“Thought can corrupt language,” George Orwell wrote in the 1943 essay I referred to in my column, “but language can also corrupt thought.”
Gil Troy’s response to my piece offers a concise portrait of this process. But his critique is more than a helpful example of the rhetorical phenomenon I wrote to challenge. In form and content it embodies how those who claim to support Israel undermine the country they intend to defend.
Troy begins by repeating the argument I questioned, writing that the rockets and tunnels built by Hamas are evidence that in this war “self defense is not a ruse but a compelling moral necessity.” My central claim was that this argument places the violence of the war in a realm beyond agency. Aggression and duty are its causes, not policy choices or strategic decisions.
Troy adds a telling question that reflects my point (or, rather, Orwell’s) that talking this way masks uncomfortable realities. He notes that some Israelis are now asking, “how many of our soldiers have died because we waited so long?” While there is not an exact answer, since the closing of the blockade in 2005 and prior to this war, Hamas’ terrorism has likely killed around 30 Israeli soldiers. Through this operation, 64 Israeli soldiers have died and 651 injured.
The point is not that Hamas is toothless (their rockets have killed 28 civilians since 2001, and they used a tunnel to capture Gilad Shalit in 2006). Indeed, that threat should be addressed seriously and strategically and forcefully. The question is how to do that, and whether this war was the only, or the best, way to do so. Given the number of young Israelis killed in this operation, that ought to be a question those who care about Israelis are asking. Troy instead repeats the rhetoric that renders the question irrelevant.
If Hollywood and television are a microcosm of the real world, the current Middle East conflict didn’t just leave an estimated 1,814 Palestinians and 67 Israelis dead, but also left countless friendships and relationships destroyed in its aftermath.
The collateral social damage stemming from baseless insults, fuming rhetoric, serves no purpose other than to hinder productive discussion, stroke egos, and unnecessarily divide, destroy relationships.
In a public letter, Oscar winning Spanish actors Javier Barden, Penelope Cruz and dozens of others, accused Israeli of genocide. Describing Israel defending itself as “genocide” is certainly inaccurate and trivializing of actual genocide, but the backlash was just as childish. Top Hollywood executives questioned whether they would work again with these actors, some calling them “ignorant” or “anti-Semitic,”according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Famous British actor and comedian Russell Brand labeled Fox’s Sean Hannity a “terrorist,” after Hannity rudely berated a Palestinian guest for stonewalling his question on whether Hamas is a terrorist organization. Hannity then called Brand a “D list actor,” “kind of dumb and ignorant,” known for “his failed marriage to Katty Perry.” Members of the Hannity panel added insults, one saying, “he [Brand] looks like he cooks meth and sleeps in his car.” Brand fired back calling Hannity a “bigoted man.”
Using personal insults to express a point is not unique to TV or Hollywood. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are blowing up with rhetoric and vitriol, dividing people, spreading hatred and fear, sometimes between family and friends.
Viewing differing ideologies as a threat creates barriers. It prevents people from working together and only fuels antipathy and fear, paralyzing productive discussion. A recent Pew Research study sadly confirms this in the political context. Twenty-three percent of consistent liberals said they’d be “unhappy” if a relative married a Republican. Thirty percent of consistent conservatives said the same about Democrats. Both sides view each other as a “threat to the nation’s well-being.”
Nothing is accomplished through personalizing disagreements on the Middle East or otherwise. Issues should be hotly debated. Ideas challenged. Productive discussion and debate should always be encouraged, so long as ideological differences don’t shatter our human relationships.
Eliyahu Federman writes extensively on religion, culture, business and law. Follow him on Twitter @EliFederman
Confused about Gaza? You’re not alone.
Le Monde has created an animated map to help people who can’t tell Gaza from the West Bank navigate the facts.
Say what you will about supposed French bias against Israel, the map is fairly informative, easy to follow and essentially lays out the bare bones of a very long and complex conflict — a good tool for someone who hasn’t been following the situation too closely.
Watch for yourself:
(JTA) — President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are not the best of friends – that seems pretty clear by now.
But following reports during the Gaza conflict of cut-off phone calls, tough talk of “demands” and eavesdropping, it may be time for them to figure out a way back to steadier ground.
We asked an array of experts on the U.S.-Israel relationship what the two leaders must do to restore a relationship that both say is critical for their countries.
