Monday, December 31, 2007

Gidon D. Remba Bio

Doni Remba is Executive Director and President of the Jewish Alliance for Change (JAFC)(,) a nonprofit organization which works to educate and mobilize American Jews and the American public to support a progressive domestic and foreign policy agenda.  He also serves as co-director of the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel: A Project of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America & JAFC.

During 2008, Mr. Remba and JAFC worked to build American Jewish support for then-Senator Obama's candidacy during the presidential election by co-founding Jews for Obama, and editing its e-newsletter and website, and, among other things, producing the popular web video Israelis For Obama, and the TV ad and web video series Ain't Funny, which featured Carl Reiner, Danny DeVito, Jerry Stiller, Valerie Harper, and other iconic comedians. More recently, JAFC sponsored a benefit concert and political event in support of marriage equality legislation in New York and New Jersey; the concert, called "Broadway for a New America," featured over 30 stars from Broadway, film, TV, music and comedy, and drew an audience of 800 people in New York City.

JAFC sponsors the Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice in Israel together with Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, and co-sponsored an advocacy campaign with J Street ( in support of President Obama’s bold effort to promote peace and security for Israel, defending President Obama against the new wave of smears and misinformation. JAFC also combats myths about President Obama's Middle East peace efforts at Obama Mideast Myths and Facts.

Mr. Remba has also served as Executive Director of Ameinu, the U.S. affiliate of the World Labor Zionist Organization, and co-founded and for six years was President of Americans for Peace Now’s Chicago Region. He has spent over two decades in the for-profit sector as an award-winning marketing strategist and business development manager with several Fortune 100 corporations and entrepreneurial high technology companies.

He served as Senior Foreign Press Translator and Editor in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office, from Egyptian President Sadat’s historic 1977 Jerusalem visit until the signing of the Camp David Peace Accords in 1978. He translated for the world press the public speeches and statements of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and other Israeli leaders, helping them develop Israel's media/communications strategy during the peace negotiations; he co-translated President Sadat’s historic Knesset speech into English for the world press.

Mr. Remba's commentaries on Israel, the Middle East and Jewish affairs have appeared widely in the Jewish and general press, including the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Chicago Sun Times, the Nation, Ha’aretz, the Forward, the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Jerusalem Report, Tikkun, Israel Horizons, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Chicago Jewish News, JUF News, and the Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh, where he wrote a monthly column on Israel during recent years.

Mr. Remba received his B.A. with high honors in philosophy, Jewish philosophy and Middle East studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and has completed his Ph.D. coursework in political philosophy at the University of Chicago. He lives with his wife and 10-year old daughter in the New York area, having relocated from Chicago.

For a List of My Publications click here.
For Press Clips about my work from 2008 - 2009 click here
For Press Clips about my work from 2007 click here

Israel, Settlements and the "P" Word

Israel, Settlements and the “P” Word


Gidon D. Remba
January 15, 2008

As Bush began his eight-day visit last week to Israel, the West Bank and allied Arab states, the rhetorical fireworks heralded his arrival. In advance of his landing at Ben Gurion airport, Bush assured Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot that "I believe the time is ripe. There will be a comprehensive [Israeli-Palestinian] peace signed by the end of this year."

In his joint press conference with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Bush bluntly reminded his listeners that Israeli settlement "outposts, yes, they ought to go. Look, I mean, we've been talking about it for four years. The agreement was, get rid of outposts, illegal outposts, and they ought to go." In the days before his departure, Bush told Reuters in an interview at the White House: "I will talk about Israeli settlement expansion, about how that is, that can be, you know, an impediment to success," and "The unauthorized outposts for example need to be dismantled, like the Israelis said they would do."

Ha'aretz reported that "Olmert said that the president asked for his commitment to an end to the confiscation of land in the West Bank, and end to the construction of new settlements, and the evacuation of illegal outposts." Olmert admitted in an interview before Bush's Israel touchdown that "Every year all the settlements in all the territories [of the West Bank] continue to grow. There is a certain contradiction in this between what we're actually seeing and what we ourselves promised. We have obligations related to settlements and we will honor them." Ha'aretz told it like it is in a lead editorial titled "Bush, Accessory After the Facts," confronting us with the reality that the so-called "outposts" are settlements: "With its own hands, Israel has been rendering the two-state solution irrelevant, while declaring to all and sundry that this is the only possible solution."

Olmert recently admitted to the Jerusalem Post that Israel needs to internalize that even its supportive friends on the international stage conceive of the country's future on the basis of the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem divided. Realistic Dove blogger Dan Fleshler observed that "The idea that Jerusalem was the beginning and end of Zionism, that Israel could not exist without having full sovereignty over the entire city emerged only after 1967 and the growth of a religious fanaticism and aggressive nationalism that had more in common with the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood than the founding fathers of Zionism. And so, guarding the holy sites has become a nightmare and Jerusalem itself has become a dangerous flashpoint. The insanity of a few religious fanatics—Jewish, Muslim or Christian—has the potential of transforming a local conflict into a religious war with incalculable consequences."

A skeptical Yossi Alpher wrote that "Bush is not coming to make a serious effort to advance a substantive peace process. This visit, like Bush's Israeli-Palestinian peace process in general, looks to be all hype and superficiality." Alpher remains unimpressed by Bush's rhetorical fireworks: "There is one thing Bush is apparently not coming to do. He will not put heavy pressure on Olmert, publicly or in private, to start carrying out his roadmap Phase I obligations and energetically remove outposts." Former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh (Labor) told Dan Fleshler last year that "he believed U.S. pressure on Israel was justified when Israel was not living up to its obligations to the U.S. ...Israelis would support or at least not object too strongly if the U.S. prodded Israel to keep the promises made in the road map."

At Camp David I in 1978, President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, had warned Prime Minister Menachem Begin that if he refused to relinquish the Sinai settlements, it would be "difficult for him to support Israel's requests for political, economic and military support." Begin relented and the Camp David Peace Accords were signed.

But Carter applied significant pressure on both sides to bring them both to their common goal. When Sadat threatened to leave Camp David in exasperation over the summit's prolonged failure to close the gaps, Carter pointedly told him that if he left, it would be the end of his relationship with the United States and the end of the peace process. Sadat, understanding the score, stayed until agreement was reached.

Republican Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Gerald Ford had done much the same just a few years before during Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's first term of office, using a "reassessment" of US military deliveries to Israel to encourage him to agree to the Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement after the Yom Kippur War.

In the early nineties, President George H. W. Bush held up billions of dollars in loan guarantees to Israel when Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir refused to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank. Shamir's clash with the U.S. over settlements turned many Israelis to favor Rabin in the next election, leading to his victory, enabling Rabin's pursuit of peace with the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords.

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Democrat, agrees with Bush that "once momentum is generated it could even lead to peace this year.” But he cautions that “Only the US can do it; and that demands action from the president, not just more words." Today, one still hears many American Jews and their leaders talk as if U.S. pressure on the Israeli government, not only on the Palestinian and Arab leadership, is a cardinal sin. In fact, it’s a necessary ingredient for making a secure and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is not in Israel’s best interests for us to continue to pretend otherwise.

Gidon D. Remba is National Executive Director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel. His commentary is available at

Thursday, December 20, 2007

What Bush and Olmert Could Learn from Begin and Sadat, by Gidon D. Remba

What Bush and Olmert Could Learn from Begin and Sadat

Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, December 20, 2007


Gidon D. Remba

As the Annapolis Arab-Israeli peace summit unfolded last month, many failed to notice that it fell just days after the 30th anniversary of the dramatic event which launched the very first Arab-Israeli peace effort: the visit to Jerusalem of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Thirty years ago, I stood in the Knesset in Jerusalem, charged by the Government of Israel with translating the historic speech of President Sadat, and the responses of Israeli leaders Menachem Begin, Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizman and Shimon Peres, for the world press. What lessons does the first successful peace initiative between Arabs and Israelis hold for President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert to guide them through the minefields of today's battle for peace between Israel and the Palestinians? (There are lessons too for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but that would take another piece.)

Sadat is widely thought to have been the main initiator of the breakthrough Egyptian-Israeli peace talks. To be sure, Sadat was a remarkably courageous leader, whose actions were unprecedented. A tragic hero, he was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood for making peace with Israel. But by conferring on Sadat more credit than he deserved, we miss the pivotal role played by Israeli leaders—particularly Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan—which made Sadat's bold move possible.

Before Sadat issued his public offer to talk peace with Israel in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Begin sent messages to Sadat through a variety of secret channels via President Carter and Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu, indicating that Israel was prepared to make major territorial concessions in return for a full peace treaty, and inviting Sadat to meet Begin. Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan traveled incognito to Morocco to meet Sadat's deputy prime minister, Hasan Tuhami. Through his meeting with Tuhami, Dayan led Sadat to believe that Israel would agree to a complete withdrawal from the Sinai in exchange for full peace. Late in life, Begin acknowledged this in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharanot. Begin further acknowledged that he made an explicit commitment to withdraw from the entire Sinai Peninsula during Sadat's Jerusalem visit.

Israel took the initiative to build the trust and confidence which enabled Sadat to take the extraordinary risks that he did, breaking through the Arab wall of enmity which had surrounded the Jewish state for the previous three decades since its birth. By the same token, a far-reaching Israeli peace initiative is needed today, offering Israel's Palestinian partners, President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the tools they need to build their power base and make significant concessions on issues of greatest concern to Israel: providing security against terrorism and reaching an agreed resolution to the refugee issue.

Since the dawn of the Arab-Israeli peace process three decades ago, Israeli construction of settlements in the West Bank has been a fractious bone of contention between the Arabs, Israel and the United States. Had Begin persisted in his refusal to temporarily freeze construction, ignoring the appeals of his Foreign Minister, Moshe Dayan, and his Defense Minister, Ezer Weizman, the first Camp David summit might well have ended in failure. If Israel and the Palestinians reach a final status accord marking the final borders between a Palestinian state and Israel, incorporating an agreed swath of settlements near the 1967 line, with equal land swaps, the Jewish state will be free to build settlements, both new and existing. No one could object that Jews were illegally settling in "occupied territory" or obstructing a two-state solution to the conflict. They would be building within the internationally recognized final boundaries of Israel--boundaries accepted not only by the world, but by the Palestinians and all Arab states.

