The ‘religionization’ of Israel is troubling, but the fears about it are hysterical


Religionization! Religionization! To read the newspaper headlines in Israel, to view its documentary films and attend its expert panels with academics, a stranger might think that upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport, he or she will have arrived at nothing less than a Hebrew-speaking version of Iran.

According to those who fear for Israel’s Jewish and democratic future, religionization (“ha’datah” in Hebrew) is everywhere. Within Israel’s educational system, right-wing and religious ministers are infusing class curricula with religious content. The justice system in the country increasingly includes judges and other senior level officials who are religious, and are threatening, so it appears, to implement “Hebrew” law. Israel’s communications sector is suddenly being overrun by men wearing skull caps, who are bringing their worldviews and values from home to the workplace. The chief of police is religious as well. And at what point will the people’s army transform into God’s army?

In such an atmosphere, the use of any Jewish content in official government statements; any attempt by a religious person to stand up for her rights; the celebration of any Jewish holiday at any secular school anywhere, and every mention of God within the context of the Israel Defense Forces is more proof that religion is taking over our lives — that we are in the throes of a terrible process of religionization.

The reality, however, is clearly different from this perception. Tel Aviv is not Tehran. Neither is it Jerusalem. The IDF is fighting for the country and its people, not God. Israel’s educational system is not rediscovering religion en masse. And while the Israeli public is most certainly changing, it’s actually doing so in the direction of secularization. The status quo in the country between religion and state is long since dead. Commercial and leisure activities during the Sabbath are more widespread today than in the past and homosexual couples are receiving official recognition. All this in spite of the fact that for 30 years there has existed an ultra-religious veto, overtly or covertly, within the government.

Shuki Friedman (Israel Democracy Institute)

Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. I, as well as many citizens, religious and secular, believe that these two characteristics are critical to the country’s existence. Just as Israel’s Jewish image and identity must be cultivated, so must its democratic character and liberal and humanistic values. And no, there is no contradiction between Jewish and democratic.

The exact balance between these values is not gospel. Neither is it the exclusive knowledge of the religious or secular. Even the Supreme Court, which has occasionally had to rule on these issues, has often done so mechanically. How then can we determine the location of the golden mean? Only through public discussion that is serious and open to all. Only by listening to one another and being willing to understand the value of creating a synthesis between these two values, and acknowledging the need to sometimes compromise. Only then will it be possible for the unique and valuable combination – a Jewish and democratic state – to thrive.

Nevertheless, critics of religionization talk about it as if it is a demon uniquely threatening Israel’s culture and society. This is the easy way out for politicians, activists, members of the media and the academy. When there is a common enemy that is as threatening as the religious demon it is much easier to close ranks, hiding together behind the issue.

Yet demonizing religion comes with a price. And the price is high. The price is the suppression of all public debate on this and related issues. The price is the stifling of every serious attempt to address in an open and comprehensive manner the topic of religion and state, and the relationship between Judaism and democracy. Fear-mongering over the religious demon leads to exaggerated, hysterical descriptions that occur whenever an attempt is made to add a Jewish dimension to the Israeli public sphere, or to promote the expression of Jewish spiritual treasures not only inside of synagogues but within Israeli life itself.

The hysteria over this issue is dragging us straight to the bottom. Instead of dialogue, we are being subjected to a cacophony of screaming from all sides. This demon must be put back in the closet, which should then be buried deep in the ground. In place of this demon, the public sphere will be filled with serious and meaningful dialogue on the Jewish and democratic values of Israel.

(Shuki Friedman is the director of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Center for Religion, Nation and State and a law professor at Peres Academic Center.)

Arab-Israeli lawmaker calls Israeli soldiers ‘murderers,’ spurring impeachment inquiry


An Arab-Israeli lawmaker called Israeli soldiers “murderers” on the floor of the Knesset, spurring talk of impeachment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The lawmaker, Hanin Zoabi, also demanded in her remarks Wednesday afternoon that the Knesset apologize for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade. Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for the incident.

Zoabi, who made the “murderers” remark as visiting soldiers were observing the parliament from the visitors’ gallery, also demanded Knesset lawmakers apologize to her. She has been censured by the Knesset, including when she participated in the Mavi Marmara flotilla and recently after she met with Palestinian terrorists’ families and stood for a moment of silence in their memories.

“I demand an apology for all the political activists on the Marmara and an apology to MK Hanin Zoabi for inciting against her for six years and hounding her. You all need to apologize, all of the members of Knesset here,” Zoabi said. “Those who murdered need to apologize, you need to apologize.”

After she was shouted down by fellow Knesset members, some of whom rushed the podium in order to remove her by force, Zoabi asked to return to the microphone to apologize. But instead, she said: “As long as there is a blockade [on Gaza], I will object to the blockade, and there’s a need to organize more flotillas.”

Knesset members responded by calling Zoabi “liar” and “filth,” and saying “You belong in Gaza.”

Zoabi’s statements came a day after Israel and Turkey signed a reconciliation deal restoring ties that had been severed following the Mavi Marmara episode.

Lawmakers Nachman Shai of the Zionist Union party and Amir Ohana of Likud filed complaints against Zoabi with the Knesset’s Ethics Committee, which is expected to meet and discuss the incident.

On Wednesday evening, Netanyahu said he contacted Attorney General Avichai Mandelblot to discuss starting the process of impeaching Zoabi from the Knesset.

“She has crossed the line in her deeds and her lies, and has no place in the Knesset,” he said in a statement that was posted on Facebook.

Netanyahu apologized for the deaths in a 2013 phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The apology was a Turkish condition for the resumption of diplomatic ties.

4 pro-Israel NY food co-op members suspended for disrupting 2015 BDS presentation


A popular Brooklyn cooperative grocery store that has been fighting about Israel boycott efforts for eight years reportedly suspended four pro-Israel members for interrupting a meeting more than a year ago.

According to the Brooklyn Paper, four Park Slope Food Co-op members have been suspended for a year for interrupting an April 2015 presentation by members who were calling for a boycott of SodaStream, the Israeli seltzer-machine company that at the time had a factory in a West Bank settlement.

At the 2015 meeting attended by hundreds of members, the four now-suspended members went to the front of the room and unplugged the projector that was displaying an image of an Israeli soldier and Palestinian that they believed was propagandistic.

The four were subjected to a disciplinary hearing in April and found guilty of uncooperative behavior.

In a heated and much publicized 2012 referendum, the co-op voted against boycotting Israeli products. Earlier this year, its members voted to require a supermajority of 75 percent for future boycott efforts.

Abbas walks back claim that Israeli rabbis called to poison Palestinian water


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas walked back his claim that Israeli rabbis had called for the poisoning of Palestinian water and said he did not intend to offend Jewish people.

“After it has become evident that the alleged statements by a rabbi on poisoning Palestinian wells, which were reported by various media outlets, are baseless, President Mahmoud Abbas has affirmed that he didn’t intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish people around the world,” his office said in a statement issued Friday.

In his address a day earlier to the European Parliament in Brussels, which earned a standing ovation from parliament representatives, Abbas alleged that Israeli rabbis called earlier in the week for the poisoning of Palestinian water, a report for which he provided no citation and which echoes medieval anti-Semitic libels. Jewish groups responded by accusing Abbas of spreading blood libels and anti-Semitism.

Friday’s statement also said that Abbas “rejected all claims that accuse him and the Palestinian people of offending the Jewish religion,” and that Abbas also “condemned all accusations of anti-Semitism.”

