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"BlueTruth" - 5 new articles

  1. This I believe
  2. To Ali Abunimah-- Let's have a debate
  3. On free speech, Hillel, boycotts, and knife wielding jihadi wannabes
  4. In dialogue with J Street
  5. In Which Jewish Voice for Peace Continues to Hide Its Agenda
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search BlueTruth
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

This I believe

Just like everyone else who has taken to Twitter, I find the ability to interact with others is often constrained by the artificial 140 character limit. When dealing with a situation of the complexity of the Israeli-Arab conflict, it's far too easy to get misinterpreted.  So this post is designed to be a handy reference that allows me to just post the URL and say "this is what I stand for".

I suspect that this specific post will be edited fairly frequently because it's hard to be exhaustive, and the situation does change. Nonetheless, for anyone who thinks they know what I believe based on a one sentence tweet, here are the principles on which I stand:

1. The Jewish people's right to national self-determination in at least a portion of our historic homeland is inviolable. That's what Zionism is about.

2. The Jewish people's right exists not because of the Bible, because non Jews don't have to accept the Torah, any more than we are obligated to live under Sharia law because of what is written in the Koran. Those rights exist because of history. The history of the Jewish people is--literally- carved all over the land of Israel.  We can stand in 1700 year old synagogues in the Galilee, we can pray at the Western Wall built in the time of Herod and we can walk in the tunnel by that wall and see the columns of the Temple pushed over that wall by Roman soldiers over 1900 years ago. We can walk through the water tunnel in Jerusalem built by King Hezekiah over 2700 years ago.  This was the land of our people, and we are the only people indigenous to that land who have an unbroken history as a people and an unbroken connection to that land over those centuries.

3. That right is expressed in the state of Israel, which is the state of the Jewish people-- just as Ireland is the nation-state of the Irish people, Turkey that of the Turks, and so on.  It does not mean a theocracy-- a state run by rabbis. The ultra-Orthodox rabbinate has far too much control over Jewish life in Israel, but the state is not run according to ultra-Orthodox Jewish law. Otherwise, it would look like Islamic theocracies (see under: Iran, Islamic Republic of) in its treatment of women, LGBT people, or those following other religions.  

4. To those who say that "a religion shouldn't have a state", there are two answers: The first is that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, not the Jewish religion. We have identified ourselves as a people for 3000 years, and nobody else gets to deny us our self-identification. The second is that there are almost 60 countries that identify themselves in their constitutions as "Islamic". Some of them cite Sharia as their source of law. So if you want to campaign against countries based on religion, have a go at some of them. (Though for your personal safety, you shouldn't do that from within the territory of those countries.)

5. Therefore, anti-Zionism-- opposing the right of the Jewish people to a state, while supporting that right for all other peoples, especially the Palestinians-- is anti-Semitism in a modern, politically acceptable form. It's a double standard fueled by prejudice, and excused by lies and rationalizations.  Trying to play the victim by falsely charging "whenever we criticize Israel you claim it's anti-Semitic" is nonsense. When such criticism crosses the lines of Sharansky's "3-D" definition-- delegitimization of Israel, demonization of Israel, double standards applied to Israel not applied to other democratic nations-- it's anti-Semitic. There's plenty to criticize about Israel and its government without crossing the line into hate speech. Those who claim that they oppose all nation-states based on ethnicity have a right to that opinion. But when their list of nations to target for elimination starts-- and ends-- with the one Jewish state, their moral principle has disappeared.  Just as when the American Studies Association voted last year in favor of an academic boycott of Israel; their president, Curtis Marez of the University of California at San Diego, gave his rationale for boycotting Israel compared to dozens upon dozens of other countries with far worse human rights records: "One has to start somewhere".  When "somewhere" is always the Jewish state, and that "somewhere" is where these efforts also finish, then "someone" is promoting anti-Semitism. 

