March/April 2013 Inside This Issue
1 Samuel Lebens - On settlements, Obama has to pick his battles with more foresight 2 Aaron Cohen-Gold - The settlements have not created peace and they have not created security for Israel. 3 Hayden Cohen - "This is Apartheid": the reality is NOT that simple 4 Jessica Weiss - Israel hasn't fulfilled its founding charter 5 David Ranan - Pressure on Israel – A Zionist Act? “an historic opportunity for the international community to put the peace-process right at the top of the agenda”
Mr Obama Goes to Israel On March 20th President Obama arrives in Jerusalem for his first visit since he became the President of the United States of America. His visit, just weeks after the Israeli election, presents an historic opportunity for the international community to put the peace-process right at the top of the agenda. In the spirit of this, we have put together a special edition of our blog from supporters of Yachad discussing their thoughts on Barack Obama's visit and Israel-Palestine issues. Sign our letter to David Cameron asking him to tell President Obama the views of British Jews on Israel and our support for a negotiated peace. You can tweet using the hashtag #obamainisrael.
On settlements, Obama has to pick his battles with more foresight Dr Samuel Lebens
At the beginning of Barack Obama’s first term of office, he made the Middle East a key foreign policy priority. He was determined to play the long-sought after role of the even handed arbiter between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In order to redress the concern that America was somehow in Israel’s back-pocket, he was willing to come down hard, and publicly, on Israeli settlement expansion. Four years have gone by, and now, Obama is about to make his first presidential visit to the State of Israel. Things seem to have changed. No longer hoping to set any regional agendas, Obama says that he is coming, merely ‘to listen.’ For the Israeli peacecamp, this new presidential mood doesn’t bode well. In seeking to become an impartial arbiter, in his first four years, Obama chose all the wrong battles with Israel. It’s true that Israel was (and is) expanding the settlement of Gilo. But Gilo, in Southern Jerusalem, has two qualities that Obama should have thought about before coming down so hard on Netanyahu. First of all, Gilo (even as it extends) lies well within the parameters of the ‘mutually agreed land-swaps’ that are likely to occur as part of any tenable agreement. Secondly, Gilo isn’t considered a settlement by most of Israel’s population, including the Israeli peace camp. It is, in the Israeli consciousness, not a settlement, but a Jewish suburb of Jerusalem. The first point means that Obama’s staying quiet about Gilo wouldn’t have posed a danger for the prospects of a meaningful peace. The second point means that by raising his voice, Obama was going to alienate not just the Israeli right-wing, who were never going to like him anyway; but, he also stood to
alienate the Israeli peace camp, who Obama needs on his side. ‘What?’ I heard voices ask at the time, ‘Obama wants us to give back Gilo? Not even the Palestinians demand us to give back Gilo.’ Eventually, Obama quieted down over Gilo; the construction went ahead. And, in the eyes of the Arab world, he must have looked more cowardly than he had done before he raised the issue at all. The problems continued when Obama raised public concern with the settlement expansion of Ramat Shlomo. The Israeli announcement of this expansion seemed calculated to embarrass the Americans, as Joe Biden was in the country at the time. But, again, was this the right battle to choose? Ramat Shlomo is a Jewish suburb of Jerusalem that is highly likely to stay in Israeli hands. Its planned expansion doesn’t cut further into Palestinian territory but rather looks to fill in the gap between Ramat Shlomo and Israel proper. Ramat Shlomo is near the bottom of the list in terms of being a provocative settlement. Again, Obama raised his voice. Again, in the fullness of time, he was ignored. And again, he came off looking weak.
I heard Mahmoud Abbas interviewed on Israeli radio, a few years ago. He was asked why he was
refusing to negotiate with the Israelis until they froze all settlement building. It was pointed out to him that he and his predecessor had never made this a pre-requisite for negotiations before. In fact, every prime minister that they had ever negotiated with until now had continued to expand certain settlements. Why the change of heart? Abbas responded (I paraphrase): President Obama has made the settlement freeze a big political issue; I cannot be seen to be less demanding on this issue than the president of the USA.