Earlier in the same day of his European Parliament speech, Abbas refused a meeting with Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, that the parliament’s president had offered to arrange while Abbas and Rivlin were in Brussels.

“Someone who refuses to meet with the president and Prime Minister Netanyahu for direct talks, who propagates a blood libel in the European Parliament, is lying when he says his hand is outstretched in peace,” said a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Israel awaits the day when Abu Mazen stops spreading lies and dealing in incitement. Until then, Israel will continue to defend itself against Palestinian incitement, which motivates terror attacks.”

Abu Mazen is an alternative honorific name for Abbas.

Young Palestinians skeptical of negotiations and supportive of violence, poll finds


The overwhelming majority of young Palestinians believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved through negotiations.

poll of Palestinian youth, defined as ages 16-30, published Monday by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center depicts a community that is socially conservative, supports violence against Israel, is skeptical about its leadership and opposes the Islamic State. It also shows significantly greater support for violence among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip than among those in the West Bank.

While 47.4 percent of youths in the West Bank oppose stabbing attacks, 78.6 percent of Gaza youths support them, according to the poll. In addition, 66.6 percent of the respondents in Gaza believe the current wave of violence serves the Palestinian cause, while 40.9 percent in the West Bank agree.

The poll is based on face-to-face interviews with a random sample of 1,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza between April 13 and 19. It has a 3 percent margin of error. The average age of the respondents was 22.

Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they believe that negotiations will not succeed in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and 64.3 percent oppose the idea of working with like-minded Israelis to find a solution to the conflict.

Despite the apparent cynicism about negotiations, the majority, or 52.9 percent, support a possible resumption of negotiations with Israel, but a sizable minority, at 43 percent, oppose doing so.

While the survey found high levels of support for the Palestinian National Authority, with 67.7 percent saying it should stay in place and 60.3 percent saying its performance was good or very good, it also reported high levels of mistrust for the various Palestinian political factions. Asked which faction they trust the most, 32.5 percent of respondents said they don’t trust any faction, 33.8 percent said they trust Fatah — which controls the Palestinian Authority — more than others and 19.1 percent said they trust Hamas more than others.

Similarly, when asked which leaders they trust, the plurality, or 32.7 percent, said they did not trust anyone. With 16 percent, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas garnered the most trust of any named leaders.

One issue around which there was strong consensus was a shared distaste for the Islamic State, or ISIS, the Islamic extremist group that controls parts of Syria and Iraq and which has perpetrated terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere. Some 83.6 percent of those surveyed had negative opinions of the group.

On social issues, the majority of those polled, or 65.3 percent, said they do not shake hands with members of the opposite sex. Respondents were sharply divided on the issue of coeducation, with 49.8 percent opposed and 48.1 percent in favor.

Willful denial fueling conflict in Israel


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, not Adolf Hitler, was the architect of the Holocaust which killed six million Jews, Benjamin Netanyahu told an audience at the World Zionist Conference this week. The statement elicited a storm of condemnation from political allies and enemies alike who were concerned at the apparent attempt to rewrite history. But the Prime Minister’s comments merely highlight an ongoing habit by both Israelis and Palestinians to ignore facts or to interpret history in a manner which pushes their own political narrative.

Haj Amin Al-Husseini did meet with Hitler but only in November 1941, after the Final Solution had already begun, Dina Porat, the head historian at Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, told The Media Line.

“The Final Solution was in Hitler’s mind – it was his obsession – since World War One. He wrote about it in Mein Kampf,” Porat said. Although the Mufti did ask Hitler to extend the genocide into the Middle East, to suggest that he gave the idea to the German leader was “not accurate,” she concluded.

The Prime Minister’s comments have been viewed by some analysts as an attempt to tie Palestinians, and their efforts to realize a sovereign state, to the genocidal policies of the Nazis for political gain.

The rewriting of history is also coming from the Palestinian side. Although Palestinians have killed ten Israelis in stabbing and shooting attacks this month, some of which have been captured on video, many ordinary Palestinians say the attacks never happened and videos were doctored. Arab media frequently underreports these events and instead focuses on the deaths of the attackers, who are often presented as blameless.

“Palestinians are assassinated for no reason. Most of the cases of people who were killed were innocent people who did not commit any crime,” Mustafa Barghouti, the general Secretary of the Palestine National Initiative (PNI), told The Media Line. “The fact that Israel claims that they were trying to stab people is nothing but a lie,” Barghouti, whose PNI attempts to be a third, democratic alternative to the main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, said.

Along with the ten Israelis killed in a wave of attacks perpetrated mostly by teenage Palestinians from east Jerusalem, 47 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces or civilians. Of these, 25 have been identified as attackers, and others killed either during protests or trying to cross from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

Despite a number of videos online appearing to show Palestinians attacking Israelis with knives, axes, and cars, Barghouti refused to accept any Palestinian deaths.

When preventing a terrorist attack, “you don’t shoot (the perpetrator) ten times. Or shoot them and then leave them on the ground bleeding to death,” the physician and politician said. When asked under what circumstances it was acceptable for Israel police to use lethal force, Barghouti declined to elaborate, and said only “any attack is unjustified in general, who ever does it, without exception.”

Last week Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has not condemned any of the stabbing attacks, infuriated Israelis further. Abbas claimed that thirteen year-old Ahmad Manasra, who had stabbed and seriously wounded a 13-year-old Israeli boy, had been executed by security forces. In fact, Manasra was taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment and is recovering.

In other incidents, Palestinian media has a tendency to report additional information which strive to explain the attacks as actions other than terrorist activity. For example, a Palestinian woman who stabbed an Israeli man in Jerusalem’s Old City was reported to have done so because he attempted to snatch off her headscarf, which Palestinian women wear in modesty.  In a second incident, in which a female Palestinian driver apparently detonated a vehicle borne improvised explosive device, Palestinian media claimed that the car’s electric system had caused a fire.

For their part, Israelis have rejected any claims that soldiers may have used disproportionate force against Palestinian attackers.

Mustafa Barghouti singled out the recent cases of Fadi Alon and Asraa Abed. Alon was shot and killed, Asraa was shot and wounded. In both cases, video footage does not appear to show either as posing a direct imminent threat at the time of their shooting. It is also not clear that they were trying to carry out a terrorist attack.

In the videos, Abed, a young Israeli Arab mother, appeared more confused than aggressive and has previously been treated for mental issues. Alon, 19, was involved in a scuffle with right-wing Israeli activists at 4 am, and it has been suggested he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The danger of such a possibility was highlighted by the death of Habtom Zarhum, an Eritrean asylum seeker who died after being shot and then beaten by a crowd. A security guard at the Beersheba bus station misidentified Zarhum as a terrorist during an attack by an Israeli Bedouin man that left one dead and eleven others injured. Video footage of an Israeli soldier and a number of civilians kicking the Eritrean man and dropping furniture on him as he lies semi-conscious have elicited anger in Israel and prompted an investigation.

Suggestions of Israeli unlawful killings were strongly rejected by Shmuel Sandler, a professor of politics with the Begin Sadat Center. “They come to kill us, we protect ourselves and you call this extra-judicial killings. I don’t understand it,” Sandler said. He rejected the use of the word Palestinian, arguing that no state called Palestine ever existed in history.

“I want the media to be more objective – you don’t take the liar – the killer – and tell both (sides of the) stories,” Sandler said. Hatred towards Jews was the only motivation behind recent attacks, the professor concluded.

