Monday, April 27, 2009

Two States for One People

Shalom All,

I have noticed a trend recently that is exemplified by the article from YNET,7340,L-3707501,00.html. Arab leaders are now calling for a two state solution, while OPPOSING one of them being a Jewish state. Rather than calling for a single Palestinian state, Arab leaders advocating for the Palestinian side are PRETENDING to be supporters of "two states for two peoples" by agreeing to "two states." However, their intent is that BOTH states will become Palestinian states. They drop the "for two peoples" part of the statement. This is to be accomplished by insisting on the Right of Return of Palestinians to what is now Israel. As the Palestinians would then only be slightly less than a majority and have a much higher birthrate than the Jewish population, in a manner of short period of time, Israel will end up with a Palestinian majority. Thus, BOTH states would become Palestinian dominated states.

The statements by Abbas are strong indications that he is NOT as moderate as many on the world stage would like him to be. The only difference between his position and Hamas' position is that Hamas is unwilling to wait to eliminate the Jewish state through the Right of Return.

The biggest problem that those desiring peace now face is that Israel seems to have a choice between maintaining a single state in which Jews dominate Palestinians, many of whom live in occupied territories, or agreeing to peace terms under which there will not be a Jewish state into the future. Even the political left is beginning to see this problem. The issue is not simply a question of a one or two state solution, but of "two states FOR TWO PEOPLES" meaning that one of those states would be a Jewish state. Even Ahmadinejad supports Abbas' version of two states in which in essence both would become Palestinian in short order.

Simply put, what is going on now is that leaders who seek the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state are SUPPORTING a TWO state solution, only doing so in such a way that ultimately NEITHER of those states will be Jewish. Their support for "two states" allows them to APPEAR to be moderate, when they are very much not and continue to seek the end of the Jewish state.

They really want two states for one people.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Muslims and Jews United

Shalom All,

Rabbi Marc Schneier has a dream to bring together Jews and Muslims, to seek our commonality and especially in this country, to fight racism and discrimination. He has been successful in linking Jewish congregations with Muslim congregations in dialogue.,7340,L-3701387,00.html

In Des Moines, we have had fewer opportunities than I would like to see in the future for interaction. Mark Finkelstein and I have made an annual visit, at least one, to the Islamic Center each year, usually around Ramadan. I have been the guest of the Muslim community and spoken at large scale Islamic celebrations here, at the Eid-al-Fitr festival and at Iowa Muslim Day celebrations. A couple of years ago, Ako Samad invited me to join with him and my state senator at the State House to deliver the invocation, the first time a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian had ever stood on the podium for the prayer in the history of the state.

We do have many things in common. We are minorities who wish to combat hatred and prejudice as well as to advocate for a separation of church and state. Religiously, we share many common beliefs and similar practices (though I would argue that Islam is FAR MORE closely related to Orthodox Judaism than to Progressive Judaism). We can certainly find commonality in our language, seeing relationships between Shalom and Salaam and other paired words from Hebrew and Arabic. Yet religiously, as a Progressive Jew and specifically as a Progressive Reform Jew, there are enormous differences in our beliefs and practices.

Discussing religious issues with religious Muslims is very similar to discussing them with Orthodox Jews or devout Catholics. We are on different ends of the spectrum on virtually the entire array of social issues from homosexuality and choice to the opportunity for women to be religious leaders. Additionally, when we deal with the history of the "Abrahamic Faiths" we run into problems. Why? Because while Muslims believe that they share our history and that of Christians as related in the Quran, Jews do not believe the history found therein. Worse, the treatment of Jews in the Quran is horrific. Thus, when we dialogue about being "Children of Abraham" we tend to avoid the stories of Mohammed's encounters with the Jews of Medina and we certainly avoid the more troubling statements in the Hadith. The reality is that there are significantly troubling issues that are almost universally avoided.

The reason for this is that while progressive Jews are willing to look at troubling passages in the Torah and other texts and attribute them to human origins and human prejudices, Muslims cannot. There is no Reform Islam. For all Muslim leaders with whom I have ever dialogued, Mohammed's revelation comes from Allah, not from Mohammed or other people. It is God's word, much in the same way that Orthodox Jews view texts in our tradition and fundamentalist Christians view them in theirs. Where we have had extreme difficulty is in finding Muslims who speak for Muslim organizations who are willing to express contrary views. Those Muslims who I know hold views on social issues similar to mine, such as marriage equality or choice, are secular Muslims. I know of no religious leaders who share them.

