Across the Spectrum: Responses to Im Tirtzu’s Inflammatory Video

Recently, the right wing Israeli group Im Tirtzu created a highly inflammatory video singling out leaders of four leading Israeli human rights groups as “plants” by foreign powers seeking to undermine the State of Israel and supporting terror attacks. The video has been widely condemned as incitement to violence against these individuals and their organizations. The Foundation for Middle East Peace quickly moved to support our Israeli colleagues, as did many other organizations.

Still from Im Tirtzu’s video showing mock “files” on Israeli human rights leaders

Still from Im Tirtzu’s video showing mock “files” on Israeli human rights leaders

The groups – B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Hamoked, and the Public Committee Against Torture In Israel – are among the many peace and human rights NGOs that are increasingly targeted by hateful rhetoric and even by anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset, much of which has been spurred by Im Tirtzu and their allies in the Likud and Jewish Home parties, the two largest parties in Israel’s governing coalition.

Defenses of these human rights workers and condemnations of Im Tirtzu have come not only from the Israeli left and its supporters, but also from key officials in the Israeli government, military and intelligence communities. Read more at “Facts on the Ground,” FMEP’s blog

Mideast Peace Talks Get New Lease on Life

Six months of United States diplomatic efforts have finally restarted talks between Israelis and Palestinians, yet pessimism about their potential for success persists.

On Monday, negotiators from both sides met in Washington for the first time since talks broke off three years ago, amid Israel’s refusal to concede to the Palestinian demand that construction in Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, be suspended during the talks.

The latest round of resuscitated talks was finalised when Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners who have been in Israeli prisons for decades. The first group of those prisoners is expected to be released next week, while further releases will occur periodically, depending on the progress of negotiations.

”The talks will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months,” a State Department statement said.

The negotiations are expected to last some nine months, at the end of which the U.S. hopes to have an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on all “final status” issues, including borders, settlements, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and other contentious points.

To manage the process, the United States has appointed its former ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, as lead negotiator. While early indications are that Indyk is an acceptable choice to both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his appointment has also been controversial on all sides.

Hardline supporters of Israeli policy consider Indyk too soft on the Palestinians. When word first leaked of Indyk’s pending appointment a week ago, Israeli Deputy Minister of Defence Danny Danon, a leading opponent of peace with the Palestinians, wrote a letter to Netanyahu opposing Indyk and asking the Prime Minister to “…ask the American administration for an honest broker for these negotiations.”

He bases his opposition to Indyk’s support of the New Israel Fund, a moderate, liberal international Jewish group which has been the focus of a smear campaign, including unsubstantiated accusations of funding “anti-Zionist” programmes in Israel.

Pro-Palestinian forces have also questioned Indyk’s appointment, claiming that his background with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and his years as the first head of the AIPAC-backed Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), show a strong pro-Israel bias.

Finally, many other observers question the wisdom of appointing a figure who was so central to the failed negotiations of the past, particularly in the 1990s, including the disastrous Camp David II summit of 2000, which preceded the start of the second intifada.

With the framework for the talks shrouded in secrecy by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the appointment of Indyk is one of the few indicators for the direction the talks are being steered in, and therefore the main focal point of analysis. Groups which strongly support the continuation of the Oslo process and a strong and immediate push for a two-state solution have come out strongly in support of Indyk.

Debra DeLee, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, said, “Ambassador Indyk is an experienced diplomat and a brilliant analyst. He has the skills, the depth of knowledge, and the force of personality to serve Secretary Kerry as an excellent envoy.”

“He knows the issues, he knows the leaders and the negotiators, and he has a proven record of commitment to peace and to a progressive Israel that lives up to its founding fathers’ vision of a state that is both Jewish and a democracy.”

DeLee’s view was echoed by Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group, J Street.

“The negotiations ahead promise to be tough and will require active, determined and creative US leadership and diplomacy if they are to succeed. Ambassador Indyk can bring all these attributes to the task. Secretary of State John Kerry could not have chosen a more qualified envoy.”

But Stephen Walt, professor of International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is dubious about Indyk’s role.

“There are obvious reasons to be concerned by Indyk’s appointment,” Walt told IPS. “He is passionately devoted to Israel, and began his career in the United States working for AIPAC, the most prominent organisation in the Israel lobby.

“He was among the team of U.S. diplomats who bungled the Oslo peace process during the Clinton administration (1993-2001). He was also a vocal supporter of the invasion of Iraq, which casts serious doubt on his strategic judgment or knowledge of the region. There is no reason for the Palestinians to see him as a true ‘honest broker’.”

Yet while Indyk’s past association with the U.S. pro-Israel lobby has raised eyebrows, few doubt that he is currently much less connected to it than his predecessor as the leading interlocutor with Israel and the Palestinians, Dennis Ross. Ross, who played a central role in U.S. Middle East diplomacy in the administrations of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, is currently a counselor at WINEP.

Walt acknowledges the possibility that Indyk’s position might be different now than it was when he last engaged directly in Israel-Palestine peacemaking.

“Indyk’s views seem to have evolved over time,” Walt said. “He may understand that this is his last chance to make a genuine contribution to Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is also the last chance for a genuine two-state solution, which remains the best of the various alternatives.

“Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians should all hope that he surprises us, and that the elder Indyk behaves in ways that the younger Indyk would have strenuously opposed.”