A cycle of initial hope and prolonged despair is common to both the peace processes of the seventies and the period from Oslo to Annapolis. Following Sadat's Jerusalem visit, the early optimism for reaching an Egyptian-Israeli accommodation was dashed by a stalemate in the negotiations which lasted the better part of a year. The PLO, fearing that Sadat was planning a separate peace and betraying Palestinian aspirations, escalated its violence, perpetrating some of its most deadly terrorist attacks.

The collapse of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks at Camp David II and the eruption of the Second Intifada, coupled with continued Israeli expansion of settlements, dashed hopes on both sides for realizing a secure and peaceful two-state solution, undermining mutual trust. Then, as now, Israel's military leaders believed that the failure to fulfill the hope of peace could lead to renewed war. As deadlock set in, Defense Minister Weizman prepared the Israeli army for a possible conflagration with Egypt, much as his contemporary counterparts have warned of a third intifada, or a regional war with Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

The cycle of despair and hope was broken thirty years ago. It can be broken again now. The United States has succeeded in helping Israel and its Arab neighbors overcome some of the highest hurdles to peace by judiciously applying carefully calibrated diplomatic pressure on both sides at key points during a peace effort. It's time to give up myths about the "taboo" of American diplomatic heat.

In reality, the Israeli government, a coalition of parties and factions within parties, is often a house divided against itself. U.S. prodding can provide an Israeli leader the political cover he needs to align with and empower the more moderate factions in his own party and in his government. Arab decision-making has been similarly influenced.

The history of several past successful Mideast peace efforts, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, suggests that a vital role was played by American leaders who were prepared to hold Israeli and Arab leaders' feet to the fire when it most mattered, a tale worth revisiting in a future column. Both sides need a crash course in tough love to spur them across the threshold of peace.

Gidon D. Remba is National Executive Director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel. His commentary is available at

Monday, October 29, 2007

Genocide, Morality and American Jews, Gidon D. Remba (Jerusalem Post Op-Ed)

Genocide, Morality and American Jews
Published as Don’t Alienate Ankara


Gidon D. Remba

October 29, 2007
The Jerusalem Post
(Unedited version)

Under pressure from the Bush Administration and Turkey, a key US NATO ally, Congressional leadership recently performed an about-face on a resolution condemning as genocide the mass slaughter and wholesale deportation of Armenian men, women and children nearly a century ago by Ottoman Turkey. The Jewish community has been deeply divided over the moral quandaries raised by this resolution. It has brought into play Turkey’s role in supporting U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel’s military alliance with the Turks, the relationship between Israel and American Jews, the Jewish memory of the Shoah—and our anguished moral consciences.

The moral question seems to have a clear-cut answer, one embraced by many thoughtful Jews. Jewish tradition reflects a potent strain of ethical idealism, an absolute commitment to principle, even to the point that it seems to suggest: Do the right thing—and damn the consequences! The preeminent rabbinic sage Maimonides exemplified this when he ruled that “if pagans should tell [the Jews], ‘Give us one of yours and we shall kill him, otherwise we shall kill all of you,’ they should all be killed and not a single Jewish soul should be delivered.”

But there is another major stream in Jewish tradition which emphasizes that the Torah was given so that we may live by it. It implores us to choose life, raising the demand to save lives above all the other commandments (the principle called pikuach nefesh). The Jewish commitment to the absolute inviolability of the individual and to human rights can be summed up by an ancient, non-Jewish aphorism: do justice, urged the Romans, even though the heavens may fall. But we live in a time in which the falling of the heavens is far from a remote possibility. If we gaze at the history of the last century, up to the present moment, we bear witness to a dark panorama of butchery, war, terrorism and genocide. The heavens have fallen time and time again. And justice has, all too often, not been done.

We Jews have been among the greatest victims of such barbarity. But we are hardly its only victims. Before the destruction of six million European Jews in the Holocaust—and six million non-Jews—there was another genocide, of over 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915-17. The Allied governments, Britain, France and Russia, condemned the Turkish government for committing “crimes against humanity and civilization,” the first time such language had ever been invoked (the term genocide had not yet been coined). The U.S., seeking to avoid involvement, refused to join the Allied declaration. Despite our wish to be celebrated as a global beacon of human rights and liberal democracy, the United States has often failed to speak out against genocide, or even to take modest risks to stop it in concert with our allies. Nor have the Europeans done much better, for all their commitment to peace, international law and human rights.

From Turkey’s destruction of the Armenians, the Nazi Holocaust, and Pol Pot’s Cambodian reign of terror; to Saddam’s gassing and execution of the Kurds, the Bosnian Serb mass murder of Muslims, and the Hutu evisceration of the Tutsi, the United States, and often its allies, not only failed to invest real capital into stopping genocide. It sometimes even directly or indirectly aided those committing it. Samantha Power documents this sordid tale in her pathbreaking book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.

More recently, the U.S. has failed to lead the UN Security Council—or given the U.N.’s impotence in the face of Chinese oil investments in Sudan—NATO, the G-8 and the African Union, to take stronger action to halt the continuing atrocities in Darfur. Such steps include targeted sanctions against Sudan for obstructing the deployment of the multinational force, provision of NATO logistical support, equipment and additional funding necessary to provide the force with the capacity to defend itself against attacks by armed groups and to protect civilians. We stopped the horrors in Serbia and Bosnia; we can stop them in Darfur.

Against the backdrop of this sorry chronicle of moral bankruptcy, it behooves the United States to at long last formally recognize the Turkish genocide of the Armenians. We bear a heavy moral obligation to do so. That, it seems clear, is the right thing to do.

And yet—must we do justice now even if the heavens will fall? The Armenian genocide is not unfolding today; it is nearly a century old. Were it happening today, there would be no harm to American interests which could justify our failure to lead or participate in effective international intervention—from potent economic sanctions and the promise of war crimes tribunals and a willingness to arrest and try the perpetrators, to the deployment of a NATO-led or other multinational armed force.

Several hundred thousand American troops are now ensconced deep in Iraq and Afghanistan, heavily dependent on our NATO ally Turkey to permit the transfer of new armored vehicles necessary to prevent even greater loss of life. A loss of Turkish cooperation, a realistic prospect, could also prolong the presence of large numbers of US troops in Iraq. Whatever we believe about the justice of these wars—the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is surely a just war, even if the Iraq war is not—if we hold dear the value of human life, we cannot remain indifferent to the jeopardy into which an untimely public recognition of the Armenian genocide would place American forces, along with Iraqi and Afghani civilians.

But it gets worse. Kurdish separatist guerrillas are attacking Turkish forces in Turkey, which is threatening to invade Iraq, a step which could draw Iran into the breach and further destabilize the Iraqi government. The guerrilla attacks, coupled with Turkish estrangement from the U.S., could strike the match that sets alight a great tinderbox, sparking a regional firestorm into which U.S. forces could be drawn. You thought the Iraq war was already going badly?

It gets worse still. Turkey is Israel’s closest military ally in the Muslim world. Turkish military cooperation, and airspace, is vital to Israel’s self-defense against Iran and Syria. A serious degradation in relations between Turkey and the U.S or Israel would represent a blow to Israeli deterrence, exposing Israel to greater security threats from Iran and Syria, increasing the risk of war with Israel.

We Jews bear a profound moral duty to recognize the genocide of the Armenians. The United States too must right its own historic wrong. But not when there is grave danger that the heavens may fall. The right thing, all things considered, is to act wisely, reducing Israel’s security threat from Syria by negotiating a peace treaty, as Israel’s intelligence services now uniformly recommend, and pursuing a swift and orderly U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. We must minimize harm to human lives here and now, and urge our leaders to take a courageous moral stand on historical truth when the cost to innocent lives, and world peace, is more bearable. This, I believe, the victims of genocide would themselves demand.

Gidon D. Remba is National Executive Director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel. His commentary is available at

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

War or Peace? What Bashar Really Wants, by Gidon D. Remba

This essay, published as “Now May Be the Time to Pry Syria from Terrorist Camp,” is being reprinted in a new anthology titled Should Governments Negotiate with Terrorists?, as part of the “At Issue” educational series, to appear in June 2008. The volume may now be pre-ordered on Amazon here.

War or Peace? What Bashar Really Wants
Originally Published in Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, September 26, 2007


Gidon D. Remba

Three weeks ago Israel launched an air strike on “nuclear equipment” in Syria provided secretly by North Korea. So goes the received version of what happened over Syrian skies, suggesting that Israel’s operation was a reprise of its successful preemptive attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.

North Korea and Syria may indeed have been collaborating on a clandestine nuclear weapons development program. Since Israeli government and military officials are virtually mum, everything we hear has come from the Bush Administration, or from “leaks” to the media from anonymous Israeli intelligence sources which are treated breathtakingly as revelatory scoops. The Bush Administration would never spin a story or twist intelligence information to suit its pre-conceived worldview, now would it? Newsweek reports that “current and former U.S. intelligence officials, willing to speak only if they were not named, say they've seen no credible evidence yet of nuclear ties between North Korea and Syria, whether before or since the Israeli operation.” Even former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, now at the a conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, who made a career of claiming, against all CIA assessments, that Syria was developing nuclear weapons, now admits that “whether [it was] a nuclear or missile facility [that the Israelis hit] is not clear.”

For years, the Bush Administration shunned direct talks with North Korea and reversed U.S. support for South Korea’s “sunshine” policy of using economic, security and political incentives to dissuade the North Koreans from building more nuclear weapons. It created a confrontational atmosphere that led to precisely that outcome, along with the first North Korean nuclear bomb test explosion. Syria had cooperated with the U.S. after 9/11, as did Iran, sharing intelligence information with the U.S. on Al Qaeda, prompting U.S. officials to report that Syria had helped to save American lives. By the time of the Iraq war in 2003, neo-cons in the Bush Administration insisted that Syria should be lumped with Iran, Iraq and North Korea in Bush’s “axis of evil.” They had long advocated sanctions and isolation of Syria, Iran and Iraq to be followed by U.S. and Israeli military strikes and regime change in all three countries.

