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Why “I Told You So” Matters!

by António Moreira Antunes*

(*Cartoonist: “Caricature was not antisemitic.” Printed first in the NY Times, and then in many other major world and Israeli newspapers. H.D.)

When it was announced in mid-July that PM Netanyahu will be the one to decide whether to allow Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) to enter Israel for a visit, it immediately made me think, and question: What the Israeli Prime Minister would do? I felt strongly that he won’t allow them in. If so, I realized, it would be contrary to diplomatic procedures established since Israel’s independence, to welcome all USA government officials and representatives—whether staunch supporters of Israel or its fierce critics—to visit the country and see for themselves the “only democracy in the middle-East.”

So strong was my conviction in such an outcome that, when I shared the story from an Israeli newspaper about it (i.e. Netanyahu being the final arbitrator on the matter) in our ‘Conservative Jews in Sacramento’ Facebook page, I added that: “Just for the fun of it—realizing that the Talmud says “prophecy has been given to the fools!”—my bet is on Netanyahu preventing Talib and Omar from visiting Israel.” There were some comments, if I remember correctly, but no one challenged me on going out on a limb like that so bluntly.

It’s important to stop here in the chronicle of events—though some interesting, unexpected developments are coming—and reflect on WHY I had such a strong feeling that Netanyahu won’t allow them to enter. For one, following Netanyahu’s political career for so long, and watching in dread how all democratic principles, common-sense values of justice and decency have long left him, all in the pursuit of the ultimate goal—authoritarian-power—I figured that both as a person and a politician he won’t allow these two fresh, American democratic voices of dissent to enter.

For second, realizing how close the visit of the two Congresswomen would be to the Israeli election, I figured Netanyahu—a supremely adroit, capable political animal—would rather do the wrong thing for Israel’s future and for American Jewry’s future, in order to safeguard the support of his electoral base; who vehemently hates all Arabs, and cannot fathom that there are two Muslim women in the American Congress. For Netanyahu, winning the coming election is almost a question of ‘life and death’. No kidding. As I pointed out in talks and on this blog not once, his need to win the elections—far outweighing the importance of Israel’s democracy—is not a political question. It’s not a chance to make peace with the Palestinians. It’s not a chance to improve the lives of poor Israeli citizens. NO: he wants to save himself from going to prison.

For third, President Trump. I realized instantly that Trump won’t allow this visit to take place. Like Netanyahu, Trump’s interests don’t include democracy, human rights, agreed upon diplomatic procedures, or the Jewish American public wellbeing as a whole. His sole interest is winning reelection, and if possible—again, like Netanyahu—remain president for ever. To achieve that, he not only needs the support of his regular republican base, where Israel is regarded as a ‘saint nation’, but the support of all evangelicals. He needs them to win the next election for him. And they demand of him in return to support Israel unconditionally. Hence the move of the embassy to Jerusalem; hence stopping all financial aid for the Palestinians; hence withdrawing from the international nuclear deal with Iran; hence recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

Now back to what happened. Just a few days after I shared the story on Facebook, and made my ‘outlandish’ prediction, the Israeli papers reported that Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and one of Netanyahu’s closest confidants, declared that Reps. Omar and Talib will get their visas and will be allowed into Israel, in line with Israel’s long-established tradition. Immediately, I thought to share the story on our Facebook group’s page, admit that I was wrong, and gladly so, since I truly believed they should be allowed in.

But a little voice inside me instructed me to wait a while. Indeed, for about a month, report after report, all the way to the Prime Minister’s office, confirmed that they will be allowed in to visit Israel. So much so that up to the final days, there were Israeli politicians, including Jerusalem’s mayor, who announced that they would be willing to meet with them. But I stuck to my guns, and remained quiet. I decided that until they are not only on the plane flying to Israel; not only even when they are touching down in Ben Gurion Airport —but only when they are through border customs and on their way to Jerusalem, only then would I admit I was wrong.

Alas, I was right. Trump tweeted; Netanyahu backed down; the rest is history. And talking about history, let’s go back some 38 years. That when, as reported in the Washington Post by Gershom Gorenberg, Israeli PM Menachem Begin said this: “Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic?” He said that to U.S. Ambassador Samuel W. Lewis in response to a series of punitive measures against Israel by then President Ronald Reagan, the latest in response to Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. Begin was so incensed by what he perceived as Reagan’s attitude toward Israel, and that he had to follow instructions from Washington.

But now, on a lesser important matter by far, all it takes is a tweet from the American President in the morning, for the Israeli Prime Minister to put his tail between his hinder legs and cower at noontime. So down goes long standing procedure. Down goes the solidarity of republican and democrats alike towards Israel. Down goes Israel’s relations with the Democrats in Congress. Down goes American Jews, the vast majority of them democrats, and very much opposed to trump. Even AIPAC—Holy Moly!—condemned Netanyahu’s decision, which brought about this public-relation nightmare for Israel, democrats, and Jews. And down goes also any chance of getting closer, even if by just a few steps—such as this visit and visitors—towards understanding the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and one day maybe solving it.

