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J Street woos the lobby as Israel considers annexing the West Bank

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Netanyahu delivers a speech at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, February 17, 2014 in Jerusalem. (Photo: AFP)

Netanyahu delivers a speech at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, February 17, 2014 in Jerusalem. (Photo: AFP)

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

It’s too late to express horror or cry hypocrisy about the Kerry apartheid retraction. By now it’s just too obvious. Like the Los Angeles Clipper owner, Donald Sterling, once the racist or apartheid cat is out of the bag, there’s no way to pretend it didn’t happen.

Descriptive words about race and apartheid don’t just slip out. You don’t have to be a Freudian to realize that apartheid has been floating around Kerry’s consciousness for some time.

In the meantime, some political leaders in Israel are calling for unilateral measures against the Palestinians. This includes the possibility of annexing large parts of the West Bank.

More rhetorical gestures? Whether they implement what they say or not, you have to give credit where credit is due. For the most part, Israel’s political leaders don’t backtrack. They rarely retract even their most outrageous statements. When they do, they tact on another insult for good measure.

Rhetorically, the United States struck a rich vein with Kerry’s apartheid statement. Retracting it cancels that support. The more important issue is whether Kerry’s rhetorical stance, even with the retraction, yields political fruit.

Unilateral moves by Israel would trump this entire apartheid debate. Would anything be done if Israel annexes significant parts of the West Bank? Remember the response to the annexation of Jerusalem and the building of the Wall? If history tells us anything, the response will be – more rhetorical jousting.

So with the latest peace process in shambles what should we make of political words that break political boundaries with the attendant retractions that reinforce them?

Framed in American political space, Kerry broke a barrier.

Framed in American Jewish space, Kerry broke a barrier.

But these political spaces are too limited – even with the acknowledgement that a barrier was broken. What other political space is there? J Street?

That issue is being joined this week with a vote on whether or not to admit J Street to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.  Those against argue that J Street supports “Israel’s enemies.” Those for argue that J Street means including Jewish voices who “love Israel.”

Is “love Israel” the (rhetorical) response to “apartheid” Israel?

American Jews matter less and less to Israel. Israel knows American Jews aren’t going anywhere. Including J Street in the Conference of Presidents would be a bonus for Israel. It would further internalize the American Jewish debate and further isolate Jews of Conscience who want to move beyond rhetoric and confront abuses of Israeli power.

If the Conference of Presidents rejects J Street, will this mean anything beyond another round of rhetorical skirmishes? I doubt it. Progressive Jews hope to be the next Jewish establishment. Rejection means raising their “Love Israel” banners higher.

Can inclusion of J Street and Israeli annexation of significant parts of the West Bank go hand in hand?

The issue in Israel-Palestine isn’t about love, apartheid or even annexation – rhetorically. It’s about – real – justice denied.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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13 Responses

  1. Kay24
    Kay24 on April 30, 2014, 10:06 am

    Are our leaders dumb or blind? Every step of the way, Israel treats the world with contempt, including the US, by doing exactly what it wants regarding illegal settlements, detrimental to the peace talks. Anyone with an iota of sense can see, by Israel’s disgusting actions, it is NOT interested in peace. All it wants is to keep the brutal military occupation going, so that it can extract, and ruthlessly steal, as much as they can from the Palestinian territories. Why the heck is the congress, and even the Obama WH, pretending this is not happening? Bibi and his band of bandits, lie at every turn, while the truth is so obvious, and it seems the entire world, except those who they control in the US, know their diabolical schemes. This must be one of the top scams by a rogue nation, in our lifetime. It seems soon the Shrinking Map of Palestine, will change for the worse again, making the UN prediction that the Palestinian territories will be unlivable by 2020, come true sooner. What a sad situation for the Palestinians.

  2. HarryLaw
    HarryLaw on April 30, 2014, 10:38 am

    “Would anything be done if Israel annexes significant parts of the West Bank? Remember the response to the annexation of Jerusalem and the building of the Wall? If history tells us anything, the response will be – more rhetorical jousting”.
    Probably worse Marc, below is part of a letter I received recently from the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs [DEFRA] about wine imported from Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin Israel.With both that address and with “Wine of Israel” on the label, in breach of both UK National and EU Regulations.
    “I note your concerns centre on the fact that this wine, imported by
    Hartov Ltd, is misleading to the consumer as it indicates on the label
    that it is ‘produce of Israel’, yet comes from grapes grown in the
    Golan Heights. In addition the wine labels show that they are produced
    at the Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin, which as you say is in the Golan
    Heights.

