Moderate Plaudits for Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy: Part II

Moderate Plaudits for Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy: Part II

by

Howard Adelman

“Whether motivated by the importance of preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a concern for Israel’s and America’s relationships with key Arab partners, or a desire to cut ‘the ultimate deal,’ the new administration shows signs of investing heavily in Middle East peace negotiations. The president even assigned his own son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a potential peacemaker.” In such an interpretation, Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without predetermined borders had rational strategic goals: strengthening Israel, strengthening U.S.-Israeli ties and advancing the peace process towards an ultimate deal. Tomorrow I will consider the last goal and the technique seen as a method of achieving it – disruption. In this blog I want to analyze the positions of those who applaud the move as reasonable and strategic, and offer a rationale for its beneficence.

However, I begin this blog with other criticisms and caveats that, like the initiative, offered a more nuanced critical response, but without declaring the Trump initiative as stupid or rash or uncalled for or biased or as destroying the possibility of peace. American diplomats with a long history of engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, such as Dennis Ross, who served the Bush administration as Director of Policy Planning in the State Department and as a special Middle East coordinator for Bill Clinton’s government, offered a mixture of approval and reservations about the initiative.

The reference point was always the passage by Congress in 1995 of legislation obligating a transfer of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, legislation with large bipartisan support, but with the inclusion of the waiver allowing the president to delay the move for six months at a time if needed to secure American interests. Up until Trump’s announcement, all presidents, including Trump six months ago, had signed the waiver. This time, however, Trump signed the waiver with two caveats: a) practical measures were now to be initiated to arrange the move; and b) Jerusalem was being recognized as Israel’s capital, but with the important caveat that this in no way preempted the determination of borders or the control over holy sites.

Previously, the waiver had been signed “to prevent damage to ongoing efforts to negotiate a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Would such an initiative serve the pursuit of peace in the Middle East or undermine it? The signing of the waiver never meant that there was no recognition of “the centuries of history that link the Jewish people to the city.” The resolution of Congress sent a clear signal to those who wanted to delegitimize Jewish claims in Palestine more generally. However, there had also always existed practical administrative and security reasons for moving the embassy – convenience to American diplomats who must travel back and forth to Jerusalem all the time, the inadequate security in the existing Tel Aviv embassy, and the general perception that the U.S. does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The issue was when to take the initiative not whether, and under what qualifications. Would such an initiative be neutral or would it undermine America’s role as a useful arbitrator? Would it advance or impede the prospects for negotiations and peace? How would such a move fit in within this larger strategic goal? Would it enhance Israel’s willingness to make concessions or set back that possibility? Would it drive more Palestinians into a rejectionist corner or send a message that the U.S. tolerance for Palestinian procrastination was near its end? More specifically, would it give greater strength to Jared Kushner’s leadership on the question, propel it forward by signaling the possibility of further additional moves that would reinforce the Israeli government position, or drive the Palestinians and their supporters to distraction making them both unwilling to participate and/or accept America’s mediation efforts?

Supporters of the move asked for even more nuance and more statements of clarification. For supporters who approached the new position with qualms and qualifications, an embassy move must demonstrate that such an initiative would not prevent a Palestinian capital in the Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem from emerging through negotiations. It must explicitly and repeatedly be linked with an insistence that the initiative does not change the status quo at the city’s holy sites. U.S. statements should make even more explicit that the policy decision to move the embassy is not an endorsement of Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the entire city. These additional statements must make absolutely clear that the U.S. is committed to the status quo of the holy sites. Only when the initiative is followed by such reassurances can Muslim sensitivities about the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) be assuaged while Jewish sensitivities about the Western Wall are reassured.

Even if the prime message still lacked substance and was only symbolic, it had to state clearly and unequivocally that the negotiations could not have as a starting point the cease fire lines of 1967. Those were not borders. It had also to signal that a one state solution was not in the offing and that only a two-state solution was and would be on the table, but one which offered the prospect of a continuing diminution in that state, its power and geographical reach. At the same time, Israel had to be sent a message that it too could not envision a one state solution including all of historic Israel and Palestine and, thus, that there was no alternative to continuing to substitute facts on the ground as an alternative to negotiations in that direction. The direction being pushed in UNESCO, in the absence of an American veto on a core issue, had to be reversed and done so loudly, clearly and backed up by the will and might of the world’s most powerful nation.

Further, Trump must further clarify the character of recognition without defining borders. Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1949. That is a fact and not a matter of negotiation. Negotiations are needed to resolve all the respective claims that Israelis and Palestinians have, including questions related to Jerusalem. Israelis and Palestinians must resolve these issues directly without outside interference. Does the new initiative reinforce this route or undermine it by expressing a bias in favour of the Israeli position and, thereby, ruling out the American role as a supposed “neutral” intervenor?

There is a logic to the duality of recognition, on the one hand, and declaring that this still left the borders undefined. Israel’s prime minister and parliament are located in the part of Jerusalem that is not contested. There is an honesty in ending the fiction that the city is not the Israeli capital, a fiction which has gone on for 70 years. At the same time, given the centrality and potentially explosive nature of Jerusalem, the ability of the parties to determine the boundaries of the city must be respected. The possibility even that Jerusalem will become the capital of two states must be left open.

Of course, those who are anti-Zionist and deny Israel’s legitimacy will never be satisfied by such nuances and elaborations. Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has already called for an uprising. In the violent riots thus far, several Palestinians have already been killed. The president’s declaration can be exploited further.  Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas never went as far as the Hamas leader. He merely declared that the U.S. could no longer assume the mediator’s role.

Jerusalem is an emotional issue. Any initiative will be misrepresented. That misrepresentation can help encourage violence or accompany the violence instigated by extremists. That, in turn, will strengthen the hand of the rejectionists and undermine the more moderate elements in both the PA and in Jordan. According to these modest plaudits, the initiative must be followed by a diplomatic offensive which repeats as a mantra that the two initiatives – moving the embassy and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – do not, repeat, do not preempt any final decision on borders. How this will be accomplished without diplomats in place in critical centres is, of course, a related question, especially when this failure was accompanied by the appointment of David Friedman as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, an individual who openly opposes a two-state solution. The Trump administration has not named an ambassador to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar or a replacement of Barbara Leaf as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates; this has already been considered a sign of disrespect by the countries in the region.

Beinart in opposing the initiative, even with the nuances and proposed elaborations, never wanted “to detract from the primary moral responsibility of those ‎Palestinians who detonate bombs or shoot guns or stab with knives. Palestinian terrorism ‎is inexcusable. It always has been. It always will be.”‎ However, he drew an equivalence between those who commit acts of violence and those who trigger a violent response because of their insensitive and unrealistic politics, however much they did not intend to do so. In answer to the criticism that this gave Palestinians a veto over policy since they need merely hold out the threat of an uprising to get those who initiated policies not to their liking to back off, critics of Beinart and defenders of the initiative claimed that Beinart’s stance was akin to blaming the victim, such as a raped woman, for the violence of the man who assaults her.

Peter Breinart, however, made the following distinction. The violence of a male rapist is a product of male pathology. The cause of Palestinian violence, however pathological, is a response to a genuine grievance. This is the nub of his position. He accuses Israel of being the primary reason that the peace process has not advanced. Israel has been guilty of creeping annexation.

It is on this that we disagree. For I hold both parties responsible at the same time as I hold neither responsible for their key difference – the final disposition of Jerusalem. The bottom lines of both parties are incompatible so there is no possibility of peace unless one side or the other budges from its position. Beinart is not simply concerned with the optics of Trump’s announcement; he finds Palestinians to be the lesser responsible party, even though they resort to initiating violence. He takes that stance because he holds that the responsibility for the violence ultimately rests in the hands of the Israeli government and its supporters. I try to bracket my evaluations about responsibility, however, when I undertake an analysis to try as best I can to minimize the effect of my own value priorities and dispositions.

It should be clear that Beinart’s evaluation is not a product of detached analysis but of a moral framework which stimulates within Peter a Cassandra perspective, not simply a very pessimistic outlook concerning political outcomes, but an absolute conviction that he has the power to prophecy accurately even if many or most do not buy into his prognostications.  Hence his support for boycotting products produced in settlements in the West Bank.

Different critics of Beinart who support Trump’s initiative offer some of the following arguments; I put them forth as an amalgam:

  1. The Trump initiative was indeed lacking in substance, and this was its merit; the pronouncement simply recognized the reality on the ground but there was not any there, there, that changed anything;
  2. The move actually made the U.S. more of an honest broker, in Israeli eyes at least, providing more leverage over the Israelis, but without diminishing American neutrality as well as U.S. influence among Muslims and Arabs, quite aside from the current theatrics;
  3. In openly and formally endorsing a two-state solution, the U.S., in fact, had made a step forward;
  4. The absence of a clear strategic vision can be read as a failure, but it could be an intentional step in keeping a mediator’s cards close to one’s chest;
  5. Though the action failed to spell out either the needs or demands of either side, this again was better in reifying America’s role as a neutral party;
  6. In answer to the claim that the initiative had given a green light to Israel to expand its settlement efforts, those were already well underway;
  7. Other initiatives, such as a temporary stop to settlement building, had not been sufficient in the past to drive the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but combining that with the signal of an even possible greater initiative, might do the trick;
  8. In any case, what was there to lose since there was widespread agreement that the so-called peace process had reached a dead end;
  9. Though lacking in substance, though consisting of only a move with great symbolic significance, this initiative was the only one available when the differences over Jerusalem had remained so intractable for far too long;
  10. When such a move had been preceded by envoys from the business world rather than the traditional diplomatic core, it offered the Palestinians an opportunity to signal back under the cover of street demonstrations by keeping those demonstrations confined and also restricted largely to the symbolic level.
  11. Finally, it was urgent that the Obama non-veto in the dying days of that administration, that had given encouragement and a greater rationale for the Palestinians becoming even more intransigent, be reversed if any breakthrough could be expected.
  12. The above points indicate, not a missing U.S. strategy for the Middle East and for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict specifically, but may have also signalled a non-rational and radically new disruptive approach rather than being content with the so-called tried and true methods of international diplomacy [this will be the subject of my analysis in tomorrow’s blog].

