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‘We will choose a new path’: How Israel’s peace activists are responding to the war in Gaza

​BAQA AL-GHARBIYA, Israel (JTA) — On the morning of Oct. 7, Israeli human rights activist Ziv Stahl was visiting relatives in her childhood home of Kibbutz Kfar Aza. 

As Hamas’ massacre on the Gaza border unfolded — with the terror group ultimately killing between 52 and 60 people from the small kibbutz community and kidnapping 17 — she waited in her family’s shelter alongside her niece’s partner, who had been wounded by Hamas gunfire earlier that morning. Until she was rescued from the secured room several long hours later, she feared for her own life and the fate of loved ones, some of whom — including her sister-in-law and childhood acquaintances — were killed that day. 

About a week later, amid broad Israeli support for the escalating war, she wrote an essay calling for an end to “indiscriminate bombing in Gaza and the killing of civilians.”

“I have no idea how this will influence the rest of my life,” Stahl, the executive director of the legal rights organization Yesh Din, wrote in Haaretz. “If I will ever be able not to fear every small noise, not to imagine gunshots in the depths of the night. But one thing I feel more strongly than ever: we must stop this cycle of death. We must invest all of our power and energy in the end game, how to build a peaceful and secure future for all who live in this place.”

For Stahl and others in what is known as Israel’s “peace movement” or “shared society movement,” who have dedicated their lives to Israeli-Palestinian coexistence and a diplomatic accord between the two peoples, Oct. 7 has caused immense pain and presented a formidable challenge. 

A number of peace activists were killed or taken hostage from the kibbutz communities that bore the brunt of the attack, plunging the movement into mourning. Added onto that, they must now reimagine what a peaceful future can one day look like as Israelis’ sense of security was shattered and the country has entered a long war in Gaza with a mounting civilian death toll. 

“We are here tonight to say the simplest and clearest message: we demand on standing together Jews and Arabs, also and especially during these difficult times” Alon-Lee Green, a founding director of the Standing Together movement for a shared society, said earlier this month before a mixed crowd of several hundred Jewish and Arab Israelis who gathered for a rally in the Arab-Israeli city of Baqa al-Gharbiya. 

“We will choose a new path that is different and opposite the path our government has taken us down the last few years,” he said. “A path for Israeli-Palestinian peace and safety from north to south and for those on the other side in Gaza.”

The group is holding rallies to trumpet that vision in cities across Israel. Green and Sally Abed, Standing Together’s head of development, recently drew crowds of hundreds of people in New York City, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere on a tour of U.S. cities. 

But what the activists’ vision will lead to after the war ends, and what impact they will have, is still uncertain. A recent poll by Israeli Channel 12 found that 44% of respondents supported rebuilding Israeli settlements in Gaza, while 39% objected. A majority of respondents favored full Israeli control of the territory, reversing Israel’s 2005 withdrawal. 

Imagining alternate visions for that “day after” in Israel is one of four new priorities the New Israel Fund, which supports a range of progressive nonprofits and causes, is funding in the wake of Oct. 7. The others are more immediate: offering direct relief to those impacted by the violence, protecting the civil rights of all Israelis and working toward a de-escalation of armed conflict. Alongside that, progressive groups including the NIF are in mourning, said Mickey Gitzin, the group’s Israeli director. 

“So many of our own people, people that we knew, that we work with, are now either hostages in Gaza, or died during this time,” said Gitzin. He was referring to peace-activists like 74-year old Vivian Silver, who was declared dead last week when her remains were discovered more than a month after the attack, and 32-year old Hayim Katsman who was murdered in Holit, among others. 

Alon-Lee Green, co-director of the Standing Together movement, speaks at an event in November 2023. (Eliyahu Freedman)

The NIF also has experience with something left-wing activists across Israel say they’re experiencing: active opposition from the government. The NIF has long drawn backlash from right-wing lawmakers for supporting groups that aid Palestinians, Arab Israelis, asylum seekers in Israel and other groups. In May, Ariel Kallner, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in parliament, proposed an income tax rate of 65% on all non-governmental organizations, such as the NIF, that receive foreign funds — effectively killing their operations. The plan was dropped after it sparked sharp international reaction and fear that it would destroy Israeli civil society. A range of other legislators over the years have tried, and in some cases succeeded, to limit the activity of the NIF or its grantees. 

