Shortly before I ended my sophomore year of college, I found myself in my advisor’s office with an important question:
Doron Rosenblum, one of Israel’s leading satirists, recently wrote on his Facebook page: “I got it. They (members of the ruling coalition) are defeating criticism and satire through using satire’s own power, as judokas do, by taking themselves beyond the absurd. Today, no satirist can outdo the insanity of" Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Indeed, Israel’s leading television satire show, Eretz Nehederet (What a Wonderful Country), recently ran a humorous quiz on its web site, in which participants were asked to guess whether quotes attributed to Likud Knesset Member Oren Hazan were true or false. I took the quiz and failed miserably. Hazan’s real quotes were much more outlandish than the made-up ones.
Tel Aviv is enchanting. As I wandered through the artistic, sun-soaked streets of Neve Tzedek, walked on the glistening beaches of the Mediterranean, and meandered through its bustling downtown on my most recent visit to Israel, I became entranced. With its balance of relaxation and excitement, I couldn’t help but be lured in by the magic of the city.
However, I wasn’t in Israel for vacation. I was there as staff with Americans for Peace Now on its study tour to Israel and the West Bank to learn about the complexity of achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Usually, the tour is based in Jerusalem, a contentious city that many consider the epicenter of the conflict. Though staying in Tel Aviv distanced us from the heart of the issue, it taught me an important lesson about the attitude of Israelis toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how difficult it is to persuade the Israeli public that the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip threatens Israel’s existence.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is grabbing positive headlines these days: first with reports that he wants to go back to negotiations with the Palestinians, and second with reports that he has expressed support for the Arab Peace Initiative (API). Or more accurately, he told EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini that he wants negotiations with the Palestinians over settlement blocs, and he told the press that he likes the "general idea" of better relations between Israel in the Arab world. Or, in essence, twice recently Netanyahu called the world stupid.
How stupid? Netanyahu's tactics are so shameless that they bring to mind a bit performed by Richard Pryor in his 1982 performance, "Live on the Sunset Strip." Pryor recounts how his wife caught him with another woman. He tells her: "I don't care what you think you saw... Are you gonna believe me or your lying eyes?"
Israel’s new government should be seen as a call to action for anyone who cares about Israel’s future, about its character and about its wellbeing. This call applies not only to citizens of the state of Israel, but also – maybe even mainly – to those who are looking at Israel from outside, and, as outsiders, are best positioned to put a mirror before the Israeli public, to serve as a reality check.
The reality is that this government distinctly represents and expresses what the enlightened world, including progressive Americans who care deeply about Israel, have in recent years grown to resent about Israel’s conservative political elite.
The reality is that this political elite, characterized by a combination of jingoistic nationalism and religious conservatism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia, intolerance of dissent and disrespect for basic democratic principles, represents a set of values that is diametrically opposed to the values that most Americans, particularly young Americans, hold dear. More to the point, the reality is that this combination of reactionary beliefs, often zealously proclaimed in the name of Judaism, is the very antithesis of what most American Jews define as “Jewish values.”
I am a product of the '60's. I demonstrated against the Viet Nam war, marched for civil rights and against racism. I have boycotted lettuce and grapes, in support of the United Farmworkers; Dow, for manufacturing napalm during the Viet Nam war; Coors, for discriminatory hiring practices against people of color and gays; Nestlé, for its aggressive campaign to sell breast milk substitute to young mothers in developing countries; Target, for its significant contributions to Tom Emmer, the rightwing candidate for Minnesota Governor whose agenda included positions I abhorred on everything; and Walmart, for its poor labor practices (except when my mother Ruth Epstein, who turns 100 this August, insists on going there “for the bargains”).
You get the picture. And while I don't support the boycott of Israel or Israeli-made products, I do support boycotting products made in settlements – and I urge others to do the same. In taking this position, I stand with friends, colleagues, and loved ones in Israel – including Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), the veteran Israeli peace movement. I seek out Israeli wine at my local stores, but only buy it if it comes from one of the vineyards inside the Green Line.
I boycott settlements – and urge others who care about Israel to do likewise – because settlements and their expansion is the greatest obstacle to achieving a two-state solution for Israel and her Palestinian neighbors, and thus the greatest threat to an Israeli future that is Jewish, secure, and democratic.
The Settlers’ Dream Government
Analysis of the coalition agreement between the Likud and the Jewish Home party (Bayit Yehudi)
The coalition agreement between the Likud and the Jewish Home party (Bayit Yehudi) reveals the plans of the new government and indicates its intentions. Beyond increasing the budgets and development of settlements, the government intends to address sectorial interests relating to the national religious public and to finance ideological educational activities aimed to fortify the right side of the political map. In addition, the government intends to initiate actions to restrict freedom of expression, to weaken the High Court of Justice and impair Israel’s democracy.
Congress has a long record of supporting and defending Israel's security, Israel's economy, Israel's position and treatment in international organizations and the international community, Israel's right to self-defense, and Israel's reputation as a nation that seeks peace. For this it deserves credit.
Congress also has a long record of refusing to affirmatively support Israel's policy of building settlements in the occupied territories, including, for example, by barring the use of U.S.-backed loan guarantees for settlement activity. For this too, Congress deserves credit. Israel's settlements enterprise runs counter to the policy of every U.S. administration since 1967, whether led by a Republican or Democrat, and runs counter to Israel's own interests. Settlements undermine Israel's security, erode Israel's position in the international community and belie Israel's commitment to peace and the two-state solution - and if there is no two-state solution, Israel cannot survive as both a democracy and a Jewish state.
By effectively equating Israel proper with the occupied territories, Israel's High Court has made life harder for pro-Israel, pro-peace activists.
The High Court's decision to uphold the so-called Anti-Boycott Law will, regrettably, be a boon to Israeli settlers and their supporters, whilst giving a gift to activists worldwide who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
There were only a handful of Israeli settlers beyond the Green Line in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson became the first American president to express opposition to settlements in the West Bank. Now, despite protest from every subsequent administration, there are more than 350,000 Israelis living in the West Bank and 200,000 in East Jerusalem. President Johnson’s prediction that settlements would “prejudice a peace settlement” has come true, as the dramatic rise of the settler movement—in both numbers and political power—has complicated repeated efforts to achieve a two-state solution.
In this panel at J Street's 2015 conference, APN's Lara Friedman, together with other experts on American and European policy explored what steps can be taken to halt further settlement growth and entrenchment, and discuss the political and policy implications of American and European initiatives—from discouragement of Israeli settlement subsidies to the labeling or boycott of settlement goods.
Watch to see Lara Friedman, together with Michael Cohen of the Boston Globe and Alon Sachar of the US State Department, with Steve Krubiner, J Street's Chief of staff, moderating. Aviva Meyer, Deputy Chair of APN, introduces the participants. Session begins at 10:35.