As I will explore tomorrow, disruption rather than going-along-with-the-flow has emerged as the new mechanism to replace the old one of “trying harder,” of banging one’s head against an insurmountable wall of resistance whereby each side saw time on its side. At least one of the parties had to come to the realization that time was not on their side. That of necessity had to be the weaker party. Besides, hypocrisy had to come to an end, not only hypocrisy about the discrepancy between reality on the ground and the frozen postures of outside countries, but the hypocrisy whereby Arabs building on conquered land had never been branded illegal by the international community, but moves by Israel, including those in places such as French Hill and Gilo, were so branded in a way that ran completely contrary not only to the facts on the ground, but what could realistically be expected in the future given Israel’s real power and given Israel’s real control of the ground game.

 

Tomorrow: Disruption as a Foundation for International Diplomacy

 

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Responses to Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy – Part I

Responses to Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy – Part I

by

Howard Adelman

I was proud to see that my analysis of Trump’s announcement to move the American embassy in the foreseeable future and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as distributed Wednesday afternoon, generally held up very well with other analyses, with one clear exception. Though I accepted that the policy statement was nuanced, that it was impelled by domestic realities, I was out of synch with some commentators who thought the move was reasonable and realistic internationally as well as domestically. I was on the side of those who believed that Trump’s initiative in setting in motion steps to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and, more importantly, immediately recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, would add to the difficulty of advancing progress on the peace front.

This blog will primarily focus upon commentators who agreed with me with respect to the lack of realism internationally regarding the announcement. Usually, they went further and made the judgement that the move was ill-advised or considered it a clear setback to negotiations. Subsequently, not even counting the leadership of all the major political parties in Israel, I will deal with analysts who viewed the initiative as a reasonable one and generally welcome at this time.

In beginning with critics, I will not include any analysis of those who saw the move as part of Zionist and colonialist efforts to deny Palestinians their rights to self-determination and their rightful ownership of Palestine or other more moderate stances of countries in the Middle East who were outraged but still supported a two-state solution.  In dealing with those who agreed with me on the international repercussions, I will say very little about those who were unequivocally apoplectic and loudly denounced and demonstrated against the new policy because they found it indecent and contrary to international law.

For example, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) organized a petition and a series of demonstrations declaring their shock and outrage. CJPME opposed any initiatives of countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem. They declared that, Trump ignored “all previous UN resolutions and an international consensus on Jerusalem.” Trump did not ignore previous resolutions. His statement was made in opposition to such resolutions, and specifically the one in December in the Security Council which President Obama did not veto which weighed in on the negotiations and declared ALL settlements on the other side of the old Green Line to be illegal. As I had analyzed the initiative, Trump’s move was intended to counter Barack Obama’s failure or refusal to use the veto.

Nor did I contend that Trump’s decision undermined all Middle East peace efforts calling for a negotiated settlement on the status of Jerusalem. Trump specifically qualified his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital by insisting that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the plan to move the embassy did not address the issue of Jerusalem’s borders but that such a decision must result from negotiations between the two parties. I was interested in critics on the left who were more analytical, though a few were also clearly very upset.

I distinguish between analyses and appraisals. For although I might have agreed with some critics’ analyses with respect to the international dimensions, I disagreed on their ultimate evaluation. For whether one agreed or disagreed with Trump, whether one has a very low regard for Trump as I do, I thought the policy statement was well crafted and nuanced.

Let me begin with some of the very bright lights among the critics. I start with Peter Beinart who is very sharp analytically but seemed to be almost as apoplectic and hysterical about Trump’s announcement when I watched him on CNN as anti-Zionists. He had expressed his extreme displeasure in the past with respect to Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to build 2,500 more new housing units in parts of Jerusalem that were once on the other side of the Green Line as well as with Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Beinart repeatedly insisted that these moves were incendiary and would cost Israeli lives.

In contrast, Alan Dershowitz, who has a liberal pedigree but in the last few years has sounded like he was more on the right, argued that, “Violence should not determine policy.” Any instigated violence should be met by counter-measures by the police and the military. “The reason violence  – whether rock-throwing or more lethal forms of terrorism  – is used because it works… as a way to extort concessions from the world. And it works because policy makers often make or refrain from making controversial decisions based on the fear of violent reactions.”

For Dershowitz, unlike Beinart, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem was not unreasonable nor was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. According to Dershowitz, Jerusalem is and will remain Israel’s capital. It is a fact and not a matter for debate. When such moves explicitly insist that this in no way predetermines the boundaries of Jerusalem or who should have sovereignty over the Old City, for Dershowitz that is not only a reasonable move, but a prudent one.

For Dershowitz, it does not matter whether the threat of violence comes from Palestinians, from Islamic demonstrators in Malaysia or from settlers on the West Bank. Policy should not be determined by such threats. As an example, Dershowitz cites the threats and the actual violence that resulted when, in 2000-2001, President Bill Clinton and then Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, put forth what was for Israel an extremely generous set of concessions. The threat – and the response: the Second Intifada! Dershowitz was even critical of the Israeli government for backing down under the threat of violence to its initiative in installing security cameras on what Jews call the Temple Mount (Har HaBáyit) and Muslims call Haram esh-Sharif. Dershowitz is fond of quoting Yitzhak Rabin. “We will pursue the peace process as if there no terrorism, and respond to terrorism as if there were no peace process.”

Other commentators supporting the Dershowitz position cite opposite moves that were far more widespread than recognizing the central site as special to Muslims as well as Jews. The UN General Assembly went further in the other direction in October of last year when it recognized the central holy site in Jerusalem as Muslim, supported Muslim claims and ignored Jewish ones.

The Dershowitz position could be questioned because it did not go far enough but also because it went too far in declaring Trump’s rationale to be reasonable. Was the diplomatic initiative reasonable? The peace offer of Barak was reasonable – whether or not one agreed with it. The installation of cameras on the Temple Mount (Har Habayit), however, broke an agreement between the Israeli authorities and the Muslims who administered the plaza of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Golden Dome. Israel had concurred that any changes with respect to the Temple Mount would take place as a product of consultations and joint initiatives. Unilateral actions on the part of Israelis, even those that on the surface seemed very reasonable, were read and interpreted as additional steps reducing Islamic authority on a site which they considered very holy.

Was the initiative to move the American embassy and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, without prejudging the boundaries of that capital, unreasonable in breaking with previous agreements and seemingly both symbolically and on the ground advancing Israeli claims of sovereignty at the expense of Palestinian claims? That is the nub of the issue. America’s allies by and large took that position. At this time, such an initiative was “unhelpful”. The Czech Republic initially followed the Russian example of recognizing West Jerusalem as Israeli’s capital which, for many Israelis, seemed implicitly to deny Israeli claims on other parts of Jerusalem, even when qualified by assertions that the move did not signal any assessment on the ultimate boundaries of the capital of the Jewish state. In any case, the next day the Prime Minister rescinded the statement of the president of The Czech Republic.

Dershowitz’s argument in defence of the move and his rant against threats of violence, and Beinart’s apoplectic responses to the initiative and fears for “Jewish” lives, both depended on the assessment of a prior issue – was the initiative reasonable? More importantly, was it reasonable now? Canada was not agnostic on this question, even though the Canadian government refrained from criticizing the American initiative. Canada simply reiterated its position that any unilateral initiatives at this time would further complicate the difficulties in advancing the peace process and that our country would refrain from taking any unilateral steps.

The moderate and experienced negotiator on the Palestinian side, Saeb Erekat, backed up by Abbas, did not threaten violence and at least rhetorically called only for peaceful demonstrations. He did pronounce not only the peace process, but even the prospect of a two-state solution, dead. The only possibility, he insisted was now fostering a one state solution with equal rights for both Jews and Palestinians in the whole territory. However, he spoiled his threat by getting the facts wrong in asserting that Donald Trump had recognized a “united” Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Trump did no such thing.

Dershowitz asked all bystanders not to “be fooled by those who say that the two-state solution is dead or that it is time to adopt a one-state solution.” Why? Because under any resolution, “Jerusalem would be recognized as the capital of Israel and its holiest places would remain under Israeli control.” That may be a realist prophecy. That may even be a realistic policy. But since it was at the heart of the dispute over Jerusalem, it would be all the more reason not to signal a pre-emptive outcome at this time. Even Donald Trump never went that far in putting forth his position. If Donald Trump had done so, if he had kept his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without qualifying that initiative as not preempting any outcome on the borders of Jerusalem that could result from an agreement, then a Palestinian rejection should be viewed as reasonable and not just “the latest excuse by Palestinian leaders to refuse to sit down, negotiate and make the painful compromises necessary for a complete resolution of the outstanding issues.”