So, not only did Obama set out to look like he At the moment, it seems to me that most settlers, from the moderate to the extreme, are not afraid. I should know, because I am a settler. could play tough with the Israelis before ending up looking like a lost sheep of whom Israel couldn’t care less; he also succeeded in hardening the negotiating stance of the Palestinians, who he was hoping to coax towards negotiation. It is no wonder that Obama is now coming to the country seemingly lost for ideas; looking to listen; no longer seeking to set the agenda. These words sound like a thorough condemnation of the policies of Barack Obama. But despite these reservations, and others, I am a huge fan of his. If all goes to plan, by the end of his second term, he will be the American President to have reformed two of the most embarrassing facets of life in the US@ their health provision and their gun controls. He is a politician who is deeply and self-consciously in tune with Jewish values of tzedaka, of social justice, and is captivated by the Jewish journey from slavery to freedom – a journey that he has the custom of retelling with his Jewish staffers every Pesach. Bill Clinton was called the first black president. In many ways, and
despite the conspiracy theories of Jewish Republicans and Christian Zionists, Obama may well be the first Jewish president. So what would I like to see from his trip to Israel? I don’t want this president to come to listen. I don’t want him to come to listen to our new government; a government who has handed all of the levers of power for planning and construction in the West Bank over to hardline expansionists; a government who will likely instigate many much needed internal reforms at the expense of progress in negotiations with the Palestinians; and, at the expense of Israel’s international standing. Obama is a true friend of Israel, and, unlike Netanyahu, he can see the writing on the wall: he can see the grey clouds on the horizon. A good friend shouldn’t be silent at times like these. So there are two things that I want to see. The first is this: Obama does need to come down hard on the Israelis, but he has to pick his battles with more foresight. Instead of picking on Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, why not pick Israel up on the dozens of illegal settlements that pepper the West Bank against even Israeli law? Obama should demand their demolition, and if not that, then their security and utilities provisions. Picking Israel up on breaking its own laws is not going to alienate any of Obama’s friends in Israel. They’ll all be on his side. And, it’s not a battle that he will lose; indeed, he can leverage some serious pressure against the Israeli government on such an issue; winning important credibility points with the Palestinians, without losing the support of the Israeli centre. Secondly, Obama needs to take a page out of Netanyahu’s book. Laudably, Obama is a politician who talks about hope. Netanyahu, on the other hand, is a politician who speaks about fear. He encourages people to vote for him out of fear. At the moment, it seems to me that most settlers, from the moderate to the extreme, are not afraid. I should know, because I am a settler. I
live here. People here don’t seem to believe that Israel will become a pariah state if the status-quo continues. They seem to see no need for urgency in pursuing the two-state solution. Perhaps they are motivated by a profound trust in God. But, they should be afraid.
The settlements have not created peace and they have not created security for Israel
If we negotiate now, and strengthen Fatah’s hand, we could reach a meaningful peace that saves many, if not most, of the settlement blocks. But, if we wait until Fatah has run out of political capital, we will one day have no one to negotiate with other than Hamas. When that time comes, there will be no hope for any of the settlers to stay in their homes. If the newly emboldened political class of the settlers could only be lead to realize that their homes are really at stake; if they could only learn to have some reasonable fear for the future; if only Obama could deliver a powerful, and friendly, message of fear, then he could really give the region and the whole world, reason to hope.
When President Obama embarks on his upcoming tour of the Middle East to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, he will land in a region that continues to undergo massive social and political change. The President will have to engage with many issues – from the evolving nature of the Arab Spring, to the continuation of the Civil War in Syria, to the Iranian Nuclear Programme. Yet, as a self-proclaimed friend of Israel, and as a President who began his first term by extending his hand of peace to the Muslim world, one issue alone should be of paramount importance: reviving the Israeli- Palestinian peace process; for this is Obama’s greatest challenge.
Dr Samuel Lebens is studying towards rabbinical ordination at Yeshivat Har Etzion. Born in England, Sam made aliya with his wife and son in 2009, and has since been blessed with a daughter.
