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10 must-read articles for World Refugee Day

A selection of articles and stories about asylum seekers and refugees in Israel on the occasion of World Refugee Day. (Full disclosure, I couldn’t include just 10)

It has been more than a decade since refugees from Darfur first began making the dangerous journey across the Sinai desert in order to seek asylum in Israel. Since those early years, Israeli society and successive Israeli governments have become increasingly hostile toward the asylum seekers from Sudan, Eritrea and elsewhere who sought safety and dignity in the country.

On the occasion of World Refugee Day, here is a selection of articles about African refugees in Israel over the years. Since +972 Magazine was founded, we have always put special emphasis on telling refugees’ stories, letting refugees tell their own stories, and documenting their struggles in Israel.

The following list is organized semi-chronologically, with the most recent issues and coverage presented first. Also, check out our full collection of articles on refugees and asylum seekers in Israel.


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Extremist rabbi indicted for incitement against Palestinians

The indictment, which was approved by Israel’s attorney general, was the result of a years-long petition demanding the state take action. Israel’s quasi-constitution has no explicit protection of free speech.

A extremist Israeli settler rabbi who has published articles and books on the permissibility of killing non-Jews was indicted for incitement to violence on Tuesday, years after penning his most notorious work, “Torat Halmelech.”

The indictment of Rabbi Yosef Elitzur was the result of a petition filed two years ago by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), and Tag Meir, demanding that the state take criminal action against him.

“It is high time Israel cease to tolerate the intolerable,” Anat Hoffman, executive director of IRAC, said of the indictment. “A rabbi like him contaminates our Jewish tradition and pollutes our democracy. Freedom of speech ends when hate and violence are preached and practiced.”

Incitement charges are most common against Palestinians in Israel, with authorities rarely holding Jewish citizens to the same standards of criminal liability. Freedom of speech is not explicitly guaranteed under Israeli law, and authorities and legislators place many limits on protected speech in the country.

Read +972’s Special Coverage: Censorship and Freedom of Information

In recent years, hundreds of Palestinians have been put on trial in civilian and military courts for statuses posted on Facebook that Israeli authorities deem inciting.

One of the most famous cases was the trial of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, who was charged criminally for a poem she wrote and posted online. Earlier this week, a Jewish Israeli activist lawyer was criminally convicted for a song he wrote about a police officer.

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Netanyahu vows to occupy the West Bank forever

If Israel is not willing to relinquish military control over the West Bank, then it is saying that there can be no two-state solution.

Benjamin Netanyahu last week promised that Israel will never relinquish security control over the West Bank, even as part of a two-state peace deal, which is to say that the Israeli army will occupy the Palestinian territory forever.

“[I]n any agreement, and even without an agreement, we will maintain security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River,” the prime minister said at an event marking 50 years since Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip, putting them under military rule, otherwise known as the occupation.

Let’s break that down: the Israeli prime minister, who regularly blames the Palestinians for the lack of progress toward peace, has openly admitted — again — that he is unwilling to end the occupation. Without ending the occupation there can be no Palestinian sovereignty. Without Palestinian sovereignty there can be no Palestinian state, and no national self-determination.

Without Palestinian national self-determination and statehood, the Palestinian people are left living as subjects under a military regime with no civil rights, no suffrage.

But have no illusions, this is far from the first time that Netanyahu made clear that he has no intention of ever ending the occupation. The world has heard him say it time and again, year after year.

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Yet time and again, the world pretends like the Israeli prime minister is a partner for peace, that if only the Palestinians could be convinced to make one more concession, peace would be within reach.

The truth is that Netanyahu’s grasp on power is predicated on his record of stability, which means maintaining the status quo — occupation and all. For the most part, Israelis are in one of most comfortable positions they’ve ever been in vis-à-vis the Palestinians. There is no urgency to end the occupation. The perceived risk in relinquishing territory and “security control” to the Palestinians far outweighs any perceived benefit.

What Netanyahu said this week, however, is not only that he doesn’t think it wise to take those risks in the foreseeable future. He...

