Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Next, Mr. President, A Peace Plan

According to people who should know, President Obama has been discretely meeting Middle East hands and political consultants over the past couple of months to explore the possibility of presenting a peace plan for Israel and Palestine, much like the one teed-up by the Olmert-Abbas talks. David Remnick's eloquent call for Obama to outline a plan suggests the president will not be without critical political support should he decide to go ahead; but this came before action in Libya. In my view, the way Obama organized this action suggests the very model for how he should proceed with a peace plan, and I explain why in today's Global Edition of the New York Times.

Last Monday night, rejecting criticism of his actions in Libya, President Obama outlined a standard for civilized multilateralism: “Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security,” he said. “Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners ... to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.” If you should act, act where you can, and act together.

Obama gained a mandate from the U.N. Security Council, working with the European Union to rally the Arab League. He enlisted support from leaders of the Group of 20 in the process. His leadership, in short, did not just turn the tide against one Arab tyranny, but produced a model of statecraft for the region as a whole.

This model now has an even more important task. Obama should, and can, lead the Quartet (the U.S., U.N., E.U. and Russia) in presenting a new blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Whatever happens in Libya, America will never be seen as a champion of Arab democracy if it continues to appear cavalier about the occupation of the Palestinians.

The president made clear in his Cairo speech that Palestinian statehood is not simply an internal Israeli affair, nor is Israeli security the responsibility of the Israeli military alone. He knows that the chances of success in any bilateral talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are nil. He also knows what the product of good-faith negotiations must be.

From early in 2007 to September 2008, for example, Abbas and the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert held 36 meetings. On the core issues, they wound up gravitating to virtually the same outline for a deal as produced in past negotiations at Taba and Geneva.

In late January, I interviewed both leaders and laid out what they had achieved in the New York Times Sunday Magazine: Their agreements in principle on security, land swaps based on the 1967 border, Jerusalem’s “holy basin” and refugees left comparatively small gaps, boiling down to a disagreement over the fate of three large settlements and the number of Palestinian refugees who would be allowed back into Israel proper.

Obama’s blueprint would declare an American position on how such gaps would be closed. He would take into account the contiguity and economic cohesion of a Palestinian state and Israeli and Palestinian security concerns, and offer guarantees and sweeteners from the international community. Without a carefully stipulated blueprint of this kind, calls for international recognition of a Palestinian state “in the 1967 border” are meaningless.

What’s holding the president back? Some are counseling that Israelis and Palestinians must “own” the deal. Netanyahu will reject any such blueprint, they say, and Israelis are generally drifting to the right. Abbas, for his part, may not now be popular enough to implement any deal — even one he is largely responsible for designing. So why should Obama present a blueprint and set himself up for diplomatic failure?

Such advice suggests a misguided foreign policy. Obama’s blueprint should not be aimed at getting the conflicting parties to “yes,” but at getting world powers to “agreed.” After presenting his plan to the Quartet, Obama should seek endorsements from one O.E.C.D. leader after another (diplomats in Jerusalem tell me the E.U. Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton is just “waiting for the word from Washington”).

An Obama blueprint should be declared in the spirit of the Arab League Initiative of 2002. It should be endorsed in advance by key U.S. Senate leaders, such as the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry.

In crystallizing an international consensus regarding what peace should look like, a blueprint will create ambient pressure on the parties. It would start a new international conversation and provide a utilitarian benchmark, like the U.N. Partition resolution of 1947.

It would be a signal to Palestinian youths that an internationally backed state is, in effect, on the horizon; that in seeking unity between Fatah and Hamas, they should continue to empower the Palestine Authority to enter into international agreements and honor Abbas’s call to refrain from political violence and abhor acts of terror.

A blueprint would have enormous impact on Israeli politics, too. It would empower the moderate Israeli political parties — Kadima, Labor and the rest — to wrest back the political center from the parties of Greater Israel — Netanyahu’s Likud, Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalists and the religious.

The Israeli center — made up of Russian immigrants, non-Orthodox Mizrahi Jews, young people close to the army — is driven by fears as much as by hopes. Like “independent” voters in America, they flock to avoid what the media depict as naïve and dangerously against the current.