As Liberal Jewish institutions, it is not only with Muslims that we have this problem. We need to dialogue with Catholics, we need to dialogue with fundamentalist Christians, and we need to dialogue with Orthodox Jews. We differ on many of the same social issues. Building bridges to the broader community cannot be solely about doing the politically correct thing. We need allies across the spectrum. Having 14 million Jews serve as the mediators between 1.2 billion Muslims and 1.3 billion Christians has never been comfortable. Both sides have at times persecuted and massacred our people. On Israel issues, we find ourselves right in the middle with a giant target on our heads.

There is, in the West, a false assumption that all Muslims oppose Israel. This is largely the result of negative media coverage and propaganda. It is certainly true that Arab Muslims tend to oppose Israel and that Shia Muslims (Iran) do, but there are two very prominent groups that need to be mentioned as strong allies. First are the Druze, who consider themselves to be an Islamic reformatory sect. Israeli Druze are some of the strongest advocates for Israel, serving in its military in disproportionate high numbers as well as in its diplomatic corps. Second are Sudanese Darfurian Sufi Muslims, whose genocide at the hands of Islamist Arabist militias is the result of their being African rather than Arab in orientation. The conflict in Darfur is between black Muslims who follow African traditions and black Muslims who follow Arab traditions. Many of these Darfurian Muslims have come to see Israel as the Southern Sudanese Christians came to see them, namely as their protectors against raging evil. One could easily add progressive Muslims throughout the Arab world who are simply afraid to speak up. The Islamic Society of North America, the most progressive Islamic national organization, supports a two state solution to the crisis, but is not by any means a strong supporter of Israel's security needs as it negotiates with the Palestinians. ISNA advocates for the Palestinian side.

What I have found is that those sects that have been persecuted in the Arab and Persian world, the Druze, the Sufi Muslims (slaughtered by the Taliban in Afghanistan and in Darfur by the government there), and the Bahai (a new religion formed out of the Islamic milieu) are some of the strongest supporters of Israel. They see Israel as the defender of the weak, as the defender of religious freedom, as the beacon of religious tolerance and as a land of peace and prosperity. While perhaps the dream is better than the reality, many Darfurian refugees have found far better lives in Israel than any that they could have imagined in the Sudan, though admittedly things could improve still more.

Take the time to watch the trailer for B'nai Darfur .

It lets the Darfurians speak for themselves about what Israel means for them.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Toward Peace?

Shalom All,

Since the Israeli elections and the big todo about Avigdor Lieberman's anti-peace stance, talks have been underway with the Palestinian Authority. Lieberman is certainly unpopular, but as President Abbas has stated, he speaks his mind. There is no question about what Lieberman believes. Thoughts seem to emerge unfiltered from his lips. Lieberman is also an open advocate for a two state solution.

That said, there are some problems with his version of two states, the primary one seeming impossible. Lieberman wants to transfer Arab villages within Israel to a Palestinian state in exchange for lands upon which Jews live today. While violating numerous Israeli laws, the problem is that it makes too much sense to simply discount. Why not trade land? Why not give Israeli Arabs the opportunity to go to a newly founded Palestinian state?

One of the biggest difficulties that people have with Lieberman is that he is hard to read, being neither a die hard religious Zionist who is unwilling to give up an inch of land, nor a religious Jew, nor a dove. His ideas are often awful and even hateful in many eyes, but he is willing to work toward peace in a tangible way. It is going to be a very strange few years in Israel. Shimon Peres speaks of Iran in terms I would have expected from Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak joins an outwardly right wing coalition, and Avigdor Lieberman is working toward peace.

Meanwhile things seemingly have settled down in Gaza. Egypt has stopped some of the smuggling and arrested a huge group of Hizballah fighters in the Sinai.

Things may actually be looking up on the peace front. If Palestinian institutions get the chance to work and the populations of Gaza and the West Bank get the chance simply to live in security, prosperity will begin to follow and negotiations might actually have a chance to succeed. I don't see a Palestinian state just around the corner, but I do see substantial improvement in quality of life on the way.

This week, I am probably more optimistic than I have been for months. The process seems to be going in a positive direction.


This Far, No Farther

Shalom All,

David Samuels article is all too cogent for my taste. He makes a very good argument for why Israel not only might attack Iran, but probably should. That scares me. Samuels also does a superb job of demonstrating why Israel cannot possibly rely on the United States all of the time, or even any of the time.

