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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Look at the Israeli Ambassador's Visit

These past several weeks have elicited within me a feeling of pity for those who feel that they are forced to fabricate arguments defending the human rights violations associated with the illegal and immoral occupation of Palestine. This pity was extended to Israeli Ambassador, Dr. Michael Oren, as I listened to his speech at the Clarence Smith Performing Arts Center last Thursday. As I listened to easily-digestible facts about the State of Israel, I expected no less from a man who is paid to regurgitate the predictable talking points and rhetoric of the acting Israeli Government. I found his arguments to be pathetic, if not desperate to say the least. For instance, in his talk, Oren justified the US support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine through a combination of cute quotes by famous American historical figures, and the citing of job and technology creations from the $3.2 billion Israel receives in foreign US military aid, as if these were valid points.

As a politician, Oren interestingly tried to appeal to both religious and secular Zionists, something that I wonder if Dr. Oren would do in person. His references to American historical figures who spoke of Jews returning to their homeland reflected an aspect of manifest destiny that is the underlying ideology behind Zionism. Personally, as a Jew myself, I like this idea of a manifest destiny of paper. But my rights to achieve a Jewish homeland for my people are only extended as far as not to infringe upon the freedoms and liberties of others. This is where I differ between Oren and nearly all present day Zionists, who feel that the human rights violations are secondary to achieving a Jewish homeland. I’m sorry Mom and Dad, but if the success of the Jewish State requires the militarized separation, immigration and citizenship discrimination, and the unapologetic dehumanization of a forcibly displaced people, then I can not support it as it as it currently exists. Not to mention, the land’s connection to the Jewish people is just as reasonable as the land’s connection to other nations and empires who have touched that region over the last 2,000 years, such as present day Italy, Greece, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UK, among others.

I was also taken aback by Oren insisting that the military contracting jobs created by $3.2 billion US aid somehow, at least in part, justified Israel’s questionable foreign and domestic policies. As if making money is more important than the suffering and discrimination of millions of people! Oren completely failed to mention any aspects of his country’s human rights violations nor did he ever use of the word occupation (as far as I remember). Instead, Oren focused on themes of security and combating terrorism, while completely disregarding how these are connected to the occupation. Such narrow-minded thinking does not fully put Palestinian resistance into context, and consequently, only demonizes the Palestinian people. It is much easier for Oren and the like to feel they have the higher moral ground when they completely ignore the existence of the occupation, and instead view Palestinian resistance as random acts of Anti-Semitic violence.

Oren also refused to take at least some responsibility on behalf of Israel, for Israel’s lack of contribution to the peace process and instead appeared to have laid all the blame on Palestinians for stalling peace. For instance, one talking point Oren repeated was that Israel would negotiate peace only if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State. One: how can Israel ask for such a demand when they do not even respect Palestine as an independent sovereign state? Two: this rhetoric regarding Israel’s demand to be recognized is completely baseless considering Israel has not instigated any peace talks in the last several years (until the past few months thanks to the US State Department) where such a demand could officially be made. If Oren is however referring to the Palestinian Authority’s current lack of enthusiasm for pursuing peace talks, as the basis for the claim that the Palestinians are the only deterrence for peace, then he completely failed to mention that the Israeli Government has ended its moratorium on settlement building, and is currently building 350 homes in the West Bank, the reason for Hamas’ and the PA’s frustration.

Overall, Dr. Oren’s speech was filled with vague rhetoric and fancy ideas, while simultaneously failing to address the important issues at hand. But I do not expect any less of him. He is a politician. He is no different from American politicians at home who blindly use vague words and ideas like “freedom” and “small government” before advocating that the Federal Government infringe upon the rights of Muslims to build a Muslim Community Center in New York. Perhaps Oren’s rhetorical tactics satisfy a concern among the Zionist community, a concern that was brought up by one of the students during the question and answer session; a concern to strengthen Israel’s PR campaign in order to maintain a more positive international image. Does their idea of achieving middle eastern peace really consist of calling for an overpowering State-run propaganda campaign that highlights trivial facts about Israel in the style of a holiday travel brochure, instead of addressing the cries of millions of people in the West Bank and Gaza? As long as the voices of the Palestinians are ignored as if their mouths were taped shut, then peace and security is impossible.


  1. Okay, many things here, but with midterms looming I can't respond to all.

    (1) How do you expect to achieve a Jewish homeland for your people without displacing others, out of curiosity?