Deus ex machina: A crisis will bring us together
Aaron David Miller, a Middle East negotiator under Democratic and Republican presidents, remembers the last such breach between U.S. and Israeli leaders – when George H.W. Bush was president and Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister – and it was worse, he says. That is, until Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
“The only thing that will improve the relationship is the emergence of a joint project that affords both of the them the opportunity to get on the same page and succeeds and makes them look good,” said Miller, now a vice president at the Wilson Center. The first Persian Gulf War and the subsequent Madrid peace talks are “what saved the Bush-Shamir relationship.”
“You need a set circumstances that compels the United States and Israel to operate in a way that not just manages something but accomplishes something and makes them look good,” Miller said. “That’s the only thing that will do it – phone calls and warm statements won’t do it.”
(JTA) — Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has cultivated Jewish support as he considers a presidential run, tells Chris Moody of Yahoo News that he never made a legislative proposal to cut assistance to Israel.
“I haven’t really proposed that in the past,” Paul told Yahoo News when asked if he still thought the U.S. should phase out aid to Israel, which has been battling Hamas in Gaza for weeks. “We’ve never had a legislative proposal to do that. You can mistake my position, but then I’ll answer the question. That has not been a position — a legislative position — we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel’s aid. That’s the answer to that question. Israel has always been a strong ally of ours and I appreciate that. I voted just this week to give money — more money — to the Iron Dome, so don’t mischaracterize my position on Israel.”
Cue the pile-on.
First, Moody, just one paragraph later, who notes that Paul did in fact propose cutting aid to Israel:
But that was in fact his position.
In 2011, the newly elected Paul proposed a budget that would have cut $500 billion from the federal budget in part by cutting off foreign aid to all countries, including financial grants to Israel.
I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don’t have,” Paul said in 2011 during an interview with ABC News. “We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries, even if they are our friends.”
He even pointed to Israel as an example of a nation that doesn’t need foreign aid because of its own wealth.
“I think they’re an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world,” Paul said, also in 2011. “Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don’t think so.”
Dave Weigel at Slate recalls his own interview in which Paul proposed cutting Israel aid. So does Mediaite, which has video, and Ian Sams, a Democratic Party flack.
And naturally, so does the joint statement from the National Hewish Democratic Council and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
No defense of Paul from Republican Jewish redoubts.
(JTA) — Now that the latest Gaza conflict appears to be nearly over it’s time to take stock of the winners and losers.
Who won the war?
Perhaps more than the other two Gaza conflicts in the last six years, Israel is the clear winner this time. The Israel Defense Forces dealt a serious blow to Hamas’ tunnel infrastructure, effectively neutralized the Hamas rocket threat thanks to the Iron Dome missile defense system and destroyed hundreds of Hamas targets in Gaza.
Hamas’ aim of doing significant damage to Israel failed. The organization’s numerous attempts to kidnap Israelis – soldiers or civilians – came up empty. The incessant rocket fire did not succeed in causing a mass casualty event or significant damage inside Israel. Hamas enjoyed a brief victory when most foreign airlines suspended flights to Ben Gurion Airport after a missile strike nearby, but flights resumed after a couple of days.
In all, three civilians were killed in Israel during the war: two from mortar fire in the immediate vicinity of the Gaza border and one from a rocket for which Iron Dome wasn’t deployed because its target was a sparsely populated area.
Israel lost 64 soldiers in the fighting, but nobody expected the army to escape casualties once the ground invasion of Gaza began. Death is the inevitable price of an extensive military operation in hostile territory. The question is whether the price Israel paid in the war will be worthwhile in the long run and how long will it be until the next round of fighting.
Did Hamas lose?
Hamas certainly doesn’t come out of this victorious. Its operational capabilities took a heavy hit thanks to Israel’s bombardment, the discovery and destruction of dozens of tunnels running under the Israel-Gaza border, and the depletion of a big chunk of Hamas’ rocket caches.
But it’s hard to say exactly how much damage Hamas has suffered because so much of what the terrorist group does takes place underground – literally and figuratively. The true picture of Hamas’ capabilities may become clear only in the months and years to come.
Moreover, Hamas does not live by the gun alone. Its power depends in large part on popular support. By that measure, Hamas is likely to pick up points from Palestinians for standing up to Israel – in contrast to the Palestinian Authority, which cooperates with Israel on West Bank security.
