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Sunday, October 18, 2009

UMD SJP Movie Night!!

Come out next Monday 10/26 for a special screening of the compelling documentary : :


Where: University of Maryland - Art Sociology - Room 2230

When: MONDAY 10/26 @ 6 p.m.

Here is more information about the documentary :

A thought-provoking and powerful documentary film on the current and historical root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unlike any other film ever produced on the conflict -- 'Occupation 101' presents a comprehensive analysis of the facts and hidden truths surrounding the never ending controversy and dispels many of its long-perceived myths and misconceptions.

The film also details life under Israeli military rule, the role of the United States in the conflict, and the major obstacles that stand in the way of a lasting and viable peace. The roots of the conflict are explained through first-hand on-the-ground experiences from leading Middle East scholars, peace activists, journalists, religious leaders and humanitarian workers whose voices have too often been suppressed in American media outlets.

The film covers a wide range of topics -- which include -- the first wave of Jewish immigration from Europe in the 1880's, the 1920 tensions, the 1948 war, the 1967 war, the first Intifada of 1987, the Oslo Peace Process, Settlement expansion, the role of the United States Government, the second Intifada of 2000, the separation barrier and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, as well as many heart wrenching testimonials from victims of this tragedy.

RSVP on facebook here!

UN Human Rights Council Adopts Goldstone Report

Finally! A step in the right direction!

From AlJazeera


Rights council adopts Gaza report

At least 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during Israel's three-week war on Gaza [EPA]

The UN human rights council has endorsed the Goldstone report on Israel's war on Gaza, which accuses the military of using disproportionate force as well as laying charges of war crimes on Israeli occupation forces and Hamas.

The council's resolution adopting the report was passed in Geneva by 25 votes to six with 11 countries abstaining and five declining to vote.

The inquiry, lead by Justice Richard Goldstone, calls on Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, to monitor whether Israel and Hamas conduct credible investigations into the conflict which took place last winter.

Should the two sides fail to do so, it calls on the UN Security Council to refer the allegations to the International Criminal Court.

Hamas 'thankful'

The Palestinian Authority had initially agreed to defer a vote on the UN-sanctioned report, but later backtracked under heavy criticism.

In depth

The United States and Israel were among those countries which voted against the resolution.

Mike Hanna, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Geneva, said the vote was a "very strong victory" for the supporters of the resolution, but that the large number of abstentions was also "very significant".

In Gaza, Hamas thanked the nations that voted to endorse the report.

"We hope that vote will lead to a trial of the occupation leaders," Taher al-Nunu, a Hamas spokesman, said.

Mousa Abu Marzook, the deputy chairman of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus, Syria, told Al Jazeera: "We thank our people, all those who support to submit again this report to the human rights committee and all the countries who voted for the report.

"I think if the Palestinian Authority didn't withdraw this report it will be more efficient and the result will be stronger than the resolution.
"We will co-operate with this report and we will establish a new committee to investigate.

"Right now, there is no talking with Fatah, but during the dialogue between Fatah and Hamas in Egypt, within a few weeks, we are going to talk about reconciliation and, of course, this kind of subject we are going to talk about."

Israel condemned

In addition to endorsing the report, the resolution "strongly condemns all policies and measures taken by Israel, the occupying power, including those limiting access of Palestinians to their properties and holy sites".

Goldstone report vote

For: Argentina,
Saudi Arabia,
South Africa
and Zambia

Slovakia and Ukraine

Abstentions: Belgium, Bosnia, Burkina-Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Norway, South Korea, Slovenia and Uruguay

No vote: UK, France, Madagascar, Kyrgyzstan and Angola
It also calls on Israel to stop digging and excavation work around the Al-Aqsa mosque as well as other Islamic and Christian religious sites.

Israel rejected the charges saying the resolution – drafted by the Palestinians with Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Tunisia, on behalf of non-aligned, African, Islamic and Arab nations – threatened peace efforts.

The Goldstone report recommended that its conclusions be sent on to the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor in The Hague if Israel and Hamas do not hold their own credible investigations into allegations of war crimes within six months.

The report accused Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It also accused Hamas, which has de facto control of Gaza, of war crime violations, but reserved most of its criticism for Israel.

'Rights undermined'

On Thursday, Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, endorsed the report, calling for "impartial, independent, prompt and effective investigations" into the alleged war crimes.

Pillay said: "A culture of impunity continues to prevail in the occupied territories and in Israel," Pillay said during the UN Human Rights Council's special debate session on the report on Thursday.

In her speech, Pillay cited concern about the restrictions on Palestinians wishing to enter al-Aqsa and expressed "dismay" about the Israeli blockade of Gaza that she said "severely undermines the rights and welfare of the population there".

On Thursday, Goldstone, a former South African judge, criticised the resolution, saying: "I hope that the council can modify the text."