A blueprint, backed by everyone from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, would allow Israeli globalists to argue that the die is cast; that the situation in Gaza must be changed; that they alone can preserve relations with Washington and save Israel from international isolation. Obama could drive home the force of world opinion by visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah — perhaps addressing a mass rally in Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel’s globalization.

There are risks. Machiavelli wrote that great leaders must be prepared to be feared as well as loved. Obama must continue to risk making world opinion fearsome. But if he misses this opportunity, ostensibly to pursue some safer political course, moderates on both sides will lose.

The status quo means yet more settlements — and a pathetic American record of trying to halt them. Worse, it will mean Balkan-like violence enveloping the parties; every Palestinian bomb or missile, every Israeli Army assassination or errant shell, will pull more moderates to the extremes. Abbas told me he will resign if there is no tangible progress by September.

Obama will lose, too. Instead of becoming the region’s statesman, the author of a plan endorsed by global powers, Obama will run for re-election having alienated the Arab square without reassuring American circles supporting the Netanyahu government.

America, Obama concluded in his speech, must lead “support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders ... governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people.” He does not have much time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Last Friday: No Way Out

Last Friday, at the initiative of Peace Now, the Israeli left held a unity conference in Tel-Aviv: representatives from various streams, or rivulets, Labor, Meretz, Solidarity, and various civil rights NGOs, came together to hear the usual suspects.

How do you make your case to Israeli voters when the right has appropriated your most important issue, endorsement of a Palestinian state, but doesn't really mean it? Should people advancing democratic standards form a single party or simply assume that all parties and factions will cooperate once elected to the Knesset? (After all, as Erel Margalit, the gifted venture capitalist going after the leadership of the Labor Party knows, the Labor brand is worth more than the whole party apparatus, much like the AT&T brand was worth more than the company.)

Should a democratic alliance create a platform that might appeal also to young Israeli Arabs, or should the alliance continue to call itself "Zionist," whatever that means, in the hope that the left will thus be able to appeal to the "center," whatever that means? Are you really betraying Zionism by creating a party Arabs would join? Come to think of it, could the "left" in Israel ever win a majority again without Arabs any more than Democrats could win without Jews and African-Americans?

I was set to go to the conference. I had answers. Besides, my young friend Assaf Sharon, a leader of Solidarity, was going to be on a panel and I was set to support his answers. It was not meant to be.

FRIDAY WAS THE day of the Jerusalem marathon. I left my flat at 7:15 in the morning only to discover that my entire neighborhood was cordoned off: no roads in, no detours. Now, I am from Boston. I understand what it means to disrupt traffic for the sake of runners. I also checked the list of streets that were going to be closed, found that one key road was not on the list, and had made plans to take a detour so that I could get to Tel Aviv in plenty of time. Instead, I found no way out.

I drove around for about a half an hour going from one roadblock to another. At each one, I found a callow, slightly clueless, and finally unpleasant police officer, telling me that there was no exit and that I should have known there would not be––in any case, that I was to back up and do what I was told. I told each one that he or she had better learn how to address citizens whose lives were being confounded by foolish orders. They shrugged. I threatened to take their names. They were not amused.

It crossed my mind that this is what closure feels like for Palestinians, but I quickly came to my senses: that would be like saying a moment of dizziness after eating was like having diabetes. Still, I was a little stunned to realize how quickly it would be possible for the police to impose its presence on Jerusalem, and how futile it would be to rail at the young cop at the corner for a policy he or she has no opinion about. How much this would be like yelling at the young woman at a call center for the failure of your software.

Nor was this the end of just any week. Netanyahu's Knesset had just passed two pieces of legislation, the first making it illegal to refer to the time of the War of Independence as the Naqba, although a fifth of Israeli citizens are Arab and about 400 Arab villages has been effaced; the second, a statute legalizing acceptance committees in small communities, empowered to reject residents who are not sufficiently like most in the community--a law clearly aimed to get around the Supreme Court's rejection of old Jewish National Fund regulations prohibiting sale of land or property to non-Jews (i.e., Arabs).

