9-Vnir-ori-withnameOn a trip to Israel last month, I visited a friend who runs a small store in downtown Jerusalem, my hometown. Outside, on the street, there were dozens of young American Birthright tourists. “Business must be hopping, with all these Birthrighters,” I said. “Not quite,” my friend replied. “Their parents send them here with pocket money, but stay home in the U.S., with their credit cards.”

To my dismay, he said that as he saw it, American Jews don’t care enough about Israel’s future. They see Israel as a Jewish Disneyland of sorts, a place where they go for its history, but they don’t do enough to secure Israel’s future as a liberal democracy. This is not an unusual view among Israelis.

Albeit blunt, over-generalizing and overstated, my Israeli storeowner friend has a point. Sure, American Jews don’t vote in Israel. They don’t serve in the IDF and don’t pay taxes. They don’t have as much of a stake and as much of a say in Israel’s future as Israeli citizens do. But they definitely could do more to advance peace, reconciliation and tolerance in Israel, particularly when upsetting things are being done in Israel in their name.

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Since March, the California legislature has struggled to draft a bill aimed at thwarting BDS - the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.  As readers of these pages know, BDS is a movement that promotes South Africa-style boycott and divestment strategies to oppose Israel and its policies. For many of its supporters, BDS is a way to challenge the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.

After a torturous path of amendment and revision, the State legislature now has in AB 2844 something it thinks it can live with.  But the revised bill, however well-intentioned, remains seriously flawed.  Governor Brown should veto it.

Earlier versions of the bill would have created a list of companies that participate in BDS – defined to include boycotts targeting Israel or settlements – and prohibited companies on the list from becoming state contractors (a blacklist). After being cautioned by its own legal counsel that economic boycotts qualify as protected free speech under the First Amendment, the legislature abandoned its original scheme and converted AB 2844 into a generic anti-discrimination law.

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2016-Lara-primary-headshot-color-682x1024It seems there is no line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t cross to defend settlements. Israeli law says settlers can’t steal Israeli-recognized Palestinian private land for their own purposes? Netanyahu leaves no principle of rule of law unchallenged in the effort to “legalize” the settlers’ actions. The boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) movement challenges Israel’s legitimacy? Netanyahu jumps on the chance to exploit the BDS threat to legitimize settlements, accusing anyone who differentiates between Israel and settlements of embracing BDS (and accusing Israel’s closest allies of adopting policies similar to those of the Nazis). The Palestinians – and virtually the entire world – argue that settlements are an obstacle to peace and will need to be removed? Last week, Netanyahu releases a video accusing them of supporting ethnic cleansing.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: the idea that Jews may not live in a given place, for no reason other than because they are Jewish, is abhorrent. But that isn’t what objecting to settlements is about, and Netanyahu knows it. The demand for the removal of Israeli settlements from the West Bank has nothing to do with where Jews, as Jews, can or cannot live. It has to do with whether Israel will be a permanent occupier or will accept a two-state solution.

And let’s make another thing clear: Defending settlements by appealing to Jewish historical trauma at the hands of the Nazis — which is what Jews think of when we hear the words “ethnic cleansing” or worse yet, the Nazi term often invoked Netanyahu and the settlers, “Judenrein” — is morally despicable, politically inflammatory and factually misleading.

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Lara_headshot_4.2016squareIn 2009, Israel arrested the head of the northern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement for incitement, for saying that Israel “seeks to build a synagogue on Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Since then – and especially over the past two years, as unrest has rocked Jerusalem – Netanyahu has regularly argued that Palestinian Authority incitement over the Temple Mount is a chief cause of violence, and has called Palestinian officials’ statements about Israel’s intentions on the Temple Mount “gross lies.”

Earlier this month, on August 14-15, Jews observed the fast day of Tisha B’Av, commemorating various catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people, including the destruction of the first and second temples. Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister, Eli Ben-Dahan, marked this solemn occasion by telling a crowd gathered for a march around the Old City: We aren’t embarrassed to say it: We want to rebuild the Temple on the Temple Mount.”

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David Bernstein has written an articulate defense of those who, like him, refuse to denounce the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, or in some extreme cases even admit that an occupation exists. (“Why I Don’t Call Israel Out on the Occupation,” Opinion, July 8) He argues that simply calling for an immediate end to the Occupation does not recognize the complexity of the situation and will not bring peace and security to Israel.

Sadly, however, my friend David has missed the mark. The occupation can be denounced without calling for immediate withdrawal.

The occupation is evil. It is immoral. It is un-Jewish. When I carried my JNF blue “pushka” on the streets of Brooklyn as a child, when I literally leapt for joy as I listened to the announcement of results of the UN vote in 1947, when I worked, together with David Bernstein at the American Jewish Committee and now at the JCPA, and as chair of Americans for Peace Now, for the safety and the security of the State of Israel I did not dream of a Jewish nation that would be the oppressor of another people.

