israeli-separation-barrier-Newsweek-AnatBenNun320x265With the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, speculation is running high in regard to Washington’s policy on Israeli settlement construction and the future of the Middle East peace process.

While many unpredictable variables are in place, one thing is certain—the viability of the two-state solution is at stake. After 50 years of occupation and as the point of no return grows closer, Trump’s administration is set to carry an even heavier responsibility on its shoulders than previous U.S. administrations.

When it comes to Trump’s settlement policy, I argue that instinctual assumptions of reckless Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank during his presidency may be misleading. Unfortunately, the likely alternative also contains substantial risks for the two-state solution.

Celebrating Trump’s election, the Israeli right-wing was single-minded. It was not worried about democratic values, nor was it concerned with pluralism or for the American Jewish community. Rather, it expected that starting from January 20, all restraints on settlement construction would be removed. Without restraints from either Trump or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, continued settlement developments will create irreversible damage to the two-state solution.

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Illiberal Support for Israel: Antithetical to Jewish Values & Israel’s Interests

In the beginning, “pro-Israel” meant something clear and uncomplicated: supporting Israel’s miraculous establishment as the homeland of the Jewish people, on the heels of the horrors of the Holocaust, and defending Israel’s very right to exist and thrive, in the face of violent rejection of that young country by its neighbors.

After the 1967 War, the definition of “pro-Israel” began evolving. It gradually came to mean – for much of the American Jewish establishment – defending Israel from all criticism and pressure, even if this meant in effect supporting policies designed to cement Israeli control over the lands Israel conquered in 1967, and even if it meant turning a blind eye, especially in recent years, to an escalation in illiberal policies targeting Israeli civil society itself. And it came to mean demanding that American political leaders and elected officials adopt this same approach to “pro-Israel,” or risk finding themselves labeled “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic.”

A direct line exists between this “pro-Israel” illiberal orthodoxy and the positioning of too many in the Jewish establishment today.

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naomitamuraf250x372Naomi Tamura is done with empty promises and ready for tangible change

Three years ago, I attended an annual peace rally in Tel Aviv to honor the life and legacy of Yitzhak Rabin, the fifth Prime Minister of Israel and a tireless champion of peace who was assassinated by the anti-peace extremist, Yigal Amir, in 1995. Along with friends from my youth movement, Habonim Dror, I stood in pure awe among a sea of 35,000 fellow peace activists. We wore our blue movement shirts, held posters demanding peace and sang Shir LaShalom - the song Rabin had sung just moments before his assassination. It was the most sobering, yet electrifying experience I had ever been a part of.

This week, as I prepare to honor the 21st yahrzeit of Yitzhak Rabin, I want more than anything to return to that moment. Still clear in my memory, my heart simultaneously aches and blossoms when I recall the feeling of being surrounded by tens of thousands of people, young and old, united by our commitment to peace despite the ongoing violence and incitement. This experience has inspired me to honor Rabin’s legacy in real ways -- how to spread his vision for tolerance, freedom and peace, how to help build a shared future for both Israelis and Palestinians based on these lessons and how to inspire others to join me in doing so.

I am committed to working for peace for several reasons. Next year will mark the occupation’s 50th anniversary. This past week, Netanyahu promised to “continue to take care of settlements in Judea and Samaria,” expressing support for the Israeli settlers whose occupation over the West Bank undermines prospects for peace. The Israeli government has threatened to demolish the Palestinian village of Susya, and has until November 15th to make a final decision. If they decide to move forward with demolition, they will be paving space for more illegal Israeli settlements. And Israel, the beautiful country I called home for nine months after high school, is not living up to its ideals as a just and democratic state- the ideals that form the backbone of both my relationship to Israel and my Jewish identity.

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APN's Lara Friedman in The Times of Israel: Is the JFNA Legitimizing Settlements?

Last week, Jewish Federations of North American (JFNA), an organization representing federations across the United States, opened the door, as a matter of formal policy, to taking Americans to visit Israeli settlements. These are the areas located east of the 1949 Armistice line separating Israel and the occupied territories (aka “the Green Line”) in which Israel has been actively settling its citizens since 1967. This decision, upending longstanding JFNA policy, doesn’t come in a vacuum. Rather, it comes in the context of a campaign to legitimize settlements in the eyes of American law and in the minds of American Jews – contrary to consistent U.S. law and policy since 1967 rejecting the legitimacy of both settlements and the occupation, and contrary to the vital interests of Israel.

Make no mistake: Settlements are the bricks-and-mortar expression of an ideology that prioritizes land over peace, and values the expansion of Israel’s borders over Israel’s democracy, over its security, and over good relations with the world. Generations of Israeli generals and security experts have concluded that a peace agreement with the Palestinians is vital to Israel’s security, and that such an agreement will have to be based on the Green Line, with limited border modifications agreed to by both sides. Continued Israeli settlement expansion and obfuscation of the Green Line threaten the achievement of such an agreement and undermine Israel’s security.

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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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