APN's Ori Nir in Haaretz: U.S. Jews, vote for Israel's future

Netanyahu, in the Knesset, stands by an exit sign.

Ahead of the 2015 elections, American Jews should influence Israel's future character – not through their pocketbooks, but by asserting their vision of how a Jewish, democratic state should look.

For American Jews who care about Israel’s future as a democracy, as a Jewish nation-state that champions Jewish values, as a Jewish homeland they can be proud of, Israel’s early elections are a call for action.

The next 96 days leading up to the March 17 elections offer American Jews a rare opportunity to influence Israel's future character – not through their pocketbooks, but by asserting their vision of what a Jewish, democratic state should look like.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's third government fell apart because four of its key coalition members – Netanyahu, Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennet and Tzipi Livni – represent very different, even opposing, visions of Israel’s future character. When confronted with the Jewish nation-state bill, the leaders were compelled to form and articulate clearer visions of this; of what it means to be both Jewish and democratic. With the government's dissolution immediately following a breakdown over this issue, the question of Israel's future character is in the air, forming a backdrop to this election season.

What matters most is what happens immediately after the elections, when the decision is made as to which parties make up the next coalition. Will the next coalition be governed by the nationalistic extreme-right, advancing an exclusionary vision, based on a messianic, xenophobic worldview? Or will it be a progressive coalition, reflecting a modern, globalized, pragmatic Israel, anchored in humanistic values, Jewish values, advancing peace, equality, pluralism, tolerance and democracy?

American Jews who are not Israeli citizens don’t have the right to vote in Israeli elections, but that should not preclude them from influencing the state's future. Stuart Eisenstat, one of Washington’s key insiders and most respected Jewish activists, says Jewish Americans believe just that. He was recently recruited to help poll more than 40 Jewish communities worldwide for a study commissioned by the Israeli government on world Jewry’s attitude to the future of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.

Describing the study's findings at a talk he recently gave in Washington, Eisenstat was unequivocal. First, he said, Diaspora Jews believe that Israel should not compromise its democratic values – like granting equality to minorities – to accommodate security threats or other constraints. Second, Diaspora Jews increasingly believe that the threats Israel is facing do not grant it immunity from criticism. Third, American Jews are becoming more assertive in addressing criticism about Israeli policies. They do it not only because they believe that Israel should consult with them on issues close to their hearts, whether relating to religious pluralism or to Jewish values such as tolerance, equality and peace, but also because they believe that “Israel’s character has significant influence on how Judaism is regarded around the world by Jews and non-Jews,” Eisenstat said.

Israel’s image is crucial for Jewish continuity in the Diaspora, he said, as well as for the security and wellbeing of Jews living outside Israel, “as we see in France and other countries.” Therefore, “we have a right to a say on these issues,” Eisenstat said, quoting Diaspora Jewish leaders he interviewed for the study.

The coming 96 days offer an opportunity for American Jews to not only exercise that right, but to do so at a time when what they say could make a profound difference.

During this election season, Jewish Americans have a chance to speak up publicly to support those in Israel who share their values and who share their vision of Israel. They have a vast range of tools to do so – traditional and new media, synagogue chains, and numerous Jewish organizations that resonate both in the United States and in Israel. By voicing their visions, Jewish Americans could contribute, indirectly and modestly as it may be, to a future Israel that is for them more a source of inspiration and pride, rather than discord and dissonance.

This article appeared first on December 11, 2014 in Haaretz.

APN's Ori Nir in Haaretz: The sickness in both Israeli and Palestinian societies

Violence, incitement and racist hatred don’t just increasingly plague Israel. Palestinian society is just as sick – and unlike Israel, lacks a leader voicing genuine self-criticism.

The despicable violence, incitement, racism and hatred that are plaguing Israelis and Palestinians these days demonstrate just how sick both societies are - yes, both – and how desperately they need to separate from each other into two independent states.

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APN's Lara Friedman in The Forward: The Terror Rocking Jerusalem Is Not About God

Four ultra-Orthodox Jews at prayer and one Druze policeman, murdered by two Palestinian young men armed with knives, axes and a gun. The heart grieves for the families of the victims and the suffering of the injured.

