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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Hard Questions, Tough Answers (9.19.17) - Who wants to annex the West Bank?

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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 National Union's (a faction of the Jewish Home party) plan for annexing all of the West Bank and either expelling or disenfranchising its Arab residents; what other right-wing members of Netanyahu’s coalition say on the issues of annexation and the subsequent rights of West Bank Palestinians; what advocates of more minimalistic annexation say; whether anyone in Israel wants to annex everything and give all Arab residents of expanded Israel full democratic rights; and the bottom line.

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Compassionate Children of Compassionate Parents?

Rosh Hashanah + Yovel 2017

Each year at Rosh Hashana, we take stock of our actions from the past year. This year, we have additional reason to take stock as we head into the Days of Awe and the season of repentance: this is the 50 year of the occupation.

In Jewish tradition, the 50 year has special status. It is known as the yovel (Jubilee) year. In rabbinic writings the yovel is compared to Rosh Hashanah, with both set aside as time to reflect before beginning anew. The yovel consists of three major features: liberating slaves, setting free the land, and releasing all debts.

It is hard to conceive of a year in which yovel is more needed than the 50th anniversary of Israel’s rule over the West Bank and Gaza. Over this past half century, we have seen the occupation not only devastate Palestinians but also corrupt Israeli society. This past year alone, we have witnessed rising settler violence against Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, the Israeli military, and Peace Now and other activists, as well as land theft and vandalism.

The poison of occupation has metastasized to the highest levels of the Israeli political system. In order to bolster the occupation, Netanyahu’s government passed the Legalization Law, which retroactively legalizes Israeli civilian construction in the West Bank built on privately owned Palestinian land, in violation of both Israeli and international law. For the sake of stifling protest against the occupation, Netanyahu’s government passed the Entry Law, which bans entry to Israel by anyone who supports boycotts of either Israel or the settlements. This doesn’t just stifle debate; it is yet another step in the attempt to erase the boundary between Israel and the West Bank.

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Special Rosh Hashanah Q&A: Peace Prospects for the Coming Year

Q. Does the absence of a Palestinian state threaten Israel? How?

A. Yes, it threatens Israel, and in more ways than one.

Without an Arab-state political affiliation for the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel is universally seen as their occupier. Not a single state in the world recognizes the terms “Judea and Samaria” or Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem. The possibility of restoring a pre-1967 political link, say by affiliating the West Bank in some way with Jordan, has ceased to be realistic in Arab eyes for several decades. This is so despite the fact that some Israeli right-wingers cut off from regional realities and international standards of human rights argue that West Bank Palestinians could enjoy autonomy under Israel and vote in Jordanian elections.

Nor is the paternalistic proposal put forth by some on the Israeli right—to the effect that Palestinians in the West Bank can in perpetuity enjoy “human” rights but not citizenship rights on the land where they live-- viable in the eyes of Palestinians or anyone else in the world. Palestinian Arabs today identify as Palestinians in a political sense. If they cannot achieve sovereign statehood, the only fallback position they are likely to recognize is Israeli citizenship within the framework of a single state.

This brings us to the demographic issue. Most demographers today argue that there are already more Arabs than Jews in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Some on the Israeli right argue that the totality of Arabs is “only” 40 percent of the total population, meaning Jews constitute 55 percent (another five percent of Israelis are neither Jewish nor Arab). In some cases this figure is achieved by ignoring the two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, a highly problematic geopolitical determination. In other cases it is achieved by radically underestimating the number of Palestinians in the West Bank and ignoring the 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

One way or another, even an Israeli state with a 40 percent (and growing!) Arab minority cannot claim to be intrinsically Jewish. As for a non-democratic state that favors its Jewish over its Arab inhabitants, this is anathema to the vast majority of Jews, to say nothing of the international community. It places Israel in the global family of racist, fascist countries whose prospects for enlightened progress are zero.

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The State of Two States - Briefing call with Dan Shapiro, former US Ambassador to Israel

On September 14th 2017, APN hosted Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, America’s former ambassador to Israel, for a briefing call on prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

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Smotrich vs the Generals

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Violence by settlers in the occupied territories has accelerated during 2017, marked by deeply troubling recent incidents. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) documents that following a three-year decline, violence by Israeli settlers increased 88 percent in the first half of 2017 when compared with the level in 2016. During that six-month period, OCHA recorded 89 incidents which resulted in 33 Palestinian casualties (including 3 fatalities) and damage to Palestinian property. Significantly, these figures do not include incidents in which Palestinians were threatened or intimidated but did not suffer physical harm or property damage. The rising trend of settler violence appears to have continued unabated over the past couple of months.

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AJC Poll Affirms: APN's Positions Reflect the Opinion of Most American Jews

Americans for Peace Now has always contended – and public opinion polls have always validated – that our policy positions on Israel much better reflect the sentiments and convictions of American Jews than the hardline positions of our American Jewish right-wing adversaries.

A current case in point is today’s American Jewish Committee poll, carried out late last month among a national sample of Jews over 18.

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APN Calls on Congress to Prevent Trump Administration from Sabotaging Iran Nuclear Deal

APN has signed on to a letter, along with 15 other organizations, calling on Congress to stand in the way of efforts by the Trump Administration to terminate or sabotage US participation in the Iran nuclear deal.

Read the letter here and below:

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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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