On the precipice of catastrophic failure not only in Iraq but in North Korea, with the “evil axis” strategy blowing up in its face, the Bush Administration finally did a 180, listened to its moderate, pragmatic faction, once led by Secretary of State Colin Powell, and now by his successor Condoleezza Rice. Under Rice’s direction, the U.S. earlier this year negotiated a deal directly with North Korea to trade aid and other guarantees for first steps in what could become a North Korean arms denuclearization program, an objective it achieved before with Libya.

Vice President Cheney and other hawks in and out of office have been apoplectic, believing that the US has “declared defeat” by “trusting” the North Koreans, hoping to scuttle the agreement. On other fronts, Cheney has personally called leaders in Arab countries and told them not to listen to Secretary of State Rice because “she doesn’t speak for the administration,” leading American Syria scholar David Lesch recently told a Century Foundation luncheon for a small group of diplomats and foreign policy editors which I attended.

Pyongyang has long supplied Damascus with missiles; but nuclear warheads or materials? Would the North Koreans really risk their nuclear bargain with the U.S., imagining that neither the U.S. nor Israel would detect their actions in Syria? Would they play into the hands of the hard-line clique in the White House who want to sabotage their deal? Perhaps they are that reckless. But we should maintain a healthy skepticism until the administration comes clean and shows the public incontrovertible evidence. And if North Korea did export nuclear material to Syria, it points not to the failure of diplomacy per se—any more than a poorly executed war proves the bankruptcy of military force in general—but rather to what many policy analysts see as the Bush Administration’s muddled and half-hearted approach to nuclear disarmament talks with Pyongyang.

As for Syria, Rice has struck a symbolic blow against the hawks, announcing that the U.S. will invite it, along with other Arab states who do not maintain diplomatic relations or peace treaties with Israel, to the Palestinian-Israeli peace parley planned for November. Doubtful that the conference will deliver substantive results, Syria is unlikely to attend. At the same time, A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate last month found that Damascus has been cracking down on Al Qaeda-affiliated foreign terrorists attempting to infiltrate Iraq, significantly reducing the number of incursions.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has been telling visiting scholars and diplomats that Syria’s alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas is essentially tactical, and largely expendable in exchange for the right incentives from the U.S. and Israel. Syria is a weak country, economically distressed and running out of oil; it is always seeking leverage, bargaining chips, and in need of Western and Sunni Arab aid. It will trade away its strategic assets with the Islamists in exchange for dividends of greater value from the West. But it won’t surrender its booty in advance of a negotiation, as the Bush Administration has demanded, before confirming that American and Israeli benefits will truly be forthcoming.

Bashar told Lesch in May 2007: “Whoever works more for our [Syria’s] interests, I will be their friend. It is about interests, not ideology, and if the United States works for my interests, I will be their friend.” When one has few friends, Bashar intimated, one cannot be choosy, implying that “Damascus has had no choice but to draw closer to Iran.” But if “given a legitimate option in another direction, it might loosen its ties to Teheran.”

Bashar has also told Lesch that he would be a “hero” if he could bring about the return of the Golan to Syria through negotiations. If the U.S. continues down the path of isolation and confrontation with Syria, a largely Sunni state, we will push it even more into the arms of Shia Iran and Hezbollah. The U.S. and Israel must now work towards an American-backed Israeli-Syrian peace treaty and arms control pact enabling Syria to join the U.S.-allied coalition of Sunni Arab states and Israel against Shia extremists—before the next, far more devastating war.

Gidon D. Remba is National Executive Director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel. His commentary is available at and

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Self-Appointed, Arrogant American Jewish Interlopers Offer Illusions of Peace, by Gidon D. Remba

Self-Appointed, Arrogant American Jewish Interlopers Offer Illusions of Peace
(Abridged Version)
Published in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, August 22, 2007


Gidon D. Remba

Mideast peace is in the air again, as Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas have been meeting in recent months to hash out a statement of principles which would serve as the basis for a permanent peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.

This latest peace effort brings to mind the origins of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, which lay in a meeting held between five American Jews and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat in Stockholm, Sweden in 1988. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to send to the executive director of Ameinu, the successor organization to the Labor Zionist Alliance, an article describing the five American Jews who met with Arafat as a “quintet of self-appointed, arrogant interlopers from the American Jewish scene, without authorization from any official Israeli or American governmental agency,” who “in the full glare of publicity and with the approbation of their Swedish hosts, proceeded ‘to negotiate’ minimal terms which might theoretically enable the PLO to meet conditions set by the United States for recognition as a legitimate ‘partner’ in the quest for peace.”

One of those five American Jews was Stanley Sheinbaum, an economics professor and progressive activist who organized the groundbreaking American Jewish meeting with Arafat. I had the good fortune to spend an afternoon visiting last week with Stanley Sheinbaum, who recounted the story to me. Another of the five was Labor Zionist Alliance President Menachem Rosensaft.

My first instinct was to toss this interesting—but on some points misinformed—article into the round file and thank its author for submitting it, while politely declining to publish it. But why allow ourselves to be outdone in the chutzpah department? Such an essay might offer readers an opportunity for what they call at my daughter’s school a “teachable moment.” After all, must everything that our organization publishes slavishly reflect some party line or doctrinaire point of view? Should our publications not serve to spark critical thinking and debate among our readers, at least within some reasonable limits?

We’ve published the views of Labor Knesset Member Colette Avital and other prominent figures from Israel’s security, intelligence and diplomatic establishment arguing that Israel must, in its own best interests, initiate a pragmatic dialogue with Hamas, dropping counterproductive pre-conditions which, had they been adopted with other Arab parties, would have prevented any peace talks—and peace treaties or truce agreements—from coming to fruition (think Egypt and Jordan, and the peace talks with Syria in the 90’s, which laid the groundwork for what may be a future Syrian-Israeli peace treaty). On this view, the most solid foundation for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations is one that co-opts Hamas into the process.

Recent examples of this approach have emanated from the likes of former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Israeli Foreign Minister (Labor) Shlomo Ben-Ami, and Meretz chair Yossi Beilin. We have also printed the contrary perspective of Labor Knesset Member and former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, who maintains that Israel must isolate and pressure Hamas while backing and negotiating peace with Fatah and the PLO.

Who’s right about Hamas? Today’s unconventional minority view may well become tomorrow’s received wisdom (and government policy). We have witnessed such a transformation in recent decades with the very idea of negotiating with the PLO, supporting the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel, and even talking peace with the Arab states. (I’m old enough to remember when that proposition was considered fantasy, or heresy, in the American Jewish community and in Israel). We would ill serve our readers if we did not capture the political ferment not only among progressive Zionists in Israel and America, but among prominent Israelis who are not identified with the left, who are embracing ideas, on “realist” pragmatic/security grounds, which have long been associated with political progressives in Israel.

With this commitment to pluralism and debate in mind, I opted to publish Haim Chertok’s “Does Europe Hate the Jews and Israel? The Other Stockholm Syndrome”— and to stand up for those he dubs “self-appointed, arrogant American Jewish interlopers” who tried to do their part to advance the cause of Arab-Israeli peace. Chertok’s piece is worth reading for its perspective on Swedish attitudes towards the Jews and Israel. Yet its errors on the origins of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, in which Sweden played a major role, offer several teachable moments.

To refer to Stanley Sheinbaum and his colleagues as “self-appointed arrogant interlopers…without authorization from any official…American governmental agency” is not only to misrepresent the basic historical facts, but to commit a triple error. First, Sheinbaum was indeed acting with the full authorization of the Reagan Administration. Second, it ignores the fact that it was the Reagan and incoming Bush Administrations which sought negotiations with the PLO in order to launch an unprecedented and vitally necessary Palestinian-Israeli peace initiative.

Third, it misunderstands the vital role which “independent” third party intermediaries often play, usually with the covert approval of governments, in facilitating peace talks between adversaries, who require preliminary explorations of the possibilities to be conducted at arms length by unofficial interlocutors. Third party intermediaries enable political leaders to explore the viability of a formal negotiation process with reduced risks. “Independent” negotiators often report back to their affiliated governments, who then act accordingly based on new information they glean.

I first witnessed a version of this process at work when my father, also an economist, led an American Jewish delegation of academics on behalf of American Professors for Peace in the Middle East in 1975 which met with the leadership of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the PLO and Israel, well before any Arab party had peace agreements, or conducted peace talks, with Israel.

Unofficial third party intermediaries have played a similar role to Sheinbaum and company with Syrian-Israeli peace talks. During the last two years, a “Track 2” unofficial Syrian-Israeli-American negotiation process has taken place behind the scenes. This process has helped pave the way for third party mediators who are now acting to pass messages back and forth between Syrian and Israeli leaders Assad and Olmert, to help each determine when, whether and under what terms to embark on a public negotiation process (a development I predicted a year ago in this column).

Both Stanley Sheinbaum and Colin Powell are today among the growing ranks of those who question the wisdom of the very conditions which they negotiated with Yasser Arafat. Politically necessary as those terms may have been at the time with the PLO, both now feel that such prerequisites have outlived their usefulness when it comes to dealing with Hamas. Somewhere there may just be a new Stanley Sheinbaum—a self-appointed, arrogant American Jewish or Israeli interloper—talking quietly right now to a friend of the Syrian President, or to pragmatists within Hamas about the terms under which the organization would accept a long-term cease-fire with Israel, arrange for the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and end the misery of daily warfare in Sderot and Gaza.

Gidon D. Remba is National Executive Director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel. His commentary is available at and

Friday, August 3, 2007

Everything JNF Wants to Know About Democracy, But Was Afraid to Ask

Everything JNF Wants to Know About Democracy, But Was Afraid to Ask

By Gidon D. Remba
August 3, 2007

Shahar Ilan reported in Ha’aretz on 7/30 that the JNF is receiving “messages from its branches all over the world. The branch activists cannot contend with the claims that the JNF discriminates against Arabs…On May 17… the [Israel] Attorney General’s office sent a letter to the High Court stating, ‘The Attorney General believes that the Israel Lands Authority must uphold the principle of equality and that it cannot discriminate based on nationality when acting in its capacity as director of JNF lands.’”

