I've been at the J Street conference for two hours now and the political program seems to be, End the Netanyahu government now, because we're in deep trouble. But that message was overshadowed by Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian journalist, who actuallly actually got applause when she spoke about the "massacre" in Gaza and Arab "hatred for Israel," then got a standing ovation when she called on the assembled to lead a peaceful revolution for Palestinian "dignity and freedom."
First Eltahawy, then the attack on Netanyahu.
Eltahawy's theme was that the Arab revolutions are coming to Palestine inevitably, there's no border. All the Arab revolutionaries care about Palestine. She quoted a Tunisian friend who said, "My feet are in Tunisia, my mind is in the west, I love the culture, I love the literature But my heart is in the east, with Palestinians.. I will not be a full and open friend with the west until Palestinians get their freedom and dignity, this is key."
She also quoted young Egyptians with no personal knowledge of war. "But they don't need war [to understand].... because they see what happens to Palestinians on a daily on a daily basis, and they don’t like it... [They say], The hatred for Israel... will not end until you lift the siege on Gaza and treat Palestinians with freedom and dignity."
Applause mostly from the young people, there are about 500 students here. You can see they love the Arab revolutions and want to feel so good about something themselves.
Eltahawy's closing challenge was that just as the Arab dictators responded late and stupidly to the demands of the people, Israel and Obama and its friends are responding late to the political movement afoot. They were completely tone-deaf to Gaza, she said; as Arabs everywhere watched Palestinians being "torn apart." It was a "massacre," she said twice. Great to hear that from a Jewish pulpit.
"My question to J street and to Israel, do you want to be ten days too late, do you want to be like these dictators that [Netanyahu]... loves so dearly… the people have outpaced the Obama administration…Here’s my challenge to you--"
Just as Egyptians and Tunisians "have managed to get rid of the unriddable…" wihtout burning one foreign flag, "the best of Gandhi and Martin Luther King combined," it is time "to march for the freedom and dignity of our Palestinian brothers and sisters, and we will.
"Make that call, I will be with you. It’s about time, and it’s something that everyone is thinking about."
She added, "This is not something that is supposed to scare you.. Embrace.. nonviolence. Millions of Arabs peacefully dismantled dictatorships ....Embrace them and reach out to them, and we too will march for the freedom and dignity of Palestinians.. Cll for that nonviolent revolution for freedom and dignity for Palestians, and I will be there."
The anti-Netanyahu theme is all through the conference. I gather that Jeremy Ben-Ami went after Netanyahu last night.
And just now Ron Pundak, an Israeli liberal, threw cold water on Eltahawy's parade by saying that nothing is going to change Israel as it is currently constituted, the government will do nothing.
"Unfortunately we are governed by a prime minister, whose main policy is based on a paranoiac feeling, on an obsession on thinking that everyone is against us…
"The obsession with dealing with the past-- the future is not at all calculated, and issues like the Arab Peace Initiative are not on the table, and we are looking at everything as if all criticism is anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic or anti-something…
"We are in a situation on the verge of tragedy."
So far I have heard two Israelis blasting their country for not grabbing the Arab Peace Initiative -- like Sadat's flight to Jerusalem in '77, Knesset Member Ophir Paz-Pines said--but with the sense that that time may be past. The Arab people have woken up, and they don't like us.
J Street's answer would seem to be what my answer is, go after the lobby and the American Jewish community because that's where the power is. Though the agenda here is clearly a two-state solution. I'll keep you posted.