Monday, June 6, 2011

Can equality exist in the Jewish state?

As right-wingers dominate the Knesset, Arab citizens of Israel say institutional discrimination is getting worse.
Arab citizens of Israel face discrimination in employment, education, and housing opportunities [GALLO/GETTY]

In 2005, following the arrest of several high profile Arab politicians and lobbyists living in Israel, the Shin Bet security agency made a statement justifying their actions: "The security service will thwart the activity of any group or individual seeking to harm the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel, even if such activity is sanctioned by the law."
The statement highlighted a fundamental tension between democratic freedom in Israel, and the need to maintain its Jewish character. Thwarting harm to that character has been extrapolated to require controls on Israel's Arab minority in many departments of society, from education to the right of dissent. The need to ensure Jewish demographic and institutional domination has prompted a raft of controversial policies and practises.
The conflict is most revealing at the level of political representation. Israel can point to the presence of 14 Arab Knesset members out of 120 as evidence of its civil rights credentials. Proportionally this is a reasonably fair reflection of a minority that accounts for 18 per cent of Israel's population; given that the Arab community habitually votes in lower numbers.
In practise, the mandate to represent Arab concerns dictates that they work against - rather than with - the rest of parliament. Knesset Member Haneen Zouabi of the Balad party is open about her role being fundamentally oppositional. "I was elected to speak for those who voted for me, not to reinforce the Zionist consensus," she says. "My role is to represent injustice and to make it more visible." Zouabi has long argued against the legitimacy of a Jewish state for allowing "institutionalised discrimination", instead favouring "a bi-national state not based on ethnicity".
She has suffered for her beliefs. After participating in the 2010 Gaza flotilla, aimed at breaking the Israeli siege, a seven to one majority voted to strip her of parliamentary privileges. Likud Knesset Member Danny Danon called for her to be tried for treason, and there were attempts to disqualify her party from elections. The hostility was so great that Zouabi was forced to travel with an armed escort. A year later she remains a pariah in parliament, branded a traitor and a terrorist-sympathiser.

Exiling civil rights
Others have suffered more. Azmi Bishara, also of the Balad party, was the leading voice of the Arab civil rights campaign. Despite attempts to disqualify him, Bishara became the first Arab citizen to run for the office of Prime Minister. Throughout his career Bishara faced numerous investigations from the Shin Bet. He was forced to resign in 2007, and went into exile abroad, in the wake of spurious charges of espionage.
Such attacks on Arab politicians are not exceptional, and some have been more serious than political expulsion. A 2002 report from the Human Rights Association of Nazareth documented nine cases of Arab Knesset Members being assaulted by security services over the preceding two years, seven of whom were hospitalised. In addition, the state had opened 25 criminal investigations against Arab Knesset Members over the same time period.
In recent years, the Jewish majority in the Knesset have been pushing for a decisive end to the debate over the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was able to pass a bill last year requiring non-Jewish immigrants to take a loyalty oath to a Jewish state, and is seeking to make the oath mandatory for all Knesset members.
The most significant effect of the oath is to enhance Jewish demographic supremacy. It places a fresh barrier in the path of Palestinian refugees' historic right of return, as enshrined in UN General Assembly Resolution 194, effectively terminating their claims to former homes.
By contrast, the Law of Return grants any Jew the right to make their homes in Israel without challenge. The law is supplemented by aggressive marketing campaigns in the US and other nations with large Jewish populations, often through emotive appeals to religious solidarity. Naturalising diaspora Jews has been made a formality and is often granted within 48 hours, even to those with tenuous claims to Jewish ancestry or citizens from hostile nations. Financial incentives are also offered; as of 2007, Iranian Jews making Aliyah, the so-called "return" to Israel, are entitled to a payment of $5000.

On deaf ears: Obama's message to Israel

US president's inability to influence dichotomy or halt illegal settlements further stifles the peace process.

