Who Asked You To Boycott?

“Who asked you to boycott Israeli companies?” questions Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist. It may be surprising to those unfamiliar with the on-the-ground economic conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank to hear him say, “We Palestinians are not boycotting them, so what do we need you to boycott them for?”

Bassem Eid was born in the Jordanian controlled part of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1958, and grew up in the Shuafat refugee camp. He became a journalist, and worked for B’Tselem, an Israeli non-profit organization whose goal was to document Israel’s human rights violations in the West Bank. In 1996, he founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, whose mission is to monitor human rights violations by both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority. Bassem Eid has spent twenty-six years studying the United Nations organization that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. He told me that his family’s experience was “of Arab leaders promising Palestinians short-term suffering for long-term benefit, since 1948. All we saw was long-term suffering. Everybody is using the Palestinians for their own gain. The United Nations, the Palestinian Authority, and others all make money by keeping us poor and dependent. For them, we are a business.” Mr. Eid is a vocal critic of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. About the BDS activists he observed, “They are trying to survive on the conflict, attaching themselves to it in order to remain relevant. Most of them have no idea what the conflict is about, how Palestinians live with Israelis, or about coexistence.” He has come to believe that economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis, even where it involves Israeli-owned enterprises in the West bank, is a key to improving the economic situation of Palestinians and of forging the bonds of economic inter-dependence and trust required the create peace.

Eid’s emphasis on improving the economic conditions of Palestinians, and his willingness to see Palestinians partner with Israelis to achieve this, is exemplified by his current speaking tour. Eid is on a tour of the United States, sponsored by StandWithUs, a pro-Israel solidarity group, with Erez Zadok. Zadok, the Israeli CEO of Aviv Fund Management, invests in Israeli factories that employ Palestinians. Like Mr. Eid, he wonders why the BDS movement would want to deprive Palestinians of their livelihoods.

Erez Zadok, Israeli investor

Erez Zadok, Israeli investor

Erez Zadok invested in SodaStream three years ago. The company’s mission, through its location in the West Bank, was “to make peace, and to also make soda.” Israeli companies located in the West Bank must comply with Israeli law. “Palestinians working for Israeli companies in this region earn five times more than the Palestinians who work for Palestinians’ factories,” he explained. “This money enters the Palestinian economy and goes to private consumption, to buy food, clothes, shoes and other needs. These Palestinians support their families and other circles of Palestinians working to provide them with the goods and services they need,” he added.

Last September, SodaStream shut down its West Bank factory due to pressure from the BDS movement. It relocated to a new factory in the Negev, next to the Bedouin city of Rahat. Three hundred Bedouins now work for SodaStream. The Palestinians who lost those jobs will have a hard time finding a new source of livelihood in a region with 23% unemployment.

Soda Stream Seltzer Maker

Soda Stream Seltzer Maker

The new SodaStream factory is within Israel’s 1948 borders. The BDS movement is still promoting a boycott of its products. When SodaStream was in the West Bank, Palestinians and Israelis worked together under the same conditions, receiving the same benefits, and the same opportunities. Some of them befriended each other, trusted each other, and respected each other. According to Mr. Zadok, “SodaStream manufactured peace, co-existence and normalization between the peoples.”

Bassem Eid and Erez Zadok are working together to achieve peace. They don’t believe that boycotting Israel is the way to get there. Bassem Eid is finding a very receptive audience in the United States. “People are thirsty for first hand information,” he said. “My message is probably upsetting and provoking to many of them.” From his perspective, it’s time to stop blaming Israel for the problems of the Palestinians. “Refugees from every other country have rebuilt their lives after one generation. It’s time for the Palestinians to also pull themselves up and develop,” he concluded.

An Alternative to the Alternative Kotel

— by Richard Lederman

If you haven’t heard by now, there’s a new plan for Jewish worship at the Western Wall — the Kotel — in old Jerusalem. Since Jewish access was restored to the Old City in June 1967 after 19 years of Jordanian control, Orthodox rabbinic authorities have held sole sway over the Kotel, enforcing their understanding of Halakha — Jewish law — pertaining to the forms of worship that could take place there. Most explicit is the strict separation of men and women and the prohibition against certain forms of worship in the women’s section. For instance, women may not wear traditional religious garb — Tallit and Tefillin — and may not read from a Torah scroll. For years, these restrictions have been challenged by The Women of the Wall who have bravely endured humiliation, threats, physical abuse and arrest as they overtly defy these restrictions in acts of civil disobedience.