Ilan pours cold water on JNF’s claim that “no one can tell it what to do with its property.” In fact, he explains, “half the lands in [JNF’s] possession belong to absentee [Arab] owners, and were sold to it by the state in 1953. The ACRI [the Association for Civil Rights in Israel] stated in its petition: ‘These lands are the property of the entire public, and their transfer to JNF does not free them from coming under the purview of public law…It is clearly problematic if the JNF acquired the property of absentee Arab landowners and Arabs now cannot lease the land.” We are talking about 11% of the land in the entire State of Israel.

Meron Benvenisti points out in Ha’aretz (May 29, 2007) that these lands “were not purchased with the small coins put into the blue boxes, but were rather lands abandoned by Arabs that David Ben-Gurion, in a typical maneuver, ‘sold’ to the JNF in 1949-1950.” ”This was an improper and also an illegal decision,” explains Benvenisti. “The Israeli government sold the JNF lands that it did not own, but which had rather been captured in the war (and even the laws that it had enacted by then did not grant the state ownership of these lands).” What’s more, “The heads of the JNF knew very well that the sale was illegal, but it was important to them to establish that the JNF would continue serving as the institution that held the Jewish people's lands and developed them for purposes of settlement. They insisted that the government commit itself to ‘making (in the future) all the legal arrangements so that the lands will be registered under the JNF's full ownership under the laws of the State of Israel.’”

The Jerusalem Post reports that “The reasoning behind the bill, according to the JNF, is that "the land purchased by the Jewish people for the Jewish people should remain in the hands of its rightful owners." "It's important for us who had a covenant with the donors, that we honor that covenant," said Russell Robinson, chief executive officer of JNF. "For 2000 years, I don't remember that we were praying and dreaming that we can't wait to establish a democratic state in the Middle East, but we did say that we can't wait to reestablish a Jewish homeland."

Realistic Dove blogger and Ameinu board member Dan Fleshler, who wrote Ameinu’s letter to the Knesset Members sponsoring the JNF land bill, best captured the astonishment of many at Russell Robinson’s apologetics for the bill:

“Excuse me? Along with ending the occupation, the most daunting challenge faced by Israel is to remain a democracy with a Jewish majority that affords equal rights and a sense of belonging to Israel’s Arab citizens. The anti-Israel left and the far right in Israel believe that is impossible. Many Israelis (Jews and Arabs) and their supporters overseas believe it can and must be done (with, for example, aggressive affirmative action programs to close the economic and educational gaps, mandatory teaching of Arabic in all public schools, a civil service option for Israel Arabs who can’t serve in the military, declaring that Israel is a “state for all its citizens” and other measures).

“But rather than trying to figure out how to address the challenge, the man responsible for the JNF in the U.S. has apparently thrown up his hands and said, ‘Forget democracy. That’s a minor priority.’

“No it isn’t. We should be ‘praying and dreaming’ that the problems of Israel’s Arabs citizens will be solved, rather than telling them that they will never have the same rights as their Jewish neighbors. That’s the task ahead for Israel. It won’t be accomplished by scribbling the same propositions, again and again. Too many of them are based on a time when the ‘terrible incantations of defeats’ were still ringing in our ears. The Jews have won. The state is here. But the victory will always be partial unless and until that state is reinvented so that one fifth of its citizens feel like they have a stake in it.”

After playing down the importance of equality and liberal democracy, JNF America CEO Russell Robinson argues further in a position paper published by the JNF under the title “The Jewish State of Israel,” that “democracy is a process that allows us to participate freely in the decisions and debates of the country in which we live.” This however is a popular but famously flawed, minimalist concept of democracy as purely procedural. The kind of democracy which we in the West “all believe,” in Robinson’s words, is in fact a political system which guarantees certain fundamental rights, liberties and opportunities equally to all citizens generally through a Constitution or other set of basic laws, with separation of power, checks and balances applied by courts, a legislature and an executive, and a free press. To confuse the liberal democracy in which we all believe in the enlightened world—the standard by which we criticize the current JNF bill—with minimalist electoral democracy is tendentious and misleading.

Robinson expands his “weak procedural democracy” concept into an even more suspect democracies-aren’t so-good-for-the-Jews argument. He offers the claim that “A democratic system brought an evil man, Hitler, to power and took from us 6 million of our people…We need Israel because history has proved that even within democracies the Jewish people have had to endure pogroms, discrimination, anti-Semitism and death.” Hitler in fact exploited the mechanisms of electoral parliamentary democracy, along with xenophobic and ultra-nationalist demagoguery, to institute a violent dictatorship, suppress political opposition, suspend basic rights and launch a world war and the destruction of European Jewry. But this is no more useful than saying that a procedural, electoral democracy resulted in the election of Hamas, an anti-Semitic terrorist political movement, to form the Palestinian government last year.

These examples show not that democracies don’t protect the Jews—anti-Semitic pogroms and genocide occurred mainly in non-democratic countries like Russia and Poland, and in a German dictatorship, not in the democracies of Western Europe and the United States (except where they were overrun by the Nazis, as in France)—but that the kind of democracy that Robinson himself says “we all believe in” is not in fact what we all believe in. Rather, we support liberal democracy, in which equal rights are guaranteed to all citizens, not illiberal electoral democracies, which are notoriously prone to nationalist war and conflict and which deny their citizens equal protection under the law. It is, to reiterate, the correct conception of democracy—a political system which establishes institutions for the equal protection of the rights and opportunities of all citizens, which include free and fair elections and much more—in which we believe and on the basis of which we object to the JNF bill.

Labor MK, and former contender for the leadership of the Labor Party, Ami Ayalon has taken some heat for his vote in favor of the JNF land bill on its first reading. In fact, Ayalon has explained to Ha’aretz that he recognizes that “there is a built-in contradiction between the JNF as a body that deals with acquiring lands and settling Jews, and the administration of state lands by the Israel Lands Authority.” His solution is for JNF to agree to “return to the state all absentee owners’ land” and for it to “change its aims and start leasing lands not only to Jews, but for any objective that suits the state’s needs.” This is a worthy and far-reaching proposal.

However, Ayalon does not apply his own principle in a principled way. He proposes, for example, that the JNF “should lease lands to demobilized soldiers of all religions.” But this would simply reproduce the discrimination against Israeli Arab citizens in a new form. Among Israel’s 20% Arab population, only Druze and Circassians serve in the IDF, a tiny fraction of the Arab population. Until Israel institutes national service for all citizens and the JNF offers to lease land to all who have completed national service, either in the IDF or in a civil national service corps, the changes Ayalon proposes would reproduce the discrimination against most Arab citizens of Israel. Ayalon also believes that JNF should lease its land for the establishment of Jewish-Muslim institutions, a worthy cause.

At the same time, Ayalon’s position gives him a rope to climb down from the JNF tree. Ayalon has promised that if his proposed changes are not made to the bill, he will vote against it on any second reading in the Knesset. We need more principled flip-flopping of just this sort in the Knesset. Now that’s democracy at work!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Is AIPAC Lobbying for War or Peace with Iran and Gaza?, by Gidon D. Remba

Is AIPAC Lobbying for War or Peace with Iran and Gaza?
By Gidon D. Remba
Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle
July 24, 2007

This month’s column comes to you from Washington, D.C., where I have just attended the Executive Committee meeting of AIPAC, the “pro-Israel lobby,” as a delegate of Ameinu. The meeting, which focused on AIPAC's support for new legislation to ratchet up economic sanctions on Iran, was addressed by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, thirty freshman members of Congress, other prominent senators and Congress-folk, and Israeli Ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor.

While AIPAC professed its undying belief that "the United States must exhaust every economic, diplomatic and political tool to persuade the Iranian government to end its nuclear program," in fact the organization has completely failed to support any political, security or economic incentives which, when combined with sanctions, might create a real opportunity for the pragmatists in the Iranian leadership to reach an accommodation with the U.S. and chart a way out of the nuclear crisis.

AIPAC claims that its sanctions-only policy is meant to avoid war with Iran, ending the Iranian nuclear program through non-military means. But the lobby's tack would withhold many of the most effective non-military tools which proved successful with North Korea. These include the offer of future commercial ties and normalization of diplomatic relations if Iran reaches a satisfactory resolution with the international community on the nuclear issue and ends support for terrorism, while going along with efforts to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with a two-state solution. This is the “grand bargain” which Iran proposed to the Bush Administration several years ago, to no avail.

The two-day meeting, which culminated in lobbying sessions with members of Congress, opened moments after President Bush made a major speech on Palestinian-Israeli peace. Bush spelled out his (and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's) strategy of reviving peace talks with the new Fatah Palestinian government under President Mahmoud Abbas and freshly appointed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank, while continuing to isolate and pressure Hamas in Gaza. AIPAC has endorsed the new Bush strategy, instructing its activists to "urge members [of Congress] to support the new Palestinian government” albeit with “proper congressional oversight, and with continued calls on the new government to combat terrorism and fight corruption."

AIPAC insisted that "US support for the new government should be conditioned on its continued rejection of Hamas and a clear understanding that it will not seek an accommodation with a terrorist group committed to Israel's destruction." These conditions, which reflect the Bush Administration's outlook, have set the U.S. against its moderate Arab allies—especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt—which have been encouraging Fatah and Hamas to reconcile and reconstitute a national unity government. Even IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told the Knesset recently that the return of a Fatah-Hamas unity government is inevitable. Is American and Israeli policy based on a realistic picture of the neighborhood—or on wishful thinking?

While the new Bush-Olmert peace gambit has drawn support from various quarters in both the US and Israel, many critics have expressed strong skepticism over its viability. A policy built on fomenting civil war between Fatah and Hamas insures that Hamas has every incentive to do its utmost to act as the great spoiler. Indeed, many fear that its flaws are so grave it may well make the patient even more violently ill than before. Lest anyone doubt the Orwellian core of this new Bush “peace initiative,” Ha’aretz reported recently that the Bush Administration “does not want a reconciliation” between Fatah and Hamas. “It wants a confrontation. It wants a decisive victory.” That strategy worked out well for Israel against Hezbollah in Lebanon and the U.S. against Iraqi insurgents (and the U.S. against the Viet Cong, and the French against the Algerian FLN), so we can rest assured it will work just fine here as well.

