Yasmin Khatib and Catie Stewart of the Brandeis-Al Quds Student Dialogue Initiative
Talking about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is difficult. Seeing it firsthand is harder. Living under it is nearly impossible. We learned this while leading a trip for a group of Brandeis students to Al Quds University in the West Bank this June. The purpose of the trip, organized entirely by students, was to open up a channel of dialogue between both universities and to establish ties on a student level.
After one of our long days of touring and dialoging, we, like any other group of students, wanted to have a bit of fun. Someone plugged their phone into the speaker system on the van from Jericho to Ramallah, and an impromptu dance party was born, complete with everyone singing and dancing in the aisle. Out of nowhere, the van came to an abrupt stop. A young face covered by a green helmet peered through the window and glanced at our group of American and Palestinian students, and then promptly demanded we all disembark and hand over our IDs. Outside, a group of Israeli soldiers stood by their jeep, stopping vehicles marked by Palestinian license plates. The music was shut off, and the laughter and singing disappeared. In the heavy silence, we did as we were told, obediently filing off the bus. We were no longer treated as individuals, but rather as faceless suspects. The soldiers’ gaze did not meet our eyes.
Brandeis University is deeply connected to Israel. It is a historically Jewish university, and 50% of its students are Jewish. Israel activism on campus is vibrant and ubiquitous. Brandeis historically has also taken a stance dedicated to maintaining communication and relationships with Palestinian institutions such as Al Quds, and working towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict. We had a decade-long partnership with Al Quds University, initiated at the height of the second intifada, when starting a relationship with a Palestinian institution was difficult. The partnership was instituted as a beacon of cooperation that showed we, as Jews and Palestinians, could work together despite some deep differences in ideology. We — Brandeis and the Jewish community — were willing to try and understand the Palestinian experience. Brandeis’ message was clear: its connection to Israel necessarily meant engaging with Israel on all levels — including with the conflict and occupation.
This all changed last November, when Brandeis President Fred Lawrence suspended the partnership as a response to what he deemed intolerant acts: an Islamic Jihad-affiliated political rally on the Al Quds campus and the response from Al Quds’ then-president Dr. Sari Nusseibeh.
The suspension not only damaged longstanding relationships, it also served to keep us — Brandeis students as well as the larger Jewish community — from seeing and understanding life under occupation.
Yesterday, Jane Eisner, with whom I most often agree, wrote about the Presbyterian vote to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions. These are three companies that reportedly participate in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank by providing heavy equipment for the construction of the barrier-fence, the destruction of Palestinian homes and building settlement roads. The vote passed at this year’s biennial assembly by a slim margin of 310-303.
Eisner wrote about an implied argument of Netanyahu’s in a speech he gave to a group of journalists last Tuesday night at the first Jewish Media Summit. The Prime Minister, in a “snide tone” according to Eisner, had two suggestions for the Presbyterians whom he invited for a tour of the region (Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq): “One, make sure the bus is an armor-plated bus, and two, don’t say you’re Christian.”
This implied that the Presbyterian decision to divest held Israel to an unfair double standard. For Eisner that meant something very stark and very disturbing: the Presbyterian vote, by virtue of the fact that it singled out Israel while ignoring the abuses perpetrated by Israel’s neighbors, particularly against Christians, was “biased, hypocritical and, yes, anti-Semitic.”
But I’m not sure it is. Far be it from me to claim expertise in identifying anti-Semitism, but it’s worth noting that the resolution includes a line that explicitly distances the Church from “an alignment with the overall strategy of global BDS,” a movement which can at times arguably be accused of real, historically recognizable anti-Semitic tropes (I personally do not support BDS for reasons explained here, here and here). And while I’ll admit that neither this distancing nor even explicit statements of philo-Semitism are any kind of proof — one can claim to love bananas and still hate bananas — I’d like to point out a few things about the perhaps more specific argument of “double standard” that the Presbyterians purportedly uphold.
In an imagined juxtaposition, the Hebron settler meets Fiddler on the Roof. / Richard Goldwasser
If you’re online and follow news out of Israel, you’ve probably already seen or at least heard of that wild-and-crazy video of a Hebron settler try to steal a Palestinian flag off a Palestinian roof.
