It’s not giving money but withholding it that makes a difference
1) Sam Bahour on why Mayor Bloomberg’s gift is a waste of money; 2) Gideon Levy on the need for sanctions. Notes and links on the Jewish group Encounter (see 1).
An Israeli army soldier checks a Palestinian car at a checkpoint outside Jericho. Photo by Ammar Awad / Reuters
Dear Mayor, Thank You, But No Thank You
By Sam Bahour, AMIN (Arab Media Internet News)
December 07, 2013
It was recently reported in The Daily Jewish Forward (Bloomberg To Dedicate $ 1M Genesis Prize to Boosting Israeli-Palestinian Trade, December 02, 2013) that New York City Mayor and billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, was awarded the first- ever Genesis Prize, $ 1 million “which is meant to honor an exceptional Jew.”
In his acceptance speech, given at an official Hanukkah party in New York, Mayor Bloomberg remained true to US Jewish American politics and thus, before making his speech, cleared his intention to donate the money to “promote commerce between the people in Palestine and the people in Israel “with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As a Palestinian American businessman on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territory for twenty years, I did not know whether to laugh or cry at this seemingly generous announcement. This well-intentioned act is flawed for several reasons.
First, “commerce between the people in Palestine and the people in Israel” is not hindered by lack of funds; it is stifled due to 46 years of Israeli military occupation, each year of which has been squarely supported by the US Every single strategic economic resource needed to build Palestine, from water, land, borders, trade routes, frequencies, airspace, and so much more are 100% micromanaged by the Israeli military. Until the dirty boot of military occupation is removed from the necks of Palestinians, joint commerce can only serve to beautify a status quo which is creeping toward a state of Apartheid, not peace.
Second, with Israel’s military occupation and structural discrimination against Palestinians on both sides of the green line intensifying over the past few years, there is no appetite in the Palestinian community for more commerce with Israel, given that Palestine’s economy is already massively dependent on Israel’s economy by sheer fact of the military restrictions that Israel places on Palestinian economic development.
Today, the only appetite in Palestine, and many corners of the world, is to intensify boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel until Israelis feel the pain of occupation enough to want to end it. This cost-based approach is being more and more articulated by progressive Jewish Americans too, as was recently penned by Kathleen Peratis in the Daily Beast’s Open Zion (If You Want Two States, Support BDS, October 16th, 2013), as well as by enlightened Jewish Israelis such as journalist Gideon Levy in Haaretz (The Iran case proves it: Sanctions will get Israel to end the occupation, Nov. 30, 2013 SEE BELOW).
Instead of wasting $1m on trying to promote commerce between an occupied people and their occupiers, I have a much more constructive suggestion for Mayor Bloomberg: transfer the funds to the New York-based Jewish American organization, Encounter.
Encounter was founded by two rabbinical students and has two rabbis on its board. Jewish American political pundit Peter Beinart recently mentioned Encounter in his recent piece in the New York Review of Books (The American Jewish Cocoon, September 26, 2013). Encounter is an amazing group of dynamic Jewish Americans who are breaking the divide, not by chumming up to the reality of separation, discrimination, and occupation, but rather by mobilizing Jewish Americans from all walks of life, with the bulk being rabbinical students and mainstream Jewish American leaders. The group brings delegations of Jewish Americans – Orthodox, Conservative and Reform – to the West Bank and engages them in active listening to hear directly from Palestinian community members and leaders from the “other” side of the conflict, viewpoints that most have never heard before .
This is not about normalizing the occupation – far from it. It is about sharing a reality that most Jews around the world have had purposely excluded from their education. It goes without saying that I too learn a lot from engaging the participants.
For nearly six years I’ve been a speaker to these delegations. As a matter of fact, I usually drop what I’m doing and head to Bethlehem to participate in the program because I see real education and progress being made. By looking into the eyes of the participants, even though many may not agree on much of the politics, I have come to learn that Mayor Bloomberg’s own Jewish American community can’t stand what they see on this side of the Separation Wall, if given half a chance to experience it.