This was in line with previous comments by Prime Minister Netanyahu who rejected poverty in east Jerusalem neighborhoods, and a lack of a political progress in the conflict, as motivating factors for Israeli attacks against Israeli civilians.

“There are two narratives here and each side is promoting its (version) – it’s not just part of propaganda, people really believe in their narrative,” David Tal, a historian with the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, told The Media Line. The different political tales told in each camp don’t merely add fuel to ongoing tensions but are the foundations for the conflict, Tal said. Willful denial of the other side’s beliefs is an ongoing part of this process.

“The first thing is that if you have a propaganda weapon you can use, then you use it,” Tal explained, adding that Palestinians and Israelis were equally guilty of this. In such circumstances, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians will believe in their rhetoric even if their leaders do not.

In the case of Mamoud Abbas’s claim that Ahmed Manasra was killed, video evidence showed the President to be wrong. But in many other cases evidence will not be so clear cut and people will choose to stick to their pre-existing beliefs about the other side, Tal concluded.

Netanyahu later clarified his comments regarding the Mufti. “I had no intention of absolving Hitler from his diabolical responsibility for the annihilation of European Jews,” the Prime Minister said, ironically on his way to a visit to Germany and a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

President Obama vs. the LA Times on anti-Semitism


The Obama White House and the opinion page of the Los Angeles Times are usually in sync—but not always.  Take for example the recent conflict between President Obama and Palestinocentric UCLA Professor Saree Makdisi on anti-Semitism and how to combat it.

In a much-discussed recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, the President argued that his Iran policy was our best chance of curbing not only the Iranian nuclear threat, but the mullahs’ support of a global jihad preaching and practicing Jew hatred. Some of us were not convinced. However, when it came to recognizing the linkage between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel carried to the extreme of questioning the Jewish state’s right to exist, the President was right on. This is what he said:

“I think a good baseline is: Do you think that Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and are you aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history that might prompt that need and desire? And if your answer is no, if your notion is somehow that that history doesn’t matter, then that’s a problem, in my mind. If, on the other hand, you acknowledge the justness of the Jewish homeland, you acknowledge the active presence of anti-Semitism—that it’s not just something in the past, but it is current—if you acknowledge that there are people and nations that, if convenient, would do the Jewish people harm because of a warped ideology. If you acknowledge those things, then you should be able to align yourself with Israel where its security is at stake, you should be able to align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not held to a double standard in international fora, you should align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not isolated.”

Without using the term, President Obama was essentially embracing the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The definition specifically includes as examples accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust, and  accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.

The State Department’s definition is currently in the news because University of California President Janet Napolitano gave it her personal endorsement, prior to a UC Regents Board meeting, scheduled for July, which will debate adopting the definition as a new guideline for U.C. campuses.

Here in the LA Times (May 26 issue) comes in Professor Makdisi who ignores President Obama but frontally assaults UC President Napolitano for the effrontery of disclosing that—like the U.S. State Department and the U.S. President—she believes there is an inherent linkage between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel’s right to exist: criticism which Makdisi considers a benign and sacrosanct form of “anti-Zionism.”

According to Makdisi, to call out anti-Zionists who urge the destruction of the Jewish state for “delegitimizing” and demonizing” Israel is an attempt to “stifle academic freedom and “pre­empt crit­i­cism of Is­raeli poli­cies.” This is patent nonsense. Criticize Israeli government policies—including settlement policies—all you want. Just don’t cross the line by demanding that Israel, a UN member state with six million Jewish and two million Arab citizens, commit national suicide because it “has no right to exist.”

Makdisi has no problem with shutting down forms of campus advocacy that threaten the status and self-esteem of students on the basis of their gender or sexual orientation. Earlier this year in another LA Times’ op ed, he even questioned the right of Paris’ murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonists to satirize the Prophet Mohammed.  But when it comes to campus advocacy—and actions—that marginalize Jewish students by charging them with “dual loyalties” and by tauntingly raising the specter of another Jewish genocide in the Middle East, Makdisi believes that “anything goes, and that free speech provides an impenetrable suit of armor to protect  toxic forms of speech and conduct on campus.

A case in point about the linkage between verbal incitement against Israel’s right to exist and actions meant to intimidate Jewish students is Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which Profess Makdisi endows with a halo as a hero of the academic free speech crusade. The real track record of the SJP and its campus bullies includes shouting down or disrupting pro-Israel speakers, beating up Jewish students who dare to speak up against anti-Israel incitement, presenting Jewish dorm residents with mock eviction notices because of Israeli policies, and demanding at UCLA that Jewish candidates for student body office sign “loyalty oaths” that they have never made a trip to Israel sponsored by a Jewish organization. 

The colleges and universities where the SJP, Makdisi’s folk heroes or martyrs for free speech, have been investigated or sanctioned for actions—not just words—verging over into anti-Semitism include Northeastern University, Vassar, and Loyola University-Chicago.

Makdisi also cites in support of his position the dismissal by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of complaints against Berkeley UC Irvine, and UC Irvine for allowing groups like the SJP to create a hostile learning environment for Jewish students, in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In fact, the UC Santa Cruz complaints—which were copiously documented—were dismissed by OCR higher ups against the advice of their own regional office and contrary to their own internal rules.  The anti-Zionist lobby’s “victories” at UC Berkeley and elsewhere were also hollow because the cases against them were largely dismissed on narrow procedural grounds, not because groups like the SJP were really vindicated.

President Napolitano and President Obama are on spot-on regarding the issue of when “Anti-Zionism” crosses the line into anti-Semitism.  And we applaud them for calling out anti-Semitism when it masquerades, with righteous indignation, as anything but.

Rabbi Meyer H. May is Executive Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Historian Harold Brackman is a consultant to the Center.

The West Bank and Gaza: Give economics a chance


In the wake of this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas, it is evident that neither party achieved its military or political objectives. And while a cease-fire is currently in place, fundamental steps to resolve the conflict aren’t on the agenda. Given a history of costly and recurrent armed conflict, it is clear that both parties are in need of a paradigm shift.  

Perhaps it is time to give economics a chance. Both Israelis and Palestinians would be well served by aggressive efforts in economic development of the West Bank and Gaza. This idea is not new. In 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry proposed a plan to invest $4 billion in the West Bank. Currently, a sparkling, privately developed Palestinian new town called Rawabi, replete with amphitheater, piazzas and multiplex theater, is about to open in the West Bank. Israeli social-impact entrepreneurs are seeking to bring venture capital and high-tech success to the West Bank. Discussions are also underway for an economic federation encompassing Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan that would bolster trade, tourism, economic development and energy deployment for the benefit of all three parties.  

A broad-based initiative for economic development of the West Bank and Gaza could take a page out of the post-World War II U.S. Marshall Plan playbook. The program provided $160 billion (2014 dollars) for the reconstruction of a war-ravaged Europe. The plan included a rebuilding of infrastructure and trade, amelioration of hunger and poverty, creation of economic opportunity and suppression of competing Soviet economic doctrines. The vanquished and disarmed Germany received substantial aid under the Marshall Plan.  

In the wake of the Marshall Plan, Europe witnessed two decades of unprecedented economic growth. The vastly improved economic conditions also resulted in political stability, substantially diminished interest in communism and a rise in Western culture.  

