Crazy for Palestine

In my latest piece for Babylon Times, hosted by Souciant, I examine the hysteria in Jerusalem and Washington over next week’s vote, the precise nature of which we still don’t know, on the status of Palestine at the UN.

“J Street and the Arab Spring”: A New Post in a New Site

A new international news and views site has opened, Souciant, and it is currently featuring my latest piece, “Peace Means Everybody: J Street and the Arab Spring.” Check it out.

Hillel Bars Jewish Group While the Knesset Targets J Street

In his 1988 book, Israel’s Fateful Hour, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshafat Harkabi, regarded up until the day of his death in 1994 as perhaps Israel’s premier expert on the Arab world and Islam, wrote the following:

“Given that Israel’s predicament also affects Jews in the Diaspora, they too should take an active part in the debate. Israelis must allow them to do so and listen to what

The Late General Yehoshafat Harkabi

they have to say…they must not be banished from the discussion, and to this end they must do their homework. They must also dare to speak their minds candidly, without being afraid to disagree with Israel. The reticence of the American Jewish leadership is not to their credit. Instead of publicly expressing their concern, they act as apologists for policies and conduct of which many of them privately disapprove, abdicating their responsibilities as leaders in America and as influential advisers in Israel.”

Harkabi is surely spinning in his grave today.

In two separate but parallel incidents, the assault on dissent from Israeli policies, and especially on Jewish dissent, continued and grew in intensity. The first, an all too typical example of the craven way in which the American Jewish community narrowly confines debate for its own people, was at Brandeis University, where the local Hillel chapter refused to admit the campus chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.

The second was more stunning, and more of a departure from business as usual. This was the announcement that the leading crusaders against democracy in the Knesset – Othniel Schneller (Kadima) and Danny Danon (Likud) – are taking aim outside of Israel’s borders and targeting J Street.

On the Brandeis matter, I will be brief and refer you to the excellent reporting of the matter done by Jeremiah Haber at The Magnes Zionist. Jerry’s excellent take on the matter can be found here, his report on Brandeis’ J Street U chapter criticizing JVP’s exclusion despite the political differences between the groups is here, and Jerry’s spotlight on the Brandeis JVP chapter can be found here. Also, check out Meretz USA’s statement at their blog.  Continue reading

More on the J Street BDS Panel

In my recent post on the J Street Conference panel on Boycotts/Divestment/Sanctions, I focused mainly on Rebecca Vilkomerson, whose support for BDS in a moderately left/liberal Jewish space was greeted with civility even by most of those who disagreed with her; and on Kenneth Bob of Ameinu who, though certainly a staunch advocate for peace, made sweeping and unfair generalizations about the BDS movement.

A wish to conserve space led me to say very little about the other two participants, and I’ll address half of that deficiency now.

Bernard Avishai’s stance on BDS largely mirrors my own, in that he supports economic action specifically targeting the settlements, but not Israel. On the other hand, his

Bernard Avishai

“offense” (his word) at those advocating something different is precisely what, on both sides, leads to the anger and useless fighting that student Simone Zimmerman of UC Berkeley (also a panelist at J Street) found so distressing about bringing up the BDS issue.

I offer here Avishai’s thinking on why he believes it is so important to resist all-out BDS against Israel, a point on which I agree with him. I include his full blog piece because it also reflects some of the condescension and hostility (which, to his credit, Avishai is trying very hard to tone down) that is present on both sides. Indeed, Avishai reacts to it and points it out himself as something he sees in “the other side.” I’m seeing it in both, and on both sides it needs to be done away with. As with so much else when dealing with this subject, we should all be taking every measure we can to keep things civilized and reasonable because we’ve seen for decades the result of letting emotions hold sway.

And without further ado, here is Avishai’s piece:

Last week, at the J Street Conference, I appeared on a panel considering BDS. I made the case I had made last spring in The Nation, that lumping the three together–boycott, divestment, and sanctions–was rash. Moreover, targeting West Bank settlements is not the same as targeting Israel more generally.

For my part, I said, I support a boycott of Ariel’s college and of products made in West Bank settlements. When James Baker, back in 1991, told the Israeli government that every dollar spent on settlements would be deducted from US loan guarantees, I supported that. So I could be said to have supported certain sanctions, and would again. At the same time I strongly oppose boycotting Israeli universities or companies or divesting from global companies that do business in Israel, even if some of their products might be used by occupation forces. Continue reading

See? We Can Talk About BDS

I asked myself, should I blog first about the J Street conference as a whole, or about the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) panel in particular, since I plan to write both.

I decided to start with the BDS panel, because it really was a remarkable event. J Street got an enormous amount of flak for agreeing to host a discussion about BDS in a liberal Jewish venue. Many on the right used it to “prove” that J Street was really anti-Israel, though that argument seemed to have convinced no one outside of their own

Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director, Rebecca Vilkomerson

amen chorus.

While the panel of four featured only one explicitly pro-BDS person, another opposed the global BDS movement but supported certain kinds of economic action against the occupation and a third expressed sympathy to some of the motivations behind BDS, objecting more to the atmosphere the debate creates and the bellicosity of some of its proponents.

Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace acquitted herself very well in being the lone voice supporting BDS on the panel. It was a tough task, but, having known Rebecca for many years, I had no doubt that she was up to it, and she didn’t disappoint.

Still, her task was not as hard as it might have been, and perhaps as it might have seemed to her and to her organization coming in. Nothing, of course, was settled in that room, and I imagine few people left with a different opinion than they came in with, albeit perhaps with a lot more to think about with regard to BDS.

But the panel was still a triumph simply because it was at a major national Jewish pro-Israel event and the conversation was civilized, respectful, and for the most part very informative. People listened. Sure, there were occasional murmurs, but everyone was allowed to speak, and the questions that were asked by both sides were genuine and respectful. That in itself is a triumph on this subject.

The panel, in fact was almost completed without disruption. In literally the last minute of the the talk, one unruly audience member began to shout at Vilkomerson (not, in fact, about BDS, but about JVP’s agnosticism on a one- or two-state solution). But that one scar on the perfection of the audience’s behavior, despite strong feelings only highlighted the success of the conversation in that room. Continue reading

On the First Day Of J Street…

J Street’s second national conference kicked off tonight with a very large crowd of over 2,000. Of significant note was the presence of almost 500 students from the relatively new J Street U.

I came in concerned about the atmosphere at this conference. In 2009, at the first J Street national conference, there was a good deal of hope. Israel was facing great international pressure due to the onslaught on Gaza earlier in the year; President Obama had made it clear that he opposed Israeli settlements in a more substantive way than his predecessors; and that there was a real sense of urgency toward a two-state solution.

Now, the two-state solution seems to have been killed by Israel, Obama has shown that he will not get into fights about his Mideast policies and there is a general feeling of hopelessness about any diplomatic process. So what would this mean for J Street in 2011?

It seems like someone at J Street considered just that question. The decision to have Peter Beinart speak at their opening plenary was a no-brainer. But bringing Sarah Benninga and Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish was unexpected and turned out to be a very powerful way to begin the conference. Continue reading