However, Dershowitz offered another argument why an initiative, without the qualification of not predetermining the sovereignty over the holy sites, was the reasonable one. It goes back to the point I made at the beginning of this blog that Trump was indeed attentive to previous UN resolutions. “President Trump’s decision merely restores the balance that was undone by President Obama’s decision to engineer a one-sided Security Council Resolution that changed the status quo.” That is, of course, why I criticized the failure of the US, when Obama was already a lame-duck president, to veto the Security Council resolution that Israeli settlements were illegal. The motions of the Security Council, unlike those of the UN General Assembly, do have legal status. With the U.S. landmark decision not to join the other 14 votes in favour of declaring all settlements illegal but to abstain, an initiative was permitted to take place which did preempt declarations on the outcome of the negotiations.

The Obama White House had rationalized its abstention which had far more significance than Donald Trump’s moving the embassy or recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, again without predetermining the borders of Jerusalem. For one, it was accompanied by a press release explaining the American failure to veto the resolution was determined by “the absence of any meaningful peace process.” That meant that the US was declaring Israel to be the main culprit in sabotaging the peace process. But if one defended the Obama initiative and, thereby, its rationale that the peace process had reached a dead end, then Donald Trump’s initiative should have posed no problem since, unlike the UN resolution, there was no presumptions about a final outcome.

Of course there was a presumption in both moves. Both the Obama and the Trump initiatives signaled an understanding of who was to blame for the stalled peace process. The UN resolution went even further in weighing in, not only on the agent to blame, but on the substance of negotiations, for that resolution declared that areas of West Jerusalem, such as French Hill, illegal as well. The resolution stated that Israel’s settlements had been placed “on Palestinian territory,” that the area captured in the 1967 war and occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, was Palestinian, and the occupation had “no legal validity.” Though the resolution only demanded a halt to “all Israeli settlement activities” as “essential for salvaging the two-state solution,” and did not demand a roll-back of previous actions, it made the quest for a two-state solution even more difficult. For the process was now under an international determination that the settlements were illegal and Israel, whichever party formed the government, would resist participating in negotiations that, in advance, undermined the Israel position that the settlements were not illegal.

There was another voice on the left that criticized Trump’s initiative, not for its content, but for failing to demand any quid pro quo from the Israeli government for what is broadly considered to be a bold American move. Tom Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist for The New York Times, seemed to criticize the initiative, not for its substantive content, but for the failure to link the American concession to a demand that Israel halt its settlement activities. For Friedman, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had been understood as a concession that would be offered in return for Israeli concessions on other issues, such as settlements. Trump had awarded Israel a prize a) at a time when Israel did not deserve it; b) without extracting balancing concessions; and c) while offering Palestinians nothing of consequence in exchange.

In fact, the Trump initiative had been accompanied by a number of prior moves in the opposite direction – the expansion of Israel building more housing units on territory on the other side of the Green Line, such as in Gilo, which, under any peace agreement, was expected by all parties to remain part of Israel. There were other moves – the downgrading of the PLO “embassy” in Washington, the withdrawal of financial support by Congress to the Palestinian Authority because of its implicit support for terrorism in awarding recognition and providing the families of these “martyrs” with pensions. This was seen as a move towards defining the PA as a supporter of terror. The ground was being laid for subjecting the PA to US sanctions.

 

To be continued – Those Who Applaud Trump’s Initiative

 

Tomorrow: to be continued – Plaudits for Trump’s Initiative

Moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

Moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

by

Howard Adelman

How does one respond when an infamous fabulist makes a decision allegedly based on reality? Donald Trump is the most notorious fabulist of our time. He is not simply a serial liar, but a man who denies any basis for establishing the truth. For Donald, the only truth that exits is the one that you convince people to believe. “People will just believe you. You just tell them and they believe you.” These were Donald Trump’s words quoted by Bill Bush, the former host of “Access Hollywood” in The New York Times. As described in George Orwell’s 1984, the only truth in a totalitarian system is a lie. Telling the truth is the unforgivable sin in despotic systems of government.

Donald Trump announced his decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem in a press conference at 1:00 p.m. this afternoon in an 11-minute speech read on two monitors. He claimed that it was no longer possible “to ignore the reality on the ground.” He was recognizing the historical reality that Jerusalem has been the center of Jewish faith for thousands of years, and the reality today in which the government ministries, the Supreme Court and the central authorities are all located in the capital of Israel – Jerusalem. However, he was not pre-empting the conclusions of any peace negotiations. It was up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to decide together the respective borders in Jerusalem.

What about the Palestinians? What about their reality? There was no acknowledgement of Palestinian claims to sovereignty in Eastern Jerusalem or to the Old City.

Trump “recognizes reality.” As undisclosed sources in the White House had said yesterday: “He is not making a decision that will change the core issues that are to be discussed in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.” Reality also determined that the move would not be immediate. Hence the puzzling and distracting headlines leading up to the announcement: “Trump delays decision on embassy move.” “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley last week, both when the actual announcement would be made and when the decision would be implemented. But the process would be set in motion and expected to be concluded about the time of the expiration of Trump’s first term in office.

Perhaps that was the greater reality – his legacy. Almost certainly the fulfillment of a promise he made in his campaign for the presidency was the major determinant. Certainly, the series of decisions the US Congress made in 1995 provided the legal and formal authority to make the move. But the foundation for the judgment was a claim on reality.

At the same time, President Trump announced that he would sign the waiver, as every president since 1995 has done. Only when the move was imminent would the waiver to delay the move for security concerns be set aside. Would that olive branch appease Palestinians, the Arab and the Muslim world more generally? Would marrying signing the waiver with the executive decision to move the embassy be considered a fake olive branch by both America’s allies in Europe and the many states of the Muslim world? Would the US formally endorsing the two-state solution for the first time be enough of a salve?

Though I have not yet heard the reaction of President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and understand that he is still in discussions with President Sisi of Egypt, allies and Muslim states alike unanimously declared that such a decision would be a disaster for the peace process and was bound to instigate rage and violence, not only in Palestine, but throughout the world, particularly in the Muslim world. That reality according to the critics should have kyboshed any such announcement.

Will such an announcement finally bury the peace process and, therefore the prospect of a two-state solution, or would it, as Trump declared, shake up that process and create more possibilities for a peace agreement to proceed from a new starting position? America remained committed to fostering peace between Israel and the Palestinians and he, Trump, would agree to a two-state solution if both parties agree. Further, and more significantly, America for the first time endorsed a two-state solution and committed itself to backing such a solution if both parties came to an agreement.

It is one thing to announce moving the US embassy in the immediately foreseeable future. It is another to make such a pronouncement in conjunction with recognizing Jerusalem – not West Jerusalem that Russia recognized (April 2017) – as the capital of Israel. And that was the most explosive part of this afternoon’s announcement however nuanced it was by insisting that such recognition made no presumptions about final borders or sovereignty. To repeat, it was just a recognition of reality according to the American president. Trump signed the waiver for an additional six-month delay in moving the embassy, but put in motion the process of moving the embassy.

Since he also declared that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, that announcement will almost certainly stir the Palestinians into a rage despite Trump labeling anyone who resorted to violence as a terrorist. Nabil Abu Rudeinehspokesperson for Mahmoud Abbas, Chair of the Palestinian Authority, warned: “Eastern Jerusalem will be the capital of a Palestinian state, and any change in the status quo or international recognition legitimizing the Israeli occupation will negate any possible just [and peaceful] solution.” Yet the PLO, when it declared Palestinian independence in 1988 conjoined with recognition of the two-state solution, also declared Jerusalem, not East Jerusalem, to be its capital, a decision ratified into law in 2000 and confirmed by Yasser Arafat in 2002.

For critics, Trump was not just playing with fire; he was accused of being a pyromaniac. On the other hand, what change had been made in legitimizing Israeli occupation?

The problem, as has been very widely recognized, is that this has been the one insurmountable obstacle to concluding the peace process. All of the other matters on the table – sharing water, even refugee return and even the swap in territory to solve the problem of Israeli settlements in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) – are resolvable. But Jerusalem is not. As Rudeineh stated, “East Jerusalem, with its holy places, is the beginning and the end of any solution and any project that saves the region from destruction.” If the claim on the Old City is the PA bottom line, and if this Israeli government, or virtually any conceivable Israeli government, cannot be imagined as making such a concession, how can there be a prospect of peace? If there was no prospect of a solution in any case, why delay moving the embassy and recognizing the reality of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?

Nor can one legitimately refer to any international authority to support either side. But an international consensus had been in place until now not to make such a move. As the EU ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, opined, “The connection between the Jews and Jerusalem cannot be denied.” However, virtually the embassies of all countries will remain in Tel Aviv because any move would upset “the diplomatic process.”  “There is a UN resolution on the issue – and the question of Jerusalem should come up in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It would not be good for us to take a new position, before the negotiations. Jerusalem is a sensitive issue that is important to all religions – and it is important that we make an effort so that each side understands the sensitivities of the other side.”