In the Palestinian application, the idea would be to direct concerted foreign investment for purposes of peaceful economic development of the West Bank and Gaza. At the outset, efforts should leverage the $2.7 billion just pledged by the international community for the postwar rebuilding of Gaza. Funding should bolster vocational and higher education to provide young Palestinians with technical job skills. Private investment and job creation could then proceed consistent with accretions to human capital. Subject to strict controls on weaponry and related supplies, roadblocks should be removed in the West Bank and a modern train system built to enable efficient movement of people and goods both within and between the West Bank and Gaza. Ultimately, a new port in Gaza could play a major role in connecting the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan to markets around the globe.  

A critical component of the plan would be the dismantling of Palestinian refugee camps and the resettlement of their inhabitants. The refugees have too long been pawns in the political struggle. Since 1948, those camps have served to reinforce a cycle of abject poverty and to foment terror activity. In their place, industrial parks, education and health campuses, and other for-profit real estate should be developed. Foreign investors should be encouraged to build facilities in those parks. The refugees should benefit from returns to such development and from newfound employment opportunities.  

As security threats fade, borders should be opened to allow trade, movement of population and creation of economic linkages. In this new environment, investment partnerships among Israelis and Palestinians could serve to rebuild grass-roots ties and leverage resources. Beyond economics, social benefits would include increased interaction and reduced demonization among conflict participants. As in Europe, the aim would not only be elevated economic activity, but also a change in fundamental culture. Growing economic opportunity could bring with it the creation of widespread and popular vested interests in entrepreneurship, individual advancement and prosperity, education, legal and human rights, and rejection of competing fundamentalist and confrontational leadership and ideologies.  

Why would such an effort have a chance of success? The encouraging element of such a plan is the limited scale of the effort. In stark contrast to Europe, whose 1950 population was roughly 350 million, the population of the West Bank and Gaza currently numbers only about 4.5 million. That’s just one-quarter the population of the L.A. metro area. Similarly, the land area of the West Bank and Gaza is only half that of L.A. There is little doubt that a concerted global effort could significantly enhance economic opportunity among Palestinians. The scale and size of the Palestinian entity make the prospects of game-changing investment highly promising.

Foreign direct investment has the potential to materially improve the lives of Palestinians in a manner that could be a game-changer for conflict resolution. Investment in the Palestinian sector, however, should be limited to partners who are publicly and unequivocally committed to mutual recognition and peaceful conflict resolution.  

This vision of economic advancement and hope for Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza should be presented to all Palestinians. For it to succeed, the Hamas rulers of Gaza, who engender substantial popular support in both Gaza and the West Bank, must accept this vision and act as partners in its implementation. Indeed, it is Hamas who can change the Palestinian vision from the destruction of Israel to the building of a prosperous Palestine. For Israel, the benefits of such a plan could become evident in trade, economic cooperation, creation of a Western-leaning, vested Palestinian middle class and reduced Palestinian support for radical rejectionist ideology.  

Both Palestinians and Israelis have tried the stick. It doesn’t seem to work. It’s time to try the carrot.


Stuart A. Gabriel is professor of finance and Arden Realty Chair at UCLA Anderson School of Management. Rabbi Ed Feinstein is senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Lawsuit accusing Israel of genocide to be filed in Argentina


An Argentine lawyer said he will file a lawsuit in federal court in Buenos Aires accusing Israel of crimes against humanity and genocide.

Carlos Slepoy told Pagina/12, a Buenos Aires newspaper, in an interview published Tuesday that the suit will be filed in the coming days in response to Israel’s 50-day operation in Gaza this summer. The suit is in conjunction with the American Association of Jurists.

The suit singles out specific Israeli leaders as being responsible both directly and non-directly for the alleged crimes, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz  and Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin, according to Pagina/12.

“The disproportionate number of forces and the large number of [Palestinian] victims reveals the huge crime; we will provide to the court a list with names and ages of the Palestinian kids murdered“ said Slepoy, who successfully opened in Argentina a trial about crimes committed in Spain during the government of Francisco Franco, who was the dictator of Spain from 1939 to his death in 1975.

Slepoy said he hoped that Gaza victims and human rights groups representing Gazans would join the suit.

In July, the American Association of Jurists issued a statement “strongly condemning the criminal aggression of Israel against Gaza and the occupation of Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem.”

Swiss Jewish leader denies leaking pro-Gaza mayor’s nude selfies


The president of a Swiss Jewish community denied accusations that he helped leak nude photos of a pro-Palestinian mayor who had sent them to a younger woman.

Josef Bollag, who heads the Baden-Baden Jewish community, issued the denial last week in an Op-Ed that he wrote amid the unfolding of a scandal that forced Mayor Geri Muller to temporarily step down as mayor, though he was reinstated this week. Bollag is a longtime critic of Muller over Muller’s harsh criticism of Israel and advocacy of Iran.

The woman, a 33-year-old teacher identified in the Swiss media only by her initials, N.W., “made contact with me and in no time did I press to hand over the incriminating material about Geri Muller to media,” Bollag wrote in the Neue Zurcher Zeitung daily on Aug. 26.

The affair, known locally as Mullergate, was first reported last month by the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly. According to the publication, Muller, 52, sent the woman nude photos of himself while posing at his office at Baden-Baden City Hall.

The weekly did not publish the photos but wrote about their existence after receiving copies.

Muller, of the Green Party, filed a police complaint alleging that the woman had violated his privacy and defamed him. In the complaint he said that correspondence from her cellphone, which police have confiscated as evidence, contains correspondence with a “Mr. Bollag.”

In his Op-Ed, Bollag said the woman contacted him “as a cry for help” and that he was shocked by the photos but did not pass them on.

Police investigating the case asked the woman about her relationship with Bollag and Sacha Wigdorovits, a Jewish public relations professional who, together with Bollag, runs the pro-Israel media watchdog Audiatur, the Neue Zurcher Zeitung reported.

Wigdorovits acknowledged being in contact with the woman but denied sending any photos.

Muller, who is also a lawmaker in Switzerland’s federal parliament, has hosted several Hamas officials. During a demonstration for Gaza in 2010, he said, “The Holocaust is terrible, but that does not entitle any party to do the same with a different population,” though he later denied this constituted equating Israel with Nazism.

He has also said that Iran was a democracy.

After Gaza conflict, Israel’s Arab minority fears rising discrimination


Handcuffed to a wooden chair in the middle of the night, Rafat Awaysha still wasn’t sure what crime he had committed.

He had announced a demonstration against the war in Gaza in a July 11 Facebook post. Soon afterward, he received a call from the police, who came to his dormitory and took him in for questioning.
 
Released after an hour, Awaysha, the head of the Arab-Israeli Balad party student group at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, thought the ordeal was over. But at 3 p.m. the police returned.
 
“You have the right to express yourself in a democratic process,” Awaysha, 20, said. “You don’t need to be in an interrogation for 12 hours for participating in a protest.”
 
Awaysha was one of approximately 1,500 Arab-Israelis arrested for involvement in protests against Israel’s operation in Gaza, according to NGOs and Israeli media reports. Mossawa, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for the equal treatment of Israel’s Arab minority, said that at least 70 Israeli Arabs were illegally fired, reprimanded or suspended from work for publicly opposing the war.
 
Reached by JTA, a police spokesman confirmed the total number of arrests but would not confirm or deny Awaysha’s account.
 
Arab-Israeli opposition to the recent conflict, which ended with a late August truce, brought the predicament of Israel’s 1.7 million Arabs into stark relief.
 
Community activists advocating for Arab-Israeli advancement and civil liberties say that most Arab-Israelis — even those  seeking to integrate better into Israeli society — opposed Israel’s Gaza operation because of the grave risk it posed to Palestinians there. An Aug. 11-12 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank found that 62 percent of Israel’s Arabs opposed the war, as opposed to 24 percent who said they supported it.