Indeed, we in the Palestinian business community can take care of ourselves, as soon as our economy can breathe freely. In the meantime, and toward that end, I urge Mayor Bloomberg and those like him to empower those doing the nitty-gritty, behind the scenes education to enable equality, freedom, and independence to take root, for all of our sakes.
Sam Bahour is a management consultant and entrepreneur living in Ramallah; he is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral History of Palestine and Palestinians,” and blogs at epalestine.blogspot.com. – Sbahour@gmail.com
The settlements are an all-Israeli project and the boycott can’t be limited to them.
By Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz
November 30, 2013
It appears that international sanctions work and that a boycott is a tool like no other. Even Israel’s prime minister has admitted this; he has called on the world not to ease the sanctions and to even intensify them, and following his lead is the shrill U.S. Jewish lobby.
This being the case, the moral is clear: This is the way to act with recalcitrant states. This applies not only to Iran, where the theory is being proved before our eyes, but with another country that does not obey the decisions of the international community.
Israel has signed the Horizon 2020 agreement for scientific research with the EU barring funding from companies or institutions with ties to the settlements. This is irrefutable proof that a boycott threat works well with Israel, too.
The truth is hard to miss. By signing the agreement, Israel gave a hand to the first official international boycott of the settlements. There is no other way to portray this agreement, even including the special appendix that Israel added in protest. Israel, which passes indecent laws against calls for boycotts against it, surrendered and signed on to boycott terms when it began to be hit in the pocket.
Now we have a limited boycott and a harbinger of things to come. The negotiations over the agreement were conducted by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, whose office is located in the heart of occupied East Jerusalem. For some reason, the EU didn’t boycott her for this. Negotiations over funds trickling to the settlements are being conducted with a minister who, according to the entire world, has her office in a settlement on Jerusalem’s Saladin Street.
No-one boycotts Israel’s most valuable exports: left The Harpy an armed Israeli drone, Right, the Heron, an Israeli surveillance drone.
This absurdity reveals the hypocrisy of boycotting just the settlements. Every Israeli organization, institution or authority is somehow involved with what’s going on beyond the Green Line. Every bank, university, supermarket chain or medical institution has branches, employees or clients who are settlers. The settlements are an all-Israeli project and the boycott can’t be limited to them, just as the boycott of apartheid-era South Africa couldn’t be limited to the institutions of apartheid.
There everything was apartheid, and here everything is tainted by occupation. Israel funds, protects and nurtures the settlements, so all of Israel is responsible for their existence. It’s unfair to boycott just the settlers. We’re all guilty. On the other hand, boycotting all of Israel is likely to morph into the rejection of its very existence, something most of the world justly does not want. Therefore, we should rejoice over the limited boycott even if it is tainted by double standards. We should draw lessons from it.
French demonstrate support for an international boycott of Israel. Photo by EPA.
The success achieved with Iran must become the world’s road map in how to end the Israeli occupation and the denial of the Palestinians’ rights. The outline is clear. We have had a failed diplomatic effort and decades of the “peace process,” the longest in history. We have had endless peace plans buried in drawers, while Israel has continued to build without restraint in the settlements in contravention of the world’s position.
So the time has come for sanctions. When these are felt in Israel, only then should an international committee be formed, whether in Geneva, Jerusalem, Oslo or Ramallah, where the world will translate economic sanctions into political achievements.
This worked with Iran, and it will work with Israel and prevent bloodshed. There’s no reason to continue the masquerade of peace talks that, with the exception of one American, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, no one takes seriously. Even he will eventually come around because as long as Israelis don’t pay a price for the occupation or are blind to it, they won’t end it. That’s the truth.
The truth is a bitter reality with which no Israeli can be happy. Disconnected from the international reality, most Israelis are convinced that the status quo where the people of one nation lack all rights while the people of another nation enjoy full rights can’t continue indefinitely. Maybe this will be the real historic achievement of the negotiations with Iran. It will be the last wake-up call for that sleeping beauty, Israel.