Aaron Cohen Gold
Yet, this is a challenge for us all, particularly when it comes to addressing the policy of Israeli settlement building. I do not believe that settlements are the cause of the conflict. I see them as a symptom of it – but every symptom breeds its own problems, and this one makes the likelihood of peace for both people increasingly impossible. The question remains though, will Obama make this point to Netanyahu – (and whoever the remainder of the next Israeli government may be)? He has done so in the past. In December 2012, Obama’s state department declared Netanyahu’s authorisation to build new settlements in East Jerusalem as “provocative”, saying that it ran “counter to the cause of peace”. One might assume that, following such assertive language from a President who granted record high levels of defence programmes for Israeli security forces in the previous year, the Israeli government would rethink their position. Yet, in responding, Israel authorised an additional 3,500 settlement homes in areas that are internationally recognised as
being part of a future Palestinian state – way beyond the blurry boundaries of the ‘Green Line’. Obama has used the carrot of defence spending to no avail, and the stick of rhetorical condemnation has landed on deaf ears. Yet, when he visits Ramallah, Mahmoud Abbas will be equally unwavering. He may not have secured recognised statehood for his people at the UN, but when we combine the overwhelming international support for his attempts to do so, along with the galvanising effects of Settlement building and the last Gaza war, he remains a popular leader – and, therefore, one that Israel would be foolish to ignore. His position on negotiation is unchanged: halt settlement building and we will talk. It seems a reasonable enough position, yet Netanyahu has done exactly this in the past. At the start of his last term, he froze settlement construction for 8 months, and negotiations failed to materialise. Once again, Netanyahu will espouse his usual rhetoric: “Plan B is not Plan A repeated”. However, when Obama said in his famous Cairo address that “it is time for these settlements to stop”, he was making the point that the settlements themselves embody a failed plan. The settlements have not created peace and they have not created security for Israel. This failed plan has only managed to radicalise extreme religious groups, increase tensions with the Palestinians, stall the peace process further, isolate Israel internationally and, tragically, added legitimacy to the BDS campaign. The short-sightedness of Netanyahu’s logic is something that Obama would do well to understand, though quite how it can be overcome remains a problem that the world, not just Israel and the Palestinians, must try to solve. As a Zionist, it saddens me that Israel will not be the ‘bigger person’; it is the power in this conflict, and how it uses this power (for settlement construction or negotiation) will be pivotal for determining the outcome of the conflict. I recognise that the onus should thus, perhaps, be
on Israel. But I seek peace, not technicalities – and so I suggest a different approach. Obama has used the carrot of defence spending to no avail, and the stick of rhetorical condemnation has landed on deaf ears. It would be wrong to ignore the other causes and symptoms of this conflict that need to be addressed. Netanyahu, like all Israeli leaders, has justifiably said that the Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state before a real peace can emerge. The same short-sightedness that plagues Netanyahu clearly plagues the Palestinian Authority, for they refuse to do exactly that, whilst their partners in government – Hamas – continue to promote the destruction of the State of Israel. Netanyahu has pointed to his gesture as a failed example of why the status quo should remain – perhaps then, the best chance to end this impasse would be for Obama to push for a Palestinian gesture of equal worth, through at least indicating they would be willing to recognise the Jewish country in return for a negotiated settlement freeze and more meaningful dialogue. Yet, how negotiations emerge is not what is important, it is what comes of them that interests their people. And for the outcome to be worth anything, it is time for both leaders to put their people before their war, their future before their past, and take the opportunity for peace when it arrives. The leader of the free world is coming to town, and for either side to be taken seriously, both must show a willingness to engage with him and his vision if they really believe that peace is possible. For Obama, this really is his greatest challenge. Aaron Cohen-Gold is a regular writer for the Yachad blog.