    (2) The Palestinians certainly need a State. But Israel's "lack of contribution to the peace process"? Perhaps the reason we don't have peace is because of statements like those that are absolutely not thought out at all. Israel has made many offers, but all were rejected by the Palestinians. Yeah yeah yeah, you are now thinking "but those offers were not good and had flaws"! That might be true. But nothing will be perfect for both sides. Every time Israel makes an offer, it is rejected for whatever reason. Maybe because 97.5% isn't enough, maybe because Gaza doesn't have full autonomy, maybe because Yassir Arafat was a fucking asshole that took the Palestinians money and gave it to his wife in France. But regardless, a policy of "no recognition, no peace," like the Arabs had after 1967 will. not. work., and sometimes it seems like this view is lacking among many.

    It is clear Israel has the upper hand militarily, strategically, and geographically at this point. Palestinians need to make some concessions, or their sorry situation will continue indefinitely.

    (3) Israel (and even zealots like Netanyahu and Lieberman) have stated that they WILL recognize Palestine as a state, but THEY WANT MUTUAL RECOGNITION AS WELL. I ask you- under WHAT CONDITIONS will Israel be recognized by the Palestinians? Israel has laid out how they will recognize the Palestinian State- has this been reciprocal at all? (The answer is no.... just like it was in 1947, 1967, etc.)

    (4) You guys never actually formulate a plan of what SHOULD happen ideally. You can bitch and moan all you want, but seriously... what should be done? Hint: a solution of making millions of Jews leave is also not acceptable, for the same reason that you claim making millions of Palestinians leaving in 1948 was unacceptable. It happened- now we need a solution, rather than this black and white "the occupier is always wrong" bullshit you speak.

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  3. For starters, the lecture was not about the Israeli precense in the Palestinian territories. The lecture was about US-Israeli relations. Given this fact, it is understandable that he would be talking about past US presidents support for... the existence of Israel (he spoke nothing about the territories here) and how US aid to Israel has benefited Americans.

    As for your whole arguement that establishing a Jewish homeland is only valid if it does not infringe upon the freedom of others, have you ever considered the fact that if the Palestinians had accepted the UN Partition Plan, not only would there be no Palestinian refugee crisis, but that Jews and Arabs would be living as full-equals in two states for two peoples? Have you ever considered the fact that Israeli Arabs have equal rights in Israel, and that the only reason why these harsh measures are employed in the Palestinian territories is because the Palestinians resorted to terrorism? Just some food for thought. Btw, the Jewish roots in the Holy Land are much deeper than other empires, because except for such ancient peoples that no longer exist, such as the Canaanites, Amorites, Jebusites, etc., the Jewish connection is the oldest connection to the land. This does not mean that the Holy Land is not important to other nations and that their freedom of worship in the Holy Land should not be respected, but it does mean that we are the rightful owners of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Perhaps the Palestinians can lay claim to the West Bank once they recognize our right to exist, but not before then.

    Regarding Oren's focus on Palestinian terrorism, I have to remind you that Palestinian terrorism started before 1967. This implies that Palestinian terrorism is not about the occupation as you claimed, but it is about terrorizing Jews and denying their right to a homeland. If it was just about giving the Palestinians a homeland as well, as you claimed, then why did the Palestinians reject any numerous offers by previous prime ministers to create a state while accepting Israel's right to exist? I don't think that Oren was dehumanizing any one. He was just speaking the truth about what this terrorism is all about.

    Also, Oren is correct that the lack of success for the peace process rests with the Palestinians, since they are the ones with prerequisites for negotiations and the ones who refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Israeli officials have already said on numerous occassions that they would be willing to recognize a Palestinian state if the Palestinians would recognize us as a Jewish state, so that argument is a mute point. As for your argument about the settlements being an issue for starting negotiations, it is nothing more than an excuse that the PA is using. They had ten months to negotiate with a settlement moratorium, and only started negotiations on month nine, thus wasting valuable time. The reason there has not been serious negotiations for the last three years is not because the Israelis were not willing, but because the Palestinians had zero desire for them, after walking away from Ehud Olmert's generous offer without a counter-offer.

    And in conclusion, Oren's lecture was about educating young university students about US-Israeli relations. It had zero alterior motives, like you seem to imply. It was not about silencing Palestinians. If it was, then not a single SJP person would have been allowed to ask questions inside the lecture hall and the police would have dispersed the protesters outside. Nevertheless, Oren has every right to disagree with your position and that of SJP, and to voice how he feels. The question that should be asked is, are the SJP so opposed to freedom of speech that they sought to protest a scholar speaking about US-Israeli relations? They were the ones trying to silence Oren, not the other way around.

