+972 Magazine » Lisa Goldman http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sun, 01 May 2016 14:57:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 ‘Partly free’? The real state of Israeli press freedom is much worse http://972mag.com/partly-free-the-real-state-of-israeli-press-freedom-is-much-worse/118928/ http://972mag.com/partly-free-the-real-state-of-israeli-press-freedom-is-much-worse/118928/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 21:25:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118928 Freedom House has downgraded its ranking of Israel’s media from ‘free’ to ‘partly free,’ citing closer ties to the government and a spike in paid media content. But it has one flagrant omission: Israel’s poor treatment of Palestinian journalists.

By Lisa Goldman

Israeli troops detain a Palestinian journalist at a protest against the illegal settlement outpost of Adei Ad in the northern West Bank, December 10, 2014. The journalist was later released. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli troops detain a Palestinian journalist at a protest against the illegal settlement outpost of Adei Ad in the northern West Bank, December 10, 2014. The journalist was later released. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Freedom House, the U.S.-based watchdog NGO that reports on the state of civil liberties around the world, has downgraded its ranking of Israel’s media from “free” to “partly free” in its 2016 Freedom of the Press Report. The authors of the report cite the influence of the free daily newspaper Israel Hayom, which is owned and subsidized at a huge loss by American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is an unabashed patron of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel Hayom pursues an editorial agenda that is overtly partisan toward Netanyahu, which is why it is often referred to as the “Bibiton,” a portmanteau of the Hebrew word for “newspaper” and the Israeli leader’s nickname, Bibi. The report also cites the “unchecked expansion” of paid media content, which is not always clearly identified. It notes that this paid content is sometimes funded by the government.

This is not the first time Israel’s ranking has been downgraded. In its 2013 report Freedom House based a downgrade on several factors, most prominently on the indictment of Uri Blau, an investigative reporter for Haaretz, for possession of state secrets in the IDF whistleblower Anat Kamm case. Nor is this the first time Freedom House has noted the  influence of Israel Hayom on Israel’s press freedom: The free daily was cited in the 2013 report as well, for having “threatened the sustainability of other papers and contributed to the collapse and buyout of the daily Maariv.”

In 2014 Israel’s media was back up to “free” status, along with the perennial note that it has the freest media in the region, where not one country’s media is ranked “free.”

The free/partly free ranking is a matter of just a few points in their methodology, pointed out Freedom House’s Sarah Repucci, who heads up the publication of the annual Freedom of the Press Report. She added, “We use detailed methodology. Israel shifted only two points this year.”

There was some outrage in right-wing circles over the downgrade, with Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin quoting a couple of DC-based neo-cons to support her claim that the report was an example of anti-Israel bias.

Leaving aside the all-but inevitable expressions of outrage from the Israel advocacy crowd over any criticism of Israeli policy or society, a more detached observer might note that there is no mention in the Freedom House report of Palestinian journalists. On the one hand this makes sense, since Palestinian residents of the occupied territories are not citizens of Israel. But on the other hand, Palestinian journalists work in territory that is controlled by Israel. And they do not have any of the legal protections afforded to their Israeli colleagues working in the same territory.

In tangible terms, this means that Palestinian journalists going about their jobs reporting in the field are regularly subjected to verbal harassment, physical assault and arrest without charge at the hands of Israeli soldiers. In these cases, they can technically file a complaint — but there has never been a case of an Israeli soldier seriously censured for assaulting a Palestinian journalist.

Nor has there been any serious diplomatic blowback for Israel having arrested and detained without charge Palestinian journalists for months on end. Mohammed al-Qiq is a particularly egregious recent example. The 33-year-old Ramallah-based journalist recently ended a 94-day hunger strike to protest his having been arrested and detained indefinitely without charge under the laws of administrative detention. Also, the Palestinian Authority recently stated that there are currently 19 Palestinian journalists in Israeli custody.

A more quotidian incident of assault and/or harassment of Palestinian journalists at the hands of the Israeli military includes an October 2015 incident, recorded on video, that shows an officer in the Border Police casually walking over to a group of cameramen recording a West Bank demonstration and spraying them directly in the face with pepper spray. A medic who tried to treat the pepper spray victims was also assaulted and so overcome that he himself had to be hospitalized.

A member of Israel's Border Police assaults journalists and medics assembled near Al Bireh, West Bank (credit: Fadi Arouri)

A member of Israel’s Border Police assaults journalists and medics assembled near Al Bireh, West Bank (credit: Fadi Arouri)

Incidents of these type occur quite regularly. In September 2015, soldiers assaulted two AFP reporters, including one Palestinian, who were covering a demonstration in a West Bank village. There are many videos on YouTube that show Israeli soldiers harassing Palestinian journalists for various media outlets, including female journalists, as they do live standups. In these cases there is absolutely nothing the victimized journalist can do. Complaining to the soldiers will almost certainly result in physical violence or arrest, with the soldiers accusing the Palestinian of instigating the assault. And if these cases do go to court they are tried in Israeli military court, where Palestinians are convicted at a rate of over 99 percent.

Israeli soldiers also frequently raid and shut down Palestinian media outlets, including the 2012 shut down of a Palestinian-Israeli initiative called Voice of Peace. And there have been many more recent incidents. In November 2015,  security forces raided and shut down a Ramallah radio station called Al Hurria. And in March 2016 another Ramallah-based radio station, Palestine Today, was raided and shut down on orders of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service. Ramallah is, of course, in Area A — which is, according to the now all-but-fictional Oslo Accords, under the sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority.

Looking at these incidents in the aggregate, one could argue that Freedom House actually pulled its punches in its report about the Israeli media. Because while it is true that journalists who are citizens of Israel do have legal protections when they’re dealing with soldiers in the field, Palestinian journalists do not. They are without rights or legal recourse. And while they are not citizens, they are indisputably under Israeli control.

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The moral crisis exposed at AIPAC http://972mag.com/the-moral-crisis-exposed-at-aipac/118050/ http://972mag.com/the-moral-crisis-exposed-at-aipac/118050/#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2016 12:59:16 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118050 What happened at AIPAC was shameful and frightening. Liberal Jews are horrified and the ones who are not seem pretty smug in their lack of self awareness. Welcome to the schism.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the 2016 AIPAC Police Conference in Washington D.C., March 21, 2016. (Photo courtesy of AIPAC)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the 2016 AIPAC Police Conference in Washington D.C., March 21, 2016. (Photo courtesy of AIPAC)

On Monday night 18,000 Israel supporters, mostly Jews, sat in a Washington D.C. stadium and applauded for Donald Trump, a man whose candidacy for president of the United States is supported by neo-Nazis.

Let’s leave aside Trump’s misogyny, his vulgarity, his racism against non whites and his encouragement of violence. Let us leave aside, for a moment, the point that he is unabashedly a spectacularly ignorant man who has the attention span of an adolescent with an  addiction to junk food and first-person shooter video games. Let’s just focus on one salient, astonishing and monumentally shameful fact: a stadium full of Jews sat, (and sometimes stood) and applauded for a man who does not deny that he sleeps with a book of Hitler’s speeches next to his bed, and who refuses to disavow his neo-Nazi supporters.


The organized, actively pro-Israel American Jewish community has been teetering on the edge of a full blown crisis for many years. You can’t vote Democrat, recycle your waste, buy your kids gender-neutral toys, advocate for immigration, and look the other way as the Israeli army kills over 500 children in Gaza — and not be at serious risk for a moral crisis. But, let’s say these Progressives Except for Palestine (PEPs) are just misguided. Because they don’t speak Hebrew and never lived in Israel and are badly informed. For the sake of argument, I will cut them that slack.