Arab-Israelis “are not being patriotic enough for the Israelis, but at the same time they are called traitors by their own people because they are not joining the struggle against Israel,” Thabet Abu Rass, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which promotes Arab-Jewish coexistence, explained one day after the conflict.

Throughout the war, Israeli-Arabs faced discrimination from the streets, where Jewish protesters chanted “Death to Arabs,” and from the halls of Knesset: Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for a boycott of businesses owned by Arab-Israelis who participated in a one-day strike to oppose the war. Some Knesset members called for Balad lawmaker Hanin Zoabi, who was suspended from parliamentary activity for six months, to be punished even more harshly for several statements they called inflammatory. And last month, some right-wing Knesset members proposed a bill to demote Arabic from being an official language of Israel.
 
In a poll last year, the Israel Democracy Institute found that nearly half of Jewish-Israelis believed that Jews should have more rights than Arabs in Israel, and that nearly half would not want to live next to an Arab family.
 
Following the poll’s release, survey author Tamar Herman said, “Instead of focusing on citizenship and Israeli-ness, [Jewish-Israelis] find it easier and more convenient to focus more on their Jewishness.”
 
Sayed Kashua, a well-regarded Arab-Israeli Hebrew-language writer, made news this summer when he decided to move from Israel to Illinois. Kashua wrote about the transition in a Guardian Op-Ed titled “Why I have to leave Israel,”describing his fears for his family.
 
“After my last columns some readers beseeched that I be exiled to Gaza, threatened to break my legs, to kidnap my children,” he wrote. “I live in Jerusalem, and I have some wonderful Jewish neighbours, and friends, but I still cannot take my children to day camps or to parks with their Jewish friends. My daughter protested furiously and said no one would know she is an Arab because of her perfect Hebrew but I would not listen. She shut herself in her room and wept.”
 
 
For Arab-Israelis, the climate of fear and animosity had intensified even before the most recent conflict in Gaza. Earlier this year, a spate of so-called “price tag” attacks targeted their communities. Perpetrated by Jewish-Israeli right-wing extremists in response to perceived anti-settlement policies, the attacks ranged from graffiti on mosques and businesses to tires slashed on Arab-owned cars.
 
Tensions spiked when Jewish extremists kidnapped and burned alive a Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, on July 2 in a revenge attack following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in June. Outraged by the incident, Arab-Israelis gathered in mass protests in Jerusalem and northern Israel. Demonstrators blocked roads and burned tires, and vandals damaged Jerusalem light rail stations in the eastern part of the city. Demonstrations continued across Israel throughout the war.
 
Thousands of Jewish-Israelis, it should be noted, protested alongside their Arab counterparts during the war — and a handful of those Jewish demonstrators were arrested.
 
“More and more young people feel the democratic methods of struggle adopted by the political leaders of the Arab community haven’t been effective,” said Jafar Sarah, Mossawa’s director. “More and more people will take the risk of using illegal methods,” such as riots and violence against property.
 
Following a demonstration by Arab-Israelis last week celebrating the Palestinians “Gaza victory,” Liberman said Israel should treat the demonstrators “as traitors and supporters of a terror organization, to put them to justice and to give them the ‘right’ to stand for a moment of silence, as they did during the demonstration, in jail cells.”
 
Biotechnology student Alaa Taha, 25, lost her job monitoring quality control at a plastics factory shortly after she was arrested at a protest on July 18. Her managers said they were firing her for an error committed months ago, Taha said, but she doubts that story. To boot, she said she still hasn’t received her the final paycheck or a letter of termination that would allow her to receive unemployment benefits.
 
“I don’t know what to say, but this is racism,” she said. “I went to a protest. I didn’t do anything. We just yelled and that’s it. This is a democratic state. Where’s the democracy?”
 
Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of Sikkuy, an Israeli NGO that aims to advance equality for Arab-Israelis, sees a tug of war between democratic forces and anti-democratic forces.
 
“The democratic forces are now fighting back against the attacks against the Arabs,” he said. “Will they succeed in that struggle? I don’t know. The public has gotten to such difficult places that I hope it says it can’t be silent.”
 
Awaysha said that during his police interrogation, he was asked why his Facebook post called for violence (it didn’t, he said). After he was handcuffed to the chair, he said, an officer from Israel’s Shin Bet security service began to question him. When Awaysha tried to fall asleep in the chair after the interrogation, he recalled the police officer saying, “This isn’t a hostel.”
 
He was released in the early morning — and given a week of house arrest.
 
“They started saying, ‘We know where your father works, where your mother works, we know you’re a student,’” related Awaysha, a political science student who also was arrested last year for protesting a government plan to relocate Negev Bedouins. “They asked me to work with them. They didn’t get what they wanted.”

Lady Gaga pre-Tel Aviv concert ‘Shalom’ video irks some Arab fans


Lady Gaga apparently riled some Arab fans with a short video in advance of her Tel Aviv performance featuring a “Shalom” greeting.

“Shalom, Israel,” the American pop star says in the 10-second video. “I’m so excited to perform my new tour in Tel Aviv.”

The performer’s manager announced Sunday that the Sept. 13 concert in Yarkon Park – part of her “artRave: The ARTPOP Ball” international tour — would go on as planned, despite cancellations by other high-profile performers due to the Gaza conflict and its aftermath.

Responding on social media platforms to the video, which reportedly has gone viral, some Arab fans called Lada Gaga “disgusting,” “devilish” and insensitive, Al Arabiya News reported.

Tens of thousands of Israeli fans are expected to attend the concert, which is listed on the performer’s official website. Tickets remain on sale.

Neil Young, The Backstreet Boys, America and Lana Del Rey are among the stars who canceled performances this summer due to Israel’s conflict with Gaza.

Lady Gaga performed in Tel Aviv in August 2009, despite of attempts by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to have her cancel.

Palestinian driver killed attempting to run West Bank checkpoint


A Palestinian driver was killed as he tried to run over Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint.

Another Palestinian in the minivan and an Israeli civilian also were injured in the Tuesday afternoon incident.

The driver was seriously wounded when an Israeli soldier opened fire as the vehicle attempted to overrun the Eyal checkpoint near the Palestinian city of Kalkilya. He later died of his wounds.

The minivan had Israeli license plates and held several Palestinian passengers without documentation reportedly attempting to enter Israel illegally, according to The Jerusalem Post. They were arrested and taken for questioning.

Obama administration calls on Israel to reverse land appropriation


The Obama administration formally called on Israel to reverse its appropriation of West Bank land for settlement building, saying it was counterproductive to peace efforts.

“We are deeply concerned about the declaration of a large area as ‘state land’ to be used for expanded settlement building,” said the statement Tuesday from Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” Psaki said. “We call on the Government of Israel to reverse this decision.”

While U.S. governments have expressed concern about settlement activity in the past, direct and public calls for Israel’s government to reverse a decision are rare.

“These steps are contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed,” Psaki said in the statement emailed to reporters.

The Israel Defense Forces Civil Administration on Sunday said it would appropriate nearly 1,000 acres in the Gush Etzion bloc and convert it to state land.

Centrist ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have opposed the appropriation, saying it would damage peace efforts.

“Yesterday’s announcement, which wasn’t brought to the Cabinet, regarding 900 acres of land for building in Gush Etzion harms the State of Israel,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Monday while addressing a conference organized by Calcalist, an Israeli business publication.

