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The road from apartheid: Lessons, warnings and hope from South Africa

Democracy didn’t solve apartheid’s problems – it sparked a process of addressing them that could not start beforehand. South Africa should remind Israeli and Palestinian leaders that the road to transformation is long and imperfect – and it must start now.

With the possibility that four-term Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could one day fall due to corruption investigations, and succession speculation around aging Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, might a new generation of leadership finally boost the ossified peace process?

It’s hard to be optimistic. Israeli leaders have become too comfortable for too long doing nothing, while the Palestinian leadership seems intent on cannibalizing itself, with the help of the occupation. But future leaders may want to take a look at South Africa, as I did on a recent trip, for some comparative insights about why inaction is a terrible idea.

The first obvious comparison between the two regions made famous in 2006 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s book, Peace, not Apartheid, was important at the time. The shock value (for some) helped place Israel’s occupation on a similar level of severity as the infamous regime. However, over a decade later, the debate over whether occupation should be considered apartheid has grown stale. The word has become a team insignia rather than a signifier, and the toxic argument obscures other valuable insights from South Africa about how a conflict can wane, end, and eventually  transform.

In South Africa today, one implicit question seems to run like a river beneath most conversations: is it working? Did ending apartheid bring a better life for the oppressed, while protecting the erstwhile oppressors and their descendants?

Apartheid’s bitter residue still stains the country. Although the policy ended over two decades ago, Peter Sullivan, former chief editor of The Star, South Africa’s premier daily newspaper, stated pointedly to me, “When did it really end?”

Apartheid’s legacy crops up in conversation about nearly all social issues. Young people live with post-conflict experiments designed to equalize educational and professional opportunities. Art exhibits address contemporary struggles of racial identity. The country seems to hover between the vibrancy of a new society building itself – similar to the spirit that drew me to Israel in my 20s – and a descent into grave ills of corruption and crime.

Thus the second main comparison is less about Israel-Palestine, but relates to other post-conflict societies where I have worked: when...

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As two-state solution appears less likely, support for it keeps dropping

A new poll of Palestinians and Israelis finds that with symbolic incentives, a majority on both sides can be convinced to support a two-state solution. But time is only eroding support for two states across the Green Line.

For years, a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians supported a two-state solution in principle. After years of atrophy, large swaths of both societies now believe such a resolution to be impossible. That doubt strongly corresponds to sliding support for two states.

If that trend injures the prospects for peace, the next finding of a recent survey of Israeli and Palestinian attitudes towards the conflict — which I conducted together with Palestinian researcher Dr. Khalil Shikaki — adds insult to injury: a slim majority on both sides still support the two-state solution despite everything.

And yet, the poll found that with realistic policy incentives, the attitudes of many who oppose an agreement are flexible and can be changed. Combined with those who already support two states on both sides, a majority is attainable. If Israeli and Palestinian leaders were to forge an agreement, sign it and throw all of their political behind selling it to their constituents, the public on both sides would very likely come along. But not for long.

The analysis here is based on our poll of 1,200 Palestinians and 900 Israelis, conducted in June and early July, through the PCPSR and the Tami Steinmetz Center at Tel Aviv University. The samples are representative of the total population of each side (Jews and Arabs in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank among Palestinians). The full results, full questionnaire, and all other survey details, can be found here.

Glass half-full

Fifty-three percent of Israelis and 52 percent of Palestinians support the concept of a two-state solution in theory. After all the detailed items of a two-state solution (based on details we know from previous rounds of negotiations) are read to the respondents, support is lower, and similar on both sides: 43 percent among Palestinians, 41 percent among Israelis. However, only a portion of those opposed are hard and inflexible — a large portion would change their minds in exchange for various policy incentives.

For example, if the agreement stipulated that Palestinians would recognize Israel as a Jewish state, with Jewish history and religious attachment, 43 percent of those who first opposed the detailed agreement would change their minds, and...

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Is it 'unethical' to oppose the occupation in academia?