But not for those who sat and let Donald Trump speak.

The excuse of ignorance or having been misguided does not work for the educated American Jews who sat and applauded for Donald Trump at the AIPAC conference. And when you suspend not only your liberal social values but also your basic self respect (Jews who sat and listened to a man who won’t disavow his neo-Nazi supporters! Jews who gave a standing ovation to a man whose followers give Nazi salutes and tell opponents “go to fucking Auschwitz!”) — all in the name of nationalism and Zionism, you have at the very least a moral disgrace. But I think what we really have here is a crisis. The “leaders” of the Jewish community have lost their way and they have led astray those who look to them for guidance.

The truth is that Donald Trump’s speech was not significantly different from those delivered by Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan or John Kasich. They all followed the AIPAC template: some of my best friends are Jewish; I cry at Holocaust memorials (never again!); I was so moved when I visited Israel; and let’s not forget that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel is America’s best friend; our two countries have an unshakeable bond, etc. etc.

The only thing different about Trump’s speech was his style — including his tendency to blurt out whatever spontaneous remarks he doesn’t really believe —  just because his sociopath’s sixth sense informs him that the audience will like them. Hence, he got a standing ovation for saying, “Obama is the worst thing that ever happened to Israel”; and another standing ovation when he wrapped up with a reminder that his daughter Ivanka would soon give birth to a “beautiful Jewish baby” (um, mazel tov?). And, truthfully, I thought Ted Cruz was more sinister than Donald Trump. Cruz is demonstrably more intelligent and undeniably better educated than Trump, and he seems to truly believe the extremist views he expresses. Cruz even pronounces his Hebrew words with a perfectly comprehensible accent; the man came well prepared.

But overall, all the candidates read from variations on the standard AIPAC speech. And that includes Hillary Clinton, who should be truly embarrassed at having debased herself with a shamelessly sycophantic keynote address. Even the promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (which will never happen) is one that we have, as Israeli political analyst Tal Schneider reminds us, heard from every U.S. president and presidential hopeful since the early 1970s — including Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and even Jimmy Carter.

This is what happens when the most powerful lobby in  Washington and the biggest political donors give orders to politicians. They pander. And, embarrassingly, a lot of people are quite happy to be pandered to. Maybe it makes them feel important.

According to received wisdom, the ascendance of Donald Trump is rooted in the rage and despair of the hollowed out middle class and the impoverished working class, as well as the racism that continues to bubble so close to the surface of American society. I believe this is true. Disappointed nationalism and poverty caused by the great depression were certainly major factors in the rise of Hitler during the Weimar era. Which led to the Holocaust. Which wiped out two thirds of the Jews of Europe. And became the single most important issue influencing Jewish identity since 1945.

And yet, 18,000 Jews heeded the conference organizers’ admonitions and sat politely and/or applauded for Donald Trump, the man who reads Hitler’s speeches for inspiration. They did not protest that the only Jewish candidate, who also happens to be the only candidate to have expressed criticism of the Netanyahu government’s policies, was denied the opportunity to speak via video hookup. But they were polite to a Nazi sympathizer. And the only thing that upset the Democrats at AIPAC was the insult to Obama. Not even the fact that Trump’s neo-Nazi followers have been sending death threats laced with anti-Semitic language to his Jewish critics.

So Lillian Pinkus, the president of AIPAC, wept as she read out a statement about how sorry the organizers were over the fact that audience members applauded Trump’s insulting remarks about Obama. But Pinkus did not even have the courage to say Trump’s name. She did not say “We reject the statements made by Donald Trump.”  Instead she made the relatively anodyne statement: “We are deeply disappointed that so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with or condone.” If you didn’t know who had made the statements that upset Pinkus, you would have no way of learning that information from her statement.

What happened on Monday at AIPAC was shameful and frightening and I don’t really see how the organized Jewish community in the United States can recover from this. Liberal Jews are horrified and the ones who are not horrified seem pretty smug in their horrific lack of self awareness. Welcome to the schism.

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Classified: Politicizing the Nakba in Israel’s state archives http://972mag.com/classified-politicizing-the-nakba-in-israels-state-archives/117216/ http://972mag.com/classified-politicizing-the-nakba-in-israels-state-archives/117216/#comments Fri, 19 Feb 2016 17:54:13 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=117216 Documents that have already been cited in history books are being re-classified in the State Archives.

Israeli state archive documents that were de-classified in the 1980s have been re-classified in recent years, according to a recently hired assistant professor at the University of Maryland’s Center for Jewish Studies.

Shay Hazkani, who was Israel Channel 10′s military correspondent from 2004-8 and will soon complete his doctorate at New York University, discusses the background and politics of the state’s decision to re-classify various documents in an interview for the Ottoman History Podcast.

In the interview, which was recorded in July 2014 (I came across it recently by chance), Hazkani estimates that about one-third of documents that were de-classified in the 1980s have been re-classified starting from the late 1990s, when the archives were digitized.


These reclassified documents were used extensively by prominent “new historians” like Benny Morris (“Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem”), Avi Shlaim (“The Iron Wall”), Hillel Cohen (“Good Arabs” and “1929″) and Ilan Pappe (“Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”) and cited in their books.


But even though these books certainly exist in the public domain, and they do cite original documents in the Israeli state archives that note orders given to the nascent Israeli army to expel Palestinians during the 1948 war, the government of Israel continues to promote its official narrative — that the Palestinians left of their own accord. Hence the government and, more specifically, the security establishment attempts to control the discourse by re-classifying these documents.

The 25-minute interview is embedded below and well worth your time. Among other things, Hazkani explains that Israel adopted a law in 1955 that specified documents could be kept classified for a maximum of 50 years. But the Mossad, the army and the Shin Bet, which control very large archives, refused to comply with the law. Petitions to declassify specific documents have been brought before the higher courts, with some pending now.

Toward the end of the interview, Hazkani recounts a fascinating anecdote involving his own experience with re-classified documents, this time connected with an incident reported by Joe Sacco in his graphic novel “Footnotes in Gaza.” Sacco traveled to Gaza in 2002 and 2003 to research the book, which was published in 2009. The “footnote” refers to an incident that occurred during the Israeli army’s three-month occupation of Gaza during 1956-7, during the Suez War.

For the book, Sacco interviews several Palestinian eyewitnesses who describe having seen the Israeli army shoot and kill at least 100 civilians out of the hundreds that were rounded up and herded into a schoolyard in Rafah. According to the witnesses, the event took place on November 12, 1956. The details, as drawn and described in Sacco’s book, are quite harrowing, which explains why articles about the book published in Haaretz caused a furore. In the podcast, Hazkani recounts having followed the online discussions and debates about the claims in Sacco’s book.

One blogger, recounts Hazkani, writes in a post about having seen a specific document that confirms some of Sacco’s account. Hazkani happened to be on his way to the archive when he read that post; and since the blogger cited a specific file number, he asked to see it. But when he received the file, it contained a note that indicated the document had been reclassified the previous day — the same day the blogger had published his post.

There is obviously an inherent contradiction in Israeli authorities so clumsily trying to reclassify damning documents that have already been cited by well-known historians, even as it invests so much money and effort in promoting its image abroad as a transparent democracy. Israel is obviously not the only country that tries to shape its image by keeping documents classified for extended periods or even indefinitely. Hazkani mentions colonial archives recently uncovered in Britain, and Turkey’s still-classified archives from the Ottoman era. But Israel’s attempts to redact or classify documents after they have been extensively cited seems counter-productive at best.