But the effort has been made for fifty years. The negotiations on Jerusalem have been at an impasse for decades. Delaying the decision is viewed by many Jews, particularly supporters of Netanyahu, as favouring the Palestinian position and surrendering to the views of the likes of Democratic National Committee deputy chief and Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison who, in anticipation, dubbed such a move a “horrible tragedy”. (Ellison in the past had offered positive statements on behalf of Nation of Islam leader and anti-Israel advocate, Louis Farrakhan and has insisted that American foreign policy was dictated by the Jewish lobby.)

However, the debate is not over a two-state solution, but over who will have sovereignty over the Holy Places in the Old City. Given that Israel is now in control, any decision to formally recognize that control is considered unilateral and an obstacle to realizing a two-state solution. But refusal to recognize the legitimacy of that control as well as the reality is also a unilateral decision that favours the PA red line.

Does such a decision end the prospect of a negotiated two-state solution? I believe critics are correct. I believe that it certainly will for now, making the timing odd given Jared Kushner’s work on the problem. A decision favouring Israel, even though signaled to Arab leaders ahead of time, will, I believe, make any agreement harder to reach in the near future. America’s role as a broker will be undermined. And the prospect of violence, quite aside from new tensions in the region, will increase.

What about the rumours that Saudi Arabia is now on board favouring the Israeli side? There is no suggestion that Saudi Arabia would accept Israeli sovereignty over the Holy Places. Or has there been a deal? There have been rumours that Saudi Arabia, given its dispute with Iran and Shiite Islam more generally, under the new helm of Crown Prince and strongman Mohammed bin Salman who has had close business ties with the Jewish community and with Jared Kushner in particular, has shifted. In secret negotiations with Israel and quiet negotiations with Jared Kushner, it is rumoured that he agreed that Palestinians would not be given sovereignty over the Old City, and, in return, Israel would acknowledge Saudi Arabia rather than Jordan as having control over the Muslim holy sites, giving the Saudis control of all three of Islam’s most sacred places – Mecca, Medina and now the Great Mosque in Jerusalem. By mentioning it, I do not intend to give credence to such a rumour.

The announcement does shift the ground. That shift alone would destroy the belief of a virtual consensus among Muslim countries. As Ellison put it, is it logical or reasonable in an era of réal politique that a country of 7 million Jews should overrule the views of countries with a population of one billion and a region with a population of 350 million in opposition? The political equation will change, Ellison predicted, when there are more Muslims in America. Hence the link between the ban against Muslim immigrants to the U.S. and American foreign policy on the Israeli-Palestinian standoff. Hence the push for moving embassies to Jerusalem ever since Begin came to power in Israel in the late seventies. But the political equation would also change if Saudi Arabia undermines any consensus. Saudi Arabia has denied that such a proposal is in the works.

The Joe Clarke Conservative government in Canada in 1979 was the first Western country to be convinced to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a policy shift determined by control of the policy committee by a group of Christian Zionists. That initiative ended in a diplomatic storm and a fiasco with a retreat by Canada that made future policy contingent on Arab agreement. When in 1988, the PLO changed its charter to recognize the UN authority and legitimacy in establishing a two-state solution, the door was opened for the Oslo Accords. Though Israel promised to negotiate Jerusalem’s future as part of a peace agreement, Israel had also made clear that Jerusalem, including the Old City, would remain its capital.

But, as stated above, Palestinians also expected East Jerusalem, including the Old City, to become its capital. They did not simply expect to have access to Muslim holy sites, as the editorial in The New York Times this morning opined. For the reality is that, for the most part, Muslims have retained unfettered access to the Haram esh-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary of al-Quds as Jerusalem is better known among Arabs. Access is only denied for security reasons, access not only for Arabs, but to Jewish right-wing instigators when tensions have risen.

The issue is NOT making one-sided decisions before negotiations begin, but making one-sided decisions when negotiations have failed for almost thirty years to cut this Gordian knot. In 1947, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) recommended a two-state solution with a special international status for Jerusalem, not just the Old City, under the sovereign authority of the United Nations Trusteeship Council. In the UNSCOP Committee, this sop of international status for Jerusalem was offered to the representative from Peru, Dr. Alberto Ulloa, a very religious Catholic, to ensure continuing Catholic influence in the city in return for his support for partition. It is noteworthy that even unto today, even with a most progressive pope in office in Rome, the Vatican opposed recognizing Israel’s de facto control over the Old City as legitimate and criticized Trump’s announcement.

The recommendation to put Jerusalem under international control was not a realistic possibility at the time. The attempt to implement the recommendation proved to be an absolute farce. Jews ignored that recommendation and the Palestinians ignored not only it, but the legitimacy of any Israeli state. When Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1948, they were annexed. The Jews were ethnically cleansed from the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and Jews were denied access to their Holy Places, the Western Wall in Jerusalem and the burial of their founding fathers in Hebron.

Force determined that outcome, though the international community refused in general to recognize both Jordanian authority over East Jerusalem and the Old City and Jewish control over West Jerusalem. Protests faded away in the face of the reality on the ground. Even though most embassies remained in Tel Aviv well before the imbroglio over East Jerusalem and the Old City, the situation remained unchanged after 1967, except that 16 countries that had embassies in West Jerusalem, moved those embassies to Tel Aviv with the de facto annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980. It was not a formal annexation, as was the case with Jordan in 1950, but the borders of the municipality of Jerusalem were extended to include East Jerusalem and Israeli law and administration were then applied to the whole region now called Jerusalem. (The UN General Assembly unanimously condemned the move and declared it invalid, though the GA motion had no legally binding power under international law.)

In sum, Trump’s announcement was clearly made for political purposes: to fulfill a campaign promise, to satisfy his evangelical base, to show gratitude for Sheldon Adelson’s $25 million contribution to the pro-Trump PAC during the election; to earn a legacy; and, last, but not least, to counter Barack Obama’s decision when he was a lame-duck president NOT to veto an anti-Israel resolution in the UN Security Council declaring the settlements illegal. The announcement was an unequivocal pro-Israel statement that was surprisingly nuanced for Trump.

Certainly, Netanyahu expressed his pleasure concerning the announcement. Did the initiative now give Trump extra leverage over the Netanyahu government? Or had Netanyahu been given a green light, for Trump had reiterated what he had said often enough before – it was up to the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve their dispute themselves, though the US would be available to help. The statement certainly labelled opponents who resorted to violence as terrorists. But was a regional strategy missing, or left unsaid and secretly agreed to?

Was the decision based on realism? I suspect that it was based on domestic realism and a kind of legitimate international fabulism, not one that denies reality as its usual modus vivendi, but one based on a vision of Israel with Jerusalem, including the Old City, as its capital, as well as of a Palestinian state without the Old City, but with the Muslim Holy places reified under Muslim authority. The vision is married to action to reinforce change versus stasis tolerating the apparently unmovable status quo.

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

Jewish Men and the “Rape” of Dinah

Jewish Men and the “Rape” of Dinah

by

Howard Adelman

This week’s parshah, Vayishlach, has even more stories than last week’s Vayeitzei. But the one that has intrigued me the most is the story of the supposed “rape” of Dinah, the one female child among twelve brothers born to her father, Jacob. The reason is not because we read the story just around the time we honour women and rise up against violence committed by men against women. For the 25th of November is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. That is not why I have been particularly attentive to the story, though I read about the two weeks women have devoted themselves in The Campaign entitled, “Leave no one behind – End Violence Against Women”.

Why am I so attentive? I believe my curiosity, my analytic tools, my observations, have been especially acute these days because one famous man after another, in sports and the media, in politics and in business, has been accused of assaulting women. On the latter score, I am ashamed to note how many of those men are Jewish.

Why am I ashamed? I did not do those acts. I did not and do not condone them. My exceptional attention to these stories is not simply because I am especially intrigued by anyone who is both famous (or infamous) who is Jewish, though I confess that I read a number of articles about Meghan Markle, stories I would not normally have read. I looked them up because there were widespread rumours that the young lady newly engaged to Prince Harry of the House of Windsor was Jewish. She was and is not. The rumours are evidently false. They are fake-news. She did have a Black mother, though. That may be even more interesting in helping counter the horrors of racism than her being Jewish.

My intrigue with the men accused of forcing themselves on women without their consent preceded my noting that many of them were Jewish. In fact, I was shocked to discover how many of them were Jewish.  I had always believed, despite any absence of evidence, that Jewish men treated women more gently than gentile men. Of course, it was and is an ignorant prejudice. But it is one of those beliefs you hold onto from your childhood even though it lacks any evidence and seems on the surface to be patently false.

The recent stories might even lead you, erroneously, to the opposite conclusion. After all, in the effort to empower women, in the global campaign, still relatively in its infancy, there has been an outcry – see the hashtag #MeToo – encouraging women to set aside their fears of being shamed, shamed a second time for something for which they undeservedly felt ashamed in the first place. The magnitude of female harassment is astounding. The complicity of society in tolerating if not condoning such behaviour is perhaps even more astounding. But not surprising. After all, most of us know that the habit is widespread. Further, a man could be elected President of the United States even though 16 women have come out in the open and accused Donald Trump of molesting them.