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Happy Birthday, Israel. May it be Happier Next Year

Ori-speakers-bureau-picBy Ori Nir

Israel has always suffered a water shortage. Seven years ago, the shortage turned into a crisis. The Sea of the Galilee receded to an unprecedented low, as did the mountain aquifers. Under the slogan “Israel is drying up,” the government ran terrifying television ads, featuring Israeli celebrities whose photoshopped skin was cracking like arid earth and peeling off. My mother used to cover her eyes when these ads ran. “I can’t see it,” she would say. Concerned citizens took shorter showers and stopped using garden hoses to water their plants or wash their cars. Consumption dropped but not enough. The country’s dwindling reserves couldn’t meet demand.

Today, the state of Israel has solved its water problems. Four large water desalination and purification plants were built (two more are under construction), including one that until recently was the largest in the world. Today, more than half of Israel’s drinking water is desalinated Mediterranean water. There is a surplus of water, even as consumption grows.

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APN's Lara Friedman in The New York Times - Israel’s Unsung Protector: Obama

 

LFriedman_NYT_Collage320x130WASHINGTON — With the Obama administration in its final year, several officials have said that the president has grown so frustrated with trying to revive Middle East peace talks that he may lay down his own outline for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state peace agreement, in the form of a resolution in the United Nations Security Council.

If that happens, count on two reactions: Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will oppose it, and a chorus of American politicians and commentators will suggest that it would be unprecedented — even unthinkable — for an American president to support a Security Council resolution that Israel opposed, rather than veto it.

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APN's Lara Friedman in Moment Magazine - An All-Women Symposium: The Missing XX-Factor

1| What more could be done to achieve
peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

2| What might women bring to the
peace process if more were included?

with Ruth Calderon, Tamara Cofman Wittes, Nadia Hijab, Naomi Chazan, Caroline Glick, Fania Oz-Salzberger, Laila El-Haddad, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, Anat Saragusti, Cora Weiss, Sarai Aharoni, Noura Erakat, Laura Blumenfeld, Lara Friedman, Simone Susskind, Felice Friedson, Leila Hilal & Galia Golan

 

When did you last hear someone say something new about the peace process? And when did you last hear someone new say it? Every day, it seems, a panel of experts—diplomats, pundits, scholars, chin-pullers of all varieties—convenes to chew over the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. These groups all have something in common: They are overwhelmingly male. The PBS program Frontline recently attracted criticism for asking 23 male experts and three women to reflect on the career of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We at Moment have been offenders ourselves, printing past symposia on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that featured far more male than female contributors.

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"I felt sick watching Trump at AIPAC. Not for what he said - his speech was entirely predictable - and not for the fact that AIPAC gave him a platform. I felt sick because I was watching the natural culmination of decades in which AIPAC has successfully defined the terms of the "acceptable" narrative about Israel in U.S. politics and campaigns."

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Published March 22, 2016

Look on AIPAC’s Works, American Jews

For more than a decade I have been invited regularly to speak on Capitol Hill, on campuses, in synagogues, on policy panels, to foreign diplomats and to the media. On these occasions I speak, as an advocate for Israel and Israeli-Palestinian peace, about the issues on the ground in Israel-Palestine and their connection to U.S. foreign policy. And on these occasions I talk openly and critically about AIPAC, just as for years my organization has publicly challenged AIPAC’s legislative agenda at every turn.

I talk about AIPAC not because I hold any personal animus against the organization and its supporters, or because I believe in some right-wing conspiracy. I know there are good people working at and supporting AIPAC. And I know from experience - most recently with the successful Iran nuclear deal - that AIPAC is by no means omnipotent.

I also know, however, that for decades AIPAC has been actively promoting a Middle East agenda that is anathema to the values of most American Jews, to the real interests of Israel, and to peace. And I know well, from personal experience working in Washington and around the country, the enormous power AIPAC brings to bear on American Jews, members of Congress, and the U.S. political system to see its agenda enacted. That is why I cannot talk about U.S. policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without talking about AIPAC.

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APN's Rabbi Alana Suskin in the Jerusalem Post: Don’t give up on Israel!

Last week, I received an email from Tikkun Magazine crowing, “Major American Jewish Leader Changes his Mind About Israel.” Rabbi David Gordis, who has served in an astonishing number of major American Jewish institutions, reflected on his years of love and advocacy for Israel, and on the rightward trend in Israeli policies. He wrote, “sadly, after a life and career devoted to Jewish community and Israel, I conclude that in every important way: Israel has failed to realize its promise for me. A noble experiment, but a failure.”

My heart sank. Many of us engaged in advocacy for Israel no doubt share Rabbi Gordis’ discontent with the trajectory of public affairs in Israel. Clearly there is reason to be troubled. Extremism has become embedded throughout every level of Israeli society. The occupation, and the racism that has grown from it, are alarming.

But, while I am sympathetic to your feelings of near-despair, Rabbi Gordis, I beseech you: don’t give up; Israel can’t afford to lose you.

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