Friday, February 20, 2009

Israel's New Government and The Future

Israel's New Government and The Future

As an advocate for a solution to the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis that results in the creation of a Palestinian state along side an Israel with secure borders and as an advocate for a solution that does not result in ongoing, much less worsening, suffering for Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis in Sderot and surrounding communities, I am pretty depressed these days.

As an advocate for the fair treatment of Israel in the national and international media and on college campuses around the world, where anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments are flourishing, I am pretty depressed these days.

An internationally besieged Israel has turned to the political right, even empowering the far right, and I am a progressive. I do not want to defend someone who demands a loyalty oath such as Avigdor Lieberman and am not going to do so. I can't. I think it is wrong, though I would add that the US does have its Congressman swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I see no reason why Israeli MKs should not swear an oath to defend the nation against its enemies and to work for the prosperity of all of its citizens, Israeli Arabs included. That is the purpose of the Knesset.

It is very wrong, however, to make people swear an oath to support the policies of the current administration, whatever type of administration that is, in order to vote. That violates my sense of right and wrong. Dissent should not be silenced and Israeli Arabs certainly should have the right to dissent against the policies of the Israeli government. I have long feared the religious right in Israel, which seeks to trample upon civil liberties and has restricted Jewish marriages to the sole auspices of the Orthodox. Lieberman actually wants to undo that control. He is an advocate for civil liberties for Jews, the strongest by far in Israel, something that has created tremendous animosity between his party and the religious parties.

I believe that Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of the Union for Reform Judaism, of which my congregation is a member, spoke very strongly in his article in the Forward recently in which he used harsher language in reference to Avigdor Lieberman and his party than he uses toward Hamas Rabbi Yoffie wrote, speaking of Israel Beiteinu's campaign: " It was an outrageous, abominable, hate-filled campaign, brimming with incitement that, if left unchecked, could lead Israel to the gates of hell." I agree with the general sentiments. This campaign in general and Israel Beiteinu's in particular were about Israel's problems with the Arab world, both inside and outside of Israel and the right of the political spectrum seems to have had much more appeal than the left. Hatred was heard more than love.

Later in the article when Rabbi Yoffie says that Lieberman represents "values that we abhor" surely he did not mean civil marriage and civil divorce and separation of church and state, but only his views about those Israeli Arabs who actively opposed the policies of the Jewish state. The statement, which became an Israel Beiteinu slogan, "No citizenship without loyalty," is definitely frightening and abhorrent in my view. It is reminiscent of times and places where in Jews were so accused. Rabbi Yoffie and others are correct both to condemn and to fear that kind of language.

I too fear that radical voices are speaking too loudly and are being too easily heard. I fear that a lack of hope for peace and disdain for the compromises required to achieve it have emboldened its radical opponents, not only Hamas on the Palestinian side, but those on the Israeli side as well. Lieberman, whose party's views are certainly radical in my mind, was not radical enough for some, who voted the National Union party into the Knesset with FOUR seats, one more than Meretz, the social left party, holds.

While Eric Yoffie wrote, "Remember that he received only about 12% of the vote, much of it a protest against the perceived weakness of the other major-party leaders. And, it’s safe to say, most Israelis find his views utterly unacceptable," he forgot to include the National Union and Jewish Home parties which share many of Lieberman's views, but are MORE radical. Including them, the far right, not including the religious right, received about 1/6 of the vote. Still, some of that is protest vote and some of those voters were voting for Israel Beiteinu's hard-line SECULAR positions and not its statements about Israeli Arabs.

I took an election quiz not long ago in one of the Israeli newspapers which was designed to tell me which party would support my views. I found myself in the Labor party camp, though perhaps as a fringe Kadima voter. I am not a Conservative. I am a progressive, even liberal on many issues. It astounds me how far to the right the Israeli electorate has gone, rather been driven, by the failures of peace and constant berating for not being willing to simply give in to those who would see Israel finished as a secure home for the Jewish people.

I hope that Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to forge a coalition of the Center and even perhaps the left rather than working with Israel Beiteinu OR Shas, neither the secular political right nor the religious right. I simply doubt that there is much of a chance that it will happen.

I wrote of all of this years ago. I wrote at the time of disengagement from Gaza in 2005 that:

How the Palestinian Authority deals with events in Gaza and with the population of Gaza in general will radically affect the peace process over the months and years to come.

If there are constant barrages from Qasam rockets into Israel, if Hamas and other terrorist organizations continue to attack and the Palestinian Authority is not able to stop them, if there are no compromises foreseen concerning Palestinian demands for Jerusalem and its suburbs built on land acquired in 1967, it is highly unlikely that a lasting peace will be any nearer because of Israel’s actions over the past few weeks. In fact, without the worry about the safety of settlers living in Gaza, Israel may feel more able to act on its own in pursuit of terrorist leaders and infrastructure in Gaza, which would escalate tensions and make governing Gaza more difficult for the West Bank based Palestinian Authority.

