Forward Thinking

March Madness, the Obama Visit Edition

By J.J. Goldberg

With barely two weeks to go before President Obama’s scheduled visit to Jerusalem, the Israeli right seems to be gearing up to prepare as hostile a welcome as possible.

Round one is a dubious claim that received considerable coverage Monday in the Israeli media, according to which Obama is demanding that Prime Minister Netanyahu give him a detailed “timetable for Israel withdrawal from the West Bank” when he arrives March 20.

The claim was first reported in a right-wing Washington news outlet, the World Tribune, which based it on anonymous “sources” in Jerusalem. The Tribune report was then widely re-reported in the Israeli media, including such mainstream outlets as the Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post and Ynet.

The World Tribune quoted its sources as saying that the Israeli plan “would be considered in what could be an imminent U.S. initiative to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank in 2014.” The report said Obama had indicated to Netanyahu (given an “implication,” the report said) that “if Israel won’t give him something he can work with, then he’ll act on his own.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: west bank, settlements, march mission, israel, barack obama

All Eyes on Migron

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images

Eight years after Israel promised America to start removing outposts and six years since the activist group Peace Now petitioned the courts to compel the government to evacuate the oldest outposts, it looks set to actually happen.

Settlers have tried to save the outpost and the government has tried to give it a stay of execution, but this week the High Court said that there’s no longer any wiggle room, and it must be evacuated by Tuesday.

Migron is the iconic outpost, meaning a settlement that is viewed as illegal by Israeli law as well as international law (which regards all settlements as illegal). Migron was build without the necessary government permits and licenses, and according to an official Israeli report stands on privately-owned Palestinian land. Its evacuation is a major victory to Peace Now and the Israeli left, and a huge blow to the settler right.

The key question today is, presuming that neither settlers nor the government manages to avert the evacuation at the last minute, what the West Bank look like on Wednesday.

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U.S. Groups Raise $40 Million for Settlements

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

American Jewish not-for-profits raised $40 million for Israeli settlements in 2007, about the same amount they raised for progressive groups in Israel, a new Brandeis University study shows.

The study, released April 27, is the first comprehensive study of the rapidly growing field of Israel-focused “American Friends” organizations, U.S.-based not-for-profits that send funds to Israeli charities. Researchers surveyed over 700 U.S. organizations sending money to Israel, and zeroed in on the years before the economic meltdown of 2008.

The report found that American Jewish groups raised $2 billion for Israel in 2007, more than doubling the $770 million raised in 1994.

The researchers broke up the Americans organization by category and ranked the categories by the amount raised. Zionist groups like the Birthright Israel Foundation and the Jewish National Fund were the best-funded, receiving nearly $500 million in 2007.

Other top categories raised funds for social welfare and secular education.

Progressive groups and settlement-oriented groups were at the bottom of the ranking, raising similar amounts in 2007: $46 million and $40 million, respectively.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: settlements, not-for-profits, jewish fund for israeil, israel, Brandeis University

Backer of Settlements Gives to Rove's Super PAC

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Irving Moskowitz, a major donor to Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, has given $1 million to the Karl Rove-linked Republican super PAC American Crossroads.

The donation, made in mid-February, was the subject of a lengthy Huffington Post report published April 12.

Moskowitz, 83, is best known for funding efforts to establish Jewish settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. In January 2011 he ignited worldwide controversy by demolishing an iconic East Jerusalem hotel he owned in order to make way for Jewish housing.

Moskowitz made his fortune operating a casino and bingo hall in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif. In 2004 he was the subject of a grand jury inquiry into allegations of business improprieties.

The American Crossroads donation is by far Moskowitz’s biggest political intervention in the United States. He has, however, been active as a Republican donor, and has been a supporter of Florida Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a prominent hawk on Middle East issues.

Moskowitz himself has kept a low profile in recent years. His wife Cherna Moskowitz appears to have taken the reins of his foundation.

American Crossroards has raised $22 million and spent $4 million in the current election cycle. Its ads have mostly targeted House Democrats, and the group began running television advertisements in swing states targeting President Obama early this week.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: settlements, republican, karl rove, irving moskowitz, east jerusalem, american crossroads, super PAC, west bank

Another Goldstone Inaccuracy

By Gal Beckerman

getty images

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.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: West Bank, Settlements, Richard Goldstone, Palestinians, Occupation, Israel, Goldstone Report, Gaza

