PeaceCast #28: Jerusalem and Peace in the Trump-Bibi Era

Daniel Seidemann, director of Terrestrial Jerusalem, is one of the world’s leading experts on Jerusalem, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and Jerusalem-related requirements for a future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

On November 14th 2017, APN hosted Seidemann for a discussion about the current situation in Jerusalem and the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

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At ZOA Gala, Ambassador Friedman Shows Again Why He Should Be Fired

In a speech at the Zionist Organization of America’s annual dinner, David Friedman showed, once again, why he should be removed from his post as US Ambassador to Israel.

The shamefulness of Friedman’s appearance stems in part from the despicable company with which he associated himself. Featured prominently at the ZOA gala were the likes of Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka. In his speech, Bannon proclaimed himself to be a “Christian Zionist” even as he employed common anti-Semitic dog whistles, like characterizing his opponents as the “permanent globalist class.” Bannon received enthusiastic cheers from the ZOA crowd, who represent the far-Right fringe of American Jewry, and was “proudly” welcomed by the organization’s president, Morton Klein. Sebastian Gorka, formerly a prominent Trump adviser who The Forward has identified as a member of extremist Right-wing Hungarian organization Vitezi Rend, was seated at the head table. Other notable attendees included Sean Spicer, who famously dubbed concentration camps “Holocaust centers” and claimed that Hitler did not use chemical weapons against his own people, conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, and alt-right gadfly Laura Loomer.

As contemptible as the company Ambassador Friedman kept at the ZOA fête was, it was his own remarks after receiving an award for “outstanding diplomacy” that illustrate – once again – why he should be fired.

Apparently, no one has told Friedman that ambassadors are diplomats who represent the interests of the countries they serve, rather than engage in partisan attacks. Friedman used his platform to attack former President Barack Obama, referring to “the dark days of last December” when Obama committed “perhaps the greatest betrayal of Israel by a sitting president in American history.” This is a patently false smear, as APN pointed out when President Obama took the courageous decision not to exercise the US veto against UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which reaffirmed the status of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied territory and urged countries to maintain a distinction in all their dealings between Israel within the Green Line and West Bank settlements. On the watch of every other American president since 1967, the US abstained on or even voted for multiple Security Council resolutions critical of Israel. In eight years, Obama did it once.

One would think no one should have to tell Ambassador Friedman that his job is to represent the United States. Yet, Friedman seems confused on this point. He had no trouble rehearsing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top three foreign policy priorities (hint: Iran, Iran, and Iran). And Friedman took pains to brag that “there is no daylight between the United States and Israel” when it comes to Bibi’s anti-Iran agenda. By contrast, there was no discussion about an American foreign policy agenda or strategy, no indication of what a Trump peace plan might look like, and certainly no embrace of the two-state solution, to which Friedman has been doctrinally opposed.

Sign our petition calling on President Trump to endorse the two-state solution.

A long-term supporter of settlements, Friedman declined to utter this word in his remarks. Using the Biblical terminology of Judea and Samaria when referring to the West Bank, Friedman spoke of “building a house in the Samarian village of Halamish” as a quotidian act. In fact, this settlement deep in the occupied West Bank near Ramallah and others like it threaten the prospects of Palestinian statehood and thus a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At an event at which prominent figures with ties to the alt-right were well-represented, Friedman used the Holocaust to establish beyond question the pro-Israel bona fides of himself and others in the Trump Administration. Because Jared Kushner is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, “he doesn’t just understand the importance of the US-Israel relationship, he feels it profoundly within his heart,” said Friedman. And Friedman began his speech with the story of his 15-year-old daughter who had just sent the family a picture of herself on a class trip to Auschwitz, wrapped in an Israeli flag. Said Friedman, “No picture better represents who we are, what we are, and what we are fighting for.” Just who is the “we” to whom Friedman refers? Is it the American people, who are not only Jews, of course, but people of indigenous, Italian, Irish, German, and (dare we say) Arab heritage?

In focusing on the outrageous presence of Bannon and his cronies at the ZOA gala, it would be easy enough to miss the significance of Ambassador Friedman’s appearance and remarks there. That would be a mistake.

APN is proud to lead the way in calling on President Trump to fire him. Join us.   

Click here to tell President Trump to fire Ambassador Friedman.

