Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shake Shake

For the non-Hebrew speakers who have been tuning in, the chant is "Ha'am doresh tzedek chevrati!" ("The people demand social justice!")

It's the Ecomomy Stupid or What I Learned in Law School About the Israeli Revolution

Something occurred to me early this morning as I was about to set out on my Sunday long run. As I was reflecting on the protests in Israel and trying to keep my mind off the 17 miles ahead of me, I thought about the first line from Yonathan commenting about people asking where the Israeli left has been. I've been asking myself that question for some time and thought I had perhaps discovered part of the answer when I was in Israel this spring. I concluded from what I saw that because the standard of living was pretty high and terrorism was almost non-existent, that Israelis figured why take any risks on the Palestinian front.

Yet, it was the most affluent people I had met with that were the ones who saw the urgency of the situation vis-a-vis the Palestinians. But this fact didn't really register with me until this morning. So when I was addressing a group of people last Tuesday night who wanted to know why Israelis didn't see the urgency of a two-state solution, I gave my standard answer. The problem was that I had also just told the group about the waves of protests sweeping Israel and that young couples couldn't afford to rent a decent home. At least I know they were paying attention, because they suggested that my answer didn't explain why the protesters weren't forming movements demanding a two state solution. I acknowledged the point, but offered a former law professor's explanation of the "Golden Rule." He who has the gold makes the rules. But this still didn't explain why 150,000 Israelis who were in the streets had not been engaged in pushing the peace process forward.

And then this morning it hit me. The same law professor also explained Hobbesian political theory. As long as the government can occupy people with the struggle to earn a living (known in the American Declaration of Independence as the "pursuit of happiness"), then the government will have a free hand to exert its control.

Apparently it's been the case in Israel. With the younger generation of Israelis struggling to pay for housing, healthcare, and an education, their efforts were directed at trying to earn a living and the Palestinian conflict took a back seat. There are certainly other reasons (the Second Intifada, the myth of there being no Palestinian partner, and certainly the recent calm). But it should come as no surprise that when Israelis hit the streets to call for reform it was for social justice.

Heckuva a Job Yuval!

Not sure whether Israel's Finance Minister, Yuval Steinitz, is completely tone deaf or if he's decided he's finished anyway. Pretty sure this is not what the 150,000 Israelis protesting last night in the streets wanted to hear when they woke up this morning:
"We see the talk about the debt crisis in Europe. We are even hearing talk of a possible default in the United States," Steinitz said. "My supreme duty is to ensure we do not reach this situation in the State of Israel."
"We will not part with our principles. We will not create anarchy here," Steinitz told reporters. "We will attend to (market) concentration but we will not turn the rich and the business people and the investors and the industrialists into the enemies of the people, because they are part of a healthy economy."
 This may have been what Yonathan meant when he wrote yesterday about speaking the "old language."

Update: It's being reported that Steinitz is going to lead the negotiations with the protestors. A suggestion to Steinitz: not sure those in the street last night want to hear about your principles or the European debt crisis.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

'A Revolution'

Yonathan Shapir, an Israeli now living in the US, writes:
Everyone who was asking: "Where is the Israeli left?" - in the last few years cannot but feel elated tonight. So excuse me if my emotions carry me a bit too far. I just finished watching, on three national TV channels in parallel, the 150,000 demonstrators in six different cities. The electricity in the air was so strong that it was carried through, by internet cables and electromagnetic waves, around the world.
It will take some time to see how this plays out and even more to assess the full consequences of this movement. But already the anchors and reporters on the tube are talking about "Israel before" and "Israel after". Bibi will not, they said, be the leader of the new Israel because he speaks the old language with outdated metaphors and fears. His rhetoric and gestures look grotesque to the young generation which communicates instantly through Facebook or Twitter. His frequent press conferences look panicky and artificial (what a difference compared with the US Congressmen/women).

[The demonstrators] mostly represent the progressive and liberal Israel. They do not address the Mid-East  peace and war issues since this will hurt their main goal, namely the social and economic deficiencies. But everyone understands that these deficiencies are, to a certain extent, the outcome of the policy of settling the West Bank and Gaza for more than 40 years.

Like Bibi, the Jewish establishment here will not be able to communicate with this young generation. They were, and still are, the natural allies of the "old Israel". We, and especially the younger supporters of J Street and other progressive organizations, have to step up to the plate and be the US Jewish partners of those to whom the Israeli future belongs. Of course, by doing so we will be rendering a tremendous service to the whole Jewish community here, even if it will take time for them to recognize it.

