AIPAC and the meaning of love

How do we show our love for the things we hold dear?

How do we express this love when things get complicated?

Israel is a complicated country. Despite all of its amazing accomplishments in the face of relentless hostility, despite its courage, its resiliency, its vibrant culture, it still manages to attract serious opposition and even anger among many American Jews who claim to love the Jewish state. The key reason for this anger is well-known: Israel’s inability to make peace with the Palestinians.

Over the past 48 hours, I’ve seen two radically different approaches to loving Israel.

The first is the love I felt at the AIPAC Policy Conference, where 18,000 people came to network, listen to speeches, learn more about Israel, present their ideas, lobby Congress, and, essentially, find a safe space to show their love for the Jewish state.

Outside the main conference hall, I saw a whole other approach –demonstrators on the street, many of them angry, protesting AIPAC’s support of Israel.

In an ideal world, I’m sure these demonstrators would like nothing better than to see AIPAC join their protest against Israel. In fact, I’m sure they’d love to see all Jewish organizations follow their approach and bash Israel for failing to make peace with the Palestinians.

For the protestors, this failure is all-consuming. Yes, the conflict is complicated. Yes, the Palestinians have refused several offers in the past to end the occupation. Yes, Israel has made its share of mistakes. Yes, right now, with the region in violent turmoil, it could be disastrous for everybody — including the Palestinians — if Israel abandoned the West Bank and terror groups would walk in and wreak more havoc.

Yes, but.

A failure is still a failure. The bottom line for these anti-AIPAC demonstrators is that Israel has failed to make peace with the Palestinians, and that is simply unacceptable.

My question for the demonstrators, then, is this: Since you claim to be pro-Israel, how else do you show your love for Israel besides protest?

I get the tough love thing. I get that you want Israel to do as you wish, because it would be better for Israel and the Palestinians. I get that you’re tired of waiting. I get all that, and I also get that protest is a great Jewish value and that it’s part of the Jewish tradition.

I’m just curious: Is this your only way of engaging with Israel?

I’m especially interested because, when I love someone who does something I think is wrong, I always make sure to remind them how much I love them, how I value the things they do right, and how I value our relationship. For their own good, I will show some “tough,” but I always show some “love.”

I’ve seen your “tough” on Israel, but where are you hiding the love?

Are you looking for a safe space?

Hundreds protest in South Africa against U.S. star Pharrell Williams

About 500 people demonstrated outside a Cape Town venue where Pharrell Williams was due to perform on Monday, in protest against the U.S. pop star's promotional deal with South African retailer Woolworths and its trade ties with Israel.

The Grammy award-winning producer and performer's concert was scheduled to go ahead despite the protest, launched by the South African branch of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) movement.

“By working with Woolworths, Pharrell supports Israel, a country that supports the oppression of Palestine, a country that is the new apartheid state,” said Ashraf Salie, standing amongst a crowd waving Palestinian flags at the entrance to the GrandWest Casino where Williams was performing.

Pro-Palestinian marches often attract large crowds in South Africa, especially in Cape Town which has a large Muslim community.

Some passing motorists hooted support to protesters, who held up placards saying “Pharrell is welcome if Gaza is free” and “Pharrell and Woolworths have blood on their hands” as local musicians and artists entertained the crowd from a stage.

Protesters were allowed to gather under a heavy police presence after the City of Cape Town lost a court case seeking to limit attendance to 150 protesters.

Williams is collaborating with Woolworths as its style director on several fashion projects as well as fundraising for education.

Woolworths has said it does not source produce from the Palestinian territories, less than 0.1 percent of its food comes from Israel and that it clearly labels every product's country of origin.

UC Davis investigates pepper spray incident

Two University of California, Davis police officers have been placed on leave while the school investigates the apparent use by campus police of pepper spray against seated student protesters, the university said Sunday.

Video footage of a policeman in riot gear using pepper spray on a group of roughly a dozen student protesters at close range in the university’s central commons area posted on YouTube spread quickly over the Internet, sparking outrage among some faculty members.