This past week’s slaughter was the latest development in an escalation of violence in Jerusalem that dates back to the summer, with the kidnapping and murder of three Israel youth in the West Bank, followed by the kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teen in East Jerusalem. Most of the world ignored the fires burning in East Jerusalem until the flames spread across the Green Line. Two terrorist attacks on the city’s light rail, one attempted assassination of a right-wing activist, several attacks outside Jerusalem, and a horrific synagogue massacre later, the world has woken up to what is turning into a conflagration that threatens to engulf the entire city and beyond.

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APN's Lara Friedman and Daniel Seidemann in the Jerusalem Post: A divided city

Jerusalem

The underlying cause of the current crisis is to be found in the inherent dysfunctionality of Israeli rule in East Jerusalem

WHAT POSSESSES hundreds, sometimes thousands of Palestinian youths to clash nightly with Israeli police? That is a question that official Israel, and most particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has neither asked nor answered. Why? Because doing so would challenge his axiomatic faith in “united Jerusalem” – a Jerusalem that doesn’t exist.

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APN's R. Alana Suskin in the Washington Jewish Week: On the Temple Mount…

...Keep the status quo

By tradition, the binding of Isaac – the Akedah – which occurs in this week’s Torah portion, is held to have taken place on the site known today as the Temple Mount. During the last few days, as tensions in Jerusalem reached new heights over the Temple Mount, I have been reading the portion and thinking about the meaning the Temple Mount has for Jews – and about how sad it is that, rather than respecting it as a place of peace, sacred to both Muslims and Jews, extremists on both sides choose this site to fan the flames of holy war.

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Despite the Republican win, U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the next two years depends first and foremost on President Obama, not Congress. But will he finally stand up to Netanyahu?

 

Tuesday's election delivered the Senate into Republican hands and gave them the largest House majority in 80 years. What impact will this election have on America’s policy vis-à-vis Israel and the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace?

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APN's Ori Nir in The Boston Globe: Israel, US breaking up over two-state solution

 This piece will be featured in the Nov. 3 print edition of The Boston Globe.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has come to epitomize the Israeli school of thought that dismisses peace with the Palestinians as being not only impossible but undesirable.

Ya’alon laid out his worldview last week during a four-day visit to the United States. He has become the most salient spokesperson for those in Israel who think that the only way for Israel to conduct its relations with its neighbors is through periodic wars and counterterrorism campaigns, referred to in Israeli security jargon as “mowing the lawn.” In short, he believes in conflict management rather than conflict resolution.

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APN's Ori Nir in The Forward: No, AIPAC Isn't Anti-Israel

 

Jay Michaelson has it wrong. AIPAC is not, as he argues, anti-Israel.

Most of what the lobby does is focused on strengthening the bond between the United States and Israel — various aspects of this relationship, including the U.S.-Israel security cooperation — which is undisputedly pro-Israel.

But not only AIPAC. All American Jewish organizations that focus on Israel, including the ones on the extreme right, are pro-Israel. They support Israel, and they do so wholeheartedly. They care deeply about Israel, and they are deeply concerned about its future.

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APN's Lara Friedman in the Forward: Did Hamas Get Bibi to Freeze Settlements?

Settlements haven’t been in the news of late — and not simply because war pushed them off the media’s radar. They haven’t been in the news because since the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli yeshiva students back in June, there hasn’t been much settlement news to report.

True, already-approved settlement construction continued unabated (and there’s plenty of it). And settlers established several new illegal outposts. And tenders were awarded for new construction in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. So clearly we’re not in the midst of a full-fledged settlement freeze. However, with respect to both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, there is undoubtedly a semi-freeze: no major new settlement plans promoted through planning committees, very few new approvals granted and then for only a tiny number of units, and no new tenders issued.

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APN's Lara Friedman in The Forward: A Blood Libel Against All Palestinians

The family of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir / Haaretz

On July 1, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu eulogized the three Israeli yeshiva students murdered in the West Bank. “A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies,” he said. “They sanctify death while we sanctify life…”

When 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and murdered in East Jerusalem a few days later, Netanyahu’s words — and words like them — framed the story. Indeed, an unbiased consumer of media reports about Abu Khdeir’s killing would likely conclude that while the perpetrators turned out to be Jewish Israelis, they might just as likely, or more likely, have been Palestinians.

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