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Archive for the ‘Healing Israel/Palestine’ Category

AIPAC Influence Bad for the US and Israel


by: Allan C. Brownfeld on March 22nd, 2016 | 2 Comments »

The annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has attracted almost 20,000 people to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the nation’s capital. Every presidential candidate except Bernie Sanders appeared as a speaker, as did Vice President Joe Biden.

AIPAC is considered Washington’s second most powerful lobbying group after the National Rifle Association. Israel has received more foreign aid from the U.S. than any other country, more than $235 billion so far. With its friends at AIPAC, it is asking for more.

Just prior to the AIPAC meeting, another conference in Washington asked the question,  “Israel’s Influence: Good Or Bad For America?” It was sponsored by the American Education Trust, which publishes The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (to which this writer is a regular contributor) and the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy.

The keynote speaker was Israeli journalist Gideon Levy of Haaretz. In Levy’s view, AIPAC, which says it is promoting Israel’s best interests, is doing precisely the opposite. Writing in Haaretz on March 20, Levy  argues that, although AIPAC members and leaders say they are friends of Israel, in reality they are not.


What We Must Do Now, One Year after the Israeli Election


by: Jeremy Sher on March 21st, 2016 | 5 Comments »

A Netanyahu Campaign Billboard for the 2015 Election

One year ago, Israeli voters reelected Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, backed by a new coalition from the hardest of the hard right, with the antidemocratic Ayelet Shaked at Justice, Naftali Bennett politicizing the Education Ministry, and Tzipi Hotovely, of “This land is ours, all of it is ours” fame, heading the day-to-day operations of the Foreign Ministry. How did the Israeli left lose so badly? And is there any hope now?

Yes, there is. Israeli democracy is in grave danger but it is not dead. We do not have to resign ourselves to a future that leads inexorably to a bloodbath in the Middle East. But we are close, and if we want to avoid that fate, Israeli politics must change. In this article, I write about one big opportunity to create that change, albeit at this time an opportunity mainly for political professionals to act. In future articles, I will share other, very specific ideas for individuals of conscience to become part of the solution.

If anyone’s going to change Israel’s trajectory right now, it will be Israeli voters. And the Israeli political situation certainly looks bleak. However, progressives do not need to buy hook, line and sinker into the propaganda of Netanyahu’s so-called landslide victory in 2015. Netanyahu eked out a 61-seat coalition, the thinnest possible margin in the 120-seat Knesset, on the very last legally allowable day before new elections would have had to be called. That’s not a landslide in my political experience. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition rules with an iron fist, attacking democracy and installing ethnocracy and theocracy wherever possible. But they rule from a glass throne. A coalition with the thinnest allowable margin cobbled together on the last allowable day is a politically vulnerable coalition. The key is finding the right tools to break the right-wing status quo.

In this article, I argue that the Israeli left must improve its overall operational competence, and it must start now. Americans can and must help.


Debbie Weissman and Others Respond to Rabbi David Gordis on Israel


by: Debbie Weissman on March 7th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Not yet a Failure

by Dr. Debbie Weissman

[Editor's note: Debbie Weissman came on Aliyah in 1972, has had a long career in Jewish education, and is the Immediate Past President of the International Council of Christians and Jews.]

I am responding to the “Reflections on Israel 2016″ by David M. Gordis. In some things, I agree with him, and in some others, my criticism is even sharper. However, I take great exception to his conclusions. Let me begin with the term “failure.” There are a number of failed states in our region – most notably, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Israel is certainly not in that category.

Gordis writes that “in every important way Israel has failedto realize its promise for me.” Are the following unimportant: Hebrew language and culture; Shabbatot and Chagim; Kashrut; experiments in community living; widespread study of Jewish texts; religious, cultural and educational alternatives; Jewish scholarship in a variety of fields; the creation of a refuge for all kinds of Jews and the absorption of Holocaust survivors, Ethiopians, Jews from the FSU, etc.; many wonderful Tzedakah and Hessed projects; and the only Jewish community in the world with a positive birth rate?

We now have a former President and a former Prime Minister sitting in jail. I suppose that many people might see that as an indictment of this country; it actually makes me proud–no one is above the law. Most countries in the world have both political corruption and the abuse of women by powerful men. The question is: what do they do about it? We have growing representation by women and Arabs in the Knesset, and progressive legislation in the field of sexual harassment, as we do in women’s rights, children’s rights, gay rights, the environment, health care and many other areas.

