The week in brief, 28 February-6 March 2011 – a summary of recent postings

March 6, 2011
Richard Kuper

jfjfpThe Middle-east revolution is in an indeterminate stage and we haven’t attempted to keep up with developments this week. But we posted two relevant articles. In the first, Madawi A-Rashid argues that Saudi Arabia, too, is ripe for change and makes a plea for “America and the rest of the world to side with the future not the past.” It may well be ignored. And Uri Avnery argues with his characteristic biting wit that the international standing of Israel is indeed sinking fast – not because of what Israel calls “delegitimatsia”, the work of antisemites and self-hating Jews, but because it is on the wrong side of history: “Concepts like democracy, liberty, justice and human rights are not only moral values – in today’s world they have become essential needs, a basis for a new world order.” Israel does not recognise them in its dealings with the Palestinians and the wider Arab world…

We posted quite a bit about the J Street Conference in the States as the week progressed. Over two thousand people attended this important event – important in showing the wide cracks in the consensus which has until recently been the public face of the American Jewish community. No longer. At the same time, many find J Street’s challenge to the Zionist consensus far too timid to get excited about. This range of views is represented in our postings, viz:

Natasha Mozgovaya, J Street kicks off annual conference amid UN settlement resolution controversy; Richard Silverstein, J Street and the Death of Liberal Zionism; Dan Fleshler, Why the Jewish Right Is Terrified by J Street’s Conference; J Street’s Conference is now concluded – links to videos of the event; and two highly critical pieces, Zoe Zenowich and Alex Kane, J Street Sticks to the Script at its Annual Conference, Despite Coming to a Two-State Dead-End; and Chase Madar, J Street and the Middle East.

Whatever the criticisms of J Street, one event it did host, despite its hostility to the campaign, was a debate on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Rachel Gai of Jewish Peace News reported in Talking about BDS at J Street,  and the Magnes Zionist produced a powerful column on targeted BDS, calling on liberal Zionists to support boycott, divestment, and sanctions by targeting them “depending upon what they think will work, and what they think is right”. H says that many have been hesitant to call what they advocate “BDS” because they don’t want to be tarred with the “deligitimization brush”, but that “for better or for worse, the BDS label is now a worldwide trademark, and it is a rallying point for groups opposed to ethnic injustice against Palestinians… The Global BDS movement is not merely against the Occupation, but also against ethnic discrimination against Palestinians within Israel, and against those who are barred from returning to their homes. Global BDS is at its core an anti ethnic-discrimination movement. And the common denominator for all the progressive movements on Israel should be just that – opposing ethnic discrimination.” This article and conference discussion coincides with the launch by Rabbi Alissa Wise of the Jewish Voice for Peace campaign calling on people to “Divest from the Israeli Occupation”.

The need for non-violent responses like BDS is underlined by ongoing developments such as  the Jewish Agency for Israel accusation that Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity is opposed to “the right of Jews to make their home in Israel”. What they really are doing is asking for the right of Jews to steal lands from Palestinians in East Jerusalem on the same wholesale scale as they do in the West Bank – and anyone who opposes them stands accused of delegitimation or worse. Larry Derfner gives a delightful guide to sell Israel in changing times by looking at the new sophistications of Israeli hasbara (propaganda) in today’s rapidly changing circumstances. He reports: Say “Our hearts are with the protesters in the square, but…”; instead of saying, “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East,” (which may not be the case for long and which sounds like you want to keep it that way) say: “Israel is the only stable democracy in the Middle East”; say “Israel is not perfect” (but don’t say in what ways it isn’t!). Above all, say “delegitimization” – a really cool word that you can use against anybody who says anything about Israel that you don’t like. And you don’t want to use the word “terrorism” for a lawsuit, just like you don’t want to use the word “antisemitism” for some CNN story, so you call the CNN story “delegitimization” and the lawsuit “lawfare.” You gotta be subtle…”

The subtlety involves turning a blind eye to the ongoing war against the Bedouin within Israel, or the ravings of some Israeli rabbis,, who go unrebuked. The details make uncomfortable reading. With regard to the Bedouin, the village of al-Arakib has now been demolished 18 times since 27 July last year. Harriet Sherwood writes: “Each time the bulldozers and soldiers come at dawn to tear down the makeshift structures that have replaced the 40 concrete buildings that used to house the villagers, the men of rebuild them. Each time their footprint gets a little smaller.”

Avirama Golan reports on dark developments in Israeli society as rabbis undermine the legitimacy of the secular courts; for instance Rabbi Shlomo Aviner writing in support to disgraced President Katsav and telling his students that Katsav was subject to a rigged kangaroo trial: that the women who testified that he committed sexual offenses were lying, that the media created undue pressure, that the judge wasn’t Jewish… In a separate case, Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, head of the Zomet Institute dedicated to merging Halachic Judaism with modern life, has launched a scathing attack on a Knesset Member of the Independence faction – over her marriage to a non-Jewish man!

Meanwhile, Israel’s Interior Ministry has revoked the permit for the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, The Rt Revd Suheil Dawani, to live in Jerusalem, and has refused requests to reinstate it, in spite of protests by Anglican authorities in the West.

On the West Bank, WithWoman, a JfJfP supporter, blogs about her current trip to observe midwifery practice in the West Bank and tells us much about the daily realities of the occupation as she goes.

With regard to Gaza, former American Ambassador Philip Wilcox, now President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a Washington D.C.-based foundation devoted to fostering peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and Acting Chairman of American Friends of UNRWA, gives an interesting account – and defence – of the work of Unwra.

Finally, as the Middle East continues to rumble, Palestinian civil society groups are losing patience. They are preparing for a day of rage, of mass sit-ins on 15 March, to protest at the widening split between Palestinian political and resistance factions as Israel’s illegal occupation grinds on.

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