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Days of Decision




In the next month, which so appropriately will bring to Jews all over the world our “from slavery to liberation” holiday, some crucial decisions will have to be made in the Holy Land. Both by the Israelis and the Palestinians; by Benjamin Netanyahu and by Mahmoud Abbas. Will they stand up and deliver their people from slavery, and from endless conflict, war, occupation and terrorism – you name it – to freedom and liberty? The long road is getting shorter, and the margin of error is getting narrower. And the upcoming days, counting to the end of the ninth-month-period, designated originally to achieve a final peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, will fall off the calendar one by one faster than you can say Passover.

Full disclosure: two matters I need to state upfront. One: though I’m a longtime supporter of the “Two-State Solution,” it’s been a while now – and the regular readers of this blog can attest to that – since I all but gave up on the possibility of that solution becoming a reality. (You can read my talking points from a presentation I gave on the subject “The Two-State Solution, Dead or Alive?” posted under “Notes,” or read previous blog posts on the topic.) But I have to hand it to John Kerry: his tenacity and determination made a renewed believer, albeit a skeptical one, out of me. Two: the notion that it’s now or never. In other words: the two sides better reach an agreement this time, or they will never do so, due mainly to facts on the ground. Now again, since I thought that it was too late from the get go, I’m a prime candidate to subscribe to that very notion as well. And indeed, I do believe it is quite true. Almost. Or never say never. Things can still happen in the future, however unlikely they may seem to us now.

Let’s see how and why; who and what. We will start with Netanyahu, and not because he is an Israeli, and Passover is a Jewish holiday, but because he comes to these negotiations, and to these days of decision from a position of strength. To begin with, he is at the top of his game politically, and holds in his hands most of the cards in this high-stake poker game. Secondly, he has the Israeli army on his side, with no one to threaten its overpowering strength and advantage in the Middle East. Period. And thirdly, he and his settlers are sitting pretty in the territory the Palestinians call home, and yearn to see as their future sate. The hard decisions that Netanyahu, as the true leader of his people, needs to make are – surprisingly – only two: One, give up on your belated demand that the Palestinian side will recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And the second, agree to divide Jerusalem, keep the larger part of West Jerusalem and other surrounding areas as the capital of Israel, and enable the Palestinians to have East Jerusalem as their capital.

Sound too difficult? Of course, but not insurmountable. As to the first one, it is a deal-breaker; Abbas will not sign a deal demanding that of him. I wish, personally, that he would; but that’s beside the point. And the point is: Israel, by law of the Knesset is defined as a “Jewish and democratic state.” Do we need the Palestinians to approve that, too? No, we don’t; certainly if it will break the deal. The Palestinians have a legitimate concern for the Arab citizens of Israel (21% of the population or so), who are not Jewish. The UN partition resolution 181, which had set the original framework for solving the conflict, already certified it as a state for the Jewish people. Other Israeli leaders did not demand that from Egypt and Jordan when they had signed peace agreements with these Arab countries. And no other Israeli leader, in previous negotiations with the Palestinians, had made such a similar demand. It does look, the more one examines it, as indeed a “rabbit out of the hat” kind of a thing, meant to derail the peace negotiations. Give up on it, Mr. Netanyahu, and you will be more than half way toward a final peace agreement. Israel for the Israelis; Palestine for the Palestinians – that is the right equation!

As for Jerusalem, according to the experts – patriot Israelis I’m talking about here – the city is divided de facto (in spite of all the efforts by Israel and American Jews to reverse that predicament). Close to 300.000 Palestinians live in the eastern part of the city, while some 500,000 Israelis live in the western part. With some exceptions, of course, due to the efforts by Israel to evacuate Arabs from their homes and replace them with Jews, and build new homes for the settlers. (“Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, told a news conference that Israeli policies bore “unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing”.) Why not make it official, then? Do you want to have a Palestinian mayor in the united Jerusalem in ten years, Mr. Netanyahu? No, you don’t. So secure in the coming agreement access to the Temple Mount, and International regime controlling it, and of course keep the Western Wall in Israel hands. Again – do the right thing, if you want to end the conflict.

As for Abbas and the Palestinians, they have also two decision to make. One: give up on the “right of return” demand. It won’t work and it won’t fly. Even your friends in the Arab League of nations had realized that already. Settle for monetary compensations, and give them the right to settle in what would be the new Palestinian state. Two: understand and respect Israel’s security concerns in the Jordan Valley, and be flexible on that; a year more or a year less, more Israeli troops or less of them, you’ll get your state in return. Because, quite surprisingly, it does seem that all the other issues, chiefly among them the borders and the settlers, are solvable in comparison. Swaps of land; swaps of citizenship – solution to these problems will be found and will be accomplished. Those that need to be moved, will be moved; those preferred to stay, let them stay. There are Arabs/Palestinians living in Israel, citizens of the state, even if mostly feeling like second citizens. Give them the right and opportunity to stay in Israel, or move to Palestine; and the same opportunity give the Jewish settlers in the new Palestinian state: stay and become Palestinian citizens, or leave.

