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When it comes to the Iran Nuclear Deal, the victory in the American Congress of the peace and diplomacy camp, which was led into battle – and make no mistake about it, it was a fierce, and ‘bloody’ battle – by President Obama, the Democrats and J Street, over the war and anti-diplomacy camp, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Republicans and AIPAC, is one for the ages. I will not delve here into the merits and faults of the nuclear agreement itself, not only because it is by now a fait accompli, but also because it was written about, talked about and digested at length everywhere else. Time will tell how wise it was to sign that deal, and how successful it would turn out to be. I, for one, support it – warts and all – and have fought hard, in my own small way, to see it pass in the Congress. Regardless of the success of that deal, the outcome – the crushing defeat of the forces that had mobilized against it – is worth a second thought, and required a thorough analysis. I’m going to give it my best shot here.

To begin with, let me remind you that in the past – not once – I allocated ample time and space to write about the ease with which PM Netanyahu has always handled, and defeated President Obama. He did so on numerous occasions, on all things related to Israel and the Middle East, whether the action and debate was taking place in Israel or in America. I believe I’d once even used the expression, so beloved in Israel, of Netanyahu “eating Obama for breakfast,” in order to demonstrate his total power over the president. The last such instance had occurred with the collapse last year of the peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, under the leadership of Obama and his Secretary of State Kerry. PM Netanyahu toyed with them both, pretending to seriously participating in the negotiations, aiming to bring about a Two-State solution, while he had no intention – whatsoever! – to go through with it. Those of us who’d read it correctly, and had even predicted the failed outcome, observed with amazement how Netanyahu – when push came to shove, and when the “idiot” Kerry (as some in Netanyahu’s government had reportedly referred to him) had proved to be just too serious about the whole “damn peace” thing, and indeed was close to a deal – had torpedoed the negotiations with such ease, and together with them the American efforts at peace and diplomacy.

Not this time, though. The long, protracted fight to produce the nuclear deal with Iran; the fact that America had joined forces with the U.N. and with the six (i.e. the P5+1) major powers of the world, was proven to be too much even for Mr. Netanyahu to overcome. It is one thing, you see, with the help of the Republicans, AIPAC — its rich donors and enablers in steps – to muddle and disrupt the internal politics of this country, but the affairs of the world are, thankfully, a different matter. This outcome, and the influence our major allies – Britain, France and Germany – had on the debate in Congress, was crucial. They did not interfere with the democratic process, as indeed Mr. Netanyahu did when he came to Congress and spoke there against the deal, but had made it very clear – with their actions “on the ground,” and with advice whenever requested – that they intend to go through with the agreement no matter the outcome of the vote in congress. Cameron, Hollande and Merkel even wrote a joint – how rare is that? – opinion piece in the Washington Post on “Why we support the Iran deal” on the eve of the first vote in Congress. Overall, this development has had a tremendous, and rightly so, effect on many of the Democrats in Congress, and therefore contributed to the defeat of the forces opposing the deal.

The second major factor in this win was of course President Obama himself. He bravely went to war with all guns blazing, with the firm knowledge that this is going to be his most significant, important Foreign Affairs diplomacy achievement. Remember, he received the Nobel Peace Prize at the beginning of his presidency, and he knew he had to live up to it, and prove it was a good decision after all. It was also his one chance, probably the last one he had, to vanquish Netanyahu and prove him wrong. I was privy to a conference phone call with the president early in the campaign, and I can assure you that he indeed saw it as a must-win battle for his presidency and legacy, and was mobilizing all his forces with the urgency rarely seen or heard since his first election. He was relentless, and for once saw clearly where and how Netanyahu was maneuvering his Republican and AIPAC forces against him, and outmaneuvered him and then some.

As for the democrats in Congress, it was a much slower process, at times painfully so. The effort to mobilize them into recognizing, first, that the pluses of the nuclear deal outnumbered the minuses; and second, the realization that this time each and every one of them was accountable, and personally responsible for his or her decision in standing up to the Republicans, AIPAC and their lobbyist, and protecting their president and its foreign police – was a sight to be seen and behold. They did it one by one, and almost gave us a heart attack while doing so. Most of them in the Senate, minus three defectors, overcame the opposition pressure and at the end stood out with flying colors; protecting the constitution (i.e. the right of the executive branch to decide on foreign policy matters), the legitimacy of Congress in the process, and their democratically elected President. It was not easy for them, doing so, but they saw the light this time and had the necessary courage to follow it to victory.

The last – and by no means the least – major force to fight and deliver this win, is J Street. The liberal, peace-oriented Jewish nonprofit advocacy organization declared its support for the deal and the president early on, and fought tooth and nail – with limited resources, compared to the opponents – to mobilize its supporters, and through them the Jewish people throughout the land to support the president and their Democratic congressmen and senators. It was the first major win for J Street over AIPAC, but it came with cost, and much bitterness. It was very hard for Jews who supported the deal to stand up and be counted; to proclaim their support for the deal against the loud, bombastic, organizational, rabbinical, big-money opposition, as orchestrated by AIPAC, was not an easy thing at all. Friendships were torn apart, even within families. And it may well prove, as the years go by, to be the most decisive, reverberating achievement of this deal: The ability of everyday Jewish people to stand up to the machine. Their ability to say no to AIPAC and its well-oiled operators, and even to their rabbis, and declare proudly: We have a mind of our own in this matter. We, Jews and Israeli Americans, we love and support Israel not less than you, and we care for its security and prosperity not less than you. And yet, we believe that this deal is good for Israel. That what we told our congressman and senators. And proudly so!