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Jewish pundits can’t decide if they’re happy about Bernie Sanders’ win in NH http://972mag.com/jewish-pundits-cant-decide-if-theyre-happy-about-bernie-sanders-win-in-nh/116895/ http://972mag.com/jewish-pundits-cant-decide-if-theyre-happy-about-bernie-sanders-win-in-nh/116895/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2016 09:25:51 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=116895 Can an American politician who was born to Jewish parents just be an American politician who happens to be Jewish? Is Israel becoming less important in American politics?

File photo of Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders (A Katz / Shutterstock.com)

File photo of Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders (A Katz / Shutterstock.com)

NEW YORK — Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, won the Democratic primary in the state of New Hampshire on Tuesday night. Sanders, who identifies as a social democrat, is Jewish.


But when he spoke about his background in his victory speech he mentioned only that he was the son of Polish immigrants who were poor and little-educated, making it sound as though they might have been eating kielbasa and pierogi for Sunday lunch instead of challah and tsimmes for Friday night dinner.

He highlighted his own success as an illustration of the national narrative that Sanders called “the promise of America” — the idea that one should be able to achieve one’s goals based on hard work and merit.

“My friends,” said Sanders,

I am the son of a Polish immigrant who came to this country speaking no English and having no money. My father worked every day of his life and he never made a whole lot.

My mom and dad and brother and I lived in a three and a half room rent controlled apartment in Brooklyn, New York. My mother, who died at a young age always dreamed of moving out of that apartment, getting a home of her own, but she never realized that dream. The truth is that neither one of my parents could ever have dreamed that I would be here tonight standing before you as a candidate for president of the United States.

This is the promise of America and this is the promise we must keep alive for future generations.

Several Jewish observers on social media were unhappy at Sanders’ failure to emphasize that his parents were Jews, and that he is now the first Jewish American to win a Democratic primary. (Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee in the 1964 election, had a Jewish father but was raised Episcopalian, although he acknowledged his Jewish heritage.)

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Sanders has never denied that he is Jewish. Nor could he, even if he wanted to, given that he bears an uncanny resemblance to practically every other 70-something Jewish man who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

He has spoken about spending a few months volunteering on a kibbutz during the mid 1960s, although since entering the presidential race he has tantalized journalists  by refusing to name the kibbutz. The information became a bit of a holy grail for Jewish journalists, until a Haaretz reporter finally discovered it last week in a 26 year-old interview Sanders gave to the paper.

Sanders married the Jewish American woman who traveled with him to the kibbutz, but they did not have children and divorced in 1966, less than two years into the marriage. He has been with his second wife since 1988;  she is not Jewish.

Sanders is also not the kind of Jewish legislator who advocates for tribal causes. He does not, for example, give speeches or make appearances at events on behalf of Jewish federations or Israel advocacy NGOs like AIPAC. Vermont, the state he represents in the senate, does not have a significant Jewish population — although my friend Allison Kaplan Sommer, the Haaretz columnist, discovered that one of his closest friends and advisors is an Orthodox Jew who teaches at the University of Vermont.

Most recently, Sanders made self-deprecating Jewish jokes in a Saturday Night Live skit with Larry David, whose parody of Sanders is so accurate that many claim it has become a contemporary comedic trope (Sanders comes in at 2:15 in the video embedded below).

American Jews vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic party, and plenty of them support Bernie Sanders. But their affinity for the candidate is based on his political views, which are primarily about social justice and and social welfare. His single mention of the Middle East in his New Hampshire speech was a reference to the group that calls itself Islamic State, or ISIS, and the need to destroy them without sending American soldiers to fight another war there. He did not mention Israel at all. So Jews who are on the fence about Bernie are wondering if they should be proud that one of their own could be president, or irritated that he’s not rushing to embrace the tribe.

Can an American politician who was born to Jewish parents just be an American politician who happens to be Jewish? In the country that considers the right to re-invent oneself a defining value, surely that is Sanders’ right. It’s not as though he’s pretending to be something he’s not. He simply doesn’t seem to feel that his Jewishness is an important factor in his political views.

On the other hand, a Jewish American who is deeply committed to the values of social justice,  especially one with a distinctive Brooklyn accent, is in very much a “type” that most Jewish Americans identify with deeply. Often called “red diaper babies” for the social-democratic values they were raised on, they played prominent roles in the major social justice causes of the 1960s, most notably in the civil rights movement. The collective memory of their involvement in social justice causes is a powerful chapter in the Jewish American narrative, often portrayed in Hollywood films. The liberal branches of Judaism in the United States even identify social justice as a Jewish value called “tikkun olam,” or healing the world. Which is why so many American Jews are convinced they remember an Uncle Sheldon who looked and sounded just like Bernie, and who dominated political conversations at their Passover seders or their Friday night dinner tables. You can see the female equivalent portrayed by “Aunt May,” the secular socialist schoolteacher in the seder scene of Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.

File photo of Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders (Crush Rush / Shutterstock.com)

File photo of Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders (Crush Rush / Shutterstock.com)

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Sanders’ candidacy is, as he has said on several occasions, that he has shown it’s possible to raise money for a presidential campaign without taking money from the big financial institutions or the oligarchs. But he has also shown that a candidate need not curry favor either with donors or with the electorate by visiting or mentioning Israel. Do voters not care about Israel anymore? We’ve hardly heard about it in this campaign.

Compare this year’s primaries to the 2008 campaign, when then-Senator Obama felt compelled to visit Israel and be photographed placing a note in a crevice of the Western Wall, even before he was nominated as his party’s candidate for the presidency. And remember the unseemly one-upmanship between Biden and Republican candidates over who was really a BFF of Bibi’s? This time ’round, no candidate is mentioning her or his friendship with the Israeli prime minister. In fact, they’re not talking about Israel much at all. Donald Trump even managed to get away with making borderline anti Semitic jokes during his speech at the Republican  Jewish Coalition — and he still won his party’s primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday night.

And while it’s very common to encounter Jewish Americans who espouse deeply liberal social views but swing disconcertingly to the right on Israel, the interesting thing about these “Progressive Except for Palestine” (PEP) Jews  is that they do not vote for  candidates based on their views on Israel — which is why Bernie Sanders can appeal to Jewish voters without mentioning his affection for Israel or rushing off to Jerusalem to give Bibi a hug.

Is it important that the Democratic party’s candidate for president in 2016 might be a Jew for the first time? In historical terms, of course it is. But I don’t think its significance is that the age of discrimination against Jews has passed, any more than the age of discrimination against African Americans passed with the election of Barack Obama.

Bernie hasn’t tested his secular social democratic views in the Bible belt states yet. But in terms of the impact Israel policy has on the U.S. electorate, what is significant is the fact that Sanders managed to trounce Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire without once mentioning the only democratic state in the Middle East ™, Golda or the right to self defense against terrorists. Perhaps what we are seeing is the decline of Israel as a major factor in U.S. domestic politics.

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‘Netanyahu at War’: An engaging but deeply flawed documentary http://972mag.com/netanyahu-at-war-an-engaging-but-deeply-flawed-documentary/115628/ http://972mag.com/netanyahu-at-war-an-engaging-but-deeply-flawed-documentary/115628/#comments Tue, 05 Jan 2016 20:45:48 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=115628 Twenty three men and three women tell the captivating story of Netanyahu’s rise to power, and how he ended up on a collision course with the leader of the free world. Yes, 23 men and three women.