Now, the wartime environment has created a “chilling effect” on free speech, said leading Israeli human rights attorney Michael Sfard. He said that is especially true for Arab Israelis, who have been investigated, imprisoned, suspended and fired for expressing various forms of solidarity with or compassion toward the people of Gaza. “Freedom of expression was never so battered as it is now,” Sfard said.

In addition, incitement toward Palestinians, including Israeli Arabs, appears to be on the rise. Last month, a crowd in Netanya chanted “death to Arabs” outside an Arab Israel student dormitory. Sfard said that the last month since the war started has seen a “tidal wave of incitement” towards Israeli Arabs.

A large number of Arab Israelis have been investigated, charged and detained for various forms of expression. As of last week, according to the Israel Police, there were 192 open investigations and 57 indictments of Arab Israelis for protest-related offenses — which Sfard says is more than the number of investigations for similar cases in the last five years combined. Meanwhile, according to the Times of Israel, as of Nov. 6 there have been zero indictments of Jews for violence toward Arabs — though several investigations of Jewish Israelis have been opened, and eight have been arrested for violent activities toward Arabs. 

“The fear in the Palestinian community in Israel is to speak and express ourselves regarding the pain of others, and in general the fear to speak about the complexity of being an Arab-Palestinian citizen of Israel at a time when there is a war in Gaza,” said Rula Daood, co-director of Standing Together, at the rally in Baqa al-Gharbiya. “It is a true fear, and on the Jewish side, there is an existential fear after the massacre of Oct. 7.” 

Debates over Arab-Israeli discourse have even reached the country’s popular soccer league. This week, Maccabi Haifa signaled that it would release one of its star forwards, Dia Saba, after his wife published a post on Instagram in the days after Oct. 7 saying, “There are children in Gaza, and 800 children have already died in Gaza from our bombs. And even if they’re stuck between the murderousness of Hamas and our bombs in Israel, we must say that we need to do everything to prevent children from dying.” Both Saba and his wife apologized for the post. 

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, an American-born activist and founder of the Israeli human rights organization Torat Tzedek, views the increase in incitement and the crackdown on protest as the product of an Israeli “wartime hysteria” that is akin to the atmosphere in the United States after the Pearl Harbor attack.

 “Israelis today are not really able to distinguish between Palestinian terrorists and terrorized Palestinians,” he said, comparing the situation to “Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor when Japanese Americans were put in camps. With all the anger and fear that Americans had, nobody was willing to stand up for Japanese Americans.” 

Nowadays, Ascherman spends much of his time helping Palestinian olive farmers in the West Bank but says that “many activists are afraid” to volunteer because of a spike in West Bank violence since Oct. 7. There are others, he said, who “after the terrible slaughter of Israelis don’t want to be helping Palestinians right now.” He hopes either the U.S. or Israeli government makes an active effort to keep Israeli-Palestinian violence from spiraling even further in the West Bank.

“Of course, we’ve seen the statements by President Biden, by Jake Sullivan,” he said, referring to comments by the president and national security adviser condemning settler violence. “But in terms of results, there is not yet any change on the ground.”

Another Jewish-Arab organization, the Abraham Initiatives, has increasingly focused on its education and anti-racism programming as a way to continue building a shared society in Israel. 

“We see racism is rising right now and we want to give our educators the tools to talk to and acknowledge students’ pain without minimizing at the same time the racism and intolerance,” explained Moran Maimoni, who is the group’s co-director of public affairs.

The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies — which has a mix of international, Jewish-Israeli, Arab-Israeli and Palestinian students — has ramped up a schedule of dialogue sessions between students and has relaxed its attendance policy. Deputy Director Eliza Mayo said students and staff on the school’s campus near Eilat are also “constantly checking in with each other.” 

“I think the main thing is that we try to always remember that we have a shared belief in each other’s humanity,” she said.

The post ‘We will choose a new path’: How Israel’s peace activists are responding to the war in Gaza appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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DeSantis exits presidential race, potentially boosting Nikki Haley’s support among anti-Trump Jewish Republicans

(JTA) — Ron DeSantis’ decision to end his presidential campaign leaves Nikki Haley as the only serious challenger to Donald Trump, potentially consolidating her support among Jewish voters and donors who seek an alternative to the former president.

