types and the newer left wing variants. At the heart of both are conspiracy theories about Jews. Lately, the focus has been on malign manipulation through “Jewish money” and on dual-loyalty.

The Antisemitic trope is not that Jews also care for or have a deep connection to Israel. The Antisemitic trope is that Jews will side with Israel, the Jewish state, over the interests of the nation in which they live. There is a big difference in those ideas.

So one politician could say, “You care about Israel!” as an accusation arguing that Jews only or primarily do so. Another could say, “You care about Israel!” as a statement of fact or even a complement. One could say, “You have allegiance to a foreign country!” arguing that Jews do not have allegiance to America, while another could refer to Israel as “Your nation,” meaning the nation intended to be a homeland for all of the Jewish people, including Jews who are citizens of another country, while meaning nothing ill.

This is doubly confused because progressive Jews have a history of seeing Jews as people who practice the religion of Judaism, but are not a people. They would argue that American Jews are not represented by the Israeli government in any way. Orthodox Jews and the nation of Israel consider Jews to be a people who may or may not practice the religion of Judaism and for all of whom Israel is their homeland.

Christian Zionists generally agree with Orthodox Jews on this. They see Israel in the way the government of Israel does, as the homeland of the Jewish people, all Jews, wherever they are. They do not automatically believe that all Jews must live there, nor that all Jews are as loyal or perhaps more loyal to Israel than they are to the nation in which they live. In other words, they believe that Israel is the homeland of all of the world’s Jews, including American Jewish citizens sitting in the Republican Jewish Coalition conference, but in no way assume that the Antisemitic trope is applicable, much less true.

This all brings us to a statement made by President Trump to the Republican Jewish Coalition that some have seen as problematic. The President referred to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as “your Prime Minister,” which has been interpreted to mean that he was acting as if the American Jews in front of him were Israelis and connecting to the dual-loyalty charge. In fact, neither of these is necessarily true, as I explained above.

It is true that all American Jews are not Israelis, though some do have dual citizenship. It also definitely the case that many Jews would not choose PM Netanyahu to be their Prime Minister. Yet, we call ourselves the Children of Israel, the Jewish people, “Am Yisrael.” If Israel is indeed the state for the Jewish people, then one could in fact argue that its government is indeed a government for Jewish people wherever they are, whether or not they are citizens of the state.

The Antisemitic Trope is that:

Jews are equally loyal to Israel in addition to the country in which they live or perhaps are more loyal to Israel.

Criticizing US Congresspersons and other American Jews who support Israel as having allegiance to Israel and prioritizing Israel’s wants over America’s is Antisemitic. Saying that the recognized leader of the state for the Jewish people is the Prime Minister of the state of the Jewish people, including Jewish American citizens sitting in a conference in Las Vegas, does not meet the requirement of the dual loyalty accusation. Instead, it can be seen as a statement of fact based upon the assumptions of both Orthodox Jews and the Israeli government, even though American progressive Jews would generally disagree.

As President Trump’s Jewish advisers tend to be Orthodox Jews and his Jewish family members are Orthodox Jews, it would be reasonable to assume that his understanding and views on this topic would be in line with Orthodox Jews.

Progressive Jews like me indeed have issues with this idea. We believe that American Jews who support Israel are exactly that, not essentially Israelis who live in America. That concept long led to dual loyalty charges in Europe and remains problematic. It’s why many have reacted as they have to the President’s comments. The separation of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish faith was among the reasons that Reform Judaism began, that was a response to dual loyalty accusations. We were citizens of our country who practiced the faith of Judaism, instead of Jewish people who are citizens and practicing the religion of the Jewish people, both/and.

It may well be that the President indeed meant what other have accused him of meaning. It would be best if he would clarify what he meant as well as perhaps conferring with his adviser to Combat Antisemitism on this issue.

All this having been said, from my perspective, the President’s comments about America being full and closed to immigration for which he received little applause at the RJC Conference were much more problematic. I hope that those comments are not lost in the fray because it is more politically expedient to attempt to equate President Trump’s and Congresswoman Omar’s statements.

**********

Here are two important references.

  1. The IHRA Definition of Antisemitism with Examples.
  2. The video  of the President’s speech. The relevant statement occurs just after 1:33:00 into the speech.
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Spinning Away Antisemitism

Yesterday, the House of Representatives finally passed a resolution criticizing statements by Rep. Ilhan Omar saying that American Jews who advocate for America to support Israel have dual loyalties, implying that her fellow Jewish members of Congress act against the best interests of the United States in order to support Israel. This follows on the heels of statements implying that support for Israel among members of Congress is primarily due to bribery by rich Jews. These both join together with her statement that “Israel has hypnotized the world,” made a few years ago, in forming a pretty strong picture of her attitude toward Israel and Jews.

This latest incident began when Rep. Omar, speaking at a night for Progressives at a DC Bookstore, said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Following on the heels of Omar’s “unequivocal apology” for referring to Jews bribing and extorting members of Congress to support Israel with wealth and political influence, this statement was not taken kindly by Jewish members of Congress.

Rep. Nita Lowey, a Jewish Democrat from New York, responded:

Gross Islamophobic stereotypes – like those about @IlhanMN recently featured on posters in WVA – are offensive and have no place in political discourse. Anti-Semitic tropes that accuse Jews of dual loyalty are equally painful and must also be roundly condemned.

Lawmakers must be able to debate without prejudice or bigotry. I am saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel. I urge her to retract this statement and engage in further dialogue with the Jewish community on why these comments are so hurtful.

Rep. Omar then doubled down on her accusation. Remember, this is responding to a fellow Democratic Representative in Congress who is Jewish:

Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee. The people of the 5th elected me to serve their interest. I am sure we agree on that!

