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Blog: August 2009 Archives

High-Stakes Poker and Jerusalem: Beware of the Bluff (and the spin)

Today's Haaretz features an article headlined "U.S. drops demand for Israel building freeze in East Jerusalem."  A surprisingly authoritative-sounding headline, given the leak-free approach of the Mitchell team thus far. 

Savvy consumers of the news - including members of the peace camp who may be fearful that the Obama Administration, like so many US administrations that have gone before it, will eventually give in to Israel on these key issues - would do well to remember that in this kind of high-stakes political poker, a lot of what we hear in the press is spin (and bluffing). And we would all do well to wait and see what is actually agreed before passing judgment. If the agreement is good - however it is framed - then we will praise it.  If it is bad, there will be plenty of opportunity to criticize it at that time.

Peace Now's Hagit Ofran: Criteria for A Meaningful Settlement Freeze

Hagit Ofran, the director of Peace Now's Settlement Watch, has an important analysis over at the Huffington Post laying out the criteria for a meaningful settlement freeze.   In a nutshell, she writes that a freeze must:

(a) have no loopholes -- (for more on loopholes, see our "5 Bogus Reasons for Opposing a Settlement Freeze),
(b) be transparent, especially with respect to any construction that Israel insists on "completing" despite the freeze;
(c) not include anything that could be interpreted as US permission or approval for any settlement construction -- now or in the future -- anywhere, and not include anything that could be interpreted as establishing new "understandings" about where Israel thinks it can build, and
(d) apply not only to construction but also planning. 

Perhaps the most important take-away from her analysis is the following:  yes, we'd prefer a freeze that includes every single structure and is permanent.  But let's remember:  a freeze is not an end in itself.  The goal here is to get a freeze that is politically significant and sufficiently credible to help launch serious negotiations that, if they succeed, will render the details of the freeze irrelevant, since a final status agreement will resolve the issue, once and for all.  A freeze that at a minimum meets the criteria laid out by Hagit, while not the perfect airtight freeze we would love to see -- for Israel's own sake -- would nonetheless be politically significant and sufficiently credible to help launch such negotiations.  For this reason, we would gladly support such a freeze.

APN mourns Senator Kennedy

Ted Kennedy 186x140.jpgAmericans for Peace Now today mourns the passing of a Senator Edward Kennedy, a long-time advocate of peace for Israel.

As far back as 1989, in a letter to APN, Senator Kennedy articulated a position that still rings true today:

What is Berman saying about settlements?

I just sent this call to action out to our activists who live in Rep. Howard Berman's district.

Dear Friend,

According to an article in Sunday's Haaretz newspaper, during a closed-door meeting with L.A. Jewish leaders on August 14th Rep. Howard Berman said that the Obama administration is "mistaken" in demanding Israel completely freeze construction in the settlements.  

Ya'alon hate-filled rhetoric

In a speech to Likud Party activists this week, Moshe Ya'alon -- Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs -- lashed out at Peace Now.

In order to save Israel, Ya'alon said, "we must deal with the issue of the virus that is Peace Now and, if you will, the elites. Their damage is very great. From my point of view, Jews should live in every part of the Land of Israel forever."

Some responses to Ya'alon's anti-Peace Now rhetoric

Israeli Minister Moshe Ya'alon's rhetoric equating the Israeli Peace Now movement with a virus have drawn reaction from across the political spectrum in Israel. Here's a small sample:

Minister of Strategic Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon (Likud) is absolutely, defiantly, and unequivocally "not afraid of the Americans."  Good to know, though this does ring with a certain "the man doth protest too much" tone.  As does his I-couldn't-care-less about them indictment of Peace Now and its Settlement Watch program, which he labels "a virus." 

Apparently he is unaware that "viral" in the current day-and-age carries less the sense of something evil and hard to get rid of, and more the sense of something that is catching and spreading in popularity at an extremely rapid rate.  Like last year's Obama Girl video.  Or in this case, like the information that Peace Now's Settlement Watch has been and continues to be extraordinarily effective at getting to the public on Israel's settlement activities. 