All of this in a country that lacks what Americans think of as constitutional protections. And a terrorist bomb had gone off in the city's Central Bus Station. The software, clearly, is not working.

IN THE MIDDLE of my gloom I got a cheerful, disbelieving call from Assaf. His neighborhood was blocked off, too. Kafka would be taking notes. Perhaps he should just punt the panel? "Sure," I said. Instead of going to Tel Aviv, perhaps a coffee later? "Sure," he said. But I did not hear back from him. Assaf, with his peculiar relentlessness, went instead to Silwan, where the police had been clashing with young Arab demonstrators over the continuing imposition of settlers on their community. I found out later that some other callow, slightly clueless, and finally unpleasant officers put him in the emergency ward of Hadassah Hospital.

It seems that Assaf took his camera to Silwan. Shortly after he got there, he began recording videos of police firing rounds of tear gas into crowds of Jerusalem Arab youth. There was virtually no press there, and he assumed the police would be restrained, or more restrained, knowing that the recordings would make them accountable for their actions. This has always been Solidarity's way of working: in the absence of a court protecting constitutional rights, appeal to the court of international public opinion.

The police were not amused. They roughed him up and put him under arrest. Then they started shoving him into the squad car. When Assaf looked at the back seat, there were grenades on it. He asked the arresting officers to move them. Do what you are told, was the response. Assaf said he would not sit on grenades. At which point an officer took out a canister of pepper spray and caught Assaf square in the nose and mouth. (You can watch his arrest on YouTube and decide for yourself if Assaf remotely posed a security risk that justified force, let alone extreme force.)

Just to be clear, Assaf might have been killed by this attack. Pepper spray causes immediate closing of the eyes, difficulty breathing, runny nose, and coughing. Its effects can last around thirty to forty-five minutes, with diminished effects lasting for hours. There have been 61 known deaths from pepper spray in the US since 1990. Assaf's throat immediately closed up. He was rushed to the hospital, though he was never released from police custody. As soon as he recovered somewhat, he was brought to police headquarters in East Jerusalem. No charges were laid.

Assaf Sharon released after assault
Assaf was released to his wife and a crowd of waiting friends around 5:30 PM. (She is pregnant with their third child.) The drumming from our demonstrations could be heard through the building, he said. The police did not know what to make of it. This afternoon I got an email from him? Could I come on Thursday morning and bear witness at the hearing of Bassam Tamimi, an activist from Nabi Saleh, who after serving three years in administrative detention is again being held without clear charges?

IT IS HARD to write about the conflict here without finding myself asking some rather broad and abstract questions, like the ones discussed at the conference Assaf (and I) found ourselves missing.

But the reality on the ground is pretty much like that roadblock in my neighborhood on Friday morning, or, much more ominous, the assault on Assaf in that car. Not terribly well educated people, implementing policies they grasp mainly in their guts; figuring out friends and enemies on-the-fly, telling you to do what you are told; telling you there is no way out.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Person Of The Book

Munther M. Fahmi, better known as Munzer to every visitor to the American Colony Hotel's bookshop, is a Jerusalem institution. You don't just go to his shop to buy; you go to talk about writing, writers and, of course, Middle East history, literature and politics.

Munzer's read what he recommends. He organizes meetings at the hotel to launch books by local peace advocates. Authors hang out to learn about each other's love affairs. They really hang out to earn his respect.

MUNZER WAS BORN in Jerusalem in 1954. When Israelis conquered Jerusalem in 1967, he was given (like the rest of the Arab population in East Jerusalem) an Israeli resident ID card--not citizenship, but the right to live in the city of his birth. In 1975, Munzer left Jerusalem to continue his university education in the US, where he graduated, started a business, married, and fathered a child. In the mid-nineties, "intoxicated with prospects of peace after the signing of the Oslo agreement," Munzer flew home and was told at the airport in Tel-Aviv that his Jerusalem ID had been revoked. The only way he could enter then was as a tourist, with a stamp in his US passport. This has been going on ever since, and he's been getting a new stamp every three months.

