Will be away and returning on the 20th, and probably will take a day or two before I get back to work again.
We have a family affair in Vienna—a book party. A cousin wrote a book in German about his mother, who survived the entire war in Vienna working as a registered nurse in a hospital, notwithstanding that she was Jewish. I did not know that such things occurred. Apparently there was a shortage of nurses.
The book consists almost entirely of her letters—and I can’t help when reading her pathetic writings (they have been translated into English) thinking of how horrible experiences are common alike to Jews and Palestinians and others. Suffering from inhumane treatment is not the property of any single group. When I read personal experiences of slaves, as in Roots, the same suffering is there. The particulars that cause the suffering can be different, but the pain from unbearable situations hurt all. In the case of our family (my spouse’s), this poor creature sent her 2 small children to relatives in the US but remained behind in Vienna to care for her very ill parents.
They both perished from their illnesses before the war ended; many others whom she knew died during the bombings by the allied forces. A year after WWII ended, she finally made it to America, was reunited with her children and husband, but died 3 years later from tuberculosis.
Now to the pieces below.
Item one is an interesting case. It’s one of the few times that I recall that reports of an event differ considerably from one reporter to another—not the substance, but the analysis. I have elected to give you the Al Jazeera version of Hillary Clinton’s speech Friday night. I opted for it, because it’s the only one that I read that touched on Palestinian reactions to what Clinton said. However, I have added links to several other newspapers, just in case you are interested in comparing the reports.
In item 2 the Guardian reports on the letter from the former EU heads of state and others stating in effect that Israel will face a tougher line from the EU henceforth. I know, I have already sent a brief report on the letter. But the one below is much more detailed, so in effect though the item is the same, the report is thorough.
One thing that we learn from the Guardian report not in the Haaretz one is that these EU leaders were prompted to write the letter by Hillary Clinton herself.
Item 3 is today’s Haaretz Editorial bawling Bibi out, telling him to stop being so happy about having won, and to get on to the job that needs to be done—namely to listen to the US.
In item 4 Gideon Levy informs us that ‘Israel might have no military option against Iran.’ Amen! Today when I was contacted by phone to donate money for our poor soldiers, I replied that the best thing that I could do for a young man/woman is to recommend that he/she stay out of the army, and certainly out of combat units.
Item 5 relates and comments on the Unholy alliance between Israel’s right and Europe’s anti-Semites. And what should we term the alliance between Israel and the Christian Zionists? A holy alliance?
Item 6 explains excellently why in no other country would rabbis think of issuing an order telling Jews not to rent or sell property to Arabs or other non-Jews. Basically, the author says that Jews in other countries are so well integrated that they do not see their neighbors as enemies but as friends. I find his argument on this convincing, and from my own experience accept it as true. In fact it is so convincing that the question it raises (at least in my mind) is why do we need a Jewish state? Why not one state with equal rights for all its citizens? Would that not be better? Wouldn’t it offer security to all who live here? But the author, Donniel Hartman, apparently does not agree. Please keep your minds open when reading this piece.
All the best,
and see you soon,
1. Al Jazeera,
December 11, 2010
US ‘regrets’ Middle East impasse
Days after dropping settlement freeze bid with Israel, Hillary Clinton says US is “frustrated” by the lack of progress.
Hillary Clinton said the US will press on for a solution but that it was ultimately up to the parties themselves [Reuters]
Hillary Clinton has said the United States alone cannot bring peace to the Middle East, and that it was up to the parties themselves to forge a deal on the settlements issue.
In a speech in Washington, the US secretary of state said Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will have to first make some major compromises on the core issues.
Clinton expressed frustration with the impasse and made it clear that the parties themselves are ultimately responsible for settling their long-standing conflict, but insisted that the US administration will “not lose hope”.
She said the US will keep pressing for a solution, and called on Israelis and Palestinians to set aside their differences.
“It is no secret that the parties have a long way to go and that they have not yet made the difficult decisions that peace requires.