The president of the University of California system, Mark Yudof, said the incident at UC Davis and confrontations at the UC Berkeley campus between police and protesters had prompted him to launch a discussion across all 10 UC campuses.

“I am appalled by images of University of California students being doused with pepper spray and jabbed with police batons on our campuses,” Yudof said in a statement.

Yudof said he did not intend to “micro-manage” campus police or the chancellors, but the incidents required a system-wide response. He called for “a full and unfettered discussion about how to ensure proportional law enforcement response to non-violent protest.”

The officers will be paid while on leave, university spokeswoman Claudia Morain said. She did not identify them.

In a public statement Saturday, UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi wrote that the use of pepper spray as shown on the video “is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this.”

Student protesters at Davis had set up an encampment in the university’s “quad” commons earlier this month as part of the nationwide Occupy demonstrations against economic inequality and excesses of the global financial system.

Their demonstrations, endorsed by a faculty association, included protests against tuition increases and what they viewed as police brutality on University of California campuses in response to recent protests.

The students had set up about 25 tents in the quad area, but they had been asked not to stay overnight and were told they would not be able to stay during the weekend due to a lack of university resources, Katehi said.

Some protesters took their tents down voluntarily while others stayed. The pepper spray incident appeared to take place Friday afternoon, when campus police moved in forcibly to evict the protesters.

Katehi said she was “saddened” by the manner in which protesters were removed and announced a task force of faculty, students and staff to investigate the incident.

She said she had also instructed the school to reevaluate whether university policy on encampments offered students sufficient “flexibility to express themselves.”

The move announcing the task force came after Katehi came under criticism from members of her own faculty.

Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by David Bailey and Todd Eastham

Shutting Jewish Mouths

Twenty years ago at a park in Beverly Hills, actor Richard Dreyfuss, feminist Betty Friedan and Yael Dayan, the daughter of the late Israeli leader Moshe Dayan, stoodbefore a crowd of some 300 people and called for a two-state solution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

Many in the crowd booed and hissed the speakers. Eventually they shouted Dreyfuss down. He had to be escorted offstage, past Jews who spat at him and called him names.

I know, because, as the local head of Americans for Peace Now back then, I organized the rally. I helped form a human ring around Dreyfuss as he raced for the safety of his car.

And I was there when a screaming protestor broke through our linked arms, called Dreyfuss a traitor, then said, “Hey, Richard, you think I could get your autograph?”

To follow the controversy over members of the Jewish mainstream accusing Jewish liberals of fomenting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred by criticizing the Jewish state is to relive that afternoon in Roxbury Park, and all its attendant stupidity.

Back then, at the height of the first intifada, the Jewish establishment charged that Jews who spoke out publicly against the “Iron Fist” policies of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were aiding the enemies of Israel. If Friedan or any other Jew wasn’t going to serve in the Israeli army, the argument went, they had no right to criticize Israel. At a time when American support for Israel was crucial, for Jews to break ranks from the party line could only give Israel’s foes in Congress fuel for dissent.

But those Jews would not be silent. Their ranks grew. Eventually their far-left ideas — for a two-state solution and negotiations with the Palestinians — became Israeli government policy; Rabin was shot dead at a rally in Tel Aviv, organized by Peace Now.

The moral of the story: Today’s dissenters might justbe on to something.

I have no idea whether the vision of today’s leftist outliers like Tony Judt and Tony Kushner will become tomorrow’s reality. I’m not going to defend them, because those men, criticized harshly in a report by Alvin H. Rosenfeld funded by the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee), are more than capable of defending their own views.

But I will defend the importance of Jewish self-criticism.

To read Jewish history is to see that crucial dynamic at work: From the biblical prophets down through modern times, we are a people who have canonized those who scold and chastise the established order, who envision a different world. Some of the sharpest criticism leveled by Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, was at Jews who were too comfortable in a Europe he sensed would one day turn on them. Some of the most virulent criticism he received was from Jews who believed a Jewish state would endanger the security of Diaspora Jews.

The tradition of sharp criticism turned on one’s own people still lives — in Hebrew. The Israeli press has always been far more contentious toward Israel than American Jewry. Nothing Judt or Kushner has proposed hasn’t already been written in Israel.