I have not mischaracterized our relationship with Israel, I have questioned it and that has been clear from my end.

I am told every day that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks…

Being opposed to Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic. I am grateful to the many Jewish allies who have spoken out and said the same.

We must be willing to combat hate of all kinds while also calling out oppression of all kinds. I will do my best to live up to that. I hope my colleagues will join me in doing the same.

So first here, we have the doubling down that she is being forced to swear allegiance to Israel, which clearly no one is doing. There is certainly concern over her bias against and hatred for Israel, a close ally of the United States, and how that hostility will impact America’s policy. There is no one asking Omar to swear allegiance to Israel and no one expects that she will ever vote for Israel. That is a falsehood, as noted by no few people, seemingly intended for her to make herself out to appear to be a victim of the Jews. It is actually yet another Antisemitic statement. Essentially, “The Jews have manipulated the situation such that I cannot criticize Israel without being attacked as un-American.”

As a number of people have asked. Please cite an instance. I know that many will assume that it has been done. “Surely,” they will say. “Surely, someone has made this charge.” Please name one. There are no public charges from a single member of Congress or from any Jewish Organization even from those on the far right. None. The statement is a misrepresentation intended to assert victimhood.

Then she argued that she was being accused of Antisemitism because she criticized Netanyahu and the Occupation. She did no such thing. She criticized American Jews and her fellow Democratic Representatives in Congress for having dual loyalties. There is a massive difference in those two things. Omar criticized American Jews for urging support of Israel.

“But,” she argues, “But, look at my Jewish supporters!” Supporters who are entirely unrepresentative of the Jewish community. Rep. Rashida Tlaib criticized Rep. Mark Meadows use of a token African American woman to combat a charge of racism. Omar used the limited number of Jews who support her statements to do the same.

This situation became so offensive that that an appropriate response was required and along with it both an apology and further consequences, possibly including being removed from her committee assignments just as Rep. Steve King was. We all assumed that an appropriate if perhaps lenient response would be forthcoming.

My rabbinical colleagues were discussing whether or not she should be removed from her committee assignments at least temporarily, just to demonstrate real concern. “Surely, it would be easy for the Democratic Party to condemn those statements, issue a statement opposing Antisemitism, have Omar issue and apology to Nita Lowey and her other Jewish Congressional colleagues, and move on.”

We also were appalled the poster in West Virginia connecting her image to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Something for which the Republican Party in West Virginia apologized and took action and which was roundly condemned by virtually every national Jewish organization including the Republican Jewish Coalition.

As the days progressed, it became clear that the Democratic Party could not figure out a clear path forward. No few people argued that Rep. Omar, in spite of the fact that anyone with any understanding of Antisemitism at all would argue otherwise, was being attacked solely because she was black and a Muslim. When the Democratic Party seemed to respond favorably to that argument, jaws dropped in the Jewish community. If these statements were made by any white person, there would be no question about condemnation. David Duke even cheered them, calling Omar a hero for standing up to the Zionist Occupational Government, the belief that Jews exert malign control of the government.

One of my colleagues, a strong liberal Democrat, called it a “Watershed moment for American Jews.” The Democratic Party no longer will stand against Antisemitism provided that the speaker can tick off other boxes on the identity politics priority list. The party was afraid to bring forth a vote that would be opposed by a substantial minority in the party including its Progress Caucus and the Black Caucus.

We were now in crisis. This was Wednesday afternoon. Would there be a resolution at all?

Then we were told that there would be statement condemning Antisemitism along with racism and Islamophobia. All good things to condemn, of course. But no criticism, much less condemnation of Omar personally. No requirement of an apology much less removal from her committee assignments as was demanded of Rep. Steve King. And what became very clear as the text of the resolution developed, the resolution was an exercise in equivocation about Antisemitism, not only avoiding naming Omar, but avoiding inclusion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of Antisemitism’s paragraphs about when criticism of Israel crosses the line into Antisemitism, clearly appropriate to include. Those paragraphs were removed from the draft, not just not included. We have seen the earlier draft, so that much we know for certain.

The draft eventually read like someone literally made a check list as they wrote, mumbling:

Something for the Jews, check. Something for the African American community, check. Something for the Muslims, check. Something for the Jews, check. Something for the African Americans, check. Something for the Muslims, check.

But then at the end, they had forgotten other constituencies, so they added statements and a list opposing hatred of Catholics, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others.

Republicans wondered openly why Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Wiccans along with people with physical and other challenges weren’t specifically mentioned. Why not add Police Officers? Others asked why this wasn’t simply a resolution declaring hatred to be bad.

Following all of this, 23 Republicans voted against the resolution. Shock! People say. Shocking! They voted to oppose a resolution against bigotry! Jennifer Rubin declared that they revealed their true nature and the sickness of bigotry.

But no, in their words they voted against a resolution that was not strong enough and will now embolden haters to act with impunity. All of them issued statements to this effect including Lee Zeldin, the only Jewish Republican in Congress and a Reform Jew.

Rep. Steve King, who abstained from this vote, is now legitimately wondering why he needed to step down from committees. If his hateful statements, for which he has apologized, by the way, were made now, there is no chance that the Republicans would remove him from committees. None. They would simply tell the Democrats, “You didn’t remove your Rep, we’re not removing ours.” And what will it now take for the Democrats to remove a future Representative from a committee? Certainly not an Antisemitic statement or two or three along with insults directly aimed at Jewish colleagues in Congress.

Worse for us, there is now no ability for the Jewish community to argue that the Democratic Party will stand up against Antisemitism when it occurs within their own ranks. Many of those who voted for this resolution simply made the decision that supporting a resolution against hatred that gave them something was better than nothing, or being accused of not opposing bigotry. Rep. McCarthy was angry that the no votes gave the opportunity for the Democrats to spin the issue against Republicans.