In the meantime, a new section of the wall has gradually become a venue for egalitarian worship. Underneath a feature of the wall known as Robinson’s Arch, located south of the main plaza, men and women worship and lead the services as equals. In recent months, Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky has concluded a nearly three-year negotiated compromise with the rabbinic authorities and the government affording official status to this section of the Kotel. The execution of this compromise is in the offing, whereby the area in front Robinson’s Arch will be transformed into a plaza not unlike the original plaza created in 1967, with equal 24/7 access for all worshipers. In other words, now you will have two mostly equal choices when you visit the Kotel: the original plaza and this new egalitarian section.

Naturally, as with all compromises, no one is particularly happy, and the announcement of the new arrangement has been met with a slew of articles and opinion pieces in the Jewish press. Even some of the supporters of egalitarian prayer at the Kotel feel let down. Writing in The Forward, Gabriela Geselowitz, a young “Birthrighter,” bemoans the fact that she still can’t wear her Tallit and Tefillin at the part of the Kotel that is from “the postcards, the documentaries, the images of Jewish Jerusalem that the world knows.” To Geselowitz, Robinson’s Arch is not the “real” Kotel, the “authentic” Kotel. “I can’t help thinking,” she concludes, “that we’ve agreed to the idea that being shunted out of the way, to something ‘technically’ part of a holy experience, is enough. It’s not.” [Read more…]

Earth to Ban Ki-moon: Israel Offered to End “Occupation” at Camp David

Reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen

Reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen

Ban Ki-moon is a curious kind of messenger.

He writes in The New York Times, “No one can deny that the everyday reality of occupation provokes anger and despair, which are major drivers of violence and extremism and undermine any hope of a negotiated two-state solution.” [Read more…]

Consul General Sideman Addresses ZOA

Israeli Consul General Yaron Sideman shows the plush doll that encourages violence against Israelis.

Yaron Sideman shows plush doll that encourages violence against Israelis.

— by Richard Chaitt

Israeli Consul General Yaron Sideman spoke at The Zionist Organization of America – Greater Philadelphia District’s quarterly meeting Temple Adath Israel in Merion, PA. During his talk, he held up a toy. It was a plush terrorist doll (complete with rock to throw) that the Palestinian Authority wants their young children to play with. He contrasted this to a plush dreidel that Jewish children use.

_DSC8169Mort Klein detailed a number of anti-Israel activities worldwide. Steve Feldman and the local ZOA leadership discussed fighting media bias, helping to inform elected officials and politicians, monitoring school curriculum, reaching out to the uninformed and other needs. As pro-Israel advocates, we should be motivated to actively address these problems.

Mort Klein and Yaron Seidman both took questions after they spoke.

Photos by Richard Chaitt.

The Real Opportunity Confronting Israel

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Iran has performed the steps required under the multinational agreement negotiated last year.  It has dismantled its rapid capability to  develop a nuclear bomb, has accepted international monitoring, and now is released from international sanctions. A new era of better relations between Iran and the U.S. could happen. Israel’s inappropriate attack in the U.S. Congress on the multiparty agreement with Iran  could be forgotten.

Or could it? Israelis need to address the next phase of their relationship with Iran and the the Arab states and with the U.S. Will the Netanyahu government seek to participate in the coming U.S. presidential election in a continuing battle to advance American militarism and the candidates who walk that line? Or will  Israel take the opportunity that the Iran Agreement offers to try for a better future?

Argument will not cease over whether the Iran Agreement is good or bad, or better or worse than the U.S. (and the nations China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom who joined with us) might have achieved. What is undeniable is that the Agreement sets the stage for a 15-year period of opportunity.

David Hazony argued that Netanyahu is a centrist measured against the majority of the Israeli body politic. He said that American Jews in the “moderate middle” have lost touch with the authentic Jews and Jewish sovereignty that exist in Israel today.

But leadership, whether by Netanyahu or Obama, has the obligation to carry us in productive directions. For America this means building relationships across the world, because we are the preeminent world power. For Israel this means building bridges between their political island and the sea of Arabs that surround them.  At a minimum, Israelis must accept that their government has no veto on American foreign policy, and must make its own way.