President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu at Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel, March 20, 2013. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu at Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel, March 20, 2013. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

“Netanyahu at War,” a PBS Frontline documentary about Benjamin Netanyahu’s rise to power and the background to his now-infamous, ongoing feud with Barack Obama, opens with the controversy surrounding the Israeli prime minister’s address to Congress last March, which one of his former advisors frames as a Churchillian attempt to warn the world about the dangers of a nuclear deal with Iran. “Netanyahu,” says former advisor Eyal Arad, “has a messianic notion of himself as someone called to save the Jewish people.”


Over the next five minutes, we hear insights into the hostile Obama-Netanyahu relationship from no less than 10 name-brand experts (besides Eyal Arad): Ari Shavit, David Axelrod, Haaretz correspondent Chemi Shalev, Ronen Bergman, Sandy Berger, David Baker, Aaron David Miller, veteran Likud parliamentarian Tzachi Hanegbi, the New York Times‘ White House correspondent Peter Baker, and Dennis Ross. Axelrod describes Netanyahu’s meddling in U.S. foreign policy as “audacious” and “unprecedented.” Sandy Berger says it was a “direct attack” on Obama’s foreign policy legacy. Shalev observes that Netanyahu was “ready to undermine Israel’s relations with the U.S. in order to fight off the Iranian challenge.”

Having thus set the stage, over the next third of the documentary we learn about Netanyahu’s background. His illustrious combat career as an officer in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, and his involvement in the mission to release the hostages during the 1972 Sabena Airline hijacking. The years he spent in the United States, first in high school, and then as an Israeli diplomat when he built his strong relations with leaders in the Jewish community. Then on to his return to Israel in the late 1980s and his rise to leadership in the Likud party during the Oslo period, leading up to Rabin’s assassination in 1995.

Twenty three men

At this point we’re 45 minutes into this documentary and we finally hear from an actual female expert. Really. Dana Weiss, an Israeli TV news presenter, explains why Israelis were insulted that Obama didn’t “stop by for coffee” after he gave his 2009 Cairo speech. And then Diana Buttu, the prominent Canadian-Palestinian attorney who was a spokesperson for the PLO and a participant in negotiations with the Israelis, speaks. But all we hear from her is a four-second clip about the Second Intifada, in which she explains that the Palestinians were “fed up” with the stalled negotiations and broken promises. But the narrator of the program had just presented the Second Intifada as a renewal of Palestinian violence.

We hear from Buttu a couple more times. Channel 2 reporter Dana Weiss gets a few more seconds. As does Tzipi Livni, the veteran Israeli politician, former foreign minister and former leader of the Kadima party. Leah Rabin, the late widow of Yitzhak Rabin, appears briefly in archival footage of a television interview she gave to an American network after her husband’s assassination.

And that is about it for the women in this long, detailed documentary.

But in addition to the 10 men who spoke in the first five minutes, we also hear from Saeb Erakat, Ben Rhodes (Obama’s deputy national security advisor), Marvin Kalb, Dore Gold, Peter Beinart, George Mitchell, Michael Oren, Jeffrey Goldberg, Martin Indyk, Dan Meridor (Likud politician) and journalist Dan Ephron.

Twenty three men and three women, with the women given a total of maybe four minutes collectively (and I am being generous) in a nearly two-hour episode.

We hear nothing from Madeleine Albright, Condoleeza Rice, Susan Rice, Ilana Dayan, Yonit Levi, Mazal Mualem, Lara Friedman, Tamara Coffman-Wittes, Hanan Ashrawi, Lucy Kurtzer Ellenbogen, Hillary Clinton or any other important, leading female analyst, journalist or politician who is truly an expert with real insights to bring. Oh, you’ve never heard of most them? That’s probably true. Because even thought they are leading experts in their fields, and despite the fact that many of them actually served in the State Department and were directly involved in negotiations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, why bother to solicit fresh voices? Why, indeed, when the old boy’s club is so ready, willing and able.

Obama the Naive

But it’s not just the unapologetically and shamefully patriarchal attitude that undermines the credibility of this elegantly produced Frontline episode on Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s also the dubious political analysis that is left unchallenged.

Obama’s support for the Egyptian uprising, for example, is presented as childlike and naive. It is implied that the U.S. president’s enthusiasm for the popular uprising put Israeli security at risk. Jeffrey Goldberg suggests that Netanyahu was prescient in criticizing Obama for calling upon Mubarak to resign in February 2011. Netanyahu knew that “Muslim extremists” would take over, says Goldberg. This view is supported by Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, and by Dan Meridor, the Likud politician.

There are no analysts to challenge this extremely shallow analysis of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. No one mentions that under Morsi, the deposed president who came up through the Brotherhood, relations between Israel and Egypt remained as they had been under Mubarak. In fact, in 2012  Morsi came under fire from Egyptians — including secular opponents to the Brotherhood — for sending an effusively warm official letter to his “great and good friend,” then-president Shimon Peres. Cooperation between the Egyptian army and the Israeli army continued uninterrupted under Morsi. Nor does anyone bother mentioning the potential damage to the United States’ credibility in the Arab Middle East if Obama had offered to continue supporting a deeply unpopular authoritarian leader while millions demonstrated against him on the streets.

This theme of naive Obama and Obama the Arab lover dominates “Netanyahu at War.” Obama is criticized heavily for calling for a settlement freeze right after he gave his 2009 speech at Cairo University and immediately after Netanyahu was elected. None of the analysts denies that it had always been U.S. policy to oppose Israel’s settlements in the occupied territories. But Indyk, Ross and Mitchell all agree that in hindsight it was bad timing to reiterate U.S. policy after, oh, only 42 years of unceasing settlement expansion. Obama should have waited.

Goldberg and Oren both criticize Obama for “putting daylight” between Israel and the United States in order to make nice with the Arabs. Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security advisor, is given a few seconds to point out that not only has opposition to settlements been the policy of every U.S. administration, but that in his seven years of experience he has learned that you’re “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” in every decision regarding Middle East policy.

I take serious issue with the overall tone of the analysis offered by the various participants interviewed for this program, with a few notable exceptions. At the very least, there should have been some strong voices to counter the narrative that Obama was naive or that he deliberately undermined relations with Israel in order to pursue his alleged love affair with the Arab states. Both accusations are absurd and insulting.

And I must emphasize again that this male dominated discourse has to stop. It simply must. The year is 2016. Washington is full of senior, expert female policy analysts and journalists. There is no shortage of expert women in Israel or in Palestine, either. When they are left out of a current affairs documentary for an important program like Frontline, it constitutes a serious omission that undermines its credibility. Why in the world are men in their 60s who have not been involved in policy making for nearly two decades still considered experts while female diplomats who were directly involved in high level negotiations over very recent years completely ignored?

“Netanyahu at War” will be broadcast Tuesday night (tonight) on PBS in the United States. Viewers abroad can watch it online. It’s a well-edited documentary that flows and and offers some insights that will engage even those who know the story intimately. But it is also deeply flawed in its framing and seriously undermined by its failure to include both genders — and, also, by its having omitted Palestinians. Saeb Erakat and Diana Buttu aside, what we have here is a program dominated by American Jewish men who live in Washington or New York. Again.

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Overcoming Jewish America’s Israel fantasy http://972mag.com/overcoming-jewish-americas-israel-fantasy/115452/ http://972mag.com/overcoming-jewish-americas-israel-fantasy/115452/#comments Thu, 31 Dec 2015 18:17:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=115452 The idea of Israel has long been an integral part of Jewish-American identity. But with a generational change among American Jews and increasingly stark political differences with Israel’s leadership, could this be the dawn of a new era? 