I wrote back then in 2005 that:

If nothing is done and Hamas continues to exert its strength in opposition to the Palestinian Authority while the PA is unable to put it in its place, it may be that what we will be discussing in the coming years is a three state solution, rather than a two state one with a Hamas governed Gaza and a Fatah governed West Bank, both surrounded by walls, still not at peace with Israel. While that seems like a bad solution, it is better than what would result from a complete failure by the Palestinian Authority to better the lives of Palestinians in the relatively near future. Hamas could gain enough support, even in the West Bank, to take over the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.

I wrote back then that:

While the Palestinian Authority officially decries the actions of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other organizations seeking the destruction of Israel it remains unable or unwilling to stop them from pursuing that end. This places Israel in the untenable situation of either being accused of provocation when it tries to stop these groups before they can act or waiting until they have acted on their plans, possibly killing numerous innocents. In the latter case, history tells us that no action taken by Israel in response to attacks by these groups is seen as justified by much of the world. Arrests or strategic assaults on them are never seen as police actions, much less as actions in a continuing war, but are perceived as “harmful to progress toward peace.”

On November 29, 2007 when speaking of Annapolis, I wrote:

If Israel compromises too much, the current government will be ousted and almost certainly a far more right wing oriented government will come to power...The result of that shift would be a center-right coalition led in all likelihood by Bibi Netanyahu.
It is not that these things were not foreseeable, but that it seems not to have mattered. I am certainly not the only one who argued these things then. They have nonetheless come true.

The peace process seems to be ever careening toward a cliff, forced ahead by drivers (there are more than one) in distant lands fighting over a remote control directing the car and who hope that the road goes the way that they imagine that it should, not knowing the way it actually does. Meanwhile, the passengers, Israelis and Palestinians, are being battered around and hurtled toward tragedy time and again by some very well meaning people.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have been radicalized by the failures of the process over the past decade and a half. Israel has sheltered itself. It fears that no concessions will be enough and all concessions will be met with increased violence. Israelis have no hope that Shalom is attainable soon. Palestinians have sheltered themselves as well, hiding from the violence and suffering that permeate society in Gaza. Having lost hope long ago, they find refuge in the comfort of hatred. Better to hate than to love and lose.

What needs to change to bring about hope?

Life has to get better for Palestinians in Gaza. Life has to get better for Israelis in Sderot. There has to be hope that somehow someday children will be able to play in peace and security.

I have difficulty seeing this happening with an Israeli government tilted far to the right (I'm still holding out hope that Kadima will enter the coalition and bring it more to the center) or with Palestinian AuthoritIES (Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank) both unable to speak for the Palestinian people as a whole.

Peace seems a long way off. Hatred seems way too close.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Fire Bombing of Dresden and False History

This was written in response to a posting that I read concerning this past weekend's march of about 6,000 skinheads in Dresden on the anniversary of the bombing coupled with recent discussions of Holocaust denial and minimization related to the rehabilitation of Bishop Williamson and other members of the Society of St. Pius X.

Shalom All,

Please note that inflation of the death totals of the fire-bombing of Dresden is a major part of Holocaust denial and minimization. Had I not heard Dr. Deborah Lipstadt speak and mention that specifically, I would not have known. David Irving's work The Destruction of Dresden had become THE historical account of the event.

Deborah Lipstadt's famous trial in which she proved David Irving wrong included a discussion of the fire-bombing of Dresden specifically and Irving's attempts, as a "historian" of World War II, to argue that some 135,000, 250,000, or even "hundreds of thousands" died, rather than the 25,000 noted in some articles or the 35,000 cited by the German Police at the time and quoted in Deborah Lipstat's blog .

Irving wanted to argue that allied actions were as bad as those of the Nazis in relation to the Jews or worse. When you combine inflated Dresden death totals with minimized Holocaust totals you get a comparison of 250,000 or more dead in one attack at Dresden compared with 300,000 Jews dead (if we use Williamson as an example) in the camps during the entire war. This comparison further minimizes the Holocaust and does so to the point that the Germans become more the victims of genocide than the Jews were.

Remember that deniers believe that the Jews simply relocated to Israel and that relatively few died.

Let's take a look at what one Holocaust minimizer, Kevin Alfred Strom, wrote in his article .

Strom wrote:

Despite the fact that they could clearly see that the marked target area contained hospitals and sports stadia and residential areas of center city Dresden, the bombers nevertheless obeyed orders and rained down a fiery death upon the unlucky inhabitants of that city on a scale which had never before been seen on planet Earth. Hundreds of thousands of innocents were literally consumed by fire, an actual holocaust by the true definition of the word: complete consumption by fire.