In the broader region, however, the reaction of other Arab countries to the Israel-Hamas conflict underscores just how little fondness there is for Hamas, an antagonist allied with the Arab autocracies’ own Islamist foes. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all stood by while Israel pummeled Gaza, in many cases withholding even pro forma criticism. In past conflicts they at least paid lip service to the Palestinian cause. This time, the public criticism was directed at Hamas.
With Hamas’ weapons stores depleted, it’s going to be much harder for the terrorist organization to rearm without as much financing from the Arab world and without Egypt acting as a smuggling conduit to Gaza.
For Israelis and Palestinians, as well for their friends and family around the world, these past few weeks have been torture. Each day for Israel brings new rocket attacks, new cross-border terrorist raids, new funerals and shivas for IDF soldiers. Each day for Palestinians in Gaza brings new rounds of artillery shelling, fresh explosions and devastation. We spend all day desperately wanting to avert our eyes from the carnage, and go to bed every night hoping that by morning, the fighting will have stopped.
As devoted friends of Israel and passionate advocates for Israeli-Palestinian peace, we at J Street have been clear since the fighting began that Israel has a definite and obvious right, as all nations do, to defend its citizens against terrorism. Hamas is a repugnant terrorist organization whose sworn aim is the destruction of the state and people of Israel. Failure to recognize this represents willful blindness.
We cannot, however, as American Jewish friends of Israel, turn a blind eye to the plight of Gazan civilians. Some deeply disturbing rhetoric has come from some in the American Jewish community - not just from the fringe, but from well-respected leaders. In an article last week, American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris wrote bitterly of the international community’s concern for “poor, defenseless Gaza.” Responding to the recent tragedies of Palestinian children dying in United Nations schools, he correctly noted several documented instances of Hamas hiding weapons in such schools. Instead of condemning Hamas and expressing sympathy with the plight of the defenseless children, Harris attributed their deaths to “patterns of behavior” of Palestinian parents, who “allow [their] children to go to a school which is used as an arms depot.”
This conflation of all Gazans with Hamas is untrue and unacceptable. The article did not mention that children killed at the UN school in Jabalya were there seeking shelter because Israel had told them, and hundreds of thousands of others, that their homes could face bombing and shelling. It omitted that all exits and entrances to Gaza are controlled by Israel and Egypt, leaving Gazan civilians with nowhere to go and nowhere else to hide. The White House has condemned the shelling of the school as “totally indefensible.”
Harris wrote that for Jews, “our corner of the world is about the affirmation of life. That defines the core of our being, the essence of the societies we aspire to build, and the way we conduct ourselves.” We agree. Affirming and respecting life is exactly what Jewish people should aspire to.
(JTA) — The conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is spilling over into Europe, where in the past several weeks, Jewish communities have witnessed a chilling display of anti-Semitism, the likes of which has not been seen in many years.
European governments need to act decisively to stem this tide of hatred.
No longer content with cloaking hatred of Jews in the garb of anti-Zionism or opposition to Israel, demonstrators have marched through the streets of Berlin, Brussels and other European cities to the cry of “death to the Jews” and “gas the Jews.” In Paris and its suburbs, wild mobs bent on destruction have run amok, attacking synagogues and the Jewish worshippers in them. They’ve burned cars, looted shops and smashed store windows.
It wasn’t that many years ago when legions of storm troopers paraded through German streets chanting “Sharpen the long knives on the pavement; let the knives slip into the Jews’ bodies.”
The irony that most of today’s demonstrators are themselves recent migrants to Europe or descendants of newcomers cannot be lost on anyone. Sadly, however, this pathology is not only confined to European Muslims but to a whole host of rancorous elements in European society.
Of course, there is another side of the coin that is cause for cheer. Remarkably, all 28 foreign ministers of the European Union member states have called for the disarmament of Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza. Moreover, some Arab countries, most notably Egypt, are quietly rooting for Israel on the sidelines in the hope that it will eventually succeed in neutralizing Hamas.
Singers, swingers and Klingons . They’re all here in this week’s quiz, along with Javier Bardem — who probably wishes he wasn’t.