DeSantis announced his exit on Sunday after he came in a distant second last week in Iowa, the first nominating contest in the Republican primaries. The announcement capped a campaign in which the Florida governor was initially seen as the most serious threat to Trump but saw his support steadily decline as the primaries neared.

He had long staked out positions popular among pro-Israel conservatives and repeatedly traveled to Israel to demonstrate his support.  He has also aggressively taken on culture-war positions, including about abortion, LGBTQ rights and book bans, that have traditionally not resonated as much with Jewish voters. At one point, his campaign fired an aide who made a video promoting him that featured a Nazi symbol.

He has thrown his support behind Trump.

Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Trump’s first ambassador to the United Nations, who has close ties to the pro-Israel establishment, has been a favorite among Jewish and pro-Israel donors who want to avoid a second Trump-Biden matchup in November. She garnered more support than any other candidate from the leadership of the Republican Jewish Coalition, according to a Haaretz report last summer, and multiple prominent Jewish Republicans have organized fundraisers on her behalf.

Whether those fundraisers take place will likely depend on the outcome in New Hampshire. Trump currently has a double-digit lead in polls. After his decisive win in Iowa, he said during his victory speech that he would end the current conflict in Israel “very fast” if he becomes president, without elaborating on how he would do so.

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Time to Huddle: Antisemitism on the Field

Daniel Peretz, goalkeeper for the Israel national team and Maccabi Tel Aviv, playing his last match at Maccabi Tel Aviv against NK Celje in the UEFA Conference League – Playoffs before his historic transfer to FC Bayern Munich in Tel Aviv, Israel, on August 24, 2023. Photo: Raddad Jebarah via Reuters Connect

JNS.orgAs unsettling and painful as the current wave of global antisemitism that followed the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in Israel is, it’s still important to remember that those bestial atrocities were an episode in, and not the fundamental cause of, the renewal and remodeling of this ancient superstition.

Where it all began remains a matter of debate. Many analysts nod to the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in 2001 in Durban, South Africa, where several of the memes visible in today’s pro-Hamas protests were rudely on display, as the point of origin. Others go back further, into the Cold War, when the Soviet Union ran a vicious campaign of anti-Zionist propaganda centered on the claim that Zionism is a form of Nazism. And one can go back even further, to the antisemitic riots and revolts targeting Jewish communities in British Mandate Palestine in 1929 and 1936. The point is that the basic message—Jews as colonial interlopers who must be destroyed—hasn’t really changed.

The other consideration is that certain sectors are more amenable than are others to anti-Zionist antisemitism, or antizionism, as I prefer to call it. Over the last two decades, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement seeking to quarantine Israel alone among the world’s nations has been the most tangible and energetic expression of contemporary opposition to Zionism. In the worlds of culture and academia, especially, boycotts of Israel and shrill rhetoric denouncing Zionism (or more precisely, a caricature of Zionism) have been the order of the day.

Regardless, then, of where and when we believe the current wave began, that discussion is less important than an assessment of where we are headed—and specifically, which spheres of human activity alongside art and education will start to echo the growing antisemitic chorus, both in their words and in their deeds.

The world of sport is emerging as the next battleground. It is a much more fearsome prospect; a row over an art exhibition featuring antisemitic caricatures or a lecture at a provincial campus promoting antisemitic tropes is, let’s be honest, a picnic compared to a row involving an athlete with instant, global name recognition.

Someone like the French soccer icon Karim Benzema, a former Real Madrid striker and winner of the coveted Ballon d’Or football (soccer) award who now plays in Saudi Arabia, and who this week announced that he would be suing Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin. A devout Muslim, at least outwardly, Benzema fired off an angry social-media post denouncing Israel’s “unjust bombardments” in the Gaza Strip. When Darmanin was asked about the post in an interview with a conservative broadcaster, he lambasted Benzema for his silence on the Oct. 7 atrocities in Israel and then charged that the player retained close links with the Muslim Brotherhood, the global Islamist network that includes Hamas.