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In Israel's official portrait, only Jewish lives matter

A new government report published on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day only concerns itself with infant mortality statistics and life expectancy of Jewish citizens. What does that say about Israel’s attitude towards non-Jews?

It is not all that uncommon for nationalist Israelis to accuse anybody politically to the left of them of supporting, or attempting to transform Israeli into “a state of all its citizens.” The idea being that a state which sees, counts, serves, and protects all of its citizens equally, irrespective of ethnicity or creed, would destroy Israel as we know it — Israel the Jewish state, which belongs only to its Jewish citizens.

It should be no surprise then that a state which values its Jewish citizens over anyone else would measure its successes using metrics that include only its Jewish population, excluding one in five of its total population.

For instance, an annual official demographic report published on the eve of Independence Day (Hebrew), comparing infant mortality rates in Israel “then and now,” only includes the statistics for the country’s Jewish citizens. The infant mortality rate in Israel is an impressive 2.2 per 1,000 live births, according to the press release published by the Central Bureau of Statistics. But if you read the fine print you learn that number is only for Jews. (See note at the bottom of this article.)

According to the full data found on the CBS’s website, the infant mortality rates for Muslim citizens of Israel is 6.5 per 1,000 live births, nearly three times the rate for Jewish citizens, and 6.2 per 1,000 for all Arab citizens. The national rate, including all Israeli citizens irrespective of race or ethnicity, is 3.1 per 1,000.

Is this an attempt at inflating statistics in order to make the country look good? Is it a more sinister statement that Jewish lives matter more than non-Jewish lives in Israel? Perhaps both? It’s pretty sickening either way.

Several other figures in the CBS document, sent to the press last Thursday, also give data exclusively for Israel’s Jewish population, which comprises 74.7 percent of all Israeli citizens. Many of the other figures for which data pertaining only to the Jewish population was published, like average life expectancy, also hide significant disparities between the Jewish and non-Jewish populations of Israel.

According to the document published last week, life expectancy in Israel is 80.9 for men...

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'Day of Rage' protests across West Bank in support of hunger strikers

Israeli troops suppress the protests with live bullets, rubber-coated munitions, and tear gas, wounding dozens. 1,500 Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike to demand improved conditions, an end to administrative detention.

Thousands of Palestinians held protests in at least a dozen locations around the West Bank and East Jerusalem on Friday as part of a “day of rage” in solidarity with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, some 1,500 of whom have refused food in Israeli prisons for the past 12 days.

Israeli military forces shot at least seven protesters with live bullets, according to Palestinian news agency Ma’an, and dozens others were wounded by rubber-coated bullets, being struck by projectile tear gas canisters, and tear gas inhalation.

Protests took place in Nabi Saleh, outside the Ofer military prison, in the city of Silwad, in Sinjil, at the Qalandiya checkpoint, in Bethlehem, the Nablus-area town of Beita, al-Naqura, Awarta, al-Arrub, Beit Ummar, at a checkpoint near Qalqilya, Jenin, and in Kafr Qaddum.

The day of rage followed a general strike in solidarity with the prisoners, which shut down commerce in Palestinian cities across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem on Thursday.

Smaller protests have been taking place on both sides of the Green Line for nearly two weeks, outside Israeli prisons and also in town and city centers.

At least 1,200 Palestinian prisoners are taking part in the now-12-day hunger strike, demanding improved conditions in Israeli prisons. Among the demands of the prisoners are: an end to administrative detention, more family visits and more phones for contacting family, access to education, and an end to the use of solitary confinement. Prisoners had access to many of the conditions now being demanded, but Israeli authorities revoked some of them as retribution for the 2006 capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and 2014 deadly kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers.

Individual hunger strikes have become more common in recent years, primarily undertaken by prisoners being held without charge or trial (in administrative detention), although larger groups of Palestinian prisoners have also launched larger hunger strikes over the years.