I agree that the Occupation is a serious blot on the record – I would say not only of the State of Israel, but of the Jewish people. For many years, I have said that the best fulfillment of Zionism will not come until we have a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. We have also not yet succeeded in working out what it means to be a Jewish and democratic state, especially vis-a-vis our Arab citizens. We’re not worse than many other countries with regard to the migrant crisis, but I would have expected us to be better – to be at the forefront of absorbing refugees and asylum-seekers. Perhaps the roots of these problems lie deeper than just within the State of Israel.


Reflections on Israel 2016


by: David Gordis on February 24th, 2016 | 12 Comments »

Editor’s Note: David Gordis is President Emeritus of Hebrew College where he served as President and Professor of Rabbinics for fifteen years. He is currently Visiting Senior Scholar at the University at Albany of the State University of New York. Here is the article he submitted to Tikkun. We publish it with the same sadness that Gordis expresses at the end of this article, because many of us at Tikkun magazine shared the same hopes he expresses below for an Israel that would make Jews proud by becoming an embodiment of what is best in Jewish tradition, history, and ethics, rather than a manifestation of all the psychological and spiritual damage that has been done to our people, which now acts as an oppressor to the Palestinian people. For those of us who continue to love Judaism and the wisdom of our Jewish culture and traditions, pointing out Israel’s current distortions gives us no pleasure, but only makes saddens us deeply. – Rabbi Michael Lerner (RabbiLerner.tikkun@gmail.com)


While reading Ethan Bronner’s review of a new biography of Abba Eban, I was reminded of a time when in a rare moment I had the better of a verbal encounter with Eban. It happened about thirty years ago at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which brought together leaders of American Jewish organizations, sometimes to hear from a visiting dignitary, in this case Eban, Israel’s eloquent voice for many years. I was attending as Executive Vice President of the American Jewish Committee. Eban had a sharp wit as well as a sharp tongue. He began his remarks with a mildly cynical remark: “I’m pleased, as always, to meet with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, though I wonder where the presidents of minor American Jewish organizations might be.” I piped up from the audience: “They are busy meeting with minor Israeli government officials.” A mild amused reaction followed and Eban proceeded with his remarks.

Looking back on Israel oriented meetings from those days, I attended a monthly meeting, alternating between Washington and New York, with my counterparts at the Anti-Defamation League, Nathan Perlmutter and the American Jewish Congress, Henry Siegman, along with Tom Dine of the America Israel Public Affairs Commission (AIPAC). Though the atmosphere was cordial, a clear fault line separated Perlmutter and Dine from Siegman and me. AIPAC and ADL were on the ideological and political right, particularly when it came to Israel, the American Jewish Congress was on the left and the American Jewish Committee straddled a centrist position, with its lay leadership tending center-right and its professional staff clearly center left. A policy adopted by all four public policy organization was honored inconsistently. The policy was: support whatever government was in power in Israel, right or left, and avoid criticism of its policies. This was honored when a right wing government was in power. However, the agreement dissolved when a left wing Labor government was in control because neither ADL nor AIPAC hesitated to criticize Labor government policies. At our meetings Dine and Perlmutter agreed that a Labor government in control in Israel was a problem for them. So it was Perlmutter and Dine on one side of the divide, and Siegman and me on the other.

Things have moved a long way since those days. The American Jewish Congress has disappeared from the stage. The current executive of the American Jewish Committee appears to aspire to fill the role of the retired ADL executive Abe Foxman as a leading spokesman for the ideological and political right. AIPAC’s support of the right wing in Israel and its alliance with the right wing in the United States is more palpable than ever. And of course, there has been no significant opposition to the entrenched Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is nearing a half century in duration. Netanyahu’s “facts on the ground” steps to make a two-state solution impossible are bearing fruit, and there still appears to be no significant opposition to these policies in Israel itself. A number of smaller organizations supporting a two-state solution have emerged, notably J-Street and Americans for Peace Now, but recent steps by the Israeli government to delegitimize these groups are proceeding. The bottom line as I see it: The right has triumphed; the left has been defeated.


A Day of (Un)Rest in Hebron


by: Ariel Gold and Tali Ruskin on February 23rd, 2016 | 9 Comments »

Ariel Gold and Tali Ruskin sing outside of a Shabbat celebration in the West Bank. Source: Ariel Gold and Tali Ruskin

On a Friday afternoon last November, about 50 Jewish Israelis set up tables covered with white tablecloths, candlesticks, wine, and a Shabbat meal under a canopy of olive trees in the historic West Bank city of Hebron. Some even brought with them sleeping bags and pillows to spend the night under the stars.

