Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Maybe you've seen them in videos of palestinian protests and gatherings. It's quite jarring to see men (always men) at these gatherings dressed in traditional black suits, black hats, beards and payos (side curls). You'll see them holding palestinian flags, holding signs that claim Judaism opposes Zionism. They are also frequently photographed and filmed burning the Israeli flag. So who are these Jews who so openly despise Israel? (Well, besides the dolts at Jewish Voice for Peace).

Disclaimer: While I am going to be severely critical of this group of Jews, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am in no way asserting that these are not Jews. None of what follows is intended to delegitimize their Jewish identity. 

Allow me to introduce the Neturei Karta (NK). The most frequently tokenized Jews of the anti Zionist movement. I first became aware of them when the loathsome former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmenidijad held a conference on Holocaust Denial in Tehran in 2006. Anti-Zionism (and anti-Semitism) makes for very strange bedfellows. In this case the NK were there not so much to deny the Holocaust, but to remind everyone that the Holocaust should not be used as a tool to oppress other people ie. the creation of Israel. I highly doubt that Mr. Ahmenidijad minded the fact that the NK were not completely on board with the conference's odious purpose of denying the factual record of what occurred during the Holocaust. After all, he was provided with token Jews who provided some photo ops for him to continue claiming to everyone that he doesn't really hate Jews.

It is worth mentioning that Holocaust Denial is anti-Semitism. Pseudo intellectuals like Ahmenidijad and the vile Steven Salaita like to pretend that Jews cry anti-Semitism whenever we are upset, and use claims of anti-Semitism to deflect academic freedom and critical study and thought. People who use this argument are akin to Young Earth Creationists who claim that geology and natural selection are not well understood sciences. Study of the Holocaust is at least as conclusive as carbon dating. 6 million Jews were murdered with assembly line style efficiency. Millions of other innocents were murdered as well. No reasonable person can dispute this. Only anti-Semites with an agenda do.

The NK are quite small in number. Some estimates say they have only 5000 members worldwide. The Anti Defamation League estimates that only about 100 members of the community are active in anti-Israel activism. The NK are also regressive religious fundamentalists. Their entire reason for being so adamantly against the state of Israel comes from the Talmud. Specifically a portion called the Three Oaths. This passage contends that the Jews would not rebel against the gentile world that gave them sanctuary in exile. Furthermore that Jews would agree not to immigrate en masse to Israel, and supposedly in return the gentile nations promised not to persecute the Jews. The NK see Israel as rebelling against this pact made with G-d.

It feels a little silly to say this, but I think any objective observer can conclude that this pact hasn't worked out particularly well for we Jews. The above referenced Holocaust, the pogroms of the 18th, 19th, 20th Centuries, hundreds of years of blood libels and scapegoating for every crime imaginable from throughout the world are all pretty good evidence of this. In fact, every single atrocity perpetrated against Jews throughout the world is further evidence of Israel's need to exist. Jews are still persecuted throughout the world today. the IDF covertly rescued the last of Syria's Jews last summer. a three thousand year old Jewish community in Yemen was told to convert or die mere months ago. Fundamentalists of all stripes are not known for their critical thought. In fact that is probably the common ground the NK could find with someone as despicable as Ahmenidijad. In addition to draconian views on homosexuals and women.

The anti-Zionists are a good place for the NK to fester. Like the rest of their compatriots they rest on misunderstood concepts and ideology as opposed to reality. It consistently amazes me that the Left is often anti-Israel when Israel embraces many policies that are domestically more progressive than those in the US. Tel Aviv is one of the most gay friendly cities in the world. (how's the pride parade in Gaza City?). Israel has women in government, (and a former Prime Minister!), Arabs in government, Muslims in government, Christians in government; and the Druze, those guys are awesome. These are not tokens to try to produce good optics. These are realities of life in Israel, and no other nation in the Middle East. And yet the anti-Israel gaggle despises a nation that practices the ideals they would otherwise be proud to see. "Oh but it's not anti-Semitism" they will say, "just look, we have some totally Jew-y looking guys over there."