A new ‘code of ethics’ commissioned by Israel’s education minister seems to target left-wing politics in universities.

The Israeli Education Ministry, headed by far-right politician Naftali Bennett, recently commissioned an ethical code for political conduct in higher education in Israel. The resulting document (Hebrew) is a highly invasive set of political thought controls portrayed as high, dry ethical norms.

Following years of campaigns against left-wing academics, most famously by hyper-nationalist group Im Tirtzu, the new ethical code declares that its aim is to “protect students” from the political activity and views of academic faculty.

Penned by the same man who wrote the IDF’s controversial code of ethics, philosopher Asa Kasher, the code details “the limits of academic freedom,” touching on faculty and student political activity, and all other aspects of academic pursuits.

For example, on student political activity: “Freedom of expression” or “creative freedom” do not justify political activity if it harms the “dignity or political expression” of another group.

Translated in the current Israeli context, this unambiguously refers to the idea that boycotts in protest of Israel’s occupation policies could be interpreted as offensive to the dignity of students – and therefore can be prevented on campus. It could refer just as well to the commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba at Israeli universities, or questioning Zionism. It is hard to imagine the author considered right-wing activism, IDF support, or Im Tirtzu thought-bullies when drawing up that item.

The document also spends extensive space advocating “diversity” within disciplines. A chapter titled “cultivating diversity” states that an academic department — or conference or journal — that selects only a “narrow range” of “subjects or streams” (of thinking), must explicitly publicize that fact. For the uninitiated, this means: if too many faculty members are deemed left wing, they are to put up a sign. The concept closely resembles Israel’s NGO law, which seeks to shame left-wing NGOs through public markings on all their material.

At the same time, the code warns academics to teach and research only within their disciplines, through chapters with communist-sounding names: “preserving the distinctness of disciplines and their boundaries.” Another section admonishes lecturers to teach strictly according to the syllabus, which is “like a contract.” It rambles on with wordy chapters about every aspect of academia, from faculty hiring, to conferences, clinics and seminar courses, and a chapter on “other academic activity” for...

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Fifty years of opposition

Each decade of the occupation has brought changing fortunes to prospects for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and varying levels of opposition to Israel’s military rule. After half a century, could there finally be a proposal that stands a chance?

Fifty-fever marking the anniversary since the 1967 war has swept both the Israeli Left and the Right. The Right is dreaming up ever more creative ways to celebrate Israel’s triumph — the culture minister recently wore a dress screen-printed with scenes from Jerusalem to the Cannes Film Festival — while the Israeli Left is grasping for ways to remind a largely-apathetic public about the ills of occupation.

Still, the often-overlooked fact is that 50 years of Israeli occupation is also a half-century of opposition. It is true that the core goal of ending occupation has failed and there is no political resolution in sight. But the history of opposition holds elements of success. In fact the often-derided “peace industry” has produced not just dialogues and demonstrations but has helped legitimize ideas in Israel that form the core principles for resolving the conflict.

In the beginning, there were doubts

The start of opposition to Israel’s policy in the territories captured in 1967 go back to the war itself. Its consequences have never been a consensus in Israel.

Shortly after the war, the scientist cum conscience-philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz railed against prolonged military rule over the Palestinians. He argued that Israel would lose its Jewish majority and Israelis would turn into security-obsessed occupiers, while destroying Palestinian society.

But even during the war, on its fifth day, a parliamentarian named Uri Avnery called openly on the prime minister to give the captured land to the Palestinians so that the latter could establish an independent state. In August 1967, the writer Amos Oz wrote an open letter calling to end the occupation.

This same phase saw the birth of the settlements. But in 1970, a nascent movement of IDF pre-recruits protesting their service in “the territories” emerged – some would later refuse. In 1978 a letter signed by several hundred officers protested government policy “perpetuating its rule over a million Arabs,” which they argued “could harm the Jewish-democratic character of the state.” The letter became a touchstone moment in the formation of Peace Now.

Today these words sound standard. But at the time, they were shocking. In...