(Reuters) — The existential vise in which the state of Israel lives is tightening as the civilian body count and property destruction in the Gaza Strip mount. The latest war between Israel and Hamas is further testament to the historical fact that Israel’s forefathers had to conquer the land that today’s Israelis dwell in and ferociously defend. What hope is left of finding a lasting settlement with the Arabs?
In his “My Promised Land,” Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit repeatedly and poignantly poses his country’s most pointed questions: How to live as free and moral people on the ruins of a dispossessed people? How to assuage the wounds inflicted on the expelled Arabs? And how to cherish the nation-fortress so dearly bought?
“Israel is the only nation in the West that occupies another people,” writes Shavit. “On the other hand, Israel is the only country in the West that is existentially threatened. Both occupation and intimidation make the Israeli state unique. Intimidation and occupation are the twin pillars of our condition.”
Shavit loves his country yet does not shy from describing the blood that flowed when his people took possession of it. He’s not alone in that uncomfortable place. The historian Benny Morris’ account, “1948,” is similarly unsparing of the brutalities that accompanied the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians into permanent exile as the new state struggled to be born. Though denied a university post for years because of his apostasy from official Zionist positions on the “liberation struggle,” Morris did not change a word in his book but did change his mind about the nature of the Israeli state, seeing not its leaders but the Palestinians and their leaders as unassuageable enemies with whom peace might never be made.
That change was symptomatic. Though distinguished Israelis like David Grossman raise their voices against the attack on Gaza, and though there have been small protest marches in Israel, opposition to the fighting among Israelis remains subdued, with most opinion supportive, or detached. Tamar Herman, a political scientist, former Peace Now activist and author of the fullest study on the movement, says the pro-peace left has “lost contact with the mainstream.” Even Grossman, whose son was killed in the 2006 Lebanon war, writes that the logic of the present impasse compels Israel to defend itself, though he’s strongly critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to reach out to Hamas and to talk in good faith to the leader of the moderate Palestinian camp, Mahmoud Abbas.
Thus two forces face off, each secure in its rectitude. “There is no war more just than this,” asserts Netanyahu, while Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal tells Charlie Rose that, “I do not want to live with a state of the occupiers.”
(JTA) — There’s no shortage of images from the Gaza conflict.
We’ve seen rubble, dead Palestinian children, Israelis cowering during rocket attacks, Israeli military maneuvers and IDF footage of Hamas militants emerging from tunnels to attack Israeli soldiers.
What we haven’t seen are practically any images of Hamas fighters inside Gaza.
We know they’re there: Someone’s got to be launching those rockets into Israel (more than 2,800) and firing at invading Israeli troops. But so far the only images we’ve seen (or even heard about) are the Israel Defense Forces’ videos of Hamas fighters using hospitals, ambulances, mosques and schools (and tunnels) to launch attacks against Israeli targets or ferry arms around Gaza.
Why haven’t we seen journalists’ photographs of Hamas fighters inside Gaza?
We know Hamas doesn’t want the world to see images of Palestinian fighters launching rockets or using civilian havens like hospitals as bases of operation. But if we’re able to see images from both sides of practically every other war — in Syria, in Ukraine, in Iraq — why is Gaza an exception?
If journalists are being threatened and intimidated when they try to document Hamas activity in Gaza, their news outlets should be out front saying so. They’re not.
On Tuesday, The New York Times published an account by photographer Sergey Ponomarev on what his days are like in Gaza. Here’s what Ponomarev said:
It was a war routine. You leave early in the morning to see the houses destroyed the night before. Then you go to funerals, then to the hospital because more injured people arrive, and in the evening you go back to see more destroyed houses. It was the same thing every day, just switching between Rafah and Khan Younis.
Are there attempts to document Hamas activity?
It seems impossible to me that I am typing this line: Genocide is never permissible. Full stop.
That one would even need to type such a line destroys me. That an author proposed such an idea? A horror.
But It is also his newspaper. It is also the world he – they? We? – live in where anyone could have possibly believe it was morally acceptable, that it was even remotely possible, to not only conceive of, but to write, to propose, to recommend, genocide. And then to post a story that endorses this destruction of humanity, to let that story run, unadulterated, to allow it to be out there in the world, the smiling face of its author next to it, as though this was not an abomination. For that is what it is: an abomination.
For that is what it is: an abomination.