The NK are not the only Jews who obnoxiously fight against other Jews about Israel.  In fact there's a group of more modern Jews who do so with less visual tokenizing. They are called Jewish Voice for Peace. In the immortal styling of Linda Richman they are barely Jewish, not a voice and not for peace. More to come on them next time....

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

I don't have a large readership, but this marks the first time I might write about something that could cause some readers to question my judgment.
From my all too frequent musings on Twitter (@clompthestrong) I have found that most like minded Zionists that I converse with are very conservative in their political leanings. This is a common feature I see in American politics: US conservatives are frequently more supportive of Israel than most liberals. I've never completely understood this as Israel is a relatively liberal nation, gay marriage was recognized a long time ago, universal healthcare etc. Conversely it is for those reasons that I've never really understood the reticence of US liberals to support Israel.
So what's the risk I'm taking? I'm going to make a recommendation for the 2016 presidential race, and that recommendation is former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Yes, I'm a Democrat. I hope that doesn't automatically disqualify me from ever being read again by my more conservative readers. Stick with me, I believe I can offer a compelling case.
How does this tie into Zionism? Hillary has a long record of being a friend to Israel, even going back to her days as First lady of Arkansas where she introduced Israeli education methods to Arkansas schools. More recently as Secretary of State she helped put together an international coalition that maintained the toughest sanctions on Iran (that Kerry helped unravel, but that's another story) and has said several times that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; which clearly includes unilateral Israeli attacks on reactors should that be necessary (like Israel did to the Iraqi reactor in 1984). Hillary has also stated that any attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the US.
While in the Senate Hillary introduced legislation to call for release of Israeli soldiers held captive by Hamas and Hezbollah. She cosponsored the Palestinian AntiTerrorism Act in 2006 which blocked foreign assistance to Hamas, and cosponsored the Syrian Accountability Act to pressure Syria to stop supporting terrorism in the Middle East.
A personal memory I have is watching Jon Stewart on the Daily Show try to challenge Mrs. Clinton about 2014's Gaza War. She told the following story that I still tell people who don't understand what dealing with Hamas governed Gaza. In 2005 Israel removed all settlers from Gaza. It was a heart wrenching experience for Israeli citizens being ripped from their homes. The Israelis left behind a flourish floral business that had been built up from nothing. The Israelis left their greenhouses and businesses for the Gazans to take over. Instead of picking up where the Israelis left off, the Gazans burned the greenhouses to the ground. This anecdote is a perfect microcosm of how Hamas views Israelis and Jews; they only seek to destroy us. I believe Mrs. Clinton understands this in a way no other candidate does. She was right about the Arab Spring. She recognized that it wasn't going to lead to the kind of reforms Obama was hoping. Mrs. Clinton's strength is something her Democratic opponent severely lacks, she sees the world as it is whereas Bernie Sanders sees the world as he would prefer it to be.
I'm aware of Mr. Sanders' time spent on a kibbutz in Israel. I'm of course aware that he is a fellow Jew (but that doesn't seem to be something he takes any note of). One of Sanders' best moments on Israel came during a townhall in VT during 2014's Gaza War. He told an obnoxious audience member (who was calling Hamas a humanitarian organization) to shut up and reminded the audience what a nightmare Hamas is on a daily basis for Israelis. This seems to be about the end of positive things I can say about Mr. Sanders in regard to his support for Israel. He frequently calls for less defense spending and aid for Israel. He supports the two state solution (see my previous entry for more on why that is a total fantasy) like many well intended but ignorant liberals. What is most disturbing to me from this perspective is his rank amateur understanding of the Middle East, its complexities and nuances (he demonstrates this level of ignorance for other international areas as well, but I'm focusing only on the Middle East). When recently questioned about how to fight ISIS Mr. Sanders suggested a Muslim coalition. Sounds good right? Well he intimated that Iran and Saudi Arabia should work together. Sure, maybe after they're done setting each others embassies on fire. He also stated in a recent interview that he will take Middle East analysis from the spineless hacks at JStreet. It is my conclusion that Mr. Sanders' plan for Middle East terrorism would clearly include even worse relations with Israel than John Kerry has now and well....it's hard to come up with anything else as he doesn't give much more. I don't feel Mr. Sanders has any deep understanding of the complexities and statesmanship of dealing with the interests of several nations on an international stage. Considering he's been representing Vermont, a mostly white state with a paltry population of 626,000 people this isn't entirely surprising.
For any Democratic observer of Middle East politics, Hillary Clinton is not just the smart choice, she is the only choice. One cannot overstate the shameful lack of thought Mr. Sanders has put into this crucial area of consideration.
As I'm not a Republican I'm not going to make a recommendation on their side, but I don't find their general threats of nuking Syria until their sand glows appealing. If you're a Republican, I hope you'll read this and give Mrs. Clinton some serious consideration in this primary and if she gets the Democratic nomination in November.
I'm going to go out on a final limb here. I sense in Mrs. Clinton the capacity to be a leader like Golda Meir. Strong, determined, extremely smart and also a big heart. I'm reminded of Golda's quote about when there were many sexual assaults in Israel and some politicians suggested a curfew for women and she responded that the men were the criminals, let them stay home. The State Department under Mrs. Clinton had the "Hillary Doctrine" which was essentially the directive to always include initiatives for women and girls in all dealings possible. I also think of her broken heart following the Munich Olympic massacre and her response to assassinate the terrorists. These are the kinds of heart and mind soul wrenching decisions a president has to make, that I feel Mr. Sanders is incapable of effectively making; those are the kinds of foot steps I can see Mrs. Clinton following in as president of the US.