Where I tend to differ slightly from Samuels is that while he seems to argue that the conflict is for favor of the United States in the Middle East between Iran and Israel, I believe that it is more complicated.

If you go far back, let's say to just prior to WWI. You had the Ottomans in power over much of the region. Then the Brits and the French, who basically left a power vacuum in the wake of WWII. The USSR stepped in then as did the United States. The US and USSR both hoped that Israel would be their ally in the region. Israel seemingly chose the US, which is why the 1956 war in which it was backed by Britain and France against the will of the US startled the US. The US wanted control of the distribution of oil to Europe and Israel had the opportunity to screw that up by handing that control to Britain and France or even to assert its own power over it by controlling the Suez. The US then courted Turkey and placed missiles there in 1961-1962 in order to gain a foothold in the region. But distant battles took its attention away from the Middle East during the Mid-1960s and when Israel was threatened by the Arab armies, the United States sat back and watched. Soviet client states were armed to the teeth and ready to strike, but the US was far more worried about the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia.

When Israel struck and won decisively, the game changed. Now, Israel was the dominant military power in the region. Direct US power in the region paled by comparison. The US now looked to use Israel's influence to combat Soviet influence, at least until President Carter decided to use Israel's concessions to combat it. US foreign policy for most of the last three decades has consisted of forcing concessions upon Israel while not doing anything in its favor other than vetoing votes at the United Nations and providing it the ability to purchase weaponry. Meanwhile, Israel has become so vastly superior to its enemies militarily that US influence West of the Persian Gulf is largely related to its ability to influence Israel to direct its power.

In the 1980s, the US decided to prevent either Iraq or Iran from achieving dominance by supporting both sides. It backed the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan against the USSR. It exerted influence by maintaining conflicts. Meanwhile, ultimately all of these players were functionally opponents of what the United States wanted, namely future security for the dispersal of oil. The Taliban wanted to end US influence in the region. Both Iraq and Iran wanted to control the flow of oil. Ultimately Saddam Hussein's decision to invade Kuwait tipped the balance to the point wherein the United States had to insert itself into the battle between Iran and Iraq by attacking Iraq. It had to defend Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In other words, Iraq forced the hands of the US into making a decision in a DIFFERENT conflict that had equally bad, if not worse, consequences. The US decided that it had to stop the winner of the Iraq-Iran conflict from becoming a serious competitor for control of the region.

The US ended up turning a conflict between Iraq and Iran into a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia by removing Iraq from the picture with the US backing Saudi Arabia. Suddenly, many Muslims saw Saudi Arabia, the center of Islam, in the role of US puppet and that more than any US involvement in the Middle East caused radicals all over the region to react and to further radicalize. That the US continues to strongly support Saudi Arabia is not seen by radical Muslims as a positive thing, but as an insult to Islam. The US became their biggest enemy, not their best friend. Striking out or at least acting in some serious fashion against Iran, which is not well liked in most of the Arab and Muslim world, could help.

While there are many reasons that have been suggested for why the United States went back into Iraq and took out Saddam, the only ones that really make any sense have to do with stabilizing the region by maintaining a dominant US presence that directly threatens Iran. Unfortunately, right now, while the US is holding its own in Iraq, it is losing ground in Afghanistan (where it is seeking "moderate" Taliban with whom to bargain, something akin to looking for progressive liberal radical fundamentalists), watching Pakistan (already a major nuclear power) deteriorate into lawlessness while cultivating there the very kind of fundamentalist radical extremism that resulted in 9/11,and is talking nice with the Mullahs of Iran, who cannot but laugh that the United States is crawling to their doorstep so weary from fighting that it refuses to even consider utilizing the massive firepower sitting on its border to force Iran to back down from its nuclear ambitions. It even allowed North Korea to build a nuclear reactor and form a nuclear weapons program in Syria, a nation under the Iranian sphere of influence, after allowing Iraq to build one decades earlier, both destroyed by Israel.

For Israel, whose people have historically endured persecution after persecution and many of whose people specifically endured the torment of the Holocaust when nations that could have fought chose instead to appease, is difficult not to see modern day Neville Chamberlains trying to bargain by giving up modern Sudetenlands, one of which is the 1967 border of the West Bank and the other being Israel's security. I am not calling President Obama, who I believe does support Israel's security, Neville Chamberlain. Rather, I am calling almost all of the leaders of the Western World, Neville Chamberlains. In virtually every discussion of every conflict, leaders around the world from America to Britain, from France to Canada, from Australia to Germany, speak of concessions and appeasement.