While this might sound like a beautiful way to celebrate Shabbat – eating and singing and sleeping outside, surrounded by the warmth of prayer and community – the intention and impact of this encampment was anything but beautiful. The Shabbat encampment took place outside of the Youth Against Settlements (YAS) Center in Hebron. The intent of the encampment was to intimidate and harass the Palestinian organization that uses the tools of media advocacy and nonviolent activism to resist the occupation of their city by Israeli settlers and soldiers. This Shabbat encampment was deliberately set up to obstruct access to the Center, an emblematic example of the restriction of Palestinian movement that is ubiquitous in a city under occupation.

This incident was one of the many egregious attacks on Palestinians that we, two Jewish American women, witnessed while we were spending time in Hebron working with activists at the YAS Center and documenting the daily human rights violations they face.


BDS and NWSA: A Re-Awakening for Jewish Feminists


by: Sharon Leder on February 4th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Many of us who are Jewish feminists returned from the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Milwaukee (November 2015) with inboxes full of email from colleagues who were stunned by the association’s passage of a BDS resolution boycotting Israel. The NWSA-BDS resolution is an endorsement of “the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of economic, military and cultural entities and projects sponsored by the state of Israel,” that is a general BDS of all Israeli institutions, including “Israeli institutions of higher learning” that “have not challenged, but instead legitimized, Israel’s oppressive policies and violations” (www.nwsa.org/content.asp?contentid=105). The resolution was circulated at the 2015 conference along with a list of Frequently Asked Questions. The answers to questions about boycotting Israeli institutions of higher learning gave conditions for permissible and non-permissible communications between Israeli and U.S. academics that were contradictory and did not identify the “complicit” institutions of higher learning.

For many, this resolution stung as hugely insensitive to the diversity of opinion within the Jewish membership of NWSA. In a pro BDS plenary at the 2015 NWSA Conference on violence against Native women, Latino women, and Palestinian women, for example, not a word was uttered about the genocidal violence committed against Jewish women, men and children in the 20th century, let alone previous centuries. It felt like a throwback to the 1980s, when Women’s Studies was a fledgling interdisciplinary field that that was blind to Jewish women and anti-Semitism. Introductory Women’s Studies courses covered the discriminatory experiences of women of color, lesbians, working and middle-class Western women, and later women, gender and sexuality from a global perspective, but omitted Jewish women and anti-Semitism from the canon. The persistent absence of anti-Semitism and diverse Jewish women’s realities from the Women’s Studies canon has allowed a one-sided platform to dominate NWSA dialogue about BDS and about conflicts in Israel.

When Jewish feminists attempted in the 1980s to include anti-Semitism in NWSA’s mission as an intersectional oppression, the statement wouldn’t pass unless Arabs and Jews were both included as victims of anti-Semitism. While this may be understandable on some levels, it becomes much less so when it is followed years later by an anti-Israel BDS resolution and plenary sessions that neglect to differentiate between a right wing government in Israel that has re-defined Zionism on its own religious, militaristic terms and the many Israelis on the left, Zionists for a democratic Israel, who are desperately calling out for coalitions with American Jews to end the Occupation, as demonstrated by the recent Ha’aretz Conference held in New York City (December 2015). In 2014, the NWSA plenary session in Puerto Rico, out of which support for BDS began, was devoted to settler colonialism. But the plenary completely excluded the varied positions within the Jewish left on the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, inviting only Jewish speakers whose positions reflected one left group, Jewish Voice for Peace. This group is committed to social and economic justice for Palestinians but, like BDS, has not clearly articulated whether “peace” means returning to the borders of 1948 or those of 1967. Following the plenary, the NWSA leadership called for a “straw vote” asking those in the audience of approximately 2,500 who supported BDS to stand up. An ad hoc group was then formed, Feminists for Justice in/for Palestine, the group that then proposed the NWSA-BDS resolution in 2015. The Jewish Caucus in the NWSA, which reflects a diversity of Jewish left perspectives on both settler colonialism and BDS, was not once consulted at any point in this conversation. No one represents the NWSA Jewish Caucus in this ad hoc group. This omission of the NWSA’s own caucus bespeaks a fear of Jewish opinion. While the Caucus has been struggling to survive within NWSA since the 1980s, many members recently resigned due to NWSA’s pro-BDS stance, causing further erosion.


Time to Talk: Israeli and American Progressives Need to Communicate


by: Jeremy Sher on February 1st, 2016 | 3 Comments »

In the cold light of January, Israeli and American progressives have awoken to a harsh new reality, in which right-wing interests have gained power and are preparing for permanent war. How did we get here? Like a couple who have been stressed by circumstances and who suddenly realize the sheets are cold, Israeli and American Jewish progressives linger awake in bed, talking past each other. But at least we’ve finally started talking.