But I guarantee you that virtually none of the Jews in Congress really feel good about that resolution and all of them are going to face a firestorm of criticism about the utter failure of the party to specifically condemn hatred against Jews within its ranks, even while appropriately slamming every hint of racism and bigotry coming from the Republican side and that which emanates from the mouth of the President specifically. If you think we’ll see any resolutions about hatred on the right now, don’t hold your breath.

There is absolutely no question whatsoever that there should have been separate resolutions presented in Congress. One naming Omar and criticizing her statements while demanding an apology. Her committee assignments should have been dependent upon issuing a public apology to her colleagues at a minimum. Then there should have been a second resolution decrying the anti-Muslim hatred in West Virginia and the anti-Muslim sentiments aimed at both Representatives Omar and Tlaib. It should have been made very, very clear that one does not in any way excuse the other.

Last night, I taught about Modern Antisemitism. A local Somali Muslim leader asked to attend my class. I was thrilled to have him do so.  This man is a leader in both the Black Lives Matter movement and of the local Council of American Islamic Relations. I wasn’t sure how he would respond to what I was going to teach about intersectionality and Antisemitism or about the situation with Ilhan Omar. He said that he wanted to express his support for the Jewish community and to learn about Antisemitism. “Awesome,” I replied.

I taught what I normally would have taught. My Somali friend kept nodding in agreement. When we got to the discussion about Ilhan Omar and the resolution, he said he wasn’t surprised she would make such comments which were obviously Antisemitic tropes in his mind. By the way, those arguing that Ilhan didn’t know better because she was from a different culture may not realize that she is 37 years old and has been in the United States for 24 years, politically active for much of that time. It is clearly not a valid excuse. My Somali friend laughed at that argument.

This week Congress did a good thing in condemning hatred of Muslims and white supremacy. I am very happy that it did, for the first time ever. I just wished that in doing so it had really stood up against Antisemitism instead of giving it lip-service along with giving the same to each form of hatred.

The joke is that an unnamed candidate could easily defeat the incumbent, but that any of the ones named would lose. That happened with this resolution. Unnamed, or in this case, generally named, opposition to hatred won the day, but naming one hatred alone would have failed. Many of my very much left leaning Democratic die-hard voting colleagues said that the Democratic Party “All lives mattered” the Jews. We’re angry and disheartened.

Opposing hatred is absolutely essential. Every hatred named in that resolution was worthy of being condemned individually. In this case, they should not have been condemned collectively instead. And the fact that they needed to be condemned collectively is what made yesterday a watershed day for American Jews. Antisemitism is apparently no longer worthy of being condemned by itself by the party that is the political home of a substantial majority of American Jews.

A decade ago such a resolution would have passed with 99% of the votes in the House. Yesterday, that resolution would have been opposed by a significant percentage of the Democratic Party.

Antisemitism is battering our community from the left and the right and it is increasing from both sides.

We should all be concerned and intolerant of excuses, especially from our friends.

It is no longer acceptable to respond, “What about” and point fingers elsewhere.

That must end now.

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Netanyahu Already Won

Looking at the Israeli elections right now, it appears questionable whether or not either side will be able to form a coalition now that Netanyahu has been indicted. Pre-indictment polls showed that a right leaning coalition could be formed with 61 seats. Post-indictment polling shows that 2-3 seats have shifted to the left.  This will likely mean that no coalition can be formed because of conflicts among the parties in the center and the left. It’s quite possible that there will be another election in November. That is unless Netanyahu steps down and allows for a Blue-White-Likud coalition to be formed without him.

It is not entirely certain that Netanyahu will be convicted of any of the charges that he faces or that courts will even determine that the laws involved are enforceable. Can you really argue that a politician who supports a policy before a donation or gift was made has accepted a bribe because after the gift was made they supported the same policy beneficial to the donor that they supported before it? Can you argue a quid is enough to charge someone with accepting a bribe and enacting a quid pro quo even if there was no quo enacted or even an attempted quo? We’ll see what the Israeli legal system decides.

In the meantime, progressive Jews and other minority communities in Israel have been harmed in recent years by Netanyahu’s attempts to stay in power and his willingness to work with and yield policies to more and more extreme anti-Progressive anti-Secular voices on the political right. It is refreshing to see the possibility that an alternative government might be formed led by Blue White which has pledged to support an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel for example.

Additionally, it is simply a reality that Democracies should not have the same leader for over a decade. They begin to look too much like monarchies. The leader of Israel is its Prime Minister, not its Netanyahu. Even if one wanted to argue that Benjamin Netanyahu is the best Prime Minister that Israel could possibly have, it would be far from a bad thing to have a break from his leadership, even a short one. If one believes that Netanyahu’s leadership for so long has made them feel like they have no voice and that nothing ever changes, even a short pause in his leadership because the laws of the nation take precedence would be helpful in supporting the idea and ideals of the democratic nation.

There is no certainty that Netanyahu will not win enough votes to form a coalition. He might even be able to both form a coalition and defend himself against the charges he faces. But regardless, he has already won on the major issues.

Think about where Israel is today?

The vast majority of Israelis believe that:

  • There is not an option to negotiate a two state solution right now because of the state and views of the Palestinian leadership,
  • Jerusalem will and must remain the undivided capital of Israel,
  • The major settlement blocs will always remain a part of Israel,
  • The Golan Heights will always be a part of Israel,
  • Major territorial concessions in the name of peace have not and will not bring peace,
  • In any future agreement Israel must have troops on and control the Jordanian border,
  • Expansion of housing in existing settlements is essential to help with the housing crisis in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,
  • Israel cannot expect to be treated fairly by the United Nations,
  • Iran is the major threat facing Israel,
  • The United States is an essential ally, but that Israel cannot trust that it always will be supportive, and
  • Therefore Israel needs good relationships with a broad swath of nations including no few that are not particularly virtuous.