Times of Israel. For shame. Yes they took it down. But no. It should never have been there.
[UPDATE: After this blog post was written it came to my attention that the Times of Israel offered bloggers unfettered access to parts of their site without oversight. This doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for the content of their website but it does mean it may not have been vetted. This was not clear at first reading of the piece and it appears that, as a result of this hateful story, their policy has shifted. It’s gratifying to know editors at the Times if Israel recognize hate mongering.]
Were we not children of genocide, it would still be unacceptable. Were we not descendents of pogroms, of murder, of hate, it would still be unacceptable. Were we not people who insist upon the humanity of all those around us.
Are we not that people? Are we not believers in the future?
To propose genocide is to permanently dehumanize us. To propose murder, to propose destruction, is to have cemented over our own humanity in the creation of a faceless enemy, is to have failed to see the basic humanity in us all.
Jewverine displays ‘adamantium’ menorah hands at Comic Con
What’s it like to host Shabbat dinner at Comic Con?
This year, my wife Chana and I decided to find out. We attended S. Diego Comic Con International, the annual nerd mecca that ran this past weekend and attracts comic book fans and pop culture geeks from around the world.
There Batman and Darth Vader cavort with Master Chief and Naruto while Hollywood execs showcase their coming attractions, all in S. Diego’s Gaslamp district. It’s intense — and seemingly completely opposed to a traditional Shabbat experience.
Nevertheless, we came prepared to host #openShabbat, an unplugged networking event and Shabbat meal that started with 50 people in 2011 and has since grown to over 150 people. An inclusive community focused on enjoying an island of serenity during the chaotic digital experience of the festival, #openShabbat has always been more about an exploration of our culture — a chance to analyze who we are as Jews and citizens of the world — rather than a purely tech-based experience. But what drew us to Comic Con this year was the potential to create a space to explore who we are through the media we produce and consume.
Inna Vernikov, left; Penelope Cruz, right / Courtesy of the author; Instagram
You are a remarkable actress and a strikingly beautiful model. I have been following your successful career for years. Your performance in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” was an inspiring work of art. In fact, I am often complimented on just how much I look like you.
That being said, your sudden urge to comment on the centuries-long Middle East conflict has left me dumbfounded. Even more so, however, the contents of your uncalled-for outburst.
In the letter you recently signed, you unequivocally denounced the state of Israel for committing acts of “genocide” on the civilians of Gaza and demanded that Israel cease its fire. “Palestinians’ homes are being destroyed; they are being denied water, electricity [and] free movement to their hospitals, schools, and fields while the international community does nothing.”
Illustration by Yoni Weiss
In these pages, Daniel May’s “What Would George Orwell Say About the Gaza War?” used totalitarianism’s great enemy to criticize democratic Israel’s justified struggle against totalitarian Hamas. May’s argument, misreading Israel’s self-defense justification, and echoing Hamas’s propaganda points, peppered with clever quotations from George Orwell, was itself Orwellian.
Deciding how dead thinkers would judge today’s challenges is complicated. But “the right of self-defense” is not about Orwellian “euphemism,” “question-begging,” or “defend[ing] the indefensible.” When your neighbor launches thousands of rockets, builds dozens of attack tunnels under your borders, targets your civilians (while sacrificing its own), over years, “self-defense” is not a ruse but a compelling moral necessity. Israelis are justifiably asking now: “How many of our soldiers have died because we waited so long?”
Orwell, who wrote Animal Farm and 1984 in the 1940s, abhorred totalitarianism, the ends-justifies-the-means political doctrine willing to sacrifice anyone, anything, and any principle to serve a political movement or state. “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism,” he proclaimed in 1946.
Orwell cherished freedom and repudiated state apparatuses that crushed individuals. He detested anti-Semitism. In today’s perverse politics, despite his economics, Orwell would recoil from the far left’s totalitarianism, Islamist terrorist fellow traveling, and doublethink which leads purported progressives to justify fascistic, sexist, homophobic, anti-democratic Hamas, in its self-destructive, nihilistic offensive against Israel.