6. Israel being the state of the Jewish people does not mean that non-Jewish citizens of Israel should not have equal civil and political rights. On the contrary, our tradition demands that they do.  In cases in which Israel has fallen short, it is in that regard like every other country which has a minority people among its citizens.  None is perfect. And Israel's record in that regard can be compared favorably with other Western democracies, especially as some Arab citizens of Israel openly identify with and support those who wish to eliminate the Jewish state.

7. Israel currently occupies lands it conquered in June of 1967, known as Judea and Samaria to some, and as the West Bank to others (a name that came into use only during the Jordanian occupation). The Palestinians who live there are under varying degrees of military occupation based on where they live.  Ariel Sharon called it occupation, so I can too. That doesn't make it illegal, per se. This area did not have a legitimately recognized sovereign once the British Mandate expired. The British had gained control not only in the time-honored fashion of conquest, but subsequently via the largest international organization that existed at the time, the League of Nations. After the failed attempt to invade and destroy Israel in 1948, Jordan occupied the territory.   Israel gained control of that territory in 1967 after Jordan--despite warnings delivered to King Hussein in the first hours of the Six Day War-- attacked Israel.  The difference between Israel's occupation and the Jordanian one is that Israel was attacked from that territory and had the right to defend itself including taking the territory from which it was attacked.  

8. I support the idea that there should be a Palestinian state in part of Judea and Samaria. Palestinian self-identification is a recent phenomenon, arising in the 1920s only after the start of the modern Zionist project, and can be legitimately questioned not only because of that, but because of numerous statements made by Palestinian and other Arab leaders. 
Nonetheless, there now exists a group that identifies themselves as a separate people from their Arab neighbors, and if Israel is going to relinquish claims to territory across the Green Line, it will be to a Palestinian entity.  

The prerequisite for a Palestinian state is that its leaders agree to live in peace and mutual recognition with Israel, the state of the Jewish people-- and that they tell this to their own people in Arabic. This means that there will not be any exercise of the so-called "right of return", which does not in fact even exist for descendants of refugees.  

 As the Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in 2010

"To achieve eventual peace, the international community needs to pressure Palestinian leaders to forgo their claim to Haifa and Jaffa and confine their people’s right of return to a future Palestinian state — just as the Jews will need to forgo their claim to Hebron and Bethlehem and confine their people’s right of return to the state of Israel. That is the only possible deal: conceding my right of return to Greater Israel in exchange for your right of return to Greater Palestine." 

The problem, however, is the same in 2014 as it was in 2010, in 2000, and in 1947. As Klein Halevi continues:

"A majority of Israelis — along with the political system — has accepted that principle. On the Palestinian side, the political system has rejected it."

Until and unless the Palestinians agree to this, Israel is under no obligation to allow them to have a state to be used to further their aims of destroying Israel. 

9. Israel's settlements in Judea and Samaria are an obstacle to peace; they are not THE obstacle, or even the major obstacle, to peace. Any issue on which Israel and the Palestinian leadership disagrees is an obstacle to peace. This includes borders, refugees, water rights, Jerusalem, and incitement as well as settlements. The fact that they are not the major obstacle to peace is quite easily proven: ask any of the anti-Israel activists you will come across online (or on the street) the following question: if Israel were to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines (which were explicitly stated in those 1949 agreements as not being recognized borders) and to uproot every Jew living beyond those lines, would you then accept the right of Israel to live in peace as the state of the Jewish people?  Most of them will honestly answer "no". (The others are either lying or hanging out with the wrong crowd.)

10. Ultimately, the conflict will be settled in only one of several ways:
---Israel will annex Judea and Samaria, with or without giving its Arab residents the vote. The latter will lead to near-immediate serious consequences from Western democracies so is not realistic.  

---the Palestinian leadership will agree to a state in exchange for peace and mutual recognition with Israel, accepting the right and legitimacy of the Jewish people to our own state. 

---Israel will be militarily defeated by the Arabs and the Jewish population will be killed, expelled, or if allowed to remain, live under Arab rule.