There are, sadly, all too many reasons to doubt that the Bush Administration, the Olmert government, and a Fatah-led Palestinian Authority immersed in conflict with Hamas will execute wisely, robustly or effectively enough for the optimistic forecasts of recent happy peace talk to be fulfilled. So long as Bush refuses to invite Syria to the table or to permit Abbas to co-opt Hamas to return to a national unity government, these forces are likely to work assiduously to undermine his moves. Fatal flaws in President Bush’s game plan are likely to render his peace effort stillborn. In short: hope for success; expect failure.

Nor is it likely that the President’s vaunted fall “peace conference” will bear fruit, following its downgrade by his spinmeister to just a “meeting” on Palestinian institution-building with players who already recognize Israel (that sounds like a trailblazing historic summit now doesn’t it?). With the administration’s belated admission (after Congressional sources revealed) that the financial aid announced in the President’s speech to bolster the new Fatah government was already budgeted beforehand, the absence of substantial new economic assistance to the PA is bound to leave Palestinians bitter and disenchanted. It isn’t hard to embrace cynicism about Bush’s Mideast endgame in his final 18 months in office as he struggles with a region already set aflame by the fiasco he himself has fashioned in Iraq. We can expect, at best, little but sound and light shows on the Arab-Israel conundrum from this administration.

Meanwhile, AIPAC leadership enthusiastically endorsed the fire-breathing March 2007 AIPAC National Policy Conference speech of Rev. John Hagee of the fundamentalist right-wing Christians United For Israel (CUFI), which brought some 4,000 members last week from around the country to lobby on the Hill in support of Israel the day after AIPAC. I’m sure it was entirely coincidental that three of AIPAC’s four lobbying agenda items were identical to CUFI’s, and that the lobbying days were back to back. AIPAC leadership is happy to hop into bed with CUFI on Iran sanctions, US aid to Israel and putting more teeth into UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to enable international forces to better stanch arms smuggling in Lebanon.

But AIPAC leaders prefer to ignore the fact that Hagee and CUFI are implacably opposed to a two-state solution and any territorial compromise, whether with Mahmoud Abbas or with the Messiah himself—even while giving Hagee a platform for just such rhetoric before 6,000 AIPAC zombies. They also choose to overlook Hagee's repeated calls for a preemptive US war with Iran. After AIPAC’s continued warm embrace of Hagee and CUFI, its protestations that it is now all in favor of helping the Fatah government reach a two-state solution, and truly dedicated to a non-military settlement of the Iranian nuclear challenge, ring ever more hollow.

Gidon D. Remba is National Executive Director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel. His commentary is available at and

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Close Encounter with Ehud Olmert: The Hamas Revolution in Gaza
June 25, 2007

By Gidon D. Remba

I had the opportunity hear Prime Minister Ehud Olmert address the American Jewish leadership last week on the eve of his encounter with President Bush. So many are excited about Olmert and Bush’s new plan to support and re-start peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, while isolating and pressuring Hamas and Gaza. Condi, Bush and Olmert are swooning all over Abbas and Salam Fayyad, the new Palestinian prime minister. Olmert is falling all over himself declaring Abbas to be his long-lost Palestinian peace partner.

Olmert is interested in exploiting the recent Hamas takeover of Gaza from Fatah to forge a new opportunity for the future, an opening, he says, for “more moderate forces under Abbas in the PA to build up a solid basis for a Palestinian state in the territories.” Now that the Palestinian government in the West Bank is free of all traces of Hamas, Israel will unfreeze tax revenues and take steps to improve the quality of life in the West Bank. “We want to project to the Palestinian public,” suggests Olmert, “ that when they refrain from terror, they have a chance for a different kind of life.” Israel will talk with Abbas, whom Olmert now calls “a genuine partner,” about a “political horizon to create the basis for an eventual Palestinian state.”

Olmert took pains to stress that “George W. Bush is a great partner in our war against the extremists,” and that the new Israeli policy is fully in sync with the Bush Administration's "war on terror." “With terrorists you fight, with others you make peace; this will be the agenda of my government,” announces Olmert, grateful to have found the agenda he lost on the way out of Lebanon. In short, the new Bush-Olmert policy, into which even the EU has bought, is: do business with Abbas and his government in the West Bank, while isolating and pressuring Hamas—“cauterizing” the cancer, in Bibi Netanyahu’s mixed metaphor on CNN—employing appropriate military force against Hamas in Gaza. In short, the West Bank first, Gaza later—or two states for one people, as the motto of the week had it.

Olmert even made sure to tell his audience that “the Saudis can play an important role in supporting moderate forces in Arab countries.” And of the Saudi-inspired Arab League Peace Initiative he declared: “I won’t say no to any initiative whose outcome is the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state in the Middle East”—a right which, for all its virtues in reversing the three noes of Khartoum, the Arab Peace Initiative does not affirm. And Olmert reminded his audience that “there are many Palestinians who genuinely want to make peace with Israel.”

These are, of course, welcome noises from Olmert. Olmert’s happy peace talk sounded like sweet music to the ears of progressive Jews, and no less so to the broader Jewish community which pines for a ray of hope in a seemingly hopeless region. Indeed, a number of left-of-center policy wonks, including former Clinton Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk (writing in the Washington Post) and IPCRI (Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information) co-CEO Gershon Baskin, have endorsed some version of the new Olmert-Bush nostrum for reviving a peace process with the de-Hamasified Abbas.

But there is a dark lining inside this silver cloud. A policy of isolation and coercion against Hamas harbors a logic of escalation within. Hamas will not sit idle, and will redouble its efforts to blow up Olmert’s neat panacea. Israel’s hand may be forced in Gaza by escalating rocket fire on Sderot and Ashkelon, and the IDF could be compelled in time to launch a costly ground incursion. Remember what happened the last time Israel retaliated in Gaza with a big operation? The North erupted.

Ha’aretz reported today that “Hamas is planning to carry out suicide bombings in order to undermine the efforts by Israel and the West to bolster Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas…and to prevent any support from reaching Abbas and Fatah, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told the [Israeli] cabinet yesterday. Diskin also warned that the impression that Fatah is powerful in the West Bank is only an illusion… The Shin Bet head also warned that Fatah is a divided organization, and without a strong party it will be impossible for Abbas' forces to prevent terrorism in the West Bank.”

Déjà Vu

The Prime Minister was asked by several Jewish leaders what kind of economic aid he will provide to Abbas to strengthen him. Olmert deftly batted the questions aside. “What will I tell Abbas,” he quipped, “if I tell it all to you?” Olmert’s sympathizers chortled along with him. But I would wager that Olmert will tell nothing of any consequence to Abbas or anyone else. In short, Olmert’s new policy will soon be revealed for the cruel hoax that it is.

By refusing to countenance any return to a national unity Palestinian government with Hamas, Olmert is giving Hamas every incentive imaginable to become the great spoiler. The hoax will, in the end, be on Olmert. The only question will be whether the war that Olmert brings in Gaza—and then in the North—will be a bigger fiasco than last summer’s. And will Labor will be saddled with half the blame, as the Israeli public shifts further to the right, believing that if militarism is needed, better to bring in the real thing than a pale facsimile? Thanks to Olmert’s new fiasco, Bibi Netanyahu, darling of the right, may be crowned King of Israel once again.

Lurking behind Jewish leaders’ skeptical queries of Olmert was the deeper question: after squandering two previous opportunities to bolster Abbas, when neither the US nor Israel took the necessary steps to help him show the superiority of his way to the Palestinian public, what will Olmert do differently this time? We’ve been here before, with everyone proclaiming a miraculous turning point that can be exploited to advance the cause of peace, and Olmert leading the cheers.

Who can forget the death of Arafat and the appointment of Abbas as president? Aluf Benn has written of that period: “Israel's willingness to help Abbas was at best half-hearted. It never went beyond token moves and empty gestures.” (“Spinning The Disaster In Gaza,” Spiegel, June 20, 2007). Who can forget the momentous unveiling of the Road Map on the eve of the Iraq war with Bush clutching Abbas and Sharon at Aqaba, promising to ride herd on both to insure that they fulfilled their commitments? Who would ride herd on George W. Bush to insure that he and the United States lived up to their commitments?

Olmert, the Rabbi and the Goat

What will Olmert do to strengthen Abbas? Olmert’s reply to this question put me in mind of the tale of the rabbi and the goat. Unfreezing the tax revenues to Abbas and Fayyad’s PA is a necessary step—but as Olmert himself said of the sanctions on Iran—it is a positive step, yet insufficient, in this case woefully so. It behooves us to recall the tale: After complaining of life in a single cramped room with his large family of nine, a man is told by his rabbi to take a goat into the room. A week later, he returns to the rabbi more distraught than before. The rabbi counsels him to let the goat out. One more week goes by, and the man returns to the rabbi, exclaiming "Life is beautiful! We enjoy every minute of it now that there's no goat -- only the nine of us!"

Just what is Olmert’s bold new economic aid policy for relieving West Bank poverty, suffering and joblessness and bolstering Abbas against Hamas? Now that West Bank Palestinians have lived in the cramped sanctions room for a year, Ehud Olmert will let the goat out: he will give back the tax revenues Israel collected on the PA’s behalf from the time they began their flirtation with Hamas. And Olmert expects Abbas to exult over how much his “family” enjoys living in the cramped little room now that the goat is gone and the tax revenues are back.

And how will Olmert provide Abbas with a political dividend to demonstrate the superiority of Abbas and Fatah’s way of negotiating with Israel over Hamas’ way of terror and violent “resistance”? Olmert will “talk” to Abbas—often even--about a “political horizon” to create the basis for an “eventual Palestinian state.” Are you getting excited already? One can only imagine the fever that will overtake the Palestinian public now that Olmert will stop boycotting the moderate Abbas and actually start talking to him about a possible future state perhaps somewhere over the horizon, after letting the goat out of the room.

Condi Rice has proposed that Israel proceed to negotiate a final agreement with Abbas outlining the permanent borders of a Palestinian state, creating a palpable “political horizon” for which Abbas and his Fatah party will receive credit. The agreement would not yet be implemented, Rice suggested, until the moderates gained strength, acquiring the ability to deliver more effectively on security. The deal would instead serve to build confidence and support for moderates on both sides. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reportedly backs this approach. Olmert has rejected it.