Similarly, the two-state solution and dealing with Yasser Arafat was old news in Israel by the time the American Jewish left picked up the cause. The party-line-discipline organizations like the AJCommittee often seek to enforce delays but don’t derail good ideas.

The rule that American Jews don’t have the right to speak out since they don’t live in Israel and won’t suffer the consequences of their ideas has visceral appeal but has proved, thankfully, unenforceable.

The American Jewish establishment’s ideal Israel-Diaspora relationship — we give our money, you give your sons — has always co-existed with strong expressions of dissent. Just as the left protested for an end to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, many on the American Jewish right publicly spoke out against then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza (an idea the Israeli and American Jewish left had argued for years earlier).

What’s more, the basic premise is just wrong. Speaking at a meeting on terrorism in Los Angeles last November, former Shin Bet director Avi Dichter noted than Iran’s two attacks on Jewish civilian targets in Argentina in the early 1990s followed Israel’s targeted assassinations on leaders of the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah movement: 114 people were killed in those attacks, mostly Jews.

Jews in the Diaspora don’t bear the brunt of living in Israel, but they may still pay a price for decisions made in Jerusalem.

By squashing left-wing criticism, the mainstream makes the world safe for opinions far to the right. Has the AJCommittee taken a stand against Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli minister who has called for the forced expulsion of Israeli Arabs from their towns? No, it has not; though one could argue Lieberman’s opinions endanger a democratic Jewish state at least as much as Kushner’s.

But from where I sit, the most insidious effect of the AJCommittee is the message it sends to the majority of Jews, and non-Jews, who support Israel but don’t always agree with its policies. That message is: there’s only one way to show you care for the Jewish state — our way.

Given that choice, the silent majority of Jews drift away, and the mainstream organizations then bemoan the fact that most Jews, especially Jewish youth, aren’t involved on behalf of Israel.

It’s very hard to sell smart people on the idea that the best way to support the strongest democracy in the Middle East is to shut up.

Briefs: Olmert upbeat on U.S. ties; Hamas names new leader; Olmert’s lesbian daughter slams Jerusale

Olmert Upbeat on U.S. Ties

Ehud Olmert voiced confidence that Israeli-U.S. relations will remain robust despite the Republicans’ midterm election defeat.

“Support for Israel has traditionally been bipartisan,” the Israeli prime minister told reporters en route to Washington, where he met President Bush on Monday morning.

“I don’t see anything changing in the next two years that can alter overall attitudes toward us,” Olmert said, referring to Bush’s remaining time in office. The Democratic sweep of last week’s congressional elections has raised speculation that Bush, with his Iraq policies increasingly unpopular, could turn his attention to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This could mean reduced U.S. support for unilateral Israeli moves and a greater engagement of somewhat moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority.

Haniyeh Successor Named

Palestinian Authority officials named the likely successor to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a future Cabinet. Representatives of the governing Hamas and rival Fatah faction said Monday that Mohammad Shbair, former head of the Islamic University in Gaza City, had been tapped to lead a future Cabinet of technocrats. Hamas and Fatah hope that by forming a coalition government devoid of major figures from the Islamic terrorist group they’ll be able to lift a Western aid embargo on the Palestinian Authority. Haniyeh, of Hamas, has voiced willingness to step down under such circumstances. Shbair, who was educated in the United States, is close to Hamas but isn’t an official member. Israeli media reported that his candidacy has received tacit U.S. backing. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has yet to approve Shbair’s nomination.

Olmert’s Daughter Slams Gay Pride Handling

Ehud Olmert’s lesbian daughter came out against Israeli authorities’ handling of last week’s gay pride rally in Jerusalem. Dana Olmert gave a rare media interview Sunday in which she accused police and politicians of being too lenient toward religious protesters who threatened violence against those participating in the event. While not commenting on her father’s refusal to take a strong stand for or against last Friday’s rally, she deplored the fact that a Cabinet member could denounce homosexuals without being challenged.