"When the Israelis started giving me hard time entering and leaving the country as a tourist two years ago, and especially last month--when I was told that I will be only allowed to renter the country after this tourist visa expires on April 3rd is next year in April for 3 months only during that entire year--I started legal proceedings to re-capture my ID card back through a lawyer. This lawyer later told me that I was lied to in 1995 when I arrived and my Israeli blue ID card was still valid till it was finally revoked in 2002 while I was going and coming as a tourist!"

A year ago, Munzer took the Interior Ministry to court to reinstate his residency status. He lost. They invoked a law that strips any "resident of Jerusalem" who holds a foreign passport and has left for seven years of the right of residency. Note well: this law applies only to native born Arabs. I was myself a resident of Jerusalem in the 1970s, and left for more than seven years, but could easily return and even become a citizen. I was born in Montreal, not Jerusalem, and could return to Canada whenever I wanted.

MUNZER APPEALED TO the Supreme Court, and after four postponements of the court date, which required him to leave and come back to renew his tourist visa several times--each time at the mercy of a passport control guard--the date was set for Feb 17. The appeal was rejected out of hand. But, adding insult to injury, Munzer was told that he was lucky to have been able to come and go as a tourist that long, and even dare to start a business while still a tourist. "If this happened in your country," he was told, "you would be deported on the first plane."

Munzer reminded the judge that people born in the US do not have to go to the Supreme Court to ask immigration authorities to let them live there--a remark the judge took to be an impeachment of his judgment. The judge wrote, punitively, that Munzer should write a letter within 30 days to the same Interior Ministry he is suing, begging them to reinstate his residency.

The letter was duly sent on March 17. If the Interior Ministry rejects it, which it almost certainly will, Munzer will be deported on April 3rd.

IF ISRAEL WERE halfway serious about peace, the government would be inviting a thousand people like Munzer to build businesses, not deporting them. If people reading this were moved by simple justice, the Interior Ministry would be flooded with protests. But then, the Foreign Ministry will no doubt interpret my suggesting this as giving aid to the "campaign of delegitimization."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Itamar: Already, The Aftermath

The Netanyahu government has announced that, in response to the murders at Itamar, it would build 500 new housing units in the territories. Mourning for the victims has barely begun, but the government has already managed to desecrate their memory.

What is the statement the government is making, after all? Is it not that the murders were nothing but another Palestinian assault in a land war, to be answered with a Jewish counter-assault? Is this framing not precisely what the murderers would have us believe, namely, that sneaking into a settlement to kill sleeping children was a vaguely heroic act of resistance against occupation, indeed, that children are just incipient instances of their parents' ideology?

What the murderers do not want us to believe was that this was actually (as President Abbas said today) a crime against humanity. Apparently, Netanyahu does not want us to thinking too much about humanity as such. That would raise other questions, especially about the universal rights humans need to make the most of their individual powers and the protections they need from others' greed, wishful thinking and hypocrisy. (“Jews are members of the human race,” as Philip Roth once put it; “Worse than that I cannot say about them.”)

Imagine if, in response to the killings of his daughters by reckless Israeli gunners, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish had called for revenge against "Jews" and not (as at J Street) called for compassion and non-violence; imagine if the Palestine Authority had called for throwing Israel into the sea? There is already a video being circulated by settlers' blogs--predictable in its pathos, the strains of "Schindler's List" in the background--showing the appalling scenes at Itamar, and ending with the question "These are our partners?"

No, this act was no more a "Palestinian" act than the shelling of the Abuelaish apartment was an "Israeli" one, though all Palestinians believe Itamar is a crime, and all Israelis believe lobbing missiles into Sderot is. The real partners are those who insist that terror is a response to tyranny and tyranny is a response to terror. Their death dance, as the excellent Haaretz editorial implied this morning, is wonderfully synchronous.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


There are times when political events, or at least events that draw the attention of political analysts, are simply too much for political categories. The murders at Itamar present such a time. You need a writer like Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky simply to conceive the hardening required to kill another human being, and the futility of trying to prevent the softening. What political writer, accustomed to abstracting from economic forces, ideological claims, and military strategies, has the imagination for what goes through the mind of someone who finds his hand slicing through the neck of a baby?

