Two days ago Barbara Walters unveiled her list of the ten most fascinating people of 2015. The most fascinating of all was of course Caitlyn Jenner.
“If you found yourself unable to take your eyes of Caitlyn Jenner this year, you weren’t alone,” said Walters. “Through her own transformation, [she] transformed society this year and that, for us, makes her the most fascinating person of 2015.”
Well it turns out Barbara Walters is pretty fascinating herself. I recently learned that she was a keynote speaker for the Jewish National Fund gala in Ottawa in 2011. The Jewish National Fund is a quasi-governmental agency that buys land for Jews in Israel and Palestine.
This very week, Ayman Odeh, the Palestinian leader of the Joint List in Israel, refused to set foot in the Jewish Agency offices in New York in part because of its association with the JNF. As Mairav Zonszein said, Odeh’s decision was in line with American values:
His decision not to enter a New York office owned by an Israeli quasi-governmental organization that has — since its founding and to this day — promoted Jewish-only immigration and worked with the government and bodies like the Jewish National Fund to ensure contiguous Jewish-only territory throughout Israel is an act that sincerely and coherently reflects his positions and politics.
It also contains a lesson for the American Jewish establishment, which puts too much focus on open dialogue about Israel, and not enough on taking resolute action in the face of fundamental violations of its declared values.
Zonszein’s great editorial was in the Forward; and the editor, Jane Eisner, did something I’ve never seen in the Forward, wrote a piece big-footing her own contributor, Zonszein. Eisner reported on her own meeting with Odeh.
[H]he won’t accept Zionism that privileges Jewish ties to the land over Palestinian ties. And even though he is a member of the Israeli legislature, he and his Joint List colleagues won’t participate in the governmental work of the ministries of foreign affairs, security and absorption because of those agencies’ roles in foundational Zionism.
From there, it’s a direct but tenuous line to boycotting the Jewish Agency for its support of efforts that still today, Odeh contends, oppress the Arab minority.
I don’t think that’s a tenuous line. More than 1 million Israeli Palestinians believe that they are second-class citizens. You can’t argue them out of that belief. There are good reasons for their belief, including discriminatory land practices. Michael Bloomberg was shaped by the fact that when his family moved to Medford, Mass., they had to overcome anti-Semitic real estate covenants by having an Irish person buy their house for them. “It was a significant part of the family lore, it happened, everybody was clear that it happened,” his sister told the New York Times.
No American should belittle Ayman Odeh’s understanding about anti-Palestinian land restrictions. And Barbara Walters shouldn’t shill for a discriminatory agency.