"Pro-Israel" rally, during Gaza offensive, New York Nov 20, 2012 (asterix611/CC BY NC ND 2.0)

For many young American Jews, the 2014 Gaza war was a watershed in their evolving attitudes toward Israel. (Illustrative photo by asterix611/CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Last summer Michael Oren, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 2009-13, blithely offended virtually the entire policy, journalism and government elite in New York City and Washington, D.C. with a series of accusations directed at President Obama and liberal Jewish Americans.

In a nutshell, Oren accused Obama of deliberately sabotaging relations with Israel in order to achieve the goals of ingratiating himself with the Arab Muslim world and negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran. He also suggested the president was soft on terror — because he had Muslim daddy issues (his father, who had not been present when he was growing up, was a Kenyan Muslim). Oren also characterized American Jews who criticized Israel as anti-Israel and/or insufficiently Jewish.


Oren offered up his frank opinions and amateur psychoanalysis in a controversial Wall Street Journal op-ed and in a Foreign Policy essay – both of which acted as pre-publication publicity for his memoir, “Ally.”

The response of the foreign policy people who figure so prominently in the discourse about Israel in the so-called Acela Corridor (the name of the rapid train that links New York and D.C.) was one of outrage and betrayal.  They had regarded Oren as an ally who shared their worldview. Instead he had ripped off his mask of moderation to reveal a strident nationalist who was carrying some heavy baggage packed with Hebrew warrior fantasies, a Holocaust obsession and a fortress mentality.

But while prominent members of the inner policy circle like Martin Indyk challenged Oren’s accounts of his dealings with the Obama White House in testy exchanges on CNN, almost no-one addressed the former ambassador’s curiously clichéd personal narrative, which is like a plot ripped straight from a Leon Uris novel. A nerdy, physically unprepossessing Jewish boy grows up in suburban America, relentlessly bullied at school by anti-Semites. As a teenager he becomes intensely aware of the Holocaust, vows to make sure it never happens again, becomes an ardent Zionist and works hard to save his money so he can immigrate — or make aliyah — to Israel, where he magically morphs into a handsome combat warrior who wades heroically into battle and wins the love of the pretty girl who’s probably a bit out of his league.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to then Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, Tel Aviv, April 9, 2013. (State Dept photo)

For many older American Jews, Michael Oren’s life story is a familiar trope that represents their idealization of Israel. (State Dept photo)

He also runs the risk of taking matzos and religious paraphernalia to Jewish refuseniks in the USSR, returns to Israel, fights in a war, marries his girl and ultimately becomes a distinguished diplomat, continuing to do combat for Israel in the international policy arena.

Any American (or Canadian) Jew over the age of 45 who attended parochial day school and/or Jewish summer camp knows this narrative by heart. We all grew up monitoring the years the Refuseniks had been in the gulag, attending rallies to free Soviet Jewry, listening to Holocaust survivors tell their personal stories at school on remembrance day, hearing our parents and grandparents talk about the petty anti Semitism they had experienced in the 1940s, 50s and 60s – about university quotas on Jewish students, the upper class neighborhoods where home owners had an agreement not to sell to Jews, law firms that wouldn’t hire Jews and country clubs that barred Jewish members.

It is this generation of American Jews, the baby boomers who are old enough to remember the exhilaration and pride engendered by the stunning victory of the Six Day War in 1967, who respond automatically to the tropes in Oren’s artful narrative. Jews born in the 1980s, the ones often called “millennials,” are far less likely to relate.

We don’t care what you think

But while American Jews of a certain age might respond with reflexive nostalgia to the way Oren writes about his childhood and his Zionist aspirations, the angry reactions to his accusation that Obama betrayed Israel and his suggestion that real Jews should not criticize Israel, illustrates that he is out of touch with shifting attitudes in the American Jewish community. Oren seems particularly to have forgotten that most American Jews vote Democrat, and that nearly 70 percent of them cast their ballots for Barack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012.

Or perhaps Oren and his ilk don’t really care, but are sufficiently diplomatic to refrain from saying so. Avigdor Liberman, the former Israeli foreign minister who leads the hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu party, does not allow such niceties to affect his behavior. At the Saban Forum held in Washington the first week of December, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg told Liberman that Jewish university students were finding it increasingly difficult to defend Israel’s policies on campus. Liberman’s response, delivered with his trademark lack of facial expression: “I don’t care.” Then he added: “I really don’t care.”

Goldberg, who has in recent years positioned himself as a gatekeeper of the Israel discourse in Washington, was shocked. So was the audience. Not only because Liberman expressed himself so rudely, but also because he had bluntly reinforced what had already become increasingly clear over the past two years or so: that Netanyahu, Bennett and the rest of Israel’s ascendant pro-settler, right-wing, political elite are neither politically nor ideologically aligned with the mainstream Jewish American community. With Netanyahu in power, the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem has become a sort of branch of the Republican Party. But the decisive majority of American Jews identify strongly with the Democratic Party.

A conflict of values

Supporters of Jewish Voice for Peace march among thousands in Washington, D.C., protesting Israel's offensive on Gaza, August 2, 2014.

Supporters of Jewish Voice for Peace march protesting Israel’s offensive on Gaza, August 2, 2014. JVP saw a surge in membership following the 2014 Gaza war.

For American Jews of the baby boomer generation, the widening gap between Israel, the country to which they have to a great extent outsourced their Jewish identity, and the United States, which is their home, has raised the specter of warring dual loyalties. They can’t really identify with Netanyahu, given his racist comments, far-right governing coalition and overt hostility to Obama, but Israel as a place and an idea is very important to them. That is why they were likely to condemn Netanyahu’s election day race baiting, which flew in the face of their liberal values, but support the 2014 Gaza war, because the army and the Israeli media said it was a war of defense.

But for millennial American Jews, the 2014 Gaza war was a watershed in their evolving attitude toward Israel. The massive destruction in Gaza and the huge gap in the death toll, with nearly 1,900 Palestinian casualties (including over 500 children) compared to 67 Israeli dead, left a powerful impression. After the war, the progressive Jewish Voice for Peace saw a surge in membership. According to Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson, the number of JVP chapters around the country has doubled since the summer of 2014. The number of followers on social media has tripled.

Read also: The American Jews prying open the conversation on the occupation

For the establishment Jewish community, defined by their liberal social values and by their generally uncritical attitude toward Israel — which is now being severely tested by Netanyahu’s policies — the JVP with its BDS-supporting ways is anathema. It is still infinitely more acceptable for a Jew to question the existence of God in synagogue than to criticize Israel. And while JVP is growing, its paid membership is now at 10,000 — which is not huge. But rapid growth indicates there are widening fissure lines in the community’s once solidly unified base.

Out of touch white men

For the Washington insiders, though, it’s not so easy to follow the path of those fissure lines. The policymakers take their cue from a small group of insiders who are nearly all Jewish men in their 50s and 60s. They are the same men who make up nearly every think panel and CNN news analysis panel. Martin Indyk, David Makovsky, Aaron David Miller, Dennis Ross, Philip Gordon, Jeffrey Goldberg. When they want to hear from an actual Israeli, they might call in Ari Shavit or a retired Shin Bet director like Ami Ayalon. It’s not that there’s any shortage of female experts, non-Jewish experts, younger experts or progressive experts. But they are not part of the inner circle and they are not policy influencers. So very few people outside the Beltway hear from or about them.