However, I am not a righteous leader in that campaign, but a passive and sedentary follower. As such, I share in that complicity. But it is worse. I even feel the campaign somehow has gone too far when flirting, when catcalling, when joking, are all included as modes of harassing women on an equivalent level to men forcing themselves on women, grabbing their asses or their genitals. I do not think these very different types of behaviour are equivalent even though I understand the calls for zero tolerance, even though women have personally told me how this form of behaviour diminishes them and makes them feel very uncomfortable.

All that said, the fact that so many men are Jewish captures my attention more than the empathy I feel for these women. I am not wearing an orange scarf. Nor do I notice many others wearing orange. In fact, the evidence of witnessing and supporting such a campaign seems disproportionately low compared to the amount of pain and grief caused by such behaviour. One in three, to repeat, one in three women experience at least one incident of such violence in their lifetime. Every woman I have really known, including my two daughters, has had such an experience. I suspect the 1 in 3 is an underestimate. Certainly, among the refugees, among the civilian victims of war, the incidence of rape has been overwhelming. I recall when undertaking research on Indochinese how surprised I was to learn that as many as 50% of women refugees were violently sexually attacked.  I was even more surprised to learn of women’s resilience when, at the time, there was no campaign to empower women and enhance the feeling that they could resist.

In light of this unexpected knowledge, in the 1980s we set up a program to provide therapy for these women after their instincts for survival had subsided and the events were predicted to come back and haunt them. But those therapeutic tools were not for the most part needed. And when and if needed, they were diverted to helping men who suddenly became unemployed when the economic crisis hit in 1989 and experienced severe meltdowns.

In other words, I do not approach this problem with wide-eyed innocence. But I have not used my time and energy to advance reforms that will end impunity, that will prove that a culture of violence against women is not a natural part of our cultural landscape. Yet what do I focus my attention on? Not the pain and suffering of the women, but the number of the accused who are Jewish.

Harvey Weinstein, the most recent and one of the most painful examples, is Jewish. So is Al Franken, even though his apparent mistreatment of women was not nearly as frequent nor associated as much with explicit violence while, at the same time, clearly violating a woman’s space. But look at the much longer list of Jewish men who have been accused:

James Toback, the writer and director with films like Bugsy (1991) and Mississippi Grind (2015) to his credit

Leon Wieseltier, one of my favourite writers and editors

Mark Halperin, a journalist who was obsessed with stories about ambition and power, but evidently himself harassed women when he had such a position at ABC

Brent Ratner, a film producer

Jeffrey Tambor, the actor from The Larry Sanders Show and other sitcoms

Charlie Rose, rumours to the contrary, is not Jewish.

The list goes on. And these are but the tip of the tip of the iceberg, mostly drawn from public figures in entertainment, media and politics. Jews may be disproportionately represented on that list because Jews are disproportionately represented among those with money, power and influence.  Further, though all of the men come from a Jewish heritage, many of them have only a glancing relationship with their Jewish identity.

But that is not my point. I suspect the Jewishness of the perpetrators has little to do with religious or ethnic identity, though I am unsure. Even though the list would include the less famous doctors and lawyers, dentists and rabbis, my focus is not on these men, but on myself. What do I feel and think as I have moved from reading the story of “The Rape of Dinah,” from a tale I once believed was about rape to what I now believe is really a story mainly about men, and not even mainly the man who committed the alleged assault, but the men, Dinah’s brothers, who took it upon themselves to revenge their sister’s supposed “defilement”.

Read the story in the Torah. Reread it. It begins by describing Dinah very briefly as the daughter born to Leah and, by implication, not to Rachel or the two concubines. Is that significant? Is it more than a matter of casual interest that this first verse continues by describing Dinah as having “gone out” to meet the daughters of the land in the same terminology that described Leah going out to meet Jacob after she bought the mandrake root to seduce him into sleeping with her? Leah had intrigued to have sex with her husband. Was Dinah a young adventurous girl exposing herself to great risk by going out and consorting with the daughters of the Hivites when she was unescorted? Rashi writes, “Daughter like mother.”

Whatever the case, though Dinah may be a young virgin, there seems to have been an effort to paint her as compromising her innocence. “Her skirt was too short.” “She showed too much cleavage.” “She must have been stupid to go to his hotel room alone to discuss business.” The story seems less about Dinah’s innocence and the alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of Shechem than about the events following her defilement”.

Was she even raped? Verse 2 in the Plaut translation reads: “Shechem son of Hamor, the Hivite, chief of the country, saw her, took her and lay with her by force.” (my italics) Plaut in his footnote writes: “Literally, lay with her and forced her.” But Rashi puts the emphasis, not on force, but that Shechem seduced her and had anal intercourse with Dinah – he was intimate with her in an unnatural way. That was the real defilement. The majority of commentators translate the verb vaiyeneh וַיְעַנֶּֽהָ as either rape, or violated, or lay with her by force.

Shawna Dolansky from Carleton University wrote an intriguing essay called, “The Debasement of Dinah” in which there is a long discussion about the meaning of the term vaiyeneh וַיְעַנֶּֽהָ or innah to claim that the verb does not and cannot mean “rape” for in many of the uses the verb is conjoined with the consent and not the non-consent of the woman. It is a case of reading into the text based on our own presumptions and sensibilities. Further, the term associated with rape uses a different verb– חזק – which is associated with using force and overpowering a woman. As the commentator suggests, “Thus, it seems clear that the biblical expression for rape is ויחזק וישכב, “to overpower and lie with,” not ‘innah’.

For Dolansky, the issue is debasement and not using force against a woman; it is debasement, not of Dinah, but of the standing of the men in her family. Dinah is debased, not because she had sex with Shechem, whether under duress or through seduction, but because the family has been debased. Why? Because the sexual activity did not take place as a result of the consent of the family. It is the power and status of the men that has been compromised. The story is not really about Dinah and whether she consented or not, but about the status of the family, particularly the men in the family.

In other words, if Shechem did use force against Dinah, then the problem is how this affected the brothers. And there are certainly many suggestions that rape was not involved. For the very next verse says that Shechem was “strongly drawn to Dinah,” that he was in love with her and that “he spoke to her tenderly” and wanted to marry her. This does not sound like rape, for rape is about the demonstration and exertion of power, not about sexual attraction.

The defilement, which Jacob recognized, was not about his daughter having sex with a young man, but having sex, and sex with a non-Israelite, without the father’s consent. The outrage that the brothers felt is not cited as the use of force, but that Shechem’s outrage was even sleeping with Dinah (verse 34:7) However, as usual, Jacob was measured in his response. And also diplomatic. One wonders whether he would really have been open to Hamor’s offer of a huge bride price. However, Jacob’s use of trickery now came back to haunt him as his sons not only tricked the Hivite men into being circumcised, but when they were in pain, slaughtered them. The brothers, all the brothers, took the women, children and animals as booty.

In addition to committing an outrageous crime, they besmirched the meaning of the covenant. Instead of intercourse and interchange between the Israelites and the surrounding tribes on terms very favourable to the Hebrews, Jacob ends the story by noting: “You have troubled me, to discredit me among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and among the Perizzites, and I am few in number, and they will gather against me, and I and my household will be destroyed.”

What was the rejoinder by Simeon and Levi? “Shall he make our sister like a harlot?” The issue was not the supposed rape of Dinah, but the defilement of family honour. For without their consent, the sister was considered a whore even if she had been seduced and fell in love with Shechem. Honour and status were far more important than the safety and security of the Israelites and certainly far more important than any pain that Dinah might possibly have experienced.

What has this to do with a disproportionate number of men in the United States being outed for their harassment and forced attention against women? Because it is the same story – one not of the pain and suffering of women, but the power and status of men. That, unfortunately, is also the story of bystanders like myself who look on and focus on that power and its defilement rather than on what happened to the women. It is a story about national socialism, about the ideology of Bannon and Trump, about ethnic exclusivity, about the power of one’s group set off against another, and about women used as tokens in these conflicts over status and power.

I believe I am complicit in a much larger sense under the masquerade of my liberalism.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

My Mother

My Mother

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday evening I lit a 24-hour candle for my mother’s Yahrzeit, the sixteenth anniversary of her death. She passed away on this day in 2001. My daughter, Rachel, had stayed in her room over her last few days reading to her. Yesterday evening I went to synagogue to say kaddish. I will repeat the process this morning at the 7:30 am service.

In my first memory of my mother – well, not really a memory; more of a dream that seemed real – I was in her arms at the bottom of a stairs in my mother’s parental home. We were living with my grandparents at the time. My mother was looking up the stairs and sobbing. I had not seen my grandmother die. I do not even remember knowing her. I was just over a year old when the first of my grandparents passed away. In that dream/memory, however, my mother was not holding me; I was holding her – an impossibility since, according to family lore, I was a very fat baby who never learned to walk until I was 18 months old. It is also a very odd dream that I had many times, odd not simply because I was so young at the time. My mother was a very proud and independent woman. It is impossible to imagine my holding my mother and comforting her when I was just over a year old.

In another real memory, we were living in my father’s father’s house behind his chicken store in the Kensington Market. I was alone downstairs. I have no idea where my brother, who was a year older, was. He was not part of the memory. Nor was my father. However, my mother was. So was my younger brother, who was almost five years younger. The memory is one of sounds rather than of any presence. My brother was a very young baby. He kept coughing and coughing and coughing. My mother was not with me but upstairs soothing him, holding him wrapped in damp hot steamy towels. I knew that he too was going to die. But he did not. Shortly after, we moved out of that drafty and cold house around the corner to an apartment on the second floor, again in Kensington Market. My mother blamed that house for my brother’s whooping cough.