Throughout the violence of the last three weeks in Israel and Gaza, one phrase has become ubiquitous among politicians and pundits. President Obama affirms his “strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself.” Secretary John Kerry states “Israel has every right in the world to defend itself.” Britain’s prime minister and foreign minister have both backed “Israel’s right to defend itself from attack.” The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution that “reaffirms its support for Israel’s right to defend itself.” In op-eds and organizational statements and speeches, the phrase has become the preferred shorthand for signaling support for Israel’s campaign.
Writing in 1946, George Orwell argued that political speech is largely made up of handy phrases that we reach for almost by reflex. These phrases, he argued, “consist largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness.” They don’t explicitly mislead. Instead, they halt the thinking. “Every such phrase,” he wrote, “anesthetizes one’s brain.”
Orwell thought such phrases were necessary to “defend the indefensible,” and it makes sense that we turn to them so readily in times of war. Cliche implies the inevitable (“cycle of violence”); euphemism obscures the awful (“collateral damage”); question-begging absolves judgment (“it is necessary because there was no other choice”). Such phrases distance us from a world pre-made, unalterable. Amidst the horrors of war, they are a soothing balm.
The force of the phrase “Israel has a right to defend itself” stems from its conflation of a statement of general fact with support for a specific act: this bombing campaign, this ground incursion, this war. Its implication is that those who support Israel’s right to defend itself by necessity support this war, and those who do not support it deny Israel’s right to defend itself. It tethers support for a specific decision to support for an incontrovertible truth, and opposition to a specific decision with lunacy, irrationality, and, yes, anti-Semitism (for who would argue that the Jewish people, alone, do not have this right?).
Activists, including former J Street staffers, protested the Gaza war on July 28 under the name #ifnotnow. Jewish Voice for Peace is also looking to attract J Street supporters./Martyna Starosta Photo
As J Street and other liberal Zionist groups continue to support Israel’s war in Gaza, Jewish Voice for Peace is seizing an opportunity for gain new supporters at their expense.
After the Forward published a story this morning charting how J Street has taken a far more moderate approach to the current Gaza war than it did to Operation Cast Lead in 2008, JVP put a link to it on their Facebook page, with the tagline: “Our door is always open”
Jewish Voice For Peace takes positions outside of the American Jewish mainstream. The group backs aspects of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, and was influential in supporting the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s recent decision to divest from three companies alleged to profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, a move strongly opposed by mainstream Jewish groups. In the current conflict, the group has been staging protests against Israel’s attacks in Gaza.
No mainstream Jewish groups have voiced similar condemnation of Israel in the current Gaza war.
“We have seen an enormous number of people flocking toward us right now,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, the group’s executive director. “I think more and more people are coming to us who want to express their opposition.”
According to figures provided by JVP, the group’s Facebook page has gained 50,000 “likes” since July 21.
J Street did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Khaled Meshal, head of the political wing of Hamas / Getty Images
“Apart from fringe elements such as the Jewish Voice for Peace, which abandoned the last shred of its dignity when its rabbinic co-chair presented Hamas as a force for reason, American Jews of all persuasions back Israel’s position.”
So says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. He declares a rival Jewish organization as having “abandoned the last shred of its dignity” because Rabbi Brant Rosen, co-chair of Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rabbinical Council, argued that Israel should have considered negotiating with Hamas, and that Israel should have recognized the joint Hamas-Fatah unity government while given the opportunity.
Dignity is a strong word to use when attempting to criticize the strategic analyses of other Jews, and so I need to ask: Is it really that unreasonable to suggest that Israel negotiate with Hamas?
A woman cries as Israeli soldiers evict Jewish settlers from Gaza in 2005 / Getty Images
Even as war continues to rage, August will mark the ninth anniversary of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Dubbed a “disengagement” by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the retreat was greeted enthusiastically by the institutional Jewish community. A full-page ad in the New York Times, spearheaded by the Israel Policy Forum and signed by 27 organizations, praised the plan as “courageous.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations greeted Sharon as “a great and patriotic leader,” and even AIPAC came around, if with a caveat:
“If the Palestinians transform Gaza into a reasonably well-functioning, reasonably peaceful place — not necessarily Sweden — then the world won’t have to pressure Israel to do this in the West Bank,” said Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director.
As luck (or possibly behind-the-scene conversations) would have it, the whole disengagement plan was conceived to help Israel avoid international pressure — if not quite in the way Kohr seemed to be suggesting. As Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s adviser and confidante, acknowledged in a pre-withdrawal interview, Gaza was to be sacrificed in order that Israel could better hold on to the West Bank.