“We are after a military operation and facing a complex diplomatic reality,” said Lapid, referring to the aftermath of Israel’s most recent conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “Maintaining the support of the world was already challenging, so why was it so urgent to create another crisis with the United States and the world?”

Canada’s Green Party president quits after defending Israel


The president of Canada’s Green Party resigned his post a week after expressing pro-Israel views.
 
Paul Estrin stirred controversy last week when he posted a blog entry defending Israel on the party’s website. On Tuesday night, Estrin announced his resignation after the party leader, Elizabeth May, said his position was contrary to the Green Party’s position.
 
“I never intended to create confusion or have any of my actions negatively impact the party,” Estrin said wrote on the party website. “Therefore, I tender my resignation, effective immediately.”
 
According to a report  in the Times of Israel, Estrin said that at an Aug. 5 meeting called to deal with the matter, the party’s board asked him to resign and made it clear he would be fired if he refused. On Tuesday, Julian Morelli, the party’s communications director,  rejected suggestions that Estrin was forced to resign because of his pro-Israel views.
 
“He resigned because of the confusion caused,” Morelli said, according to the National Post.
 
In his post, entitled “Why Gaza makes me sad,” Estrin Palestinians in Gaza were made to be like “sheep to the slaughter.” The post has since been removed from the party website.
 
“Gazan officials tell their people to be killed while they hide in bomb shelters,” Estrin wrote. “This is worse than cowardice. It is vile and ugly and they should be put to shame. Instead, it is Israel who is put to shame.”
 
Writing on Twitter, May said she was unaware of Estrin’s views, which “are contrary to Green Party of Canada position. We support peace. We condemn violence.”
 
Last Friday, Estrin posted another statement on the party website. “Some have mistaken my personal views to be the perspective of the Party and our Leader. Neither is true. I apologize for not including a disclaimer to make it clear that the views expressed are my own and not the official position of the Green Party of Canada.”

Dutch hotelier cancels Israeli family’s reservation over Gaza


A Dutch hotelier apologized for canceling the reservation of an Israeli family over Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Mart Muis, who last week canceled the reservation of the Natzitz family from Kiryat Ono, Israel, at his bed & breakfast in Waterland, near Amsterdam, said he had “a moment of insanity” when he sent the email canceling the reservation, the Nieuw Israëlietisch Weekblad weekly reported.

Muis wrote he canceled the reservation, which was booked through the Israeli tour operator Sababa, “primarily because every day I get angrier and angrier when I see and read how much suffering and death and loss Israel is causing in Gaza. As long as this disproportionate violence of Israel continues, I will not accept guests from Israel.”

Discrimination on basis of nationality is illegal in the Netherlands.

Contacted by NIW, Muis expressed regret for the incident offered to host the Natzitz family for free. He added that he suffers from panic attacks and has hardly left his home since 2008.

“It is absolutely irrational, he said. “I am deeply ashamed that I ruined their vacation.”

Neta Natzitz said the cancellation did not seem impulsive.

“At first I heard the owner wanted to cancel the reservation because he feared our flight would be canceled,” she said. “The next day he canceled altogether because of the violence in Gaza.”

Eliese Friedmann, a senior researcher at the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, a Dutch watchdog on anti-Semitism, told NIW the family should file a complaint with police. The family told NIW they have not yet decided on whether to do this.

Alleged leader of cell that killed three Israeli teens arrested


The West Bank man believed to be the leader of the cell that kidnapped and killed three Jewish teens was arrested.

A gag order on reporting the arrest more than three weeks ago of Hussam Kawasme was lifted Tuesday evening, according to Israeli media.

Kawasme, of Hebron, was apprehended while attempting to flee with the help of his family to Jordan under a false identity, Ynet reported.

He reportedly admitted to serving as the leader of the cell that perpetrated the murders of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach. Kawasme said that funding for the attack, which he used to buy weapons, came from Hamas in Gaza.

In his interrogation, Kawasme said he helped to bury the bodies on a plot of land he had purchased two months prior to the murders. He then helped the two men who drove the car and shot the teens to hide.

Security forces are still searching for the two men — Kawasme’s brother, Marwan, and Omar Abu Aysha. Marwan Kawasme, who is active in Hamas, was freed in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange and deported to Gaza, The Times of Israel reported.

Another suspected cell member, Hussan Dofesh, also was arrested a month ago in Hebron.

The bodies of the three teens were discovered following a massive search on June 30 in a shallow grave in a field near Hebron, 18 days after they were kidnapped and murdered.

Deadly tractor incident in Jerusalem called terror attack


A tractor rammed a bus and a car, killing one, in Jerusalem, in what police are calling a terrorist attack.

Police shot and killed the driver of the industrial digger, reportedly a Palestinian man, in the incident Monday on Shmuel HaNavi Street, in north-center Jerusalem.

The tractor hit and crushed a pedestrian, who later died, before hitting a car and overturning a bus. The bus was empty, except for the driver, at the time. The drivers of the bus and the car were lightly injured.

Video taken of the incident by a bystander and broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 showed the tractor ramming the bus repeatedly until it toppled.

The driver was identified on Twitter as Mohamad Jabis, in his 20s, of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber. He reportedly worked on the construction site from where the digger was taken. Pro-Palestinian tweets accused Israel Police of shooting and killing Jabis for being involved in a simple traffic accident.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch in an interview on Channel 2 did not name the tractor driver but indicated he may have been involved in a previous terror incident. Aharonovitch also said the man’s “entire family is under investigation.”

Tractors have been used in the past in Jerusalem to carry out terror attacks.

Soldier shooting at eastern Jerusalem bus stop seen as terror attack


An Israeli soldier in uniform waiting at an eastern Jerusalem bus stop was shot in the stomach in what police said was likely a terror attack.

The soldier, in his 20s, reportedly is hospitalized in critical condition following Monday’s attack near the Hebrew University campus in Mount Scopus.

Less than three hours earlier, a tractor attack near the border between western and eastern Jerusalem left one man dead. Police called the incident a terrorist attack.

In the shooting, the gunman, reportedly dressed in black, shot the soldier and ran to a motorcycle before fleeing the scene in the direction of the Arab town of Wadi Joz.

Jerusalem Police Chief Yossi Pariente told reporters the incident was likely a terror attack.

Police have heightened security in Jerusalem in the wake of the two attacks.

 

Israeli Arab reinstated at job after suspension over anti-IDF Facebook post


An Arab nurse at an Israeli hospital suspended from his job for a Facebook post that calls the Israeli military “war criminals” was reinstated.

The Arab-Israeli male nurse at Sheba Medical Center must issue a public apology to the hospital administration, according to reports.

The agreement between the nurse and the hospital came on Wednesday, a day before a scheduled hearing at the Tel Aviv labor court.

Several Israeli-Arabs reportedly have been fired from their jobs during Israel’s current Gaza operation, for statements against Israel or the Israel Defense Forces.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel this week stressed that employers are forbidden from firing a worker just because of his or her viewpoints or online comments.

ACRI in a statement “also has reminded the public that in general, employers bear no responsibility for statements made by their employees in the context of their personal lives outside of the workplace. It is forbidden for employers to spy on their employees or interfere in their personal lives by imposing sanctions or threats thereof.”

The organization also stressed that Israel’s Law for Equal Opportunities in the Workplace “prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because of his/her viewpoint unless the comments made affect the professional functioning of the employee.”

Protesters threaten British cosmetics store that sells Israeli products


A cosmetics store in Manchester, England, that sells Israeli cosmetics has been victimized by callers threatening to kill the staff and burn down the store.