It took former Mossad Chief Ephraim Halevy to ask (in Ynet) the obvious question that seems to have eluded Olmert:

“What is needed on Israel's part in order for Abbas not only to survive but also to establish himself as an authoritative and recognized leader both in his country as well as across the Arab world? Is this price worthwhile? Is it possible to pay it in practice? Is the return guaranteed?”

But of course this question has not really eluded Olmert. It is strategically avoided because the answer is unwelcome. Olmert wants a process, not peace; he wants the sizzle, without the steak. As long as there is a process pointing somewhere over the horizon, and all Olmert need do is talk, offering some gestures to Abbas (after removing the goat), he has his agenda: a roadmap that never reaches its destination and keeps on going as long as Olmert remains in office.

Wiser heads—including Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller (in the Washington Post), and Daniel Levy (whose views are articulated on his Prospects for Peace blog and quoted in the New York Times last week)—are already forecasting the collapse of the new Bush-Olmert gambit.

The moral of the story is this: Coercion and force will not work against Hamas in Gaza. The only path to build a stable Palestinian neighbor next to Israel leads through a revived Fatah-Hamas national unity government. If the two movements attempt to reconcile, the US and Israel should refrain from actions which undermine Hamas. This is the paradox of peace. Those who profess to be for peace, promising to engage the moderates and crush the extremists, are actually disserving the cause of peace, rendering Israel less secure; whereas those who engage both Hamas and Fatah, co-opting Hamas into attainable pragmatic security and political arrangements to Israel’s benefit, without insisting on impossible conditions that no other Arab party has had to fulfill, are the true champions of peace.

The US and Israel should cease all covert arming of Fatah forces, a Bush-Olmert strategy which provoked Hamas to engage in preemptive attacks against Fatah in Gaza, leading to the Hamas takeover and the collapse of the Hamas-Fatah unity government, an outcome both Israeli and American leaders had sought. Bush and Olmert were indeed fomenting civil war in Gaza and hoping, as has been long reported, to bring about regime change in the Hamas-led PA. For the moment they may seem to have succeeded; but their success is built on quicksand.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Tragedy Foretold: Israel's Unheeded Prophet, Gidon D. Remba

A Tragedy Foretold: Israel’s Unheeded Prophet


Gidon D. Remba

Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle
June 14, 2007

Much as it took forty years of wandering in the desert before God allowed the Jewish people to enter the Promised Land, it took forty years of wandering in the desert of ignorance for today’s Jewish people to learn the truth about Israel in the Promised Land. Thanks to two intrepid Israeli historian-journalists who pored through recently declassified government archives, we now know that Israeli leaders understood in 1967 that the conquest and continuing control by Israel of the West Bank “would weaken the relative strength of Israel’s Jewish majority, encourage Palestinian nationalism and ultimately lead to violent resistance.” These conclusions, reached by top officials from the Mossad, IDF Military Intelligence and the Foreign Ministry, “were approved by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and the army’s chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin,” reported Tom Segev in the New York Times on the 40th anniversary of the war, summing up one of the most stunning revelations from his groundbreaking new book, 1967: Israel, the War and the Year That Transformed the Middle East.

“Have you already thought about how we can live with so many Arabs?” asked Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol of his cabinet on the third day of the Six Day War. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan proposed to give the West Bank “autonomy,” with Israel maintaining control over security and foreign relations.

Yaakov Shimshon Shapira, Israel’s Minister of Justice who hailed from the Mapai party (the precursor of the Labor Party), responded: “In a time of decolonization in the whole world, can we consider an area in which mainly Arabs live, and we control defense and foreign policy? Who’s going to accept that?” Shapira opposed annexation of the territories “arguing that it meant turning Israel into a binational state, in which Jews would eventually become a minority.” If Israel did not return almost all of the West Bank to Jordan, “we’re done with the Zionist enterprise,” he declared.

These prophesies—now the conventional wisdom in Israel and the contemporary watchwords not only of the Labor and Meretz parties but of Prime Minister Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, consisting mainly of rightist Likudniks who got mugged by reality—we learn from Gershom Gorenberg’s pathbreaking The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977.

Gorenberg further discovered that “The following month, two top foreign-ministry officials -- Shlomo Hillel and Mordechai Gazit”—General Gazit was soon to become the first military governor of the West Bank—“wrote a policy memo urging a rapid diplomatic solution for Gaza and the West Bank, because ‘internationally, the impression could be created ... that Israel is maintaining a colonial regime.’”

Not long after, Yigal Allon, who succeeded Eshkol as acting prime minister and became Israel’s foreign minister, realized that a “Palestinian enclave under Israeli rule ‘would be identified as ... some kind of South African Bantustan.’” Justice Minister Shapira, along with Theodor Meron, the Foreign Ministry’s legal counsel, told Eshkol in 1967 that Israeli civilian settlements in the newly conquered territories would “contravene the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” At a 1972 Labor Party debate on the future of the occupied territories, Israel’s Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir, who served under both Eshkol and Golda Meir, “railed at the ‘moral danger’ of Israel's dependence on Palestinian labor, which was creating ‘a class that does the clean work and those who do the dirty work’ -- akin ‘to negroes in the United States.’ Continuing to rule over Arabs without granting them equal rights, Sapir said, would put Israel in a class with ‘countries whose names I don't even want to say in the same breath,’” reported Gorenberg.

Gorenberg summed up this tragedy foretold in a recent essay in the American Prospect: “The occupation was colonial, and would produce rebellion. Exploitation of Palestinian labor was racist. Settlement would be illegal. Palestinian autonomy would resemble a Bantustan, a creation of grand apartheid. Israel would become an international pariah. These were not the arguments of distant campus radicals enamored of their megaphones; they were the all-too-accurate premonitions of Israeli patriots.”

But in the decade after the Six Day War, when Israeli and American Jews were intoxicated by Israel’s great victory, drunk on messianic fantasies of redemption and chauvinistic triumph, few Jews knew of these prognostications. Even fewer were prepared to heed the warnings of Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, who urged the government immediately after the 1967 war to return virtually all the occupied territories forthwith: not in exchange for peace, but in Israel’s own highest national interests.

Yet for those who lived in Israel during all or part of that decade—as I did in the years after the Yom Kippur War—there were more than ample opportunities to hear these truths in Jerusalem, from a man who can perhaps be considered Israel’s post-1967 prophet: the Orthodox Jewish philosopher and neurophysiologist, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, with whom I had the privilege of studying during my post-Yom Kippur War years at the Hebrew University. Leibowitz, dubbed by Isaiah Berlin as the “conscience of Israel,” derided the religious ultra-nationalist deification of the Land of Israel as idolatry, a corruption of Judaism’s core, the commandments.

Soon after the Six Day War, long before the first or second intifada, he foresaw that as a “state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners…our situation will deteriorate to that of a second Vietnam, to a war of constant escalation without prospect of ultimate resolution…The administration would have to suppress an Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations…Our security has been diminished rather than enhanced as a result of the conquests of this war.”

Leibowitz perceived more clearly than perhaps any member of his generation the ways in which rule over another people would corrupt and undermine Jewish society and democracy. Israel would devote a disproportionate share of its resources and energies to the expansion of settlements in the territories, deflecting the country from its primary mission of addressing the “problems of the Jewish people in the state and in the Diaspora.”

An ardent Zionist who rejected the canard that Zionism was an oppressive colonialism, he was among the first to recognize that Zionism in the hands of the messianic right was imposing a colonial regime on another people. A decade before the first intifada, Leibowitz warned his fellows that “a colonial regime necessarily gives birth to terrorism…The nature of colonial rule does not matter. Whether it treats the subjects with a light or heavy hand, whether it grants them material or cultural benefits or exploits them to its own advantage—such rule is not tolerated. The subjects rise up, or will rise up, against it and will employ any means they consider effective.”

Indeed, in his battle against the idolatry of Gush Emunim—the “Bloc of the Faithful”—its false and un-Jewish sanctification of land as an absolute value, he often borrowed from the biblical prophets. He reminded us that “Not every ‘return to Zion’ is a religiously significant achievement. One sort of return which may be described in the words of the prophet: ‘When you returned you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination.’ (Jeremiah 2:7)”

To those who claimed that the whole Land of Israel was given to the Jewish people by God’s promise to Abraham and his progeny for an inheritance, he retorted in the words of the prophet Ezekiel, with “the same Scriptures to which the national religious fools appeal for support for their lust for conquest: ‘Therefore say to them, thus says the Lord: You eat with the blood and lift up your eyes towards your idols, and shed blood; and shall you possess the land? You stand upon your sword, you carry out disgusting deeds…and shall you possess the land?’ (Ezekiel 33: 23-26)” Thundered Leibowitz: “To speak of the divine promise to Abraham and his issue as a gratuitous gift, to ignore the conditions of the promise, and to disregard the obligations it confers on the receivers is a degradation and desecration of the religious faith.”

He repeatedly chastised his fellow Israelis and their leaders, in the manner of the prophets, reminding them that “the partition of this country between the two nations is the only feasible solution, even if neither of the two sides will recognize its justice and become inwardly reconciled to it. The alternative is war to the bitter end, which would amount to a catastrophe.” Today, the Jewish right would have us believe that it was the attempt to end the occupation through the Oslo peace process which caused the terror of the second intifada. But Leibowitz warned Israelis time and again that “Israel’s rule over the Palestinian Arabs” in the occupied territories is “likely to cause renewal of hostilities;” that the “’unpartitioned Eretz-Yisrael’ is internally unstable,” transforming Israel into a polity that will no longer be a Jewish state. Its administration would instead evolve into a “system of political domination” whereby Israel would rule “over two peoples that do not cohere as a single nation…To the intense national antagonism between them will be added the passionate hatred evoked by the rule of one people by the other.”

To those on the right who denied Palestinian claims to nationality or national claims to the land, he responded with bracing realism:

“Two nations inhabit this country…The history of the Jews and of this country for the last 2,000 years and of the Arab people for the last 1,400 years has created one land for two peoples, each of which feels most deeply that this land is his…Such attachment goes well beyond any ideology, theory or faith. Recognition of it must serve as a point of departure for any feasible political program… In view of this inescapable fact, there is neither point nor sense to all the philosophical-historical and legalistic arguments assessing and weighing the respective ‘rights’ of each side… The partition of the land between the two nations is an inescapable historical necessity…In the given situation there is only one choice between the two outcomes: war or partition. There is no third way out.”