"This is Apartheid": the reality is NOT that simple Hayden Cohen
Over the weekend, a far left leaning Facebook friend of mine posted a link about a 'Jews only' Street in Hebron with the subheading 'This is APARTHEID.' He has regularly posted similar articles, but not wanting to cause unnecessary conflict, I avoided engaging online. For whatever reason, this time I changed my mind. It frustrates me when these type of articles are shared, not because it's some sort of 'inconvenient truth,' but because it's incredible unhelpful; both to the Israelis and the Palestinians. It seeks to further increase the divide and suffering for both parties. I suggested that maybe he should be part of the solution and not the problem and actually advocate for a two state solution and be constructive, but this of course did not work. That was not the point. The point was to show his Facebook friends that not everyone agrees with him. That using the term 'Apartheid' is highly offensive not
because it 'sounds bad' but because it's factually incorrect. Arab Israelis can mostly go where they want in Israel, serve in the army and freely enter politics. Any allusion to ethnic cleansing by Israel is to undermine all Jewish suffering and to legitimise the state of Israel. Using the term 'Apartheid' is highly offensive not because it 'sounds bad' but because it's factually incorrect. Arab Israelis can mostly go where they want in Israel, serve in the army and freely enter politics. Some may argue that there was precisely no point in engaging with someone who has no intention of changing their mind in the near future. However we all must challenge behaviours in a constructive way especially regarding misinformation of the Middle East. If we see anything that is unhelpful due to its promotion of division either by saying how exclusively good or bad one particular side is, we must challenge it, for the reality is NOT that simple. Hayden Cohen is a performer, writer and educator from Leeds. He is involved in many parts of Jewish life and wants to change the mainstream Jewish dialogue to one of sensible engagement. http://www.haydencohen.co.uk @haydencohen
Israel hasn't fulfilled its founding charter Jessica Weiss
I have now made the switch from the bustling Arab city of Nazareth to the provincial but prominent Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek. Shocker!
My inability to eavesdrop on conversations has forced me into an Ulpan because, even though I endured about 9 years of Hebrew school every Sunday, my Hebrew is still rubbish. The kibbutz movement is an unique and important part of the genetic make-up of this small but complicated country. During the pioneer days of the 1930s and 40s, groups of Eastern European youth movements laid the foundations of Israel through the development of agriculture and industry. Mishmar HaEmek is no exception. Founded in 1922 by a group of Hashomer Hatzair youth movement members, this Kibbutz has served Israel in every way, from being a training ground for volunteers of the British Army during World War II, to acting as a key battlefield between the Jordanian forces of the Arab Liberation Army and Kibbutz and Palmach members. More recently, Mishmar HaEmek is is becoming a significant contributor to the Israeli economy with their globally renowned plastics company Tama. These accomplishments alone would make anyone incredibly proud and it was all started by a bunch of idealistic teenagers, like me and my fellow Ulpanists. All 30 of us are pretty much the same age as many of the founding kibbutz members. Would we have had the same amount of courage, moral fiber and motivation to create the legacy they did? It’s hard enough to get up in the morning for class. All 30 of us are pretty much the same age as the the kibbutz’s founding members. Would we have had the same amount of courage, moral fiber and motivation to create the legacy they did? It’s hard enough to get up in the morning for class.
During my A-levels one my teachers commented on my high standards for myself. He asked me if I really thought I could get three AAAs and have a social life, keeping up with my hobbies while having chill time. I said yes. I got an ABB. I learnt a very valuable lesson: it's all very good to set goals, but be realistic about them. In the same way, perhaps the founding members of Mishmar HaEmek and Israel weren’t so realistic and perhaps would be disappointed with the current state. Many fled a life of persecution and corruption where religious and civil freedom was restricted and open violence against them accepted. Their creation ranks 39th in a league table of most corrupt countries in the world with high levels of social inequality such as the latest reports of segregation on buses, the lack of confidence in the government from the Arab community (83% of Israeli-Arabs have little to no faith in their own government, as fact which isn’t going improve with the new government), with Jewish women are being arrested at their holy site because of their religious beliefs. The hypocritical treatment of African refugees last summer was just the icing on the large Social Wrong cake which would have disgusted the founding members all the more.