Meanwhile this small group of middle aged men who really do not understand the complexities of the situation on the ground, either in Israel-Palestine or in the American Jewish community, are to a large extent dominating and influencing the conversation about Israel-Palestine at a very high level in D.C. The result is strikingly discordant speeches like the keynote Joseph Biden gave at the J Street conference two years ago, or the one Samantha Power gave at the HaaretzQ conference in December. Both delivered AIPAC speeches to restless progressive audiences that were uninterested in platitudes about the only democracy in the Middle East and faux nostalgic references to Israel’s iconic late leaders from a bygone age, like “Golda.”

Young American Jews take part in the Jewish People's Assembly outside the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Washington, D.C., November 8, 2015. (photo: Gili Getz)

American leaders of late have expressed their understanding of Israel through faux nostalgic references to its idealized past. Pictured: Young American Jews take part in the Jewish People’s Assembly outside the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Washington, D.C., November 8, 2015. (photo by Gili Getz)

There’s another factor that must be taken into account in analyzing the potential ramifications of the fissures and shifting attitudes toward Israel in the American Jewish community. And that is that for the majority of Jewish Americans, Israel is not a top issue. A 2013 Pew study showed declining interest in both Israel and Judaism among the 30-and-under generation. Within a decade or so, members of Congress and presidential candidates might no longer have to campaign on Israel. Or Israel might become an issue that dominates with right-wing Evangelical Christians far more than it does with Jewish voters.

In 2014 and 2015, the gap in ideological views between Democratic Jews who are affiliated with the organized Jewish community and the Israeli political leadership’s Tea Party-esque views became impossible to ignore. Wars can be justified in the name of Israel’s security, but not so when it comes to race baiting, book censorship and attempts to shut down human rights NGOs. For most American Jews, Israel is more of an idea than a reality. They don’t speak Hebrew, they don’t visit the country more than once or twice in a lifetime (if that) and their knowledge of its society is shallow and limited. But the country is important to them, and not just as a symbol. The idea of a safe haven for an insecure people that has been displaced and subjected to genocide is very significant.

But now many are grappling with the existential crisis that occurs when the insurance policy and the identity symbol conflict with one’s core values. As one friend put it, he’s not religious at all and he doesn’t speak Yiddish or Hebrew, so his identity was based on the Holocaust and Israel. “And now,” he said, “What am I going to pass on to my kids about their heritage?” That question could well be one of Netanyahu’s most enduring legacies to the diaspora.

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Israel’s extremists aren’t as fringe as you think http://972mag.com/israels-extremists-arent-as-fringe-as-you-think/115099/ http://972mag.com/israels-extremists-arent-as-fringe-as-you-think/115099/#comments Thu, 24 Dec 2015 16:27:40 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=115099 If a video of religious youth stabbing a photo of a murdered Palestinian infant isn’t enough to convince mainstream Israel that there is a problem, what will?

Celebrants at a Jerusalem wedding for a couple from Israel’s radical right were filmed dancing and singing as they brandished a photo of Ali Dawabsheh, the 18 month-old Palestinian baby who was killed in a July arson attack on his family home in the West Bank village of Duma.

In the video, which was recorded on a cell phone, a dancing wedding guest impales a photo of the baby on a knife. His face is covered. Other dancers wave army-issued combat weapons, while one youth hoists a bottle with a roll of paper stuffed in its neck to mimic a molotov cocktail, indicating the method by which the Dawabsheh home was set alight.

The Duma attack killed baby Ali at the scene, while his parents died of their wounds in the hospital a few weeks later. Only his four-year-old brother survived, albeit with severe burns. The story was widely covered by the Israeli media and was condemned by leaders on both sides of the political spectrum.

Hebrew graffiti on the walls of Duma dwellings indicated that the arson was a “price tag,” a term used by “hilltop youth“ to describe their attacks on Palestinian villagers. Some of the notorious recent price tag incidents include an arson attack on a bilingual Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem and death threats graffitied on the homes of leftist intellectuals. There are dozens of amateur videos on YouTube that show these masked Hilltop Youth assaulting unarmed Palestinian villagers in the West Bank, burning their olive trees and destroying their property. Everyone knows who they are and what they do.

But while Kahanists are well known to security forces and the Shin Bet, months passed before any arrests were made. There are now several suspects in custody. According to a report published by the Jewish Daily Forward, a liberal Jewish newspaper in New York, relatives and attorneys of the detainees say they have been subjected to torture while under interrogation and that they are being held without charge under administrative detention.

The Forward reporter, Josh Nathan-Kazis, notes that the Shin Bet commonly uses torture and administrative detention on Palestinians, while it is very uncommon to hear of these interrogation methods used on Jewish detainees. But the Shin Bet apparently sees these particular Jews as fair game, since they are “anti-Zionists” who want to “violently overthrow the Israeli government.”

Official condemnations of the video came quickly. Netanyahu, Yair Lapid, Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni and Chief Rabbi David Lau all conveyed their shock and horror to the news media, or via their Facebook statuses.

Even the parents of the groom insisted, in an interview broadcast by Channel 2, that they didn’t know who these masked guests were and they’d never heard the song that accompanied their dance with knives. This, despite the fact that that particular song is heard at every religious national wedding. It is as standard as “Hava Nagilah” at a Jewish wedding in the United States.

You’d think, based on these vociferous condemnations, that no one had ever seen Kahanists enthusiastically and publicly espousing violent racism. Celebrating the murder of a baby is an obvious indicator of pathological hatred, yet these people and their acts of hatred have been well covered by the media. Two years ago, at another wedding, we see an almost identical scene — masked hilltop youth dancing with knives and singing a Hebrew version of the Horst Wessel Lied.

On that occasion, Hebron settler leader Bentzi Gopstein was marrying off his daughter and Channel 2′s Ohad Hemo was there to report. No one tries to hide their views. When Hemo asks Gopstein whether there are any Palestinian wait staff at the wedding hall, Gopstein answers smugly that he checked to make sure there were no Arabs there. At 1:39 he says, “If there were Palestinians here they would not be serving food. They would be in the hospital.”

When incidents of radical settler violence are broadcast by the television news, one invariably hears predictable condemnations from every direction. The news presenter who introduces the story about the racist wedding celebrants for Channel 10 calls their actions “pure hatred” and “Jewish terror.” Look at her face at 1:21, after the wedding video is shown. She can’t hide her horror and revulsion.

But the official condemnations are disingenuous at best. De facto, the settler ideologues are deeply embedded in the Israeli security and political establishments.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is from the right-wing nationalist Jewish Home party, allegedly met with the mother of one of the American detained suspects in the Duma arson attack to discuss her son’s claims that he had been tortured by the Shin Bet. The idea of Palestinian parents of detainees having access to an Israeli government minister is inconceivable. Even when the media and the security establishment calls them “terrorists,” the hilltop youth are treated better than Palestinians. Because they are Jews.

So while the political and security establishments pay lip service to condemnations, their actions indicate what they really believe: that Jews who commit the radically violent, inconceivably hateful act of deliberately murdering a baby and his parents while they sleep — and then celebrate the act at a wedding — are not quite as evil as the Palestinians who murdered a sleeping Jewish family while they slept at their home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

The message is that the Palestinian murderers of Jewish children are representative, while the Jewish-Israeli murderers are sick, marginal outliers who are rejected by “mainstream” Israel.

This is an ideé fixe one hears pretty much all the time in Israel, including from mainstream liberals. Yes, they say, we have some horrible rotten apples among us, but when they commit acts of wanton violence against Palestinians — like the Dawabsheh murders or the 2014 abduction and immolation of Mohammed Abu Khdeir — we condemn it and feel really, really bad about it. But when Palestinians murder Jews, goes the relentlessly repeated received wisdom, people celebrate on the streets of Ramallah and hand out sweets to children.