The guy gets caught on some barbed wire and then — even as his compatriots shout abuse (“you son of a whore!”) at Shadi Sidr, the man who lives in the house, and even as Sidr tries to help free the settler from his predicament (while also attempting to reassure onlookers: “It’s okay, don’t worry!”) — the settler explains, with almost otherworldly calm, that in fact “This roof, this is my roof. This is all mine. The whole country is mine. The whole state is mine.” Soon after, soldiers show up and threaten not the settler but the homeowner with arrest, demanding that he take down his flag. Crazy, right? Wild!
Here’s what nobody seems to have noticed though: If the shoe had been on the other foot — that is to say: If one of Hebron’s 170,000 Palestinians had tried to steal one of the many, many Israeli flags belonging to any of the 500-some-odd settlers whose presence dictates every single detail of Hebronian life — that Palestinian would have been shot. That Palestinian would be dead.
Pro-Palestinians activists demonstrate in 2010 in Paris, France. / Getty Images
No. It’s not.
The Prime Minister of Israel and the Grand Poobah of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and Marching Band can say it as much and as loudly as they want. But the BDS movement is not, as Grand Poobah Malcolm Hoenlein put it yesterday, the “21st century form of 20th century anti-Semitism.” And despite what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday, when “people on the soil of Europe [talk] about the boycott of Jews,” they are not “classical anti-Semites in modern garb.”
No. Stop it.
Though I boycott the settlements, I don’t personally support BDS, for reasons that Bernard Avishai once expressed perfectly in The Nation, and I do not doubt that some members of that movement are unrepentant anti-Semites — just as some members of the Greater Israel movement are unrepentant racists and Islamophobes. Yesh ve’yesh, as we say in Hebrew. There are all kinds.
But there is simply nothing inherent to a call to boycott/divest from/sanction the modern nation state of Israel that is — inherently — an expression of (and here I quote the dictionary) “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.”
In addition to the Scarlett Johansson Super Bowl ad, part of the reason that SodaStream has gotten so much attention — as opposed to many other products on the boycott Israel list — is because it presents an ethical conundrum for its lefty customers. SodaStream has become a symbol for health and environmentalism, but also for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
In other words, if you want to make your soda at home, but you’re also a BDS adherent — or even if you’re practicing limited, West-Bank-only BDS — you’re mostly out of luck. As a recent New York Magazine story pointed out, “Even the most fervent anti-Zionists will admit that, for seltzer addicts, SodaStream’s competitors leave something to be desired.”
But what happens if you’re a SodaStream detractor who happens to own a SodaStream — whether by dint of a gift, or a purchase made previous to a political awakening (or maybe even a guilty one-time acquisition)? Rather than toss their seltzer makers, some SodaStream owners are taking a cue from hackers who have figured out how to use the machines without continuing to support the company by buying its CO2. For the hackers, it’s all about saving money — a SodaStream CO2 cartridge, which must be replaced every two to four months, costs between $15 and $45. For the anti-occupation SodaStream owners, on the other hand, it’s political.
It was almost a moving moment. A Palestinian child, only 6 years old, goes up to a Jewish child of Israeli settlers and offers him a handshake.
The Palestinian boy isn’t even supposed to be there. The Israel Defense Forces closed off this area of the restive West Bank a few months ago to avoid having to deal with confrontations provoked by the settlers, who often try to drive Palestinian farmers away.
The two lock hands and the Palestinian child quickly turns and walks away. His family cheers for him for the gutsy little gesture. A small aberration from the norm of occupation.
But then the Jewish child picks up a rock. Effortlessly and naturally, he throws it in the direction of the Palestinian kid; and then another one.
It’s not even like he seems concerned with actually hitting him. It’s a reflex, almost as if he was programmed to do so, he just picks up and throws. It doesn’t matter what happened just a moment earlier, or what will happen afterwards.
My husband has long argued that if the Palestinians really wanted a state side-by-side with Israel, all they would have to do is adopt a nationwide, non-violent strategy. Peaceful demonstrations up and down the West Bank, continuously, steadfastly, would prick the world’s consciousness and give Israeli and Palestinian leaders no choice but to negotiate and do what they needed to do to end the occupation and secure Israel’s democratic future.
