Domestic Policy

Gaza: Artificial islands of isolation

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The Israeli government on Tuesday floated an idea to build an artificial Island off the Gaza coast that would serve as an air and sea port for the currently-blockaded coastal strip. Though impressive for its creativity, like most plans hatched by Israeli politicians in recent years, it is depressingly shortsighted and dismissive of reality in the outside world.

The plan sidesteps the current situation, in which nothing short of a full political solution resulting in two states will be accepted by the international community – something Israel can no longer afford to ignore.

Undoubtedly inspired by projects such as Japan’s floating airports and Dubai’s (sinking) island-building adventures, the offshore Gaza island idea addresses two serious issues: accessible international (more…)

What Lieberman doesn’t understand about human rights NGOs

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Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party this week initiated a parliamentary enquiry into many of Israel’s civil and human rights organizations. Speaking to his party after the vote, Lieberman said: “It is clear that we are talking here of organizations which are pure accomplices to terror.” He added, “Their entire aim is to weaken [the Israeli military] and to weaken its resolve to defend citizens of the state of Israel.”

Likud MK Danny Danon argued for the necessity of the investigative committee in a Jerusalem Post op-ed on Monday, accusing what he calls “extreme left-wing organizations” of working “nonstop to weaken the very state they live and work in.” The MKs are especially perturbed by the idea that foreign governments (in Europe) are funding the NGOs. The Right in Israel truly believes that the Left’s goal is to weaken and eventually destroy the State of Israel. Here lies the problem.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding among the Right about these organizations. Regardless of where their funding comes from, they do not want to destroy Israel. The organizations (more…)

Separation of synagogue and state

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The issue of separation between church (temple) and state is one that I usually shy away from in Israel despite it being something I feel very strongly about from my American upbringing. Ideology and politics aside, being a Jew in the Diaspora almost necessitates disdain for official state religion. When it comes to Israel, however, I have always dismissed the conflict between the two as one of the quirks that makes the country what it is. I was taught that the religious establishment’s role in Israel is part of a multi-faceted balance between a secular, democratic government and Jewish state. Recently, much of that willingness to overlook the gaps between my values and my surroundings has begun to unravel.

My second-guessing of the situation in Israel – specifically, the immense power of the orthodox rabbinate – began with stories from friends who were told they could not marry in Israel. I had always (reluctantly) accepted that a Jewish wedding in Israel must be performed by the orthodox rabbinate but with the realization (more…)

The chutzpa of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

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The notion that Jews rule the world has been one of the most detrimental social concoctions the Jewish people have (barely) endured in past millennia. This week, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef seemed determined to prove it correct. Following last week’s marathon talks between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York, Netanyahu returned to Israel in order to present whatever proposal was formulated in the golden apple.

Since Netanyahu’s return, unconfirmed reports of the New York deal’s details have been making their way through the Israeli media. The basic understanding is that in exchange for an additional 90 days of an already-expired and failed settlement freeze, Israel will receive 20 state-of-the-art fighter jets, free of charge; the US will veto any UN resolutions resembling a declaration of Palestinian declaration of statehood; Israel will be permitted to build in East Jerusalem; and the US will not request (more…)

Nov 13: Weekend Reading

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The New York Times ran an editorial on Friday calling out Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for deciding that “his hard-line coalition is more important than working with President Obama to craft a peace deal,” and acting as if the new Republican House majority means he will enjoy American support “no matter what he does.” The Times editorial concluded by calling on Bibi to “stop playing games, reinstate the moratorium, get back to negotiations and engage seriously in a peace deal.”

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Young California Jew Matthew Taylor discussed the tensions between the aging American Jewish establishment and younger Jewish voices calling for just Israeli policies in an Haaretz Op-ed on Friday. Taylor was one of the hecklers attacked and thrown out of the  North American Jewish Federations General Assembly last week after interrupting Netanyahu’s speech with shouts of “The occupation delegitimizes Israel” and “The settlements betray Jewish values.” Lamenting how critics of Israeli policies are dismissed as “delegitimizers” sans any calm discussion on the merits of the criticism, Taylor recalled a Ghandi quote: “First they ignore you, then they (more…)

New settlement construction: Who is undermining the peace talks?