By: Robert Grenier

Late May's extraordinary sequence of speeches and meetings involving US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - and the commentary surrounding it from official circles in both countries - did not make for an edifying interlude. The week beginning May 19 will not be remembered for displays of farsighted statecraft, or high moral courage. What we saw instead was brash, unapologetic chauvinism from Netanyahu, an outright refusal of moral leadership from Obama, and acts of political cowardice and opportunism from the US Congress outrageous even by the low standards of that frequently ignominious body.
But that is not to say that the week's display was not useful. On the contrary, much of importance was accomplished. Now, more clearly than ever, we can see the future. For if there were any questions remaining about the current nature and direction of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, May's events have put an end to them. Zionism is far from dead, and will surely survive, at least in altered form. But a fundamental change in the nature of the Israeli state has become inevitable.
To understand why, we should start with President Obama. It may seem mystifying in one so intelligent and insightful, but when, at the beginning of his administration, Obama set about to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute once and for all, he really had no idea what he was getting into. To this most logical, detached, and rational of men, the solution to the dispute must have seemed obvious. The salient issues had been reviewed endlessly for decades by all the parties. The key components of an agreement were well known. All he needed to do to get the negotiating process properly underway, he believed, was to address one key impediment: Israeli settlement policy.

Settlements halt negotiations
Obama understood that continued settlement was ultimately self-destructive for Israel. Pursued to its logical conclusion, it would obviate any possible two-state solution. Indeed, Israeli settlement policy had already long since obviated a two-state solution by the time Obama was elected, but let's leave that aside. Even if one engaged in a willful suspension of disbelief, to suppose that the Israeli prime minister and his party were really willing to give up their dream of substantially consolidating a "Greater Israel", continued settlement building would only perpetuate an endlessly seductive motivation for tactical delay, as more "facts" were created on the ground. And the longer Israeli delay and obfuscation persisted, the more Palestinian willingness and political cover to engage in the process would be undermined, reinforcing the popular Palestinian conviction that the point of any process was to mute their resistance and play them for dupes, in an effort to gain time for their complete dispossession.

AIPAC: The unrivalled lobby

The Israel lobby's power in Washington is so strong that both Democrats and Republicans fear challenging its agenda.

By: Not surprisingly, my recent piece on an ugly 1988 experience with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Israeli government, and late New York Times newspaper columnist William Safire elicited some controversy. I knew it would.
There aren't that many first-person accounts of encounters with the lobby (for obvious reasons) so my recollections of how it went down on Capitol Hill fill a vacuum. Hopefully, there will be more such accounts as those of us who dealt with the lobby in the 1980s move into a position (career-wise or financially) where we feel free to talk and write about it without any fear of retribution.
If I were 35, there is no way that I would challenge an institution which has a long history of preventing its critics from advancing professionally. I am not that brave - although the terrain is finally changing for the better thanks to the internet.
One problem in making analogies between the lobby today and in the 1970s and 1980s is that it was infinitely less aggressive and right-wing then than it is now.
In my description of an event that took place in 1988, I refer to AIPAC's then-executive drector, Thomas Dine. Dine, who today is close to the more liberal Jewish lobby group J Street, came to the AIPAC lobby from Ted Kennedy's 1980 presidential campaign. He had worked previously for several Democratic senators and, in his twenties, in the LBJ White House. By contrast, AIPAC's current executive director, Howard Kohr, is a conservative Republican who was hired largely because of his personal and political closeness to Newt Gingrich. In the Israeli context, Dine was Labor and Kohr is Likud.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Still Searching for a Middle East Strategy

Protests Planned for this Weekend Highlight the Stakes

SOURCE: AP/Charles Dharapak
President Barack Obama delivers a policy address on events in the Middle East at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, May 19, 2011. Although the two weeks since this address is not enough time to outline all of the implementation mechanisms outlined in the address, the lack of clear signs about who is charged with leading the implementation of a new Middle East policy is worrisome.

By Brian Katulis

More than five months into the popular uprisings spreading across the Middle East, the Obama administration lacks a coherent regional strategy for dealing with the multifaceted challenges coming out of the Middle East these days. The planned protests targeting Israel this weekend and linked to the anniversary of the 1967 war—protests calculated to keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the headlines across the region and the world—highlight the stakes at play in shaping a coherent U.S. pro-democracy message for the Middle East.
Last month, regimes such as Syria cynically exploited similar protests as a distraction from the internal unrest and opposition to the government there. But at the same time, those protests were part of the genuine popular discontent with the lack of progress on resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Alas, the Obama administration remains in a reactive, crisis management mode to all of these dynamics. This is mostly due to the nature of the challenges on multiple fronts—each day presents a new crisis, such as the violence spiraling further out of control in Yemen today. But remaining stuck in this tactical mode is also a result of the lack of a clear structure to follow though on the framework and principles President Obama outlined in his recent Middle East speech in an integrated fashion. Certainly, two weeks is not enough time to outline all of the implementation mechanisms outlined in Obama’s ambitious speech, but the lack of clear signs about who is charged with leading the implementation of a new Middle East policy is worrisome.
What’s more, the record of the administration’s follow through on previous high-profile speeches, such as the 2009 Cairo speech and the 2010 U.N. General Assembly speech, are cause for additional concern.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Israelis prepare to emigrate and Palestinians to Return?

