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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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The Left should stop bickering and support Obama's abstention

Everyone knew that abstention from the Security Council’s anti-settlement resolution was one of the more realistic options on a very limited menu. So why is the Left now up in arms?

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power barely got the word “abstain” out of her mouth before the liberal left ripped into the decision with a thousand knives. Wait, what? The U.S. abstention allowed the Security Council to pass Resolution 2334 by 14-0. The statement calls on Israel to halt to settlement activity, viewed as a mortal threat to the two-state solution, the signature policy of the left in this conflict (and the center too). Both the United Nations Security Council and the U.S. swore their undying loyalty to ending the conflict through two states; anyone who supports this was supposed to celebrate.

But the more cynical than thou left had to find counterpoint criticism, well, just because. In response, I will summon the apt Hebrew phrase: Hevre, ma kara? You get what you want but it’s still not good enough?

For months, every specialized left-wing policy circuit has been rife with speculation — even obsession — with hope that Obama would do at least something on this issue on his way out. Everyone knew that abstention from an anti-settlement resolution was one of the more realistic options on a very limited menu. I never heard a single liberal left-winger argue against it.

Then overnight, with cyber-columns to fill, complaints sprung to life in the form of a few essentially flimsy arguments.

One is that for eight years, Obama was unable to prevent the expanding, multi-headed hydra of occupation or preserve the vanishing two-state solution. The abstention allowing the UNSC to pass a single resolution against settlements is too little too late — a mocking reminder that the outgoing president’s talk was bigger than his walk. This is the gist of Aluf Benn’s column in Haaretz. Apparently some critics would prefer that Obama to slink out of the room in shame rather than drive home a lasting statement. I can already recite the “biting” critique of these same people upbraiding Obama in an alternate universe for failing to take one final stance.

Another acrobatic analysis holds that the abstention will further embolden the right-wing argument, in which the whole world is against Israel. That’s a ringing endorsement of never doing anything. If a $38 billion...

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On the struggles and duties of the Israeli Left: A response to 'Palestine Today'

Despite clear room for improvement, the Israeli Left still offers valuable examples of progressive activism.

By Dahlia Scheindlin and Matt Duss

Palestine Today, a California-based blog, has written a sincere response to our article drawing on lessons and parallels between Israel and the U.S. for dejected progressives.

We appreciate the thoughtful critique regarding what is clearly a shared goal of advancing progressive values and ending occupation. Some of the points reflect very real ambiguities in the situation, and we welcome the opportunity to engage in an important conversation.

An early and recurring argument in Palestine Today’s critique is that we did not place more emphasis on the Palestinian BDS movement. We described examples in a general sense but didn’t go into details; therefore it isn’t especially conspicuous that we didn’t emphasize the Palestinian BDS call — we didn’t mention any one effort by name, including those we are directly involved in.

Next, we have made it fairly clear that the two areas being explored are Israel and the U.S. Notwithstanding what we surely all agree is a vigorous attempt by Israel’s government to obliterate the Green Line, there is still a distinction between Israeli and Palestinian society. And in Israeli society, the Palestinian BDS call is far from the “single most popular idea,” as Palestine Today claims, in any form or forum at all. Until about 2014, the vast majority of Israelis hadn’t heard of it.

Since then, BDS has become mainly the target of Israeli rage, but it is not currently an example of Israeli activism, which is what the article is about (alongside U.S. activism). It should be abundantly clear from both of our work that, while each of us may have certain disagreements with the BDS movement or its activists, we strongly believe that support for Palestinian rights, both within the Green Line and beyond, is an important part of the broader progressive agenda.

Scheindlin stands by her critique of Israel’s 2011 social protests, but it is legitimate (and important) to look at such a significant event with five years’ hindsight and consider lasting impact that couldn’t have been assessed in real time. In that light, perhaps the most powerful aspect to note is just the large-scale participation itself, which at the very least demonstrated civic power. Arguably that power was...

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Lessons from Israel on how to build resistance in the U.S.

American liberals in despair over the presidential election would do well to look at Israel, where setbacks at the ballot box brought left-wingers together and drove them to think bigger.

By Matt Duss and Dahlia Scheindlin

As the initial shock of the presidential election fades, American progressives are left struggling with disturbing implications beyond the mere fact of being on the losing side. We ponder the apparent declaration that America rejects its religious and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ community, the immigrants who have made this country great, its independent women, and even its equality-supporting men. What looked like a historic march toward greater equality and inclusiveness seems to have ground to an angry halt. Our thinking, activism, and writing apparently reached only “ourselves,” insufficiently at that, and failed to win over enough of “them.” Despair is a looming option.