  4. If an armed invader entered your house and attempted to bargain with you "how about we split your house 50/50?" who would agree to that? One could only agree with the foreknowledge that that same armed invader would take all of your house should you oppose his plan. The Jews were minorities then in each sector of Palestine they were awarded and in some areas, such as the Negev, constituted less than one percent. There was no ethical reason to accept the UN's plan.

    The Palestinians are the descendents of those ancient peoples who think no longer exist, the "Canaanites, Amorites, Jebusites" as well as and perhaps most notably the Samaritans. The Palestinians are truly the indigenous people of Palestine, unlike European Jews whose religion and perhaps ancestry are the only factors linking them to Palestine.

    “Perhaps the Palestinians can lay claim to the West Bank once they recognize our right to exist, but not before then”

    Perhaps they can lay a claim to their own diminished home once they give in to whatever demand the zionists decide to impose on them. That’s absolutely sick and evil. Perhaps people can claim their own home if they give into nationalistic demands. Sick words from a sick dehumanizing movement.

    The use of violence by Zionists to attain their dreams of conquest and ethnic cleansing is precisely terrorism. Oren is a supporter of terrorism in every way that the regime that rules Iran is claimed to be.

    The terrorist supporter Oren was not silenced, he successfully droned on and on about his racist imperialistic understanding of history and his equally racist hopes for the future.

  5. David,

    What you are saying is nothing more propaganda and pseudo-history. It is not to say that the Palestinians have suffered. Indeed they have, and they continue to do so because of corruption among their own leaders and Israeli policies pertaining to the military occupation. But to categorize the Zionist enterprise as nothing more than European imperialism in disguise is simply ridiculous and a complete distortion of the historical record to suit your own perverted political agenda.

    The Zionist settlers that came to Palestine were not coming on behalf of some European colonialist or imperialist enterprise. The analogy of an armed invader that you using would imply that these settlers came as armed invaders to Palestine in the late 19th century with the intent to displace and subjugate the Arabs living there. This is not the case. These settlers came to Palestine, bought plots of land called "dunams" from idle Arab landowners, and established settlements, such as Moshavim and Kibutzim, as well as cities. One case in point of this is the city of Tel Aviv, built on purchased land that was nothing more than empty desert and sand dunes at its beginning in the early 1900s.

    Furthermore, most Zionist thought and Zionists at that time, preceding and following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and until today, did and do not see the Arabs as your post would depict or imply. Most Zionists saw the Arabs as potential partners for building the land and causing it to bloom. While there were Zionists that wanted to expel the Arabs from Palestine, people who espoused such beliefs were the exceptions and operated at the political margins of the Zionist movement.

    While certainly Arab fears about the true intents of the Yishuv explain Arab resistance that occurred in Palestine prior to 1948, it is only one of many contributing factors to their resistance.

    Other contributing factors that would be agreed upon by anyone who has studied the topic, would be the Arab and Muslim intolerance of any sort of Jewish national and political presence in that part of the world, since such a presence represented a challenge to Arab dominance and Muslim supremacy over the land. During this time, an Arab national movement in Palestine was also emerging and sought control over the land, which inevitably brought it into conflict with the Zionist movement and the Yishuv.

    Indeed, it is no coincidence that the leader of the Palestinian national movement prior to 1948 was an Islamic religious leader and Grant Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin-al-Husseini. For Husseini and other Muslim leaders during the time, the struggle over controlling the land was a jihad, or "holy war," meant to take control of the land and subjugate the Jews or drive them out.

    As for your assertion that the Palestinians are the descendants of the Canaanites, Amorites, and Jebusites, there is absolutely no evidence to prove this. The Arabs came to Palestine with the spread of Islam out of the Arabian peninsula by Muhammad and his followers. Furthermore, the notion of a national identity pertaining to a particular piece of land, such as Palestinian, Syrian, Egyptian Jordanian, etc. is a relatively new phenomena in the Arab world that is a result of European ideas about nationalism coming to the region as well as European imperial projects.

    So next time you decide to post some hysterical rant that has no bearing on reality or the historical record, make sure to avoid such ad hominem attacks if you had no evidence to back up such labels as "terrorist." Using such labels to characterize Michael Oren without any evidence leads to divisiveness and retracts from the intellectual seriousness required to discuss this topic.