Go back 20 years and you’ll find that none of these views was accepted by more than a slim majority and none of them by such an overwhelming majority of Israelis that they were to be assumed obvious. The leading political party on the left, the Blue White party, supports all of the views cited above. Even if Blue White wins and Likud isn’t even in a coalition, those policies will not change any time soon, if ever. As the Labor party rightly points out, this makes Blue White historically a right of center party. But something on the order of 75-80% of the Israeli electorate and a higher percentage of the Jewish electorate support those positions. 75-80% of the Israeli electorate then hold positions historically considered right of center.

No matter what happens in the upcoming elections, in many ways, Netanyahu has already won.

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The Defense of Bigotry

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote about the media’s coverage of events in Israel in 2014:

Criticism of Israel is not antisemitism, but demonization is. This matters because antisemitism is not really about Jews. It is about how societies treat the Other, the one-not-like-us. For more than 1,000 years Jews were the most conspicuous non-Christian presence in Europe. Today they are the most prominent non-Muslim presence in the Middle East. Jews were hated because they were different. But it is our difference that constitutes our humanity. Because none of us is the same as another, each of us is irreplaceable. A nation that has no room for difference has no room for humanity. The hate that begins with the Jews never ends with the Jews.

American Jews are devoted, especially those of us who do significant social justice work and work with immigrants, to advocating for those communities, to embracing and cheering their success, especially when they take on our concerns of social justice themselves, amplifying our voice in favor of those who are oppressed, those who face challenges not only in distant lands, but in our local communities.

We are advocates for our nation to extend its hands to the poor, open its doors to those in need; a nation that realizes as Rabbi Sacks stated, “none of us is the same as another, each of us irreplaceable.” When groups of people are bullied, persecuted, or worse, we, Jews, “Remember,” “Zachor.” We know what it’s like to need to escape, to need to find a place of refuge, and to arrive in a place wherein we look differently, speak differently, dress differently, believe differently, and are viewed with suspicion even by those who did not slam the door in our faces or construct barriers physical or otherwise to keep us out. Our hearts ache for the families fleeing to our borders.

Does this mean that we are opposed to border security? To concern about threats that could cross the border? No. But it does mean that when a vehicle approaches the border or we see women and children on foot trying to sneak across to safety for fear that if discovered they would be turned away, we do not think solely or primarily about Fentanyl or MS-13.

We think about people like my father’s mother, who as a toddler snuck across a border in Eastern Europe hidden under a blanket and straw being kept quiet by her older sister, afraid of being discovered by the Cossack guard, who would likely have done more to them than turn them back.

We think of people like my mother’s mother, who with an American husband and two American children, had overstayed her visa in this country because going back to Germany in the 1930s was nothing short of a death sentence. She ended up deported to Cuba, where she spent a month before being allowed to reenter the country. Today, that month would have been ten years.

We think as well of the places that thankfully offered refuge for the Jewish people and of the places that distressingly did not or did not do enough, perhaps not quickly enough. Too many of those places did not do so because of their own hatred of Jews. Some just prioritized things other than concern for the Jews.

In relation to this, Jews have been looking at the political situation in Europe with increasing distress. The fact that the Labour party in Britain is led by someone, Jeremy Corbyn, whom 85% of Jews in Britain believe is Antisemitic is a big problem. Over 40% of Jews in Britain in a recent poll said that they would at least consider leaving Britain if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister.

Jeremy Corbyn’s policies on the whole are very similar to those espoused by the Democratic Socialist movement in this country including in relation to Israel. One of the distressing statements made this week by newly elected members of Congress was this one by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez in a Tweet, “It was an honor to share such a lovely and wide-reaching conversation with you, @jeremycorbyn!”

Wait, what? How many here would be happy if one of our legislators suggested that they were honored to have such a lovely and wide-reaching conversation with a known virulent racist? The response from the Jewish community was both outrage and concern. Eventually, Ocasio-Cortez responded that she would have her office reach out to talk with Jewish supporters about their concerns.

More prominent in the news this week were the words of another Congresswoman. Representative Ilhan Omar is a refugee from Somalia. Many of us cheered her election, bringing a new diversity to Congress. Omar has faced and continues to face all sorts of bigoted sentiments. She is not only a Muslim, she wears a hijab, the first member of Congress to do so. Omar could be a tremendous role model for a large number of Americans, an immigrant whose religion is different, whose dress is different, whose speech is different. Unfortunately, her awareness of things like classical Antisemitism is also different.

When Omar responded to a tweet about opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, which she supports, with “It’s all about the Benjamin’s baby!” Meaning, money being used to pay off Congresspersons. And then when asked who she believed was doing so, responded with “AIPAC,” the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, which not only doesn’t make campaign contributions but doesn’t even endorse candidates, it set off alarms in the Jewish community again.

Now, first, I think it reasonable to argue that Omar could have phrased her concerns differently, in a way, that didn’t amount to essentially saying, “Jews are paying members of Congress to take positions that they otherwise would see as wrong.” She seemingly tried to do so in her later apology in which she argued against the influence of political organizations, connecting AIPAC with the NRA, but I’ll  address that in a moment..

Second, while AIPAC does not make direct donations or endorse candidates, its supporters do. So there is some truth to the contention that Jewish supporters of Israel donate money to campaigns.

“She just didn’t say it like she meant to say it,”

her supporters suggest.