Civil rights group Adalah filed an emergency petition with the High Court of Justice on Thursday demanding that the Israel Prison Service (IPS) allow the hunger-striking prisoners visits with their lawyers; prison officials have been preventing them from meeting with attorneys as punishment for not eating. Preventing lawyer visits with prisoners as a punitive measure...

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Palestinians hold general strike in support of hunger-striking prisoners

Over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have refused food for nearly two weeks to protest prison conditions and practices like administrative detention. A ‘day of rage’ is planned for Friday.

A general strike in solidarity with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners on took place across the West Bank and East Jerusalem on Thursday. Shops in commercial districts shuttered their doors, leaving normally busy streets and markets empty.

“Shops, institutions, banks, and schools all closed in support of the hunger strikers,” Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported. In addition, a “day of rage” was planned for Friday, with protests expected in a number of Palestinian cities.

Smaller protests have been taking place on both sides of the Green Line for nearly two weeks, outside Israeli prisons and also in town and city centers.

At least 1,200 Palestinian prisoners are taking part in the now-12-day hunger strike, demanding improved conditions in Israeli prisons. Among the demands of the prisoners are: an end to administrative detention, more family visits and more phones for contacting family, access to education, and an end to the use of solitary confinement. Prisoners had access to many of the conditions now being demanded, but Israeli authorities revoked some of them as retribution for the 2006 capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit and 2014 deadly kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers.

Individual hunger strikes have become more common in recent years, primarily undertaken by prisoners being held without charge or trial (in administrative detention), although larger groups of Palestinian prisoners have also launched larger hunger strikes over the years.

Civil rights group Adalah filed an emergency petition with the High Court of Justice on Thursday demanding that the Israel Prison Service allow the hunger-striking prisoners visits with their lawyers; prison officials have been preventing them from meeting with attorneys as punishment for not eating. Preventing lawyer visits with prisoners as a punitive measure is a direct contradiction of previous Supreme Court rulings, the civil rights group said.

Israeli authorities are also taking other punitive measures against the hunger-striking prisoners, ranging from solitary confinement to transfers between prisons to the confiscation of radios and salt from prisoners’ cells, Haaretz reported on Thursday.

Israel is currently holding some 6,500 Palestinians in its prisons, including over a dozen elected members of the Palestinian parliament, and hundreds of others who are being held in administrative detention. Israel uses administrative detention to imprison Palestinians without having...

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PHOTOS: When you could ride a train from Gaza City to Tel Aviv

The rail line, which is almost unimaginable today considering the blockade and permit regime, ran for just under a year — until the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

It’s been nearly 45 years since you could hop on a train in Gaza City and ride all the way to Tel Aviv, a situation that is almost unimaginable considering the blockade and severe restrictions on movement enforced by Israel today. The rail line, which ran for just under a year, was operated mostly for Palestinian laborers coming to work in the central Israeli city.

The following photos, from the archives of the Israeli Government Press Office, were taken on November 1, 1972, the first morning the train brought Palestinians from Gaza to Tel Aviv.

According to a 2014 article on Hebrew-language news site Mako, the rail service was discontinued just under a year later at the outbreak of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israeli authorities were considering closing it far earlier, however, due to very few Palestinians using it — starting even on the first day.

In its November 2, 1972 article about the launch of the train a day earlier, the Davar newspaper reported that a mere 25 passengers rode the 1,000-person capacity train that morning — partly, the reporter suggested, because nobody knew about it and also because the station, at Medina Square in Gaza City, was full of Israeli soldiers.

“It turns out that the workers getting onto buses at the Egged station across from the train station didn’t know about the train, and perhaps some of them feared riding the train due to the crowd of soldiers at the station,” Davar reported. “O.C. Central Command Rehavam Ze’evi suggested that army personnel clear out from the station, in order to give it a more civilian appearance.”

(It’s ironic, in the darkest possible way, that Ze’evi was reported encouraging Palestinians to get on a train into Israel. Aside from being assassinated, he is best known for advocating the forced population transfer — read: ethnic cleansing — of Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza.)