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1968 poll shows what Jewish Jerusalemites thought of Palestinians

A survey of Jerusalem’s Jewish residents just months after the end of the Six-Day War showed that, even back then, the majority wanted little to do with their Arab neighbors — and as few reminders as possible that they were there at all.

At the close of the Six-Day War in 1967, Jerusalem’s Jewish residents were surely elated, like most Israeli Jews, by the famous words, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” But when it came to daily life with their new Arab neighbors, most quickly decided they would have preferred a land without a people.

A survey conducted less than one year after the reunification showed deep suspicion, and large majorities who supported limiting the presence of Arabs in their lives to the fullest extent possible. The full survey (Hebrew) is being published here (English) for the first time in full; it was found by Akevot, a a human rights research and documentation center that publishes fascinating archival material. The poll had been described by Tom Segev in his book 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East, but the full data were not made available until now.

In 1968, surveys were a lengthy undertaking. Interviews were conducted face-to-face, and the coded responses were processed slowly. Even the relatively small sample of 283 respondents in this survey would have taken several months to conduct and process. The copy here includes a cover letter dated March 11, 1968, following a discussion of the results at a Ministerial Committee on Jerusalem. That means the survey was already completed and analyzed possibly by early March; most likely the interviews were conducted in January and February of 1968, or even December 1967 – just over half a year after the war.

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Based on the findings, the overwhelming conclusion is that Jews wanted little to do with Palestinians of Jerusalem, other than to expand into their neighborhoods.

Nearly sixty percent said that Arabs shouldn’t be allowed to move to the Western part of the city. Eighty-five percent thought the unification would bring increased crime, and 81 percent said it would bring severe social problems. Although a small majority agreed that Arabs...

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The Jewish-Arab love story that threatened Israel's national identity

‘All the Rivers,’ the latest book by Dorit Rabinyan, generated international headlines when it was banned from Israel’s high school curriculum for depicting a Jewish-Arab romance. On the occasion of its publication in English, +972 Magazine speaks with the author about the ban and its fallout, and about traversing boundaries.

In December 2015, Israel’s Education Ministry banned Dorit Rabinyan’s third novel, “All the Rivers,” from the high school literature curriculum on the grounds that it encouraged assimilation via the tale of a Jewish-Arab romance. If that was the reason, the ministry need not have bothered: The autobiographically-inspired relationship between a young Jewish Israeli woman, who is similar to Rabinyan, and a charismatic Palestinian artist is doomed all on its own.

Almost from the moment the protagonist, Liat, meets the irrepressible Hilmi on a blustery late fall evening in New York, voices are swirling in her head. They alternate between “what are you doing?” and “this cannot happen,” and they never totally go away. The book is a chronicle of the passion and sorrow of the impossible relationship through the ages.

At the request of numerous teachers, Haaretz reported at the time, a professional pedagogic committee recommended including the book in the high school curriculum based on its literary and thematic merits. But Education Ministry officials rejected it and the far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett backed the decision. I suspect Bennett had not yet read the book; if he had, he might have realized that his master stroke did not suppress Rabinyan’s view of the prospects for a relationship between an Israeli and a Palestinian, but rather echoed it. Ironically, but predictably, the attention made her book a bestseller.

It also turned Rabinyan into a target. In an interview with +972 Magazine prior to the release of the English translation (published by Random House Hardcover & eBook), she described how Bennett’s public statements were a dog whistle to followers of right-wing thugs.

“[On social media] they wished me all manner of curses, rape and death, all kinds of death…There were phone calls in the middle of the night from people cursing me.” She avoided her phone for days that passed in a fog. She was spat on. “Spitting on the streets is sort of a symbol. They said, ‘you’re not worth the soles of IDF boots’… they were devotees of their shepherd, sheep who got the sign from their leader.”

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Germany's foreign minister calls Netanyahu's bluff — and rightly so

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel will learn far more from his meetings with B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence.

Given an ultimatum of meeting with Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem or meeting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel very simply made the right choice to forego Netanyahu. And not in order to “defy” Netanyahu, as per a breathless Bloomberg headline, or to give any message at all.