Israelis may believe that they are invincible. Their government may have sold them the idea that they can live with occasional terrorist activity, and if the level of that activity grows objectionable from time to time, they can launch a military strike to quell it.  As a standing bet, that is tough. Technology moves forward, and seemingly impervious defenses are sometimes breached. Then there is the question of sustaining a confrontational posture in the face of a growing Arab population within Israel.

Israelis need to find their own pathway to the future. The challenge to Israel today is to make the best use of the 15-year multinationally supervised breather with Iran, its most vocal enemy. Every step Israel can take to come to terms with its Arab neighbors that remain estranged, and everything that Israel can do to advance the condition of Arabs within and along its borders, deserves to be explored in the most serious way.

That is the real opportunity that is available to Israelis. We can hope that they are not blinded to it by the ferocity of the rhetoric of their leadership.

StandWithUs Pro-Israel Billboard in Harrisburg

StandWithUs Billboard in Houston reads "Not with our tax dollars. Stop U.S. aid for Palestinian terrorism."

StandWithUs Billboard in Houston reads “Not with our tax dollars. Stop U.S. aid for Palestinian terrorism.”

StandWithUs is placing a billboard on I-83 south between Harrisburg and York beginning January 7, 2016 for four weeks.  The billboard alerts commuters of the foreign aid America sends to the Palestinian Authority with the message, “Not With Our Tax Dollars. Stop U.S. Aid for Palestinian Terrorism,” and directs viewers to learn more and sign a petition.

The StandWithUs billboard counters an anti-Israel one also on the I-83 initiated by StopTheBlankCheck and paid for by IfAmericansKnew that asks, “$10 Million a Day to Israel? Our Money is Needed in America.”  The StandWithUs billboard will appear concurrently with the anti-Israel one.

StopTheBlankCheck Billboard

StopTheBlankCheck Billboard

“The anti-Israel billboard campaign is misinforming people, as usual.  The agreement between America and Israel stipulates that 75 percent of the military aid Israel receives from the US has to be spent in America,  The U.S. spends $250 billion a year to keep American troops protecting allies around the world, from Germany to Japan and South Korea. In contrast, the $3 billion a year America sends to Israel boosts the US economy, protects our interests and does not include any American troops on the ground in Israel, which protects itself,” explains Joseph Puder, director StandWithUs Philadelphia.

“The anti-Israel billboard also omits the fact that the U.S. has given the Palestinians billions of dollars in aid since 1993, which is obviously not spent in the U.S.  The U.S. has been the primary financial supporter of the Palestinian refugees since 1949, and has donated over $6.5 billion to the UN agency, UNRWA (United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency), an agency set up to address their specific needs, while the needs of other refugees worldwide have no such specific agency.  Indeed, the Palestinians have received more foreign aid per capita than any other group of people in the world.  It is unfortunate that this money is spent on promoting hate and violence against Israelis by the Palestinian leadership, rather than on the betterment of its own people,” he continues.

StandWithUs has countered anti-Israel messages on public transit and highways wherever they appeared throughout the United States and Canada since 2007.

British Horse Expert Boycotts Israel By Snubbing 13-Year-Old Girl

Shachar Rabinovitch

Shachar Rabinovitch

A former Cambridge University professor refused to help a 13-year-old Israeli student with a research project, hiding behind the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for her decision.

Shachar Rabinovitch, 13, wrote to Professor Marsha Levine, a British-American researcher, requesting information about early horse species, Levine’s area of expertise. According to the girl’s mother, Levine replied: “I’ll answer your questions when there is peace and justice for Palestinians in Palestine.”

According to B’nai B’rith International, The goal of BDS is to isolate Israel to the point of dissolution:

This BDS episode illustrates the senselessness and degree to which BDS followers will go to follow the Palestinian narrative. Levine’s refusal to help a student demonstrates an extreme absurdity, with its total lack of proportion in its response to a student.

B’nai B’rith has long fought the BDS campaign to isolate Israel and its myopic focus on Israel, even as real human rights abusers, like Iran and Syria, escape unscathed.