When we were living in that new place, my mother sent me to the chicken store to pay for chickens she had ordered and to bring them back. It was not my grandfather’s store. He had just died the year before, the last of my grandparents to die. All four had passed away when I was between the ages of one and six. They were very old people, worn out by life’s burdens. They were all between the ages of 52 and 55 when they died.

My mother had given me a $5 dollar bill. I held it in my hand and had not put it my pocket. When I was a half block from my house and a half block from the chicken store, a teenager grabbed me and stole the $5. I sobbed and sobbed when I returned home empty-handed. Though the $5 represented 40% of my mother’s weekly wage at the time, she did not reprimand me. She held me in her arms and comforted me, cursing herself for subjecting me to such a trauma.

We moved once again – finally out of the Kensington Market. My mother rented a whole house and we sublet the rooms on the second and third floors, except for one room on the second floor where my older bother and I slept. The other half of that semi-detached house was a grocery. I lived there in fear every night. For the rats took over the hallway. I learned to keep my bladder very full because I did not dare go down the hall to the bathroom. My brother and I even stuffed a towel under the door so that the rats would not come in. We never told my mother how frightened we were at night. We had both inherited my mother’s independence and pride.

One time, my mother surrendered that pride. She used to wash our clothes by hand in an old washtub. My aunt Doris who lived in Buffalo, New York and who had no children, once visited us and saw my mother scrubbing our clothes. She was infuriated. She went out there and then and bought my mother a washing machine with rollers to wring out the water from the clothes before they were hung up to dry. My mother cried in gratitude. But she would not let my aunt buy her a refrigerator. We still used an icebox.

The second half of my first dozen years was spent in that house. My father came and went. He once set up a business and cleared out the living room of furniture. He was a cutter of women’s clothes. But mostly he was not present. By the time we had moved once again when I was twelve, he disappeared from our lives during our teenage years. I never saw him until I was in university and passed him on the street. Only after I had gone by did I run back and say, “Dad!” He, of course, did not recognize who I was, for his little kid had turned into a long skinny and stringy stranger.

However, in spite of the rats, in spite of the intermittent and rising tension between my father and mother, my memories of the house when I was between 6 and 12 were of very happy times – not because my parents were together – they often were not. I have very fond memories of going for long walks with my mother along College Street, which was then like a promenade crowded with people. She loved when people stopped her to admire the cute child whom they almost always took to be her young brother. My mother was very youthful looking even though she worked every day and then came home to cook, clean and wash our clothes.

I do not remember my older brother walking with us. I do not recall a pram being pushed in front of us. In my deformed memory, my mother and I were boyfriend and girlfriend strutting down College Street. Just this past week when I was packing up my library, I read a story that my second youngest son had written when he was still in elementary school. The story had been included in a book of children’s writings. It was a tale that I clearly had told him of my mother and I going for such a walk and I tripped. I continued to walk for another block until the pain became too great. My mother took me to Sick Children’s Hospital on College Street and they put a cast on my foot. I had fractured my ankle.

On another occasion, I had been teasing my older brother about all the homework he had to do. He threw a pencil at me. It was a Thursday. By Monday morning, my eye was watering continually. My mother took me to the school nurse. She immediately sent us to Sick Children’s Hospital. I never came home for three weeks. They operated on me the next morning and removed a piece of pencil lead that had become lodged in my pupil. I had never caused so much distress for my mother. I was never able to see objects out of my left eye until I was in my fifties and suddenly the scar tissue had cleared up enough that I could see again out of the eye – not very clearly, but clear enough.

There were two occasions – and the only two that I remember – when my mother scolded me. In the first I was eight years old. My mother had left my older brother and I in charge of my younger brother. It was winter. We took him on a sleigh down Brunswick Avenue. For some reason, he bolted and ran across the street. A car was coming. It literally ran over him. Distraught, perhaps more about how my mother would feel at the death of her youngest son than at what had happened to my brother, we waited until the driver got out and pulled my brother out from under the car. My younger brother only had a bleeding nose. The car had not hit him. Stan had slipped on the ice in front of the car as the automobile went over him. We thanked the driver profusely and insisted my brother was alright.

The driver was not convinced. Though we did not see him, he followed us home. We were inside when he rang the bell and asked about how my young brother was. He insisted on driving him and my mother to the hospital to have him checked. I do not remember whether they went or not. I only remember the terrible scolding I and my older brother got from my mother afterwards. It was so unusual to have her get so angry at us – really irate and not pretend-angry.

In the second case, I was 10 years old. My brother and our friend were both eleven. Al and I convinced our friend to go to an early evening movie after dinner. We did not tell either his mother or my mother. We went off to the theatre on the north side of College just west of Spadina Avenue. We saw The Hunchback of Note Dame. The movie starring Charles Laughton as Quasimodo and Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda was unforgettable. The fury with which my mother and my friend’s mother greeted us when they found us after the movie and after they had been pacing the streets for two hours in search of us was even more unforgettable. My friend can recall that evening today in great detail almost seventy years later.

My memories of my mother are not just from the early years of my life. All my six children have very fond recollections of their bubbie. Except once. She took care of my youngest two when my wife and I went on holiday. When we returned, they were very upset about the way their bubbie had treated them on one occasion. They were having hamburgers and they went to the fridge and got cheese to put on their burgers. Their bubbie became very distraught and insisted that cheese did not go with burgers. They were totally perplexed, both at the injunction not to eat cheese with burgers and at my mother’s betrayal of her general cheerfulness. It was the first thing they told us about when we returned. We then told them about keeping kosher; it was not an occasion that warmed them up to idea of the dietary laws of Orthodox Judaism.

My mother would come to our house often. She lived about five miles away and would take the Bathurst Street bus down to spend a day or evening with us. She strictly forbad us from picking her up or dropping her off at home afterwards. If we insisted, she insisted in return that she would not come. She was very stubborn. The bus, she claimed, dropped her off right in front of her door. Besides, after every trip she would tell us about the new friend she had made on the bus down – usually a Filipino nanny. She absolutely loved her Filipino nannies.

The most hilarious tale about my mother’s stubborn character took place when I was an established professor. A friend of my mother’s contacted me and asked if I would give a talk to my mother’s Hadassah chapter. It was intended to be a surprise for my mother. Besides, she had never heard me speak in public. Normally, it was not the type of occasion at which I would lecture. Philosophy and political theory were not the most pressing issues of any of her friends in their seventies and eighties. However, since it was a surprise for my mother, I agreed to the invitation.

My wife and I showed up just before noon on a Sunday where I would give the talk after a luncheon. My mother was nowhere to be seen. I asked her friend who had invited me where she was. Her friend confessed that my mother had learned of the planned surprise three days earlier and had become angry that she had not been told of what was supposed to have been an unexpected delight, quite oblivious to the contradiction. My mother said she would not come. I phoned  to try to persuade her; we would immediately drive to her house and pick her up. She was adamant. She was still furious that she had not been told. I gave the talk anyway as I watched one after the other of her friends drop off for a nap. And my mother missed the experience.

Perhaps she knew and I was lucky that she never heard me speak.

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel-Diaspora Relations Part III Palestinians

Israel-Diaspora Relations Part III Palestinians

by

Howard Adelman

In addition to her TV interview last Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) also addressed the Knesset on the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that recently passed a resolution declaring Hevron and the Cave of the patriarchs (Mearat Hamachpelah) as “endangered Palestinian heritage sites.” UNESCO is an esteemed international agency based in Paris. Its declared objectives are “to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law and human rights.” Was the resolution, widely considered in Israel to be so, an anti-Israel motion? If so, why is UNESCO engaged in such activities?

This was not the only resolution of this type passed by UNESCO. In the same week, in Kraków, Poland, of all places, where the scene of the Nazis ruthlessly clearing out the ghetto of Jews and shipping most residents to the gas chambers in Belzec, were portrayed in Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (remember the girl in the red coat), the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (UNESCO-WHC) voted to have the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the Old City of Hevron inscribed as a Palestinian world heritage site. The Committee also determined that the site was also “in danger.” From what and why?

The latter motion establishing the tomb as an endangered heritage site was passed by the 21 countries [Angola, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Croatia, Cuba, Finland, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zimbabwe] 12-3 (those 12 are easily picked out of the list since they regularly support anti-Israel motions) with 6 countries abstaining. Though the vote usually takes place by a show of hands, Poland, Croatia and Jamaica requested a secret ballot. Israeli Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen stormed the chair, accusing the Polish diplomat in charge of failing to conduct a truly secret ballot. The vote was not held behind a curtain; ballots were placed in an envelope in full view of the delegates. The chair called in security.

The issue was NOT declaring Hevron, the Cave and the Tomb heritage sites. Hevron was declared to be an Islamic city. It was the third site recognized by UNESCO as located in the “State of Palestine.” Whatever the history being recognized or not recognized, the resolutions were clearly political rather than educational and cultural in nature. Israel was deliberately disassociated from a site widely recognized, certainly in the Torah, as the burial grounds of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel. Israeli diplomats called it “an ugly display of discrimination, and an act of aggression against the Jewish people.”