Don’t bother trying to tell them they’re wrong, that Palestinian society is just as complex as Jewish Israeli society. It won’t help to remind them that Jews sat on a hilltop overlooking Gaza and cheered as they watched the Israeli army bombard the coastal territory in 2009, 2012 and 2014, killing hundreds of children along with adult non combatants. They’ll flap a hand at you and tell you “that’s different.”

You’d have an easier time trying to convince a Trump supporter that President Obama should hand out Green Cards to all the undocumented Mexicans living in the United States.

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Redefining chutzpah: The monumentally inappropriate treatment of Ayman Odeh http://972mag.com/redefining-chutzpah-the-monumentally-inappropriate-treatment-of-ayman-odeh/114771/ http://972mag.com/redefining-chutzpah-the-monumentally-inappropriate-treatment-of-ayman-odeh/114771/#comments Mon, 14 Dec 2015 22:21:31 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=114771 The Jewish American establishment clearly cannot handle an Arab non-Zionist with the chutzpah to assert his right to be treated respectfully and equally in his own country.

MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Atlanta. (Photo by Joint List spokesperson)

MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Atlanta. (Photo by Joint List spokesperson)

Ayman Odeh’s decision to visit the United States and meet with Jewish community leaders cannot have been an easy one. The burden of scrutiny has been heavy indeed, from all sides. His own constituents, the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, were ambivalent at best about what many perceived as a mission that would either be co-opted to soften the perception of Israel’s policies toward its Arab citizens, or twisted to undermine both Odeh and the credibility of his party’s platform.

With Jewish community leaders so firmly supportive of the Netanyahu government, and the United States so committed to its unbreakable alliance with Israel that it had not undertaken a single step to end the occupation in over two decades, many worried that Odeh’s bridge building mission would be misinterpreted as asking for favors.


To a certain extent, these concerns were borne out by events on December 10, when Odeh backed out of a meeting with the Conference of Presidents, a major Jewish NGO umbrella group, because the chairman insisted on holding the meeting in the same office as the Jewish Agency. This is the same Jewish Agency that has been directly involved in hundreds of initiatives to establish new residential communities for Jewish Israelis on land that was expropriated from Palestinians.

Rather than show some sensitivity to Odeh’s point of view, the president of the Conference of Presidents, Malcolm Hoenlein, refused not only to hold the meeting in another room but also immediately released a statement in which he accused Odeh of canceling the meeting.

Later, Hoenlein told the Forward that he saw no reason to “succumb” to Odeh’s request that the meeting be moved to another room (even though it was Hoenlein who had asked for the meeting and Odeh was his guest). Hoenlein also told the Forward, “It’s outrageous that a member of Knesset would say that I can’t go into a place because it has Zionist associations.” Hoenlein added: “He doesn’t have a problem taking [his Knesset] paycheck.”

Hoenlein’s response is, to be kind, monumentally inappropriate. Not to mention: arrogant and entitled beyond belief. Hoenlein is a Jewish citizen of the United States who is the unelected head of an NGO that espouses political opinions far to the right of those held by the majority of Jewish Americans. Yet he believes that he has the right to comment on whether or not a citizen of the state of Israel, a man who heads the third largest party in the Knesset, who was elected by democratic vote to sit in his country’s legislature, should receive a salary.

The Knesset is not a “Zionist institution.” It is the legislature of the state of Israel. A political party need not espouse Zionist ideology in order to be eligible to sit in the Knesset. The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism is not, for example, a Zionist party. It is headed by a Ger Hasid; and the Ger, along with several other Hasidic groups, are ideologically opposed to Zionism.  I would love to see Hoenlein refuse to move the location of a meeting with a Hasidic group because they didn’t want to sit in a Jewish Agency office.

The point for Hoenlein and for Rick Jacobs, the Reform rabbi who also released a “shocked-and-appalled” statement about Odeh’s “refusal” to sit in the Jewish Agency office, is, obviously, that Ayman Odeh is an Arab non Zionist. Worse, he is an Arab non Zionist who has the chutzpah to assert his right to be treated respectfully and as a fully equal citizen of the state in which he was born.

The reaction of these Jewish community leaders is disgraceful. It is rather reminiscent of the master of the big house who tells the serf to wipe his feet and take off his hat if he wants to visit — making sure he enters via the tradesmen’s entrance.

It’s so commonplace to hear Israeli and Jewish “leaders” bemoan the absence of moderate Palestinian leaders. And here we have this man who reaches out his hand and speaks passionately to Jewish audiences about building a shared society of economic and social equality for Arabs and Jews. Who quotes Hebrew poetry and emphasizes his knowledge of the Jewish narrative.

If Ayman Odeh were an African American politician running for U.S. Congress, American Jews would be out campaigning for him and his liberal, inclusive values. But instead of embracing Odeh, Jewish leaders here try to undermine him with the suggestion that he rejects the existence of the state in which he lives as a tax-paying citizen — and they do not.

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Ayman Odeh has a dream, but not all American Jews like it http://972mag.com/ayman-odeh-has-a-dream-but-not-all-american-jews-like-it/114671/ http://972mag.com/ayman-odeh-has-a-dream-but-not-all-american-jews-like-it/114671/#comments Fri, 11 Dec 2015 19:15:47 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=114671 The leader of the Joint List got a rude awakening on his first official visit to the U.S. after being falsely accused of refusing to meet the leaders of a major Jewish organization in New York. ‘I have actually found that Jewish Americans are more progressive than Jewish Israelis. But the problem is with the leaders of the community. They want to tell me how to behave and what to think.’
Hades MK Ayman Odeh takes part in the 18th annual March of Return, Hadatha, Lower Galilee, April 23, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Joint List MK Ayman Odeh takes part in the 18th annual March of Return, Hadatha, Lower Galilee, Israel, April 23, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

NEW YORK — “I believe in talking to everyone,” said Joint List leader Ayman Odeh. “In the Knesset, I speak with everyone.” He added, with a half smile, “Except [Avigdor] Lieberman. But that’s only because he refuses to speak to me.”

Odeh, a Palestinian citizen of Israel whose non-Zionist party is the third largest in the Knesset with 13 seats, is currently visiting Washington and New York for a series of meetings with diplomats, Jewish community leaders, journalists, think tanks and NGOs. But so far the only meeting that has been reported by Jewish media outlets is the one that controversially did not take place — at the New York office of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.


Upon arriving Thursday morning at the organization’s midtown Manhattan building, Odeh discovered that the umbrella group shared its office with the Jewish Agency. The Agency is affiliated with Israel’s Ministry of Absorption and with the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which is involved in initiatives to displace Palestinians from their homes in favor of Jews.

Staffers for the umbrella group suggested moving the meeting to another office on a different floor in the same building — specifically, to the offices of the Reform Jewish Movement. But Executive Vice President Malcolm Hoenlein rejected the suggestion. He then sent out a press release in which he wrote that he was “deeply disturbed and shocked at the refusal” of Odeh to meet him.

“I did not refuse to meet him,” Odeh told +972. He emphasized that he had responded to an invitation from the Conference of Presidents — that he had not requested the meeting. He did not know until he arrived that the umbrella group shared an office with the Jewish Agency.

“I just asked if we could move the meeting to another room, but they refused. Instead of saying, okay, I understand your discomfort, and offering to meet me in another office, they did everything to make me uncomfortable.” Odeh noted that he made no public statement about the aborted meeting, except in response to the statement released immediately afterward by the Conference of Presidents.