The condemnations have come from all sides, settler sympathizers who tell you they told you so, and grieving neighbors who've just turned graveside elegies into diatribes. And they come also from leaders of the Palestine Authority, various Israeli peace groups, etc., who fear that opposition to occupation and, indeed, to Itamar's existence, could somehow be interpreted as an apology for any form of Palestinian insurrection, or naiveté about human nature, for that matter.

But condemnations, mandatory as they may seem, seem superfluous the moment they are spoken. To condemn this act is nothing but the other side of being civilized. I can only distantly imagine the scorching felt by the family's surviving children. I pity those underground, suddenly contemptible youths who rushed to "take credit," particularly if they are not caught. They will spend the rest of their lives planning how to appear sincere every time they look another person in the eye.

Is there a political conclusion to be drawn? I think not. An act of this kind can only reinforce what you already believe; that whatever settlers do is justified because it is not really theft to steal from the heinous murderer who is anyway trying to kill you; that, on the contrary, settlements are a provocation and, besides, it takes the same kind of heartlessness to drop a phosphorus bomb on a populated square in Gaza. Both are the half-truths you reach for, or sink back into, as you wait for passion to fade.

For my part, the only political response that seems sane is the humility at the heart of democratic standards, a reaffirmation of the unexpectedness of every journey, of the absolute tolerance we need to build into human rights. What terrorist--what political purifier, who thinks with nothing but political categories--does not give the promise of a totalitarian future? What Palestinian terrorist imagines that a boy from the Gush settlements will grow up to lead the Sheikh Jarrah protest movement? What Israeli state assassin imagines a refugee insurgent whose brother was "ended" will become a democratic pollster and peace activist?

"A wonderful fact to reflect upon," Dickens writes about coming up to another light in the middle of the night, "that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!"

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

City Of Peace

You are not likely to hear a more intelligent or touching appreciation of the imagined Jerusalem than this interview with my friend James Carroll, discussing his new book, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, with NPR's "On Point." This city is not only the place where religious violence has been concentrated over three millennia, but also the place where religious imagination has sought to transcend violence. What a powerful statement to the world, and about our capacity to psyche-out our psyches, Jim implies, if Israelis and Palestinians could finally make peace.

BUT PEACE CANNOT come from high-minded dread alone. It is something to be built, rule by rule, oath by oath, fence by fence. So I also want to commend this website to you, developed by a young and visionary architectural firm named Saya, founded by Karen Lee Bar-Sinai and Yehuda Greenfield-Gilat.

Karen got in touch with me just after I published my Times article about the Abbas-Olmert negotiations. I mentioned in the piece that Olmert showed me, en passant, an architectural plan for a symbolic crossing from West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem at the American Colony Hotel; how vivid peace looked when you could actually see the constructions that would provide it a foundation. Karen immediately wrote me and identified herself as the co-designer of this plan. Click yourself around their site and dream dreams of transcendence.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Divestment And Other Matters

Last week, at the J Street Conference, I appeared on a panel considering BDS. I made the case I had made last spring in The Nation, that lumping the three together--boycott, divestment, and sanctions--was rash. Moreover, targeting West Bank settlements is not the same as targeting Israel more generally.

For my part, I said, I support a boycott of Ariel's college and of products made in West Bank settlements. When James Baker, back in 1991, told the Israeli government that every dollar spent on settlements would be deducted from US loan guarantees, I supported that. So I could be said to have supported certain sanctions, and would again. At the same time I strongly oppose boycotting Israeli universities or companies or divesting from global companies that do business in Israel, even if some of their products might be used by occupation forces.

In the wake of that appearance, a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace wrote me, asking for clarification. (I shall not identify the person only because I have not asked permission to use the email):

"You said you would boycott settlement products but not multi-national companies implicated in the occupation project. I have to say that I don't understand this distinction on several levels. First, because settlement products are often produced by multinationals. Second, because it sounds like you want to protect global capital but are not concerned about local capital? In other words, if there is a small settlement business with 10 employees selling dates, for example, you think that can be boycotted, but a company like caterpillar, whose weaponized bulldozers destroy trees and homes, should not?"