---Israel will agree to give up Jewish national self-determination and have the Jews live as a minority under Arab rule. 

The chances of the last option are even lower than of Israel being militarily defeated.  So unless one of the first two comes to pass, the current situation will continue.

11. Ultimately, it is the people of Israel through their elected government who get to make the decisions about their future. We can disagree with those choices but we aren't the ones who have to live with their consequences. Just as those of us in America don't decide to forswear our allegiance to our country over disagreements with the current (or previous) administration, we shouldn't abandon our support for Zionism over differences with the policies of Israel's current (or previous) government.  We can criticize those policies, but those of us who don't live in Israel need to maintain a degree of humility that should accompany our choice not to move there and place our fates with our fellow Jews there.  

12.  Finally, it's vital that those of us who support the fundamental principle of Zionism-- the Jewish people's national rights-- try to maintain our discussions with each other within the bounds of civil discourse.  We may disagree--vigorously-- on how best to keep Israel safe and secure, but our disagreements pale in comparison with those who endorse the BDS movement, those who deny the Jewish people's national rights, those who openly call for Palestine "from the river to the sea".  So let's remember that while our disagreements are often vital and important, none of us are guaranteed to have a monopoly of wisdom on the best choices for Israel.  

There you have it. An even dozen-- at least for the moment. 


To Ali Abunimah-- Let's have a debate

Anti-Israel activists have frequently complained that our Jewish community institutions are not open to hosting their point of view. While I completely support that policy, in the firm belief that doctrinal anti-Zionism is indeed the modern, politically correct form of anti-Semitism, it does reduce the opportunities for members of the pro-Israel community to debate anti-Israel partisans.  It's not that the anti-Zionists are really seeking honest debate; they're happy to get the camel's nose into the tent, as it were, to start undermining those Jewish institutions--especially on campuses. And their typical campus or community events typically feature a panel with an anti-Israel Arab, and then for "balance", an anti-Israel Jew.  But an open, honest, moderated debate between pro- and anti-Israel activists is a rare event.

One of the more prominent members of the American anti-Israel community is Ali Abunimah. Born in Washington DC, educated at Princeton and the University of Chicago, and now a resident of Chicago, Abunimah has written a book called "One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" and now has a new book "The Battle for Justice in Palestine" for which he is embarking on a speaking tour.  He'll be in Berkeley on April 22.

I'm sure that Ali, as a professional writer and speaker, is more than willing to defend his ideas against challenges-- he is undoubtedly ready to justify his support of BDS and of Hamas, and his calls to eliminate the Jewish people's right to national self-determination.  

So, Ali-- let's have a real debate. Not a circus-like event in front of your river-to-the-sea cheering section, but at a legitimate venue, with a moderator acceptable to both of us. Let's debate what is clearly the core of the issue-- the right of the Jewish people to have a state in at least a portion of the historic Jewish homeland. You want to re-litigate the 1947 endorsement by the United Nations of dividing the British Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state? Let's have that discussion, with all of its ramifications. 


On free speech, Hillel, boycotts, and knife wielding jihadi wannabes

(originally published in j weekly, January 9 2014)