About 1,400 Palestinians – the majority of them civilians - and 13 Israelis were killed during Israel's three-week war on Gaza, which had the stated aim of stopping rocket attacks by Palestinian fighters from the coastal territory.

"Family who lost 29 members in Gaza war: We envy the dead"

A horrifying story from Gaza.

From Haaretz


Family who lost 29 members in Gaza war: We envy the dead
By Amira Hass
Tags: Amira Hass

Richard Goldstone visited the Gaza City neighborhood of Zaytoun in late June to tour the compound of the extended Samouni family, the subject of coverage here in recent weeks ("'I fed him like a baby bird,'" September 17; "Death in the Samouni compound," September 25). Twenty-nine members of the family, all of them civilians, were killed in the Israel Defense Force's winter assault - 21 during the shelling of a house where IDF soldiers had gathered some 100 members of the family a day earlier.

Salah Samouni and the owner of the house that was shelled - Wael Samouni - took Goldstone around the farming neighborhood, showing him its devastated homes and uprooted orchards. In a telephone conversation this week, Salah described how he had shown Goldstone a picture of his father, Talal, among the 21 killed in the house. He told the Jewish South African judge and head of the United Nations inquiry team into Operation Cast Lead, that his father "had been employed by Jews" for nearly 40 years and that whenever he was sick, "the employer would call, ask after his health, and forbid him to come to work before he had recovered."

The Samounis were always confident that, in the event of any military invasions into Gaza, they could always manage to get along with the Israeli army. Until 2005, before Israel's disengagement from the Strip, the Jewish settlement of Netzarim was located right next door, and several family members worked there from time to time. When the joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols were active, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian security officials sometimes asked the Samounis to "lend" them a tractor to flatten a patch of land or repair the Salah al-Din Road (for example, when a diplomatic convoy needed to pass through). While Samouni family members worked on their tractors, gathering sand, the soldiers would watch them.

"When the soldiers wanted us to leave, they would fire above our heads. That's what experience taught me," recalls Salah Samouni, who lost a 2-year-old daughter in the IDF attack, along with uncles and both of his parents. The older men of the family, among them his father and two uncles who were killed by IDF soldiers on January 4 and 5, worked in Israel until the 1990s in different localities, including Bat Yam, Moshav Asseret (near Gedera) and the "Glicksman Plant." They all believed that the Hebrew they had learned would assist and if necessary save them during encounters with soldiers.

As was reported here last month - on January 4, under orders from the army, Salah Samouni and the rest of the family left their home, which had been turned into a military position, and moved to the other, the home of Wael, located on the southern side of the street. The fact that it was the soldiers who had relocated them, had seen the faces of the children and the older women, and the fact that the soldiers were positioned in locations surrounding the house just tens of meters away, instilled in the family a certain amount of confidence - despite the IDF fire from the air, from the sea and from the land, despite the hunger and the thirst.

On the morning of Monday, January 5, Salah Samouni walked out of the house and shouted in the direction of another house in the compound that he thought other family members were still in. He wanted them to join him, to be in a safer place, closer to the soldiers. Nothing prepared him for the three shells and the rockets the IDF fired a short time later.

"My daughter Azza, my only daughter, two and a half years old, was injured in the first hit on the house," Salah told Haaretz. "She managed to say, 'Daddy, it hurts.' And then, in the second hit, she died. And I'm praying. Everything is dust and I can't see anything. I thought I was dead. I found myself getting up, all bloody, and I found my mother sitting by the hall with her head tilted downward. I moved her face a little, and I found that the right half of her face was gone. I looked at my father, whose eye was gone. He was still breathing a little, and then he stopped."

When they exited the house - injured, confused, dazed, fearing the fourth shell or rocket would soon land - determined to get themselves to Gaza despite the soldiers' shouts from nearby positions to go back, they believed only corpses remained in the house. They did not know that under the dust and rubble in one large room, nine family members remained alive: the elderly matriarch and five of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren - the youngest of whom was three years old, the eldest 16 - along with another kinsman and his son. They had passed out, some of them beneath corpses.

When they regained consciousness, 16-year-old Ahmad Ibrahim and his 10-year-old brother Yakub saw the corpses of their mother, four of their brothers and their nephew. Mahmoud Tallal, 16, had lost his toes; bleeding, he saw that his parents - Tallal and Rahma - had been killed. Three-year-old Omar, Salah's son, was buried unconscious under 24-year-old Saffa's dead body, explaining why they hadn't found him during the terrible moment of panic as they left the house. Ahmad Nafez, 15, recalled how when little Omar woke up and pulled himself out from under the corpse, he spotted his grandfather Tallal and started shaking him, crying: "Grandpa, Grandpa, wake up."

The previous day Amal, a nine-year-old girl, had witnessed soldiers bursting into her home and killing her father, Atiyeh. She had taken shelter in her Uncle Tallal's home and together with other family members was moved to Wael's house. She did not know that her brother Ahmad was bleeding to death in his mother's arms, in another house in the neighborhood.