The train was supposed to run for a few months as a trial, after which its viability and future would be re-evaluated. It didn’t go well.

On February 26, 1973, Davar reported: “The military government in Gaza and North Sinai informed Transportation Minister Shimon Peres that it is ending...

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'There's an opportunity to embed Palestine in the progressive agenda'

A lot of smart people thought Barack Obama would be more sympathetic than his predecessors to the Palestinian cause, hopefully resulting in a more even-handed approach to the conflict. Obama, however, along with Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, failed to achieve peace and things on the ground in Israel/Palestine are measurably worse today than they were eight years ago.

The Trump administration, however, has thrown most campaigners on the issue of Israel/Palestine for a loop, and forced many to re-evaluate their priorities. “Even having prepared for the worst since the election, in practice things are still pretty shocking,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, head of Jewish Voice for Peace says.

JVP is the most prominent Jewish organization to have endorsed the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), a distinction that has driven a wedge between it and more mainstream Jewish groups and institutions — and also contributed to its growth. With 70 chapters across the United States, 12,000 dues-paying members and a quarter of a million online supporters, the group has become a major player in recent years.

The organization’s willingness to ally itself with the Palestinian cause — and Palestinians — has also put it and its members in the crosshairs of a new, no-holds-barred type of pro-Israel group taking root in the United States and elsewhere. Canary Mission, a shadowy website whose sole purpose is to smear pro-Palestine activists with allegations of anti-Semitism and concocted ties to terrorism, has profiles on JVP and Vilkomerson. Almost comically, on the Canary Mission website, JVP is placed directly next to Hamas.

Are such tactics having a silencing effect? Are state-sponsored attacks on pro-Palestinian groups and activists, seen most recently in Israeli-imposed travel restrictions and intelligence gathering against boycott supporters, a sign that the BDS movement is making gains? And what role does a Jewish-American organization have in fighting for Palestinian rights?

What is the future of activism on Israel/Palestine in the Trump era? I sat down with Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, to discuss strategies, hopes and fears for the coming four years. The following has been edited for length.

Israel passed a law barring entry to BDS supporters earlier this month. You wrote at the time that you hoped it would hasten the day when anybody can travel freely to Israel. Yet this is only one of many attempts to push back against BDS...

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Blacklists and travel bans aren’t new in Israel — the targets are

Palestinian activists and others have long faced actual travel bans, blacklists, and political persecution. Nevertheless, that some of the same methods are now being used against Israeli and American Jews is a worrying sign.

One of the Israeli government’s senior-most ministers said last year that Israeli BDS advocates must be made to pay a price for their political activism. A series of developments over the past month or so seems to demonstrate that he was completely serious, and that efforts to target nonviolent political dissidents are escalating to worrying levels.

First came the law banning entry into Israel of people who have made public calls for boycotts of Israel or its settlements. The law also bars entry for anyone who has even pledged to participate in such a boycott, which could easily be interpreted to include merely signing an online petition against buying settlement products.

Then, a few weeks ago, police detained a prominent Jewish-Israeli activist for allegedly “possessing BDS materials,” whatever that means. The official reason was suspicion of incitement. He was released after a short while — because possessing BDS materials is not a crime in Israel — but the incident demonstrated how the new entry law sent a message to regular Israelis: BDS is dangerous — something one might reasonably report to police.

This week, the same government minister who said BDS activists should “pay a price” for their political activism, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, proposed an official blacklist of individuals and entities that “willfully, consistently and methodically called publicly for a boycott of Israel [or its settlements],” according to a report in Haaretz.

Along with other policies and propaganda targeting Israeli human rights groups and anti-occupation activists, the government has made clear that there is no legitimate space for dissent in Israel these days. Human rights groups are painted as hostile foreign agents, foreigners who boycott settlements are forbidden from entering the country, and intelligence resources are even being directed to surveil and smear opponents of Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

The recent developments are only new, however, in as much as they are now targeting people whose ethnic and religious privilege once granted them relative immunity. Israel has for decades put actual travel bans on Palestinians engaged in international advocacy challenging the occupation, barring them from leaving Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories.