Local police are investigating the ongoing threats, the Jewish Chronicle reported. The store, called Kedem, has been the scene of daily anti-Israel protests since the start of Israel’s operation in Gaza.  Six anti-Israel protesters have been arrested.

Pro-Palestinian protesters also have posted threatening messages on the store’s Facebook page.

Meanwhile, also in Manchester, two 13-year-olds were charged this week with criminal damaging for vandalizing gravestones last month at a Jewish cemetery. The gravestones at the Rochdale Road cemetery were painted with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti, and about 40 were toppled.

Israel rejects Kerry’s proposed cease-fire


Israel rejected U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal.

“We are not announcing that it has been achieved tonight,” Kerry said in Cairo on Friday night. “The world is watching tragic moment after tragic moment unfold and wondering when both sides are going to come to their senses.”

Kerry said he wanted a seven-day humanitarian cease-fire during which the sides would discuss “fundamental” issues that could extend the truce, according to a BBC reporter covering the press conference, but did not add details.

Israeli media had earlier reported that Israel’s security Cabinet rejected the truce because it did not allow Israel adequate means to demolish Hamas’ tunnel system.

It was not clear what limits Israel rejected, because multiple reports suggested the cease-fire included an allowance for Israel to continue dismantling the tunnels.

There was no official word of Hamas’ reaction, but reports on CNN and Israel Radio said the group, which controls Gaza, rejected the cease-fire precisely because it allowed Israel to remain in the tunnels.

A U.S. official told JTA that Kerry would continue to try to achieve a cease-fire.

Israel says Hamas built the tunnels to carry out terrorist attacks inside Israel.

Israel’s army meanwhile announced the latest Israeli casualty, Sgt. Guy Levy, 21, who died in fighting on Friday.

That brings to 35 the number of Israeli soldiers killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict, which started July 8 when Israel launched air strikes after an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza. Another three Israeli civilians have been killed. More than 820 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians.

Blaming Birthright for a Gaza death


Is Birthright Israel to blame for the death of Max Steinberg, one of two American Israeli soldiers killed in the war in Gaza?

That’s the assertion of Allison Benedikt, a senior editor at Slate, who first provoked Israel supporters in 2011 with an angry and rambling essay about how after her nefarious Zionist youth group (she doesn’t name it, but it’s Young Judaea) brainwashed her into liking Israel, she eventually learned better.

In Benedikt’s latest piece, she asserts that Steinberg’s decision to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces “seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission” and asks in the story’s teaser “what makes an American kid with shaky Hebrew decide he is ready to die for Israel?” Not surprisingly, it has quickly sparked over 300 online comments. Meanwhile, the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur has published a heated, point-by-point response.

Benedikt’s article isn’t the only Israel-Gaza conflict-fueled attack on Birthright. A darkly satirical Tumblr feed, “My Birthright Summer in Israel,” features perkily captioned photos of happy, partying Birthright participants superimposed over images of carnage and destruction in Gaza.

Backstreet Boys scrap Israel shows due to Gaza crisis


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Backstreet Boys canceled three sold-out concerts in Israel due to the Gaza conflict.

The American pop band posted a message Sunday on its official website announcing the cancellation of the July 29-31 concerts at the Raanana Amphitheater “to assure the safety of the audience.” New dates will be scheduled for the spring.

“This is a major disappointment for the band and fans as this was to be our first visit to Israel and we looked forward to meeting our fans,” the message said.

Canadian singer Paul Anka also canceled two concerts set for this week in Tel Aviv. The concerts will be rescheduled “once the local situation is resolved,” according to a statement issued by his representative.

Earlier, the Gaza conflict forced the cancellations of a Neil Young concert in Tel Aviv and a performance by the band America.

Obama tells Kerry to broker ‘immediate’ cease-fire in Gaza


WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to push for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas,” Obama said Monday in a brief news appearance as Kerry headed to Egypt to attempt to broker a cease-fire.

“And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”

Obama said he wanted a return to the truce with Hamas brokered in November 2012, but Hamas has rejected such a return. Hamas has added demands including internationally monitored border crossings, prisoner releases and Israel staying out of Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity talks.

“I’ve instructed him to push for an immediate cessation of hostilities,” Obama said.

More than 500 Palestinians have died in the fighting, most of them civilians, while 25 Israeli troops and two civilians have been killed.

Joint Israeli-Palestinian film broadcast simultaneously on Channel 2 and Ma’an


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

United by the small screen, Israelis and Palestinians will transcend their divisions this week when “Under the Same Sun,” a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is broadcast simultaneously on Israel’s Channel 2 and the Palestinian Ma`an television stations.

The film, which was produced by an Israeli and directed by a Palestinian, was shot in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem and stars actors from both Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Production credit is shared by Amir Harel, and Israeli who worked on the Academy Award-nominated “Paradise Now,” which depicts the preparations of a pair of Palestinian suicide bombers; and Search for Common Ground, an American non-governmental organization that does conflict resolution work.

Set in the near future, it focuses on how two business leaders cope with the unique political and personal challenges posed by operating in societies where there is a strong stigma against working with the “other side.” 

Harel commented that he sees the film as a mirror of reality. 

“A small part of it is our projection of the possible future. It’s more like a wish that reality would resemble in a way,” he said.

“It’s a fictional story but the underlying issues are real,” Sharon Rosen, co-director of the Jerusalem office of Search for Common Ground, told The Media Line. “We wanted to be able to convey the underlying, the intangibles; to build hope that something like this could happen.”

Leading actor Ali Saliman told The Media Line that he enjoyed working with his Israeli counterpart, adding, “We had never worked together but it felt natural.”

“Under the Same Sun” was received positively in the United States and the United Kingdom, where it has already been screened in London, but it’s unclear what the local population of Israelis and Palestinians will think.

Tsvika Kleinman, who already viewed the movie, said it is very realistic.

“As an Israeli, I know for sure it is possible — and already happened in the past, as shown in the movie — to bring hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the streets and create a movement that would put pressure from the bottom up,“ he told The Media Line. However, Kleinman believes that creating such a grassroots movement is more of a challenge for Palestinians.

A Palestinian businessman from Jerusalem told The Media Line that the film is very close to reality: his reality in particular.

“This topic is very sensitive for us to talk about because there are people who will destroy our reputation,” he said, referring to those who adhere to an anti-normalization with Israel campaign, adding that his company was targeted two years ago when he was accused of working with Israelis. He said it took him a very long time to recover his losses.

A businessman in the Palestinian territories told The Media Line that there are joint business projects between the conflicting sides, but it’s not something that is often publicized. There are a variety of opinions on the Palestinian street about “normalizing” with Israel, but the Palestinian National Authority has not given a public statement for or against such work.

Search for Common Ground’s founder and president, John Marks, hired the Palestinian director and Israeli producer in 2011 after an extensive month of searching for the right team. He hopes that Israelis and Palestinians will realize that most people on both sides want to bring an end to the conflict.

“I still believe that peace is possible,” he said, “and I wanted to make an entertaining dramatic film that showed that. Who knew when we started this project two years ago that there would be active peace talk again taking place?”

Israel, Palestinians deeply divided despite renewed peace talks


Israel and the Palestinians remain far apart over terms of any peace deal, officials from both sides made clear on Wednesday, a day after talks resumed in Washington for the first time in nearly three years.

Israel's lead negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said the parties “need to build confidence” after what she called an encouraging start in Washington, and disputed a Palestinian demand to focus first on agreeing the frontiers of an independent state.