“And like many of you, I regret that we have not gotten farther, faster,” she told participants at a Saban Forum, a Mideast policy seminar sponsored by the Brookings Institution think tank on Friday.
Clinton spoke just days after US-brokered direct talks with Israel came to a halt.
The US on Wednesday dropped its bid to persuade Israel to renew a freeze in West Bank settlement building, saying that weeks of efforts to broker a new freeze and resuscitate the peace talks had gone nowhere.
The freeze is a key Palestinian demand for returning to the talks stalled since an earlier slowdown in construction expired in late September.
In her speech, Clinton also said that the parties “have often not been ready to take the necessary steps”.
“Going forward, they must take responsibility and make the difficult decisions that peace requires. This begins with a sincere effort to see the world through the other side’s eyes, to try to understand their perspective and positions.
“Palestinians must appreciate Israel’s legitimate security concerns. And Israelis must accept the legitimate territorial aspirations of the Palestinian people. Ignoring the other side’s needs is in the end self-defeating,” added Clinton.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee, told Al Jazeera Clinton’s speech was more like “a lecture that belongs to [the] past, rather than the future”.
“The lectures of the past are not relevant. Basically, the same [American] mistakes are being cloned. Leaving us and the Israelis [to figure it out] is like leaving the wolves and sheep on their own.
“This approach is the same as the American one pre-Annapolis and it does not work anymore,” he said, referring to a conference in the US city of Annapolis in 2007 where the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to further “the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine”. Israel later said it was not bound by it.
Israel has continued building settlements in occupied East Jerusalem despite US efforts for a new freeze [Reuters]
Abed Rabbo also noted that the US appeared to be abandoning the terminology and philosophy they had used initially.
“This process is no longer viable. It’s not even enough to stop the damage caused, including settlements,” an official said.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Los Angeles, Saree Makdisi, a Palestinian scholar and professor at the University of California, said the major problem facing the Palestinians was the lack of a legitimate leadership and the exclusion of a majority of them.
“Who is representing the Palestinians at this point? The leadership that is in Ramallah have very little legitimacy in the West Bank, have no legitimacy in Gaza and essentially the same situation among the majority of Palestinians who don’t live in the occupied territories.
“If the world wants to move towards a genuine peace, they really need to take into account the interests and rights of all the Palestinian people, not just the ones living in the West Bank.”
Makdisi said it is important for all Palestinians “to be included justly in order for there to be real, substantive peace”, and for the world to recognise that and move towards engaging them.
Before her remarks, Clinton met senior officials from both sides, including the Palestinian prime minister, the lead Palestinian negotiator, the Israeli defense minister, Israel’s former foreign minister and the UN special envoy for the region.
Following Clinton to the podium, Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, predicted that without an Israeli-Palestinian peace, the cycle of Middle East violence will be perpetuated.
Barak said Israel needs the “political wisdom” to find a way to a two-state solution – a secure Israel existing side-by-side with an independent Palestinian state.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, after Friday’s meeting with Clinton blamed the Israeli government for the breakdown in talks and said the Palestinians would continue to consult with the US, the UN, the European Union and Arab League on how to proceed.
“They are alone responsible for the derailment of the peace process. The Israeli government had a choice between settlements and peace and they chose settlements,” he said, adding that the Palestinian position remains the same.
Twenty-six European grandees have urged the EU to adopt a tougher stance towards Israel including taking “concrete measures” and exacting “consequences” over continued settlement building on occupied land, which they say is illegal under international law.
The former EU leaders said that in the face of “the ongoing deterioration of the situation on the ground”, the EU, in co-operation with other international bodies, should put forward a “concrete and comprehensive proposal for the resolution of this conflict”. A deadline of April 2011 for progress in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians should be set, after which the international community should intervene.