In a Palestinian State, Which Settlements Move? Here Are the Maps

By J.J. Goldberg

Every week seems to bring some new manufactured scandal that’s supposed to prove that the Palestinians aren’t really ready for peace. The latest is the phony blow-up over the statement by the Washington representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Maen Areikat, in which he’s supposed to have called for a “Jew-free” Palestinian state. Josh Rogin at ForeignPolicy.com has Areikat’s denial that he said anything of the sort, but Rogin doesn’t quite explain how this thing got started. Well-meaning Westerners are continually asking whether it wouldn’t be possible to avoid a traumatic relocation of Israeli settlers back into Israel after a peace agreement by allowing them to stay on as citizens of Palestine.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders alike regard that as a non-starter for a variety of reasons: The most militant settlers, who mostly are the ones deepest inside Palestinian-populated areas and would have to be relocated, didn’t go there for the scenery, the weather or the rent, but to assert Israeli sovereignty over holy soil, and the vast majority have no intention of being good citizens of another sovereignty. The Palestinians regard the settlements as illegal. Israeli politicians worry that they would be targets for Palestinian violence. Israeli intelligence worries that they would welcome attacks, possibly even provoke them, in order to draw Israeli forces back in and scuttle the agreement. Here’s the thing: When Palestinians and Israelis speak of the different populations in political terms, they tend to refer to them as “the Arabs” and “the Jews.” To American ears, such discussions have immediate connotations of bigotry, since we here associate “Jews” with “inoffensive minority” as opposed to “empowered sovereignty.” So a perfectly reasonable political discussion about future Middle Eastern borders and sovereignties gets caught up in an entirely unrelated anxiety about medieval European prejudice. We American Jews haven’t quite gotten our minds around Herzl’s dream of Jews being normalized among the nations.

Exactly which settlers are we talking about? Which settlements would be candidates for dismantlement, and which are in those mysterious “settlement blocs” that Israel expects to keep? And where in the world is Israel supposed to find the land to hand over in that one-for-one match of which the diplomats speak? Good question. And David Makovsky, the estimable journalist-scholar of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (and former Jerusalem Post editor and Haaretz correspondent) has answers:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: West Bank, Settlements, Maen Areikat, Land Swaps, David Makovsky

Why Is Israel's Boycott Law Different From America's?

By J.J. Goldberg

Given the widespread protests over Israel’s newly enacted anti-boycott laws, a great many friends of Israel are wondering aloud why the fuss — specifically, why is this law treyf while the anti-boycott measures passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 have not aroused all these protests? Why is this anti-boycott law different from all other anti-boycott laws?

The answer is one of those embarrassing points that’s elusive when you’re looking for it but glaringly obvious once you see it. The U.S. measures (officially known as the 1977 amendments to the Export Administration Act and the Ribicoff Amendment to the 1976 Tax Reform Act — detailed at this Department of Commerce website) prohibit compliance with official boycotts declared by foreign governments that contravene U.S. policy. The Israeli law prohibits advocacy of boycotts against certain Israeli entities.

In other words, the American version targets action, while the Israeli law targets speech. Outlawing speech, any speech (or writing or other public expression), except in the most extreme cases of immediate threat to human life, is one of the most fundamental no-nos in Western democratic human rights theory.

The types of boycotts targeted by the new Israeli law can include official boycotts of Israel by Arab governments, but in practice most of them will be private initiatives by Israeli individuals or organizations, since most outside foreign boycott advocates will be beyond the reach of Israeli courts; in any case, the backers of the new law have made it plain that mostly they are aiming at Israeli entities.

The most controversial part of the law is not advocacy of boycotts against Israel, but against the settlements. Opposition to Jewish/Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank — on grounds that they are impediments to a territorial compromise between Israel and a future Palestine — is quite widespread in Israel. In fact, it could be said to be the fundamental dividing line in Israel’s very divided body politic today. This law is an effort by one side in Israel’s main political debate to silence the other side. One may speak against the settlements (so far) but one may not do anything about it, however non-violent.

Boycotting an entity to express one’s opposition is an old and honored tradition in Western politics. Think of the boycotts by American liberals of California grapes, Coors beer and a host of other union-busting industries, or by American conservatives of Disney and Procter & Gamble for allowing same-sex partner benefits. Think of the recent effort by pro-Israel activists to target Delta Airlines for its agreement with Saudi Arabia. All of them perfectly legal, legitimate and respectable, whatever one thinks of the political issue behind the boycott.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Settlements, Saudi Arabia, Procter and Gamble, Jurassic Park, Human Rights Theory, Disney, Delta Airlines, Coors Beer, Boycott Law, Tenne Yogurt

Knesset Outlaws Boycotts of Israel or Settlements

By J.J. Goldberg

The Knesset gave final approval to the Boycott Bill after a stormy debate. Here is the Ynet.com report (in Hebrew). Here is the Jerusalem Post report (in English).

The final vote was 47 to 38, according to the Haaretz.com report.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not present for the debate or vote. Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin was present but did not vote. Ehud Barak’s five-member Atzmaut caucus stayed away after informing the coalition that it could not support the legislation. Netanyahu was reported over the weekend to be considering putting off the vote by a week, after intellilgence affairs minister Dan Meridor warned that passing it on the same day that the Quartet foreign ministers were meeting in Washington would cause diplomatic damage. The Quartet is meeting today to discuss ways to prevent a unilateral Palestinian statehood declaration at the United Nations this fall.

The bill outlaws economic, academic or cultural boycotts against Israel or Israeli institutions in Israel or in territories under Israeli control (that last in acknowledgment of the fact that according to Israeli law, the areas of Judea and Samaria, aka the West Bank, are not within the State of Israel). Initiators of such boycotts are subject to civil damages that may be recovered by the target of the boycott, without connection to any actual financial damage that may have been incurred.

More from the Haaretz.com report:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Settlements, Knesset, Boycott Law, Benjamin Netanyahu




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