PS- back to non partisan writing next time, I promise. Thanks for sticking around until the end.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Why the 2 State Solution doesn't make sense (right now)

Every time I find myself discussing Israel and the disputed territories a well intentioned person will usually chime in and say something about how the 2 state solution is the best chance at peace in the region. 
This stance is a popular one, and on its surface really does seem to be the most reasonable way to settle the decades (well several millenia) long conflict. It begs the question, well why not?
I begin, as I often do with a very important bit of context that is crucial always keep in mind when discussing Israel and her enemies. That is that the other side is simply not reasonable.
A former foreign minister from Israel once said that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Let's look at a few examples of this.
I'm going to start with 1948 and the UN partition. The original partition plan actually included an Arab state following the transition of power from the British Mandate. The Jews accepted this. The Arabs rejected this and the 1948-49 war for Israeli independence began. (As an aside, many opponents of Israel believe that America has always supplied Israel with weapons. This is not true. In fact the US had an arms embargo on the new Jewish state at the time of the Israeli war of independence. Check out a great documentary on Netflix by Nancy Spielberg called, "Above and Beyond." It's very good.)
Israel won the war against the neighboring Arab armies. Thus is the first time the Arab side of the conflict was offered a state, rejected it, chose war, and lost.
I next draw our attention to the 6 Day War in 1967. Israel learned of imminent attacks from surrounding Arab nations, preemptively attacked, and won a decisive victory. Though this armed conflict did not include an outright offer of a state to the Palestinians, it is worthy of mention because one will often hear people reference "pre 1967 borders." The insistence on returning to these borders can be dismissed out of hand. The expansion of Israel's borders during the 6 Day War were a result of war planning and strategy in response to being attacked. To be sure, had Israel not been attacked, the borders would not have changed.
Between 1967 and the Oslo Accords, there was of course the Yom Kippur War, the 1978 Camp David meetings and the first Intifada. I'll mention the 1978 Camp David Accords because they demonstrated that Israel has always been willing to exchange land for real peace.
In 1988 the first Intifada began. One would be correct to conclude that the first Oslo Accords, announced in 1993 following secret meetings, were a response to the first Intifada. I will add here, that this set a dangerous precedent. Namely that the international stage began to truly see Palestinian incitement and terrorism as legitimate. Furthermore, the Oslo Accords (though I support them to a degree) rewarded Palestinian terrorism with a chance to set the stage for a future state. The Palestinian side did not hold up their end of the agreements. Israel withdrew from Jericho completely and 80% of Hebron (which has had a Jewish population for at least 2500 years). The PLO became the Palestinian Authority and continued to be corrupt and absent in their agreement to stem the tide of Palestinian terrorism.