The children found some scraps of food in the kitchen and ate. Later, Ahmad Nafez told his relatives how Ahmad Ibrahim had gone from corpse to corpse - his mother, his four brothers and his nephew among them - shaking them, hitting them, telling them to get up. Perhaps from the blows, Amal regained consciousness, her head bloody and her eyes rolling in their sockets. She kept crying out "water, water," said she wanted her mother and father, and beat her head on the floor, her eyes rolling the whole time.

It is too dangerous to remove the shrapnel embedded in her head - that is even what the doctors at a Tel Aviv hospital say. Now everything hurts her and will continue to hurt her: when it's cold, when it's hot, when she's in the sun. She will not be able to concentrate on her studies.

No one can reconstruct how the hours passed for them in Wael's bombarded house; some remained in a state of exhaustion and apathy. The first to recover was actually Shiffa, the 71-year-old grandmother. On the morning of Tuesday, January 6, she realized that no one was coming to rescue them anytime soon. Not the soldiers positioned just meters away, not the Red Cross nor the Red Crescent nor other relatives. Perhaps they didn't even know they were alive, she concluded. Her walker had been bent and buried in the house, but she managed to leave with two of her grandchildren - Mahmoud (his legs bleeding) and little Omar.

They hobbled out and started walking - along the silent street, among the vacated houses, realizing some were occupied by soldiers. "The Jews saw us from above and shouted to us to go into the house," related Shiffa. That was when they were walking down the street and passed by her sister's home. They went inside, but didn't find a living soul. The soldiers - firing into the air - came in after them. "We begged them to let us go home. 'Where is your home?'" they asked. She told them "over there" and pointed east, toward the home of one of her sons, Arafat, located closer to Salah al-Din Road. The soldiers let them continue on. "We saw people coming out of Arafat's house and Hijjeh's house. Everyone was a bit injured and the soldiers were shooting overhead."

At Hijjeh's house she found everyone crying, each with his own story of those dead or wounded. "I told them what had happened to us, how everyone had fallen on everyone else, in heaps, the dead and the wounded." She remained there with the rest of the injured for another night. Omar remembers this house fondly: He was given chocolate there.

Only on Wednesday, January 7, did the IDF allow Red Cross and Red Crescent crews to enter the neighborhood. They attest that they'd been asking to enter since January 4, but the IDF would not let them - whether by shooting in the direction of the ambulances that tried to get closer or by refusing to approve coordination. The medical teams, which were allowed to go in on foot and had to leave the ambulances a kilometer or a kilometer and a half away, thought they were going to rescue the injured from Hijjeh's house. But then the grandmother told them about the wounded children who remained behind, among the dead, in Wael's house. The medical team set out to rescue them, totally unprepared for the sight they found.

On January 18, after the IDF left the Gaza Strip, the rescue teams returned to the neighborhood. Wael's house was found in ruins: IDF bulldozers had demolished it entirely - with the corpses inside.

In a general reply to questions from Haaretz regarding the behavior of the military forces in the Samouni family's neighborhood, the IDF Spokesman said that all of the claims have been examined. "Upon completion of the examination, the findings will be taken to the military advocate general, who will decide about the need to take additional steps," the spokesman said.

Salah Samouni, during the telephone conversation, said: "I asked [Richard] Goldstone to find out just one thing: Why did the army do this to us? Why did they take us out of the house one at a time, and the officer who spoke Hebrew with my father verified that we were all civilians - [so] why did they then shell us, kill us? This is what we want to know."

He feels that Goldstone, in his report, lent the victims a voice. He did not expound on his frustration upon learning that the debate on the report had been postponed, but sought a way to describe how he feels nine months after the fact. "We feel [we are] in an exile, even though we are in our homeland, on our land. We sit and envy the dead. They are the ones who are at rest."

American Jews Rethink Israel

This is a really interesting article on how Jewish opinions are developing on Israel and its actions.


American Jews Rethink Israel
By Adam Horowitz & Philip Weiss

This article appeared in the November 2, 2009 edition of The Nation.
October 14, 2009

This year has seen a dramatic shift in American Jews' attitudes toward Israel. In January many liberal Jews were shocked by the Gaza war, in which Israel used overwhelming force against a mostly defenseless civilian population unable to flee. Then came the rise to power of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose explicitly anti-Arab platform was at odds with an American Jewish electorate that had just voted 4 to 1 for a minority president. Throw in angry Israelis writing about the "rot in the Diaspora," and it's little wonder young American Jews feel increasingly indifferent about a country that has been at the center of Jewish identity for four decades.

These stirrings on the American Jewish street will come to a head in late October in Washington with the first national conference of J Street, the reformation Israel lobby. J Street has been around less than two years, but it is summoning liberal--and some not so liberal--Jews from all over the country to "rock the status quo," code for AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee).