Christians United for Israel?


Last month, members of the largest pro-Israel lobbying organization in the country gathered in Washington, DC. And no, I'm not talking about AIPAC. 4,000 evangelical Christians participated in Christians United for Israel's (CUFI) 4th annual Washington Summit on July 20-22, hearing from speakers such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA), and spending a day lobbying on Capitol Hill.

AP's Matti Friedman today report separately on a story that keeps popping up: the growing national-religious trend in the IDF and what appears to be the evangelical national-religious influence of the IDF's chief rabbi, who is a West Bank settler.  Friedman reports concerns that "that the military rabbinate and its charismatic chief, Brig.Gen. Avichai Rontzki, are infusing a militant mix of Judaism and nationalism into a traditionally secular institution that embodies the Israeli consensus."  Similar analysis was published previously in Haaretz and other Israeli papers, as well as in the New York Times, including a remarkable open letter from two reservists protesting the religious-nationalist indoctrination efforts...
Today, Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann, of the Israeli NGO Ir Amim, circulated his observations on Mike Huckabee's East Jerusalem adventure (or better yet, adventurism) and what it says about Jerusalem and President Obama's peace efforts.  Read the full analysis after the jump...

The Two-State Solution: Never About Solving Everything

Like many people I know, I spent a lot of time wrestling with how to react to the recent New York Times op-ed by Rob Malley (who I know well and admire tremendously) and Hussein Agha, entitled "The Two-State Solution Doesn't Solve Anything."  Fundamentally, while I respect the sincerity of their analysis, I think they got it wrong.  Here's why:

An unconventional missive hits Jerusalem


It is sitting right in front of me. A three-page cable from Boston to Jerusalem sent by consul-general Nadav Tamir expressing concern for Israel's international image following recent clashes with the US administration. I have read secret diplomatic cables for 30 years and I can testify that this is the kind of report professional diplomacy was created for.

Without seeing the current diplomatic correspondence (as I am no longer a government official), I can say that this is one of the most important cables sent by an Israeli diplomat this year - or maybe even this decade.

Mike Huckabee *hearts* East Jerusalem Settlers

Haaretz is reporting today that former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will be the guest at a huge "in-your-face-nyah-nyah-there's-nothing-the-Palestinians-or-lefties-can-do-to-stop-use" banquet at the Shepherd's Hotel -- the recently-approved Irving Moskowitz settlement project in the heart of the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. For further details, see Maariv's take on the story, after the break (which mentions the settlers' plan for a major PR effort aimed at Americans, including bringing in movie stars!).


The leaked cable that Israel's Consul General in Boston, Nadav Tamir, sent to his superiors in Jerusalem last week is still reverberating in Israel and the U.S.In the confidential cable, which was leaked to the Israeli media, Tamir harshly criticized the Israeli government for escalating its disagreements with Washington's regional peace initiative.

The Tamir Affair: Kill the Messenger

I sat down to write how troubling I found the reaction of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman to the leaked cable sent by Israel's Consul General in Boston, Nadav Tamir.


I was going to write about the objectionable "kill the messenger" syndrome (see the case of the Israeli government's efforts to silence "Breaking the Silence"), about the danger to Israeli democracy and the damage to the professionalism of Israeli representatives abroad (Tamir is an outstanding professional).

Some Good News from Fatah's General Assembly

Some of the large Jewish groups were quick to cry "gevalt" at Fatah's General Assembly in Bethlehem even before the conference ended. Granted, there were inflammatory speeches and some disturbing displays of anti-Israeli sentiment.



The Sherman Solution

Last month, the Jerusalem Post reprinted an article by APN's president and CEO, Debra DeLee, in which she explained why the Obama administration is so keen on an Israeli settlement freeze and recommended that Israel's government work with President Obama to advance peace. 