If any hope arose over time of reconciling some portion of the Arabs and Palestinians to accepting the reality of Israel’s existence in its original internationally recognized pre-1967 lines—or some facsimile thereof—this prospect would likely be undermined by the powerful gusts of animosity, of terror and “repressive countermeasures,” which Israel’s occupation of millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would inevitably provoke, promised Leibowitz. The right, of course, would insist that no such opportunities for breakthrough towards peace are possible, insuring through their suicidal policies that this became a self-fulfilling prophecy. With the creation of the first Gush Emunim settlements in heavily populated areas of the West Bank, positioned so as to prevent the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state, Leibowitz recognized immediately that such settlements “will add fuel to the flames and make amelioration [of the conflict] more and more difficult.”

Thus spake the unheeded Jerusalem prophet Yeshayahu—known to some as the third Isaiah. And so it was, and is. Israel’s bitter contemporary tragedy was foretold; it is we who have refused to listen.

Gidon D. Remba is National Executive Director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel, the leading progressive Zionist organization in the U.S., and the US affiliate of the World Labor Zionist Movement. His commentary is available at and

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Arab Peace Plan: What the Right Doesn't Want You To Know, Gidon D. Remba

The Arab Peace Plan: What the Right Doesn’t Want You To Know

Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, April 19, 2007

Gidon D. Remba

The leaders of 21 Arab states met recently in Ryadh, Saudi Arabia under the auspices of the Arab League, and reaffirmed their 2002 offer of comprehensive peace with Israel. Originally called the Arab Peace Initiative, inspired by a Saudi proposal, its meaning has been hotly contested from the moment it was first unveiled.

According to the official translation of the newly revived Arab peace offer, the Arab states commit to “the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel…ending the Arab-Israel conflict.” It is often forgotten that the 2002 Arab peace initiative effectively rescinds the infamous “three noes of Khartoum”—no recognition, no negotiations, no peace with Israel—issued by the Arab League in 1967 after the Six Day War. In exchange for establishing full peace, Israel is expected to agree to:

1. A “full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967…”
2. “A just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.”
3. “The establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Right-wing Jewish critics, pointing to plan’s seemingly maximalist language on the extent of Israel’s withdrawal, dismissed it as “a blueprint for Israel’s destruction.” Jewish pundits spilled oceans of ink promising that “The latest Arab League peace proposal…includes a requirement that Israel should accept untold millions of Palestinians who would relocate into Israel itself, rather than making their homes in the newly created Palestinian State.”

Once again, Jewish hardliners returned to their familiar refrain: the Arabs are making sweet noises of peace while harboring annihilationist intentions. To avert the “threat” of Israeli-Arab negotiations which might alter the status quo, Israeli and American Jewish hawks heaped on preconditions, both behavioral and rhetorical, that they insisted Israel impose on the Arabs before it discussed the plan with them. These critics maintained that unless the plan was amended to meet Israel’s positions on territory and refugees—before the parties even sit down to negotiate it—and the Arabs agreed to normalize relations with Israel first, Israel should not regard the plan as a genuine peace offer and should shun peace talks.

Hawkish critics suffer from chronic myopia. First, they overlook the fact that the Arabs are seeking to negotiate on the basis of their plan, which represents their opening position in any bargaining with Israel, not the end point. Now Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has agreed to negotiate on the basis of the Saudi proposal. The Arab initiative is not meant to preclude Syria or the Palestinians from agreeing during the course of negotiations to an equal land swap with Israel which would permit the Arab side to receive the equivalent of 100% of the territory in the West Bank/Gaza and the Golan. Second, rightist nay-sayers choose to ignore the language of the Arab offer when it conflicts with their dark and despairing picture of a world filled (with few exceptions) with eternally deceptive and evil Israel-hating Arabs. Third, they ignore growing signs (and press reports of secret top level Saudi-Israeli meetings) that Saudi and other Arab leaders are, behind the scenes, looking to open new channels of dialogue with Israel and work out practical solutions to the refugee problem and other vexing issues away from the klieg lights of the media.

When President John F. Kennedy received both hardline and conciliatory messages from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, he chose to respond favorably to the conciliatory message, setting aside the bellicose one. A nuclear war and global conflagration was averted through negotiations with a country that President Ronald Reagan later called “the evil empire.” US-Soviet bargaining was coupled with internationally sanctioned and strictly limited US military action (the US blockade or “quarantine” of Cuba) and a credible threat of force if the Russian missiles were not withdrawn. Khruschev blinked first, and offered to trade the removal of US nuclear missiles in Turkey, near the Soviet Union, in exchange for the removal of Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba, near the US. Kennedy agreed, but the trade was kept secret.

The pessimists will always have some basis for their thinking. But if their way prevails, the world of their worst fears is liable to become our real world through a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’ll act as if their fears are so well-founded, so essential to the nature of our enemies, that no other outcome is possible. By missing opportunities for breakthrough, by reinforcing through Israeli and American actions the most unwelcome trends in the Arab world, we will help insure that nothing will change for the better, and much for the worse.

The media in many cases missed the boat on the Arab peace initiative, helping to reinforce prejudices instead of reporting facts by using tendentious and careless language in reports. While many reporters and editorialists—including some at Ha’aretz—claimed that the Arab offer required Israel to accept the right of return (or simply the return) of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel, others, like Ha’aretz’s Aluf Benn, were more careful, referring instead to the declaration’s “clause on refugees, which the Palestinians interpret as a right of return.”

It came as a shock to some who had not read the official translation that the Arab League declaration in fact contained no explicit reference to a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. The omission was significant. Moreover, those who insisted that the Arab plan required Israel to allow “millions” of Palestinian refugees into Israel managed to overlook the declaration’s careful language on the refugees which called for a mutually “agreed” solution to the refugee problem.

It will also shock and awe rightists to learn that UN General Assembly Resolution 194 does not support the “right of return” interpretation favored by some Palestinians, so feared by many in Israel and the American Jewish community. An Arab peace plan which refers to this UN resolution while simultaneously calling for an agreed solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees can fulfill the terms of the resolution without allowing a single Palestinian refugee to return to Israel.

The hardliners don’t want you to know this—and much else. They are happiest whenever we are seduced into our familiar (and not unfounded) Jewish paranoia. But isn’t that the point? Perhaps the old saw has it right that even paranoids have enemies. But not everyone the paranoid fears turns out to be his foe.

Gidon D. Remba is National Executive Director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel ( His commentary is available at

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

AIPAC Hijack: With Friends Like These, by Gidon D. Remba

AIPAC Hijack: With Friends Like These…


Gidon D. Remba

Published at and The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle

March 20, 2007

AIPAC has long portrayed itself as 'the pro-Israel lobby' representing the entire pro-Israel American Jewish community. As the primary pro-Israel voice in Washington, AIPAC should reflect what is common to all who support Israel, a nonpartisan consensus between Zionists of the left, right and center. But AIPAC has been hijacked by the neocons and the radical right. It no longer represents the majority of American Jews, who are overwhelmingly liberal, centrist on foreign policy and vote Democratic. Pro-Israel Jews need an alternative, a new vehicle for voicing their moderate, pragmatic views on Israel to elected officials in Washington.

I ventured to Washington last week to attend, for the first time in my life, AIPAC’s vaunted national policy conference, a 3-day political pageant which drew some 6,000 people this year, culminating in a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill. I had the privilege of attending not only as one of the throng of Israel supporters who flocked to DC, but as the official representative of a major Jewish organization. I am now the national executive director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel, the organization which represents Labor Zionism in America, the leading progressive Zionist voice in the American Jewish community.

In this new role, I am one of 50-odd delegates of major Jewish organizations who sit on AIPAC’s Executive Committee. In reality, AIPAC stacks the deck by including in the Committee many more AIPAC leaders and activists than heads of major Jewish groups, thereby insuring that no decision will be taken which flouts the wishes of its hard-line big donors. The AIPAC conference opened with a meeting of the Executive Committee devoted to approving AIPAC’s “action agenda” for 2007. Three days later, a citizens’ army, mostly American Jews, marched on Capitol Hill to meet with their members of Congress, armed with talking points emanating from the order of battle we had approved—over my dissenting vote, and the objections of others.

If 87% of American Jews voted Democratic in the last election, the other 13% seemed to have crowded into the annual AIPAC bash. Where else would Vice President Dick Cheney, king of the neocons, and Pastor John Hagee, the right-wing Christian Zionist televangelist preacher and Greater Land of Israel territorial maximalist, receive a wildly enthusiastic welcome, punctuated by serial standing ovations throughout their bellicose remarks? AIPAC lent its platform to Cheney who informed his cheering audience that anyone who fails to support the Bush Administration’s policy of escalation in Iraq—opposed by most Americans and the great majority of American Jews—is sending a signal of “weakness and surrender” to Iran and endangering Israel.

But surely this highly partisan message was Cheney’s own exploitation of the AIPAC stage to peddle the Bush Administration’s line? Think again. AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr followed Cheney and demanded that on Iraq and Iran we American Jewish supporters of Israel should show “no divisions, no weakness.” Disagreeing with our war President makes us appear impotent to our enemies. The pro-Israel lobby which often touts its bipartisanship is in reality quite happy to throw its weight against the policy of the Democratic Party on both Iraq and Iran and to shamelessly align itself with the neocon super-hawks in the Bush Administration.

Not a word was heard from AIPAC—whether from its leaders or in its 2007 policy statement—about attempting to engage Iran and Syria while imposing sanctions, the carrot-and-stick approach favored by most Democrats and moderate Republicans. Though AIPAC’s official focus was on the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, new legislation imposing further economic sanctions on Iran, much was heard from AIPAC’s featured plenary speakers about the need for a preemptive military strike, especially former CIA director Admiral James Woolsey and Washington Institute for Near East Policy Director Robert Satloff. Other speakers, like Israel’s UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman, implied as much by saying that Iran cannot be permitted to develop nuclear weapons. AIPAC’s leaders and official spokespersons shied away from overt threats, preferring to obliquely warn Iran of the possibility of a US attack by insisting that no options be taken off the table, and by supporting “all means necessary for the United States, Israel and their allies to prevent Iran and other nations” from developing weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. It was left mainly to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to remind the audience that diplomacy with Iran must be vigorously pursued.

