Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

June 8, 2010

Rising Jewish Extremism

In the media, extremism is often associated with the Muslim world.  Rarely is it ever associated with Jews in Israel.  However, recent events demonstrate not only how extremism is infiltrating Israel, but how such a trend threatens even more the unstable social fabric of the region.

Just today, while trying to appear as if Israel is enforcing a building freeze in the West Bank, security forces clashed with settlers in the settlement of Beit El over the demolition of an illegal structure.  About 100 teenagers tried to block the forces and threw rocks, against the advice of their rabbi. And one officer was injured.  The fact that the next generation is so unyielding in their views that they are willing to fight, even their own people, is very worrisome. (more…)


May 25, 2010

An Update on Negotiations

As George Mitchell has returned fruitless from the first round of proximity talks, prospects for success of the four month long project have already dwindled.  A bleak atmosphere of cynicism surrounds Israel and the West Bank, as both Jews and Palestinians believe the talks will be exercises in futility.

The proximity talks seemed doomed from the beginning.  The spirit of negotiations was  dampened  months ago, when in March Netanyahu  announced the building of 1,600 new homes in an East Jerusalem settlement, and President Abbas retaliated by announcing that negotiations with Israel would not take place unless there was a freeze on settlement building.  However, the subsequent scolding and cajoling by the U.S. resulted in both men decreasing the intensity of their agendas, for the sake of possible negotiations. (more…)

March 30, 2010

Congress: Obama should not be allowed to make peace

During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week, the Israeli PM met with members of Congress as part of a PR offensive to marginalize recent criticism from the Obama Administration over the announced East Jerusalem settlements. In sharp contrast to the insulted frustration echoed by Administration officials in recent weeks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood by Minority Leader John Boehner and the Israeli Prime Minister while declaring; “We in Congress stand by Israel..In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel.” Obama later met with Netanyahu at the White House without posing with the Israel PM for the cameras.

The House leadership’s public posture shows a clear divide between the Obama Administration’s approach to dealing with Netanyahu and that of Congress. While Administration officials directly deal with the diplomatic consequences of Israeli expansion into Palestinian areas, the House leaders pay lip service to ‘furthering the peace process’ while allocating $3 billion annually to help Netanyahu expand and maintain the settlements. (more…)

March 19, 2010

AIPAC to Obama: “Halt public criticism of Israel”

As AIPAC’s annual public policy conference looms in an atmosphere of public tension between Israel and the US, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) issued a press release urging the Obama Administration to keep any criticism of Israel out of public eye.

After last week’s public relations disaster during Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel, AIPAC has thrust itself into the diplomatic fray between the Obama Administration and Israel’s Likud dominated Government. After heavy criticism from the US Vice President and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the announced Israeli expansion into East Jerusalem, AIPAC is taking exception with the unusual reprimand directed towards the Netanyahu Administration.

AIPAC will be gathering in Washington this Sunday for their annual policy conference, where both Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu are scheduled to speak. In order to defuse any tension casting a cloud over the meeting, AIPAC issued its statement to ensure that US officials refrain from public criticism of Israel, regardless of state policy or action:

“The Obama Administration’s recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish State…The Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests.”

The statement later implores the Administration to discuss and work out any disagreements behind closed doors, fearing a serious long-term rift unless differences can be smoothed over. Congressman Eric Cantor blamed the Obama Administration for ignoring recent ‘Palestinian provocations’ and stated that the recent outrage directed towards the announced East Jerusalem housing units was ‘irresponsible’.

Despite the official backlash against Israel’s provocative expansion, Prime Minister Netanyahu is attempting to maintain the facade of ‘business as usual’ by continuing the Israeli expansion into East Jerusalem. Israel’s Ambassador in Washington Michael Oren admitted to Israeli diplomats last Saturday that ties between Israel and the United States are at their lowest point in 35 years.


March 10, 2010

Biden angered by Israeli decision

Vice President Joe Biden is begining a five day Middle East tour to discuss the current status of peace negotiations. On the same day that the Vice President met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Haaretz reported that Israel’s Interior Ministry has approved the construction 1,600 new homes inside East Jerusalem.