The number of Israelis thinking of leaving Palestine is climbing rapidly according to researchers, while many more, with actual millennial roots but victims of ethnic cleansing, prepare to exercise their right of Return.

by Franklin Lamb

Is this how the Zionist project might end?
Perhaps historians or cultural anthropologists surveying the course of human events can identify for us a land, in addition to Palestine, where such a large percentage of a recently arrived colonial population prepared to exercise their right to depart, while many more, with actual millennial roots but victims of ethnic cleansing, prepare to exercise their right of Return.
One of the many ironies inherent in the 19th century Zionist colonial enterprise in Palestine is the fact that this increasingly fraying project was billed for most of the 20th century as a haven in the Middle East for “returning” persecuted European Jews.  But today, in the 21st century, it is Europe that is increasingly being viewed by a large number of the illegal occupiers of Palestinian land as the much desired haven for returning Middle Eastern Jews.

To paraphrase Jewish journalist Gideon Levy:
“If our forefathers dreamt of an Israeli passport to escape from Europe, there are many among us who are now dreaming of a second passport to escape to Europe.”
Several studies in Israel and one conducted by AIPAC and another by the Jewish National  Fund in Germany show that perhaps as many as half of the Jews living in Israel  will consider leaving Palestine in the next few years if current political and social trends continue.  A 2008 survey by the Jerusalem-based Menachem Begin Heritage Center found that 59% of Israelis had approached or intended to approach a foreign embassy to inquire about or apply for citizenship and a passport. Today it is estimated that the figure is approaching 70%.
The number of Israelis thinking of leaving Palestine is climbing rapidly according to researchers at Bar-Ilan University who conducted a study published recently in Eretz Acheret, (“A Different Place”)   an Israeli NGO that claims to promote cultural dialogue.  What the Bar-Ilan study found is that more than 100,000 Israelis already hold a German passport, and this figure increases by more than 7,000 every year along an accelerating trajectory. According to German officials, more than 70,000 such passports have been granted since 2000.

In addition to Germany, there are more than one million Israelis with other foreign passports at the ready in case life in Israel deteriorates.  One of the most appealing countries for Israelis contemplating emigration, as well as perhaps the most welcoming, is the United States. Currently more than 500,000 Israelis hold US passports with close to a quarter million pending applications.

During the recent meetings in Washington DC between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s delegation and Israel’s US agents, assurances were reportedly given by AIPAC officials that if and when it becomes necessary, the US government will expeditiously issue American passports to any and all Israeli Jews seeking them.
Israeli Arabs need not apply.

AIPAC also represented to their Israeli interrogators that the US Congress could be trusted to approve funding for arriving Israeli Jews “to be allocated substantial cash resettlement grants to ease transition into their new country.”
Apart from the Israeli Jews who may be thinking of getting an “insurance passport” for a Diaspora land, there is a similar percentage of Jews worldwide who aren’t going to make aliyah. According to Jonathan Rynhold, a Bar Ilan professor specializing on U.S.-Israel relations, Jews may be safer in Teheran than Ashkelon these days—until Israel or the USA starts bombing Iran.
Interviews with some of those who either helped conduct the above noted studies or have knowledge of them, identify several factors that explain the Israeli rush for foreign passports, some rather surprising, given the ultra-nationalist Israeli culture.
The common denominator is unease and anxiety, both personal and national, with the second passport considered a kind of insurance policy “for the rainy days visible on the horizon,” as one researcher from Eretz Acheret explained.