For seven years,...

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Who pays when Palestinians are harmed by Israeli forces?

Over the past 20 years, Israel has assembled an entire system to ensure it won’t have to pay compensation to Palestinians harmed by security forces in the occupied territories.

It is almost impossible for Palestinians to file successful civil suits against the Israeli military for harm caused to them in the occupied territories, thereby leaving them with no effective avenues for recourse, according to a report published by Israeli human rights clearinghouse B’Tselem on Wednesday.

As a result of a combination of legislation limiting Israel’s liability toward Palestinians, along with procedural hurdles erected by the military and civilian court systems, the number of civil suits successfully filed by Palestinians against the Israeli military has dropped dramatically in recent years.

Whereas between the years 2002 to 2006 Palestinians filed an annual average of 300 new lawsuits against the Israeli Defense Ministry, a yearly average of only 18 new suits were filed a decade later between the years 2012 and 2016 — a mere six percent of the previous decade’s figure — according to data the Defense Ministry provided B’Tselem.

The amount of compensation paid out by the Defense Ministry has also fallen dramatically over the years. From 1997 to 2001, Israel paid a yearly average of NIS 21.6 ($5.7 USD) in court-ordered compensation to Palestinians. “In contrast, from 2012 to 2016,” the report notes, “Israel paid an average of about 3.8 million shekels [approximately $1 million USD] — a decline of more than 80 percent.”

Read the full report: ‘Getting Off Scot-Free’

Taken together with a defunct military justice system that completely fails to offer justice to Palestinians wronged by Israel, the inability to seek civil recourse means that there are no effective mechanisms for achieving accountability for Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinian population ruled by its military.

The primary tool Israel uses to prevent Palestinians from successfully filing civil suits against the military, according to the report, is the designation of nearly all incidents in the occupied territory as “combat activities.” Such a designation exempts the state and its agents from any liability in civil — and for the most part in criminal — law.

In other words, Palestinians cannot sue the Israeli military for collateral damage in a combat operation. The problem is the broad expansion of what constitutes combat activities to include almost any action carried out by the army in the occupied territories, B’Tselem argues.

As the acting...

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Pot decriminalization could be the best explanation of apartheid yet

An Israeli and a Palestinian are hanging out somewhere in the West Bank. Maybe they’re activists decompressing after a particularly stressful protest. Maybe they’re old friends, an employer and an employee, catching up over a cup of coffee outside one of their homes. One of them pulls out a joint and shares it with the other.

Out of nowhere, an Israeli police officer shows up. He or she arrests the Palestinian. The Israeli walks free with a citation — a measly fine.

That is the situation that will be created if a bill to decriminalize marijuana, currently making its way through Israel’s parliament, becomes law.

That is the situation because there are dual legal systems in the West Bank: one set of laws and courts for Israeli nationals, one set of laws for Palestinians — in the exact same space.

Israel rules the West Bank as a military occupation, which means that for nearly 50 years the Israeli military has been the acting sovereign there and the law of the land is Israeli military law. That was good and fine, in theory, until Israeli settlers started moving into the West Bank.

You wouldn’t want Israeli civilians being brought before military courts created with the “enemy population” in mind, would you? Of course not.

So the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, did what any logical occupier who decided to transfer its civilian population into an occupied territory would do: it passed an “emergency regulation,” valid as long as Israel is in a declared state of emergency (which it always has been), that gives Israeli courts jurisdiction over crimes committed by Israeli nationals in the occupied West Bank — outside the State of Israel.

(For a great explanation of Israel’s dual legal systems in the West Bank, see this article in the Israel-Palestine Journal.)

So again, imagine this: an Israeli and a Palestinian are sharing the exact same joint. They are standing in the exact same place. They are caught by the exact same police officer. One becomes a criminal, brought to a military court with a 99 percent conviction rate, and faces time in military prison. The other goes free.

