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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by Daniel C. Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt and professor of Middle East policy studies at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Remember the two-state solution as a means to achieve Middle East peace? It has been a pillar of American foreign policy, certainly since President George W. Bush announced U.S. support in 2002. But in three quick strokes over the past few weeks, the Trump administration has demonstrated it really is not very serious about pursuing a two-state solution.

The first shoe dropped when a team of presidential emissaries, led by Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, visited the Middle East to talk to the Israelis and Palestinians. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert was asked whether the Trump administration supports a two-state solution. Her response was shocking:

“We are not going to state what the outcome has to be. It has to be workable to both sides. And I think, really, that’s the best view as to not really bias one side over the other, to make sure that they can work through it. It’s been many, many decades, as you well know, that the parties have not been able to come to any kind of good agreement and sustainable solution to this. So we leave it up to them to be able to work that through.”

Nauert was following the Trump script, as he stated months earlier: “I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.”

Nauert’s use of the word “bias” is highly misleading. She is hardly calling for a neutral, non-biased approach to the Middle East conflict. In fact, her words indicate that the Trump administration itself is extremely biased — in favor of hardliners in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition who want the United States and Israel to abandon the two state outcome. These radicals cheered Trump’s comments in February and probably celebrated Nauert’s recent non-answer answer.

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American interests will be worse off without two states. But it’s time to consider how we might make the best of that bad situation.
By Daniel Shapiro, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel

Last week, as President Trump’s Middle East team was preparing to arrive in Israel for another round of preliminary talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert offered a rather startling defense of the Administration’s refusal to endorse a two-state solution. She said that to do so would be a sign of “bias.”

She’s right, of course. It would indeed show bias toward the only outcome that can truly serve the interests of the United States—as recognized by three previous administrations—not to mention Israelis, Palestinians, and the Middle East as a whole.

But her remark reinforced a thought I’ve been chewing on since early 2013: maybe it’s time that the United States consider options other than a two-state solution.

Wait. Don’t get the wrong idea. Let me put my cards on the table.

I’ve been supporting the goal of Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security since 1988. It hit me early in the days of the first Intifada that there was no other solution, which made me something of an early adopter of that position among advocates for Israel.

I’ve spent 20 years in government service, in two administrations and on Capitol Hill, working toward this goal, advocating, advancing, and protecting efforts to achieve it.

Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts were the single most prominent aspect of my assignments in the Obama Administration at the National Security Council and as U.S. Ambassador to Israel. I can attest to the commitment that President Obama, Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry, and Special Envoys George Mitchell and Martin Indyk demonstrated to helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve the dream of two states. We were not successful, but I will always be proud to have joined them in this noble cause.

And to this moment, nothing has changed my mind, or my analysis, about which outcome to this seemingly endless conflict is best for the United States, for securing Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, for Palestinians’ legitimate goals of self-determination in a state of their own, and for opening up relations between Israel and the Arab world.

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Americans for Peace Now cancels its annual summer trip: ’The law is a stain on Israeli democracy’ 

Concerned that its delegates might be stopped at Ben Gurion International Airport and denied entry into the country due to recently enacted legislation, a prominent Jewish-American organization has cancelled its annual summer trip to Israel.

Americans for Peace Now is the first organization that regularly brings groups to Israel to respond in this way to the law, passed last month in the Knesset, that would bar from Israel any foreigners who have publicly expressed support for a boycott of the country, even if that boycott only includes the West Bank settlements.

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APN's Ori Nir in The Forward: Israel’s Settlement Blocs Block Prospects For Peace

"Everybody knows,” goes the argument. “Everybody knows that under any future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, West Bank settlement blocs will be annexed to Israel.” And because everyone knows that, the argument goes, Israel should be allowed, even encouraged, to continue unhindered with settlement construction in the “blocs.”

Proponents of construction in settlement blocs argue the following. There is an Israeli consensus around the future annexation of the blocs once a peace agreement is signed. Even the PLO gave a nod of approval for such a scenario. Both Israelis and Palestinians have accepted the principle of “land swaps” (Israel compensating the Palestinians for lands it will annex east of the Green Line with Israeli land West of the Green Line). The US has made it clear that it will not insist on an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines. Given all that, they say, why not build in areas that “everybody knows” Israel will end up keeping and annexing? How could that damage future negotiations?

This logic is becoming so rampant that a prominent Washington expert on the conflict recently said: “If settlements are the problem, then the blocs are the solution.”

Really? Is more settlement construction here the solution to the problem that settlement construction there creates?

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Interview with APN's Debra DeLee in J, the Jewish News of Northern California

Trump the peacemaker? Peace Now activist ponders the possibility

BY ROB GLOSTER | MARCH 28, 2017

A Jewish American group struggling to keep alive the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hopes to get a boost from an unlikely source — Donald Trump. In February, the president publicly disavowed it as the best solution to Mideast peace and also appointed a staunch opponent of the plan as the U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Debra DeLee, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, who still sees the two-state solution as the only viable way for Israel to survive as an independent and democratic nation, said Trump’s reputation as a non-ideological dealmaker could be a “terrible detriment or it could be a very small, possible ray of hope.”

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APN Board member Letty Cottin Pogrebin in Haaretz: Am I Too Dangerous to Enter Israel?

If supporting a non-violent boycott of the settlements makes me an enemy of the Israeli state, so be it. But Israel's border officers will have to hear my story before they turn me away for good.

Okay,  yes, I’ve written critical articles and signed Open Letters protesting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and decrying the settlement enterprise; and yes, I’ve been a member of Americans for Peace Now for more than 30 years and a supporter of B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, ACRI, and the New Israel Fund, among other “suspect” organizations. So it’s a safe bet that, under the new Israeli entry ban, I’m going to end up on the government’s blacklist.

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Peace Now Settlement Watch Report: Unraveling the Mechanism behind Illegal Outposts

Since the mid-1990s, the settlers established nearly 100 illegal outposts and built dozens of neighborhoods and illegal projects in many settlements. In 2015 alone 15% of the units constructed in the settlements was illegal.


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During the past year, Settlement Watch conducted extensive research on illegal construction in settlements and outposts. The data collected exposes a process parallel to the official planning process in the settlements – that of illegal construction. This parallel process is what allows for thousands of housing units to remain on the ground, and be connected to roads and infrastructure.

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As Americans come out in huge numbers to challenge the illiberal policies of President Donald J. Trump, they should be mindful of developments in and emanating from another increasingly illiberal democracy: Israel.

In power in Israel for nearly a decade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political partners have focused their energies on one goal above all others: expanding settlements and securing permanent Israeli control over territory occupied by Israel in 1967. In pursuing this “Greater Israel” agenda, Netanyahu has governed according to a political ethos that has much in common with that of Trump, starting with the belief that political might makes right; that laws, courts, and public institutions exist solely to serve those in power; that the media and activists are the enemy; that hasbara (Hebrew for “propaganda,” often akin to “alt-facts”) trumps facts; and that democratic norms like “rule of law” and “checks-and-balances” are for suckers.

Americans should pay attention to Israel not merely for the many lessons it offers about how illiberalism can take hold in a free society. They should pay attention because the same “Greater Israel” agenda that has eroded Israeli society is today poisoning America’s democracy.

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