“Time to secure a sustainable peace is fast running out,” said the group, which includes former EU commissioner Chris Patten, former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, former Irish president Mary Robinson and another nine former heads of state. It sent a letter to EU president Herman van Rompuy, foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and all EU heads of government before a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday, saying: “It is clear that without a rapid and dramatic move … a two-state solution, which forms the one and only available option for a peaceful resolution of this conflict, will be increasingly difficult to attain.”
The letter says the group had received “signals” from US officials that the best way to help American efforts to reach a peace deal was to put a “price tag” on policies that contradict those advocated by Barack Obama.
The group calls on the EU to:
• Put forward a plan to resolve the conflict, including a clear time frame, together with the US, UN, Russia, and Arab League.
• Reiterate its position that it will not recognise any changes to the June 1967 boundaries [of Israel], that a Palestinian state should be “territory equivalent to 100% of the territory occupied in 1967”, and that its capital should be East Jerusalem.
• Refuse to upgrade ties with Israel unless settlements are frozen. “The EU has always maintained that settlements are illegal, but has not attached any consequences for continued and systematic settlement expansion.”
• Bring an end to the import of settlement products “which are, in contradiction with EU labelling recommendations, marketed as originating in Israel”.
• Send a high-level delegation, including Lady Ashton, to East Jerusalem “as a matter of urgency to draw attention to the erosion of the Palestinian presence there, and report back to the EU with an agenda of proposals to arrest and reverse the deterioration of the situation on the ground”. The situation in East Jerusalem, it says, is the “most critical flashpoint and greatest threat” to a peace deal.
The letter praises “impressive progress in the … development of the infrastructure of a Palestinian state”, in which the EU has invested billions of euros.
The signatories to the letter all held office within the past decade, when there have been repeated attempts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Ashton replied to the letter, which refers in detail to EU policy on the Middle East agreed a year ago, saying “the implementation of the [EU’s earlier] conclusions is proceeding on several fronts”, according to the EUobserver website.
Ygal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said the letter was “extremely problematic”.
“It’s hard to see how adopting uncritically all Palestinian positions and adopting a confrontational attitude to Israel will bring Israel and the Palestinians closer to reconciliation, compromise and peace.
“The document will only reinforce those who are suspicious of Europe’s intentions and continue to marginalise the EU’s role in peacemaking in this region.”
He also denied that settlement products were mislabelled.
The letter, sent earlier this week, coincided with the US abandoning its attempts to persuade Israel to agree to a fresh settlement freeze in order to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.
The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was holding a series of bilateral meetings today with Palestinian and Israeli leaders in Washington.
Clinton was scheduled to meet the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, as well as the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and the Israeli opposition leader, Tzipi Livni.
Clinton was expected to outline the direction of the administration’s Middle East policy plans in a speech later. US officials say there is little prospect of direct talks. It is likely the Americans will return to shuttle diplomacy focused on issues of borders and Israel’s security demands.
Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is returning to the region next week.
December 12, 2010
Netanyahu must stop celebrating victory and listen to U.S.
The prime minister would do well to take seriously Clinton’s announcement that Washington will demand that both sides show more flexibility on the core issues of the conflict.
Very belatedly, the U.S. administration announced the failure of its efforts to persuade Israel to reinstate the freeze on building in the settlements. In doing so, U.S. President Barack Obama saved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from having to put up a political deposit and demonstrate his willingness to pay the balance of the political price that a two-state solution would extract. The United States will probably shelve the incentive package it promised Israel in exchange for the construction moratorium.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to stress on Friday that the administration’s position on the illegitimacy of continued building in the settlements, as well as on the damage it does to Israel’s future and to the peace process, has not changed. Clinton did not say how the United States will react to renewed building in the West Bank, which is disrupting negotiations over its future. The governments of other countries, including Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, have already submitted the bill to Israel by recognizing a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. Late last week, 26 senior European Union officials and statesmen issued a letter, harshly condemning Israeli policy and expressing support for the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to build the foundations for an independent state.
