Could Israel survive without Harvard?

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A friend sent along this report from a strictly off the record event at Harvard that promptly was reported openly in the Israeli media. 

The email which got directed to my Spam was titled: “CONGRATULATIONS.” The reference was to my winning a spot in a special study group with Tzipi Livni, which I attended yesterday afternoon. The instructions, apparently from Eric Andersen, a visiting scholar at Harvard Kennedy’s School Institute of Politics (IOP), were fit for a secret agent: 

EVENT INFORMATION:  Tuesday October 5, 2010 at 12:00PM in Kirkland House JCR [Junior Common Room]. The event begins at NOON. Please arrive by 11:50AM. Attendees must enter via the courtyard at Kirkland House.  All electronic devices must be turned off during the event to avoid disturbing the program and audience members.  No use of laptops will be allowed. Space is limited and spots are not transferable.  This event is strictly OFF-THE-RECORD. There is to be no Tweeting or sharing information on Facebook or any other social network.  Names will be checked at the door. Please bring proper identification.




As I stand in line to check in, an undergrad-sounding girl behind me looks at the poster advertising the event—a headshot of Livni, simple—and muses: “Oh, she’s so cool.” Once inside,  I run into my friend (there because his adviser told him about the event when it was publicized only to select communities), and he is wearing a keffiyeh, absolutely the only one in the room: in this context, this feels brave. There are boxes of burnt pizza and two liter bottles of Sprite and Coke and, briefly, Diet Coke. A few hundred similar-looking people. Suddenly, chatty youthful Hebrew all around me. Good cheer. Andersen introduces the event. He asks that, come the Q & A, questions end in question marks and not be intentionally inflammatory, and twice repeats that the session is “off the record.” Hours after, I found two  Israeli articles online.


Here, then, are some of the notes I took during Livni’s speech:


          Ophir Pines-Paz, former member of Knesset for the Labor party, new head of these weekly study sessions at Harvard: “I’m sure, at least, that we all here have one thing in common—we want peace, not just peace process”

          “We have worked together in the past,” says Pines-Paz referring to Livni—“And will again in the future!” adds a sitting Livni, her first words [Pines-Pas has endorsed Livni for PM]

          Livni is introduced to a wave of applause; the young man next to me watches my hands not applauding the entire time, as he applauds

          She repeats the phrase “time is of the essence” twice in 30 seconds

          Repeats, also: the Annapolis Process was stopped, and if she had her way, it would have continued; digs at the 2 years it took the Israeli government to turn to negotiations [never once says the name “Netanyahu”]

          Tells us she will begin with her own personal narrative; her family came at the turn of the century, long before we had our own state; we’ve been fighting for our existence ever since

          “The Palestinians didn’t exist then [i.e. prior to 1967, apparently]”; Gaza was part of Egypt before 1967 [not Palestinian]; the West Bank was Jordan’s [not Palestinian]; she makes up more facts, and the other winners around me, the Harvard students some of whom will literally work alongside Livni, nod

          Tells us she wants to share the “basic” Israel’s feelings with us

          “We are not the Goliath like everyone says; we are the Davids of the region”; just look from the  “Google Earth point of view” [loud laughs]

          “I was a lawyer,” she repeats; “I’m quite a good lawyer”

          “I hate politics”; it was feeling caught b/t the Israeli Left and Right in the late 80s, and then Rabin’s murder, which forced her hand

          States in passing that she believes, forever, in the Jewish right to the land of Israel: “Biblical, judicial—whatever”

          A thick man in a suit stands directly behind Livni to her right with his arms crossed, waiting for a bullet; I only see 2 or 3 thick men in suits; one of them is staring down my friend in the keffiyeh

          We must divide the land, she repeats; the Israelis agreed to this from the start, the Arabs did not, and will not

          The entire Free World needs to be involved in delegitimizing Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah

          Iran’s “religious ideology” makes it impossible to deal with [how come “ideology” is always the privilege of the devil?]