A few hours after emphasizing the ‘unshakeable’ ties between the U.S. and Israel, the Vice President issued an unusual public rebuke to the Israeli Government on the issue of the illegal settlements. Biden is planning to meet with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank who had agreed last week to indirect talks with the Israelis prior to this latest announcement.

This expansion into Palestinian territory continues a repeated diplomatic pattern by the Netanyahu Government of publicly declaring the desire to renew peace talks while systematically undermining the talks through official state policy. The lack of good faith gestures on the part of the Israelis has suceeded in its aim to stalemate the latest round of talks, while simultaneously embarrassing the Vice President ahead of his visit with Arab leaders.

March 3, 2010

Sec. Clinton, Senate: More of the same on the Middle East

Last week I attended the Senate hearing to discuss 2011 Foreign Policy Priorities, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented the State Department budget and priorities and was questioned by each of the Senators on the committee. Nothing groundbreaking occurred. The emphasis was on the threat of Iran’s nuclear program, with sprinklings of other Middle Eastern issues thrown in.

The first priority on the agenda was Iran. The Secretary brought up the dual approach to Iran’s nuclear development in the first few minutes of her opening remarks. This approach is basically shaking hands if Iran unclenches its fist, while tightening the noose if they refuse to cooperate. Most of the senators also brought up the issue and emphasized the need to deal with the threat and the Secretary agreed with their remarks, continuing to emphasize the dual policy approach. The absence of internet freedom was also briefly brought up. (more…)

January 31, 2010

“Jerusalem’s Ground Zero”: Friday in Sheikh Jarrah

Filed under: Israeli peace activists,Israeli settlements,Jerusalem — Katya Reed @ 3:19 pm

~ From Katya Reed

Just last week CNN called Sheikh Jarrah “Jerusalem’s ground zero”.  On Friday I joined 300 Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals to protest the ongoing evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, and the takeover of this East Jerusalem neighborhood by Jewish settlers.

Sheikh Jarrah, which lies just outside the Old City, has attracted global outrage as settler organizations have made legal claims to the property allegedly owned by Jewish individuals or associations prior to 1948.  As noted by UN-OCHA in their damning fact sheet on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, “Israeli courts have ruled in favor of such claims while failing to recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees to reclaim lost land and property.”  UN-OCHA estimates that the implementation of the Israeli government’s comprehensive settlement plans for Sheikh Jarrah will place “475 Palestinians at risk of forced eviction, dispossession, and displacement”.  Like all settlements in occupied territory, the Sheikh Jarrah settlement is a violation of international law.

300 protesters against house evictions in foreground; settlers stage counter-protest in background holding Israeli flags

The stand-off during Friday’s demonstration was electric in its intensity.  300 protesters were on one side of the street and on the other side, a dozen settlers and several dozen police and medical personnel fanned out across the entrance to the homes under eviction orders.  The Jerusalem magistrate court had dealt a blow to the police the day before, ruling that public demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah were legal so long as they didn’t disturb the public order or disrupt traffic.  Despite a vow from the police to squash protests despite the court order, this time no one was arrested.

The whole scene created an arresting visual effect peopled by the three clear categories of uniformly dressed settlers, police, and medical personnel on one side of the street, while the hundreds of protesters on the other side drew a stunningly diverse crowd.  Kippa-wearing men mingled among Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah residents while a young activists’ drumming circle led Hebrew University professors to join in protest chants.  Meretz MK Ilan Gilon showed up, while last week MK Mohammed Barakeh and former Knesset members Avraham Burg, Uri Avnery, and Yossi Sarid attended.  Bernard Avishai reported on his blog that Oslo negotiator and head of the Peres Center Dr. Ron Pundak joined the protest along with the highly acclaimed Israeli author David Grossman.