Go and look at the Declaration of Independence. At its core, the text talks of the social justice for all, regardless of gender, religion or ethnicity. In the same way that my failing to learn Hebrew appears to mean nine years of Hebrew school was a waste, I think that the founding fathers would have been upset to see that their Israel is a Jewish state at the expense and exclusion of its Arab, non-religious, gay and secular inhabits. Israel hasn't fulfilled its founding charter. But then again, Israel's forebears didn't know what trials their legacy would face, in the same way I didn’t realise what kind of torture A-levels were going to be. Or how hard learning Hebrew is in such an intense environment. I couldn't have known that. Neither could Israel’s forebears. Even though Israel isn't the social Utopia I was brought up to believe it is, it has the potential to become one. The social protests of 2011 and the fact the that Tizpi said she wanted a “divorce” in the form of a two state solution, are all one more step in the right direction. Like my teacher, perhaps Obama’s upcoming visit and with his public encouragement and private threatening will force Israel’s new government to start making realistic goals with some real potential to achieve them.
Israel's not living up to the ideals which inspired its creation. But with some painful reflection, guidance and compromises, it could be. Jessica Weiss is a former intern for Yachad.
Pressure on Israel – A Zionist Act? Dr David Ranan
When Obama announced his coming visit to Israel, many had hoped for some progress to be made on the peace agreement front. Such progress cannot be achieved without serious pressure on a government that wishes to hold on to and continue settling the West Bank. Some Israelis had put their hopes on Obama – who reportedly neither particularly likes nor trusts Netanyahu – to impose his will. He should, after all, have quite some leverage. “When I was in Hebron, I was sure no one knew what was going on there. If the mothers knew what their children are doing – so I thought – we’d leave Hebron immediately. But I discovered that wasn’t how it was, because a lot of people don’t think that way. A lot of people, when you tell it to their faces, they just don’t give a shit. … I think international pressure is good. I’m happy about any kind of international pressure. If we are not capable of making the change, then let them lay on the pressure, let Obama lay on the pressure, let all the countries lay on the pressure. Let soldiers who go through stuff talk about it, expose it to Israelis and to the world. Unfortunately it’s of more interest to the world than to Israelis.” These words of 22-year-old Roee, just out of the army, which appear as monologues together with voices of other young Israelis in A Land to Die For? *, seem not to have reached President
Obama. Unless the White House is running a successful disinformation campaign and if we are to believe what various analysts and journalists are telling us, President Obama is coming to Israel without serious intention to sort out the current standstill in the Middle East.
Unless the White House is running a successful disinformation campaign and if we are to believe what various analysts and journalists are telling us, President Obama is coming to Israel without serious intention to sort out the current standstill in the Middle East. Sentiments such as Roee’s and hopes in the Israeli left that Israel could be “saved” from itself through external pressure are not something new. Often, such voices are criticised by the right wing that sometimes even considers the call for external pressure to be tantamount to treason. Indeed, this has habitually also been the attitude of Diaspora Jews: It does not matter what you think and say at home – you should not criticise Israel or it’s government in public. Yet, if holding on to the Occupied Territories is in fact bad for Israel – a view that has recently been made quite clear in the Oscar nominated documentary, The Gatekeepers, and which is shared by many senior members and former members of the Israeli security establishment – then those Diaspora Jews who attempt to stifle any criticism of Israel may have instead of helping Israel actually harmed her. An amazingly effective AIPAC, a generally strong pro-Israel public opinion in the United States together with the decline in the power of Arab oil
means that those who have been hoping for Obama to put real pressure on Israel are likely to be disappointed. Will Europe deliver where the US is failing? It does not have the same leverage over Israel as Israel’s main financial, military and political supporter, the USA. Yet, public opinion in many European countries has in the last years turned anti-Israel. At some point European governments may decide to take notice of what their voters are saying. Europe may yet save Israel from the extreme right road it has been taking for too many years. Diaspora Jews should ask themselves whether they should continue to automatically toe the Israeli government line rather than listen to what others such as Roee and some of his friends are saying. Pressuring Israel back to sanity may be the most pro-Israel act Jews in the Diaspora could undertake. Dr David Ranan is the author of “A Land to Die For? Soldier Talk and Moral Considerations of Young Israelis” published by Theo Press, 2013. See his blog here.