Rabbi Kaufman continues:

Look at that last sentence! "Hundreds of thousands of innocents," "an ACTUAL holocaust by the TRUE DEFINITION of the word." The reason that Dresden is a haven for Neo-Nazi groups is that it has been created as the anti-Jewish holocaust, a demonstration that, in essence, the Germans got it worse that the Jews ever did.The repeated use of the term "holocaust" by Strom in his article is precisely to argue that this, DRESDEN, was a holocaust and NOT what the Jews PRETEND to have been one. Guess who was Strom's source? He tells us only a couple of paragraphs later, "I urge every one of you to read The Destruction of Dresden by David Irving. I assure you, after reading Irving's book, you will never take seriously the Establishment's version of what happened in that war again."

What is frightening about the gathering of thousands at Dresden is that the gathering was about the lie, not the truth. If truth can have no purchase in the modern world and liars and deniers be given equal say to historians, we are all in for a frightening future.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Israeli Elections - The Day After

Shalom All,

It looks as though with all of the votes counted except the IDF vote, the right wing bloc including Israel Beiteinu and SHAS has 65 seats in the Knesset vs. the left wing bloc led by Kadima with only 55 including 11 Arab party seats and 13 from Labor. Now Ehud Barak of Labor has stated that his party will stay out of any coalition and the two Arab parties that were voted out of the elections before the Supreme Court reversed the decision have stated that they will not serve with those who voted them out. If these two are true, the only way that Kadima can form a coalition would be with both Israel Beiteinu and Likud coming from the right wing bloc. Meanwhile Likud can form a coalition without Kadima as long as Israel Beiteinu and SHAS stay put.

Does Israel Beiteinu at least want to pretend to negotiate with Kadima? Of course, the less Bibi Netanyahu can take them for granted, the more they will be able to get from him in concessions. It is certainly true that Kadima will up the ante, but I have difficulty seeing Avigdor Lieberman sitting in on cabinet discussions about forming a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Let's look at this from a perspective of political positioning. If you set aside the Arab parties for the moment, the Jewish voters in Israel are now tilted 65 vs. 44 to the RIGHT. The Secular LEFT is in shambles. Labor and Meretz were crushed in this election. Kadima itself has party members that tend toward the right and the party may well split if left out of the coalition. Several leading Kadima members are former members of Likud. That also means that the right-left split of the Jewish vote is actually worse than the numbers above would indicate. Some of the Kadima vote is actually center-right.

It seems to me that it would be politically expedient for any right leaning party to stay right and for any left leaning party to move to the right or to stand in stark opposition rather than to participate, hoping that opposition will help bring strength. The latter is the path already chosen by Ehud Barak for the Labor Party.

An alternative to the straight right wing coalition would be for a coalition of the "Nationalist Right" along with Kadima: This would be Likud, Israel Beiteinu, National Union, Jewish Home and Kadima, leaving out the Ultra-Orthodox parties, SHAS and Torah Judaism. This coalition would have 77 seats in the Knesset, an overwhelming majority, but basically, just as a right wing coalition would, it would have a mandate to abandon the peace process as it stands. The advantages of this coalition would be that the religious parties would have less influence and this coalition could have Livni as the Foreign Minister dealing with the United States, which in its own elections shifted significantly to the political left.

It is possible that there could be some sort of shared PM spot shifting between Livni and Netanyahu in this coalition, but the nature of the coalition would prohibit Livni from continuing the path established by Kadima to this point. Just subtract Kadima, which would leave the government with 49 seats, and add the religious parties' 16 seats to the coalition and you have a right wing bloc coalition. Netanyahu could expand the coalition out to 93 seats by adding SHAS and Torah Judaism, something that would prevent any party from collapsing the coalition by withdrawal, including Kadima. That does not give Kadima much strength.

If Ehud Barak is true to his word and Labor stays out, even if the Arab parties joined a coalition, Kadima would need both Israel Beiteinu and SHAS to form a coalition without the Likud. I have grave difficulty seeing Israel Beiteinu being willing to serve with the Arab parties or the reverse. There are also significant issues between Israel Beiteinu and SHAS, after all Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said of voters who cast their ballots for Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party which opposes the influence of religious parties on secular Israelis, "Whoever votes for Lieberman gives strength to Satan." I do not think that such a coalition is feasible.

Kadimah realistically needs both Israel Beiteinu and Likud in order to form a coalition. Ultimately, the next government of Israel will lean much further to the right on foreign policy issues regardless of which parties the coalition contains.

Right now, it seems that the real debate is over three choices: having a RIGHT leaning coalition led by Likud and Israel Beiteinu that includes Kadima, one that includes the religious parties and not Kadima, or one that includes both Kadima and the religious parties.

Looking at that, if I had to say who won the election, it would be Likud and Israel Beiteinu.