Sure sounds like a velvet revolution in the Jewish community, huh? Not so fast. The changes in attitudes are taking place at the grassroots; by and large, Jewish leaders are standing fast. And as for policymakers, the opening has been slight. There seems little likelihood the conference will bring us any closer to that holy grail of the reformers: the ability of a US president, not to mention Congress, to put real pressure on Israel.

First the good news. There's no question the Gaza conflict has helped break down the traditional Jewish resistance to criticizing Israel. Gaza was "the worst public relations disaster in Israel's history," says M.J. Rosenberg, a longtime Washington analyst who reports for Media Matters Action Network. For the first time in a generation, leading American Jews broke with the Jewish state over its conduct. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen said he was "shamed" by Israel's actions, while Michelle Goldberg wrote in the Guardian that Israel's killing of hundreds of civilians as reprisal for rocket attacks was "brutal" and probably "futile."

Even devoted friends of Israel Leon Wieseltier and Michael Walzer expressed misgivings about the disproportionate use of force, and if Reform Jewish leaders could not bring themselves to criticize the war, the US left was energized by the horror. Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of Code Pink, threw herself into the cause of Gazan freedom after years of ignoring Israel-Palestine, in part out of deference to her family's feelings. In The Nation Naomi Klein came out for boycott, divestment and sanctions; later, visiting Ramallah, she apologized to the Palestinians for her "cowardice" in not coming to that position earlier.

These were prominent Jews. But they echoed disturbance and fury among Jews all around the country over Israel's behavior. Rabbi Brant Rosen of Evanston, Illinois, describes the process poetically. For years he'd had an "equivocating voice" in his head that rationalized Israel's actions. "During the first and second intifadas and the war in Lebanon, I would say, 'It's complicated,'" he says. "Of course, Darfur is complicated, but that doesn't stop the Jewish community from speaking out. There's nothing complicated about oppression. When I read the reports on Gaza, I didn't have the equivocating voice anymore."

In the midst of the war, Rosen participated in a panel at a Reconstructionist synagogue in Evanston organized by the liberal group Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and read a piece from a local Palestinian describing her family's experience in Gaza. "It was a gut-wrenching testimonial. It caused a stir in the congregation. Some people were very angry at me; others were uncomfortable but wanted to engage more deeply," Rosen says. The rabbi has gone on to initiate an effort called Ta'anit Tzedek, or the Jewish Fast for Gaza. Each month over seventy rabbis across the country along with interfaith leaders and concerned individuals partake in a daylong fast in order "to end the Jewish community's silence over Israel's collective punishment in Gaza."

Grassroots Jewish organizations have experienced a surge in interest since the Gaza war. The Oakland-based Jewish Voice for Peace has seen its mailing list double, to 90,000, with up to 6,000 signing on each month. Executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson says JVP is finding Jewish support in unlikely places, like Hawaii, Atlanta, South Florida and Cleveland.

Jewish youth have played a key role. A group of young bloggers, notably Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Spencer Ackerman and Dana Goldstein, have criticized Israel to the point that Marty Peretz of The New Republic felt a need to smear them during the Gaza fighting, saying, "I pity them their hatred of their inheritance." Rosenberg is overjoyed by the trend. "None of them, none of them, is a birthright type or AIPAC type. You'd think that one or two would have the worldview of an old-fashioned superliberal on domestic stuff, pure AIPAC on Israel. But they are so hostile to that point of view."

Dana Goldstein personifies this spirit. A 25-year-old former writer and editor for The American Prospect, she grew up in a Conservative community with close ties to Israel and has made her name doing political journalism. Years ago she vowed never to write about the Middle East; it was a thorny topic, and she felt nothing was to be gained by addressing it. But when Gaza happened, she felt she had to speak out. "The Israeli government is doing little more than devastating an already impoverished society and planting seeds of hatred in a new generation of Palestinians," she wrote in TAP. Gaza was especially dismaying to her because Barack Obama's election had felt like a new moment. "The Jewish community helped elect Obama, and Obama had a different way of talking about the Middle East," she says. Mainstream Jewish organizations' steadfast support for Israel's assault seemed very old school to her.

In this sense, Gaza is the bookend to the 1967 war. Israel's smashing victory in six days ended two decades of American Jewish complacency about Israel's existence; many advocates for the state, including neoconservative Doug Feith and liberal hawk Thomas Friedman, found their voices as students at around that time. In the years that followed, American culture discovered the Holocaust, and the imperative "Never again!" gave rise to the modern Israel lobby: American Jews organized with the understanding that they were all that stood between Israel and oblivion.

"Younger people don't have the baggage of 1967," says Hannah Schwarzschild, a founding member of the new organization American Jews for a Just Peace. "They are applying what they've been taught about human rights, equality, democracy and liberal American Jewish values to Israel," she adds, "and Israel-Palestine is moving to the center of their political world."