Lieberman the Fascist, In His Own Words

As I sat to write these words, a pro-democracy demonstration in Tel Aviv was winding down. Reports I received from colleagues at the march estimated the number at 20,000 in attendance, and YNET reports 15,000. This is most welcome news, and one hopes it is an indication that Israelis have woken up and recognize the threat that has grown in their midst. Another, more important, albeit much slimmer hope, is that they will also collectively realize that the side toward fascism is the inevitable result of a society that is both embroiled in constant conflict and is holding millions of others under siege or under military occupation.

Avigdor Lieberman

Israelis have been forced to the streets out of self-interest, the decay of Israel’s democratic structures, however imperfect they may always have been. Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf sent out a tweet from the march saying that the “loudest booing to Ehud Barak, labor, for taking part in Netanyahu’s government.” But if we put a face to the assault on Israeli democracy, we inevitably see Avigdor Lieberman.

Is Lieberman, who makes the claim, with some justification at least for the moment, that he now represents the mainstream of Israeli society, really the boogeyman many of us make him out to be? Well, we have a chance to see it in his own words.

On Friday, Yediot Ahoronot, the major Israeli daily paper, ran an extensive interview with Lieberman. As far as I know, it appeared only in the print edition and only in Hebrew. For various reasons, I cannot reprint the entire interview here, but a few pieces of it will serve to allow Lieberman to demonstrate just who he really is. So, with my comments interspersed below, here is Avigdor Lieberman…

“This is an interesting phenomenon that I’ve noticed: when the left wing wants to delegitimize someone in the right wing, they always find someone from the national camp to help them. Likud people like Dan Meridor and Benny Begin gave the left wing the seal of approval to attack me. This reminds me of global anti-Semitism, the anti-Semites also always find some Israeli to help them attack Jews. “ Continue reading

Principled Opposition

This article was printed in Zeek Magazine.

I am not a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. For a number of years, I had direct contact with many of the international peace and solidarity groups that make it up. There’s a lot of diversity in those organizations, and amongst the people who participate in them. But for someone like me, who believes in a two-state solution, with one of those states being a democratic Jewish homeland, and who finds a great deal of fault for the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict in all parties, there is more to it than I can live with.

Berkeley students pack an auditorium to debate divestment resolution

However, as I pointed out in an earlier articlein Zeek, pro-peace supporters of Israel do ourselves a disservice when we give in to the radical rhetoric that considers it anti-Israel for anyone to use citizen-based economic action to protest or try to end the occupation.

We’ve seen a striking example of it this week at UC Berkeley. A proposed bill in the student union called for the university to divest its holdings in two American corporations that the students said were profiting from Israel’s occupation. The bill passed by a 16-4 vote.

And then things got interesting.

A wide array of pro-Israel groups (mostly those who obstruct any pressure on Israel to end its occupation, but including, unfortunately, a couple of pro-peace groups as well) came out in opposition and mobilized on campus. The ASUC president, whom I’m told was initially quite supportive of the bill, vetoed the measure.

To override the veto, the 20-member Senate needed 14 votes. In the end, the vote was 13 for overriding, 6 against and one abstention. The motion was then tabled and will be reconsidered next week. But the week leading up to the vote, and especially the night it happened, featured a vigorous and passionate debate on the issue on the UC campus.

What Kind of Divestment?

The attack on the UC senate’s decision offered little of substance. It said the bill was “based on misleading and contested allegations that unfairly targets the State of Israel while also marginalizing Jewish students on campus who support Israel.” But it never addressed the substance. Continue reading

Israeli Democracy: Under Attack on Both Sides of the Green Line

It’s time to ask the question: what is happening to Israel?

While the so-called “mainstream” Jewish-American groups work overtime to deny the frightening direction Israel is taking and screaming to the heavens about the “de-legitimizers,” the Jewish state is losing its democratic identity in large steps.

Almost every day, we find more and new examples of this disease that is rotting Israeli democracy. The Anat Kam case, Im Tirzu’s fanaticism, and the aggressive attempts to squash protests in Sheikh Jarrah are examples inside of Israeli jurisdiction. The siege on Gaza, the IDF measures to prevent Israelis and internationals from participating in protests in West Bank towns against the Separation Barrier, and now new directives which will permit mass expulsions from the

Anat Kam, Israeli, IDF vet, Zionist, and patriot. But being a journalist got her into big trouble.

West Bank are examples in the Occupied Territories.

On April 9, in Sheikh Jarrah, the writer David Grossman put it better than I ever could:

“I think that we are all beginning to grasp — even those who maybe don’t really want to — how 43 years ago, by turning a blind eye, by actively or passively cooperating, we actually cultivated a kind of carnivorous plant that is slowly devouring us, consuming every good part within us, making the country we live in a place that is not good to live in. Not good not only if you are an Arab citizen of Israel, and certainly if you are a Palestinian resident of the Territories — not good also for every Jewish Israeli person who wants to live here, who cherishes some hope to be in a place where humans are respected as humans, where your rights are treated as a given, where humanity, morality, and civil rights are not dirty words, not something from the bleeding-heart Left. No. These are the bread and water, the butter and milk of our lives, the stuff from which we will make our lives, and really make them lives worth living here.” Continue reading