Let me finish with what my over 55 year old, quite cynical brother Nimrod, who volunteers to assist the young activists in their organizational work (and was active in Peace Now before), wrote on his Facebook page: "As I walked through the tents on Rothschild [Avenue] this morning I had a smile on my face and tears in my eyes, and all from emotions. I never imagined that some day I will witness a revolution - and what is taking place is a revolution. Absolutely."

A New Wind Blowing: Israelis Demand Social Justice

Read about it here and here. Will they sustain it? Itai Gutler, head of the Hebrew University Student Union, tells Ynet that "In the next few days we will paralyze the country. We will have half a million people out there."

150,000 is a lot of people

Watch live.

Israelis to Protest Today

The last few weeks have seen a series of peaceful street demonstrations across Israel. This evening in Israel, thousands will be protesting against the high cost of housing. Despite a growing economy, affordable housing and the high cost of living is a significant problem in Israel, which could ultimately bring down the Netanyahu government. I hope to provide a link to live video - the demonstrations will begin at 9:00 pm in Israel (1:00 pm Chicago time). In case, I'm out riding - the weather is pretty spectacular here - go to YNet's Hebrew or English site. They should have a link. And the protesters have lined up some pretty good musical acts. So at the very least, if you are a fan of Israel music, it may be worth checking out.

Friday, July 29, 2011

There are Palestinians and then there are Palestinians

The Israelis swung by my office yesterday to emphasize to a group of lawyers the urgency of the situation and to try put to rest the zombie talking point of the "indefensible 1967 borders." It was quite enjoyable watching the faces on some of those in the room as the myth was exposed. Believe me, no matter how often I make the same point, I don't get anywhere near the reaction. While I may be armed with the identical argument, what I don't have is an Israeli accent and 40 plus years of military experience. I believe the kids call it street cred. So thank you, Gen. (Ret.) Natan Sharoni and Col. (Ret.) Shaul Arieli.    

The highlight was Sharoni connecting the dots in a way I hadn't previously considered. The Netanyahu government has made two demands (among others), which seem to be supported by Americans of a certain political persuasion. First, Israel cannot allow even a single Palestinian refugee to return to Israel. Second, the Palestinian villages in East Jerusalem, with 300,000 residents, must remain forever under Israeli sovereignty. The rationale for the first demand is based on demographics. How can Israel accept Palestinian refugees and still maintain its Jewish majority? Fair enough. But somehow this rationale gets forgotten about when the second demand - retaining sovereignty over 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem - is discussed. A person would be entitled to wonder how it is that 300,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem doesn't jeopardize Israel's Jewish majority. I guess like the Israelis, there are Palestinians and then there are Palestinians. And we should only count the Palestinians.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Sign of Hope?

Haaretz reports that Israeli President Shimon Peres has been holding secret talks with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. Guess what was discussed? A division of the indivisible city.  Good thing Congress is otherwise occupied because they'd never stand for such a thing!

You guys are missing this

The latest wave of protests sweeping Israel. Watch live here. Israelis "armed" with strollers and toddlers protesting the high costs of raising children. Musicians just played "If I Were a Rich Man." Definitely, the most enamoring protest you'll see.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Shorter Pollak: There are Israelis, and then there are Israelis, and I only want to hear from Israelis

Seven prominent Israelis, former security officials and diplomats, were welcomed at the White House yesterday. Their message: the 1967 borders are defensible and the absence of a two-state solution is an existential threat to Israel. Exactly the same message I have been presenting on this blog. It should come as no surprise that these knowledgeable Israelis were brought over by J Street. Surely, these Israeli voices are relevant and should be heard by the White House and anyone else interested in understanding the conflict.

Well, apparently Noah Pollak, from the Emergency Committee for Israel, who says it's the Israelis we should be listening to, doesn't want to hear from these Israelis. Here is what he says:
"I'm confused as to why former Israeli officials are going on a speaking tour in America," Pollak admitted in an interview. "It's Israelis first and foremost who find the idea of retreating to the '49 armistice lines dangerous, but as usual J Street doesn't actually care what Israelis think."
J Street's strategy, Pollak said, "is to get America to force Israel to do things Israelis believe are dangerous. It's pretty clear that [the group] doesn't have much respect for Israeli democracy. ... It's time for J Street to stop politicizing the U.S.-Israel relationship."
Say what? These Israelis do not think "retreating to the '49 armistice lines dangerous." And J Street does care what Israelis think. That's why J Street brought them over. But I guess these Israelis are not Israeli enough for Pollak's Israeli club. The only thing Pollak got right here is that he is confused. Sadly confused.

