Friday, August 21, 2009

US Congress Should Cut Off Aid To Palestinians

NOTE: The following piece was first published as part of this week's Jerusalem Post Submission Contest earlier today. You can rate and vote on this piece here.

When the Bush administration laid out the Roadmap peace plan it, together with the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union, clearly laid out three conditions that Hamas would have to meet to be included:
  1. Recognition of Israel
  2. Renunciation of terrorism and violence
  3. Acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap
Hamas has never accepted any of the Quartet's conditions and, as a result, remains classified strictly as a terrorist group by the United States and most of the West.

Further attempts at a peace process were based on the idea that the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority did meet this conditions and had, in fact, agreed to them as part of the Oslo Accords. This has also been the basis of all U.S. aid to the Palestinians, including the training and arming of security forces.

Since March of this year we have seen one senior Palestinian Authority official after another make clear, in no uncertain terms, that they don't accept any of the three conditions either. It started with Muhammed Dahlan, a former Palestinian security chief and senior Fatah official, during a March 17 interview on Palestinian television:
"I want to say for the thousandth time, in my own name and in the name of all of my fellow members of the Fatah movement: We do not demand that the Hamas movement recognize Israel. On the contrary, we demand of the Hamas movement not to recognize Israel, because the Fatah movement does not recognize Israel even today."

Rafik Natsheh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee who also serves as chairman of the faction's disciplinary "court," expanded on Dahlan's comments during an interview with Al-Quds Al-Arabi last month. He stated that Fatah has never recognized Israel's right to exist and it has no intention of ever doing so, effectively closing the door to any future peace agreement. He also made clear that Fatah intends to launch a new intifada or "armed struggle."
"All these reports about recognizing Israel are false. It's all media nonsense. We don't ask other factions to recognize Israel because we in Fatah have never recognized Israel.


I am certain that we will hinder all the traitors who wish to remove the resistance option from the movement's charter. Let all the collaborators [with Israel] and those who are deluding themselves hear that this will never happen."

Finally, at the sixth Fatah General Assembly earlier this month these positions were formalized and reiterated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In effect the Palestinians have abrogated the Oslo peace agreement signed by Yasser Arafat. The Fatah-run Palestinian authority no longer meets any of the three conditions placed on Hamas. Why, then, is Fatah still somehow defined as "moderate" and treated differently than Hamas?

Back in December, 2007 I wrote that absent a recognition of Israel's right to exist as defined by both the League of Nations Mandate and by the United Nations in Resolution 181, which means as a state for the Jewish people, there was no basis for any negotiations with the Palestinians. Now, nearly two years later the Netanyahu government has made clear that it is ready for negotiations without any preconditions. The Palestinians, emboldened by President Obama's shortsighted and ill advised pressure on Israel over settlements, are demanding unilateral concessions from Israel before even agreeing to sit down and talk. Rather than bring Israel and the Palestinians closer to peace the Obama administration has foreclosed any chance of meaningful negotiations.

Right now the American taxpayer is footing the bill for arming and training security forces aligned with or which are part of Fatah, even as Fatah makes clear that those arms will be turned on Israel. We are, in effect, arming one terrorist faction while snubbing another. We are doing so in a time of huge budget deficits. Does this make any sort of sense?

In the United States the President determines foreign policy. However, that power is not absolute. The U.S. Constitution put in place a system of checks and balances. Congress controls the purse strings. Israel enjoys overwhelming support in Congress from both political parties. It is time that Congress acts to cut off all aid to the Palestinians until they meet the three clear conditions set out by the international Quartet. Doing so will stop the arming of unrepentant and unreformed Palestinian terrorists who seek to destroy Israel and send a strong and unequivocal message to President Obama that his Middle East policies, which are increasingly seen as pro-Arab and anti-Israel, have little or no support.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Shabbat and Respectful Blogging

Anyone who has read my blogs and other writing over the years has almost certainly figured out that I am not religious and certainly not Orthodox. I went to a mixture of Conservative and Orthodox congregations growing up and I was part of a modern Orthodox congregation for a time when I was in my twenties. I am not ignorant when it comes to Orthodox Judaism but there are elements of it that I am just not comfortable with or which just do not match up with my own beliefs. I do feel comfortable with the Conservative (Masorti) movement.