Pope Declares Attacks on Israel and Jews Are Anti-Semitism

Pope Francis welcomed more than 100 leaders of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) on Wednesday and issued a strong condemnation of anti-Semitism.

(Left to right) WJC Governing Board Chairman David de Rothschild, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra, President of Latin American Jewish Congress Jack Terpins, WJC CEO Robert Singer and Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Congress Claudio Epelman.

(Left to right) WJC Governing Board Chairman David de Rothschild, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra, President of Latin American Jewish Congress Jack Terpins, WJC CEO Robert Singer and Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Congress Claudio Epelman.

At a private audience with WJC President Ronald S. Lauder in the morning, the Pontiff made it clear that outright attacks against Israel’s existence are a form of anti-Semitism:

To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.

Jews and Catholics marked the anniversary of the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate, which condemned anti-Semitism and completely transformed and improved relations between Jews and Catholics.

Lauder praised the Pope for this powerful message and said relations between the two faiths were stronger than they had ever been before:

Pope Francis does not simply make declarations. He inspires people with his warmth and his compassion. His clear and unequivocal support for the Jewish people is critical to us.

Nearly 150 delegates and observers from the World Jewish Congress Governing Board took part in the public audience with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday. The delegates were in Rome for the Board’s annual meeting.

The pope recalled Nostra Aetate, a declaration adopted on 28 October 1965 by the Second Vatican Council:

Indifference and opposition were transformed into cooperation and benevolence. Enemies and strangers have become friends and brothers. The Council, with the declaration Nostra Aetate, paved the way. It said yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity, and no to any form of anti-Semitism and condemnation of any insult, discrimination and persecution derived from that.

On Tuesday, the WJC Governing Board, representing more than 100 Jewish communities around the world, held discussions which focused on the implications facing Jewish communities in light of the various conflicts in the Middle East, including the threat of jihadist terrorism.

The Governing Board reaffirmed its continued support of a two State solution and urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume peace talks without preconditions as soon as possible.

The Board also called on the international community to maintain and, if necessary, expand sanctions on Iran until there is verification and international acceptance of Iran’s compliance with all the conditions of the nuclear deal.

Concerning the refugee crisis, the delegates passed a resolution calling on the international community to provide refugees with sanctuary irrespective of origin or religion, recalling the Talmudic maxim that says, “He who saves a single life saves the whole world.”

It Takes Two for Peace, President Abbas

DomeMuch of the angst between Israeli and Palestinian sides has been centered around finger pointing. It is easier to tell the other side what it must do before peace can come. The Israelis put the onus on the Palestinians, claiming Israel is ready to go. And the Palestinians do the same. Neither side makes hard decisions. Netanyahu digs his heels in. And Abbas likewise takes an intractable stand.

Many of us, who advocate for a two-state solution, speak of our ability to control only what happens on our side. We talk about the things that Israel can do to create space for peace, or even promote unilateral moves Israel can make to achieve peace. We continually call upon the Israeli government to take proactive steps regarding restarting peace talks and settlements. But realistically that is not enough.

The truth remains that peace can only come when both sides are prepared to make the difficult and courageous choices, which include concessions neither want to make. But they both are compelled to make these compromises in order to create the greater good of peace for all. Leaderships must be prepared to truly be visionaries and take bold steps.

So Mr. Abbas, your people, the world and your potential ally Israel are watching current events and your responses very closely. We hear your silence when youngsters brutally attack with knives and deliberately place themselves in harms way in a futile and desperate attempt to incite and murder. We hear your voice fanning the flames of hate with falsehoods playing on the emotions of the Muslim faithfuls regarding the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sarif/Har Habayit, and the purposeful false report of the death of a 13-year-old. Through these things, you clearly tell us where you stand as the leader of the Palestinians and on the opportunity for peace.

You appear to have turned your back on your people. You are willing to make them a nation of perpetual martyrs, permanently disenfranchised with no hope of a homeland, only the fantasy of victorious war over Israel.

It is time to make Israel your ally. She is both legitimate and permanent. So the choice is yours: a never-ending battle using your people as pawns, or the creation of a viable peace between two nations living cooperatively. Ultimately, perhaps your goal might be to someday stand like Ronald Reagan and declare it is the time for the Security Wall to come down. And in an era of peace, your Israeli counterpart will be all too likely to comply.