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Palestinian Chicken Place

Saturday, July 23, 2011

J Street Is So "Controversial" Because . . . .

Highlighting Michael Omer-Man's article asking why J Street is so controversial, I said in my last post that I would offer an answer. Omer-Man's answer that it's because J Street is the new kid on the block seems too easy and fails to address the reason J Street is so venomously and irrationally attacked by those on the right.

I'd like to begin by re-framing the question a bit. I think the question in this context essentially asks what is it about J Street that drives the right wingers so crazy. Because other than right wing rage, there isn't a whole lot of controversy about J Street.   

So here's my answer: the right wing is more concerned about winning the argument than ending the conflict. The right wing will not be satisfied until every last living creature acknowledges the moral superiority and righteousness of the Jewish people. We are just and the Palestinians live to destroy us. So it doesn't matter to the right wing that the Palestinians have put down their arms, have accepted Israel's right to exist and have absolutely no military capability to destroy the Jewish state. The right wing wants a declaration that Israel is justified in all its actions, whether it's the expulsion of Arabs during the War of Independence or maintaining a 44 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. To prove their point, the right wingers are only too willing to double down, and continue in this vein - we ain't doing anything wrong, so why stop - until the world acknowledges that Israel had good cause for all its actions. They cannot stomach the idea that Israel, like every other country that has ever existed, is not pure. Because the right wingers have an infatuation (which is different than love) with Israel, they are unwilling or unable to recognize its past sins. Doing so would destroy the idealized Israel they hold dear to their hearts. Israel is good and the Palestinians are bad. Add this to death and taxes. And you better not question it.

Here's the thing. These are not stupid people. They are smart, educated and successful people most of them. They know (or at least suspect) deep down that Israel is not pure, but rather than acknowledge that in any meaningful way, they continue to insist that Israel is pure as if insisting on it will make it true. Arriving at a compromise with the Palestinians, however, necessarily admits that the right will not get their declaration of victory and further implies that they acknowledge Israel's misdeeds. So they resist compromise, cast the conflict in moral terms and assert absolutist positions. (By the way, there are those on the far left that do the same.) For those in the United States it is a comfortable stance to take. They can hold their idealized view of Israel and bask in self righteousness with impunity because they are not being asked to pay the price of the continued conflict.

So getting back to the question of why J Street is so "controversial," the answer is not because J Street is the new kid on the block. And it's not because J Street espouses a two-state solution. But it's because J Street seeks to end the conflict, rather than win the argument. And along the way, J Street has been courageous enough to acknowledge Israel's failings. When the right hears J Street call on Israel to end the blockade of Gaza or to cease settlement activity, the right's anger flares not because J Street is wrong, but because they know J Street is right. Accepting even the legitimacy of J Street, however, is too much for them to bear in the face of what they also "know," i.e., that Israel is right and the Palestinians are wrong. It is this cognitive dissonance that makes J Street so "controversial." 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Is J Street So Controversial?

The noted left wing self-hating rag that is the Jerusalem Post carries an article noting that J Street's positions are nearly identical to 30 percent of the Knesset (Kadima, Labor and Meretz) as well as strikingly similar to every White House administration dating to 1991. Not really news to anyone paying attention. So why is J Street so controversial asks Michael Omer-Man, author of the piece? According to Omer-Man, perhaps because J Street is the new kid on the block. Too easy. There's a lot more to it than that. I'll try to address it in the coming days.

Full Circle

Former Director of Military Intelligence, Shlomo Gazit recalls with pride when the British designated him as a terrorist as he fought for Israeli independence. Today he is once again proud to be labeled as a terrorist as he fights for Israeli democracy, this time by Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman. You see, Mr. Lieberman is none too fond of the human rights organization Yesh Din, on whose public council Gazit sits, and believes it is a terrorist organization. So this is where we find ourselves. Sixty three years after Israel's independence. Unbelievable.

Not to worry your pretty little heads. Repeat after me. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. There is no partner. We gave them land and they gave us rockets. Israel has more companies listed on Nasdaq than all of Europe. There will be peace when they love their children more than they hate ours. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East . . .