What cannot be compromise on, and what cannot be borrowed from other leaders in the world, is your own courage and leadership. Be your people’s Moses, Netanyahu – and you Abbas, too – and make the courageous decision to cross the great divide, the desert of endless war, and bring your people home to the land of peace.

* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.”

** “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

Israeli Democracy Vs Jewish Theocracy



The regular readers of my blog posts know very well that I cannot be accused of lacking in criticizing Israel and its policies. As a matter of fact, they had accused me not once, and not so gently, of criticizing Israel too much and too harshly. However, with all my voiced objections to Israel’s policies, especially when it comes to the continuing occupation and settlement of the West Bank, and its current government’s refusal – the way I see it, as an Israeli and an American citizen – to compromise and make peace with the Palestinians, I was always proud of the Israeli democracy. And the fact that, with all its wars and battles for survival – living in a predominantly hostile and undemocratic neighborhood of the world – Israel has kept its democracy intact.

By a law of the Knesset, Israel is defined as a Jewish and a democratic state. (There is no need, therefore, to add an almost insurmountable obstacle to the difficult peace negotiations with the Palestinians as is, and demand of them to approve that, too. The U.N., with resolution 181, had also recognized the “Jewish” state.) There is a separation of state and religion in Israel, indeed sometimes blurry and problematic, but in spite of all holding on nicely. Last but not least, the citizens of the state go to the polls every four years (sometimes earlier, depend on political circumstances), and elect their representatives and leaders. They demonstrate, they protest, they campaign and they vote. And, to a very large degree, they speak their minds openly and freely.

Unfortunately, that is not the case here in the diaspora; mainly when it comes to the American Jewish people, communities, religious congregations and establishments. For whatever reason, many of them still equate criticism of Israel with bashing of Israel, or with being anti-Israeli, not to mention their favorite phrase of accusation: anti- Semitic. Why such is the case is beyond me. It’s almost like the case of the prodigal son. Yes, he might be wild and woolly; promiscuous and abusive; and yes, even criminal – but he is my son, and therefore cannot be criticized. Which is, of course, nonsensical. Two miracles have happened to the Jewish people – so I’ve heard the Israeli journalist, and author of the book “My Promised Land” Ari Shavit saying lately – going hand in hand following the Holocaust: the establishment of the state of Israel, and the prominent role the American Jewish people have played in securing the success and existence of the Jewish state. Why is it, then, that we cannot speak our minds freely here when it comes to Israel, even when we think it is on a self-destructive road?

Case in point: yours truly. I always spoke my mind freely here in America on Israel, its affairs and polices. I still do. Not without difficulties and criticism, mind you, especially when it comes to my conservative congregation. Last year I had started a program here in Sacramento, a discussion-group called “The Israel Forum,” with the help and support of the programing director and rabbi. It was very successful for a while, and people were able to voice their opinions openly and freely on all matters related to Israel; left, right and center. Everything was on the table, and everything was discussed openly. However, from the get go, the forces from the right – the “Defenders of Israel,” as they so fancy themselves – and other self-appointed communal gatekeepers, had continually launched deceitful attacks on our discussion-group, doing all they can to derail it, and squash freedom of expression when it comes to Israel and its policies.

Lately and finally, they succeeded, when the afford-mentioned well-meaning rabbi and program director had crumbled under their continuous pressure and threats (financial, I’m sure, and otherwise), and had decided to postponed the program under all kinds of disguises and strange (to choose a gentle word) maneuvering. But the bottom line is – as it has always been – the refusal to allow, and tolerate, free exchange of views and ideas about Israel in its Jewish congregation. Or, as Marc Rosenstein, rabbi and blogger puts it: “flag-waving patriotism trumps critical debate.” But not to worry, the program – and the essence of its free exchange of ideas – will continue in a more hospitable, freedom of speech supporting, less theocratic yet nonetheless Jewish environment. However, in the final analysis, in my conservative congregation, Jewish theocracy could not sustain, and tolerate Israeli-like democracy and free speech.

In light of this, it is interesting to note these new developments – but a few among many – occurring lately, as reported in the general media. One: “If you want to engage young people with this country, you have to teach them that it’s about wrestling as well as hugging Israel,” said Jewish Agency Director-General Alan Hoffmann in an interview with Haaretz newspaper. “If the message is that you can only hug Israel, you will lose these young people.” And by way of a response, here’s number two: “We believe that this policy censors and delegitimizes the diverse range of personal and political opinions held by Jewish students,” the Vassar Jewish Union said in its statement, as it declared itself an “Open Hillel”. ”We believe that fostering a pluralistic community and supporting all Jewish life on campus cannot be achieved with Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines in place.” And number three: Naftaly Bennett, Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister, has voiced this radical suggestion lately to make the Jewish people of the diaspora “semi-citizens” of the state of Israel, with more say and participation in its affairs. The main battle to achieve that won’t come from the Israelis, I believe, but from the close-mindedness of Jewish bureaucracy and theocracy here in America.

* “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.


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