He was right simply because what would he have actually learned from Netanyahu? Those organizations will give Gabriel concrete information: B’Tselem will update him on developments regarding the 50-year-old occupation and its most current manifestations, in the form of data, documentation and analysis. Breaking the Silence will give him human experiences of occupation, and tell the truth about growing attempts to intimidate and suppress the group for daring to oppose Israeli policies.

Now consider the meeting with Netanyahu. The two would probably have complimented each other on their great trade relations, something neither needs to see the other to know. Netanyahu, after all, got his submarines. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu would have fed him saccharin promises and empty calories about how Israel yearns for peace, without admitting how satisfied society and government are with the status quo.

Netanyahu might have paid tight-lipped service to a two-state solution, while he and his government take all possible measures on the ground to abort a Palestinian state. Netanyahu might have read some tweets from COGAT, which, together with the Civil Administration, governs Palestinian civilian life through the military — perhaps tweets about how kind Israel is to let some trucks pass into Gaza.

He would certainly have cited the cancer patients who were allowed to Israel for medical treatment and caught smuggling tubes of explosive material, or the stabbing attack in Tel Aviv by a teenager on Sunday. And he will expect these incidents to prove why Israel must never ever end the military regime in the West Bank or control over Gaza.

But anyone who cares to look knows that Netanyahu’s Israel is striving to own all the land. Any rational person can see the policies and conclude that Netanyahu — in his own and his ministers’ words — is against a Palestinian state.

Since any regular person can figure this out, not least a bright foreign minister, Gabriel would quickly have gotten bored. Then he might have gotten insulted....

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Marwan Barghouti's supporters should acknowledge his past

There are many reasons why Marwan Barghouti should eventually be released from jail so he can run for office. But the Left should, even as it supports him, take into account his past — and why he’s in prison.

Marwan Barghouti has shaken headlines by leading a hunger strike among Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, calling for improved conditions, and by publishing an op-ed in the New York Times explaining why. Over 1,100 Palestinian prisoners have so far joined the hunger strike.

The Israeli establishment is frothing at the mouth against what they call his lies, denying his allegations that he was tortured in earlier prison stints, denying that Israel even has political prisoners — implying that all 6,500 Palestinians in Israel jails, including 500 administrative detainees, are security prisoners — and bashing the New York Times.

Marwan Barghouti has been a charismatic Palestinian leader for decades and a committed and consistent two-state supporter, before and after the second Intifada. He was a serious rival to Yasser Arafat’s leadership and possibly a mortal political threat to Mahmoud Abbas. Surveys have long shown that he is the most likely to win a presidential election among Palestinians of the region; they also consistently show that nearly two-thirds of Palestinians wish for Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to resign.

Moreover, Barghouti has previously taken on the punishing task of criticizing human rights abuses by the PA against Palestinians — a sign that he might commit himself to a more democratic form of governance were he to enter office. He has been in jail for 13 years, where his popularity has only grown among Palestinians, and has been a leader of the struggle for Palestinian prisoner rights.

I am familiar with the path of certain leaders from violent struggle against political oppression, to statesperson. Every Israeli should be: It is the path of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Barghouti is more commonly compared, with no small controversy, to Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, or Nelson Mandela — both served jail time for charges related to violence.

For all these reasons, in my personal analysis and opinion Barghouti should eventually be released so that he can run for Palestinian political office, in the (unfortunately) unlikely event of Palestinian elections. He might bring more accountable governance to an increasingly rotten political system for Palestinians.

He has...

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Why 'it's not apartheid' arguments fail: Response to NYT op-ed

A New York Times op-ed argues that Israel is not the South African apartheid its author sat in jail to expose. But to make his case, Benjamin Pogrund ignores the heart of what occupation really is.

In an impassioned New York Times op ed, Benjamin Pogrund lays down the best possible arguments for why Israel is not an apartheid state. He brings out the full arsenal: his personal experience as a South African. His knowledge as a reporter who investigated and exposed the horrors of the system. He even paid the enormous price of jail time. It’s hard to top that level of credibility in dispelling the apartheid claim.