Monday, July 18, 2011

From Sheikh Jarrah and Back

For early readers of this blog, you may remember my post on the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement. This past Friday, the group led about 3,000 Israelis and Palestinians on a march for Palestinian independence through East Jerusalem from the Jaffa Gate to Skeikh Jarrah, the opposite route taken by those who turned out on Jerusalem Day, spewing their racist chants. You can read about the joint Israeli-Palestinian march at the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement website here.

On Delegitimization

From M.J. Rosenberg writing in my hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune:
The whole concept of delegitimization seems archaic. Israel achieved its "legitimacy" when the United Nations recognized it 63 years ago. It has one of the strongest economies in the world. Its military is the most powerful in the region. It has a nuclear arsenal of about 200 bombs, with the ability to launch them from land, sea and air.

In that context, the whole idea of delegitimizing Israel sounds silly. Israel can't be delegitimized.
Read the whole piece here. And kudos to the Trib for running it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bibi, We're Not in Congress Anymore

MK Haneen Zoabi "interrupts" Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday at the Knesset during his defense of the Boycott Law.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Great Moments in Boycott History

Somebody get Spanky and Stymie a lawyer!

"אני אישרתי את החוק"

"I authorized the law," said Bibi, speaking at the Knesset about the law making boycotting or calling for boycotting illegal. At least there will be no mistake where the responsibility lies.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The F Word

Ben Caspit, an opponent of boycotts, on today's front page of Maariv, calls Israel's law prohibiting boycotts the f word: fascism.
But when this law is also applied to private people, and when the determination as to “what is a boycott” is taken away from the court and given to bureaucrats, and when private citizens can be convicted for voicing their opinion, based on the determination of those bureaucrats and also to sentence them to pay compensation even without proving damage, this is fascism. This is a blatant and a resounding shutting of people’s mouths. This is a thought police. There is no choice but to use this word. Fascism at its worst is raging.
And the extreme right encouraged by yesterday's victory over democratic norms pushes on with a bill aimed at setting up a commission of inquiry against leftist groups.

Meanwhile, Haaretz reports that US efforts to renew negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have failed.

Those who don't see the connection between Israel's occupation of the Palestinian Territories and the erosion of Israeli democracy simply aren't paying attention. Those who don't speak up are cowards.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Jig Is Up

When Bibi's intransigence is the subject of popular parody, how far behind is the establishment of a Palestinian state? (Back story to the clip: the Israeli Opera recently staged a production of Aida at the foot of Masada.)

The Word is "Unconstitutional"

As the crazy right in Israel continues to try to do away with the democratic character of the state, the translators at Ynet may as well learn now. The preferred term is "unconstitutional."

Knesset votes in favor of 'boycott bill'

Controversial bill which calls for imposing sanctions against anyone declaring embargo on Israel garners 47 ayes, 38 nays. Human rights groups to file High Court appeal, say new law anti-constitutional
Is it any wonder members of the Knesset warmed up by welcoming Glenn Beck? I'm sure MK Danny Danon was one of those lining up outside that Jerusalem Pizza Hut 20 or so years ago. If any of my Israeli friends can point me to a video skewering Danny Danon ala Jon Stewart, it'd be much appreciated.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mashuga Nuts

Israel continues its battle against the "fly-tilla." Here's a good analysis that begins:
A dull and not-so-funny joke I remember from childhood recounts the story of a child who was late to come home at night, and in order not to alert his sleeping parents used drums and trumpets to cover up the sound of his steps.
Perhaps what Israel needs is more cowbell.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

It's Come to This?

After all the flotilla balagan and the threatened fly-in protest, the best Israel's PR machine can come up with is passing out flowers at Ben Gurion Airport? Maybe Bibi should have brought a rose along with him on his visit to Bulgaria.

It seems that the slightest sign of a protest throws the Israeli government into a tizzy, not the sort of thing you want to see from a mature democracy, as Bradley Burston points out.

I'm Back If Anyone Cares

Back from the mountains after shaving 1:42 off last year's time in the Hill Climb. Hope everyone in the US had a nice 4th of July. Meanwhile, a few days more have passed on the way to September.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Gone Fishin'!

Heading to the mountains for some runnin', bikin' and hikin'. Shabbat Shalom and Happy 4th!