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Two large construction plans for over 1,800 housing units east of the Green Line were approved on Monday and Tuesday. The announcements themselves are problematic, but the timing is astonishing considering Netanyahu is currently in the US and scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week for talks to try and save the peace process with the Palestinians. This raises two scenarios: Either the Israeli bureaucracy is deliberately trying to undermine peace efforts or Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu himself is trying to sabotage the process.

The first scenario is that elements in Israel’s bureaucracy are deliberately trying to embarrass Netanyahu and simultaneously undermine efforts to save the perilous peace talks. In March 2010 when US Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel, the Jerusalem planning commission announced the approval of 1,600 housing units east of the Green Line. The Netanyahu government was embarrassed by the timing of the announcement and publicly declared that it would install additional oversight in order to prevent future embarrassingly ill-timed announcements. However, more announcements of building plans were announced on (more…)

A test case in population transfer: Ghajar

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Note:
For the purposes of this article, a “population transfer” is understood to include land swaps of populated land.

A test of ideology awaits the Israeli left next week. Similarly, the constraints on Israeli government power will be tested in what may be a trial-run for future scenarios involving the two-state solution. Government officials on Saturday announced that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will present plans to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Monday in New York for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the northern half of the border-town of Ghajar. The town’s residents say they are Syrian, the UN says that the town is split between Israel and Lebanon, and nearly all of its residents hold Israeli citizenship. So the question becomes, is Israel planning on transferring its own citizens to an enemy state, which the transferees claim they have no connection to?

In the past year, the Israeli left has reacted strongly and loudly to hints by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of plans – or even the floating of ideas – of transfering some Israeli-Arabs to Palestinian control. The thought of a forced population transfer is indeed repulsive. Although any two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians will need to deal with many issues relating to citizenship and (more…)

Obama’s Mess

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President Barack Obama deserves acknowledgement for his efforts to realize a two-state solution, but applause is un-called for. One must begin to question the depth of Obama’s strategy, as his moves in the process seem more and more reactionary. Pressuring Israel to implement a 10-month West Bank settlement freeze was the right move, but waiting until it was nearly expired to make any further moves effectively eliminated any significance it had. Furthermore, the scheduling of peace talks at the same time as mid-term elections may have been inevitable considering the non-stop American political cycle, but it has severely limited his political capital to exert further pressure on the Israelis. As the peace talks he fought so hard to start teeter on the brink of collapse, what does the American president have up his sleeve?

Pressuring Israel to enact a 10-month settlement freeze was perhaps a necessary precursor to renewing the long-stalled peace talks. However, waiting so long to make his next move essentially wasted the momentum created by the freeze and the ensuing public chilling of relations between the US and Israel. By the time the American-sponsored peace summit materialized (and with it, the most optimism the region has seen (more…)

Israel’s loyalty oath: What’s the controversy and why is it wrong?

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The “loyalty oath” approved this week by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet has quickly – and for good reason – become extremely controversial. Most western and liberal states require those seeking citizenship to take an oath of loyalty upon becoming naturalized citizens. Israel already has a loyalty oath on the books that one must take when naturalizing. So what’s the big deal?

The United States requires that naturalized citizens declare [by oath] to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” It further requires them to pledge to bear arms and serve in the armed forces if required by law.

The United Kingdom requires new citizens to swear their “allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth,” to “respect its rights and freedoms,” to “uphold its democratic values,” and to fulfill their “duties and (more…)

An attempt to reconcile two states with liberalism

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When asked my opinion on the chances of a two-state solution succeeding, I have long answered that that two states are ideal but that the current two-state paradigm has been dead in the water for many years. The permanency and ideological nature of settlement expansion, the issue of Palestinian refugees, the Zionist need for a Jewish state, the split between Fatah and Hamas, the West Bank and Gaza, and a host of other issues have made the prospects of the classical two-state solution very grim. Add into the picture that the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians have been raised to view the entire area west of the Jordan river as their own, and the zero-sum nature of the problem seems even more insurmountable. A recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine provides fresh, creative thinking about a different way of approaching a two-state settlement.

There are ways for Israelis and Palestinians to have their cake and eat it too – still within the rubric of a two-state solution and still within the confines of their nationalist (more…)

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