By 1999 it was clear that the Oslo Accords had failed. President Clinton, nearing the end of his second term decided to address the conflict. Then Israeli PM Ehud Barak and PA chairman Arafat met with Clinton at Camp David. Israel offered the PA 91% of the West Bank, to withdraw from 63 settlements, and 100% of the Gaza Strip. I will quote President Clinton writing about the Camp David Summit: Clinton wrote that Arafat once complimented Clinton by telling him, "You are a great man." Clinton responded, "I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you made me one." Here's another quote from Saudi Prince Bandar while negotiations were taking place: "If Arafat does not accept what is available now, it won't be a tragedy; it will be a crime." Arafat of course, walked away from the negotiations and the Second Intifada began.
In 2005, under the order of former PM Ariel Sharon, Israel withdrew all troops and all settlers from Gaza. Pure disengagement, nothing Israeli remained in Gaza. Well there was a floral industry that the Israelis left for the Gazans to take over. Instead of picking up where the settlers left off, the Gazans burned the greenhouses to the ground. The hope was that disengaging with Gaza would lead to less terror attacks from Hamas. It didn't. In fact, Gaza is where Hamas fires rockets into Israel and has complex networks of tunnels used for smuggling weapons. During the height of the 2014 war with Gaza, hundreds of rockets were being fired daily into Israel from Gaza.
In 2008 Israeli PM Ehud Olmert made an offer to the PA. The following quote is from the Jerusalem Post, 5/24/13:
"Olmert essentially agreed to forgo sovereignty of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site, and proposed that in the framework of a peace agreement, the area containing the religious sites in Jerusalem would be managed by a special committee consisting of representatives from five nations: Saudia Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, the United States and Israel. The advisors and Fatah officials heard from Abbas that Olmert laid out for him not only the details of the agreement but also a large map upon which he outlined the borders of the future Palestinian state."
Abbas, whom I had hope for following the death of Arafat, walked away from this offer as well just as his predecessor would have. (Also of note, Abbas is now in the 11th year of a 4 year term.)
What I have outlined above are summaries which have a common theme: the Palestinian side is only interested in one thing: the destruction of Israel. As can be gleaned from the above pattern of behavior, they are not interested in existing peacefully alongside Israel. There have been times a 2 state solution would have made sense, now is not one of them. There is no indication that the PA or Hamas has any intention to accept any agreement offered by Israel. They have chosen war and terrorism at every possible chance at peace. This is not to say Israel has behaved perfectly, but it is to say there is no question that Israel has made reasonable, and exemplary efforts at resolving the conflict, only to be met with violence. I bring your attention to the current wave of stabbings and car ramming attacks against Israelis that has been happening for the last few months. Now especially is not a time for the 2 state solution. The world cannot allow for murder and terrorism to become a tool for nation building. The Palestinians need a revolution of leadership, new voices that reject terrorism and truly want peace with Israel. Abbas, the PA and certainly Hamas are none of those things. The onus is on the Palestinians to bring about this revolution, it is not Israel's responsibility and Israel is incapable of making it happen. So do not speak about a 2 state solution, let us instead re-frame the conversation to, what can Palestinians do to build a nation committed to peace with Israel?
I would submit that a revolution in Palestinian leadership is the first step, because everything else they have tried has failed.