Hard Questions, Tough Answers (11.13.17) - Israel on high alert on three fronts

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Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

This week, Alpher discusses whether, with developments in Lebanon and Syria, the Middle East is about to boil over; the Syria agreement and the gap between what it offers Israel and what Israel wants; whether the Saudis are inciting Israel to attack Hezbollah; whether the Saudi-Iranian confrontation is spilling over into the Palestinian arena; IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Palestinian Territories Major General Yoav (Poly) Mordechai's warning to Islamic Jihad that it not attack Israel; and the bottom line.

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APN Board member Letty Cottin Pogrebin in Moment: Seeing Israel in Its Contradictory Glory

American missions to Israel need to expand their scope beyond hasbara.

I’ve decided to travel to Israel this winter despite the Knesset’s recent law banning foreigners who have advocated for boycott of the settlements—which I’ve often done to protest the Occupation. I’ve been there at least 24 times, and it’ll be sad if I’m turned away—not to mention a travesty of the state’s democratic principles—but I think it’s urgent for American Jews who care deeply about Israel’s future to do some serious fact-finding on the ground.

And that means doing more than just traveling on the kind of Israel mission offered too often by synagogues and Jewish communal institutions. To my mind, most of these reveal a narrow geographic, political and ideological viewpoint and a propagandistic objective. They want to make people fall in love with Israel (which I did more than 40 years ago) but also to forestall any doubts or questions.

Jewish visitors’ overall impression of Israel depends largely on the places they’re taken to and the people sponsors have chosen to give them “briefings.” Most Jewish institutional sponsors want our impression to be 100 percent positive, with no disturbing images or contradictory narratives to muddy the picture. The Israel they show us is a miracle of bustling nightlife, rich cultural ferment, medical and technical wonders and happy, harmonious citizens. We could spend ten days there and never notice the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or have a meaningful encounter with an Arab. (Many such tours also offer little access to female leaders, but that’s another problem.)

One synagogue itinerary I saw recently was a case in point. It featured a discussion of the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations—with an Israeli speaker but no Palestinian. One day’s activity was to “explore Christian East Jerusalem through visits with Christian personalities and institutions,” but there was no comparable exploration of Muslim Arab perspectives.

As a result, the people on that trip probably missed a major contentious development in East Jerusalem. They wouldn’t have seen what Elad, the religious nationalist group funded by the late U.S. bingo millionaire Irving Moskowitz (among others), has been doing to “Judaize” Arab Jerusalem—forcing out or buying out Palestinian owners in order to move Jews into those homes, and excavating the ground under Palestinian properties, ostensibly for archeological research but actually to establish Jewish claims to “biblical, historical” sites so that those properties can never be subject to negotiation.

By contrast, when I traveled last year with Americans for Peace Now (APN)—on whose board I serve—we spent time touring East Jerusalem with Hagit Ofran of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, who pointed out several places where there was evidence of such excavations carried out illicitly.

On one recent APN trip, we met a Likud official at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, three Israeli security experts and the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem. But we also met with the PLO ambassador to the United States, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee and a prominent Palestinian entrepreneur.

There are many ways to get a nuanced view. A group called Encounter designs trips intended both to examine the Israeli-Palestinian issue and to heal conflicts over it within the Jewish community. To that end, Encounter arranges meetings with Palestinian officials, nonviolent activists, teachers, sheikhs and teenagers. It provides kosher food, Jewish prayer services and Torah study—as well as panel discussions by Palestinian women and home hospitality with Palestinian families. Intensive programs in Bethlehem and Hebron give Jews face-to-face experiences with the Other.

Few tours sponsored by mainstream Jewish organizations include visits to Palestinian villages inside the Green Line. Fewer still cross into the West Bank, except to admire sprawling, spanking-clean Jewish settlements. So what is it that traditional Jewish institutions don’t want American Jews to see?

On ordinary sightseeing trips, the stated rationale is usually safety, not politics. One Israeli travel agent told me he would never take American Jews into Ramallah because he “can’t take responsibility for their security.” Yet in recent years, Peace Now has shepherded numerous travelers through Ramallah, and when visiting this vibrant city I’ve never once felt unsafe.

When synagogue missions take Jews to the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza, their primary goal is to demonstrate the vulnerability of southern Israel to rocket attacks—which no one can deny.

