Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Ongoing Arab-Israel Alliance

Ask most any non-lefty Jewish Israeli why there is still not peace between Israel and the Arabs and you'll get the same formulaic response you'd have gotten in 1950, i.e., "The Arabs want to destroy us."  That was true up to 1967 and beyond, but at some point in the '80s it stopped being the case, certainly by the time the Arab countries that joined George H.W. Bush's "Coalition of the Willing" in 1991 begged him as a return favor to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  He tried at Madrid and failed.  So did Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.  Why?  "The Arabs want to destroy us."

But in the last few years we have seen something bizarre that has occasioned far too little comment.  The biggest and most important Arab countries, namely Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as Jordan (which has appreciated Israel for decades) along with most of the Gulf countries, are in a tacit strategic alliance with Israel against Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and ISIL, i.e., all of Israel's enemies. Even maverick Qatar, one of Hamas's only two friends (Turkey being the other) is on good terms with Israel as well.  Bibi, however, tried to push it too far when he suggested at the UN that the Arab states try to help Israel along to peace by "updating" the twice-renewed 2002 Arab League Initiative.  There is at least one line the Arab states can't cross.

That is because what keeps this tacit alliance from being open and legitimate are those pesky Palestinians, who keep bringing up matters that Israel thought it settled 66 and 47 years ago.  The Arab masses take a lot from their governments, but abandoning the Palestinians without some semblance of a state might be too much even for them.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hope for reconciliation from the next generation

I admit I don't have much hope for a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I keep sending out information.  Given that the British Parliament recognized a Palestinian state to exist side by side with Israel, I really believe that this act will be followed by others -- it is just a matter of time.

Remarkable for an Israeli diplomat these days, this speech includes a frank discussion of the Palestinian Nakba ("catastrophe" of 1948).  But the story he tells of his grandparents, Christian-Palestinian Arabs from Jaffa, permitted to return after being refugees in Lebanon for several months, is exceptional for being so rare. The tragedy of the original Palestinian refugees and their later generations to this day is that most have been stateless -- denied citizenship in the Arab countries they've settled in (except for Jordan) nor allowed to return to either Israel or the Palestinian territories.

He also mentions the forced exodus of 800,000 Jews from the Arab and Islamic world.  A reasonable plan to compensate and settle the Palestinians needs to be negotiated; this might be facilitated with an international fund that also compensates Israeli families with claims against Arab countries.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

PPI's Past View of Palestinian Statehood Declaration

Yesterday, in a non-binding parliamentary vote, the British House of Commons overwhelmingly endorsed Palestinian statehood alongside Israel.  Hadassah has been among the first of what will surely be a host of American Jewish organizations lamenting such moves.

By way of contrast, there's this statement issued by PPI on Sept. 18, 2011, as the Palestinian Authority first considered applying for upgraded statehood status at the United Nations:  These are its main points:

David Eden: We can rebuild trust and hope

Aside from Hillel Schenker, David Eden is another chaver who blogs for the Times of Israel.  The following is from the beginning of his latest piece, recalling a more promising time (the 1990s):

"We can rebuild trust, we can rebuild hope"

. . .  I remember the “peace caravans” organized by Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) that took Israelis into the territories to meet with Palestinians, under a banner of reconciliation. I remember when families, and summer camp kids from Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin would come to the beaches of Tel Aviv, Netanya, and Caesarea to frolic in the surf, and picnic on the shore. I remember when people from Jerusalem, Ashdod, and Beer Sheva would go to Jericho to enjoy the garden caf├ęs and the fresh tropical fruits, and to the seashore restaurants in Gaza for the fresh grilled fish. I remember Israelis going to the markets of Tulkarm and Kalkiliya to buy vegetables and furniture, and Palestinians from Gaza and Beit Lehiya going to the malls in Rishon leZion and Rehovot to shop and enjoy the air conditioned movie theaters. I remember the hope, and I remember the optimism. Back then–- was it only 20 years ago, already–- many Israelis and Palestinians looked upon each other with the hope and trust that together we would find the way to have Israel and Palestine develop and progress next to each other in peace and cooperation. We were going to work together, build together. We were beginning to trust one another.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Uri Avnery on 'Crusaders and Zionists'

This is an abridged version of radical Israeli peacenik Uri Avnery's column of Oct. 10th, "Crusaders and Zionists":

LATELY, THE words "Crusaders" and "Zionists" have been appearing more and more often as twins. In a documentary about ISIS I just saw, they appeared together in almost every sentence uttered by the Islamist fighters, including teenagers.

. . .  THE TWO historical movements were separated by at least six centuries, and their political, social, cultural and military backgrounds are, of course, totally different. But some similarities are evident. Both the Crusaders and the Zionists (as well as the Philistines before them) invaded Palestine from the West. They lived with their backs to the sea and Europe, facing the Muslim-Arab world. They lived in permanent war.

At the [Crusader] time, Jews identified with the Arabs. The horrible massacres of the Jewish communities along the Rhine committed by some Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land are deeply imprinted in Jewish consciousness.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Abbas Erred in Invoking the 'g' Word

Click on this title for article at Al-Monitor: "Abbas destroyed hopes of Israel's peace camp"
Shlomi Eldar warns that “in Abbas’ desperate attempts to save his political life, he may very well inflict greater damage on himself and his nation.”
Abbas went to the UN General Assembly with this heavy baggage and with the goal of preserving his position and defeating his opponents. What he did accomplish with one single word was destroy the last remaining bridge that had survived all the storms that raged between the Israelis and Palestinians over the years.