    The Food Standards Agency have informed me that although they
    recognise some inconsistencies in the labelling of the wine, they
    consider that the numerous references to the Golan Heights on the
    label would be sufficient to ensure that consumers would probably not
    be misled about the wine’s provenance”.
    Oh I see,the GHWinery claim that the Golan Heights is in Israel is only an inconsistency, nothing to be bothered about.
    I wonder if I started selling my own wine and labelled it produced by Birkenhead Winery, France, and “Wine of France” I would no doubt be in prison.
    This together with other parts of the letter are quite unbelievable this together with the fact that it is incompatible with International law for a UK government Department to recognise an unlawful situation [Namibia opinion ICJ].
    In my opinion the false labelling is in breach of sections 16 and 36 the UK Trade Descriptions Act 1968 here..Section 16: Prohibition of importation of goods bearing false
    indication of origin.
    Where a false trade description is applied to any goods outside the
    United Kingdom and the false indication, or one of the false
    indications, given, or likely to be taken as given, thereby is an
    indication of the place of manufacture, production, processing or
    reconditioning of the goods or any part thereof the goods shall not be
    imported into the United Kingdom.
    Section 36: Country of origin.
    [1] For the purposes of this act goods shall be deemed to have been
    manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a
    treatment or process resulting in a substantial change.

  3. pabelmont
    pabelmont on April 30, 2014, 10:41 am

    Ellis: “In the meantime, some political leaders in Israel are calling for unilateral measures against the Palestinians. This includes the possibility of annexing large parts of the West Bank.”

    Well, duh! And wrong issue. See below.

    [1] UNSC has called all the previous “annexations” null and void and of no legal effect, fattening, immoral, stupid, and EVIL. (Well, they should have.) [2] Israel’s take-over of OPTs and behavior toward Gaza are de facto (if not de jure) “annexations”. Consider just home demolitions and granting (or almost always NOT granting) building permits. These are acts of government, not acts of occupation.

    Annexation (de facto) happened soon after the 1967 war.

    WHAT’S THE RIGHT ISSUE? When are Israel’s (and USA’s lap-dog act) going to persuade the rest of the nations to roll up their sleeves and act?

    The nations have not acted during Israel’s very clever slow-boiling-the-frog business of 1967-2014.

    My guess: the nations will act, if at all, when Israel has acted (been perceived to have acted) in particularly awful form. The day seems to be coming. The apartheid (that many see as a long-since-accomplished-fact) seems almost on Kerry’s horizon. He needs new glasses, but should take care not to buy them at the AIPAC-opticians. the rest of the world, I have no doubt, sees matters more clearly.

  4. Baldur
    Baldur on April 30, 2014, 10:46 am

    Indeed. In the end, there is only justice. You can be interested in the I/P issue from a Jewish or a Palestinian perspective (among others), but in the end, it is only a matter of justice. Either we make justice now, or we leave it to come naturally. The latter approach tends to maximize suffering (collectively administered) both for the abuser and the victim, so naturally anyone who is interested in the well-being of either part would want a just peace now.

    • American
      American on April 30, 2014, 1:51 pm

      Baldur says:

      April 30, 2014 at 10:46 am

      Indeed. In the end, there is only justice. You can be interested in the I/P issue from a Jewish or a Palestinian perspective (among others), but in the end, it is only a matter of justice.””

      Exactly.

  5. LeaNder
    LeaNder on April 30, 2014, 10:47 am

    Remember …? If history tells us anything, the response will be – more rhetorical jousting.

    I watched a debate between one of our established “lovers” of Israel here and Hostage on one of the comment sections here. I am aware that your “pessimist view”*–how can it possibly change if the world accepted it silently for the most part. I have to admit that I find Hostage’s argument much more convincing, than the “lover-position” in this context. Whoever it was,–JeffB?–seemed to base his assessment mainly on established ideology without keeping change in mind.

    * don’t worry, I often surrender to pessimism myself. Hostage’s tireless efforts to educate us nitwits among the comment crowd helped to make me slightly more optimist. And I am neither American nor a natural in that context. ;)

    • Citizen
      Citizen on April 30, 2014, 2:38 pm

      @ LeaNder

      Yes your German government is part of the problem. I’m reminded of Churchill’s statement, “The Germans, they are either at your throat, or at your feet.” I don’t mean you, but Germany’s regime, for many years.

      • on May 1, 2014, 7:17 am

        You do realize Churchill was a complete moron?

  6. brenda
    brenda on April 30, 2014, 12:02 pm

    “So with the latest peace process in shambles… ”

    I don’t know if I am ready to accept this yet. The next week should tell the tale, but my reading of the entrails — it looks to me like it ain’t over yet.

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4513218,00.html
    “UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon published a press release also on Thursday, in which he expressed concern for Palestinian living conditions in Gaza and the illegality of settlements in the West Bank, but also noted the importance of Israel’s security.

    “More importantly, the Secretary General urged a continuation of peace talks past the current deadline saying, “The costs of walking away from the negotiating table would be exponentially higher than the pain of the compromises required to resolve the conflict.”

