With the 50th anniversary of the occupation upon us, the hope for a two-state solution is dying. If there was ever a time to speak the truth about the settlements, it’s now.

Lara-UNSCspeech-haaretzpiece320x265Last Friday, the UN Security Council held a meeting organized under the title “Illegal Israeli Settlements: A Threat to Peace and the Two-State Solution.” Americans for Peace Now proudly took part in that event, offering testimony grounded in love for Israel and expressing an unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and its survival as a democracy and a state rooted in the Jewish values expressed in its Declaration of Independence. Of course, that testimony also dealt with the settlements, explaining why they are detrimental to the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace and therefore to Israel’s national security interests.

Many people, both inside and outside Israel, were happy to see a pro-Israel, pro-two-state organization delivering a nuanced, fact-based presentation at this event. Others were less enthused, most notably Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, who accused APN of participating in “diplomatic terror” against Israel. Likewise, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to social media to call APN’s arguments “deluded.” And now, in this newspaper, the former head of the Union of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, criticized APN’s testimony as a “mistake” – not for the facts it conveyed or its tone, but for the timing and location of its delivery.

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Today (October 5th, 2016) Peace Now and Ir Amim jointly released a new report on settlement planning in one of the most sensitive and volatile areas in Jerusalem, in a Palestinian neighborhood in the heart of Silwan. The report,  "Broken Trust: State Involvement in Private Settlement in Batan Al-Hawa, Silwan." The report describes how, since 2001, the Ateret Cohanim settler organization has been working to transform Batan al-Hawa into a large Israeli settlement through sales without tender, questionable acquisition of Palestinian properties, forced eviction and removal of Palestinian families who have lived in the neighborhood for decades. If the settlers are successful, Batan al-Hawa will become the largest settlement compound in a Palestinian neighborhood in the Historic Basin of the Old City,  significantly tightening the emerging ring of settlements around the Old City, creating,"an irreversible reality" and severely undermining the possibility of a future two state solution.

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APN's Ori Nir in JWeekly: A shrine to tolerance shows grave insensitivity


The opinion piece by Rabbi Abraham Cooper (“Museum of Tolerance not being built atop Muslim cemetery,” Sept. 23) takes issue with my assertion that the Wiesenthal Center is knowingly building its Museum of Tolerance at the site of a historic Muslim cemetery and that bones of people buried there have been dug up to make room for the museum (“American Jewish progressives must act to defend their values in Israel,” Sept. 16).

My assertion is based on facts. These facts have been discussed in Israeli courts and in the Israeli public arena, and are included in Israel’s Supreme Court ruling. The heart of this ruling was not the question of whether there were skeletons buried where the museum now stands, but the manner in which the bones in the “Purple Zone” would be handled.

The Wiesenthal Center never refuted the presence of human bones in the “Purple Zone,” which it depicted in court as “the heart” of the museum’s construction site.

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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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