This questioner deserved an answer. Here with some slight revisions, is what I replied:

THE WAY YOU frame things, it is as if I am being asked why a small perp should be punished but not a big one. Presumably, I'm going after some penny-ante mortgage officer in Dayton, but not the world-historical ripoff artists at Goldman Sachs.

I think this is a very narrow frame. The question that matters to me is, how do we end the occupation? How do I empower my allies and undermine my opponents?

Boycotting products from West Bank settlements is simple, direct, and clearly targeted. If a business started at a settlement loses its customers, the settlement itself may prove less viable; the settlers, in turn, will feel directly that a great many people wish to shun them and condemn their actions. (By the same token, I do not expect that many settlers are subscribers to Haaretz. In effect, they are boycotting a newspaper whose very existence they would want to discourage.)

Now, if you could find an international company that made only something only a settler (or other breaker of international law) could use, I would want to boycott that company. Again, the tactic would be simple, direct, and clearly targeted. I would be denying my opponent a source of supply.

The problem is that the international companies in question make all kinds of things that can be put to all kinds of uses. And, as a group, international companies also empower the most important allies I have. As I said at the conference, why should a Caterpillar bulldozer (another instance of which might be building a neighborhood in Ramallah) be targeted and not the software on the cell phone of the bulldozer’s driver? Why should United Technologies be targeted for its helicopters when its air-conditioners may be cooling a school in Afula--or Gaza? The choice is purely arbitrary.

You may say, well, we have to start somewhere. The boycott of Caterpillar is merely, or mainly, symbolic. But the implication of this answer is that you wish to begin a process--for now, mainly on campuses--in which international companies will be forced to understand that selling to Israel will carry a price; that starting up branch plant operations in Israel, or employing Israelis, will carry a price. The implicit premise here is that the occupation flows from the fact of Israel itself: that Israel is inherently a kind of occupation machine, beginning with 1948 and followed up in 1967. (In effect, you accept the view of the settlers and Hamas both, that the claim of Jews to Hebron is very much like the claim to Tel Aviv, that both claims have the same moral status.)

This view of Israel, after all, is where the symbolism leads. Campuses all over the United States, full of students who are eager to do the right thing, and who (as I remember from my own student days) don't have much patience for a generational battle, or for learning much about the history of a distant country or about its complex social constituencies, will be demanding divestment from the endowment, etc., because it feels so good to take action. For their part, international companies, or many of them, will get the message; the logical end of what you began is the implosion of the Israeli private sector.

You may say, then, fine. If you make the people in the private sector hurt, this will lead to a political change that you want. Some extend this logic to boycotting Israeli universities, whose professors after all contribute in various ways the technologies that make the private sector work. You may even say that teachers of Israeli history, or critics of Israeli literature, are all somehow implicated in creating a context that enables occupation. Why not extend the boycott to Israeli academia, so goes the argument, in order to pressure the system even more?

I think this approach is morally unacceptable the way any form of collective punishment is. But it is also tactically shortsighted. Settlers and their ultra-allies have no problem with Israel turning into a poor, pure, defensive, little Jewish Pakistan. But if you cause Israel's private sector to implode, or cause Israeli universities to be internationally isolated, you will be ruining the lives of the very people who are most likely to be advocating for liberal equality and cosmopolitan values in Israeli society.

Entrepreneurial businesses in Palestine mostly make better distinctions, by the way. Most favor boycotting settlement products, but buy products made by Israelis within the Green Line, or products made by international companies in Israel, even if some of these are also used by settlers.

I suppose what offends me most about your approach is that it confuses quelling a vague sense of anger and frustration with doing politics. Retaliation and strategy are not the same thing. You remind me, forgive me, of the Tea Party, which is so mad "at government" for putting taxpayer money to bail out Wall Street that it is prepared to hit back, in spite of all the necessary things government does, and irrespective of the question of how much worse things would be if the bailout had never happened.