Radical extremism, particularly in the Muslim world, but far from solely therein, is being confronted by nations who believe that intolerance should be tolerated as an alternative world-view, that advocacy for freedom, capitalism, and democratic principles are sins of arrogance for which the West should apologize, that the dramatic oppression of women and the persecution of religious minorities are allowable and even valued cultural differences and that the foreign policies of all of those nations in the West should primarily involve making those who wish to destroy them and undermine everything for which they stand happy. This seems most often to be accomplished by abandoning of principles in exchange for easily broken promises. We dangle carrots, rewarding our enemies, giving them confidence to seek more and bigger carrots. "If they are willing to give us that, why not also...?" The opponents of freedom simply up the ante and we repeatedly give in. Freedom is losing around the world to totalitarian and rogue regimes, even to pirates, because we refuse to say "No, or else" and mean "OR ELSE!!!" What ever happened to "This far, no farther?"

This attitude is stifling moderate populations all over the world as they watch radicals make demands and see them granted by those who should be demanding the liberty of the moderates. Those who wish to simply live happy and prosperous lives are abandoned to tyrants and tyrannical regimes. We are not propping up dictators through covert arms shipments as in days of old. Instead we are publicly conceding and appeasing them, allowing them to acquire weaponry and to turn it upon their populations. We appease governments spouting anti-Jewish, not only "anti-Zionist" statements, pretending that if only Israel were willing to join the appeasement game, its enemies who wish for it to have nothing left to concede, not even its very existence, will be sated.

I believe much more strongly than David Samuels that there is a legitimately beneficial relationship between Israel and the United States. I have however long believed that the US could become less of a friend and less of an influence. While I do not believe that is necessarily occurring now, it has clearly been the case that Israel has courted other allies including India, China, and recently Russia. The sale just this past week of Israeli drone aircraft to Russia, the first ever military deal between the two nations, is a strong sign of changing relationships.

Right now, Israel, not the US, is preventing Iran from acquiring the Russian missile defense system. Israel, not the US, has taken out the only nuclear reactors operating outside its borders in the entire Arab world. Only Israel, not the US, is threatening military action against Iran. Only Israel gives Iran even a moment's pause. The US is seen as war weary and unwilling to fight and Europe even more so.

Diplomacy without the real threat that it could end, and that grave consequences would follow, will never work. The phrase is "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Speaking softly without any stick gets you beaten up by the guy with a stick. That is what is happening all over the world today.

The liberty and prosperity of hundreds of millions of people around the world depend upon our willingness to stand up for those things in which we believe. If only when threats come to our borders will we react, we can be assured that threats will come to our borders.

This is not about Israel's role as the dominant ally of the US or the primary focus of our attention in the region. It is fundamentally about the future of freedom and security in our world.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

What Lieberman Actually Said

Shalom All,

The world's media have taken Avigdor Lieberman's speech and are spouting propaganda around the world, misrepresenting it. I'm not saying that Lieberman's speech was somehow a mushy gushy pacifistic ode rather than a strongly worded one, but neither is it anti-Peace with the Palestinians. That is a FALSEHOOD. What Lieberman said as you will see below is that the Road Map is binding and still the guide for the peace process and that BOTH Israel and the Palestinians have obligations under it that must be followed.

On a personal note, the FIRST obligation that the Palestinians have in the Road Map is to stop attacks against Israel. Israel is not obligated to address any other clauses until that happens. Here is the full text of the Road Map The Palestinians have accomplished NONE of their obligations and in fact the situation has worsened from the one they held so that the PA has work to do just to regain the position in which it was when the Road Map was created. Once that is done, Israel was to follow through on its obligations which include ending settlement construction including natural growth, but that obligation is time-based AFTER the Palestinians accomplish a number of tasks of nation building and ending violence against Israel.

I have highlighted some of the text below that I believe is most relevant. The full text of Avigdor Lieberman's speech follows below.