“Look at the financial influence AIPAC has!

Look at all the money those rich Jews donate!”

Friends, that explanation, now normalized among a vast number of people on the political left, is a rationalization actually far more concerning than what Omar initially stated, yet many Jews nod vigorously when they hear it. Very similarly to those on the right, who nod when discussion turns to references to George Soros and malign intent from financial backing supposedly conducted in secret. These accusations are so normalized that large swaths of both the Jewish political left and right might well rise to defend not only their application by political activists, but refuse to consider even the possibility that their primary impact is to play on traditional anti-Jewish sentiments.

The issue isn’t that Jews donate money, is it?

Is it evil for Jews to donate money to candidates and causes that they support? Because that is at the basis of the assertion about Jewish money being donated and clearly that is the basis of both Rep. Omar’s initial statements and her “apology.” Her connecting AIPAC with the NRA and fossil fuel industry was intended to argue that the financial influence of all of these organizations manipulates Congresspersons into supporting causes that they know are wrong.

Think about that for a moment. Rep. Omar’s “apology” for suggesting that Jews essentially bribe or extort politicians into supporting causes that she and other anti-Israel activists believe they clearly must know are evil is to suggest that Jews are joined in promoting evil in this way by the gun and fossil fuels lobbies. Her “apology” was in reality an attempt to blunt a focus on Jews, but not to alter the problematic assertion.

It’s sort of like a racist child telling a young dark skinned classmate that the only reason anyone invites them to a classmates’ birthday parties is because she’s rich and then apologizing for hurting her feelings through blatant racism by suggesting that in her mind the black girl is not alone in only being tolerated by people whose racism is clearly justified by arguing that people of other races are only tolerated for that reason as well. Would anyone not consider that racist? Stormfront couldn’t have done better.

It wasn’t all that long ago in this country that all of this would have been blatantly obvious and roundly condemned.

Jonathan Freedland, in an article for the Guardian about Antisemitism in the British Labour party wrote:

What has Jews anxious now is the resurfacing of old-school antisemitism, unmoored to the conflict in the Middle East. They are hearing again all the old tunes – Rothschilds, conspiracy, money – replayed on a leftist keyboard…

Remember, antisemitism differs from other racisms in its belief that Jews are the secret masters of the universe, pulling the strings that shape world events – and always for the sake of evil. Once you swallow that canard and see the Jews as the wielders of clandestine, malign power, why, then it becomes your duty as a good leftist to fight the Jews…

And so we see the efforts of American leftists, including no few Jewish ones, just as we find in Britain, supporting accusations obviously based in Jew-hatred, promoting conspiracy theories about Jews wielding “clandestine, malign power.”

The conclusion drawn by Jonathan Freedland about the Labour party in Britain is very much one of concern today in America.

A change in the political climate could have a concrete effect on Jewish life in this country. Less tangibly, it’s the cast of mind, the way of thinking, that antisemitism represents that we should fear. Conspiracy theory, fake news, demonization of an unpopular group: what happens to our politics if all these become the norm? This is why Jews have often functioned as a canary in the coalmine: when a society turns on its Jews, it is usually a sign of wider ill health.

Put another way, hasn’t history shown us that racism never stays confined to mere “pockets”? Once the virus is inside, it does not rest until it has infected the entire body.

Virtually every major issue seems to be about bigotry of some sort.

Think  about what we see in the news my friends. A large percentage of all of the news being discussed has something to do with bigotry. It isn’t merely bigoted accusations against minority groups based upon racial, religious, ethnic, or gender stereotypes that are a problem, advocates for the bigotry go to great lengths to promote their arguments and, worse, supporters of those advocates rush to their defense with rationalizations.

“It’s not what he or she meant!”

“Look, I know that is offensive, but it’s true! See this?”

“What about this evidence?”

Of course, the evidence is taken completely out of context and twisted to fit the narrative.

The application of the principle of intersectionality, a primary philosophy on the political left, that oppressed minorities must band together and advocate for each other’s causes, has significantly resulted in political and social activists coming together to defend their fellow oppressed minority’s bigotry against Jews, often misrepresented as “Anti-Zionism.”

We have a great deal of work to do. The one thing that is an unacceptable response is silence.

Racism, Antisemitism, and bigotry in other forms cannot become normalized in our society.

But it does not take much of an effort if one looks at the news to see that they are well on their way to being exactly that.

 

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Condemnation of the Antisemitic Statements by Rep. Omar

Rep. Ilhan Omar once tweeted that “Israel had hypnotized the world” and that is why American’s support it. Yesterday, Rep. Omar argued that Jews bought the support for Israel from  Republican members of Congress, saying, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby!” And when asked who bought them off, she said, “AIPAC!”

It is wrong to argue that she is simply ignorant of the facts and that is an excuse for her words. She has repeatedly refused to meet with her own Democratic congressional colleagues who have sought to help her understand and avoid using Antisemitic (anti-Jewish) tropes and making hateful hurtful statements about Jews.

These aren’t mistakes. They are not accidental uses of Antisemitic tropes. She believes these things and has expressed them over the longer term and defended them when confronted. Racism and bigotry are not acceptable no matter your faith or the color of your skin.

Just as @SteveKingIA has been justifiably condemned for his statements in support of bigotry, so too those who would condemn him for those statements, must also do so here or else confront the accusation that hatred and bigotry are only condemned when the speaker is not a political ally.

Meanwhile, one of the saddest things about @IlhanMN’s multiple Jew-hating tweets is that too many progressives will excuse them because she is a Muslim and too many Conservatives will argue that it should be expected because she is a Muslim. Both would be wrong. Being Muslim does not automatically make someone hate Jews or express hateful and ignorant things about Jews or Israel. I have many Muslim friends, including immigrants from Africa and the Middle East and Arab Muslim residents of Israel, who do not share these bigoted views of Jews or Israel.