Benzema angrily denied any links with the Brotherhood, accusing Darmanin of exploiting his fame—and notoriety—to push an Islamophobic smear. Now Darmanin may have to answer in court for his impulsive statement (it would have been more prudent to describe Benzema as an “echo chamber” for the Brotherhood) in a spectacle that will draw the French and international media like bees to honey. Benzema will present himself as the victim and will enclose the Palestinian population of Gaza in his victimhood in a circus that will only compound the fear prevailing among French Jews and bolster the view among hundreds of millions of soccer fans that the State of Israel is a criminal enterprise—whether or not he wins or loses any eventual court case.

The demonizing discourse about Israel now percolating in the world of sports is, alarmingly, being matched with acts of discrimination against Israeli and Jewish athletes—just as Jewish and Israeli academics, artists and musicians have suffered discrimination as a result of antisemitic agitation in their spaces.

Last week, Sagiv Jehezkel, an Israeli winger playing for the Turkish soccer club Antalyaspor, was arrested by security forces before being booted out of both his contract and the country. Jehezkel’s offense was to score an equalizing goal in a match against Trabzonspor and then celebrate by displaying his bandaged wrist to the cameras. On the bandage, Jehezkel had scrawled a Star of David and the words “100 days” (a reference to the continuing plight of Israeli hostages in Gaza) and “7/10” (the date of the Hamas pogrom.)

The reaction in Turkey was furious. Jehezkel was abused as a “Zionist dog” and accused of violating Turkish sensibilities. Should he ever return to Turkey, he will likely face arrest and prosecution. But it is unlikely that he will go back, just as it is unlikely that any Israeli soccer talent will find its way to Turkey for the foreseeable future. Sports in Turkey are effectively Judenrein.

There are good grounds to fear that a similar situation is emerging in South Africa, too, where the U-19 Cricket World Cup is currently being hosted. One week before the tournament commenced, Cricket South Africa (CSA), the sport’s domestic governing body, announced that it was removing David Teeger, the South African team’s sole Jewish player, from his role as captain, citing “security fears” about angry protests by Hamas supporters targeting Teeger as the official reason.

This was—in a word summed up by MLB Hall-of-Famer Kevin Youkilis, who declared his solidarity with Teeger—“bullsh*t.” Shortly after the Hamas pogrom, Teeger was the subject of a complaint submitted to CSA by pro-Hamas campaigners who objected to his remarks at a Jewish communal award ceremony, where he lauded “the State of Israel and every single soldier fighting so that we can live and thrive in the diaspora.” They argued that Teeger had brought the game into disrepute, though an independent commission reporting to CSA duly found that Teeger had not violated CSA’s code of conduct with his speech, clearing the way for the talented young batsman to be appointed as captain the following month.

Even so, the political pressure from the ruling ANC was unrelenting. It is no accident that Teeger was humiliated in the same week that South Africa launched a legal case against Israel at the International Court of Justice on the trumped-up charge of “genocide”—elegantly, if inadvertently, illustrating the inevitable domestic impact of an antisemitic foreign policy.

Here in the United States, Jewish professional athletes are unlikely, for the moment, to experience this kind of discrimination. Yet as the recent antisemitism scandal involving the NBA’s Kyrie Irving (and others in different athletic arenas before him) demonstrated, our sporting scene is as vulnerable as anywhere else to antisemitic propaganda, often of the crudest sort. It’s definitely time to huddle.

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Incredible Imbecility

Albert Einstein. Photo: Wiki Commons. – “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” — Euripides

“Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe.” — attributed to Albert Einstein

As the fighting in the Gaza Strip drags on into its third month, it appears that the Israeli leadership is determined to jettison common sense, past experience and logical reasoning. Indeed, Israel’s leaders seem to have set their sights on adopting the failed, fatally flawed formulae of the past for “the day after” the fighting finally subsides.

A collection of collaborators and traitors

For example, one of the most prominently cited “plans”—for want of a better word—involves transferring the post-war civilian administration of Gaza to various heads of clans not affiliated with Hamas, who would be responsible for different parts of the Strip.

Those with a longer historical perspective will be struck by the remarkable resemblance between this proposal and the past attempt by Israeli authorities in the late 1970s and early ‘80s to install an Israel-sanctioned Palestinian administration, known as the Village Leagues, as an alternative to the PLO. The initiative, which initially had support from both the Israeli and Jordanian governments, eventually petered out in 1983.