My husband may be engaging in wishful thinking, but it’s a powerful and attractive idea. The same thought may have occurred to whoever commissioned, edited and published Ben Ehrenreich’s cover story in the Sunday New York Times, lauding the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh and what the Times called its “path of unarmed resistance.”
Just a couple of problems. Ehrenreich is hardly a disinterested observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And Nabi Saleh’s protests are hardly non-violent.
We have Chemi Shalev, based in New York for Haaretz, to credit for pointing out Ehrenreich’s recent troubling opinions about Israel. As Shalev wrote in his Sunday column:
“In 2009, Ehrenreich published a direct attack on Zionism in the Los Angeles Times entitled ‘Zionism is the Problem’. In the article, Ehrenreich castigates not only the ‘deplorable conditions in which Palestinians live and die in Gaza and the West Bank’ but ‘the Zionist tenets on which the state was founded’ as well.”
Jews are image conscious. A quick Google search of “embarrassed to be Jewish” will turn up two main hits—Jews ashamed of the state of Israel, and Jews ashamed of the behavior of certain “Hareidim” — tremblers, the Hebrew term for the ultra-Orthodox — in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh. I should amend that statement: this Google search will turn up results for Jews with access to the media who have image consciousness about these two issues. As we all know, these are not the only kind of Jews. But let me first address these.
Jews on the left, politically and religiously, are often embarrassed by Israel’s behavior, especially when it fails to conform to a secular path. In 2011, Gary Rosenblatt, editor of the New York Jewish Week, enumerated the Gaza flotilla debacle, the chief Rabbanite, and its crackdown on non-governmental organizations as examples of “When Israel Becomes a Source of Embarrassment.”
Left-leaning Jews imagine that the outside world lumps them together with the values they see portrayed by the occupation, or perhaps by Israeli police brutality. Under the imagined gaze of the secular and gentile world, these Jews imagine that their own image will be tarnished by osmosis, by a proximity of blood, however diluted, to their Israeli brethren, especially those wielding guns or sitting in the Knesset. The burden of the imagined gaze of non-Jews rests heavily upon them.
But image-consciousness is not the sole property of Jews on the left. It is part of the tradition, any rabbi will tell you. Already in the Talmud, the term chillul hashem — profaning God’s name — begins to refer less to a verbal utterance and more to a public display, for example, “If I take meat from the butcher and do not pay him at once, Rav said” (Yoma, 86a).
Is it “Palestine” yet?
Following the November 29 United Nations vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state, the Palestinian Authority reportedly decided to officially change its name, and from now on to be referred to simply as “Palestine.” The term Palestinian Authority is a product of the 1993 Oslo Accords in which Israel and the PLO agreed to establish an entity which would rule the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza.
It is one of many monikers used by the international community to describe the Palestinians. The Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) is widely used by the U.N. and other international organizations. The Palestinian Territories is commonly used by the United States and European countries. The media, including the Forward, usually strives to simply refer to the Palestinians. Some Israelis call the West Bank by the Biblical names Judea and Samaria, which ignore the Palestinians and refers only to the area.
Should the U.N. vote put an end to this discussion? After all, if an overwhelming majority of nations voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, then one could deduce that it is a state, the state of Palestine.
Move over Bud Lite and GM, SodaStream is coming to the Super Bowl XLVII. While the Israeli-made home soda maker will not be seen in the stands, it will be viewed on TV screens across the country and around the world, making it the first Israeli product to be advertised in a Super Bowl commercial.
With record third quarter revenues and sales increases, it appears that SodaStream is ready to drop something in the environs of $3.8 million on a 30-second spot.
Those who follow the advertising business may be wondering if the company, which has been publicly traded on Nasdaq since November 2010) will change concepts for its Super Bowl ad, given the frustration it has endured recently as a result of its current commercial showing hundreds of soft drink bottles exploding when a person uses a SodaStream machine. The message is obvious—you can save a lot of plastic (2,000 bottles per year, the ad tells us) and a lot of money by buying a SodaStream.
SodaStream claims it is simply “setting the bubbles free,” as it slogan goes, but Clearcast, the organization that pre-approves television advertising in the UK, banned the commercial on the grounds that it “denigrates” the bottled drink industry. In response, SodaStream is investigating its legal options.