Nasser Gawi, also at the protest, was a member of one of the first families to be evicted from Sheikh Jarrah.  He now lives in a tent outside of his former home, which he fears could be destroyed at any moment by settlers or the police.  He told me the protests are very important to him because they showed that Israelis and people from all over the world supported him and his family and their neighbors.  “The protests are a first step in the 1,000 kilometers we have to go towards an Israeli state on one side and on the other a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

He described what happened on August 2, 2009 when he was evicted along with 52 other refugees – 20 of them children – from Sheikh Jarrah following a court ruling.  These families had been forced out of their homes in 1948 and given homes in Sheikh Jarrah by the UN and Jordan.

“They broke the windows and blew up our door.  They destroyed our furniture and they beat my children.”  Gawi explained the soldiers invaded their home at 5:30 A.M., and kicked his children in their beds and ordered them to leave.  “One of my sons wanted to take his shoes before he left.  They wouldn’t even let him take his shoes.”


I asked one Israeli protester, Eva Ferrero, why she came to the protests.  “It makes it known what they are trying to do in silence,” Ferrero responded.  Ferrero comes regularly to the Sheikh Jarrah protests and visits the families who were evicted.


January 16, 2010

Short films from our November study tour

Filed under: CNI/CNIF activities,Gaza,Helena's travels,Jerusalem,Jordan,Lebanon,Syria — Helena Cobban @ 7:55 am

I have been working with Dominic Musacchio, the videographer from our November ‘Political pilgrimage’ study tour to Israel and all its neighbors, to present some good short cuts from the many hours of footage he took on the tour.  We’ve finally come up with a good, illustrative collection of his films, which you can view here.

I’ve also been doing a huge amount of reorganization in our office.  (We may have some candid shots of us all moving the furniture around, that we’re willing to post here, later on… Or not.) We have a few more days of the reorganizing to be doing– and then it’ll be full steam ahead, getting back to running the excellent lineup of programs CNIF has planned for 2010.

The films present views and voices that people in the U.S. don’t get to hear enough from. Tell us which ones you find most interesting!

December 28, 2009

Netanyahu recklessly escalates construction in Jerusalem

Filed under: Israeli settlements,Jerusalem,Washington's diplomacy — Helena Cobban @ 9:35 pm

Just when U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell is reportedly hoping– nearly one year after his appointment– to finally get some peace negotiations going, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu today rubbed his and Pres. Obama’s noses in the dirt by blithely announcing the construction of 690 new housing units in the illegal, Jews-only settlements in Greater East Jerusalem.

But wait! The Obama administration has hit back! They’ve–

… Um, well, they’ve issued a nannyish little statement saying that,

Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations. Rather, both parties should return to negotiations without preconditions as soon as possible…

That was from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs earlier today.  (Very similar to what he’s said on the subject previously. You can see how effective that mid-November statement was, obviously.)

But where is the statement from the White House saying that Israel’s commission of this grossly illegal act matters enough to the Obama administration that it will be taking firm action to stop Netanyahu from proceeding with his plan?

Um, nowhere.

But of course Israel’s wilful pursuit of its ethnic transformation plan in Greater East Jerusalem matters to Americans. Especially at a time when we have around 200,000 US service-members serving in very tense situations in majority-Muslim countries. (As I recently noted here.)


December 22, 2009

New short films: Gaza and Jerusalem

Filed under: Gaza,Hamas,Jerusalem,Multimedia resources — Helena Cobban @ 9:52 am

Dominic Musacchio, the videographer who came on CNIF’s November study tour to the Middle East, has now cut two new short films from his many miles of footage.  These ones give tightly edited highlights from (a) our trip to Gaza, and (b) a morning he spent following Jerusalem resident Aminah Abusway as she made her now lengthy and humiliating trek from home to her university classes at Al-Quds University.

Dominic has also recut the material he presented earlier, from our group’s November 4 meeting with Hamas head Khaled Meshaal, in Damascus.  Now it contains quite a bit more from Meshaal and a little bit less from our delegation’s co-leader, former ambassador Jack Matlock.

We hope these films will prove interesting and useful to our readers.

Dominic has 20 or 30 hours more of great material from the trip, that needs good, informed editing… Please tell us if you have suggestions for how this material could be used most effectively.

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