So why don’t his arguments work?

It starts with the author’s purpose. His actual aim is not a dispassionate comparison of apartheid with occupation, but to kick the legs out from under the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) argument. BDS, he writes, rests on the notion that Israel is like the South African apartheid regime, and boycott toppled the latter; break the equivalency and there can be no more BDS. This is what propelled his inquiry, and it taints the entire prospect.

In order to achieve his actual goal, Pogrund cannot just juxtapose the systems and assess them: he must always justify why boycott was right for South Africa but wrong for Israel. In other words, he has his conclusion in advance. If BDS claims that occupation is “worse than apartheid,” his overriding theme is “It’s not as bad.”

This leads him to provide a bizarre partial list of things going wrong in Israel and the West Bank, as if to pre-empt the criticism. But the disturbing silent refrain whispers behind each one. Military regime governing Palestinian life: it’s not as bad as apartheid. Home demolitions, the wall: It’s not as bad — as if relativity is all that matters; as if the awfulness of life under a permanent military regime can be quantified; as if other South Africans who lived under apartheid — black people, including Desmond Tutu — hadn’t pointed to just as many parallels; and as if the absolute fact of a 50-year occupation is not enough to demand that it end.

Pogrund’s “not as bad” theme glides into the next one: “it’s their fault,” even deftly connecting the two concepts. In his telling, Palestinians started the suicide bombings, which led to settlement growth, which led...

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The most satisfied group between the river and the sea

A new poll shows that among Israeli settlers, a striking 74 percent say that conditions in Israel these days are good or very good. The same cannot be said for their Palestinian neighbors.

Late Thursday night, the Israeli security cabinet voted unanimously to approve the establishment of a new West Bank settlement to be populated mainly by former residents of Amona, an illegal Israeli outpost ordered dismantled by the High Court of Justice. The cabinet’s decision effectively means that Amona was not truly dismantled, but rather put on hiatus before being reestablished about 20 kilometers away.

In the same meeting, the security cabinet also approved partial and “murky” restrictions to settlement growth. Those constraints are understood to be a gesture to U.S. President Donald Trump’s nod toward a future peace process. In February, Trump told Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom that he did not believe further construction is good for peace, after the White House had released an earlier statement that Israel should refrain from announcing new settlements.

Which of these decisions reflects the future of the settlement enterprise in Israel – expansion or constraint? The new Trump era is still unfolding, but settlers have their own opinion. For them, the future looks bright.

A large-scale survey from December, the “Palestinian-Israeli Pulse” (a joint poll conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research (TSC), Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah, with funding from the EU), for which I lead the Israeli research, found that among Israel’s Jewish West Bank residents (settlers), a striking 74 percent majority said that conditions in Israel these days are good or very good.

This simple question tells a major story. The settlers emerge as the most satisfied people between the river and the sea. Israeli Jews who live inside the Green Line find life much harder: just 41 percent of them say conditions are good in total. Twice as many West Bank settlers said conditions are very good, the most positive answer, relative to Jews inside the Green line (31 percent to 13 percent, respectively).

The experience of daily life is starkly divided along ethnic lines: among Arab citizens of Israel, just one quarter of respondents think conditions are good or very good – one third say they are bad in total. The remainder gave a non-committal “so-so” response.

Responses among Palestinians...

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Will we ever know the truth about World Vision and Hamas?

Australia says it found no evidence that its World Vision funds were diverted to Hamas, as Israel alleges. But can the Israeli legal process be trusted?

The Australian foreign ministry has not found any evidence that the Gaza head of a major humanitarian organization funneled Australian funds to Hamas, Australia’s ABC news reported Wednesday. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) conducted an investigation after Israel arrested a, Muhammed el-Halabi, the Palestinian head of World Vision’s Gaza office, and accused him of siphoning millions designated for humanitarian relief in Gaza to Hamas.