With brazen defiance, just a day before he is due to meet with the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went over the Green Line and defended building there.
“United Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital, we have a full right to build in it,” he declared today in Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood build on land that Israel conquered in 1967.
Netanyahu has been under strong international criticism, including from Ashton, for a plan which became public last week to build 797 new homes in GIlo.
Standing not far from the site of the new homes he said: “We have built Jerusalem, we are building Jerusalem and we will continue to build Jerusalem. This is our policy and I will continue to back building in Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu was doing what the Israeli right loves the most, namely showing that he’s a strong leader who won’t be bullied from his Zionistic credentials (which are seen as synonymous with pro-settlement credentials) by even the most powerful of world leaders. And yes, if you think it has the whiff of election posturing to it you would be right. But which elections?
With his New York Times op-ed today, Judge Richard Goldstone continues his long march towards insuring that his name no longer be synonymous with self-hating, Israel-bashing Jew. He has written to argue — from his vantage point of having been a judge in apartheid-era South Africa — that the attempt to label the situation in Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians as a form of “apartheid” is pernicious and destructive and just plain inaccurate.
He tries to debunk what the headline refers to as “the apartheid slander,” in a methodical way, by looking first at the situation of Israeli Arabs and then at Palestinians in the occupied territories.
When it comes to the first case, it is airtight. As Goldstone correctly notes, “Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court. Arab patients lie alongside Jewish patients in Israeli hospitals, receiving identical treatment.”
Then he turns to the West Bank and Gaza. Goldstone takes as his benchmark of apartheid a definition from the 1998 Rome Statute: “Inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
There is still much discussion about the firing early last week of Larry Derfner, the lefty Jerusalem Post columnist. Derfner wrote in our pages that he regretted making it seem like he was legitimizing Palestinian terror against Israelis. He intended only to shock his readers into thinking about what some of the reasons behind the terror might be, namely the occupation.
To its credit, The Jerusalem Post ran on Sunday an op-ed by Jeff Barak, a former editor-in-chief of the newspaper, defending Derfner. Barak made the point that whether you find Derfner’s opinion abhorrent or not, “it’s not really a viewpoint that’s outside the Israeli consensus.”
As Exhibit A, he pointed to a well-known quote from Defense Minister Ehud Barak from when he was running for prime minister in 1999. If he had been born a Palestinian, he said, “I would join a terror organization.”
But it is how Barak (Jeff, not Ehud) ends his piece that seems most provocative. He sees in Derfner’s firing not what is wrong with Derfner or even the Jerusalem Post, but what might be wrong with an increasingly vocal element in Israeli society. Here are his closing words:
In fact, it is the readers who vehemently called for a boycott of the Post if Derfner were not fired who present the real danger to Israel. Their narrow, self-righteous view of the world and Israel’s place within it, coupled with their failure to accept any criticism of Israel that jars with this viewpoint, encourages a totalitarian mind-set that damages the fabric of Israel as an open, tolerant society in which freedom of expression is a basic right.
We’ve now posted a piece by Larry Derfner, who was fired earlier this week from the Jerusalem Post, where he had been a longtime left-leaning columnist. He makes reference to his initial blog post (dated August 21 and now removed from his website, Israel Reconsidered) that lost him his job. With his permission we have excerpted it here as well as his apology, written on August 26.
From Derfner’s original post:
I think a lot of people who realize that the occupation is wrong also realize that the Palestinians have the right to resist it – to use violence against Israelis, even to kill Israelis, especially when Israel is showing zero willingness to end the occupation, which has been the case since the Netanyahu government took over (among other times in the past).
When we say that the occupation is a terrible injustice to the Palestinians, but then say that Palestinian terror/resistance is a terrible injustice to Israel, we’re saying something that’s patently illogical to anyone but a pacifist, and there aren’t many pacifists left, certainly not in Israel.
If those who oppose the occupation acknowledged publicly that it justifies Palestinian terrorism, then those who support the occupation would have to explain why it doesn’t. And that’s not easy for a nation that sanctifies the right to self-defense; a nation that elected Irgun leader Menachem Begin and Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir as prime minister.