          Take, eg, Ahmadinejad’s abuse of the UN Forum on the occasion of 9/11

          Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran deprive us [i.e. Israelis] of our right to live, in fact [I’m so physically angry,  now, I can only make bad jokes to myself: e.g., a new monster, the Hamasllahran, has been discovered]

          Repeats that this—[unclear what “this” is]—is feasible

          “This is not a zero sum game, anymore”

          “Time is of the essence”, again

          Some people in the room may think new settlements hurt Israel; others may think it’s the only way to keep the State alive—“settlements are a small percentage of the West Bank” [–settlements, she believes, are NOT important if we want to end the conflict

          “2 States, 2 Peoples” are not just words

          The Palestinans understand this—[she’s telling us what Palestinians think]

          Q & A: an academic asks about the future of a state—Palestine—which would be noncontiguous; he is cut off

          “This is a zero sum game”

          The raison d’etre of Israel is the preservation of a Jewish AND Democratic State

          We must employ economic sanctions against these illegitimate governments, and not dilly-dally [it’s becoming clearer that TL is, actually, stumping, and she beginning her campaign in one of Israeli’s hearts, at H-D—you have to ask: could Israel survive without Harvard?]

          My friend, who has taken of his keffiyeh, raises his hand; he begins to speak but is cut off by a voice from the other side of the room

          A young woman from the J Street U. chapter of Brandeis, I’m Jewish and a Zionist, she says, but I’m concerned about dialogue with Arabs, about how we can improve dialogue with  the Egyptians; I was recently in Egypt and I’m worried that they’re cutting themselves off to dialogue with Israelis, and I think for my generation dialogue is the only choice [she is allowed to speak to the point of wondering whether she has any more to say]

          The final 3rd question comes, somehow, from my friend: “Yesterday you condemned an attack on a mosque as against Jewish values. [Livni nods.] What are the values that informed the murder of over 1000 Gazans and Lebanese?”         


Livni gives one hybrid answer to the first two questions, more or less dismissing the academic as academic and telling us what the Egyptians feel. She pauses, repeats: all she wants is for the world, to judge the world according to the standards it judges himself. To the third question, which she deems “provocative”, she gives an answer which you know she has given before—and which is, then, that much more frightening, because it seems new. She begins talking about decisions. We must, now, take the right ones. Yes, she can identify with sorrow. She has only empathy for the loss of family—it is…[she searches for the word] heartbreaking—but this is not the point; the point is values. Her voice gets shaky and louder, and she’s gripping the dais and leaning in, now. People around me get worked up, too, nodding their heads, some of them looking literally disgusted, glances tossed towards my friend. She tells us what terrorists do: they target kids in line for the discoteca, they don’t follow international rules, they hide and aim for children on their way to school.  Target civilians. They mock our right to live: this makes them terrorists. She references Iran again out of nowhere. She mocks the Freedom Flotilla with scare quotes; says the Israeli soldiers there were beaten. After she saw the video, she was sure they were right in defending themselves. She could have stayed home that night, but she chose to speak out. Too many politicians, you know, in Israel—maybe even in your country—are afraid of public opinion. She returns, building, to Values; she hasn’t named a single concrete value yet., but she can’t stop summoning Values. In Israel, the soldiers are our children; my own son just put on the uniform. I am a mother. And he will protect his country, and protect his life. I know him. I raised him according to our values. This is how you know—we raise our children according to our values. They cannot be terrorists.  Thank you.


Tzipi Livni, I keep on seeing your son’s friends dancing with tied-up blindfolded Palestinians on YouTube; I chatted with them while they play-pointed their guns in Hebron: dress them as you like, you are raising terrorists.


There’s an apology from Pines-Paz for having to end on that note. As everyone filed out, a Cambridge local held up some thin plastic handcuffs and called for Livni’s arrest. He was mostly ignored, except for thick guy walking by who told him with that unmistakable straightfaced joking: I used bigger and better ones when I was in Gaza. Once we’re back outside, standing about on a closed-off treelined street tucked into a corner of Cambridge you’d never see unless you were blessed enough to be invited, the one local cop from the event walks swiftly up to us and tells the friend with the handcuffs in a buddy-buddy Boston accent that he’ll get locked up if he doesn’t keep it moving. He can’t say what our crime is, but after a few moment he decides it’s trespassing.



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