Statement by incoming Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman at the ministerial inauguration ceremony
1 Apr 2009

Good afternoon, honorable outgoing Foreign Minister, honorable Good afternoon, honorable outgoing Deputy Foreign Minister, incoming Deputy Foreign Minister, Director-General Ministry employees, honored guests,

When my fellow students and I studied international relations, and learned what an international system is, we learned that there is a State and there are international organizations and all kinds of global economic corporations. Things have changed since then and, unfortunately, in the modern system, there are countries that are semi-states. It is hard to call a country like Somalia a state in the full sense of the word and the same holds true for the various autonomies in Eastern Europe, in the Balkans and here as well. It is even hard to call a country like Iraq a state in the full sense of the word. And even worse, there are now international players that are irrational, like the Al Qaeda organization. And we can certainly also ask if the leader of a strong and important country like Iran is a rational player.

In my view, we must explain to the world that the priorities of the international community must change, and that all the previous benchmarks - the Warsaw Pact, the NATO Alliance, socialist countries, capitalist countries - have changed. There is a world order that the countries of the free world are trying to preserve, and there are forces, or countries or extremist entities that are trying to violate it.

The claim that what is threatening the world today is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a way of evading reality. The reality is that the problems are coming from the direction of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

What is important is to maintain global and regional stability. Egypt is definitely an important country in the Arab world, a stabilizing factor in the regional system and perhaps even beyond that, and I certainly view it as an important partner. I would be happy to visit Egypt and to host Egyptian leaders here, including the Egyptian Foreign Minister - all based on mutual respect.

I think that we have been disparaging many concepts, and we have shown the greatest disdain of all for the word “peace.” The fact that we say the word “peace” twenty times a day will not bring peace any closer. There have been two governments here that took far-reaching measures: the Sharon government and the Olmert government. They took dramatic steps and made far-reaching proposals. We saw the Disengagement and the Annapolis Conference.

Yisrael Beiteinu was not then part of the coalition, Avigdor Liberman was not the foreign minister and, even if we had wanted to, we would have been unable to prevent peace. But none of these far-reaching measures have brought peace. To the contrary. We have seen that, after all the gestures that we made, after all the dramatic steps we took and all the far-reaching proposals we presented, in the past few years this country has gone through the Second War in Lebanon and Operation Cast Lead - and not because we chose to. I have not seen peace here. It is precisely when we made all the concessions that I saw the Durban Conference, I saw two countries in the Arab world suddenly sever relations, recalling their ambassadors - Mauritania and Qatar. Qatar suddenly became extremist.

We are also losing ground every day in public opinion. Does anyone think that concessions and constantly saying “I am prepared to concede,” and using the word “peace” will lead to anything? No, that will just invite pressure, and more and more wars. "Si vis pacem, para bellum" - if you want peace, prepare for war; be strong.

We definitely want peace, but the other side also bears responsibility. We have proven our desire for peace more than any other country in the world. No country has made concessions the way Israel has. Since 1977, we have given up areas of land three times the size of the State of Israel. So we have proven the point.

The Oslo process began in 1993. Sixteen years have passed since then, and I do not see that we are any closer to a permanent settlement. There is one document that binds us and it is not the Annapolis Conference. That has no validity. When we drafted the basic government policy guidelines, we certainly stated that we would honor all the agreements and all the undertakings of previous governments. The continuity of government is respected in Israel. I voted against the Road Map, but that was the only document approved by the Cabinet and by the Security Council - I believe it was Resolution 1505. It is a binding resolution and it binds this government as well.

The Israeli government never approved Annapolis, neither the Cabinet nor the Knesset, so anyone who wants to amuse himself can continue to do so. I have seen all the proposals made so generously by Ehud Olmert, but I have not seen any results.

So we will therefore act exactly according to the Road Map, including the Tenet document and the Zinni document. I will never agree to our waiving all the clauses - I believe there are 48 of them - and going directly to the last clause, negotiations on a permanent settlement. No. These concessions do not achieve anything. We will adhere to it to the letter, exactly as written. Clauses one, two, three, four - dismantling terrorist organizations, establishing an effective government, making a profound constitutional change in the Palestinian Authority. We will proceed exactly according to the clauses. We are also obligated to implement what is required of us in each clause, but so is the other side. They must implement the document in full, including - as I said - the Zinni document and the Tenet document. I am not so sure that the Palestinian Authority or even we - in those circles that espouse peace so much - are aware of the existence of the Tenet and Zinni documents.

When was Israel at its strongest in terms of public opinion around the world? After the victory of the Six Day War, not after all the concessions in Oslo Accords I, II, III and IV. Anyone who wants to maintain his status in public opinion must understand that if he wants respect, he must first respect himself. I think that, at least from our standpoint, will be our policy.