It is now left for the citizens of Israel – not for the politicians, oh no, they don’t possess the insight and courage by themselves – to see clearly, and understand deeply, the magnitude of the earthshaking victory and change that has occurred here in America and in its relation to Israel. Especially when it comes to American Jewry. If not, the chasm between Israel and the majority, liberal, progressive, democratic-leaning Jews of America will only continue to widen and grow.

* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.”
** The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

Thieves in the Night



“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night;” Peter iii, King James Bible
“We shake off the old life which has grown rancid on us, and start from the beginning. We don’t want to change and we don’t want to improve, we want to begin from the beginning.” A. D. Gordon, Galilean pioneer.

These two epigraphs set forth the novel “Thieves in the Night,” by Arthur Koestler. He was a renowned Hungarian-British author, most literary regarded for his novel “Darkness at Noon.” He led an adventure-full life, and in 1926 immigrated briefly to then Palestine. For a short period of time he lived in kibbutz Hefzibah, the same kibbutz where I was born 20 years later, the year he also had published this work. As it happened, his application to join the kibbutz was rejected by its members, reason unknown, and that kibbutz is mentioned – sarcastically, I think – a number of times in this novel. The book, which I just read, is dedicated to Vladimir Jabotinsky (he was his secretary for a while), and describes the settlement of a new kibbutz in 1937, and the whole settlement endeavor of the Hebrew people coming to the land of their ancestors from Europe between 1937-39, as well as the struggle against the British rule and the local Arab population.

Here’s a short description from book: “The new settlers found themselves in the center of a landscape of gentle desolation, a barrenness mellowed by age. The rocks had settled down for eternity; the sparse scrubs and olive trees exhaled a silent and contented resignation. A few vultures sailed round the hill-top; the curves they described seemed to paraphrase the smooth curvature of the hills.”

What follows is not a review of the book – though I enjoyed reading it and warmly recommend it to all who are interested in the Zionist endeavor of old – but an introduction to a complicated, conflicted, and most demanding question regarding the settlement of the land back then, and since then. I’m going to challenge myself, and I hope that you’ll join me for the ride, on this treacherous, steep road.

Here it is in a nutshell: What is the difference between the settlement of kibbutzim and moshavim (cooperative agricultural communities) prior to the 1948 war of independence and the 1967 war, and the settlement of outposts, villages and towns in the West Bank – i.e. Judah and Samaria – which followed these wars? Reading this book, where the description of capturing the land – עלייה על הקרקע – is so vivid, including the buying of the lands from the local Arabs, and the fight against them, including their point-of-view of the Hebrew settlers, strike me as so similar to the experience, the endeavor of the current settlers’ movement. Except back then the chalutzim (pioneers) were mostly communists, socialists and idealists, and now they are mostly religious zealots. But if one of them would to ask me, an imaginary settler let’s say, what is the difference, really? What shall I answer? Me – who opposed so much, still do, of what they’ve been doing, and where they’ve been leading Israel since that war of 67, which I fought as a soldier.

First, I would say, back then – again, as described so vividly in this book – the Jewish immigrants, the Olim, were refugees fleeing Europe before the storm of the Second World-War, and later after the Holocaust (like my parents), coming to their ancestors’ land to fulfill the dream, and the ideal, of creating a safe, secure home for the Jewish people. Since they had no such country and home. In contrast, the settlement endeavor that has followed the 67 war, and continuing to this day, is conducted while the Hebrew and Jewish State, i.e. Israel, is already in existence; it is a state amongst the nations. The dream has become a reality. Furthermore, following that 67 war, which was an unequal military victory, the people and their army have proved their strength, securing the country’s prominence, and permanence, in this hostile region.

Second, the settlement movement before the 48 war of independence and the 67 war, was largely legal. Indeed, as describe in details in the above mentioned book. The lands were bought from the local Arab population, who participated silently – most of them, anyway – in this endeavor. The settlers then settled and built their settlements largely on legal basis. The British objected to the flood of Jewish immigrants, and tried to stop it, but though they ruled the land – it was not their land, and they eventually were forced to leave. Following the 67 war, and according to international law, all the settlements in the West bank (and in the Gaza Strip, prior to the evacuation) were/are illegal. Period. The West bank is defined as an occupied land, and Israel as its military occupier. Even more so, the various Israeli governments, following the 67 war, and in accordance with the opinion of their legal experts, have realized that, and therefore designated all the places where settlements were being build – with or without permission of the government – as military outposts. A legal trick that, at least internationally, doesn’t hold any water.

Third, a lot of atrocities – as describe so well in another, newest book about the same topic, the internationally acclaimed nonfiction work by Ari Sahvit, ‘My Promised Land’ – were committed against the Arab population in Palestine prior and during the 48 war of independence. A lot of injustice was done, some inevitably as result of the war, some on purpose. Hence the Palestinian refugees’ problem – not so unlike the Jewish refugees, back then – and their aspirations for a country of their own. Nothing can undo the wrongs of the past; but justice can remedy the situation by creating a Palestinian state. This state can only be created in the West bank, including the Gaza Strip. You cannot achieve that goal if you continue, so I tell that imaginary settler, to settle their land. Even more so, the Zionist endeavor and movement of creating a safe, secure home for the Jewish people, can only be fully achieved and fulfilled, and be internationally justified, by creating, side by side, a Palestinian state.

The settlers since the Six-Day War of 67, and those of today, are also like “Thieves in the Night.” Only now they have a state, a government, and an army behind them. And they endanger, with their endeavor and behavior towards the Palestinians, the whole Zionist dream of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state. Enough is enough – land wise, and otherwise. Living by the sword for eternity is no solution, and ensures and secures no future. We have a state already. It is small – but it is ours. That is the difference. That is the answer.

* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.”
** The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.


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