Israeli authorities held el-Halabi for 50 days before lifting a gag order on the fact that he had even been arrested, during which time Israel says he made a confession. For 25 of those days he was not allowed to see his lawyer, according to early reports. His lawyer has said he was physically beaten, and according to the ABC report, he was held in solitary confinement for six days – a practice that is associated with torture. Halabi has maintained his innocence and pled not guilty, refusing to accept a plea bargain sought by prosecutors.

World Vision is conducting its own internal forensic investigation into the issue, and has stated that it conducts scrupulous yearly audits to detect and prevent exactly this type of fraud. Australia and Germany both suspended their funding to date, for World Vision’s Gaza program in light of the arrest. The organization’s program mainly serves over 90,000 Palestinian children, Palestinians, including 40,000 in Gaza alone, according to its website.

Halabi’s case is currently being heard in Israel’s Beersheva District Court, which generally hears cases related to Gaza. A spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Emanuel Nahshon, told +972 Magazine that Israeli authorities had no comment on the DFAT report, arguing that the trial is not specifically about Australian funds but World Vision’s Gaza funding in general. The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency whose jurisdiction also extends to the West Bank and Gaza, doesn’t focus on NGOs, Nahshon said. “We only got to them through Halabi, because he works with Hamas,” he added, repeating the accusations against the Gazan man. “We have no focus on international non-governmental organizations.”

World Vision did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Israel has made similar accusations that relate to two other humanitarian organizations over the...

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'I'm part of a dying breed that believes in two states'

The election of Donald Trump has emboldened fears that the two-state solution will officially be tossed into the dustbin of history. But J Street President Jeremy Ben Ami is undeterred, steadfast in his belief that two states is the only solution.+972 Magazine speaks to him at the annual J Street conference about the rise of Steve Bannon, the possibility of a regional plan for peace, and why he thinks Palestinian citizens of Israel do not form a ‘natural alliance’ with his organization’s constituency.

Under the dark cloud of Israeli and American leaders who appear united in their disinterest in a two-state solution, and the growing refrain in policy circles that the “window” is gone, J Street, the organization whose signature policy goal is a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — might have found itself foundering. What new ideas can be found when all avenues to the goal have been exhausted? What role does it have left to play in such a bleak context?

The annual J Street Conference that ended Monday in Washington DC raised all these questions — minus the despair. Organizers said that over 3,500 people had turned out, panel rooms were packed to standing-only. The abundant cheering and whooping sometimes felt spontaneous and emotional, at others seemed tinged with effort to be enthusiastic.

One person whose enthusiasm seems effortless is Jeremy Ben Ami, the founder and president of the liberal Zionist organization. Despite all signs pointing to perdition, Ben Ami is indomitable, ticking off a long list of vital roles J Street has to play in the changed landscape of both America and Israel, and insisting on the singular viability of two-state solution. I spoke to Ben Ami as the conference neared its end on the role J Street must play in influencing U.S. government policy, among other things.

With the election of Donald Trump, Israel and America are now both being run by people who are not sympathetic to J Street’s agenda. What is J Street’s role in that kind of environment?

We need to be able to work in both opposition and support mode. I often use an American football metaphor to say that that we were the ‘blocking back’ under Obama, that we were going for the same end zone and trying to clear the way. Now we are on defense and trying to prevent bad things from happening.

Like what?

For instance, we’re trying...

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LISTEN: Trump may end up redefining Jewish American identity

By Dahlia Scheindlin and Gilad Halpern

Northeastern Professor Dov Waxman’s book, Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel (2016) was published before envisioning Donald Trump sitting in the Oval Office. Gilad Halpern and I hosted him on our podcast, the Tel Aviv Review, a couple of days after Trump’s inauguration, to try and understand whether — and how — a divisive and irascible commander-in-chief, and his unorthodox views on Israel, would affect the debate that his book unpacks.

Trump, Waxman told us, will likely exacerbate the already raging conflict on the very essence of the Jewish-American identity. And in it, Israel is simply part of the furniture.




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