The shift is most pronounced on campuses, where being pro-Palestinian has become a litmus test for progressive engagement. Last winter a battle over divestment from the Israeli occupation rocked Hampshire College, and many students spearheading the movement were Jewish. One of them, Alexander van Leer, explained his support for divestment in a YouTube video: "I spent last year in Israel, where I firsthand saw a lot of the oppression that was going on there. And it hurt me a lot coming from a Jewish background, where I've been taught a lot of the great things about Israel, which I know there are, but I was saddened to see the reality of it."

The Hampshire students are part of an international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that demands Israeli accountability for human rights violations. "Gaza gave BDS a huge boost," says Ali Abunimah, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. "It is shifting power between Israel and Palestinians. It shows there is a price for the status quo."

The growing impact of the BDS movement can be glimpsed in several recent events. Palestinian activists and Code Pink pressured the international human rights organization Oxfam to suspend the actress Kristin Davis (Sex and the City), who had been serving as a goodwill ambassador, over her sponsorship of Ahava, a beauty products company that uses materials from the occupied West Bank (Davis's commercial relationship with Ahava came to an end soon thereafter). Under similar pressure, a Brazilian parliamentary commission said Brazil should have no part in a proposed agreement that would bring increased trade between Israel and several South American countries until "Israel accepts the creation of the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders."

Then there was the Toronto International Film Festival in September, at which a number of prominent figures, including Jane Fonda, Viggo Mortensen, Danny Glover, Julie Christie and Eve Ensler, signed a declaration opposing the festival's association with the Israeli consulate and a city-to-city program featuring Tel Aviv as part of a campaign by the Israeli government to "rebrand" itself after the Gaza conflict. The declaration read, in part, "especially in the wake of this year's brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and UN General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime."

Not so long ago, "apartheid" was a hotly disputed term when applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now even advocates for Israel, such as entertainment magnate Edgar Bronfman and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, have warned that Israel faces an antiapartheid struggle unless it can get to a two-state solution, and fast. Nadia Hijab, a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, says such statements are a sign that the BDS movement is gaining traction. "The Palestinian national movement does not have power," she says. "BDS is the only source of nonviolent power and is leading to an increasingly sophisticated discourse, but it's early days yet." Vilkomerson of JVP sees hope: "I think [the sanctions movement] will lead Israelis to shift. People do not want to be pariahs."

In short, the change in the liberal-left discourse has been remarkable. Illinois writer Emily Hauser says she sees it in her synagogue. People once turned their backs on her after she published op-eds assailing Israel over its actions during the second intifada. Today many thank her for voicing their concerns. "The suffering of the [Palestinian] people there is a very, very powerful thing for people to be talking about. The community as a whole is far less likely to throw you out," she says.

What does all this mean for the US political institutions that affect Middle East policy?

There are signs Washington is feeling the changes. Several members of Congress visited Gaza, and some dared to criticize Israel. After Democrats Brian Baird, Keith Ellison and Rush Holt returned, they held a press conference on Capitol Hill led by Daniel Levy, a polished British-Israeli who has played a key role in the emergence of J Street. The Congressmen called for Israel to lift the blockade. After first-term Representative Donna Edwards visited Gaza and called for a vigorous debate about the conflict here, old-line lobbyists came out against her. But J Street rallied to her side, raising $30,000 for her in a show of support.

Alas, those are the highlights. There have been few other courageous profiles. President Obama tried to change the game by speaking of Palestinian "humiliations" in his June speech in Cairo and calling for a freeze in Israeli settlement growth as a condition for progress toward a two-state solution. But the Israeli government has defied him, secure in the knowledge that Jewish leaders in Washington will back it. Dan Fleshler, an adviser to J Street and author of Transforming America's Israel Lobby, says he's frustrated by the lack of movement. "What I predicted in my book--that Obama could lay out an American policy and if Israel was recalcitrant about it, and if he took Israel to task in a serious way, he would get enough political support--well, he hasn't tried it yet." Fleshler is hopeful that the call for a settlement freeze isn't the last test. "Other tests are coming up."

Another longtime observer of Jewish Washington says the only thing that's really changed is the presidency. That's big, but it's not everything. "Obama is strong and popular (still). He has a majority in Congress. Many in Congress feel that their political fate depends on his success. That is what generates the change in atmosphere here. So yes, there is significant change. But I think it has to do more with the atmosphere created by Bush's departure and by the new policies of Obama than with generational shifts in the way Jews view Israel or talk about Israel."

And so when Obama has seemed to lose his nerve--say, when he helped to bury the UN's Goldstone report, which said Israel committed war crimes in Gaza--there has been very little resistance in the Jewish community to his capitulations. When Netanyahu was reported to have maligned Obama aides David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel as "self-hating Jews," there was little outcry in the American Jewish community. And when we asked Representative Steve Rothman, a liberal Democrat, whether he welcomed J Street, he said he didn't know enough about the group to say, before reciting the same old mantras about the "Jewish state": "It's always good for more people to get involved to support America's most important ally in the Middle East.... As our president and vice president have said, Israel's national security is identical to America's vital national security."

