by: Robert Cohen on March 20th, 2013 | 3 Comments »
Robert Cohen stands in front of the Seperation Wall in 2011. Credit: Robert Cohen
It was at a family Seder night a few years ago that I first felt that celebrating the Jewish festival of Passover was becoming an impossibility for me. This was a pity since Passover is easily my favorite Jewish festival and indeed the one most observed in Jewish homes around the world. But there I sat, thinking that I really can’t keep doing it this way year after year.
As happens in most Jewish families, three generations were gathered around the table to tell the story of our miraculous escape from slavery in Egypt more than three thousand years ago. Our service book, the Haggadah, was the standard liturgy which has hardly changed since medieval times. As always, we followed the rituals of this ‘feast of freedom’ with appropriate rigor, including the dipping of bitter herbs in salt water to recall the tears of oppression our people suffered under Pharaoh. As ever, we recounted the plagues sent by God to persuade Pharaoh to ‘Let my people go’ and recalled how in every generation new Pharaohs have arisen to bring us torment.
It is, of course, a terrific story and the founding mythology of the Jewish people. The Exodus has also given the world the quintessential expression of hope in a better future and the eternal promise of the possibility of freedom from oppression of all kinds. ‘Egypt’ itself becomes a metaphor for being constricted. The Hebrew word for Egypt ‘Mitzrayim’ is also translated as ‘the narrow place’.
So what was my big problem with all of this?
On Sunday, the New York Times ran an extraordinary magazine piece (it was the cover story) on West Bank Palestinians who are resisting the Israeli occupation through non-violence. For those who follow the issue closely, the extraordinary aspect of the piece was not so much anything author Ben Ehreneich revealed as it was that the article appeared in the New York Times at all.
You just don’t expect to find this type of reporting on Israel in the Times which, ever conscious that it is the New York Times, is always cautious about its reportage on Israel. Most of its coverage is either extremely balanced (“the Palestinians say this, the Israeli government says that”) or slavishly supportive of the Israeli line. (Columnists Tom Friedman and Nick Kristof both consistently deviate from the line, but they are columnists, influential columnists to be sure, but opinion columnists nonetheless).
I wonder if the Israeli government now regrets that it didn’t consider the Arab League peace offer that was first issued in 2002 and then again in 2007. Every Arab state signed it and it was strongly backed by the Saudis who, in fact, drafted it.
It’s now called the Arab League Initiative but it actually began as a proposal by Saudi King Abdullah to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. Friedman announced it to the world in his column and it evolved, almost incredibly, into a full blown offer to Israel by the entire Arab world (yes, every single Arab country and the Palestinians). In exchange for a return to the ’67 borders, Israel would not only achieve peace but normalization of relations with the Arab world: trade, travel, educational and cultural exchanges, security arrangements etc.
I am not one for admitting I am wrong but sometimes the evidence is so overwhelming that I have to say it. I was wrong.
I have been repeatedly wrong when I said that the Israel lobby could not be defeated unless and until the President of the United States confronted it directly. In that situation, I always knew the United States would prevail. But I did not understand that a deft president could beat the lobby through indirect means – by quietly using his authority to prevail.
That is what happened when the Obama administration first nominated and then achieved the confirmation of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.
Yesterday I reported, based on a Jerusalem Post report, that J Street supports exempting U.S. aid for Israel from sequestration.
Today I received the following response from its Vice President, Alan Elsner:
Check out this piece in the Jerusalem Post. It notes my prediction that AIPAC could suffer a “backlash” if aid to Israel is exempted from sequestration but says that the lobby is “doubling down” on achieving it.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which opened its annual policy conference on Sunday, will take to Capitol Hill Tuesday for a morning of lobbying, including a push to provide Israel with its full $3.1 billion in military aid for 2013 and 2014, as well as $211m. in additional funding for the Iron Dome missile-defense system. AIPAC will also promote legislation designating Israel a “major strategic ally,” a new alliance status that may help it keep its aid.
The lobbying agenda did not reference funding for joint missile defense programs, which the Pentagon will consider when divvying up its budget cuts. The other two lobbying agenda items will be devoted to legislation on Iran, one in the House, and one in the Senate.
It then added: “Some critics worried that attempts to exempt Israel from painful budget cuts while the rest of the US was forced to absorb them would cause a political backlash.”
It’s hard to watch the AIPAC conference for more than a few minutes at a time. For me, the worst part is the pandering (and lying) by Democratic politicians eager to raise money for their next campaign.
Israel’s Transportation Ministry is under fire for creating what appear to be racially segregated bus lines in the West Bank. According to the ministry, these newly-created lines will transport Palestinian workers to central Israel and are intended to mitigate passenger traffic for Jews on the existing lines. The Palestinian-only routes will officially be considered “general bus lines,” and the ministry contends that Palestinians will still be legally allowed to ride the regular lines on which Jews travel.
However, several bus drivers told Israel’s Ynet that Palestinians who choose to ride on the normative, “mixed” lines would now be asked to leave them and opt for the Palestinian-only lines, which have only been advertised in Palestinian villages via signs in Arabic.
While the Transportation Ministry is claiming that the new bus lines have been created merely to relieve congestion and provide Palestinians with more affordable commuting options, the move is clearly an attempt to further segregate Jews and Arabs in the West Bank, with a ministry source admitting that the move came in part due to complaints from Jewish passengers about Palestinians posing security risks.
This makes my week.
It turns out that some key right-wing bloggers (including Seth Mandel of Commentary) have been on the payroll of the anti-Semitic, gay-baiting and repressive government of Malaysia.
Douglas Bloomfield, who served as AIPAC’s chief lobbyist for more than a decade, reports this week that the lobby intends to insist that the United States not include Israel’s $3 billion grants package in the sequester that goes into effect today. Writing in the New York Jewish Week, Bloomfield says:
At a time when sequestration is about to take a big bite out of the Pentagon budget, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will be sending thousands of its citizen lobbyists to Capitol Hill next week to make sure Israel is exempted from any spending cuts.
This could prove a very risky strategy at a time when millions of Americans will be feeling the bite of the sequestration debacle, from the defense budget to the school lunch program.
But not aid to Israel, which will be untouched if AIPAC gets its way.