Elana Kravitz is a student at Columbia University studying Political Science and Arabic, currently an Americans for Peace Now intern


Mohammed Bin Salman was elevated to the status of crown prince of Saudi Arabia just over a year ago, and what a year it’s been. He quickly became an international celebrity better known as MBS, the man of the hour in the Middle East, and even a welcome presence on the Rock’s Instagram. He captured the world’s attention with a prolonged charm offensive and “revolutionary” reforms in Saudi Arabia such as allowing women to drive and disempowering the infamous Saudi Arabian religious police.

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APN's Peter Weiss and Debra Shushan in The New York Jewish Week

The Israeli government is on a reckless mission to extend permanently its control over the West Bank by annexing by force all or parts of the occupied territory. Developments over the past year, facilitated by the permissive attitude of the Trump Administration, are particularly alarming.

While proposals for annexation of all or part of the West Bank had previously been confined to the extreme right-wing fringe of the Israeli political spectrum, members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party are now submitting such bills to the Knesset. In December 2017, Likud incorporated into its party platform a resolution that would effectively extend Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements. And at the direction of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home Party, the government is moving to apply Israeli laws in the West Bank – to Israeli settlers only.

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APN's Debra Shushan in Ha'aretz: "The Day Donald Trump Was Crowned King in Jerusalem"

Along with many other U.S. Jews, I wanted to feel pride at the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. But amid the carnage in Gaza, I felt nausea

Debra Shushan | May 16, 2018 | 

For Jews around the world, the opening of the U.S. embassy to Israel in Jerusalem should have been an occasion for jubilation and pride. And while for some it was, many of the rest of us watched the ceremony feeling a combination of nausea and cognitive dissonance.

There were at least three reasons to feel ill.

The first and most obvious is that the ceremony took place yesterday against the backdrop of carnage in Gaza.

While American and Israeli officials congratulated themselves in Jerusalem, denizens of the open-air prison which Israel continues to occupy (through its control of air, sea, and land routes out of Gaza and even of its population registry) were being shot to death by the dozens.

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Nearly two months after the Boston Marathon bombing, Mike Pompeo, then a congressman from Kansas, took to the floor of the House to denounce American Muslim leaders for what he called their “silence” in response to the heinous terrorist attack.

“Silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts,” Mr. Pompeo said, reading from prepared remarks.

In fact, more than half a dozen American Muslim organizations had issued statements condemning the bombing within hours of the attack. In the days following, Muslim groups organized news conferences, blood drives and prayer vigils. Mr. Pompeo was immediately informed that he was wrong, but did not apologize or respond to Muslim groups stung by his remarks.

Mr. Pompeo, now the C.I.A. director, has been chosen by President Trump to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. He faces what is expected to be a relatively smooth confirmation hearing in the Senate. But an array of voices are raising alarm over what they say is Mr. Pompeo’s record of anti-Muslim remarks and ties to anti-Islam groups. American Muslims, Jews, civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and former State Department officials are among those pushing senators on the Foreign Relations Committee to take a closer look.

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APN in Politico: Progressive Groups Pressure Senate To Reject Pompeo

PROGRESSIVE GROUPS URGE SENATE TO REJECT POMPEO -- Dozens of national progressive groups are calling on the Senate to reject CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination to be secretary of state. Roughly 70 groups signed onto a letter obtained by Huddle expressing opposition to Pompeo, warning that he “promotes principles and policies that are antithetical to American values.” “His repeated advocacy for war, Islamophobia, climate change denial, hostility to human rights, including reproductive and LGBT rights, and support for torture make him dangerous and unfit to be a chief architect of U.S. foreign policy,” they write.

Pompeo’s confirmation faces an uncertain path in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority. Fourteen Senate Democrats voted for him to be CIA director. But with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) publicly opposed and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recovering from cancer treatment, Democrats could sink Pompeo’s confirmation bid with united opposition. Republicans, however, could find support from vulnerable red-state Democrats running for reelection this year. But progressive groups are arguing that a Secretary of State Pompeo would be the leader of Trump’s “War Cabinet.” “Pompeo is unfit to serve as Secretary of State,” the groups conclude. “We urge you to oppose and reject his nomination.”

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The White House says it wants to help Gaza. So it punitively cuts aid to desperate Gazans, adopts one-sided policies in Israel's favor – then blames the Palestinians for 'politicizing' humanitarian assistance.

Two conferences held last week underlined the Trump Administration’s combination of bad faith and ineptitude in addressing Gaza’s severe humanitarian crisis.

The first one, convened by the White House, was dubbed a "brainstorming session" on Gaza by Trump’s special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt. At the outset, Greenblatt enjoined participants to "leave all politics at the door" in order to help Gaza.

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Trump has consistently privileged the Israeli narrative and claims over those of the Palestinians. In his Jerusalem decision he also helped the destructive, unnecessary transformation of the conflict from a political to a religious struggle.

Mae Elise Cannon, Yahya Hendi, and Debra Shushan

President Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and commence moving the US embassy was harmful enough.

And still, he has managed – repeatedly – to make it worse. In the latest development, the State Department announced last week that a provisional U.S. embassy in Jerusalem will open on May 14, timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s establishment.

The Trump Administration’s original decision was fatally flawed.

In the absence of a final settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Palestinian claims to Jerusalem are addressed, the decision was blatantly one-sided. American credibility as an honest broker plummeted, Trump’s avowed goal of reaching the "ultimate deal" was set back, and the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and His Holiness Pope Francis condemned the new policy.

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Letty Cottin Pogrebin is still inspired!

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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.

 

The Berkshire Edge - EDITORIAL: Neal surprisingly unschooled on free-speech issues

It has been said before that — and forgive us for channeling F. Scott Fitzgerald — politicians are different from you and me. Nowhere is the simple maxim of the Lost Generation’s preeminent writer more evident than in U.S. Rep. Richard Neal’s performance during Friday’s town-hall-style forum at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield. Click here to see the full forum on video.

The congressman is a smooth-talking operator fluent in a variety of issues, most notably tax policy — an expertise borne no doubt from his 24 years on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. But despite his extensive knowledge of tariffs and revenue raising, Neal showed a troubling unfamiliarity with free speech issues in fielding questions from audience members about his sponsorship of a bill that raises obvious First Amendment questions.

Neal co-sponsored a highly controversial bill, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which opposes a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution urging countries to pressure companies to divest from Israel. The controversy lies mostly in the second part of the bill, which prohibits Americans engaged in interstate or foreign commerce from supporting an international boycott of Israel. Violations are punishable by a fine of up to a $1 million and 20 years in prison.

On its face, the prohibition against participating in boycotts sounds like a glaring departure from the American tradition of free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union has attacked the bill as “antithetical to free speech protections enshrined in the First Amendment” and urged the Senate to reject it.

On the other hand, some reputable legal scholars have argued that “federal law has for decades generally banned participation in boycotts of friendly nations” and that such bans only place prohibitions on commercial activity, not on actual speech.

Be that as it may, Cheryl Hogan of Charlemont pleaded with Neal to reconsider his support of the legislation, noting to much applause that she sees “that law not only as really stepping on our constitutional rights to free speech, but also attacking the one powerful nonviolent resistance movement that there is to try to change what we see happening in the Middle East.”

Neal’s response was revealing. He said he would ask Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) for “clarification” in order “to eliminate the idea that there might be a problem with free speech.” Neal added that he had read the Congressional Research Service’s report on the legislation and “and I came to the conclusion that there is no threat to free speech” because “this is about commercial activity.”

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