When our APN group visited that border, we met with an Israeli diplomatic correspondent and a major general of the Israel Defense Forces. We sat in a playground whose bomb shelters were disguised as huge circus animals, a sight as chilling to us as it would be to a traveler with AIPAC or United Jewish Appeal. But we also met with leaders of a local peace organization—the Movement for the Future of the Western Negev. Our itinerary exposed us to the vulnerability and the fear, but also to the activism and the hope.

I’m not sure if Jewish communal tour planners are just blind to what’s missing from their itineraries or willfully overprotective. Are they afraid that exposure to a layered reality might make us “anti-Israel?” If so, they should be worried about the superficiality of our commitment.

I confess to giving small credence to people who bad-mouth “the Palestinians” without ever having broken bread with one, visited a Palestinian home or school, strolled through a Palestinian village or observed the stark contrast between their dusty roads and the sleek highways built for Jewish settlers. Jews who’ve seen only Jewish or even Christian Israel tend to be less equipped to engage in substantive discourse about the country’s politics. Without facts, arguments too often deteriorate into slogans and denunciations.

For years, I’ve been badgering my friends to vet any Israel itinerary presented to them and, if it’s skewed, to demand a broader scope. Jewish tour organizers should not give us a Potemkin village or a party line. They should trust us to process Israel’s contradictions, complexity and ambiguities along with its many wonders.

This article appeared first on November 1, 2017<\a> in Moment Magazine.

 

APN Calls on the Jewish Federations of North America to Cease all Settlement Funding

In response to the October 30th Haaretz report that millions of tax-deductible donations to the Jewish Federations of North America go to fund West Bank settlements, Americans for Peace Now sent a letter to JFNA leadership urging them to cease all funding for Israeli settlements. Read the full letter below. 

*APN's letter to the JFNA was featured in a follow-up article in Haaretz on November 6. Read the article here

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Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

This week, Alpher discusses the officially cultiated legacy of Yitzhak Rabin and whether it corresponds with the man himself; his take on the Balfour Declaration; the legacy of Rafiq and Saad Hariri for Lebanon and the Levant; and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's arrest of tens of princes, ministers and former ministers for “corruption.”

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Honor Rabin's Legacy – Don't Let the Zealots Win!

RabinLike all Israelis of my generation, I will never forget the night of Nov. 4, 1995.

Having just heard from the news desk editor at Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been shot, I called Palestinian officials for reaction. I was Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs correspondent at the time and was on the phone with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat when I heard on Israel Radio that Rabin’s spokesman was about to make a statement. As Eitan Haber hushed the crowed, I started translating for Erekat: “The government of Israel announces in dismay, in great sadness, and in deep sorrow, the death of Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered by an assassin, tonight in Tel Aviv.”

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On November 2nd 2017, APN hosted a briefing call on efforts to confront anti-boycott legislation that violated Americans’ First Amendment liberties and conflates Israel and West Bank settlements. Our briefer was ACLU Staff Attorney Brian Hauss, who leads the American Civil Liberties Union’s litigation on this issue.

Listen Here:

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PeaceCast #26: First Intifada, 30 Years Later

After a hiatus of about a month (vacation, Jewish High Holidays, heavy workload), PeaceCast is returning with a special episode, marking the 30th anniversary of the first intifada, the Palestinian popular uprising that started on December 9th 1987.

This episode features conversation between three reporters who covered the first intifada: Mary Curtius, who then reported for the Christian Science Monitor and later for the Boston Globe, Joel Greenberg, who then worked for the Jerusalem post (and later covered Israel for the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and other US and British newspapers) and Ori Nir, who then covered Palestinian affairs for Israel’s Haaretz.

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APN Briefing Call (Thurs 11/2, 1pm EST) with Brian Hauss of the ACLU

Please join us for a call with Brian Hauss of the ACLU who will brief us on First Amendment issues concerning anti-BDS/pro-settlements legislation.

Brian is the lead attorney for the ACLU in its lawsuit challenging the Kansas law that requires all state contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel and/or settlements in the West Bank. The ACLU is representing Esther Koontz, a Kansas math teacher and trainer who was removed from a teacher training program administered by the Kansas Department of Education when she would not sign a contract certifying that she does not boycott Israel – or companies profiting from settlements in the Occupied Territories.

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