A couple of years ago I wrote posts for this blog whenever I had time. If that was on Shabbat then that was when I posted. Some of you may have noticed that I haven't posted on Shabbat for quite some time now. No, I haven't begun observing the sabbath in a religious sense. My work pretty much requires me to be available 24x7. So long as I want to succeed in IT (computer work) in the U.S. that won't change.

Religious views in my family range from pretty much atheist, albeit with a Jewish ethnic identity, to ultra-Orthodox. When I was in Israel I stayed with a modern Orthodox cousin and his wife over Shabbat. I must say that I think a day each week without computers or cell phones, without driving or work, without shopping or television, without all the stress of modern life, is actually very refreshing. I think being Shomer Shabbat is probably very healthy. I have written before that I believe that when I make aliya I may very well observe the sabbath. I think it would be a very positive change in my life.

In the meanwhile, though, I still do what I need to do. I do post to other blogs whenever I have time. However, I will continue to refrain from my Zionist writing or publishing on Shabbat out of respect to my Orthodox readers. I look at the divisions between religious and non-religious in Israel and in the wider Jewish community and I think that all we really need is a bit more respect for each other to get past our differences. We are all Jews. The anti-Semites out there don't make such distinctions.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why American Jews Voted For President Obama

Mark Gold wrote a piece published on the right-wing Israpundit website on August 6th titled "Were Jewish Obama Voters Fooled?". He also submitted the post to The Jerusalem Post blogging contest. I originally wrote a brief comment objecting to his assertions but the more I through about what he wrote the more I realized just how insulted and offended I was by his article. I decided a longer and more forceful response was in order.

The principle assertion made by Mr. Gold is that "Obama’s Jewish voters were not fooled by his campaign, but rather that, unfortunately, Israel is just not a major concern or issue to them." Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Gold also claims that none of his Jewish acquaintances have any regrets about voting for President Obama. Perhaps that is because the Republican alternative still looks, in retrospect, even more likely to have done serious harm than the Obama administration, even with its current misguided policies towards Israel.

Mr. Gold's claims that Israel is relatively unimportant to American Jewry or that American Jews continue to blindly support the President and his policies is belied by an article in today's Jerusalem Post with the headline "Most US Jewish Obama backers oppose his Israel policies". The article quotes frequent Fox News contributor Dick Morris:
"Democratic Jews in the United States strongly support Obama, but also strongly support Israel. Asked explicitly to choose between Obama's position and that of the Israeli government on issues such as construction in the settlements, or the two-state solution, they back the Israeli view by more than two to one. To me this indicates that the jury is still out and that a backlash may yet develop against Obama's policies."

Sorry, Mr. Gold, but two to one in support of Israel and opposed to the President's policies vis a vis Israel among Jewish Democrats indicates, to me, that Israel remains a major concern for most of us.

The alternative Mr. Gold presents, that we were "fooled" by the Obama campaign, is also completely wrong. As a religious minority we watched John McCain sell his soul to the religious right of the Republican party. We watched him select Sarah Palin, an incompetent and absolutely unprepared less than one term governor from Alaska as his Vice Presidential choice. Mrs. Palin is also an overtly right wing evangelical Christian. Jewish Americans who aren't wedded to the Republican Party or the conservative movement still distrust evangelicals with good reason. First, they seek tirelessly to convert us to Christianity and strip us of our Jewish religion, traditions, and culture. Second, for many evangelicals their support for Israel includes a prophetic view of the future in which the Jewish people either accept Jesus or are slaughtered in a coming apocalypse. Consequently they support the most right wing and intransigent forces in Israel who work against any hope of peace at any time in the future. Sorry, but to most American Jews these people are not our friends. The prospect of Mrs. Palin, who shares those views, a heartbeat away from the Presidency was truly frightening.

We saw a right-wing Republican campaign as contrary to the liberal values most American Jews, and indeed the majority of Jews in Israel, share. We saw Senator McCain and Governor Palin, and the prospect of their likely Supreme Court nominations, as a direct threat to our religious freedom in America.