Regarding AIPAC

AIPAC is the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. It makes no campaign contributions and does not endorse candidates. It advocates in a non-partisan way for a strong US-Israel relationship and has a long history of support by the vast majority of members of congress from both parties, because support for Israel is a bi-partisan issue.

People are certainly welcome to disagree with the positions taken and advocated by AIPAC and its supporters, of whose number I am one, but supporters of AIPAC don’t take those positions because someone hypnotized them or paid them off. They take those positions because they believe them to be right, just like Rep. Omar seems to believe her bigoted statements to be right.

Those who care about bigotry have to speak out in condemnation here and the US House of Representatives must take appropriate action in response to her statements.

***UPDATE***

Rep. Omar issued an apology this afternoon.

“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” Omar said. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
She continued, “At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”

 

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Michelle Alexander and the Old Gray Lady and the misuse of Dr. King

I’m long past feeling any surprise at NY Times reports and columns about Israel that find truth to be a flexible commodity. Still, on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, Times columnist Michelle Alexander gives us a pot of whoppers in her “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine” January 19, 2019.

(https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/19/opinion/sunday/martin-luther-king-palestine-israel.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage)

Using MLK as a model for what she argues ought to be a newly voluble American response to the cause of the Palestinians, she speculates first on what Dr. King’s response might be to the current situation in the West Bank. However, Dr. King, assassinated on April 4, 1968, did not live even a full year after the Six Day War, and could not have had any reasoned perspective on that situation.

But her main point in raising Dr. King (other than to join him to her) is more to reflect about the great heat Dr. King took when he spoke out against the Vietnam War, which at the time took great courage in the face of the criticism he received from the media. In light of his moral courage, Alexander says, it’s time for her to break her silence “on one of the great moral challenges of our time: the crisis in Israel-Palestine.”

Let me be among those welcoming her to the fight and ask, well, where have you been the last several decades? It’s about time someone of your obvious moral and intellectual caliber stepped into the fray and helped clarify matters so to help bring a speedy resolution to this seemingly intractable conflict.

Perhaps you can help persuade Mahmoud Abbas to take negotiating seriously, and, while you’re at it, convince him it’s time to call elections, now overdue by more than a decade.

Perhaps your powers of moral persuasion can have some luck altering the vitriolic blind hatred of the leadership of Hamas so as to bring relief to the suffering population of the residents of the Gaza Strip and the endless hatred of Israel.

Perhaps you might find the ability to contain the UN General Assembly’s obsession with Israel and press that august body focus to focus on actual murderous regimes well worthy of UN censure.

But no. Ms. Alexander’s silence breaking aims to address some well-worn complaints.

For example, that “Our elected representatives, who operate in a political environment where Israel’s political lobby holds well-documented power, have consistently minimized and deflected criticism of the State of Israel…” Wow, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s rehearse that old one that says Israel controls American foreign policy.

Other examples of breaking the silence include:

Citing the highly disreputable Jewish Voice for Peace as her source, Ms. Alexander credits JVP with “aim[ing] to educate the American public about “the forced displacement of approximately 750,000 Palestinians that began with Israel’s establishment and that continues to this day.””

My Lord. Yes, let’s say whatever we want from whatever source we wish, and publish it in the Times.

The argument goes that the Palestinian refugee problem lies entirely in Israel’s hands, whose soldiers during the War of Independence expelled all of those Arabs living in the newly declared state. Right? Wrong. No responsible historian cites that figure as the number forcibly expelled. No responsible journalist cites JVP as a legitimate source. But let’s pick something from JVP’s website and publish it in an op-ed in the Times, and it becomes a claim apparently immune from fact-checking, and gives overtly anti-Israel nonsense the patina of truth.

Ms. Alexander further states, “We must not tolerate Israel’s refusal even to discuss the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.”

Without being too obtuse about this matter (for surely she refers to what she believes is a tendency to refuse to discuss the issue of the refugees’ right of return, not a total abstaining from discussion), how in the world does she know Israel fails to engage in such a conversation? I doubt she’s literate in Hebrew, so perhaps she’s employed a team of Hebrew readers to scour the Hebrew press and has learned, to a reasonable extent, there exists a broad refusal to raise this topic among thoughtful Israelis?

Or, to the contrary, and more likely, perhaps she’s repeating something someone said somewhere and, truth being a flexible commodity in the Times, she feels free to say whatever pops on her computer screen. She’s an op-ed writer for the NY Times, where a statement is true because it’s on pages of the Times.

Or, for another example, let’s flagellate Israel’s new Nation-State law yet again by citing it as an example of, supposedly, some 50 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinians. This Nation-State Law, one of those fifty, she claims, “says explicitly that only Jewish Israelis have the right of self-determination in Israel, ignoring the rights of the Arab minority that makes up 21 percent of the population.” Ms. Alexander fails to quote that part of the Nation-State Law that proves her claim that the law explicitly denies Arabs that right. Because it’s not there.

The complexity of Israel-Palestine is abundantly clear to anyone who bothers to open a book or two and bothers to examine reality. The extent of the debate in Israel about these issues is clear to anyone who eyes the Israeli press. The so-called silence in America about these matters is actually a roaring, bellicose shout, if only one knows where to look.

But this is not the way of the Gray Lady, nor, quite obviously Michelle Alexander. America’s most respected newspaper publishes muddled hash about Israel with such regularity that readers devoted to its pages, such as myself, have long grown accustomed to one area of its coverage of the world that is lazy and ignorant and thereby willingly sacrifices a value that responsible journalism eternally stands for, namely the truth. Ms. Alexander’s column, dressed in the nobility of Dr. Martin Luther King, bent and twisted with ignorance, becomes another example of the Times’ growing armory of appalling non-sense.