“The goal is to end the conflict,” Livni said on Israel Radio. “It cannot be ended merely by setting a border.”

Yasser Abed Rabbo, who is close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, forecast “huge difficulties” for the talks begun after intense diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Abed Rabbo, speaking on Voice of Palestine radio, cited Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and said any further building there would scupper the negotiations.

He was alluding to Israeli media reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had cajoled far-right allies to back the talks by pledging to permit more settlement expansion.

Kerry has said the negotiators will reconvene in August, aiming to achieve a “final status” deal within nine months.

Previous peace talks collapsed in 2010 over settlement building in the West Bank, which Palestinians see as grabbing land they want for a state that would include the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, all territories captured by Israel in 1967.

Abed Rabbo said borders, which the Palestinians say must be based on pre-1967 war lines, were “the first issue that must be resolved”, countering Israel's demand that all issues, including refugees and Jerusalem, should be tackled simultaneously.

“Putting all the dishes on the table at once may be an attempt to undermine the process,” Abed Rabbo said.

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid defined the ultimate goal of negotiations as the creation of a Palestinian state in “the majority” of the West Bank, but said Israel would keep three large settlement blocs there, as well as East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians might eventually accept this “because they will have no choice”, the centrist minister said. “What we are looking for is a fair divorce from the Palestinians, so that we can stand on one side of the border and they on the other.”

Decades of peace negotiations sponsored by the United States, Israel's main ally, have failed to resolve the conflict.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Kerry names Indyk to top peace negotiator post


Secretary of State John Kerry named Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, as his special envoy on Middle East peace.

Kerry appointed Indyk on Monday, hours before talks were to resume for the first time since 2010.

“Ambassador Indyk brings to this challenge his deep appreciation for the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Kerry said, “and a deep appreciation for the art of diplomacy in the Middle East.”

During the Oslo peace talks in the 1990s, Indyk served twice as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Israel and once as top Middle East peace envoy — the post he is assuming anew.

The choice of Indyk, mooted in recent days, already has come under fire by critics of the peace process, on the left and the right, because of his association with the failures of the Oslo process.

Alluding to the Oslo shortcomings, Kerry said, “He knows what has worked and he knows what hasn’t worked,” he said, as Indyk laughed and winced.

Indyk  said his passion for Middle East peace had its roots in the time he spent in Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the shuttle diplomacy of Henry Kissinger, then the U.S. secretary of state, to bring an end to the war.

Like Kissinger, Indyk told Kerry, “You took up the challenge when most people thought you were on a mission impossible.”

Talks are scheduled to resume Monday evening. Kerry has visited the region six times since becoming secretary of state in February.

Assisting Indyk will be Frank Lowenstein, a longtime adviser to Kerry.

Indyk came to the United States from Australia in 1982 to work for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He helped found the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Indyk’s predecessor is David Hale, who last month was nominated by President Obama to be ambassador to Lebanon.

Zombies solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict


Recently, I went to see “World War Z,” a typical Hollywood blockbuster with a fairly typical theme — zombies. Now, a quick note to all you non-film buffs out there: Zombie films are never about zombies; they are about the societal pressures of the day. The basic premise of the film was nothing new [Spoiler Alert]: A virus mutated and spread, people were turned into zombies, and entire cities across the globe were wiped out. There doesn’t seem to be any hope of survival except for Brad Pitt, a U.N. soldier of sorts, who must save the world.

None of this offers any brilliant insights about our society in 2013. There was, however, a notable choice in this film that surprised me. The screenwriters chose one country that was successfully keeping out the zombies: Israel.

Aerial shots of Jerusalem filled the big screen, along with a giant concrete wall built along the Green Line. Giant walls and checkpoints were seen as necessary security measures, which stimulated a positive feeling in the audience. Israel became a refuge for all of humanity — anyone who made it to the gates of the country without being infected. We saw strong women fighting for safety, we heard a brief history of Israel and the Jewish people, and we were given insights into the Israeli mentality. For me this choice alluded to the Isaiah 42:6 passage in which God says to the Jewish people that they should be “a light unto the nations.” While these moments made me smile, there was something more important coming through the big screen. It was the waving of the Israeli and Palestinian flags with all of the people, Jewish and Muslim, Orthodox and secular, dancing and singing the Hebrew peace song and prayer.

This scene, I joked, demonstrated to the audience what could solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a zombie virus outbreak that was infecting the entire planet. It sounds outrageous, but in thinking about it a little more, I came to realize these screenwriters were onto something. Could it be that they were trying to argue that only an external power of enormous magnitude could solve the conflict? So, I took a look at both the current state of the conflict and a theory that could explain why a zombie apocalypse could, in fact, create peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Israeli and Palestinian governments have been at a stalemate for more than a decade, yet among Middle East experts it is common knowledge that everyone knows what a peace agreement would look like. As Aaron David Miller, Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said on NPR recently, “Look, you could have an agreement. If Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas were prepared to pay the price of what it would cost.” Right now, that price is too high. The societal pressures placed on both leaders make it politically unfavorable to resolve the conflict. The status quo is better than the unknown. The final-status agreement will take tremendous strength and political capital, as well as the will of the people, but that is not what is frightening — it is what comes next: How do the people shift their beliefs and mentalities as well as erase their fears and the hatred? How do they live in peace with their neighbors? How can their typical behaviors and way of thinking shift overnight when their leaders sign a piece of paper — a peace treaty. The “next” is harder than the agreement.

So what does this have to do with zombies? Well, zombies are a metaphor for a great external power that forces populations and governments to dramatically shift their behavior overnight. The only way to go from conflict to peace overnight is through a forced shift in the typical behavior of the elites as well as average citizens changing national interests, ingrained belief systems, identity, involuntary reactions to “the other,” negative stereotypes and many other small but significant social and cultural cues.

This can be explained by a theory in sociology called socialization — when a major force causes an external and internal crisis in a country or region, people shift their behavior because they must in order to survive. In other words, zombies.

Does this mean that unless a zombie virus breaks out and Israel becomes a safe haven, we won’t have peace between Israelis and Arabs? I’m not such a skeptic. This is where public diplomacy remains a key factor in shifting behavior over time — laying the foundation for a slow and steady migration toward a true peace instead of needing an external crisis to force the behavior shift overnight. Peace activists, public diplomats, and ordinary citizens of both Israel and the future Palestinian state must continue to listen and learn from each other, find the commonalities and overcome fears … or pray for Ebola, the bubonic plague, flesh-eating bacteria or, clearly, a zombie apocalypse.

An extended version of this piece was originally posted on the CPD Blog of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School.


Naomi Leight is a partner in Rimona Consulting, assistant director for research and publications at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School and co-founder of Jewcer.com.

Kerry: Two-year window is maximum for two-state solution


Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress he sees a maximum two-year window to bring about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry delivered his remarks Wednesday to a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Answering a question from Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the committee, Kerry said that among both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, “I have found the seriousness of purpose, a commitment to explore how we actually get to a negotiation.”

However, he said, time is short.

“I can guarantee you that I am committed to this because I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting,” Kerry said. “I think we have some period of time in the year to year-and-a-half to two years or it's over.”

Kerry said that was the impression throughout the region — “and I've been struck in my travels, incidentally, by how many people, everywhere, raise this subject and want us to move forward on a peace effort,” he said. “They're all worried about the timing here. So there's an urgency to this in my mind and I intend, on behalf of the president's instructions, to honor that urgency and see what we can do to move forward.”

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