Clinton’s promise that the United States will play a central role in efforts to reach an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state and will even draft compromise proposals to those party to the conflict is praiseworthy. Perhaps the administration’s message, coming as it did amid strident voices from the international community, will rouse Netanyahu from the false complacency of the status quo and will remind Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his Labor Party colleagues why they joined this right-wing government.
Instead of celebrating his victory, the prime minister would do well to take seriously Clinton’s announcement that Washington will demand that both sides show more flexibility on the core issues of the conflict and will be “asking tough questions and expecting substantive answers,” as she put it Friday. If Netanyahu seeks to hold on to the remaining trust of the Israeli public and the international community in his “Bar-Ilan vision,” he should stop playing hide-and-seek, and during the upcoming shuttle-diplomacy trip of U.S. envoy George Mitchell, he should present his proposal for a final-status arrangement.
December 12, 2010
Israel may have no military option against Iran
Israeli leaders should understand that the attack option isn’t really an option – a thousand new fire trucks and even the Iron Dome missile defense system will not provide protection.
Every cloud has a silver lining: Maybe lessons will be learned from the fire. Not only fire extinguishers, fire trucks and new planes, but also new thinking, and fire retardants that douse the really big fire.
The home front’s weakness should teach us that Israel apparently has no military option. This is a much more fateful lesson than all the fire’s other lessons, and it should be dealt with. The apocalyptic descriptions of a missile attack on the home front if Israel attacks Iran or Lebanon appear even more apocalyptic in light of Israel’s conduct when handling a medium-sized forest fire. Discussions on our future, therefore, should move to the arena that Israelis favor: the security arena.
Leave aside human rights and the occupation, don’t worry about morality and justice, forget about peace as a leftist delusion and ignore the Palestinian problem. The issue is Israel’s security interests, perhaps even existential interests.
The next wars will be home-front wars. This time the Israeli home front will be hit in a way we have never experienced. The first Gulf war and the Second Lebanon War were only the movie trailer for what could happen. An attack of thousands of missiles, as predicted by experts, will create a reality Israel will find hard to withstand. It isn’t equipped for it, as we saw on the Carmel, and it isn’t prepared for it, as we saw in the Lebanon war.
Any Israeli leader, even an adventurist and a former commando, should understand that the attack option is not really an option. It’s true that we succeeded in a few bombings in the past, but nothing lasts forever and the Scuds against us won’t always be hollow. A thousand new fire trucks and even the Iron Dome missile defense system will not provide protection. You can’t build a fortress for every citizen. This leads to the second, unavoidable conclusion, which should penetrate very deeply, not only among diplomats and commanders, but also among the many warmongers among us: the only existential option is integrating into the region (a term coined decades ago by Uri Avnery ).
Let the nationalists, settlers, rejectionists, militarists, security advocates, annexation backers, hawks, rightists, patriots, rabble-rousers and messianics look at what happened on the Carmel and tell us where they want to go with that. Let them explain what options Israel has when it says no to any chance for peace and its home front is so vulnerable. What hope does it have if it continues to live only by its sword, which was once strong and threatening, and is now rusting?
It was the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who once acknowledged in a private conversation that the main consideration that got him to the Oslo process was the realization of the limits of Israeli power. We’ve weakened since then, not only because of the threats to the home front, but because of our international standing. If we recognize this and understand that the military option has become unrealistic, except as a deterrent or an act of desperation, we will understand that there is only the diplomatic option, no other, and it is still open to us.
Israel will not be destroyed. Its heavy armaments will be decisive in the next round as well, but apparently with thousands of Israeli dead, tens of thousands on the other side and a resolute global front that will impose a solution on us. The trauma of the Yom Kippur War will look like a midsummer night’s dream, even if our complacent society again pretends that it was surprised. Then all Israelis will know that the diplomatic solution – which most Israelis said yes to in every poll before they went on watching “Big Brother” – was for years at their doorstep and the destruction was a destruction of choice.
Let any rightist politician and anyone who criminally wastes diplomatic time know the weight of the fateful responsibility he bears. For decades Israel persevered because of its strength. Now this power has critical limits. Last week a hint of them was sent from the Carmel. It should echo in every living room and ministry.