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What Messy Breakup? A messy piece by a respected NY Times Journalist

By Phil Cohen

My first reaction to Jonathan Weisman’s “American Jews and Israeli Jews are Headed for a Messy Breakup,” (Jan. 4, 2019) was, if this were handed to me as a paper in an undergraduate college class it would receive, at best, a C-. Its argument is so filled with holes, inconsistencies, and at least one major error, that, well, a C- would be a gift.

American and Israeli Jews may be heading for some kind of breakup (though this seems to me way too strong a term), but this is not the article that shows the way.

The first part of Weisman’s article is taken up with differing perceptions of President Trump by Israelis and Americans. This newsflash has long faded into the dust, but Weisman feels compelled to rehearse it once again.

Israelis appreciate Trump’s moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and his abrogating the Iran agreement. Most American Jews support the Iran agreement (though hardly monolithically), and are mixed on the embassy, many wishing, as I’ve read, that the move had been accompanied by some grand peace gesture toward the Palestinians.

Note that the reverse obtained when Barak Obama was president; Israeli Jews felt uncomfortable with Obama, while American Jews supported him, certainly on the matter of the Iran agreement, as well as other actions by our last president that did not sit well with Israelis. I don’t recall hearing the sounds of funeral bells then.

It’s difficult to understand how the two Jewish communities will rise or fall on the basis of support or not for Donald Trump. He’s a temporary phenomenon, in office for a maximum of six more years. It’s difficult to see how conflicting perceptions of Trump form the harbinger of a breakup.

His next argument concerns discomfort with Netanyahu’s growing relationship with certain world leaders, such as Hungary’s Victor Orban. The reasoning goes that in Israel’s developing relationships with countries whose governments are not shining examples of democracy, we can see, somehow, a diminution of democracy in Israel, an unsavory mix that somehow will impact Israel badly, something with which American Jews disapprove, because, of course, we American Jews never have to deal directly in the messy world of international diplomacy.

By this reasoning, world leaders ought only develop relationships with governments that are pristine as a spring water, right? This foolishness is so dumb that I cringe every time I hear the argument. America, for example, should have no relations with China (Nixon should have never gone there), or Saudi Arabia, or Poland, or Cuba, or (for that matter) Hungary. Yet America has such relationships, with embassies and everything.

Israel should develop diplomatic relations with most any country wanting to have relations with Israel (maybe not North Korea), such as, lately, Oman and (possibly) Iraq. Any American Jew upset with Bibi in Hungary, he or she ought to shout to the rooftops the same discomfort with what the US does. But it’s what nations do. (Weisman fails to mention an interesting developing united relationship between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus, perhaps because those two other countries are democracies.)

His next argument has to do with the upcoming Israeli elections, which, “if past is prologues, his election campaign will again challenge American Jewry’s values.” He cites Bibi’s unfortunate statement in the 2015 elections that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves…”

Now let’s agree that Bibi’s statement, which received more than ample press, constituted a healthy bit of fear-mongering. We must also agree, however, that it did not have an effect on the elections. More, the statement in question does not appear to form a continuing Netanyahu trope—some version of that statement did not form a continuing presence in the 2015 election. Once may have been enough, but one statement does not a racist or a racist government make. How an unfortunate statement in 2015 will “challenge American Jewry’s values” in this election is far from clear.

Then he makes the curious statement that BDS is growing stronger on campus, and new voices from within the Democratic party are “speaking openly about Palestinian rights.” Well, okay, perhaps (though I’m unaware of BDS growth on campus). But what do these facts have to do with American Jews and the supposed growing rift that is the focus of the article? Nothing.

Then out of nowhere and at some length, he cites the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 (!). “American Jewish leaders gathered in Pittsburgh to produce what is known at the Pittsburgh Platform, a new theology for an American Judaism, less focused on a Messianic return to the land of Israel and more on fixing a broken world, the concept of Tikkun Olam, Jews, the rabbi behind the platform urged, must achieve God’s purpose by “living and working in and with the world.””

Well, the nonsense here flies high and wide. Never mind that the term Tikkun Olam appears nowhere in the document, or that in any intelligent sense that a platform of nine planks forms a theology. He fails to mention that there were only thirteen American Jewish leaders present at this conference, and that they were all Reform rabbis. This conference intended to define Reform Judaism in America in the face of millions of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, whose Judaism would be more traditional, not create a great statement about a new Diaspora Judaism.

The author cites the Pittsburgh Platform as though it was authoritative at the time and continues resonating throughout America 133 years later, failing to mention that four other Reform platforms came after this one.

For the author, the Pittsburgh Platform lays the groundwork for a Judaism that is universalist and innately hostile to Israel as a particular Jewish state, that because of the influence of a nineteenth century document, American Jews “now accepted as a tenet of their religion: building a better, more equal, more tolerant world now, where they live.”

Then he cites a quote from Rabbi Daniel Zemel’s Kol Nidre sermon. Israeli Yaniv Sagee says, “For the first time in my life I feel a genuine threat to my life in Israel. This is not an external threat. It is an internal threat from nationalists and racists.” He goes on to say that Rabbi Zemel (who must be shepping great nachas, having that same sermon also cited by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post) “implored his congregation to act before it is too late, to save Israel from itself.”