Click on this title for entire article at +972 magazine: "Accusing Israel of ‘genocide’: Major fail" by Larry Derfner:  

Mahmoud Abbas’ speech last Friday at the United Nations General Assembly gave the highest-profile-ever exposure to the accusation, popular among anti-Zionists, that Israel practices “genocide” against the Palestinians, and that the war in Gaza was a genocidal one.  . . . in Israel the speech is already known ... as Abbas’ “genocide speech.” That one word seems to have overshadowed everything else he said at the UN podium, which is a pity, because his basic message – that 21 years of internationally-sponsored peace negotiations have screwed the Palestinians, and they will stand for no more – is right and true . . .

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

In the Belly of the Whale

My favorite book of Tanach [the Hebrew Bible] is Jonah; short, memorable, funny, profound, endlessly enigmatic. My favorite service of the Jewish year is Saturday afternoon Yom Kippur, when the Book of Jonah is read, when because you’re getting a bit loopy from this fasting business,  the story is somehow making more and more sense––“why can’t a person spend three days in the belly of a big fish, after all, stranger things have happened.”

There are many interpretations of the Book of Jonah. Some see it as a satire, some as a stern moral lesson.   Some say it is supposed to be humorous, some not.  Some argue it is critique of religious parochialism. Some argue—this was a favorite of the rabbis—that if read correctly, it is a defense of religious parochialism, and the insincerity of the gentiles.  Others see it as the paradigmatic story of repentance—surely that is why it is in the Yom Kippur liturgy. Or a dramatization of the tension between God’s justice and God’s mercy.  

Sitting in synagogue this weekend, I had another thought.  What Jonah hates, above all, is good news.  After God spares Nineveh, Jonah complains to God, in effect: 
If you are going to be so merciful, what’s the point of me going around telling people to repent or face doom?  You’re making me look bad, and what’s more, you’re making yourself look bad.  If God starts not following his own laws, how do you expect people, especially the gentiles, to follow them?  Look, if you don’t zap people, no one will believe in you.  In the God business, it’s better to be feared than loved. If you threaten doom, unless you carry out your threat, no one will take you seriously.  I’m a prophet, remember? Our stock in trade is doom and gloom, sackcloth and ashes.  Everyone knows (please read Isaiah and Jeremiah in case you have forgotten) how this is supposed to work—prophets say to the people repent, the end is near; and of course the people don’t repent, or don’t repent enough, and then you get to destroy Jerusalem again.  Being a prophet is a hard enough way to earn a living without you undermining us.

Palestinian activist for nonviolence & compromise

This is a report from board member Phyllis Bernstein, of an event sponsored by a number of her local New Jersey Jewish community institutions: 

Nonviolence, open dialogue and compromise are the way to freedom for the Palestinian nation, says Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian peace activist from the West Bank.  He lost his older brother to violence during the conflict in 2003, yet chose to promote dialogue and trust over revenge and hatred, after he met others similarly affected at the Bereaved Families Forum.  

His talk was co-sponsored by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, Bnai Keshet, Congregation Shomrei Emunah and Temple Ner Tamid.  He spoke to a full house of 120; it was my first time seeing so many Jews in one place to hear a Palestinian activist.  I was gratified the CRC promoted this event and for the high turnout.

Phyllis Bernstein's Latest Reading Picks

Roger Cohen's latest column reflects on his recent experience of the High Holy Days, and his wish for Israel to take seriously the teaching on kindness to "the stranger":

God of the left and of the right, forgive us:

From Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel's Shin Bet:

Netanyahu to Obama: Arab states can have role in Palestinian-Israeli peace process:

Livni reportedly meets with Arab foreign ministers, including from Gulf states:

It's great to see this is in mainstream press:

A Palestinian professor is under fire for taking his students to Auschwitz to teach reconciliation:

P.S. Our former executive director, Ron Skolnik, wrote at the Jewish Currents blog, on how Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to deflect the world's attention away from his policies by pointing at ISIS and Iran:

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Hiring & Unhiring of Palestinian-American Prof

Dr. Steven G. Salaita
After giving up a tenured position at Virginia Tech, selling his house and relocating, Dr. Steven Salaita was left high & dry by the University of Illinois.  There's controversy, however, on whether the alleged breach of academic freedom in this case takes precedence over issues raised about this individual's professional competency and ethics.   This NY Times online piece covers the issue broadly, "Steven Salaita and the Quagmire of Academic Freedom": 
The University of Illinois’s dehiring of Steven Salaita, a professor of indigenous studies, for allegedly anti-Semitic tweets demarcates new ground in the debate on academic freedom in the digital age.

Steven G. Salaita says the University of Illinois destroyed his career. The Palestinian-American professor was invited to teach in the university’s American Indian studies program earlier this year, but the board of trustees voted to block his appointment to the tenure-track position following “a campaign by pro-Israel students, faculty members and donors who contended that his Twitter comments on the bombardment of Gaza this summer were anti-Semitic,” according to The New York Times’s Robert Mackey.  . . .
The Times writer also includes a link and quote from Tablet, where Liel Leibovitz contends that academic freedom aside, it was a bad hire: