American Politics

US elections: It’s not about Israel

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While the world focuses on elections in the United States this evening, many Israelis are talking about which candidate will be better or worse for Israel. Fortunately for the rest of us, American voters have American interests to worry about.

Yes, the US has interests.

Earlier this year, a retired senior US official with impeccable credentials dutifully noted that Israel’s aid package has not suffered from Washington’s budget problems. Its security has not become a partisan debate. But despite all that support, he cautioned, Israel has a tendency to believe it is the center of the world.

Sometimes Israelis forget that while Israel is an important US interest, it is not its central interest, Anthony Cordesman told a panel of former Israeli security chiefs and high-ranking officials. “[America’s] major strategic interest in the Middle East lies in energy, it lies in the flow of petroleum exports through the Gulf,” he said.

“I think this is sometimes something that Israelis forget. You are an important strategic interest, but you cannot be the center of our strategic interests. They are too broad, too global,” he added.

Those interests are ones that no viable candidate for the US presidency would – or could – change overnight. As a strategic interest, Israel is (more…)

The Israel-US relationship: Where is the love?

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Speaking at the Israeli Presidential Conference earlier this year, former US Ambassador Martin Indyk described Israel’s psyche – of wanting not only to hear about but also “feel” the United States’ love for it – as “neurosis.” The truth is, Israel’s neurosis has long paid off. Successive US administrations, diplomats and presidential hopefuls spare no opportunity to shower their love and reiterate that the bonds between the two countries are “unshakeable.”

All healthy relationships require affirmation. When only one party expresses affection, praise and love, the other feels resentful and taken for granted. In the case of the “unshakeable” relationship between Israel and the United States, that affirmation is a one-way street.

For many Israeli opinion- and policy-makers, the United States can never love Israel enough. No matter how many times Washington says “I love you,” Jerusalem says “prove it.” When American leaders and (more…)

A Discussion with J Street (Part II): Why all the controversy?

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This piece is the second part of a series of articles exploring the relationship of American Jews with Israel, with a special focus on J Street. The remainder of the series will be published here in the coming days.

Click here to read Part I

Since its inception, J Street has been labeled as controversial and its place within the “tent” of American Jewry constantly questioned. But the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” American political lobby promotes and reflects the same views and policies of 30 percent of Israel’s Knesset.

J Street and Israeli political parties are strikingly similar and sometimes indistinguishable. Regarding the peace process, J Street’s policy goals are almost identical to those of Kadima, Labor and Meretz.

Kadima, Israel’s centrist political party, like J Street, was founded to advance a single issue. Though Kadima was initially formed to promote evacuation of settlements and withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, its leaders have been avowed supporters of the two-state solution.

The Labor and Meretz parties too have nearly identical stances to those of J Street vis-à-vis the Palestinian conflict – a negotiated two-state solution. Even Hadash, despite being a self-described non-Zionist party, prescribes a two-state solution.

But J Street is not an Israeli political movement; it is an American lobbying (more…)

A Discussion with J Street (Part I): BDS and the Boycott Law

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This piece is the first part of a series of articles exploring the relationship of American Jews with Israel, with a special focus on J Street. The remainder of the series will be published here in the coming days.

Earlier this week, the Knesset passed a law that made calling for boycotts against West Bank settlements a legal cause of action. Prior to the new law, the merits and goals of settlement boycotts and the broader Palestinan-led global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign have become particularly divisive in Diaspora Jewish communities in recent years. Very few American Jews, however, have come out against the tactic of boycott itself. Doing so would be difficult as boycotts represent the successes of many of the last 70 years in American liberal causes.

Boycotts remain one of the most powerful tools in the hands of civil society when engaging in social struggle. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott during the 1960s Civil Rights era, to the César Chavez-led Grape Boycott in the 1980s, to the fall of South African Apartheid in the early 1990s, boycotts have played an integral role in (more…)

Free Pollard? Fine. But leave US Jews out of it

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The case of Jonathan Pollard, despite having becoming the cause célèbre for Israelis in recent years (especially of late), is one of the most sensitive and uncomfortable topics among American Jewry. For US Jews, Pollard is the ultimate manifestation of suspected dual and conflicting loyalty between the United States and Israel – the Jewish state. While it is the right – and perhaps the duty – of the Israeli government to seek his release, Israelis should be especially cautious about asking their American kindred to take up his cause.

Pollard, at the time of his arrest in 1985, was an American citizen (not a dual citizen) with a high-level security clearance, which he received for his work in US Naval Intelligence. The details of the espionage he conducted against his own country have never been publicly released or confirmed, despite the plethora of information disseminated by his supporters and detractors alike. One narrative tells of a morally conflicted man who was disturbed by the lack of vital information being shared by the US with Israel, who felt he had a moral (more…)

Obama creates linkage between Israel and the Arab world

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There is much to be examined in US President Barack Obama’s speech on the Middle East. As usual, the president’s words failed to thrill any side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For leftists, Obama did not go far enough in pressuring Israel to make concessions necessary for peace, and for the “Land of Israel” right-wingers, his explicit mention of 1967 borders as a basis for future borders represented a betrayal of Israeli interests. Both sides, of course, are over-reacting. The president did not introduce much new to the conflict save for one issue: linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the problems of the wider Middle East and American interests in the region.

For decades, Israeli politicians have been fighting what they call “linkage,” the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be linked to the violent strife and domestic problems in the Arab world (explained passionately here by the ADL’s Abraham Foxman). It is true that Israel is not the cause of conflict in the Middle East. The region has been plagued with armed conflict since Babylonian times and through to Israel’s establishment in 1948. If anything, Israel’s entrance into the Middle Eastern neighborhood has allowed Arabs to refocus their conflict on what is viewed as an external enemy, although a fair number of intra-Arab and intra-Muslim conflicts have threatened the region since (Iran-Iraq, Iraq-Kuwait, Syria-Jordan, Lebanon-Syria, Lebanon-Lebanon, Saudi Arabia-Yemen, etc.).

The conclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been widely linked to the relatively dormant Arab-Israeli conflict. With two notable exceptions, Egypt and Jordan, Arab states condition peace with Israel upon (more…)

Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel: Something’s missing

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With Holocaust Remembrance Day upon us once again in Israel, I thought I would republish a piece I wrote two years ago. I’ve decided not to make any changes because, unfortunately, not much has changed and the spirit of the piece remains true to the day.

As a second-generation survivor of the Holocaust, Yom HaSho’ah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) has always been of great importance to me; its lessons were etched into my conscience from the earliest times in my childhood memories. The words, “never again” represent the values I was most deeply instilled with. However, those very values, which I once thought were universal, appear to be lost on so many. Perhaps my understanding of the values and memories of the Holocaust differ from others’; never again, not to anyone, ever.

As a child, I received the same Holocaust education as most other Jews. I heard first-hand memories from my grandmother and less so from my mother – both survivors of Nazi death camps. I went on to hear nearly identical stories in Holocaust museums all over the world, one such museum even has an exhibit specifically about my mother. Over several years, I helped my grandmother put her story onto paper and video so they would not be lost once she left this world. The value of those stories remain close to my heart and (more…)

An ambivalent rejection of BDS

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The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign launched in 2005 has an uncomfortable appeal to many who accept that the occupation of Palestinian lands and people must come to an end but find themselves disillusioned by the lack of any meaningful progress. One aspect of the BDS movement, however, makes it absolutely impossible for two-state advocates to support. This deal-killer, all-too-often left out of the discussion, is the BDS movement’s absolute demand for a Palestinian right of return outside the framework of negotiations (which would see millions of Palestinian refugees settled in Israel, upsetting the delicate balance that allows it to be both Jewish and democratic).

Unfortunately, BDS’s supporters, and even its detractors, tend to discuss the movement’s tactics in far greater detail than they do its goals and their implications, which can lead well-intentioned people to support a cause that contradicts their own beliefs. A recent slew of articles on +972mag have discussed the merits of BDS in the framework of its effectiveness without bringing up the movement’s goals. But to present only a partial view, is to create a fallacious discussion. (more…)

Are settlers protecting leftist NGOs?

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Two draconian clauses were removed from a controversial law requiring added transparency in the funding of NGOs mere hours before the bill passed its final readings in the Knesset on Monday. The reason? Pressure from an unexpected group: settler organizations.

MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) – one of the bill’s most fervent supporters – announced Monday that he was withdrawing two amendments from the bill. The Jerusalem Post reported that he dropped the amendments “at the request of Zionist organizations who told him the amendments would harm them.” So who are these Zionist organizations and why would they be worried by the legislation?

As exposed by The New York Times last year, settler organizations receive a sizable portion of their funding from American charities that enjoy tax-exempt status in the US. Through loopholes and deceptive reporting, (more…)

The fragility of ‘unbreakable bonds’

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The United States’ veto on Friday of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning settlements in the West Bank presented a difficult moment for Washington. The resolution, written to mirror much of the language used by the United States over the years, left the White House with a dilemma of whether it should blindly stand by its friends in Israel or stand behind its long-stated position that settlements are illegal and a serious obstacle to a two-state solution. Additionally, by vetoing the resolution, the Obama administration defied nearly every country represented in the UN and took a risk of isolating itself alongside Israel. While the US continues to provide unwavering support for Israel, it is a mistaken assumption that there is an “unbreakable bond” between the two states. If Washington becomes increasingly isolated (economically or politically) as a result of its support and defense of Israel, the relationship may be in trouble.

Since the late 1960s, the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel has been based on four main points. Firstly, Israel was one of the only Middle Eastern states (more…)

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