This is the treacherous landscape that J Street has stepped into, where it has been outflanked on occasion by both the right and the left. During the Gaza conflict, it issued a statement condemning not only Hamas but Israel, too, for "punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them." It was a brave stance for a fledgling Jewish organization trying to build mainstream support, and it brought down the wrath of community gatekeepers. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, wrote in the Forward that the statement displayed "an utter lack of empathy for Israel's predicament," calling it "morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naïve." Ouch.

More recently J Street has tacked in the other direction. During the Toronto festival it quietly began collecting signatures for a letter blasting the protest as "shameful and shortsighted." Although never released as a letter, the initiative didn't endear J Street to the growing grassroots movement. Which is not to say that progressives are not hopeful about its emergence. Rosenberg points out that in its more than fifty-year existence, AIPAC never got the positive publicity J Street got after just one year--a long, favorable portrait in The New York Times Magazine. "All the constellations are coming together. [Executive director] Jeremy Ben-Ami and Daniel Levy have a plan and a message, and they know how to work the media," he says.

J Street is trying to position itself so that it is the only game in town for liberal Jews, affording Jewish advocates for the two-state solution the big political tent they've been lacking to this point. Rabbi Yoffie, for instance, will be addressing the J Street national conference, overlooking his ferocious criticism of the organization in January. "Let's have a broad and generous definition of what constitutes pro-Israel," he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, in explaining his pragmatic shift.

The conference is sure to combine culture, youth and politics in such a way as to make AIPAC look about as à la mode as the former Soviet Union. "This is a watershed moment in terms of how people look at institutions," says Isaac Luria, J Street's campaigns director. "The old legacy institutions are dying." Nadia Hijab says this has been J Street's main achievement, transforming the terrain for left-leaning Jewish groups by taking on the traditional lobby in the mainstream political arena, mobilizing money and message. "J Street is a positive development as an alternative to AIPAC," Hijab says. "It's not comparable to AIPAC yet, but in the American context it is very smart."

Political dynamism is precisely what J Street hopes to display at its policy conference. Expected speakers include Senator John Kerry and former Senator Chuck Hagel; 160 members of Congress will serve as hosts for J Street's first annual Gala Dinner. It might not rival the famous "roll call" of luminaries attending AIPAC's annual conferences (more than half of Congress showed up last May), but it is an impressive show of firepower all the same.

The ultimate issue is whether J Street will have any effect in bringing about a two-state solution, an idea that, despite official support, has been neglected in Washington nearly to the point of abandonment. Dana Goldstein is thrilled by the possibility that the rubber will finally meet the road. "J Street has had a great influence on intellectual progressives in DC," she says. "There is now a lobby group that engages ideas that have been out there without political will. They are the political arm to this movement."

Some critics on the left argue that conditions on the ground have already made the two-state solution unreachable. There are more than 500,000 Israeli settlers occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with more arriving every day, and Gaza remains under siege. Add to this the political scene inside Israel, where Netanyahu has balked at Washington's request for a settlement freeze, and you could say that in the sixteen years since the Oslo Accords were signed, the possibility of two states in historic Palestine has never been as far off as it is today.

Abunimah sees the new organization as having little impact. "A kinder and gentler AIPAC does not represent serious change," he says. "J Street is supposed to represent a tectonic shift, but it operates within the peace process paradigm and doesn't challenge it at all." Still, J Street has clearly panicked conservative Jews. And the Israeli embassy fired a warning shot across J Street's bow in October, when it warned that the lobby group was working against Israel's interests.

For its part, J Street knows these are desperate times for the liberal goal of a two-state solution. As Israel becomes more and more isolated globally, the Israeli government and the traditional lobby have only gotten more intransigent. At the AIPAC policy conference last spring, its executive director warned that Israel's enemies were establishing a "predicate for abandonment" that only AIPAC's faithful could reverse. Don't expect such hysteria at the J Street conference, but behind all the hoopla, the organization will similarly be trying to preserve the old ideal of a Jewish state. "Getting Israel another thirty F-16s won't help us combat the legitimacy issue [with] people who are trying to undermine the right of Israel to have a state." Luria says. "Jews need a state. And that legitimacy window--the cracks in that window are getting wider. They're dangerous. Dangerous."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Turkey Critical of Israel Because of Gaza Offensive

From CNN

Israel out of NATO event because of Gaza, Turkish official says

ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- Turkey excluded Israel from a planned NATO military exercise partly because of Turkey's criticism of Israel's Gaza offensive nearly a year ago, Turkey's foreign minister told CNN on Sunday.