“I would have been happy had someone within the government responded to Eli Yishai, who called the march an abomination,” Olmert told Israel’s Army Radio. As a compromise deal, what had been planned as a march through Jerusalem was relocated to a Hebrew University stadium on the outskirts of the capital. Dana Olmert said the fact that the event was not canceled outright was a “bitter victory.”

“There was a feeling that we were in a cage,” she said. “There was something sad about the whole thing, the way it was handled.”

Seaman Sentenced for Japanese Deaths

An Israeli court sentenced a seaman to community service for causing the death of seven Japanese fisherman. Pilastro Zdravko, a Montenegrin who worked as a navigator for Israeli shipping company Zim, received six months of community service Sunday in Haifa Magistrate’s Court. He was found guilty of negligence in a 2005 collision off Japan that capsized a fishing boat. Separately, Zim has offered compensation to the victims’ families.

Arabs Want Peace Summit

The Arab League called for a peace summit with Israel and U.N. power brokers. Arab foreign ministers who had gathered for an emergency conference Sunday in Cairo issued a resolution to try to engage Israel, as well as the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, in peace talks on the principle of territorial concessions. The Cairo talks were convened following the recent killing of 18 Palestinian civilians in an Israeli artillery barrage on the Gaza Strip. Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a member of Hamas, said he supported the idea of a summit, but it remained unclear if he would attend.

Israeli Arabs Suspected of Gun-Running

Twelve Israeli Arabs are suspected of trafficking arms in the Palestinian Authority. The Shin Bet on Sunday lifted a gag order on arrests of the 12, all of them from northern Israel. Four suspects have been remanded in custody, while the rest where released on bail pending their indictment on lesser charges. According to the Shin Bet, the suspects, who were arrested last month, sold large amounts of small arms and ammunition obtained on the black market to Palestinians. It was not immediately clear how they would plead to the charges.

Border Communities Strike

Israeli communities on the border with Lebanon went on “strike” to demand compensation for damages suffered during the recent war with Hezbollah. Seven frontier farming villages announced Sunday that they were suspending tax and utilities payments until they receive long-delayed government payouts for lost harvests and buildings damaged by Hezbollah attacks in the 34-day conflict. They also threatened to withhold services to Israeli soldiers garrisoned along the border. State representatives said the hold-ups were due to bureaucratic difficulties, but promised to address the bulk of the communities’ complaints by the end of the month.

Study: More Boston Kids Raised Jewish

Most children in interfaith households in Boston are being raised as Jews, a new study found. Almost 60 percent of such children in Boston are being raised Jewishly, far above the national average, according to preliminary findings released Friday from the 2005 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study. The study was commissioned by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the central planning and fundraising arm of Boston’s Jewish community, and carried out by Brandeis University’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute. The study also found strong growth in the Jewish community, which now stands at 265,500,or nine percent of the total population. That figure includes 57,000 non-Jews living in Jewish households.

Stolen Klimt Sets Record

A Klimt painting stolen by the Nazis and returned to its rightful owner set records at auction. Austria ended an extensive legal battle in January by handing over five works by Gustav Klimt to Maria Altmann, the niece of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer; one of the paintings was a portrait of Adele. It sold for $87.9 million at a Christie’s auction in New York on Nov. 8, setting a record for a Klimt. It had been expected to sell for $40 million to $60 million.”My Aunt Adele and Uncle Ferdinand enjoyed living with these paintings and sharing them, and we trust that their new owners will build on this tradition of appreciation,” Altmann said.

Three of the other Klimts also sold for much more than anticipated. Another work reclaimed through Nazi restitution, by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, sold for $38 million, above its $18 million to $25 million estimate.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

No Silence on Hate

It was late on Sunday afternoon when a high school student from Cleveland, his shaggy hair covered by a huge multicolored yarmulke, came bounding down the steps of Ohio State University’s student center. An Israeli flag was draped around his bulky parka and a broad smile plastered across his face.

“They keep coming to the door, muttering they can’t believe we’re still out here,” he said. It was at that point, exhausted, voice gone, legs shaky and body frozen — the result of protesting for 28 hours — that it all came together. And it was at that point that I truly understood why our presence here was necessary.