December 12, 2010
The unholy alliance between Israel’s Right and Europe’s anti-Semites
Extreme nationalists in Israel have invited extremists in Europe and believe they have tamed them to their cause.
Oy Europe! Its official arm, brave and mighty, was extended to us in the form of the dozens of firefighters and firefighting aircraft dispatched to battle the Carmel blaze. Its other arm – the outcast, disobedient one – came to ignite fires whose damages cannot be predicted. These took the form of the very unholy alliance between figures on Israel’s right and extreme nationalists and even anti-Semites in Europe that is gaining momentum in the Holy Land.
The first of the pyromaniacs, the Dutch MP Geert Wilders – almost a permanent guest in Israel – was invited by MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union ) to persuade us that Jordan is Palestine. In 2008, Wilders made headlines when his film “Fitna” drew a connection between the Koran and Islamic terror. He often compares the Koran to “Mein Kampf” and calls for taxing Muslim garments, “which pollute the Dutch landscape.” During his visit here, he voiced innumerable pearls of wisdom such as “Without Judea and Samaria, Israel cannot protect Jerusalem.”
Another European expert in starting fires is the Belgian politician Filip Dewinter, who was invited to attend another conference held here as well, this one initiated by former Yisrael Beiteinu MK Eliezer Cohen. Annoyed that Eldad had “stolen” Wilders from under his nose, Cohen brought to his own convention on Islamophobia a roster of racists who made the Dutch populist look like an innocent lamb.
Dewinter is a leader of Vlaams Belang party, a successor to the Flemish National Movement, many of whose members collaborated with the Nazis. Among its current members are a number of Holocaust deniers. Dewinter himself moved about in anti-Semitic circles and has ties to European extremist and neo-Nazi parties. In 1988, he paid his respects to the tens of thousands of Nazi soldiers buried in Belgium, and in 2001, he opened a speech with an oath used by the SS.
The honor of lighting the torch goes to the brightest jewel in this racist crown – Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria’s Freedom Party. If Jorg Haider was “Hitler’s spiritual grandson,” then Strache is his extremely illegitimate great-grandson. His grandfather was in the Waffen-SS, and his father served in the Wehrmacht. As a university student, Strache belonged to an extremist organization from which Jews were banned, hung out with neo-Nazis and participated in paramilitary exercises with them. Commentators in Austria say that Strache is trying to copy Haider but that he is less sophisticated and ultimately more extreme than his role model. (A selection of Strache’s brilliant comments were published in his interview with Haaretz in March. )
The organizers of these visits believe they have tamed this bunch of extremists they brought over from Europe, who after trading in their Jewish demon-enemy for the Muslim criminal-immigrant model are now singing in unison that Samaria is Jewish ground. Soon they’ll be sprouting beards and wearing kippot. But they have not genuinely cast off their spiritual DNA, and in any event, they aren’t looking for anything except for Jewish absolution that will bring them closer to political power.
Joining the list of those who have brought shame onto this country for hosting these characters are the Ashkelon Academic College, which gave them a platform; MK Nissim Zeev (Shas ), who received them in the Knesset; Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara (Likud ), who expressed his delight at meeting “lovers of Israel, whom we must strengthen,”; and the Israel Air Force, which tainted its reputation by permitting Cohen, a veteran of the force, to give this gang an exclusive tour of an F-15 squadron.
The Austrian press reported this week that the whitewashing undergone by Strache here in our Land of Milk and Honey could well pave his way to the chancellor’s office. And, as they say: “To the glory of the State of Israel.”
6. What No Rabbi in the World Outside Israel Would Ever Say
We awoke this week to yet another assault on Judaism and democracy by rabbis fulfilling official positions within the Israeli rabbinate. As distinct from the past, however, the vast majority of Israelis from a wide spectrum of religious and political beliefs, including our prime minister, condemned their ruling, which declared it Jewishly illegal in essence to allow non-Jews to live in proximity to their fellow Israeli Jewish citizens. Israelis have not been silent; a continuous flow of headlines, editorials, and petitions have given expression to the revulsion that most Israelis feel.