Hitting back at international companies that do business in Israel (let's be clear, there are no international businesses that do business “only with the occupation”) is this kind of confusion. It is a little like saying Israeli journalism is complicit in the occupation, or at least we have to get Israeli journalists to take a stand against the occupation; so let's engineer the collapse of all Israeli newspapers, or any that ever carries a column advocating for settlements, even if this broad-brush approach will lead, first, to closing down the most vulnerable paper, namely Haaretz. That’ll show ‘em!

Indeed, international companies are not just profit-making machines any more than Israel is an occupation machine. Companies are also learning and teaching organizations. Motorola's impact on Tel Aviv is more like MIT's on Cambridge than the United Fruit Company’s on Guatemala. I lived in Israel in the early 1970s, before Israeli commercial life globalized. The country’s commercial life today is incomparably more liberal and cosmopolitan than it was then, although there is much stronger proto-fascist minority today than there was then. My fear is that the more we undermine liberal forces through things like divestment and boycott, the faster the ranks of liberal Israel will be depleted, and the more we are ceding the field to the cultists and fanatics. By the way, as I noted in my Nation article, many anti-apartheid activists in South Africa took this very position on divestment in the 1980s.

A final word. It is hard not to be moved by your obvious moral anguish regarding how things in Israel are evolving. But there is a way that seizing the moral high-ground can lead to condescension. It has become a convention in the JVP, and supporting bloggers, to dismiss people like myself as "liberal Zionists," that is, people who are not prepared to take the next logical step and move from BDS to regretting that Israel ever happened. There is a kind of unearned superiority here that would be wrong, even if your historical imaginations were complete and your tactics were right.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Thursday, March 3, 2011

J Street: Worth Watching

If you could not come to the J Street Conference, and have an hour and a half, this is probably the session to watch. Dennis Ross, followed by comments by Daniel Levy, Roger Cohen, and myself.

Monitored And Exposed!

The Israel Academia Monitor has, through tireless investigation, linked me to the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity organization. I might have saved them the trouble. My admiration for the young leaders of the movement is open, long-standing, and more or less boundless. Solidarity embodies my hopes for Israel as a globalist democracy. If I were the kind to follow leaders, these would be mine.

IAM gets almost everything else wrong, however, channeling uncritically some unnamed source at the Jewish Agency, which supposes Solidarity to be anti-Zionist. Most of Solidarity's young activists simply take the great achievement of Zionism for granted, namely, the modern Hebrew language and culture and a Jewish national home in a democratic state. Just last Saturday night, at the J Street conference, Solidarity leader Sara Benninga read, admiringly, the following from Israel's Declaration of Independence:

The state of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

Some solidarity leaders think, as I do, that the Jewish Agency, the JNF, and other residual institutions of the Zionist revolution should long ago have become private NGOs; that they have no place as official organs of a democratic state. For the record, I think the same of the rabbinate, and would feel the same if the kibbutz movement exercised state power. Some in Solidarity think the Law of Return is an anachronism. So do I, and have said as much publicly for 30 years. Then again, these are things one concludes when one takes the principles in Israel's Declaration of Independence seriously. Will IAM's commissars endorse those? If not, and as if anybody cares, should we call them anti-Zionist?

Alas, some good people will care when these epithets are thrown around, which makes IAM all the more disgraceful. For all its pretense as monitor, IAM is really so eager to slime people whose democratic standards pinch that it cannot even be bothered with fact-checking. Had IAM called me, I would have told them that I was not against bringing Israeli flags to Solidarity demonstrations, though I don't much like bringing any flags, not even the Skull & Bones, whose presence week after week still amuses (and mystifies) me. IAM was relying on a post on Palestine Note attributed to me. It is a fabrication. (The part about flags was pretty obviously posted after a Nili Osherov article on Ynet, April 3 2010. Then again, thank heavens for IAM! How would Israeli scholars learn about sham blog posts and counterfeit claims if IAM were not so quick to circulate them?)

As for my position on BDS, finally, IAM defies gravity trying to find things in my Nation article to hate. I strongly urge people who think IAM is somehow tough but credible to read the article and then IAM's account of it.