Is that apartheid? If not, what the hell is it? (Seriously. If you have a better term, let’s hear it in the comments section. Extra points for creativity and marijuana-related puns.)

Of course, the dual legal systems exist with or...

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WATCH: Trump Israel envoy praises Israeli leftists — for sending kids to the army

‘I don’t feel the same way about the Israeli Left as I do about the American Left, because the Israeli Left deeply, deeply care about their country,’ Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel is recorded saying.

Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next American ambassador to Israel has come under intense criticism for, among other things, saying the Jewish American pro-peace lobby J Street is “far worse than kapos – Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.”

But the contempt that Friedman, Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer with no diplomatic credentials, feels for American leftists does not extend to left-wing Israelis who hold the exact same positions.

In a video published by prominent Israeli political blogger Tal Schneider on Wednesday, Friedman says he respects the Israeli Left because unlike left-wing Americans, they care about their country. Oh yeah, and they send their kids to the army.

“Israel has a very active left wing. I don’t feel the same way about the Israeli Left as I do about the American Left, because the Israeli Left are sending their kids to the army, and the Israeli Left deeply, deeply care about their country,” Friedman told a room full of people in his hometown of Woodmere, NY on the eve of the presidential election. “In their case it’s a matter of conscience.”

“The American Left — they just don’t care about Israel. So it’s a different dynamic. So I respect the Israeli Left but don’t agree with them,” Friedman continued. “Israel is a center-right country but they have a strong Left and those people, obviously have a right to be heard as well.”

Not all Israeli leftists send their children to the army, of course. Three young Israeli women are currently doing time in military prison for refusing to complete their compulsory military service, and specifically for refusing to serve in the occupation.

Furthermore, the left-wing Israeli group that has come under the most fire in recent years, called traitors and worse, is Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli army combat soldiers who speak out about their military service in the occupied territories.

Sections of the video were originally published a week ago by CNN, which reported on other parts of the speech but not Friedman’s remarks on Israeli leftists, which...

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Could a Palestinian politician best represent American Jewish values?

Progressive American Jews may be willing to stand alongside American Muslims, but are they ready to demonstrate the same solidarity for Arab citizens of Israel? Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, is a test case for where ‘pro-peace’ Jews draw the line.

Progressive American Jews have had a hard time in recent years finding an Israeli political movement they can truly stand behind. As long as there was a peace process, it was fairly easy for a “pro-peace” supporter to know whom to back. Without a peace process, without even the prospect of a peace process, the main metric through which many American Jews understand Israeli politics has all but collapsed.

The Labor Party, the party of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, was traditionally thought of as the foundation of Israel’s peace camp. Under the leadership of Isaac Herzog — although beginning with Ehud Barak — Labor has made a concerted effort to disassociate itself from the Left. Herzog regularly argues that he is in fact a member of Israel’s “nationalist camp,” and even rebranded his party as the Zionist Union.

Herzog’s process of moving away from whatever remains of Israel’s peace camp culminated, perhaps ironically, with the publication of his very own peace plan last week. In an attempt to ingratiate himself with a more “centrist” constituency, he included in his 10-point plan waiting at least 10 years before even attempting to restart peace talks. It was a slap in the face for anybody who sees the urgency of ending Israel’s 50-year-long undemocratic military regime over millions of Palestinians, and more fitting for the man he aims to replace: Benjamin Netanyahu.

Which begs the question, which Israeli politician best represents the values espoused by all those American Jews who believe the occupation must end? Could it be that the Israeli politician most closely aligned with progressive Jewish American values is a Palestinian?

Delivering a keynote address at the annual J Street conference in Washington this weekend, Ayman Odeh, leader of the third-largest bloc in Israel’s parliament, the Joint List, described a Jewish-Arab agenda to advance true and full equality, social justice, and peace.

I asked Odeh if, in the wake of Herzog’s plan to defer peacemaking, he believes there is a unique opportunity to present himself to progressive American Jews as the Israeli politician who is most closely aligned with their values.

“I think I share something, as a member...

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