Israel Apocalypse

The opening night dinner featured televangelist Pastor John Hagee, who recently founded Christians United for Israel, the Christian Zionist lobby which claims 15 million biblical fundamentalist Evangelical Christian devotees. AIPAC’s largely Jewish audience wildly cheered Hagee’s fiery demagogic speech. As they rose to their feet time and again, whistling and applauding in a manic frenzy, I could only wince thinking of another speech Hagee had recently given in Washington of which the AIPAC crowd was apparently unaware. On July 19, 2006, at a Christians United for Israel inaugural event, attended by GOP Party chief Ken Mehlman and Republican Senators Sam Brownback, Rick Santorum, Kay Bailey-Hutchinson and John Cronyn, featuring recorded greetings from President George W. Bush, Hagee declared: “The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West... a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation…and [the] Second Coming of Christ."

Richard Silverstein reports on his Tikkun Olam blog that “Hagee subsequently wrote, in a Charisma Magazine editorial entitled ‘The Coming Holy War,’ that the preemptive attack he advocates should be carried out with nuclear weapons.” And in his 2006 book, Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee writes that “a ‘remnant’ would be saved by the grace of God, a group of survivors who have the opportunity to receive Messiah, who is a rabbi known to the world as Jesus Christ.” So Hagee and his millions of Christian fundamentalists “support Israel” by advocating a preemptive nuclear war to be launched by the US and Israel against Iran, which will usher in the Second Coming of Christ and the conversion to Christianity or death of the Jews. This is the “Israel advocate” warmly embraced by AIPAC and its minions.

Basking in the glow of his many Jewish admirers at the AIPAC dinner, Hagee announced that he is “concerned that in the coming months yet another attempt will be made to parcel out parts of Israel in a futile attempt to appease Israel’s enemies in the Middle East…Once again those who appease seek to do so at the expense of Israel.” The world—the “misguided souls” in Europe, the UN and the US State Department—thundered Hagee, “will try once again to turn Israel into crocodile food,” whereupon he cited Winston Churchill’s aphorism, “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile in the futile hope that it will eat him less.” What’s missing here is the recognition that it is Israel’s pragmatic majority, and its democratically elected government, led by the Kadima and Labor parties, that is seeking a negotiated two-state solution and a territorial compromise with the Palestinians. But Hagee’s politics on Israel, like those of Jewish fundamentalist Gush Emunim settler movement and the National Religious Party, derive not from an understanding of practical realities like demography, or Israel’s security needs, but from his Christian fundamentalist reading of the Bible.

Hagee continues by warning that “America should not pressure Israel to give up land. America should not pressure Israel to divide the city of Jerusalem.” He approvingly cites Israeli right-winger Dore Gold’s latest book The Fight for Jerusalem, which, says Hagee, claims that “Turning part or all of Jerusalem over to the Palestinians would be tantamount to turning it over to the Taliban.” All? Who has proposed turning all of Jerusalem to the Palestinians? No one but the straw man Hagee sets up for rhetorical attack. Jerusalem, continues Hagee, “is the eternal capital of the Jewish people now and forever. Jerusalem is united under Jewish control and must always remain under Jewish control.”

Never mind that refusing to share sovereignty in parts of Jerusalem with a Palestinian state would effectively smother any chance for a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict. Never mind that Israel’s continued rule over hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs in East Jerusalem, like its rule over millions of Palestinians in the rest of the West Bank, jeopardizes Israel’s Jewish majority and its democratic character, as Prime Minister Olmert has acknowledged. Maintaining exclusive Israeli control over Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and the entire Temple Mount/Haram Ash-Sharif insures that Israel will remain in a perpetual state of war with its Palestinian and Arab neighbors, and potentially with the Islamic world. If this troubles you, it doesn’t bother Hagee, whose theology requires it.

Israel Fantasia

If the policy conference is a circus maximus, a monster rally in a cavernous convention center stretching two city blocks with a giant audio visual show designed to manipulate the emotions, where politicians proffer platitudes tailored to spark applause—mass public political entertainment on a lavish scale—the Executive Committee meeting is the opening chariot race. Rather than devoting itself to a real discussion of the issues, the committee spent the bulk of its time giving far right ZOA leader Mort Klein the opportunity to table some two dozen amendments to AIPAC’s action agenda, designed to push an already hard-line agenda off the cliff into an abyss of ultra-hawkish fantasy. And he who tables an amendment is entitled to step up to the microphone to defend it, followed by others who respond. To be sure, there was a debate, but it was between Attila and the Huns. Virtually no other organization offered an amendment to the agenda (an oddity which, you may rest assured, dear reader, will not be repeated at the next session, if I and others in the moderate pro-Israel camp have our say).

AIPAC’s agenda opens with a pious promise to “build on the commitment of the Administration and Congress…to a peace process predicated on direct negotiation between Israel and her neighbors.” It insists that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations” between Israel and its Arab neighbors, “will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” So far so good. But realism is thrown out the window the moment AIPAC addresses other hot button issues. AIPAC next pledges that it will promote a secure peace by “ensuring that Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, remains united as the capital only of Israel.”

Now let’s get real, AIPAC. There can be no agreed solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without a two-state solution, which AIPAC professes to support. But every schoolchild knows that there can be no agreed two-state solution without Jerusalem becoming the capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state—with Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem becoming part of Palestine, and Jewish neighborhoods in West and East Jerusalem remaining part of Israel. Nor is an accord possible without some formula for shared or divided sovereignty over the holy sites there, including the Temple Mount. But when it comes to what grade school kids know, AIPAC pretends ignorance.

Next AIPAC promises to work to “secure the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem without delay,” before an Israeli government has the chance to negotiate an agreement with its Arab neighbors on the status of the city. AIPAC once opposed Israel’s Prime Minister Rabin on this very issue, when he sought to work out a solution on Jerusalem with the Palestinians in the mid-nineties. It continues to pander and posture with unrealistic, crowd-pleasing mantras.

When all is said and done, AIPAC is unconcerned with what it will take to negotiate a mutually agreeable two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. After all, it’s enough if you pay lip service to the slogan, isn’t it? Doesn’t it suffice if you spend gobs of cash to mount a fabulous show, and then advocate positions which do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of leading to a peace accord? Who, after all, will pay attention? The delegates will leave Washington fired up with self-righteous pro-Israeli fever, convinced they are doing good for the Jews and their state. Their eyes blinded by the glitz of AIPAC’s big screen magic, their shoulders freshly rubbed with power, how many will take the time to read the fine print? And those who do, won’t object. They blissfully live in AIPAC’s fantasyland of Jewish breast-beating.

The selection of Pastor John Hagee as the keynote speaker of the conference’s opening night was no accident. And if Dick Cheney hadn’t been Vice President and the confab’s star act, AIPAC would have had to invent him.

AIPAC vs. Israel

Finally, AIPAC’s 2007 Action Agenda adopted radical hawkish positions on the Palestinians which would quash current Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts, placing AIPAC in sharp opposition to both the Bush Administration, the Israeli Government and the Israeli public. Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh’s remarks at the AIPAC conference testified to this clash. AIPAC’s hawkish shift on US policy towards the Palestinians, which would sever all US contact with moderate Palestinian leaders like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or incoming Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, is mirrored in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, initiated by Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and John Ensign (R-NV), which AIPAC is now urging senators to sign. AIPAC’s new demand is contained in the “Talking Points” it distributed to supporters who lobbied their Members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

What’s worse, the ‘Talking Points’ disguised AIPAC’s new position, leading many conference attendees to naively believe that in asking their senators to sign on to the Nelson-Ensign letter, they are merely “‘holding firm and insisting’ that no aid or recognition should be granted to the PA until it recognizes Israel, renounces violence and accepts previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements,” as the Talking Points memo claims. In fact, the Nelson-Ensign letter, and AIPAC’s new 2007 Agenda, go much further.

AIPAC’s new 2007 Agenda calls for:

  • “Urging the US government to vigorously enforce the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act,” and “Urging the US government and other parties of the ‘Quartet’ to adhere to the position that they will not have contact with or provide funds to a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas until Hamas” meets the three international conditions (recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting previous agreements).
  • The Nelson-Ensign letter which AIPAC supporters are calling on their senators to endorse also urges senators to “continue to hold firm and insist that these very basic international principles do not change—no direct aid and no contacts with any members of a Palestinian Authority that does not” meet the three conditions. (Emphasis added.) Thanks to our and our allies’ public protests and the work of progressive pro-Israel groups on the Hill, the letter has just been improved, but still implies that the US should boycott moderate Palestinian leaders.

In fact, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act does not bar the US from maintaining contact with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas until the PA meets the three international conditions. Both Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice have conducted recent meetings with President Abbas, who has long met the conditions. As Israel's Deputy Defense Minister and Labor Knesset Member Ephraim Sneh, the token centrist voice at the AIPAC Plenary, stressed in his remarks, strengthening President Abbas and other Palestinian moderates in the PA by providing them with political dividends and security assistance is critical to weakening Hamas and other rejectionists in Palestinian society. Such steps are essential to building hope among Palestinians and Israelis for the success of any new peace initiative and reaching a comprehensive and durable cease-fire.

The new AIPAC policy of cutting off contact with all Palestinian Authority officials also contradicts AIPAC’s own promise in its 2007 Action Agenda to “build on the commitment of the [Bush] Administration and Congress…to a peace process predicated on direct negotiations between Israel and her neighbors.” It brings AIPAC full circle back to the extreme version of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act it unsuccessfully sought to pass last year. AIPAC's new agenda, relying solely on economic sanctions against the Palestinian Authority and Iran, along with the implicit threat of possible preemptive military action against Iran in future, would now unwisely block all diplomatic bargaining between Israel and the Palestinians.

AIPAC, John Hagee and Dick Cheney are Israel’s best friends? With friends like these…

Gidon D. Remba is National Executive Director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel ( His commentary is available at