Gottenu! This Yaniv Sagee lives in fear for his life. Where does this Sagee live? Who’s going to beat him up, or, God forbid, kill him? Is the rule of law in Israel gone so totally awry? How can American Jews save Israel from itself? As a side issue, by the way, if we are to task ourselves with saving Israel from itself, then it stands to reason that the gap between us and them can’t exist, for if it does, how in the world are we going to save them from themselves?
This article’s a rubbish can full of arguments that neither make sense in themselves, much less do they cohere as an arsenal of arguments that lead to any serious conclusion that the Eschaton has arrived, that the long goodbye is upon us.

As I said at the beginning, there are issues between American and Israeli Jews, but this piece, by a respected NY Times journalist no less, is not the case upon which the wall are going to rise.

Mr. Weisman’s article can be seen here:

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My Visit to the Bialik House, Tel Aviv

by Phil Cohen

I’m in Israel for a kind of classical tourist visit. My daughter Talia and I will truck around, visiting Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Tsfat, the Golan and Haifa. We’ve identified a couple of sites we haven’t seen before, like the newly opened Ein Keshatot, a renovated Byzantine era synagogue in the Golan, and Agamon HaHula, one of the largest bird migration sites in the world with a six mile hike.

Talia lived in Tel Aviv for the better part of a year and knows the city well. She’s been a terrific guide, due partly to the powerful memories of her time here, partly due to the infallibility of Google Maps which gets us everywhere. She has a yen to visit Ramallah, and so we will. Israelis to whom we mention this part of our trip seem bemused, but I’d visited the city a few years ago and it was interesting.

Okay, not doubt news of my travels will not rivet you to this page, but I do have a small observation based on an experience I’d like to share.
This morning we visited the Bialik House, a fairly modest museum devoted to the great Hebrew poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934). Not that the house itself, which belonged to Bialik, as houses go, is modest. Quite the contrary. It’s large and beautiful and sits in a terrific neighborhood in Tel Aviv. It’s all the more impressive, considering it was the home of a poet, never among the best paying of professions.

I looking at the room that served as his study, when I overheard a conversation between an employee and a newly employed guide as to the particulars of this room. At a certain point I stuck my nose into the conversation and asked why, on the wall next to the famous painting of Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitsky (1859-1944) collaborating on their masterwork, Sefer HaAggadah, there hangs a photo of Ahad Ha’am (1856-1927). I knew that Bialik and Ahad Ha’am, who were acquainted with each other. I just wanted to know why in a room with the aforementioned painting and a photo of Bialik’s wife, Dineh-Priveh, the only other image was that of the creator of cultural Zionism.

My interlocutor, named Netta, averred that Ahad Ha’am hung there as a paean to someone who’d had an extraordinary influence on his world view. That being? That in the modern world, the Jewish people’s survival depended on the preservation of its texts and the values to be derived from them, even if religious observance was diminishing among some. (Ahad Ha’am was certainly one of those, as was Bialik.) This cultural expression of Zionism strove to create a world thick with Jewish values even as the religious basis of Judaism was eroding. With cultural continuity there would remain a common ground for conversation among the diversity of the Jewish people all over the world. (Recall that Ahad Ha’am, who died well before the Shoah, did not call for a mass immigration to Israel.)

Then Netta suggested that the task of finding and living by those shared values that people like Bialik and Ahad Ha’am initiated, continues today. I nodded as sagely as I could, but wondered at her remark.

Where does this kind of thinking take place today in America? Who among American Jews strives to fulfill that old mission laid down by those two men, as well as the likes of A.D. Gordon and Mordecai Kaplan? More, who among the Jews of America is sweating over creating an intentional effort of define and clarify a Jewish culture that has both meaning and strives to hold us all together as one people?

In America, for those who even consider the matter, it has become easier and easier to declare that the notion of Jewish peoplehood is a construct, one that has seen its day. Once upheld as an unbreakable the dogma that, despite all appearances to the contrary, all Jews are one people, the notion has sunk with the last sunset. And, the truth is, who could deny that a Satmar Hasid and a Humanistic Jew would have little if anything to say to each other, especially if the Humanistic Jew’s mother isn’t Jewish? Not that long ago, some among us would attempt to make that argument.

One of my visits in Jerusalem will be with Eliezer Schweid. Schweid is the great contemporary Jewish philosopher who devoted a great deal of his intellectual bolstering the ideas of Ahad Ha’am and A.D. Gordon. His was a great effort to build an intentional and sustainable Jewish intellectual culture that would articulate serious text-based Jewish values for the world of secular Israelis.

In contemporary Israel, as Schweid himself admits, this may a difficult ideal to achieve; all the more so in America, where, I suspect, the very notion does not rise to the level of consideration for too many. But as I sit in a coffeehouse on Rehov Dr. Borgrashov Street, where behind me a party of twelve is celebrating someone’s birthday in Hebrew, I have to think that some small measure at least of Jewishness is innate.

I recall a conversation in Israel years ago, long before the floodgates of the Former Soviet Union opened wide and Israel became the home to over a million Jews. If you recall, in the old days, when a Soviet Jew received an exist visa, it was always for Israel. When that person arrived in Vienna, he or she would then declare his or her actual destination, more often the US than Israel. Israelis weren’t happy with that state of affairs. Israelis reasoned that at least in Israel a Soviet Jew would remain a Jew simply through Israeli osmosis of land, language, shared politics and destiny.

I’ve always believed there was something to that argument, complex (like all important arguments) though it may be. The struggle to define a values-laden Jewish identity in Israel surely persists, but the substrate grants the Israeli Jewish identity a strength that the American Jewish identity, I would argue, cannot.

Be all of that as it may, at least in the Bialik House, in the work of keeping the legacy of one of Israel’s greatest poets alive, there survives the vision that struggling for Jewish unity and Jewish ideas remains alive and well.
Tomorrow, Jerusalem.

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