American Jews were faced with a difficult choice. We looked at Barack Obama's record in the U.S. Senate, which was staunchly pro-Israel. We wondered if it was sincere or merely a necessity to be elected Senator from Illinois. We looked at his statements while in the Illinois Senate which also were positive. We heard his campaign statements and we heard reassurances from Joe Biden, whose record of support for Israel is long and impeccable. We watched other strongly pro-Israel Democrats line up behind Obama.

After all that many of us still had our doubts but looking at the candidates and hearing the reassurances about Mr. Obama we made what seemed to be the less onerous choice. I am still not at all sure it was the wrong choice. Yesterday I wrote about the power of Democrats who support Israel to influence the President and help to change his policy towards Israel. I will remind my readers once again that both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were seen as anti-Israel early in their respective administrations. Early in the Bush administration when Prime Minister Sharon visited the President pro-Israel voices in the press colorfully stated that the Prime Minister had been "bushwhacked." The Prime Minister then famously warned President Bush that Israel is not Czechoslovakia in 1938, to be sacrificed to appease the Arabs. The President's policies changed and Mr. Gold is one of those that still sees Mr. Bush as the best friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.

Much as an assessment based on the first six months of the Clinton or Bush administrations would have reached the wrong conclusion about how these Presidents would shape American policy towards Israel, so too might Mr. Gold's assessment of President Obama prove false. The truth is we just don't know yet. I also find it interesting that Mr. Gold is attacking American Jewry for a lack of loyalty to Israel. Didn't Mrs. Palin, a candidate he supported, characterize anyone in areas which weren't supporting her candidacy as essientially un-American? I wonder how Mr. Gold reconciles that with condemning American Jews for putting American interests ahead of his notion of Israeli interests. That is the assertion Mr. Gold is making.

Simply put, Mr. Gold's article does not pass the smell test. I wrote yesterday that Republicans and conservatives who see political gain in discrediting President Obama will always throw proverbial stones regardless of the policy. They will always find fault. It is in their political interest to do so. If we ignored Republican warnings about Mr. Obama during the campaign it was simply because the source of those warnings was not trustworthy. Democrats, liberals, and moderates are not interested in condemning the President. We are more interested in meaningful policy change towards Israel. Mr. Gold, as a conservative Republican, is in no position to castigate and condemn Jewish Democrats when his true agenda has less to do with what is right for Israel than it does with pushing a conservative Republican agenda, one most American Jews simply do not agree with.

I am an American Jew of Israeli heritage. Much of my family lives in Israel. I am actively planning aliya. My love for the State of Israel and my support of Israel could not be stronger. I also love the United States of America and all the opportunities this country has given me. I don't see a conflict or a tension between the love of these two countries. I am also a Democrat who voted for President Obama. I don't think I made the wrong choice. As such I find Mr. Gold's article questioning my values and loyalties and those of other Jewish Democrats offensive and insulting.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Israel Must Live Up To Its Commitments If Israel's American Supporters Hope To Change Obama Policy

NOTE: First published as part of The Jerusalem Post blogging competition earlier today

It seems that every day I read an editorial piece in a right-leaning or overtly right-wing publication or blog about the deteriorating relations between the Obama administration and Israel. The President has been, without any doubt, increasing pressure on Israel to halt all construction over the green line including eastern Jerusalem. Those on the political right continually portray President Obama as hostile to Israel. For example, Anne Bayefsky, writing for National Review Online, characterized the administration's policies at the U.N. as "a new strategy for throwing Israel to the wolves."

It is becoming increasingly difficult for those on the political left to simply dismiss these comments as just so much more Republican or right-wing anti-Obama rhetoric. Many of us in the American Jewish community who voted for President Obama did so with real reservations about his commitment to Israel. Candidate Obama did all he could to reassure the American supporters of Israel: Jewish, Christian, and others, and for many of us it was sufficient to allow us to focus on other issues when we entered the voting booth. When President Obama did meet with Jewish leaders he chose to exclude those who did not agree with his policies, even though that meant excluding the largest Jewish and Zionist organizations in the United States. Rather than reassuring American supporters of Israel the President further alienated those with legitimate concerns about his policies.