The Turkish government decided to change the list of participating countries and exclude Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces. As a result, the NATO exercise was effectively scrapped, although a U.S. embassy representative said it was only postponed.

Asked why Turkey excluded Israel from the exercise, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, "We hope that the situation in Gaza will be improved, that the situation will be back to the diplomatic track. And that will create a new atmosphere in Turkish-Israeli relations as well. But in the existing situation, of course, we are criticizing this approach, [the] Israeli approach."

Earlier, the Turkish foreign ministry said "a technical matter," not politics, prompted the delay of the Anatolian Eagle exercise.

Instead of the NATO exercise, Davutoglu said Turkey would be conducting "a national military exercise now after consultations with all the parties involved."

The United States and Italy -- which, along with Turkey, are members of NATO -- were scheduled to take part in the exercise. Both countries withdrew their participation from the drill after learning Israel had been excluded, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, citing foreign ministry sources.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Ankara would say only that the United States and its allies postponed the exercise "in hopes of re-scheduling it."

"We look at this as a postponement, not a cancellation," said embassy spokeswoman Deborah Guido.

Turkey is Israel's Muslim ally in the Middle East, and the two nations have enjoyed close military and economic relations over the last decade. But tensions have emerged over strong Turkish criticism of the Gaza offensive in December and January.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January after accusing Israeli President Shimon Peres of killing children during the six-week war.

The Anatolian Eagle exercise is held every few years to boost international aerial cooperation. It was to run from October 12-23.

CNN's Ivan Watson contributed to this report.

How Abbas Has Failed the Palestinian People

From BBC

Goldstone fall-out plagues Abbas

By Heather Sharp
BBC News, Jerusalem

Palestinians sometimes joke about the fact that, when written in Arabic, "Palestinian National Authority" looks the same as "Palestinian National Salad".

Gazan protester throws shoe at poster of Mahmoud Abbas
Some Gazans threw shoes at posters branding Abbas a traitor

And to many here, the PA's handling of Richard Goldstone's UN report on the conflict in Gaza has been mixed up and limp.

What began as the publication of a damning report on Israel's military conduct - although it also condemned Hamas - has turned into an embarrassing debacle for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and Fatah leader.

Palestinians were outraged after the authority last week, under Israeli and US pressure, abruptly halted its drive to speed the report, which accuses both sides of war crimes, to the higher echelons of the mechanisms of international justice.

The PA initially urged UN human rights council members to refer the issue to the powerful Security Council which could in theory ask the International Criminal Court to open a war crimes prosecution.

But when the day of the vote came, the authority backed deferring discussion until March.

In response, rights groups in the PA's nerve centre of Ramallah took to the streets to denounce the decision.

Air strike on Gaza Strip, 13.01.09

Gazans threw shoes - a sign of disrespect in Arabic culture - at Mr Abbas's portrait on posters that branded him a traitor.

Syria cancelled a planned visit by Mr Abbas to Damascus. An Israeli-Arab political party urged him to step down.

The authority's damage limitation exercises have done little to help.

Some PA figures initially denied a change in policy, while others tried to cast the move as a step to allow more time to build consensus.

On Sunday Mr Abbas ordered an "investigation" into how his own government made the decision.

On Wednesday one senior figure, Yasser Abed Rabbo, conceded the move was a "mistake".

Meanwhile negotiator Saeb Erekat has been threatening to name other countries - hinting that these include Arab governments which would face domestic anger - that he says pressured the Palestinians to back down.

Damaged credibility

Mr Abbas's credibility, which is heavily tied to attempts to negotiate a Palestinian state into existence, had already taken a knock two weeks ago as US attempts to restart peace talks appeared to stall.

The PA leader faced domestic criticism for participating in a tri-lateral meeting with US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu despite Israel's refusal to halt settlement building in the West Bank.

Handshake between Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu durign tri-laterial meeting
The trilateral meeting yielded little more than a reluctant handshake

Unofficial reports of the mini-summit, and US talk of Israel "restraining" rather than "freezing" settlement building, left Palestinians deeply disappointed. It seemed that Mr Obama had eased US pressure on Israel.

Also, Mr Abbas's Fatah faction's long-running feud with Hamas, and his own conduct during the Israeli operation in Gaza, have come back to haunt him.

He angered even some Fatah supporters by being slow to condemn the Israeli offensive which started in December. He criticised Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel, even as Palestinian civilians were dying in Israeli air strikes.

According to local media, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said the PA actually "pressured Israel to go all the way" in the operation.

Demonstration against PA Goldstone decision 05.10.09

There have been reports - albeit from a news agency based in Hamas-controlled Gaza - that Israel threatened to release a video tape showing Palestinian leaders urging Israel to be tougher on Hamas during the Gaza offensive, unless the PA backed down over the Goldstone report.

