Thursday, July 20, 2017

Commentary: Hundreds of Israeli Intellectuals to World Jewry: “End Occupation for Israel’s Sake”

By Allan C. Brownfeld

Hundreds of Israeli artists and intellectuals urged Jews around the world to challenge Israeli policy toward Palestin¬ians in an open letter. 

The letter, according to The Times of Israel (Sept. 15, 2016), declares: “We call upon Jews around the world to join with Israeli partners for coordinated action to end occupation and build a new future, for the sake of the State of Israel, and generations to come.” 

The 470 signatories include 48 winners of Israel’s most prestigious awards (the Israel Prize and the EMET Prize); seven high-ranking IDF officers; 20 former Israeli ambassadors, ministers, senior government officials and members of the Knesset; and 160 professors at Israeli universities. 

Among the most well-known signatories are authors David Grossman and Amos Oz, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and 20 former Israeli ambassadors. 

“The prolonged occupation is inherently oppressive for Palestinians and fuels mutual bloodshed. It undermines the moral and democratic fabric of the State of Israel and hurts its standing in the community of nations,” the letter argues. 

The organization “Save Israel, Stop Occupation” seeks to end Israel’s control of the territories occupied after the June 1967 Six Day War and to establish a Palestinian state. Those territories include the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

The organization’s director Jessica Montell said that Israel’s military rule “harms Israeli society and it harms Jews around the world.” 

A former AIPAC official, Greg Slabodkin, citing “nearly half a century” of occupation, calls for conditioning U.S. aid to Israel on that country agreeing to freeze its settlements. He argues that Israel’s “oppressive discriminatory settlement policies in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem continue unabated.” 

Writing in The Hill, Slabodkin reacted to the news that the Obama administration was preparing to sign a massive new aid package with Israel, giving it approximately $40 billion over 10 years, “the biggest aid package ever given to any country.” 

He notes that, “Under Netanyahu’s watch, Israel clearly has no intention ending its occupation. Consequently, the U.S. should be exerting pressure on Israel to persuade the Netanyahu government to abandon its settlement activities, not rewarding the Jewish state with increased military aid. The Obama administration should make it clear that there are strings attached to U.S. aid and that Israel’s failure to comply with a settlement freeze will have financial penalties. … Netanyahu … recently formed the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, has driven U.S.-Israeli relations to their lowest point in a generation by undermining the prospects for peace with the Palestinians by entrenching the Israeli occupation …” (Mondoveiss, Aug. 5, 2016). 

In September, the U.S. signed an unprecedented pact with Israel that will provide it with the largest amount of military aid ever awarded, $38 billion over 10 years, with promises of the latest in fighter jets, missile defense systems and cutting-edge technology. 

While the U.S. placed no conditions upon this aid, President Obama, the Washington Post (Sept. 15, 2016) reports, “used the occasion to press for Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table in search of a resolution to their decades-old conflict. Eventually, he said, two independent states must emerge, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians.” 

President Obama declared: “Ultimately, this Memorandum of Understanding and efforts to advance the two-state solution are motivated by the same core U.S. objective that has been shared by all administrations, Democratic and Republican, over the last several decades— ensuring that Israelis can live alongside their neighbors in peace and security.” 

In the view of Haaretz (Sept. 18, 2016) columnist Gideon Levy, “Barack Obama is a bad president for Israel. If the military aid he approved for the coming decade is the largest ever, then as president he is the worst ever for Israel. The last thing Israel needs is more arms, which will push it toward more acts of violence. Three hundred dollars for each U.S.-taxpayer for the next ten years. Not toward America’s considerable social needs, not to assist truly needy countries — imagine what $38 billion would do for Africa — but to provide weapons for an army that is one of the most powerfully armed in the world … one which methodically defies the U.S. and the international community. And worst of all, this country will receive another free gift, without having to give anything in return.” 

Levy concludes: “Israelis should not be grateful for U.S. generosity; it is damaging to their country. What does Israel need more armaments for? Why does it need to make war against the barefoot people of Gaza and the young men of the West Bank? … With friends like that one hardly needs enemies. Israel can go on about its business, the check is blank and America is paying, no strings attached … Is there any worse news for Israel?”

This article was originally published in the December 2016 edition of Special Interest Report, a quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.

Allan C. Brownfeld received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues. He also serves on the editorial board of The San Francisco Review of Books.

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