Israeli Deputy Premier Dan Meridor, speaking to reporters on July 21, correctly pointed out that agreements between Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush regarding settlement construction should be binding on the two countries:

"We never had an agreement with the previous administration. We had an agreement with America. The agreement we had with the Americans is binding on us and them [...] They should keep to the agreement. [...] It was agreed that the Israelis can go on building within certain parameters. That's what happened, and no word was said against it in six years."

There is still plenty of support for Mr. Meridor's position among Democrats and those left of center in the United States. Support by political leaders of both parties, as demonstrated by the unanimous support for Israel in both houses of Congress during Operation Cast Lead, remains as strong as ever. Many Congressional Democrats have been quietly or not so quietly expressing concerns about the President's policies in the Middle East.

Mr. Meridor speaks about the U.S. keeping agreements. That means that Israel must do the same. The most obvious example of where the Netanyahu government and, indeed, prior Israeli governments have not done so, or at the very least have dragged their collective feet and moved as slowly as possible, is in meeting the commitment to remove illegal settler outposts. Oh, and before someone challenges my use of the word "illegal", I mean illegal under Israeli law. Prime Minister Sharon, Prime Minister Olmert, and now Prime Minister Netanyahu have all committed to building no new settlements and to removing unauthorized ones set up by far right settlers.

Yes, I am aware that two small outposts were evacuated in May. I am also aware that the IDF has denied there are plans to quickly evacuate the remaining 23 outposts. The Chinese news agency Xinhua is reporting that evacuations will take place in September, citing the Jerusalem Post as a source. However, I have repeatedly read of plans for evacuating all the illegal outposts over the years and it never seems to happen.

Obviously I would like to see Mr. Meridor's words taken to heart by Democrats who can influence the President and hopefully bring about a policy change. However, it will be difficult if not impossible to convince the President to honor American commitments if Israel does not honor similar commitments.

I will remind people who see no point in even trying to influence the Obama administration of a little history. Initially President Clinton was seen by some to be hostile towards Israel. Relations between the Clinton administration and the first Netanyahu government were rocky at first. In the end President Clinton's efforts at peacemaking failed. His view on Israel evolved during that process and he placed the blame for that failure where it belongs, squarely with the Palestinians. It didn't take long before President Clinton was seen as a friend of Israel.

Early in the Bush administration when Prime Minister Sharon visited the President pro-Israel voices in the press colorfully stated that the Prime Minister had been "bushwhacked." The Prime Minister then famously warned President Bush that Israel was not Czechoslovakia in 1938:
"We are currently in the midst of a complex and difficult diplomatic campaign. I turn to the western democracies, first and foremost the leader of the free world, the United States. Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938, when the enlightened democracies of Europe decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for the sake of a temporary, convenient solution. Don't try to appease the Arabs at our expense. We will not accept this."

After 9/11 President Bush found common cause with Prime Minister Sharon and relations improved to the point that some called the President the best friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.

Republicans and conservatives who see political gain in discrediting President Obama will always throw proverbial stones regardless of the policy. They will always find fault. It is in their political interest to do so. Democrats, liberals, and moderates are more interested in meaningful policy change. History argues that it may be possible to bring about that change and that it is far too early to judge President Obama's administration. However, if we are to insist on change in a meaningful way we can't ask of American what Israel itself fails to do. If commitments are to be met they must be met by both countries.

NOTE: You can rate this article or comment on it as part of the competition.

Jerusalem Post Blogging Competition

I received an e-mail today about a blogging competition sponsored by The Jerusalem Post. Top rated entries will be included in both the online and print editions of the newspaper. I was invited to join the competition based on my posts here. I've recently run into increasing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism (more about that soon) and had already decided that I really needed to get back to blogging about Israel and Jewish issues as I have done in the past. The invitation was well timed and one I simply could not resist.

My first post is entitled: Israel Must Live Up To Its Commitments If Israel's American Supporters Hope To Change Obama Policy. There appears to be no rule against cross posting so I will also publish the piece here shortly.

The contest has five or six days to run. My intention is to publish at least high quality piece per day. With any luck I can maintain something close to that pace after the contest ends. If you create an account with BloggerBase you can vote on my articles and help me get published in The Jerusalem Post. Obviously I'd love it if you could take the time to do that.

UPDATE: It now appears I can only submit one post for the contest, at least for now. That didn't stop me from writing a second article. I am happy with the one I submitted yesterday in any case.