While the tape may not exist at all, the rumours feed into perceptions among some Palestinians that Mr Abbas has at times swung almost traitorously close to Israel in his attempts to defeat his Hamas opponents.


Paradoxically, the crisis for Mr Abbas has come amid signs that Fatah and Hamas may be close to a reconciliation deal that has eluded them for so long, that would pave the way for presidential and legislative elections.

Mr Abbas's four-year term ended in January, and his authority now rests on disputed legal arguments, rather than a clear expression of voters' views.

Richard Goldstone
Goldstone has urged both sides to mount credible war crimes investigations

But Hamas, which won legislative elections in January 2006, will find itself in a similar position from January onwards.

Hamas declared the PA's Goldstone decision "a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs", and called for a delay in the planned reconciliation process.

But it has not pulled out of talks completely, and one school of thought suggests Hamas leaders may actually be keen to negotiate while Mr Abbas's hand is weakened.

Having failed to make progress on lifting Israel's blockade of Gaza, they are currently enjoying a rare moment of triumph boosted by the release last week of 20 female Palestinian prisoners in exchange of footage for the captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

The PA move in Geneva has probably not made a major difference to the likelihood of Israel ending up in the dock of the International Criminal Court. This was always low.

Even if the Palestinians had persuaded enough countries to vote last Friday to forward the Goldstone report to the UN Security Council, the US and possibly others would most likely have vetoed sending it any further.

But backing from UN member states would ratchet up pressure on Israel to comply with Mr Goldstone's recommendation that both it and Hamas mount credible, independent investigations into the report's allegations.

However, the PA decision's repercussions for Mr Abbas may be wider, especially if Mr Obama's drive to relaunch peace negotiations fails to bear fruit.

The weaker Mr Abbas becomes, the less credible any attempted peace process looks - and the less credible any peace process looks, the weaker he becomes.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

SJP Event Tomorrow - Jewish Voices For Peace : Israelis and Jews For Justice in Palestine

If you haven't heard already Students for Justice in Palestine @ UMD will be having an absolutely fascinating event tomorrow!

Here are more details and we hope to see you all there!!

Jewish Voices For Peace :
Israelis and Jews Striving for Justice in Palestine

Jimenez Building
Room 0220
University of Maryland

@ 6 p.m.

Featuring speakers:

Jesse Hochheiser, a member of Ta'ayush (Life in Common) a Jewish-Arab partnership, and Shelley Fudge of Jewish Voices for Peace and CodePink will be coming to UMD to share their experiences and reflections as Jews who are taking action against the occupation and the injustice the Palestinian people face.

This event is sponsored by: UMD Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, CODEPINK Women for Peace, Organization of Arab Students, Muslim Students Association, Muslim Women of Maryland, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network Stands With Palestinians On Strike

Here is a statement below from the Jewish Anti-Zionist Network outlining their support for the Palestinian general strike, which you can read more about here.

International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-LaborOctober 1, 2009

In the proud tradition of Jewish working class support for liberation struggles, IJAN-Labor stands in solidarity with the High Follow-up Committee for the Arab Citizens of Israel, the National Committee of Local Authorities, and all parties, movements and institutions of civil society of the Palestinian people in Israel, who have called a general strike for today, October 1, 2009.

This strike marks the ninth anniversary of the Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Day in October 2000 when Israeli authorities massacred 13 Palestinian protesters. The killers have never been brought to justice.

IJAN-Labor also welcomes the Trades Union Congress (U.K.) resolution of 17 September, which endorses the growing movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid, and calls for reconsideration of the TUC's relationship with the Histadrut, the Zionist labor federation that has supported Israel's attacks on Gaza.

The BDS campaign has been endorsed by a growing number of labor bodies, including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Solidaires Industrie (France), UNISON (UK), Transport and General Workers’ Union (UK), Western Australia Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Canadian Union of Public Employees-Ontario, six Norwegian trade unions, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Scottish Trades Union Congress, and Intersindical Alternativa de Catallunya.

In the United States, despite growing support from labor organizations and governments across the globe, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win fail to recognize what their British counterpart has now acknowledged: that Israel is a state built on defeating the aspirations and solidarity of working families not only in Israel but internationally.

Often without the knowledge or consent of union members, US Labor officialdom remains a leading accomplice of Israeli apartheid and the Zionist colonialism of which it is part. For more than sixty years, it has closely collaborated with the Histadrut, which has spearheaded — and whitewashed — apartheid, dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians since the 1920s.

Indeed, the Histadrut (as both employer and union) provided weapons which the South African apartheid government used against Black workers, while at home it either excluded or segregated Arab workers.

Today, in solidarity with the general strike of Palestinian workers in Israel and growing international labor support for BDS, we call on US labor organizations to divest their estimated $5 billion investment in State of Israel Bonds, and to end all relations with the Histadrut.

For more information IJAN Labor, please see our website: www.ijsn.netIf you are interested in participating in IJAN Labor, please email us at: