MJ Rosenberg vs. ATFP

Readers of my work will be aware that I have frequently cited the articles of MJ Rosenberg, late of the Israel Policy Forum and who now works for Media Matters. In recent days, MJ has been going absolutely ballistic over the American Task Force on Palestine’s (ATFP) engagement with a group called The Israel Project.

In a recent piece on Talking Points Memo Café, MJ wrote: “…in sucking up to the pro-settler, anti-Palestinian Israel Project, they are trying (yes, I believe it’s intentional) to weaken the progressive forces in the pro-Israel community

MJ Rosenberg

like J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Jewish Voice For Peace, and the others. After all, if the Palestinians endorse a far right Zionist organization, why should Jews bother with the likes of J Street?”

Where I differ with MJ is that I do not think that ATFP did this intentionally. But other than that, I have to say, I think he’s right about how their recent actions undermine the efforts of Jewish peace groups and also give legitimacy to a group, The Israel Project (TIP), which is not just a right-wing group, but one that has actively promoted hatred and stereotypical images of Palestinians.

The JTA reported on the meeting between Salam Fayyad and TIP, and described ATFP’s involvement this way:

Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, which helped arrange the recent evening with Fayyad, said his organization sees engaging with the mainstream of the American Jewish community as critical to making negotiations work.

“We have to have the best possible relations with the widest swath of Jewish American groups,” Ibish said. “We want to talk with any organization that is interested in a two-state solution.”

The American Task Force on Palestine also dialogues with AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee, he said.

Ibish, however, questioned The Israel Project’s ties with Marcus and other figures who over the years have depicted the whole of Islam as implacably radical.

MJ linked to two articles that do a good job of reflecting the sort of “information” TIP puts out about Palestinians. This group goes well beyond the American Jewish Committee (AJC) or AIPAC in the sort of bile they put out about Palestinians. Continue reading

Will blog soon

Just wanted to let my readers know…

Due to a very serious family emergency, I have been unable to blog for the past few days. That situation will obtain for a few more days, possibly up to two weeks.

I very much appreciate my readers’ support over the years and hope you will bear with me during this time. I will be back to blogging as soon as I can get to it.

Thanks for your patience.


Jewish State vs Jewish Homeland

In my recent piece on the Israeli demand to be recognized “as a Jewish state,” I made the point that there is no clear definition of what it means t be a Jewish state. There is no consensus in Israel as to what this means; indeed, this has been a question that has vexed Jews both in Israel and the Diaspora since the birth of the Zionist movement.

That put me in mind of a question a good friend asked me some time ago. Knowing that I am a strong believer in a two-state solution, he asked me whether I believed it was possible for Israel to be both Jewish and democratic.

Whatever its character, Israel will always be home to both Jews and Arabs

My answer was yes, but not until the term “Jewish state” is defined more clearly and very differently than I perceive it to be used in common parlance today.

The issue of Israel’s identity is one that can only be resolved by Israelis, of course (I note: Israelis, which means all citizens of the state, Jewish or not). But what kind of state we in the Diaspora, as well as non-Jews not connected to Israelis or Palestinians, will choose to support is a question that we can answer. It is one that is being asked more and more these days as Israeli policies generate growing discontent around the world.

The first, crucial element is ending the occupation. A country can be democratic and hold territory under military occupation, but not when it has transferred its own citizens to that territory, in contravention of international law. That creates a situation where the state controls a territory wherein the residents live under different laws – citizens, with all the rights of citizens, in the settlements and the occupied populace, which has no rights of citizenship whatsoever.

But ending the occupation is only the beginning. Discrimination against non-Jews is a serious problem in Israel. It goes well beyond personal bigotry, and seeps into government programs and other institutions, where the allocation of resources is severely skewed. It is also manifest in the structural partnerships the Israeli government has with such bodies as the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish National Fund, as well as the position of the rabbinate in personal matters. It is fine for groups like the JNF and WZO to exist to promote the interests of Jews as they them, but they should be working independently, not in hand in hand with the government. Such a partnership cannot but create institutionalized discrimination.

The key, in my view, is a change in the way we think about Israel’s “Jewishness.” Perhaps one might say that I am proposing a shift from thinking of a Jewish state to thinking of a Jewish homeland. Continue reading

Recognition of a “Jewish State” Unfair and Unrealistic

Once again, an issue with one purpose – to make a peace agreement completely impossible – comes to the fore.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeated his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” as a sine qua non for a deal to end the occupation.

I’ve written about this several times in the past. Here’s a bit of what I wrote in April, 2009:

The demand is absurd on its face. No one demands that a country be recognized as anything but a sovereign nation by anyone else. The Palestinian Authority has recognized Israel as a sovereign nation, and that is enough. Netanyahu surely realizes this. The demand is simply an attempt to thwart negotiations and score a few populist brownie points at the same time.

Of course most Israeli Jews cherish the state’s Jewish identity, and that trait is of possibly even greater importance to the state’s Diaspora supporters. But as far as affirmation from others, well…actually, Abba Eban put it best: “Nobody does Israel any service by proclaiming its ‘right to exist.’ Israel’s right to exist, like that of the United States, Saudi Arabia and 152 other states, is axiomatic and unreserved. Israel’s legitimacy is not suspended in midair awaiting acknowledgement….There is certainly no other state, big or small, young or old, that would consider mere recognition of its ‘right to exist’ a favor, or a negotiable concession.”

This silliness first came up in a serious way under Ehud Olmert, who realized that the tired and untrue mantra that the Palestinians had never recognized Israel was wearing thin. So, he came up with this new twist and it was first prominently demanded at the Annapolis Conference. Here’s some of what I wrote back then: Continue reading

“Mainstream” peace groups need to support this initiative from JVP

A brilliant campaign is underway, created by my former colleagues at Jewish Voice for Peace. They have rallied American and British artists and celebrities to support the performers who are refusing to perform in the newly-built performance center in Ariel.

I wrote about the importance of this action by Israeli performers last week. It is of supreme importance that Israelis make a clear statement that Ariel is not Israel, that it is an illegal settlement and that Israelis are going to resist the attempts by settlers and the government (right up to the Prime Minister) to normalize the settlements and create an atmosphere of normalcy around their existence.

This action, however, is almost as important. Mainstream Israeli figures such as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman came out in support of the actors, as did many other Israelis. Now, the boycotting artists are receiving support from big names outside of Israel.

This is absolutely crucial. Sure, celebrities don’t make the political decisions, but we all know that when stars come out in support of something, many people take notice.

On this action, JVP got a real list of luminaries: Stephen Sondheim, Cynthia Nixon, Julianne Moore, Theodore Bikel, Ed Asner, Eve Ensler, Tony Kushner, Vanessa Redgrave, Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, Howard Prince, Jennifer Tilly and many others.

Some of those names are familiar ones around this issue, but many are not, and that really increases the power of the statement. Many of them are Jews with long histories of support for Israel as well.

This is precisely the formula that is needed to bring change, both in Israel and in American policy. It starts with Israelis taking a stand against the occupation, getting support from within and then that larger group getting support from the rest of the world. Continue reading

Happy Holidays

I expect there will be more posts here before the holidays, but just in case, let me take this opportunity…

To all my Jewish readers, גמר חתימה טובה, my best wishes for a wonderful and peaceful new year and a happy Rosh Hashannah.

To my Muslim readers, Eid sa’id, and a joyous and peaceful remainder of the year to you.

To everyone else…have a good time until your holidays come around!

The Lieberman We Need To Worry About

In my latest post on the Meretz USA blog, I look at Avishai Braverman’s call to fire Avigdor Lieberman for his opposition to the peace process. I conclude that a lot more than that is needed for Israel to deal with this virulent racist in its midst.

Avigdor Lieberman