    “No lasting peace can be achieved away from the negotiating table, and the current situation is not sustainable for both parties, the region and the international community,” he said.

    little shot over the bows from the UN. Israel might have a hammerlock on US politics but it’s going to take more than controlling the US Congress, making Kerry eat a word and refurbishing the Lobby.

    The y-net piece makes nice reading for those interested in the Palestinian voice:

    “Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, shot back in an interview with the BBC, saying, “I don’t see why it is any of Netanyahu’s or even America’s business to tell us who’s acceptable and who’s not in a pluralistic political system.”

    “I can tell you I don’t want to talk to Lieberman or we don’t want to talk to Naftali Bennett; these are people who are either racist or settlers or who deny Palestinian rights or who treat us as a sub-human species or who want to take all of historical Palestine for greater Israel. These are people who are in the Israeli government coalition,” said Ashrawi.

    Reuters Y-net also reporting today that Kerry hasn’t given up on peace talks, to continue push in a few months
    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4514919,00.html

  7. Citizen
    Citizen on April 30, 2014, 2:44 pm

    Here’s J Street on this matter:https://act.jstreet.org/sign/framework?akid=3074.156633.Y6W1wI&rd=1&t=2

    Anybody see any irony in their stance and recipe?

  8. W.Jones
    W.Jones on April 30, 2014, 4:49 pm

    Marc,
    In your last essay you mentioned Rab.Michael Lerner’s opposition to Pal.Solidarity work “behind the scenes”. I was unaware about this, although I did come across an article on his website:

    http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2012/08/07/boycotts-divestments-and-sanctions-opposing-occupations-everywhere-not-just-israel/

    As this comment section will soon close, people may discuss that topic on Friendfeed:
    https://friendfeed.com/mondoweiss-on-friendfeed

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont on April 30, 2014, 8:58 pm

      W.Jones: Tikkun tells us that no-one should BDS Israel alone, but only if they also BDS China (Tibet), Russia (lots I’d say), USA (Afghanistan), etc., etc. Lots of etc-s. Otherwise they are unfair and increase Israeli paranoia.

      Well, I suppose that all makes sense. Sure, go ahead and BDS China and Russia and USA if you can figure out how to. Kinda too-big-to-fail, if you ask me. Meanwhile there is ANTI-BDS, that is, support for these various countries, especially for Israel. USA spends at least $3B/yr (some say $6B with a variety of weapons deals) on Israel. This is anti-BDS-ism. And AIPAC and J-Street and many others actually support Israel (this too is anti-BDS-ism).

      How can they justify anti-BDS-ism while calling on others to drop BDS?

      Love for a criminal is OK, praiseworthy, but action taken against the criminal is wrong? Can someone explain?

      Well, as to Israeli paranoia, what shall we do, lie down and play dead because the poor scared dearie-pies would otherwise react in spasms of paranoid-fear?

      Just checking: anyone at all think Liberman is paranoid or merely criminal or perhaps both, also the others, Naftali Bennett? And — does it matter?

      Isn’t it well established in psychology that many criminals are criminals after (and to some extent because) of earlier life experiences where they were themselves objects of illicit violence? So nu? Shall the police forces of the world lie down and play dead and let these violent criminals work their will unhindered because they were all (it may be argued) abused as kids? And the little dears then abuse everyone else (the police looking the other way, as Israeli police so often do) and a new generation of previously-abused-persons hits the streets. (Sounds like a plan?)

      The USA was NEVER abused; we have been the abusers. USA supports Israel because our oligarchic policy-makers want us to. Period. Not because of and not despite paranoia. Politics. Power plays. Morality plays no role in USA’s governance. Money does.

      BDS should be pursued against all Israeli institutions, gradually (and gradually is built-in, look how slow it is) but universally. BDS against Israeli companies which take part in the occupation is part of this and is particularly apt. Many will wish to limit their BDS to such companies. Fine. But I suspect that in the long run the maximum pressure on Israel (and best world-wide educational impact) will be via pan-Israel BDS.

      And telling the story of Israel-in-Palestine.

      Just saying. Even paranoids have enemies — sure — and if Israelis are paranoid then their enemies are the enemies of paranoids. But not because they are paranoids. Because of their crimes.

  9. anthonybellchambers
    anthonybellchambers on May 1, 2014, 4:30 am

    ‘Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem on Tuesday that it was time to shift attention away from the failed peace talks and toward what he called a more urgent priority — the threat posed by Iran.’ WP

    Of course! The forecast next step in the Israeli strategy to torpedo the US brokered peace talks and to proceed in its grand plan to dismember Iran, having already neutralised Iraq, and to take effective control of the Middle East backed by its massive nuclear arsenal. And the world watches apparently paralysed.
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