Given this broad-based response, the question that needs to be asked is: Why is this happening again? Why are rabbis in Israel continually susceptible to these types of moral, ideological lapses, which never seem to plague their colleagues, Orthodox and liberal alike, who live around the world?
One explanation, which was mirrored in the ultra-Orthodox rabbinic critique in Israel against these rabbis, is that rabbis in Israel are free from the fear of worrying about “what the goyim will say,” and whether their remarks will incite anti-Semitic responses. Under this explanation the “gift” of sovereignty is that Jews today can be uninhibited and free to finally descend to the moral insensitivity and bigotry to which we always aspired but were prevented from doing.
While this explanation may have been true of Diaspora life for centuries, it no longer reflects the nature of Jewish experience or motivation. Most Jews around the world have left the exile not through making aliyah, but by embracing their communities as their new homes. For Jews around the world, the non-Jew is no longer only or even at all an adversary who threatens our existence. They are friends who have welcomed us as members in full standing into their societies. Jews have reciprocated by embracing the larger world and engaging with it in a new partnership. They don’t see the world as a dichotomous us-them, but as a place they want to learn from and contribute to.
No rabbi in the world would ever forbid living in neighborly relations with the non-Jew, not simply because such a ruling is politically self destructive, but rather because it does not reflect the values and experiences that have come to define the nature of Jewish life outside of Israel. Around the world, Judaism is growing and flourishing, especially in North America, in the midst of a shared, multi-religious public sphere where new levels of respect, cooperation, and learning take place on a daily basis.
This is not the experience of Israelis. While instinctively rejecting the racist immorality of these few rabbis, our attitude toward non-Jews very often reflects that of the shtetl in the Middle Ages. Despite our power we often feel threatened and endangered by the Arab population, both in Israel and around us. That is not to say that many of these feelings are not without cause. Peace and coexistence have yet to become the central values defining Middle Eastern life.
However, one of the greatest challenges facing modern Israel is not to allow the Middle East conflict to transform Israel into the largest ghetto in Jewish history, where a ghetto mentality will prevail. We cannot allow the fostering of a Judaism which aspires to further alienate us from our neighbors and which permits racist and separatist ideologies. We cannot excuse and ignore such expressions, even if they are in the minority, for minority positions which are ignored today become the inheritance of the majority tomorrow. We can no longer allow our government to turn a blind eye and fund for political considerations Jewish ideologies, rabbis, teachers, or schools which undermine the moral fiber of Judaism and the democratic character of the State of Israel.
We have embarked on a momentous project – to build a homeland for the Jewish people, a place where the best of Jewish values define the public sphere, a place where all Jews around the world, those who live in Israel and those who see their homes elsewhere, have a stake and a share, and a role in shaping the future of this society. We Israelis must learn that we have much to learn from the Judaism of Jews around the world.
The experience of building Judaism in a minority context has enhanced our moral sensitivity and opened us to some of the best ideas and values that the world has to offer. As for the Jews of the world, the opportunity created by the State of Israel to take full responsibility for a society and which positions Judaism on a world stage as never before, creates unparalleled opportunities for Jewish innovation, pride, and experience. Their lives as Jews can be enhanced and enriched by this experience.
This opportunity, however, brings with it great challenges. Greatness is not inherited; it needs to be earned. Jews of moral principles in Israel and around the world must reach out to each other to ensure that each is benefiting from the experience of the other. We must make sure that our response to those who are creating a Judaism in Israel which is unworthy of our tradition will neither prevail nor be allowed the position of representing our people, our country and our faith.
We the majority, both in Israel and around the world, need to see each other, reach out to each other and build ever-new avenues of cooperation so that we will be worthy of the opportunities given to us in the modern world and strong enough to respond to its challenges.