June 6 marks 44 years of occupation, a crime against humanity by any standard.

by Stephen Lendman / My Catbird Seat

On March 7, Palestinian Prisoners Society head Qadura Fares presented a paper to the UN International Meeting on the Question of Palestine, addressing the plight of political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention facilities, saying:
Palestine “has been under criminal occupation for 44 years. During that time, (Israel) committed the worst crimes against humanity, violating every international instrument. The occupier has killed tens of thousands of our struggling people, most of them defenseless civilians. There have been over 800,000 instances of imprisonment. Tens of thousands of people have been injured,” 30% left with permanent disabilities.
Moreover, thousands of homes, crops, and other property have been destroyed. “All this has been done in full view of the world.” Even Israeli rabbis “legitimized the slaughter of Palestinian babies (claiming they’ll) grow up to become enemies.”
Citing many other lawless examples, Fares asked for UN help to end “the occupation and (let Palestinians) live in freedom in an independent sovereign State with Al-Quds Al-Sharif (Jerusalem) as its capital.”

June 6 marks 44 years of occupation, a crime against humanity by any standard. Yet world leaders ignore it, denying Palestinians equity, justice, and freedom, putting a lie to those endorsing democracy. Israel long ago spurned it, especially for anyone not Jewish.
In 1948, in fact, its war without mercy depopulated villages and cities, massacred innocent victims, committed rapes and other atrocities, destroyed Palestinian homes and other property, and prevented them from returning after seizing 78% of historic Palestine.
During its Six-Day War, it took the rest, claiming self-defense against neighbors it attacked preemptively during its long-planned aggression it knew it could win and did easily.

What Bibi Didn’t Say in His Congress Speech

Netanyahu speech to the American Congress

“I intend to speak the unvarnished truth because now more than ever what we need is
peace” Netanyahu said before he twisted the truth in his speech to the American Congress.
“Demographic changes … this is may be the most concrete point Netanyahu has come to mention in his whole speech and could very well be the name of the Israeli next game of forestalling any possible agreements in the Mideast talks”

by Dr. Ashraf Ezzat

Netanyahu speech to the American Congress

Something about Netanyahu’s eloquent speech lately to a joint meeting of Congress, which has been interrupted by 29 standing ovations, sounded familiar to me. I don’t mean Netanyahu’s words but the response of his high caliber audience; it seems as if I have seen it before.

As an Egyptian who is not so keen on following much of the American congressional sessions, if any, still this extraordinary joint session of the American Congress with all that public display of candid acquiescence to everything Bibi said, or even thought, reminded me of the similarly eloquent speeches Mubarak used to deliver at the Egyptian parliament for well over 30 years of sordid dictatorship.
And also as an Egyptian I could attest to the fact that the televised sessions of the former president speeches to the Egyptian parliament members ranked high, not on the most viewed political videos but on the funniest ones.
For 30 long years Mubarak has been ranting about his relentless efforts to build a strong democracy where freedoms and the rule of law would be respected where in fact he was sincerely engaged in doing the exact opposite. But still his full house audience of apparently attentive parliamentarians kept on showing their frantic applause and repeated standing ovations to every one of his deceiving talks.
Of course Mubarak has been lying all along and he knew it and may be enjoyed it too, but what about those flocks of parliamentarians and politicians, how could we explain their attitude? Were they lied to, intimated or just hypnotized by the power of the presidential office?
The post- Mubarak probes proved beyond any reasonable doubt that 90% of those then incumbent high statesmen knew for a fact that Mubarak was the scum of the earth and they cheered for him only in gratitude for letting them keep their jobs and for the slim chance they would join in for a tiny slice of the ripped off cake. Oh yes, and the remaining 10% were just plain fools who just happened to hop in for the ride.

A Shameless Secretary General versus Freedom Flotilla 2

It is expected that at the end of June, Freedom Flotilla 2 will set sail for Gaza carrying various forms of humanitarian aid, including medical, educaional, and construction materials. This second flotilla will consist of 15 ships, including the Mavi Marmara sailing from Istanbul, but also vessels departing from several European countries, and carrying as many as 1500 humanitarian activists as passengers. If these plans are carried out, as seems likely, it means that the second flotilla will be about double the size of the first that was so violently and unlawfully intercepted by Israeli commandos in international waters on May 31, 2010, resulting in nine deaths on the Turkish lead ship.