The Dec. 20 issue of J. featured two views touching on the issues of free speech and civil discourse as it relates to conversations about Israel. Both are thoughtful, well written and make some valid points. And both, in their own ways, are wrong.
That’s a very presumptuous comment on campus issues from someone who is neither professor nor student. Yet the issues raised by Ryan Ariel Simon (“SFSU student’s call for civility starts with ‘I feel your pain’ ”) and professor Ari Y. Kelman (“Stifling voices hurts students, free exchange of ideas”) are those in which not only the Jewish community, but also the community at large, are stakeholders.
Hillel International, whose position on the limits of sponsored events was challenged by Kelman, is a Jewish community institution. San Francisco State, in the news yet again for hate speech directed at Israel, is a publicly funded institution subsidized by California taxpayers.
The issues at SFSU are clear. Mohammad G. Hammad, the president of the General Union of Palestine Students, crossed a line with his glorification of murder and his knife-wielding threats against Israeli soldiers — and those who support them. Simon suggests the core of this issue is a lack of empathy, a “refusal to recognize or understand the pain of the other.” He appropriately attempts to span that divide by acknowledging that some Jewish soldiers, during and after Israel’s War of Independence, did have some responsibility for Palestinian civilians taking flight.
Indeed — this has been well documented by historians such as Benny Morris and Israeli authors such as Ari Shavit, and has been a subject in Israeli political discourse for years. And the broad center — as well as all of the left — of American pro-Israel groups recognizes the Palestinians’ desire for a state of their own. Thus they support peace between Israel and a future state of the Palestinian people living side by side and with mutual recognition. They host talks by Morris and Shavit, and by others like them.
Yet the response from the “pro-Palestinian” side is a near-complete rejection of peace and a refusal to recognize Jewish history in the land of Israel, with the insistence that “from the river to the sea, Palestine must be free” — free of a Jewish state, that is. Hammad and the GUPS have a track record of extremist, demonizing speech, though brandishing a lethal weapon and threatening to use it to behead an Israeli is a new low, even for them.
Getting “pushed beyond our comfort zones” doesn’t mean having to accept graphic, specific threats from those who evince a desire to kill. Let’s be honest: If the type of bloodthirsty hate demonstrated by Hammad had been aimed at African Americans or LGBTQ individuals — or Muslims — the response by the SFSU administration would have been swift and strong.
Simon feels that outside pro-Israel groups should have taken their direction from the Jewish students before acting. Given the fact that SFSU is a public institution, its stakeholders include all of the people of California. Nor are Hammad’s rants protected by “academic freedom” — he’s not a faculty member, and his activism is not part of his coursework. Pro-Israel groups did not come onto campus uninvited, which would have escalated an already difficult situation. Nor did they try to press an agenda except for urging the administration to uphold exactly what Simon calls for: civility of debate.
Kelman, in his piece, states that those who support the decision by Hillel International not to allow Hillel groups to host anti-Zionist speakers are hypocritical if they also condemn the American Studies Association boycott. That’s comparing apples and oranges. Hillel is an organization with a mission that includes support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It would be a violation of that mission, and a breach of trust with its funders, to host a speaker who opposes that.
The ASA, on the other hand, is an ostensibly scholarly organization with a mission to promote the study of American culture. As an organization of academics, it has taken a position against academic freedom in support of a narrow and biased political agenda unrelated to its mission. And it did so by using the only tactics by which the BDS movement can engineer a victory: stealth resolutions without advance notice, and stacked debates at which the opposing side is prevented from presenting its case. One can easily recognize ASA’s breach of the principles of academe while simultaneously supporting Hillel’s objectives.
There are always limits to speech that institutions will present. The NAACP is not going to host David Duke as a speaker, nor is the Democratic Party going to have Sarah Palin speak at its convention. Nor have we seen Muslim Student Associations host presentations by Zionists, although we have seen them forcibly shut down such presentations. The debate is not really about unlimited free speech — it’s simply about where we, within our community institutions, decide to set those limits.


In dialogue with J Street

On October 20, I participated in a dialogue event at Congregation B'nai Shalom in Walnut Creek. The synagogue's Israel Engagement Committee invited me to discuss issues relating to Israel with the Northwest Regional Director of J Street, Gordon Gladstone.

The event was intended to be a model of civil discourse in which our different perspectives could be aired but in a fashion that respected both each other and the audience. This built upon the recent Year of Civil Discourse initiative in the Bay Area. I participated in that effort, believing that this is an important principle in discussions among supporters of Israel, the state of the Jewish people.  There were disagreements between us, and I hope that I highlighted them well. But it's also important to recognize that those differences--while important-- are minimal compared to those between both of us on the one hand, and anti-Israel groups (such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine) on the other.