The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a [diplomatic] process with the Palestinians.
… The disengagement plan makes it possible for Israel to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure. It legitimizes our contention that there is no negotiating with the Palestinians.
…We educated the world to understand that there is no one to talk to. And we received a no- one-to-talk-to certificate. That certificate says: (1) There is no one to talk to. (2) As long as there is no one to talk to, the geographic status quo remains intact. (3) The certificate will be revoked only when this-and-this happens — when Palestine becomes Finland. (4) See you then, and shalom.
In keeping with the contention that “there is no one to talk to,” Sharon didn’t even coordinate the withdrawal, much less negotiate it, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel simply pulled up stakes, and gave the party with which it had been in a diplomatic process since 1993 nothing to show for its efforts.
Unsurprisingly, Hamas announced that its rockets had made Israel turn tail, and — in the absence of a credible competing claim — declared victory. Less than six months later, Palestinian legislative elections were held, and Hamas narrowly won. As is now abundantly clear, Hamas did not transform Gaza into “a reasonably well-functioning, reasonably peaceful place,” or, indeed, “Finland.”
(JTA) — Georgia’s U.S. Senate race has just experienced a shakeup with the leaking of an eight-month old draft strategy memo — first reported by National Review — written for the campaign of Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn.
The memo provides an unvarnished look at how a modern Senate campaign is actually run, and among those interesting, unvarnished tidbits is the following on Jewish campaign contributions:
Jewish Community: Opportunity: Michelle’s position on Israel will largely determine the level of support here. There is tremendous financial opportunity, but the level of support will be contingent on her position. This applies not only to PACs, but individual donors as well. Message: TBD Potential Anchors: Sheri and Steve Labovitz, Elaine Alexander, Jewish Democratic Women Projected Goal: $250,000
This is, of course, flagrantly transactional, and it’s a good look at how campaign professionals actually think about these things behind closed doors. It is also, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias notes, how Jewish power translates into real-world terms, and the kind of dynamic that keeps Congress so overwhelmingly pro-Israel – candidates need campaign cash, Jews are big givers and Jews (particularly big Jewish donors) care about Israel.
It’s also worth noting that, elsewhere, the memo refers to the Jewish community as “Primary Targets” for volunteers as well as fundraisers. This is, of course, another aspect of Jewish political power — Jews get involved, and therefore matter to campaigns, even though they only constitute about 1 percent of the state’s population.
Also keep in mind that the memo was written by hired consultants, not Nunn herself, so while the “Message: TBD” looks terrible, it’s probably actually a good sign that Nunn’s campaign finance consultant wasn’t also drafting her Israel policy.
One thing that Yglesias leaves out is that this is how it works on both sides of the aisle. Remember when the biggest names in Republican politics showed up for the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas and waxed poetic about Israel, Holocaust memorials and menorah lighting? Remember how Chris Christie personally apologized to Sheldon Adelson for referencing the “occupied territories?” That’s because Adelson and other attendees, like Mel Sembler and Sam Fox, present, as Nunn’s consultants might put it, “tremendous financial opportunity,” and “the level of support will be contingent upon … position.”
This dynamic also explains why another part of the campaign memo is potentially troublesome for Nunn. Under the section on “Candidate Research,” the memo refers to “Grants to problematic entities” by Points of Light, the charity that Nunn ran before her Senate campaign. The National Review identified on such “problematic entity” — Islamic Relief USA, the U.S. affiliate of an international group of entities that all operate under the umbrella of World Islamic Relief. Why is it problematic? Because Israel has banned World Islamic Relief from operating there on the grounds that WIR gives money to Hamas.
Nunn’s campaign has pushed back hard — Points of Light did not actually make any grants to Islamic Relief USA, merely acted as a validator encouraging others to give donations.
Furthermore, Islamic Relief USA is fully independent of World Islamic Relief. As Slate’s Dave Weigel argues convincingly, it’s a fairly tenuous connection to get from Nunn to Hamas.
But, as the campaign memo makes clear, the important connection between Nunn and Hamas lies not through organizational entities but between the synapses of Jewish donors’ brains. If they do make that connection, then they may consider Nunn a “problematic entity,” and direct their cash accordingly.