            Since that shocking incident of a year ago the Arab Spring is transforming the regional atmosphere, but it has not ended the blockade of Gaza, or the suffering inflicted on the Gazan population over the four-year period of coerced confinement. Such imprisonment of an occupied people has been punctuated by periodic violence, including the sustained all out Israeli attack for three weeks at the end of 2008 during which even women, children, and the disabled were not allowed to leave the deadly killing fields of Gaza. It is an extraordinary narrative of Israeli cruelty and deafening international silence, a silence broken only by the brave civil society initiatives in recent years that brought both invaluable symbolic relief in the form of empathy and human solidarity, as well as token amounts of substantive assistance in the form of much needed food and medicine. It is true that the new Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing a few days ago (but not fully or unconditionally), allowing several hundred Gazans to leave or return to Gaza on a daily basis. At best, this opening even if sustained provides only partial relief. Rafah is not currently equipped to handle goods, and is available only to people and so the blockade of imports and exports continues in force, and may even be intensified as Israel vents its anger over the Fatah/Hamas unity agreement.

            As the Greek coordinator of Freedom Flotilla 2, Vangelis Pisias, has expressed the motivation of this new effort to break the blockade: “We will not allow Israel to set up open prisons and concentration camps.”  Connecting  this Gazan ordeal to the wider regional struggles,” Pisias added, “Palestine is in our heart and could be the symbol of a new era in the region.” Such sentiments reinforce the renewal of Palestinian militancy as exhibited in the recent Nabka and Naksa demonstrations.

Solution should be imposed on Israe

A peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue, based on the UN resolutions, should be imposed on Israel, a European analyst said on Wednesday.
“A just and peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue, based on UN resolutions, should be imposed on Israel as Middle East peace negotiations failed and proved to be pointless,” said professor Alvaro de Vasconcelos, Director of the Institute of EU Security Studies in a lecture organised by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.
Professor Vasconcelos stressed the existing consensus concerning Palestine in the European Union, developed since the Venice Declaration of 1980, is that its resolution lies essentially in the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.
“Asking the United Nations Security Council to recognise a Palestinian state may not solve the problem, but it will pressure Israel amid floundering efforts to revive peace negotiations,” he said.
Professor Vasconcelos was speaking after Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, listed a set of conditions the Palestinians immediately called “a declaration of war”.
Netanyahu insisted on a unified Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reiterated his rejection of the borders that existed before Israel began its occupation of the West Bank 44 years ago, and declared that Israel must maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley.
Palestinians have repeatedly declared their desire to negotiate a two-state solution where Jerusalem would be the capital of both states, with borders based on the Jun. 4, 1967 lines with agreed and equivalent land swaps, and full sovereignty over the West Bank, of which the Jordan Valley is a large part.

When Tahrir Square comes to Israel

By Philip Stephens

Ingram Pinn illustration
The temptation is to shrug one’s shoulders. Efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict have hit another impasse. What’s new? We have been here for a generation. The world still turns. The Americans can try again after next year’s presidential election. What’s new is the Arab spring.
Anyone who saw Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the American Congress can be forgiven their fatalism. Israel’s prime minister will never negotiate seriously with the Palestinians. As a former Israeli diplomat said of Mr Netanyahu’s speech: “Everything is changing, but he is determined that everything remains the same.”
This time the world is unlikely to wait. Events are leaving Israel behind. The Arab uprisings are remaking the geopolitics of the Middle East. The Palestinians will seek international affirmation of their statehood when the United Nations General Assembly convenes in September.
Mr Netanyahu sees in this great upheaval another reason not to compromise. Israel’s friends have drawn the opposite conclusion. Barack Obama has made explicit the longstanding assumption that Israel’s 1967 borders, albeit with some exchanges of land, are the starting point for an agreement.
European governments – led by Britain and France – want the US president to go further by spelling out the other essential parameters for two states. There is nothing new in the substance here. There is a belief that the international community should now give its formal imprimatur to the basic structure of an accord.
As things stand, most European governments are inclined to back the Palestinians at the General Assembly. They don’t have much of a choice if a unified Palestinian government eschews violence. Yet there is also an evident risk that a UN vote could be a prelude for a third intifada.
Not so long ago Israel was relatively secure in its own region. Turkey and Egypt were allies of a sort – pillars of stability in any event in a region menaced by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Now Mr Netanyahu has broken with Ankara and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak has gone. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad – an enemy, but at least a predictable one – may be next.
The democratic wave is lapping against Israel’s borders. The old order had it that Arab tyrants could be beaten on the battlefield, or squared, or sometimes both. It’s harder to suppress a democratic awakening. The nightmare for Mr Netanyahu is a peaceful uprising joined, as it was briefly last month, by protesters from Syria and Jordan. How will Israel respond if Palestinians borrow the tactics of Tahrir Square? The days are gone when tear gas was an answer.