Israeli pundit Chemi Shalev of Haaretz first broke the silence. Feeling cornered by the right and unsupported by the left, Shalev articulates “the cries of anguish emanating from Israel’s peace camp.” He takes his frustration out on American progressive Jews themselves: “By staying silent, by refraining from the kind of forceful, game-changing protest that the current situation warrants, American Jews are not only abandoning like-minded Israelis, they are betraying Israel itself.”

And just like that, we’re finally talking. But to show how little communication we American and Israeli progressives have ever had in our cold romance, Shalev seems totally unfamiliar with the barriers American Jews have faced for decades. Shalev’s words suggest that he thinks American Jews have been “staying silent,” not protesting the ascendancy of the right. To be sure, this accusation is quite false. As an activist with nearly 20 years’ experience in American Jewish progressive advocacy on Israel, starting here at Tikkun when I co-founded a Politics of Meaning chapter in Boston, I think most of my grassroots colleagues would agree that we’ve been tiring ourselves out to make modest tactical gains every so often, like the Iran deal. American Jewish progressives have stared down opprobrium and ostracism in our own communities, unsure exactly how to help but unwilling to let the right wing get away with its claim to represent us. Our efforts have not yet succeeded in turning the tide, so Shalev’s frustration is understandable, but his accusation is misinformed.


Conversations About Resistance


by: Maurice Cotter on January 27th, 2016 | Comments Off

At first, the scene appears tense. Twenty-one Israeli soldiers in full combat gear are arrayed in a neat line across the main road of the small village of Al Ma’sara, just south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. Several of the soldiers wear partial balaclavas which obscure their features, leaving their faces visible only from the eyes up. They stand expectantly, some with their hands resting casually on the butts of their rifles.

Credit: Maurice Cotter, EAPPI

Confronting them are twenty Palestinians, eight of them children. The protesters carry flags and placards. They march forward until they’re face to face with their occupiers. The leader of the protest is Hassan, a veteran of the local non-violent resistance movement. Hassan and his family have paid a high personal cost for his activism: he has been imprisoned on numerous occasions and his family home has been the subject of repeated night raids. His enthusiasm remains undimmed. Right now, he’s delivering an impassioned monologue to the soldiers, who maintain a stony silence throughout.

“I see your weakness in the mask on your face!” he declares. His voice ascends in pitch as well as volume as he speaks, producing an unusual, almost ululating effect. “Force masks weakness! Physical power means weakness! I may be physically occupied but you”, he says, jabbing his index finger at the nearest soldier, “are mentally weak.”

I’m here in my capacity as a human rights monitor with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). EAPPI offers “protective accompaniment” at non-violent demonstrations, working off the principle that the presence of international observers can defuse or de-escalate situations which could potentially lead to violence or other human rights violations. I approach the demonstration, my first, with some trepidation.

The reality is more prosaic than my expectations. Hassan’s interventions are the most remarkable feature of the protest, which is otherwise uneventful and soon peters out. It is, it transpires, a weekly event. The soldiers are present to marshal the protesters and the protesters demonstrate against the soldiers’ presence. No-one mentions the circular logic. I wonder why the soldiers don’t simply refrain from turning up one day given that the protest depends entirely on their presence for its political efficacy, but conclude that this would represent an unacceptable victory for the demonstrators.

As we drive away, I can’t help but feel that the whole scenario resembles a piece of absurdist theatre. The military spectacle appears wildly disproportionate in the face of a crowd filled with child protesters and there’s undoubtedly a performative element to Hassan’s exhortations (delivered in English, at least partially for the benefit of international onlookers). The soldiers even allow road traffic to pass through their line, blocking only the protesters from passing. There is little of the sense of charged possibility that I – perhaps naively – associated with popular resistance.

I monitor a number of other demonstrations during my time in Bethlehem. Not all are like Al Ma’sara; at one protest in particular, between the villages of Al Jaba and Surif, I’m struck by the resolve and the sheer anger of the demonstrators in the face of the casual use by Israeli soldiers of sound grenades and tear gas. By and large, though, there are relatively few protests and those I witness are low-key events. As time passes I’m increasingly occupied with an overriding question: why is non-violent resistance here so seemingly desiccated? 