The Jewish Agency’s mandate is to promote aliyah, or Jewish immigration to Israel. The JNF has, as reported extensively by +972, been directly involved in displacing Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as Palestinian citizens of Israel, in order to convert their land and homes into residences for Jewish citizens. In one particularly egregious case, the JNF has been involved in a project to reforest the “unrecognized” Bedouin village of Al Araqib in the Negev, which has been destroyed over 90 times — even as its residents, who have lived on the land for over a century, methodically rebuild each time the bulldozers depart.

A man from the Zanoun family sits on the ruins of his house a few hours after it was demolished by the Israeli Land Administration, in the unrecognized bedouin village of Wadi Al Na'am, Negev Desert, May 18, 2014. The family of seven people was living in the house demolished for being illegaly built. Wadi Al-Na’am is the largest unrecognized village in Israel, with about 13,000 inhabitants, most of its inhabitants are internally displaced. The village is not connected to electricity and its inhabitants are subjected to Israel's house demolition policy. (Keren Manor/Activestills)

A man from the Zanoun family sits on the ruins of his house a few hours after it was demolished by the Israeli Land Administration, in the unrecognized bedouin village of Wadi Al Na’am, Negev Desert, May 18, 2014. (Keren Manor/Activestills)

Odeh, who spoke on Thursday evening at a private reception hosted by a Jewish Israeli ex-pat couple at their Upper West Side home, noted that he had by default met with more Jews than Arabs during his visit to the United States.

“I have actually found that Jewish Americans are more progressive than Jewish Israelis,” he said. “But the problem is with the leaders of the community. They want to tell me how to behave and what to think, to impose their views on me and tell me what I should say. I cannot accept that.”

Speaking in Hebrew during a conversation with +972 that took place Friday morning in Manhattan, the Joint List leader noted that he was not a member of Israel’s governing coalition. He was visiting the United States as the elected representative of Israel’s Arab citizens. Paraphrasing the statement he had given earlier in response to the press release from the Conference of Presidents, Odeh underlined that his party also refrained from involvement in ministries that pursued mandates favoring Jewish citizens at the expense of the state’s Arab citizens — specifically the Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption.

Odeh spoke passionately about his vision for the state of Israel as a place where all citizens, Arabs and Jews, had equal rights in every sphere. He understands that many Jews feel threatened by the idea of seeing their state become a place not defined by its Jewishness but as a state of all its citizens.

“I absolutely acknowledge the Jewish right to self determination!” he said vehemently. “But I am also committed to achieving complete equality for all citizens, regardless of religion or creed.”

The quasi-governmental Jewish Agency boasts about having contributed to the building of over one thousand residential communities for Jews in the State of Israel. But no Israeli government since 1948 has allotted land for a single new town or village for its Arab citizens, who comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population, even as the government imposes severe restrictions on the acquisition of building permits in Arab-majority areas. As a result, Israel’s Arab “villages” are actually densely populated towns and small cities that lack the basic amenities and infrastructure taken for granted in Jewish towns the same size or even smaller.

Odeh asked rhetorically, “What’s the problem with building new villages where our old villages were in 1948? All I see is concrete where our villages were. We’ve lost the naiveté of village culture, but we haven’t replaced it with cosmopolitan urban life — with cafes and places of culture. I just want someone to convince me that this will hurt the Jews. It is actually in the best interest of the Jewish citizens for us to live in a state of equality.”

“I am sorry,” he continued, “if this sounds naïve. But I love both peoples. I am expressing my very frank and honest desire to build a joint and equal society. And unfortunately that desire threatens the hegemony.”

In response to a question regarding his vision of Israel in 10 years, Odeh described a “democratic state with full equality for all, social justice, an economy not controlled by tycoons, a bilingual population speaking Hebrew and Arabic and a more responsible attitude to environmental issues.”

Toward the end of the interview, Odeh suddenly recited from memory “I Believe,” a famous poem composed at the end of the nineteenth century by the great Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky. He emphasized one stanza in particular:

Laugh for I believe in friendship/That a spirit I’ll find, a kindred heart/To share my hopes and share my joys/Compassion ever willing to impart.

“Listen to those words!” he said. “Amazing.”

“So if I know Hebrew poetry and appreciate Jewish history and understand their pain and the Shoah, then I want them to understand our history and our narrative and pain.”

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Prominent Israeli journalist tweets opportunism at Paris’s pain http://972mag.com/prominent-israeli-journalist-tweets-opportunism-at-pariss-pain/113899/ http://972mag.com/prominent-israeli-journalist-tweets-opportunism-at-pariss-pain/113899/#comments Sat, 14 Nov 2015 21:36:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=113899 There is a tendency on the Israeli right to express Schadenfreude when Europe is targeted by terrorists — especially when the perpetrators are jihadis. The subtext is that Israel is unfairly judged for its policies toward the Palestinians.

Israeli men stand with a French flag at the Tel Aviv memorial for victims of the Paris terror attacks, November 14, 2015. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Israeli men stand with a French flag at the Tel Aviv memorial for victims of the Paris terror attacks, November 14, 2015. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

As social media reporting from Paris increased in pace and volume on Friday, a well-worn pattern emerged. Bursts of incoherent information were followed by news flashes from the wire services and the 24-hour satellite news channels. Rapid sharing of video clips filmed by eyewitnesses with smart phones and quickly uploaded to video sharing platforms like YouTube. As the reports start to repeat themselves, people start to get a bit bored. That’s when the commentary, recriminations, arguing and flat out tasteless tweets start to flow.


Yesterday on Twitter, the well-established pattern continued. As soon as it became obvious that the confused reports were repeating themselves and it would take awhile for the news organizations to frame the story in a more organized fashion, people started turning on one another. There were the “blame” tweets: attacks on people who had inadvertently shared unverified or incorrect information; sanctimonious comments about moral relativism given the outpouring of emotion and saturation coverage of the Paris attacks versus the relative silence over the Beirut bombings the previous day; and, of course, the left and the right attacked one another over gun control and the refugee issue.

There is a tendency on the Israeli right to express Schadenfreude when Europe is targeted by terrorists — especially when the perpetrators are jihadis trained by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). The subtext is that Israel is unfairly judged for its policies toward the Palestinians. Netanyahu preaches to this crowd when he conflates Hamas with jihadis, name-checking them with ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and so on.

Yesterday Dan Margalit, a veteran and well known Israeli journalist, wrote a tweet that gained him a shellacking of scorn from people who responded to him in Hebrew. In light of the EU’s decision to label products from Israeli settlements, and while the bodies in Paris were still being counted, Margalit wrote:

In order to save lives we should send medical aid and food from the settlements for the victims of Arab terror in Paris. And we should provide them with shelter and rehabilitation services in Ariel.

Ariel is a large West Bank settlement with a population of about 19,000.

What is one to make of the extreme narcissism, provincialism and mean spiritedness in Margalit’s tweet? The French don’t need Israel’s help. There is no rehabilitation facility in Ariel.

Margalit has been a journalist for decades. He was once widely considered — and perhaps by many still is — a respected political analyst. But he seems to have drunk the paranoid, self righteous, “Fortress Israel” Kool-Aid that Netanyahu pours so liberally in all of his public statements.

In his follow up tweet, Margalit wrote: “Jews of France, the Land of Israel is calling you.”


These horrific Paris attacks were not directed at Jews. Nor were they about Jews. But for Margalit, it’s always about him and his tribe.

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