That’s why, in this case, “I told you so” matters so much. Because it makes clear that a decision such as this trip’s cancellation was not a whim, a momentary blindness; rather, it was deep-rooted, long-reaching, and wrong.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

If Not Now, When?

nymag.com

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” So said the 1st century Jewish sage ‘Hillel the Elder’, or ‘Hillel the Wiser’ (as I prefer to call him), whom most—if not all—of you I’m sure are familiar with. Same goes with the above aphorism, his most well-known saying. It serves also, by name and by idea, the ‘IfNotNow’ movement, “founded in July 2014 to protest American Jewish institutional support for Israel’s actions during the 2014 Israeli-Gaza conflict (according to Wikipedia). Their first action was to recite the Jewish prayer of mourning, the Mourner’s Kaddish, for all Palestinian and Israeli victims of the war outside the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.”

But before I move on to the reason I’m writing about it now, a confession: In the summer of 2002 I led a group of Jewish students from UC Davis and Sacramento State on a ‘Birthright’ trip to Israel. That experience was especially dear to me, visiting the old country with young people who have never visited the ‘land of milk and honey’ before. And while we stopped almost daily at various places, to sit in a circle and discuss the significance of our visit in those places—including historical facts and political implications, not shying away from some hard questions—we did not visit the occupied territories, other than the Golan Heights.

Admittingly, times in 2002 were very different. The trip—an act of not insignificant courage on the part of the students and their parents—began short of two weeks after the vicious terrorist attack in the Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium where 21 Israelis, 16 of them teenagers, were murdered. Jerusalem was terrorized by random, if frequent terrorist attacks on buses and in street cafes. Security during the trip was a prime concern, and the possibility of visiting the West Bank was not even remotely on the agenda. The decision to stop in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood (if I remember correctly), and allow the students to stroll around, visit shops and cafes for an hour or two, was a major headache. Visiting Hebron, Ramallah, or even some close by settlements was impossible.

Now, you may ask, why am I bringing it up? Here’s why: I first learned of the ‘IfNotNow’ movement when it was associated—even blamed for—in the Israeli media for a trickle of Jewish students who, while visiting Israel as part of the ‘Birthright’ trip, decided that they wanted to see for themselves—how audacious of them, really?—the occupied territories of the West Bank, and learn firsthand what life there is all about for the Palestinian population, what the occupation does to them, the Israeli Army rule and role, the checkpoints (see the picture above) effect on everyday life. In short, they wanted to know, and sort out the truth for themselves, not eat without questions what was spoon-fed to them by the trip’s organizers and counselors.

A storm irrupted, of course. The rebellious students were ostracized by the trip’s tour guides, and those in charge did not allow then to continue with the scheduled trip, and I believe they had to pay their way back home to America by themselves. Still, the movement grew, as more and more conscientious young people continued to demand to know the truth: What really the Jewish state is doing, inflicting such pain on the Palestinian People? And to what end? It was also, immediately associated with the IfNotNow movement as the catalyst to this new phenomenon. Blaming that movement for starting this mini-rebellious in the first place.

Now whether this is true I don’t know, and “frankly, I don’t give a damn.” The crux of the matter, and with it the battle for the hearts and minds of young Jews, is what matters most. Which brings me to a story in Haaretz that I recently shared on Facebook, where a young woman demonstrating on behalf of ‘IfNotNow’ wore a shirt imprinted with this slogan: “The Jewish people future demands Palestinian freedom.” How refreshing, how appropriate: Hitting the occupation’s nail right on its head. This is something I believed in for a long time, and referred to not once on this blog. I therefore applaud all these young Jewish students and not students, urging them to keep demonstrating all around the country with this slogan carried upfront (again, see above picture).

However, it is important to point out that the Palestinian people deserves justice—historically and currently—no matter what, and not only because by granting them this justice the future of the Jewish people will also be secured. More so: The Zionist dream and endeavor of establishing Israel as the secured home for the Jewish people, cannot be fully achieved without granting similar rights to the Palestinian people. This simple equation, which I’ve tried to explain many times to American Jews since immigrating—with considerable resistance and abuse from their side—still exists today at the core of this historic conflict.

What Hillel, the most famous of Jewish sages knew so well more than 2000 years ago was that one, you—as a person and as a people—have to STRIVE to achieve justice for yourself. But that second, if this justice is JUST for yourself—again, as a person and as a people—then what is the justification for it, really? And third that the TASK of achieving this justice—for you and for the other—cannot wait. It must be work for now. Without delay!

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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