Although the details might differ, the underlying principles of the Village League and clan leadership plans are very similar. Accordingly, there is little reason to believe that the overall outcome of the current plan will be any different. Just as the leaders of the Village Leagues were treated with suspicion and hostility by much of the Palestinian population, it is more than likely that this will be the case with any future Israeli-approved clan-based civil administration. According to one analyst: The Village Leagues consisted of “a coalition of rural thugs … who had no standing in the community.” The Palestinians saw the Leagues as a collection of collaborators and traitors.”

It is thus hardly surprising that some of the village leaders were assassinated by disgruntled kinfolk; a fate that could well await any compliant clan leader who chooses to collaborate with the “Zionist invader.”

90% of Hamas committed no war crime?

The likelihood of such hostility is greatly enhanced by the pervasive approval of Hamas—and the carnage it committed—among massive sectors of the Palestinian population. In a survey conducted on Dec. 13, 2023, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) found that 72% of the Palestinian public believes that Hamas’s decision to launch the Oct. 7 massacre was correct. In addition, while a staggering 95% of Palestinians think Israel committed war crimes during the current hostilities, only 10% think Hamas was guilty of such crimes. Conversely, only 4% think Israel has not committed such crimes, while 89% think Hamas did not commit any post-Oct. 7 war crimes.

Clearly, under such conditions, any artificially appointed administration, formed specifically to stymie a return to power by Hamas, is likely to face widespread enmity and distrust from the very population over which it rules.

But beyond the a priori implausibility of the clan-based proposal, there are grave questions as to its long-term sustainability. How long will the population in each clan-controlled section be confined to that section? What will regulate movement between sections? Clearly, an arrangement whereby a local population is subject to an externally imposed civilian administration and a foreign security regime is not a sustainable political arrangement and is hardly likely to foster any amicable sentiments towards Israel in the future.

No initiative approved by Israel will be acceptable

Significantly, the failure of the Village League experiment was not the only instance in which a move by Israel to appoint/anoint a pliant Arab ruler failed to attain its intended outcome.

After Israel’s 1982 invasion of southern Lebanon following the assassination of its ambassador Shlomo Argov in London by Palestinian radicals, Israel essentially endorsed the candidacy of Bachir Gemayel for president of Lebanon. It did so under the assumption that he would be a more cordial ruler towards Israel than any other. Significantly, one Lebanese deputy accused Gemayel of reaching the presidency “on the back of an Israeli tank,” while a pro-Palestinian academic compared him with Phillipe Petain, the French marshal who, as head of the Vichy government, collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.

Shortly before Gemayal took office, he was assassinated in a bombing committed by a member of a pro-Syrian organization. Any notion of a Pax Israeliana (an Israeli-induced peace) was buried under the rubble.

As if anything further is required to consign the foolhardy clan-based scheme to well-deserved oblivion, the final nail in its coffin was hammered home by the prospective administrators themselves. The scheme was recently rebuffed with a caustic amalgam of utter rejection and universal ridicule.

According to sources in Gaza, “No initiative that Israel is behind will be acceptable.” In a gruff public statement, representatives of the Gaza clans rejected the Israeli plan, describing it as “ludicrous.” The statement went on to declare: “Talk by some of the leaders of the occupation that heads of clans will administer the civilian life in Gaza is utterly contemptible and totally unacceptable.”

Merely sound political science

Clearly, it is time for Israel to bite the bullet.

Israel must forego its illusions that somehow the Arabs will deign to pull its chestnuts out of the fire. Its leaders must finally realize that the political solution to the Gaza conflict is to be found by the inexorable logic of an almost mathematical algorithm hitherto studiously and tragically ignored by Israeli policy-makers: The only way Israel can ensure who governs Gaza is for Israel to govern Gaza.

Significantly, the only obstacle preventing this outcome and frustrating the overt desire of many Gazans is the hard-hearted callousness of Egypt. Cairo seems bent on compelling the hapless masses, huddled against its sealed border gates, to suffer the travails of war and hunger, pestilence and pollution, rather than let them seek their salvation elsewhere, outside the confines of the hapless enclave.

This is not radical right-wing extremism. It is merely sound political science.

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