Please Take Action to Save the Bedouins


by: Rabbi Arik Ascherman on January 26th, 2016 | 4 Comments »

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Arik Ascherman is one of our great contemporary heroes. His work to save the Israeli Bedouins from being obliterated by the Israeli government deserves your full support. Please read his call to you below! Standing up for the humanity of everyone on the planet is part of the goal of Tikkun magazine and our interfaith and secular humanist welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives.
- Rabbi Michael Lerner


As you read this, JNF bulldozers are preparing the first stage of building the Jewish community of “Hiran” on the rubble of the Israeli Negev Bedouin community of “Umm Al-Hiran.” The government plans to expand the Yatir forest to overrun Atir. A week ago, the Israeli High Court removed the last legal hurdle preventing the immediate expulsion of over 1,000 men, women and children from their homes. The mayor of the artificial Bedouin township of Hura, where the Israeli government wishes to move them, says he has that Hura’s inadequate zoning plan leaves no place to put them.

You can act, and also read more background regarding Umm Al-Hiran and Atir, at www.dontdemolish.com. Here is some more general background about the Negev Bedouin.

While the world focuses on the Occupied Territories, the plight of Israel’s Bedouin citizens goes unnoticed, or is deemed an “internal matter.” For people of conscience, there can be no “internal matter,” and these approximately 250,000 Israeli citizens are also created in God’s Image.

Until 1948 the Negev served as home to 65,000-100,000 Bedouin who inhabited, worked and claimed ownership to somewhere between 2 and 3 million dunams of land (four dunam to an acre), as documented by the pre-State Zionist movement in 1920 In almost every case, the proofs of ownership cited were traditional Bedouin documents based on their internal system of land ownership. Although the Ottomans, British, pre-State Zionist movement and the early State recognized these claims, today the State does not. Israeli courts do not accept Bedouin documents as proof of ownership. Whether one chooses to view this dispute as a boldfaced attempt to take over Bedouin lands, and/or as cultural imperialism unwilling to recognize the land ownership system of a traditional culture, the end result has been massive dispossession.

When I am in the Negev, I often reflect upon the Biblical story of Abraham and his nephew Lot recounted in Genesis 13: 5-12. A conflict arises between Abraham’s shepherds and Lot’s shepherds because they were living together and there wasn’t enough pasture. Abraham is the senior, and can clearly lay down the law. He doesn’t. Rather, he bends over backwards to avoid conflict within the family. “Let there be no strife between you and me, between my shepherds and ours, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate if you go north, I will go south, and if you go south, I will go north.” We, the descendents of Abraham struggle mightily to claim the land he bequeathed us. Were we to exert a fraction of the efforts we invest in fighting over that physical inheritance in living up to the moral example Abraham bequeathed us, Israel/Palestine would look much different than it does today.


A challenge to JNF on Tu B’shvat Planting Trees in Israel


by: Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb on January 25th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

JNF trees in the Negev Desert. Man-made dunes (here a liman) help keep in rainwater, creating an oasis. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) is offering a special deal for Tu B’Shevat on its website:  “Help celebrate TuBishvat by planting a tree in Israel…and you will be automatically entered to win a trip! Prizes include roundtrip airfare and two nights at the Carlton Hotel Tel Aviv for two.”

Meanwhile, since 1967, over 800,000 Palestinian olive trees have been destroyed by the state of Israel. In addition, tens of thousands of fruit trees, fields, wells and gardens have also been destroyed to make room for Jewish settlement. Having just received this year’s report from Palestinian farmer Daoud Nasser who’s family  suffered the Israeli Defense Force’s destruction of 1500 fruit bearing trees last year, I feel deeply disconnected to JNF’s rendering of its mission and its version of history.

The narrative on the JNF website resembles the United States’ narrative related to the historic site known as Colonial Williamsburg: an example of national distortions and lies that hide brutal histories.  Williamsburg was literally segregated throughout much of its history.  And, neither the genocidal histories of the massacre of Indigenous peoples, nor enslavement of Africans or their contributions to Colonial societies were anywhere evident.  Just as African American and Indigenous presence and contributions are erased in white America’s Disneyland like portrayals of the past at so-called historic sites, so, too are Palestinians completely erased from Israel’s historic narrative, as are Bedouins, and Mizrachi and African Jews.

The terrible dislocations, massacres and massive destruction of Palestinian and pre-1948 material culture and land has been swallowed up and regurgitated in ways that completely distort what actually happened, and is still happening. Jews on free trips to Israel, whether with birthright, or rabbinic school, or the JNF, will feel good about planting the obligatory tree, while pretending that Israel was a barren land before Jews got there and made the desert bloom.

They will be given to recite the biblical verse, “It is against Jewish halachic law to uproot fruit bearing trees”, give feel good talks about green Judaism, while completely ignoring a reality that contradicts these claims:  the ongoing destruction of Palestinian land, trees, fields, houses, wells, vineyards, and cultural institutions accompanied by Israeli killing fields in Gaza, the West Bank and other areas of Israel.  That is the reality which the JNF wants to bury in the ground.