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‘Ir Amim’ comes to the US to smash Jewish ‘myths’ about Jerusalem

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Two months ago Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington to lecture Obama from AIPAC’s stage that Jerusalem is not a settlement, Jews have been building there for 3000 years and in his defiance he helped to invalidate the Israel lobby. Who is this thug to be defying our president and using a religious right wing audience to do so? I bet Rahm Emanuel went ballistic. And that even Malcolm Hoenlein told Netanyahu, you can’t do this to us.

But all that is going on behind the scenes.

Yesterday Yudith Oppenheimer of Ir Amim (City of Nations) came to New York to try and correct Netanyahu’s garbage. She didn’t meet with AIPAC, she met with the New Israel Fund, then me and Jared Malsin (of Palestine Note) at the Metro Diner on the Upper West Side. She’s on a cross-country tour. I don’t know why this passionate, articulate woman isn’t speaking at Jewish community centers and synagogues, but as I told her, it’s just a matter of time. The Jewish community in the US is waking up to the horrors of the Israel project, maybe too late for anyone to do anything about it, but it is at last paying attention to Jews (Peter Beinart), as it ignored Jimmy Carter.

“We would like to change the discourse about Jerusalem among the Jewish population," Oppenheimer said, and promptly smashed three "myths" about Jerusalem– that it’s above politics, that Israel has only been doing in Jerusalem what it’s done there for 43 years, and that Muslims have equal access to the holy sites.

They don’t. They need blasted permits. They can’t get into Jerusalem, most of them.

Oppenheimer set out a map that showed us how much of East Jerusalem is being colonized by nutjob settlers and the colonialist government, and for about half an hour we tried to figure out how things could work per the two state solution. The spaghetti bowl of red and green and blue lines that is greater Jerusalem was as bad as any gerrymandering in the racist American past or present. And the Jewish line has kept moving east for 100 years, and Palestinians have been the losers and the dispossessed and the sequestered again and again.

Lately, as Oppenheimer showed, Israelis have started destroying Palestinian neighborhoods. Silwan is being taken over by the Jews just to the east of the Old City and Walaje is being taken over to the southwest. Oppenheimer said the settlers and government have been working overtime to prevent the possibility of Palestinians ever creating a true capital in East Jerusalem. I asked her how the Clinton Parameters could still even possibly work in this situation, and with hope in her eyes, Oppenheimer dragged her pen around Silwan and Ramat Shlomo and Bustan and Gilo and the Maale Adunim corridor and every other part of the hilltop colonization of East Jerusalem (that Jeffrey Goldberg defends) and tried to show me.

The meeting got emotional when I asked her when her people came to Israel. During the Holocaust, after Kristallnacht, in one case. She believes in the need for a Jewish state. I told her I did not. But she’s not here to convince me, she’s here to strip the myths from American Jews who share her belief. That is the ballgame for liberal Zionists: to wake the stupid complacent American Jews up to the apartheid reality before the window completely closes on the idea of two states for two peoples. 

Oppenheimer said that she and Palestinian counterparts are “working together to separate… [to imagine] how peace should look like; separation needs some cooperation.” Well I don’t like that word separation. But she says Palestinians want a Palestinian state, still.

“Each side would like to wake up and find that the other side is gone. … Personally I would like to live like in Europe, with open borders. This is not possible in the Middle East at the moment. We must either have separate political entities or become one big political entity. … For most Israelis, the existence of an Israeli majority is very important. They want to remain a Jewish state.” (Fear of an Arab majority!)

Then Oppenheimer said she thinks that Obama and Netanyahu have made a secret deal. “There is a huge gap between what Netanyahu declares and what he does. ‘We will always build in Jerusalem,’ he says. But everything is stopped. The local planning committee doesn’t even meet… There is some kind of deal, I’m saying this very very cautiously,” she said. “Some deal between the American administration and the Israeli government. House demolition is stopped.”

Since Biden’s visit, she went on, Israel has approved no building in East Jerusalem, everything has to go through the Prime Minister’s office.

Malsin gave Oppenheimer a printout of Peter Beinart’s article in the New York Review of Books and I got the periodical out of my knapsack, and we explained to her that this piece has changed the ballgame, it is waking up the stupid American Jews four years after Walt and Mearsheimer said the same thing. Then JJ Goldberg from the Forward came in to the Metro Diner and said Hi to her and went to sit down at a back table. He had a Hebrew newspaper with him and I told Oppenheimer I didn’t want to keep her from talking to him. JJ can do something for her, Beinart can do something for her.

Still, Oppenheimer’s despair tore at my heart. “We cannot afford this conflict any more. It tears the Israeli society apart. It tears the Palestinian society apart. It turns the world against us.” Truly. Stupid American Jews are waking up, and they need to hear from Yudith Oppenheimer. Some day they will have her in synagogues and Jewish community centers, when they try and figure out who has lost Israel. They had better get a move on–working together to separate.

Malsin and I both wished Oppenheimer luck and walked up teeming Broadway in New York.

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About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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