Upon passage of the resolution, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki hailed a Palestinian diplomatic victory. “Despite the aggressive Israeli campaign, spreading lies, distorting and falsifying facts about the Palestinian right, the world recognized our right to register Hevron and the Ibrahimi Mosque under Palestinian sovereignty and on the World Heritage List.” For Maliki, the issue was about Palestinian sovereignty and NOT about the location of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs.

The issue was also about sovereignty when the same committee earlier in the week explicitly denied Israel’s claim to the Old City of Jerusalem. In May, UNESCO’s executive board ratified a 2016 resolution denying Israel, not only legal, but also any historical link to Jerusalem. Israel was deemed an “occupying power,” a designation never applied to Jordan when that country overran the Old City in the 1948 war. UNESCO regularly criticizes Israel for its archaeological work and excavations in Jerusalem and Hevron.

However, the Committee did not explicitly deny the connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. The Jerusalem resolution recognized the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” Further, the Temple Mount compound was not referred to solely as “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif” as in a 2016 resolution that called the Temple Mount “a Muslim holy site of worship.” Hevron, Bethlehem and the Old City of Jerusalem were all defined that way.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry decried the decisions and insisted that Jerusalem remained the capital of the Jewish people. “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and no decision by UNESCO can change that reality. It is sad, unnecessary and pathetic.” For Palestinians, UNESCO votes offered additional proof that in the minds of the international community, Jerusalem was “the capital of the occupation.”

Did it matter that Avraham and Sarah, Yitzhak and Rivka, Yaakov and Leah, and even Adam and Eve, were allegedly buried in the cave, or that Avraham bought the Cave from Ephron the Hittite long before Islam existed? One has no sense from the debate that this belief and cultural identification was relevant let alone crucial to the decision. Recognition of Palestinian sovereignty was at stake.

However, whatever the myth or historical reality, the debate upped the ante in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Reuven Rivlin of Israel may have tweeted: “UNESCO seems intent on sprouting anti-Jewish lies, while it remains silent as the region’s heritage is destroyed by brutal extremists,” but Palestinians could boast of another significant political victory in an important international forum piled on top of winning membership in UNESCO in 2011. The cost, however, has been another repeated gesture politicizing a cultural and historical issue. When debates over memory, history and culture are brought into the centre of a conflict, the stakes are raised enormously. With regard to the sites mentioned above, unlike any other one recognized as a heritage site (Aztec sites in Mexico City are but one example; Cordoba in Spain is another), there was never any attempt to deny the historic connection to the site. In all three cases in Israel/Palestine, the Jewish connections to the sites were omitted. The Ibrahimi mosque in Hevron, known as the Sanctuary of Abraham, built in the 14th century, however, is identified.

In UNESCO commemorating sites, Battir, called Beitar in the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome and even in Arabic dubbed “Khurbel al-Yahud (the Jewish ruin), is recognized to be “representative of many centuries of culture and human interaction with the environment.” Cultural genocide is the systematic destruction of traditions, values, language, and other elements which make a one group of people distinct from other groups. It is both the height of irony that an organization like UNESCO, in order to advance a Palestinian political position, finds it fit to extinguish Jewish historical and cultural links to sites in Israel and Palestine. Why would even Jews who defend the right of Palestinians to have their own state be complicit in cultural genocide? There are also political repercussions. The more Israelis and other Jews alienated from around the world, the less likely they are to support a Palestinian state alongside Israel if cultural genocide is a consequence. Are any of these sites “culturally endangered” as Palmyra has been in Syria?

UNESCO does recognize many other sites in Israel as having a Jewish connection and as heritage sites – Tel Aviv as the White City and foremost representative of the Bauhaus or International style, Masada, the Necropolis of Beit Shean, and six others, but none on the other side of the Green Line. When the fight becomes a cultural and historical one and not simply political, the very purpose of UNESCO is threatened. But perhaps that is inherent in UNESCO. In its charter, culture, science and education are viewed as ways to advance political objectives, even as those objectives are spelled out in the lofty language of freedom, rights and the rule of law.  UNESCO memorialized Ernesto Che Guevera in the World International Documentary Collection even though he has been widely accused of committing massacres by the Cuban community in Miami. On the other hand, it was Israel which could be said to have instigated the process by designating the Cave of the Patriarchs, Hevron, Rachel’s Tomb and Bethlehem, as “national” heritage sites in 2010.

Ever since that date, UNESCO and Israel have been engaged in a cultural war, but one in which UNESCO has engaged in fostering cultural genocide. In January 2014, UNESCO escalated the conflict beyond Israel and swept all Jews into the maelstrom when Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, initially and indefinitely postponed a Paris exhibit promoted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center on the 3,500 year relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. On the basis of this totally obvious bias, indeed official endorsement of cultural genocide, last month both Israel and the US announced that each would be withdrawing from UNESCO, the US for the second time – it had rejoined in 2002 after an absence of 18 years. Even Christians have become upset with UNESCO when it named the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a “Palestinian” heritage site, ignoring the fact that Jesus was a Jew.

It is against this background that the venom Tzipi Hotovely spewed against UNESCO should be viewed as well as Princeton University Hillel’s cancellation of Hotovely’s speech on the day it was to be given at Hillel’s Center for Jewish Life. The speech was cancelled under pressure from the Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP). Hotovely belongs to the Israeli hard-right. She is opposed to creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. She does not disregard any Palestinian sovereignty claims to the land as AJP stated; she strongly opposes such claims. She was in Princeton to explicitly make the case that settlements are not an obstacle to peace. (Even though I oppose the settlements, I would even insist that they are not the prime obstacle to peace.)

The effort to deny Hotovely the right to speak (she did speak, but under the auspices of Chabad) blackens the reputation of progressives at the same time as it deepens the chasm between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. AJP claimed that Hotovely’s stance damages the prospect of peace, something on which I would agree. Nevertheless, I defend her right to advance her position just as I defend the right of Palestinians to advocate their own One State solution. I do not have to attend, I do not have to participate in such occasions. But they do not foster violence or cultural genocide. Both sides offer fundamental differences over sovereignty.

However much I disagree with Hotovely, however much I oppose the government’s claims on behalf of the settlements, however much I declaim her contention that peace has not yet been achieved between Israelis and Palestinians because of incitement and a generation of young Palestinians who were not educated for hope, I have not read any evidence that she practices cultural genocide and denied any Islamic connection to the Haram al-Sharif in her address in the Knesset directly aimed at Palestinian MKs. Was it not enough to disagree with her over giving priority to Jewish claims to the site?  Even if one radically disagreed with her, she was not being uncivil as she claimed that Palestinians are “thieves of history” and accused them of attempting to Islamicize Jewish history. I go further than her. I claim that the Palestinian efforts are part of a campaign of cultural genocide. I strongly support a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Should I be silenced if I characterize the efforts in UNESCO as advancing a program of cultural genocide even it if is for what I regard as a worthy political purpose?

AJP in its open letter in The Princetonian expressed its shame that the Committee on Jewish Life (CJL) at Princeton misrepresented “our Jewish community’s politics and values. We will not sit by quietly as the Israeli government continues to entrench its control over Palestinians. We will not be silent as members of our Princeton community further these hateful and racist policies.” Subsequently, AJP claimed that it was not its intention either to censor MK Tzipi Hotovely or to cancel the event, but “to highlight the CJL’s systematic silencing of leftist voices on campus through uneven application of its ostensibly neutral Israel policy.” There was no evidence that I found that they supported Hotovely’s right to speak.

Further, no one said that AJP should be silent. No one said they should not oppose the Israeli government efforts to control Palestinian land or to even deny that it is Palestinian land. But that does not make the opposing position racist. Even more importantly, no group, absolutely no group, can claim to speak for the Jewish community as a whole, especially for its values.

Nothing so exacerbates the Israeli-Diaspora divide than the claim that Jews should speak with a singular voice, that Jews should be united. Hotovely to her credit, however disagreeable I find her views, has not insisted on a unified Jewish voice but a clearer opportunity to have the hard-right voice heard. In my view, nothing is more divisive among Jews than the argument about Jewish unity and who is most responsible for promoting that disunity and who is in the best position to defend that unity. The reality is that Jews have never been united.

Nor should nor need they be. The quest for unity is a chimera and itself a very divisive issue.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Israel-Diaspora Relations: Part II Security American Jewish Military Service

Israel-Diaspora Relations: Part II Security

American Jewish Military Service

by

Howard Adelman

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, accused his own Deputy Foreign Minister and fellow Likud member, Tzipi Hotovely, for admonishing American Jews for not “fighting for their country.” “There is no place for such attacks, and her remarks do not reflect the position of the State of Israel.” A government statement was issued stating, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns Tzipi Hotovely’s offensive remarks regarding the American Jewish community.” Netanyahu himself said, in response to her comments that, “To reject them (the Jews of the Diaspora) is a very big mistake… They are not obliged to adopt our exact way of seeing and interpreting Jewish identity.”

Hotovely claimed that the tension arose because of a failure of American Jews to understand the complexities of the geopolitical situation and to adequately empathize with the plight of Israelis threatened by rocket attacks and terrorists. Progressive Jews urged the Prime Minister to fire her for “offensive comments” against American Jews. They claim that she said that American Jews were “too comfortable” to understand Israel. The heat of the responses grew so high that Hotovely was forced to apologize. “I salute every American Jew who joined the IDF, or who fought during World War II. I didn’t mean to offend anyone, and I apologize.” She added that she “was cognizant of the great contributions American Jews have made to the State of Israel.”

She clearly misspoke when she said American Jews never serve in the military. However, in the context, it is clear that she meant “most American Jews”. What had she originally said? “Maybe they’re too young to remember how it feels to be a Jewish person without a Jewish homeland, without a Jewish state.” US Jewry “never send their children to fight for their country.” “Most [American] Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, or to Iraq. Most of them are having [sic] quite comfortable lives. They don’t feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets, and I think part of it is to actually experience what Israel deals with on a daily basis…This is the reason for the distancing between US Jews and Israel. American Jews contribute a great deal to Israel, but they cannot condition their connection to Israel on the government’s policies. We need to remember that the past few years have seen stormy discussions about Judaism and identity. These arguments are a healthy part of democracy.”

Were these remarks offensive? Did Hotovely attack American Jews? Did she admonish American Jews for not fighting for their country whether “their” referred to the US or Israel or both? In my reading of her remarks, they were intended to be more descriptive than judgmental. If so, was her description accurate? Is it accurate that most American Jews do not serve in the military?

It is interesting to note that, in addition to Jews on the right, especially in Israel who came to Tzipi’s support, they were joined by neo-Nazis. A neo-Nazi internet site thanked the Deputy Foreign Minister for “admitting” that Jews don’t serve. The Daily Stormer columnist, Lee Rogers, wrote that Hotovely “exposed an ‘inconvenient fact’ that Israelis and American Jews don’t want to talk about.” According to those antisemites, Jews do not want to talk about their antipathy to American military service at the same time as Jews are among the most vociferous voices on the right in American politics. Jews do not fight in wars; they just promote them, so the propaganda goes. Paul Wolfowitz, a neo-con architect of the Iraq War, is the one at whom they aim most of these barbs. Further, the pro-Israeli Jewish lobby is accused of promoting wars in the Middle East that directly benefit Israel.

Was Hotevely right or wrong on facts? Was the seemingly disproportionate response to her remarks stimulated because her statement could be used to reinforce a stereotype propagated by the extreme Right? Or because it exacerbated already existing Israeli-US Jewry relations? Or both?

What are the facts? Of course, Jews have served in the American military, some in very prominent positions. This has been the case since the War of Independence. Look at the role of Solomon Bush in that war. Francis Salvador was revered as the “Paul Revere of the South.” In the War of 1812, which Canada won, though the US won in the peace agreement, Uriah P. Levy as the first Jewish Commodore was a real war hero. In the Civil War, Jews served on both sides, Moses Jacob Ezekiel was a Confederate soldier. Benjamin Levy was a Yankee soldier who was awarded the Medal of Honour. And Lewis Morrison, a Black Jew, was an officer on both sides, in the Confederate Army until 1861 and in the Union Army after that. The most famous was Brigadier General Edward S. Salomon of the Union Army.

If we leap to the Second World War, estimates suggest that Jews served in the armed forces in higher proportions that their percentage of the population. Many made distinguished contributions. Ellis M. Zacharias, a Captain, won a Silver Star and served as Deputy Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Robert Rosenthal was a Lieutenant Colonel in the USAF. Maurice Rose was the Major General who received the unconditional surrender of the Germans. Of course, because of his portrayal in Hollywood films, the most famous one of them all was David “Micky” Marcus, an army Lieutenant Colonel, a flier who received the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Cross and then went on to serve the IDF as a Brigadier General. There was also Reform Rabbi Max Eichhorn who took part in the liberation of Dachau.

Jews also held prominent positions in the Korean War – Tibor Rubin received the Medal of Honour. In the Vietnam War in which Jews were better known for their disproportionate role in opposing the war, Jeffrey Feinstein was a Colonel and flying ace. In the post-war history of the American armed forces, Admiral Hyman Rickover was the “Father of the Nuclear Navy,” General Robert Magnus was a Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Norton A. Schwartz served as Chief of Staff of the USAF.

What about American wars in the twenty-first century, specifically Iraq and Afghanistan? Just prior to those wars, Hal Glassman in Bush Senior’s Operation Desert Storm was a Seargent Major who earned the Legion of Merit and also served in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. In the twenty-first century, the estimable list continues: Eric Greitens, Rhodes Scholar and US Navy Seal; Brad Colbert in the US Marine Corps; Admiral Michael Boorda who served as Chief of Naval Operations; Rabbi Michael Cohen served in Afghanistan. The head of the USAF currently is General David Lee Goldfein.

However, the data may be misused by antisemites in their accusations that Jews are unpatriotic, use gentiles to fight their wars and are unwilling to sacrifice themselves for country and flag, in the last fifty years, Jews have not served in the American armed services in proportion to their population in the country. That shibboleth may have been proven wrong when applied to Jews serving in the German Army in World War I, but it is generally correct when applied to Jewish US military service in the twenty-first century in contrast to WWII where 4.23% of military personnel were Jewish though Jews constituted only 3.3% of the population.

The popular and even prevailing sentiment that Jews exempt themselves from military service in America, may be exaggerated, but it is not false. Even though military records are not kept regarding religion, using various other techniques, related to their proportion of the population, if Jews were to serve in proportion to other groups in the country on average, only about 25% of a number that might be expected serve do. This takes into consideration that perhaps 40-50% of Jews in the armed forces nowhere indicate that they are Jewish but instead check the box stating “unaffiliated,” either because they are secular, oppose public declarations of religion or even fear anti-Semitism.

This fact of under-representation may not be the result of their being Jewish but more likely the disproportionate numbers of Jews in the Middle Class which also sends relatively few of its sons and daughters into the military. Nevertheless, 44 American Jews in the military, such as Marine Lance Corporal Jeremy M. Kane in Helmand Province, died in Iraq and Afghanistan and only one-third of those 44 were registered as Jews. In the Jewish Daily Forward 2011 article, “Profiles of Our Fallen,” the number was 37. Even if all had been registered, Jews in this century would still make up smaller percentages that their proportion of the population might suggest.  Of 5,775 Americans killed in 21st century wars, the number of Jews constituted only .64%, not the 2-3% that their proportion of the American population. In the case of women casualties, Jews made up 50% not 2-3% of the total since Airman Elizabeth N. Jacobson was one of the two women who died in during her service in the military.

Nevertheless, Tzipi Hotovely was generally accurate when she said that, “Most [American] Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, or to Iraq. Most of them are having [sic] quite comfortable lives.” She was also accurate when she said that most Jews in America live comfortable lives and are not subject to rocket attacks as are Israelis. Though her factual foundation was generally on target, was her analysis? It seems reasonable to conclude, based on facts, that American Jews do not bring the same experiential history to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Further, that may have some bearing on explaining why most American Jews are relatively dovish compared to Israeli Jews.

Were her facts and analysis accurate when she implied that American Jews condition their support of Israel on whether they agree with government policies? Without going into detail my analysis suggests that American Jewry, certainly organized American Jewry, continues to support Israel despite most of its members disassociating themselves form Israeli government policy. If all American Jews are taken into consideration, including the 60-70% who have little or no connection with their Jewish identity except perhaps a nominal one, then one might be just in concluding that a clear majority of American Jews are unsympathetic to the policies of the current government of Israel.

There may be up to 200,000 Jews of American origin in Israel. But that is from a population that makes up the bulk of the Jewish Diaspora. Currently, less than 2,000 American Jews each year out of five million make aliyah to Israel. 60% have never visited Israel, though most take vacations around the world. So why was Tzipi slammed onto the canvas by her fellow Likud member and Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu? Was she at fault for being unpolitical, for saying that which most leave unsaid, that there is a major chasm between the attitudes of Israeli Jews and those of American Jewry? That does not mean, however, that American Jews do not “understand” Israel. Having a different experiential background does not disqualify one from understanding. It is even possible that detachment allows for a better insight.

That is why, in part, leftist Israeli Jews often call on American Jewry to save Israel from itself. The Left is also drawn nostalgically to a period when American and Israeli Jews were more united, when Israel had a more pronounced image of a nation risen from the ashes, an underdog and, at the same time, an idealistic nation. The Left has used the controversy to criticize both Tzipi and the Prime Minister for covering up the rift between Israel and American Jewry when the rift must be clearly examined and faced. If there is a disconnect, as Tzipi claims, the fault perhaps should be placed at the feet of the current government. That is why, I believe, Netanyahu was so angry at Tzipi for her remarks. It raises a specter that the PM would prefer to keep swept under the rug. As David Bedein of the Center for Near East Policy Research opined, “Tzipi Hotovely told it like it is, and broke the taboo of not saying that most young Jews abroad do not emulate their peers in Israel who look forward to the day on which they enlist to serve their country.”

Would any Jewish leader either in Israel or in the Diaspora suggest that young Jews in the Diaspora should adopt the same sense of obligation of Israeli Jews and serve in the IDF? Relatively few do now. There are less than 2,000 Jews from abroad volunteering for such service each year. The vast majority of Jewish youth in the Diaspora cannot grasp that the vast majority of Israeli Jews accept service in the IDF as a rite of passage, including most on the Left.

To be continued Part III Different Views of Palestinians

 

With the help of Alex Zisman