Sadly for the world, but luckily for us, this isn’t our first time around. The two of us are both deeply involved in Israel, professionally and personally. For Israeli progressives, Netanyahu’s fourth re-election in March 2015 also felt like a local version of a grand-scale collapse. Just over a year later, with the Brexit vote, a slim majority of British voters said to hell with that massive structure symbolizing the values of the interconnected world we desire.

So why are we lucky to have lived this bitter reality before? Because we have one distinct advantage in facing America’s new reality: experience. We’ve had time to absorb the blow and think about what to do next. And these experiences can only lead in one direction: More commitment to the values of openness, more progressive engagement, more assertive leveraging of the tools necessary for those of us who have been kicked out of the ring and into the back rows of opposition.

This brings us back to 2009 in Israel, long before Benjamin Netanyahu’s infamous 2015 statement about Israel’s Arabs “voting in droves.” In 2009, Netanyahu made his great “comeback,” returning to the political scene and becoming prime minister a decade after he was first routed by voters with no small amount of disgust in 1999. Netanyahu’s return was seen by many as a deathblow to the progressive, outward- and forward-looking vision of peace and equality already eroded by the violence of the aughts. Many were left shattered — and scared.

But, then, a strange thing happened. The election, along with the Gaza...

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LISTEN: Lessons for Israel-Palestine from a divided Cyprus

Is conflict management sustainable? A closer look at a similar conflict should serve as a stark reminder for all Israelis who care about peace.

Living the Israeli-Palestinian conflict day in, day out, one often feels suffocated by a thicket of obstacles to peace. Wherever one looks for solutions, the doors seem to slam shut. It is easy to conclude that no conflict has ever been so stubbornly intractable, and that no one faces so many layers of complexity. What I’ve noticed from years of international work and close observation of other protracted conflicts is that the people in those other places feel just the same.

This year, I began a project at a think tank called Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies to try and learn more systematically from other conflicts with comparable problems. No two situations are exactly alike, but I firmly believed from my experiences that much can be gained from such comparisons by way of lessons, new thinking, and also warnings. In a recent paper, I focus on our close neighbors, Cyprus, to see what Israelis and Palestinians can learn. Divided since 1974, the leaders of the Turkish Cypriot north and the Greek Cypriot south (Republic of Cyprus) are currently negotiating towards a peace and reunification deal.

Whether they will succeed cannot be known. Still, a close analysis leads me to conclude that conflict management is a poor option — something that Israelis and Palestinians should take to heart. In this interview with Gilad Halpern of TLV1 radio, I discuss the comparison of conflicts generally, and Cyprus in particular, hoping to shed new light on old problems.

Read more:
How thousands of Palestinian and Israeli women are waging peace
The two-state solution is dead. Let’s move on
It’s 2016 — let’s say goodbye to Zionism once and for all

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UNESCO's mistake on Jerusalem

The resolution was yet another shallow attack on identity elements, the same type I reject every time Israel does it to Palestinians. It was also a setback to the kind of UN action that could actually move the bar in a region that desperately needs it.

UNESCO has made a startlingly bad move in voting to affirm “Item 25,” a hodgepodge of condemnations and calls for Israel to stop policies that harm religious or cultural sites in Jerusalem, Hebron and Gaza. On Jerusalem, the text conspicuously referred to the holiest site by its Muslim name only: Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif, pointedly neglecting – denying, many feel – the Jewish history of the site Jews call the Temple Mount. The declaration specifically noted the importance of the Old City to the three monotheistic faiths, a contrast which actually highlighted the excision of any Jewish connection to the actual holy site itself.

UNESCO can claim an ignoble feat of making me agree with Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, and maybe for the first time in living memory, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself. Both thrashed UNESCO for taking a blunt hatchet to ancient and modern sensibilities of the Jewish people.

Why did I take it so personally? I am not religious. But I hold degrees in both comparative religion and ethnonationalist conflict; I am also a practitioner working to untangle them. So I can say for certain: one doesn’t need any of those credentials, only common sense, to know that human beings hold their religious beliefs and ancient national mythology extremely dear. Many will kill and die for these things.

Israel and every other human society should evolve beyond physical violence for the sake of holy sites. But to deny spiritual connections is deeply disrespectful to those who simply feel connected to our history and tradition. I fasted on Yom  Kippur, as one of my few outward expressions of tradition. A day later, UNESCO trampled on my heritage – rather the opposite of its mandate.