For six hours on a Friday, 11 on Saturday and now approaching 11 on Sunday, a group of us had been protesting outside the third annual National Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement, Nov. 7-9. A conference that convenes under the insidious banner of hate, anti-Semitism and support of terrorism.

Conference organizers, speakers and attendees typically use this forum — to varying degrees — as an expression of their distaste for Jews and the Jewish homeland, Israel. At last year’s conference, Sami Al-Arian was the keynote speaker. Al-Arian now sits in a federal penitentiary on charges that he is the U.S. head of Islamic Jihad. This year, Adam Shapiro addressed the conference. Shapiro is the founder of the International Solidarity Movement, a group with explicit ties to anti-Israel terrorist organizations.

Even more egregious than his outright lies — on Sunday morning Shapiro accused the Israeli army of “randomly firing into Arab homes” in the West Bank — is his support for Palestinian “armed resistance.” Unfortunately, Palestinian “armed resistance” has been expressed in the bloody carnage of innocent Jewish men, women and children riding buses and sitting in cafes. But support for suicide bombing was par for the course at this conference. Several times over the weekend I asked attendees as they came in and out of the student center for their view on suicide bombing.

“Go for it” and “it is a legitimate form of resistance” were two of the more common responses.

The affront to human decency — to any notion of morality — didn’t stop with explicit support for terrorism. Conference attendees hurled vicious anti-Semitic slurs, made vulgar gestures and even handed out a flyer with a picture of a little boy urinating on the American flag. The caption read “F*** this racist country.” Conference attendees left little room to doubt their real intentions, what really lies in the hearts and minds of those who came to Ohio for this conference. When a pro-Israel demonstrator, not affiliated with Amcha, handed out a flyer depicting a Palestinian and Israeli flag and the caption “Two States for Two Peoples,” numerous conference attendees grabbed the flyers and folded down the Israeli flag. It was a chilling reminder that the mantra “Free Palestine” is, in reality, nothing more than a call for the destruction of Israel. I wondered what these people envision happening to the more than 5 million Jews living in Israel when “Palestine is free from sea to sea.”

This vitriol for Jews and support for violence against Jews did not surprise us. It is why we came to Columbus from New York, Cleveland, Wisconsin, Michigan and New Jersey in the first place. We came not because we wanted to, but because we had to. We could not remain silent and allow the supporters of murder, terror and hatred to conduct themselves unopposed. As British statesman Edmund Burke famously said more than 200 years ago, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

And so we arrived on the campus of Ohio State on a cold but sunny Friday morning in November. After delivering a letter to the university president demanding that she prevent the conference from proceeding, we made our way to the site of the conference — Ohio State University’s student center. For the next three days, as conference attendees came and went, they were greeted with American and Israeli flags, anti-hate T-shirts and signs that created a visual spectacle matched only by the impassioned chanting of “Shame,” “Divest From Hate” and “Arafat, Bin Laden, Same Old Terror.”

I found it ironic that Sunday, the last day of the conference, was the 65th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.” That horrible night was the unofficial beginning of the Holocaust, as thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses were burned and hundreds of Jews murdered. The next day, 30,000 Jews were hauled off to concentration camps. Kristallnacht, like the events that followed, was met largely with silence. The world, including much of the Jewish community itself, remained passive as the Nazis began conducting their campaign of horror.

“It doesn’t affect us,” they said. “These are isolated events, nothing really to worry about.”

But of course what started as small, isolated acts of anti-Semitism became the Holocaust — the murder of 6 million Jewish men, women and children. I often wonder what might have happened had there been a strong voice of protest — of moral conscience — in those early days. I thought about that in Ohio as I was told to “get back on the boat” by a conference attendee. I thought about that when fellow Jews criticized us for “drawing unnecessary attention to the conference,” as if the proper response to violent hate is to ignore it. I thought about that during every minute of the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic conference taking place in the heartland of America. I was thankful that this time we were not silent.

Scott Chait is the operations director for Amcha — The Coalition for Jewish
Concerns (