One correction after the fact: I misspoke in stating that AIPAC supports candidates as well as legislation. As a long time AIPAC member, I know that AIPAC does support legislation but neither rates nor endorses candidates!

(The video and sound were taken from the synagogue's webcam. You might need headphones.)


In Which Jewish Voice for Peace Continues to Hide Its Agenda

"Jewish" Voice for Peace continues to peddle its alternate version of reality about Israel and the Middle East to a mostly unsuspecting public. Their latest foray into disinformation was distributed at their booth at the Solano Stroll, a large public street fair in Berkeley this past Sunday.  (Several observers reported that those staffing the JVP booth became quite argumentative when anyone would point out errors in their propaganda. As one person told us, they got quite upset when he handed their disinformation sheet back to them with the comment "Do you think I'm that stupid?")

It's worth examining the details of what they were handing out, both to demonstrate their relentless dedication to twisting the facts and their ultimate goal of delegimitizing Israel's very existence as the state of the Jewish people.

The first point on their little pop quiz notes that 25% of Israeli citizens are not Jewish, although Israel calls itself the Jewish state. I'm not sure if their point is that Israel should be more like Saudi Arabia, in which only Muslims can be citizens, or that a Jewish nation is somehow illegitimate if not ethnically pure.  One test of a nation is how it treats its minorities. While Israeli society suffers from the same problems of economic and social discrimination that plague all countries, its record compares well to other democracies-- especially given that its peer group hasn't been subject to genocidal attacks from neighbors for decades. For anyone who thinks that Israel can't measure up to Western democratic nations, check out this comparison of Israel and Australia-- which country do you think has a better record of political,  economic and social integration of its minorities? (hint: it's not the one singing "Waltzing Matilda", mate.)

But wait-- doesn't JVP claim that their mission is to seek "an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem"?  Indeed they do. So how are the demographics of Israel and its self-description as the Jewish state relevant to that?  None at all-- unless your mission is delegitimizing Israel's existence.

Let's move on to #2: Which Middle Eastern country has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation agreement?  They correctly note that Israel has not.  The question that could be asked here is "Which Middle Eastern country is routinely threatened with annihilation by its neighbors and subjected to rocket attacks and terrorism aimed at its civilian population?" And remind me-- what does that have to do with ending the occupation?

As if all this wasn't enough to establish JVP's attacks on Israel as being just a bit more than related to "the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem", they proceed on to the heart of the matter-- trying to falsely equate Israel's Law of Return with the "Right of Return" for generations of descendants of Palestinian refugees. Of course, Israel's Law of Return is rooted in the right of any state to declare who may immigrate and become a citizen. The "right of return" claimed by Palestinians as applying to descendants of refugees has no standing in international law; even for refugees themselves, the right to return onyl takes effect at the cessation of the conflict. As it was Arafat in 2000 and Abbas in 2008 who turned down offers to end the conflict, Israel does not have to recognize the right of return for the few thousand refugees from 1947-8 who are still living.  And such a right never existed for their descendants, as much as JVP wishes it were so.  The advocacy for the "right of return" has nothing to do with ending the occupation, and everything to do with trying to eliminate the Jewish character of Israel by flooding it with five million descendants of a war started by the Arabs to prevent Israel from being created.

Let's get real. Let's drop pretense. Jewish Voice for Peace opposes the existence of a state of the Jewish people anywhere in the Jewish homeland. As such, they promote the same end goal as Hamas.  Yet they continue to adhere to the charade that they are a peace group.

Oddly enough, for a group that also continues to insist that it should be allowed to peddle its hate of Israel within our Jewish community institutions, and that claims that the Jewish community "muzzles" open debate about Israel, they are quite afraid of exposing their own hypocritical positions to critical examination.  They've been offered a debate within the pages of J Weekly but have thus far refused to accept the offer.   I guess that when your positions are built on lies, it's hard to defend them against facts.


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