There is a more sinister historic and political implication to such language. The resolution dances close to the narrative that Jews have no connection to this land, but arbitrarily chose to settle here and colonize the rightful, exclusive, owners. It is a theme that is both incorrect and dangerous.

Beyond the bigger themes, this move was also a surefire way to empty the resolution of...

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Why Israel's Arab statesman boycotted Peres' funeral

By refusing to attend the funeral, leader of the Joint List Odeh was protesting the myth of Shimon Peres, who enjoyed the global brand of peacemaker after Oslo, but walked away when things didn’t exactly work out.

The death of a towering statesman is an occasion for an outpouring of oratory about his or her meaning in the country’s life. Rivers of memory and interpretation flow and converge to form that leader’s mythical legacy in the story of the nation.

Shimon Peres was an elder statesman who evolved late in life, with no small difficulty, into a figure of national consensus. Though the obits sweeping the country contain some critical recollections, there is no controversy over what he is supposed to mean now: Peres, the man of peace, dialogue, optimism.

So when head of the Joint List Ayman Odeh demonstratively stayed away from Peres’ funeral, he kicked through the dams and upset the whole narrative flow.

Why did Odeh do it? Since becoming leader of the unified Arab party prior to the 2015 elections, he has gained a following among progressives in Israel and abroad, inspired by his humanist, universalist values. He has linked the struggle of Arabs in Israel to the struggles of Jewish minorities, such as Ethiopians, against discrimination by the Israeli establishment. He touts solidarity and shared civic identity. For these, he earned a place on Foreign Policy’s list of 100 top global thinkers in December 2015.

But he is walking a fine tripwire. If he digs into the partnership theme, he risks being seen as a sellout who trots after Israeli Jewish power-brokers with hand outstretched. Israel will always marginalize Palestinian citizens, some say, and so this lovey-dovey Odeh talk is just humiliating. If he reverts to national identity questions, narratives of Palestinian history — and most toxic of all, the occupation — the right brands him an extremist anti-Israel Arab upstart as surely as the sun shines. It is easy to imagine Odeh calculating an alternating routine of bold coexistence messages and Palestinian national rhetoric, to please all.

Except that he is so darned earnest.

When Odeh speaks, he looks his interviewer in the eye. He is calm but not arrogant, projecting conviction and focus. Even when he speaks forcefully, as he did at points in a mostly hostile panel interrogation on Israeli Channel 2 Friday evening after the funeral, he seems driven by a technical need for volume rather than by...

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Netanyahu is right: Settlements aren't the biggest obstacle to peace

The prime minister published a video accusing the Palestinians — and the world — of ethnic cleansing for opposing Israeli settlements. Not so fast.

Almost as if for sport, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu released an English video on Friday. It is just two minutes long but packed with chatter-rich material: the Palestinians are guilty of ethnic cleansing. The world is complicit. Nobody stands up for the Jewish victims of this crime except for Netanyahu. Therefore, settlements are no obstacle to peace.

These are grave charges. Why describe Netanyahu’s video as a game? It’s not his smirking self-righteousness. Rather, the clip is the latest in a growing list of “oh no he didn’t!” statements, spit out with Trump-like regularity (though Bibi has nothing on Trump’s pace). The trajectory is now familiar: Netanyahu says something offensive, incendiary, or almost entirely inaccurate. Headlines and commentary rage (mea culpa), while right-wing Israeli audiences laud his sass. He kicks down emerging political threats by proving his singular role in promoting “our” side on the global stage. Only Netanyahu speaks Israeli, and in such beautiful English!

It is a double karate-chop. Netanyahu cleans up on the right, but he also paralyzes the left. The idea that settlements are sandbox-dotted Disneylands of peace and that Palestinians are committing ethnic cleansing while choking under violent martial law for two and a half generations is crazy-making. One has to choose between arguing the truth or losing one’s mind for stating what is “in front of your nose” again and again.

I couldn’t manage it, so I’m fortunate that Jeremy Ben-Ami and Matt Duss doggedly remind readers of the policy facts – again. And again.

Netanyahu also managed to pack nails in for the far-left. The charge that Palestinian longing for a state equals ethnic cleansing while the Jewish Israeli government demolishes Palestinian homes, stifles livelihood, tears families apart, backs theft of private land, and makes all travel a nightmare unless it’s to leave for good – is a trap. It is an obscene invitation for the more outraged among us to give Israel’s behavior a name, so that the right can crow about left-wing extremism. I won’t play, but I will give readers credit for being able to know that Israel makes regular Palestinian people miserable every day, whatever anyone calls it.

That’s three points to his one-man Bibi team for galvanizing the right, flummoxing...

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