Notes and links
From Encounter website
Encounter is dedicated to strengthening the capacity of the Jewish people to be constructive agents of change in transforming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While the Jewish community continues to be one of the most influential stakeholders in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most American Jews have never met a Palestinian, nor seriously encountered Palestinian narratives or perspectives. Influential segments of the American Jewish community advocate for solutions to the conflict and educate the next generation about it in complete isolation from Palestinian people and claims. This information vacuum perpetuates our failure to bring about real, viable solutions and furthermore, research demonstrates that simplistic advocacy efforts are driving away our next generation’s engagement with the Jewish community and their commitment to Israel.
What We Do
Encounter exists to reverse and transform this reality. Founded by American rabbis and rooted in Jewish tradition, Encounter is a conflict transformation organization, equipping influential Jewish leaders from across the political and ideological spectra with access to Palestinian perspectives and claims on the ground. Encounter’s flagship two-day trips, advanced and alumni programs, and our Davar Acher: Leadership Program bring Jewish participants to the West Bank on tours to meet with Palestinian leaders in business, media, non-violence activism, education, and politics. Encounter also works with leading educators and alumni to revamp Israel education so that our youth are more equipped and committed to act as informed change agents and less inclined to give up the “Israel project” altogether.
Underlying all of Encounter’s work is the core belief that innovative strategies for peace will be created only when influential stakeholders in a conflict have opportunities to meet one another, to open themselves to previously disregarded points-of-view, and to develop relationships across political and ideological divides.
© Shari Diamond
Our Innovative Strategy: Listening as a Transformative Methodology
By design, we are not a dialogue organization. Encounter encourages participants to listen to and absorb Palestinian narratives and claims without disregarding what they already know and believe to be true. By simply listening and by forgoing the usual route of raucous debate, participants expose themselves to viewpoints that they formerly may have disdained. The experience enables them to integrate these new perspectives rather than defend against them. Encounter provides a safe and Jewish-identity affirming atmosphere for all of our participants, reinforcing that to grapple with the conflict we need not check our Judaism at the door. There are kosher food and prayer services for those who require them.
Who We Target: American Jewish Leadership
Our past participants, over 1500 American Jews, represent the full gamut of opinions on the conflict—from anti-occupation activists to staunch settlement supporters. On these trips, participants from these diverse backgrounds sleep in the homes of former militants and pore over maps and histories for hours with their hosts—discovering all the while a reality previously unknown to most of them. Past participants include Orthodox and Reform rabbis and educators, settlement funders and anti-occupation activists.
Encounter’s Core Values
Encounter is an educational organization that cultivates informed Jewish leadership on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We do not take specific positions regarding the outcome of the conflict. We do, however, hold a set of values that underlie all of our work, including our organizational programs, alumni activities, and staff and board interactions. Our vision is one of genuine peace: an environment of safety and equity that embraces the full dignity of all.
שמע / Shema / Listening
Encounter cultivates resilient mutual listening and curiosity, between Jews and Palestinians as well as between Jews and other Jews with divergent worldviews.
כבוד / Kavod / Dignity
Encounter affirms the fundamental dignity of all human beings, and encourages deep respect for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of all people.
חכמה / Hokhma / Wisdom
Encounter values the persistent seeking of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, particularly of unfamiliar and differing perspectives.
רחמים / Rakhamim / Compassion
Encounter encourages all of us to find softness within ourselves, and to extend mercy, graciousness, and the most expansive possible view of each other.
פתיחת לב / Petikhat Lev / Openness
Encounter encourages receptivity rather than dogmatism, openness to being transformed by new encounters and ideas.
בכל נפשך / B’khol naf’shekha / Holism
Encounter programs integrate mind, body, and heart-– taking into consideration the complexity of learning needs and the fullness of the human person.
אלו ואלו / Elu v’elu / Multiple voices
Encounter values the multiplicity of voices within societies and even within individuals, knowing our deepest creativity often emerges from contradictions and complexity.