The article prompted a frothing-at-the-mouth reaction by Martin Sherman, whose tagline is the "academic director of the Jerusalem Summit and lectures in security studies at Tel Aviv University."

Disappointed with the ADL

Abraham Foxman
National Director 
Anti-Defamation League
605 3rd Ave. New York NY 10158

Dear Mr Foxman:

In response to your full page ad in the New York Times:


You know the problem isn't Arab Rejection -  it's borders, Jerusalem, refugees and settlements.  The issue is not Arab and Palestinian rejection of Israel's right to exist - that issue was settled in Madrid, Oslo, diplomatic relations with Egypt & Jordan and the Arab Initiative.

Solidarity_Rally1.jpgIsrael's Peace Now movement and Americans for Peace Now express solidarity with the gay and lesbian community in Israel, following the attack on the gay youth center in Tel Aviv, and strongly reject the intensifying violence and intolerance within Israeli society.

The ADL Should Reconsider

The ADL's ad in yesterday's New York Times (August 4, 2009) was troubling. My colleague, Ori Nir -- who has known ADL National Director Abe Foxman for years -- wrote a heartwrenching post in response, concluding that:

A powerful editorial in Haaretz on this past weekend's evictions in Sheikh Jarrah:

Excerpt:  "A democratic state that strives for peace and justice simply has no right to uproot families who became refugees in 1948. They left homes in West Jerusalem behind them, and were subsequently granted modest accommodations by the Jordanian government. The claim that the houses in Sheikh Jarrah were purchased by Jews in the early 1900s is a double-edged sword that opens a political and legal Pandora's box."

Foxman's Red Herring

Abe Foxman is a smart person, a responsible person, an honorable person with a strong moral core. I have known him for years and I respect him.


A Civil War in Israel Over the Settlements?

By Robert Freedman

      In the past few weeks as rumors of a possible US-Israeli deal for a partial West Bank settlement freeze have surfaced, opposition to such an agreement  has grown in orthodox Religious Zionist and right-wing circles in Israel. This opposition has not only threatened to exacerbate tensions between orthodox and non-orthodox  Jews in Israel and in  the United States, but also to create the conditions for a civil war in Israel.

Obama/Mitchell to launch press offensive on peace efforts

The New York Times reported yesterday that President Obama and Special Envoy Mitchell have decided that it is time (finally) to launch some public diplomacy in support of their Middle East peace efforts.  This is great news. Until now, Obama and Mitchell have left it to Israeli officials (who appear to view leaking as a full-contact sport), skeptics/opponents of pressure on Israel in the US (especially in the Jewish community), and journalists (who are happily eating up the spin of the former two groups, in the absence of any counter-spin from US officials) to frame the public discussion of the issue.  Indeed, the NYT reports that the campaign, "amounts to a reframing of a policy that people inside and outside the administration say has become overly defined by the American pressure on Israel to halt settlement construction on the West Bank." All we can say is: Kol hakavod. 

You can't have it both ways

by Leonard Fein

In the course of what was likely intended as a critique of the Obama administration's Middle East policies -- specifically, its pressure on Israel regarding West Bank settlements -- Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, last week made an astonishing admission. 

As many of his colleagues at the helm of major American Jewish organizations, Foxman has over the years by and large been a conventional apologist for Israel. Now and then, he has staked out a somewhat independent course, but last week brought a full-throated, if inadvertent, reversal.

Deterioration of Support for Democractic Values in Israel...

Sad but not surprising news today regarding the health of democratic values in Israel, as reflected in the Israel Democracy Institute just-released annual Democracy Index (full report only available in Hebrew and Russian so far).  YNet reports:

On freedom of expression:  "The Israeli public believes in freedom of expression as a general value, but for the most part refuses to allow harsh criticism to be expressed against the state. 74% support 'Freedom of expression for everyone, regardless of their opinions.' However, 58% agree that "political speech should not be permitted to express harsh criticism of the state of Israel.' This is a significant increase as compared to 48% in 2003."