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Why Israel had no choice but to make a ‘bargain with the devil’

(JTA) — In pressing for a deal that could see the release of 50 of the more than 200 hostages held in Gaza in return for a four-day pause in hostilities the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners, Israel’s National Unity Party Minister Benny Gantz described the return of the hostages as a “moral imperative and part of the resilience that enables us to win wars.”

But what if negotiating with Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel, creates a dangerous precedent and further encourages its enemies to view hostage-taking as a weapon? By putting its war on Hamas on a four-day hold, does Israel appear to be giving in  to an enemy it has vowed to destroy? And by releasing three Palestinian prisoners for every hostage returned, does Israel risk allowing violent prisoners to go free?

These are the unbearable tensions Israeli and American negotiators faced in the leadup to the deal, announced Tuesday night. To understand the dilemmas and pressures Israel is facing, I spoke with law professor Robert Mnookin, director of the Harvard Negotiation Project at Harvard Law School and author of the  2010 book, Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight.” Mnookin advises governments and corporations on negotiating strategy and conflict resolution and has written about Israel’s controversial hostage swaps with Hamas and other adversaries.

He is also the author, in 2019, of “The Jewish American Paradox: Embracing Choice in a Changing World,” a book about Jewish peoplehood and identity. 

We spoke Wednesday about the political pressure on Israel to strike a deal, how religious and national values play a role in hostage negotiations and why a “no-win” scenario is sometimes the best you can do.

 The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

 Before we get into the details of this specific hostage exchange, I wonder if you could provide a theoretical framework for hostage negotiation, especially with an enemy deemed terrorists. What should any power consider before embarking on negotiations essentially with kidnappers?

One hard question, of course, is, are they likely to keep to the deal that you make with them? Kidnappers aren’t necessarily a reliable partner to a negotiation.

A second big issue is the question of precedent. What kind of precedent are they setting by being willing to negotiate? For many years, the United States government took the position that it would not negotiate with terrorists to try to release kidnap victims. And there was a lot of tension [between the government and victims’ families]. The stated policy was often informally violated by the U.S. government, that is, they sometimes did participate. And in fact, it turns out that European countries were negotiating with various — often Islamic — terrorist groups in the last decade, were paying money to get people released. The United States wasn’t and it changed its formal policy.

That they would pay ransom?

Not necessarily, but they no longer had an absolute policy that there should not be any contact between the government and terrorist groups with respect to kidnap victims.

You wrote an op-ed critical of the decision in 2011 by an earlier Netanyahu government to release about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006 and held hostage in Gaza. What made you call that a “crazy deal” and what might be different about the current situation?

 There were lots of things wrong with that deal. First, the price was absurdly high. Second, it set a terrible precedent. And third, as it turns out, that deal strengthened Hamas and weakened the Palestinian Authority, because the Israeli government was negotiating with Hamas, who made sure the Palestinian Authority would get no credit. And comparatively few of the Palestinian Authority’s prisoners were released. And finally, it turns out of course, that among those released are at least some who now are apparently leaders of Hamas.

On the other hand, obviously, I’m thrilled that Shalit was released. 

Robert Mnookin directs the Harvard Negotiation Project at Harvard Law School. (Jon Chase/Harvard University News Office)

When you heard the terms of the deal Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, how did it strike you as someone who has an expertise in negotiations? Was there a winner? Was there a loser?

 Well, listen, these kinds of negotiations often involve tragic choices. Who could not be very happy that women and children are being released? On the other hand, while we don’t really know the details of who’s being released by the Israeli government, I gather many of them are minors who participated in rather violent acts or very violent acts. 

Should Israel worry that negotiating over hostages in this case is going to encourage its enemies to engage in more kidnapping?

 They absolutely should. 

Israel has a national ethos of returning its soldiers and protecting its citizens above all else — including by taking actions, like lopsided hostage swaps, that might endanger soldiers and civilians in the future. Do these sort of emotional goals — for the sake of national solidarity or morale, or even the religious imperative of pidyon shvuyim, or redeeming hostages — strike negotiation experts as irrational? 

I don’t want to call it irrational because it may reflect and reinforce values that are really quite important. Israel has a tradition that no soldier would be left behind. Given that Israel has an army in which nearly all Jewish people participate, a truly citizens’ army, the Shalit deal was, for all its flaws, a valuable reinforcement of that ideology.

Israel is also a small country, and the degree of separation among its citizens is incredibly small. I imagine that any idea that it won’t negotiate with terrorists is impossible to maintain politically and morally when there are so many stories and they are so personal. 

This is something I talked about in my oped many years ago, which is a very important psychological finding that people, in order to save identifiable individuals, are willing to take actions that are far more costly than actions that could save many more unspecified individuals. The classic example of this is when an individual is trapped in a coal mine: It becomes national news, and rescuers might spend millions of dollars to get them out — while the same government authorities are unwilling to spend anywhere near an equivalent amount on safety measures that would ultimately save many more people. 

What we’ve seen in Israel, with so many victims, the political pressure is very, very substantial. You’ve seen these posters of all the individual kidnap victims. The families are trying to personalize it — appropriately, because it’s a good strategy. My wife last night was brought to tears with interviews of the family of one of the victims because their story was so sad. There’s this little girl, for example, who’s going to be 4 on her birthday, which is Friday. [Abigail Edan was kidnapped on Oct. 7; Hamas killed her parents, Roy and Smadar Edan; she is a U.S. citizen and President Joe Biden said he expects her to be released.]

Of course a government should be willing to work very hard to get her release. How can you feel they should not do so? These are very hard choices that governments have to face.

What did each side achieve in this deal?

What the Israelis achieved, of course, is that some fraction of the 200-plus hostages are being released and that there are going to be children and women among them. And the suspension of hostilities from Israel’s perspective is comparatively brief. As for Hamas, they’re getting credit for the release, they’re getting a rest in terms of hostilities and there’s going to be substantial humanitarian aid.

The other thing that I think is interesting about this arrangement, of course, in part goes to the reliability issue. They’re doing an arrangement where the hostages are going to be released partially each day, which is a way of reinforcing the ceasefire. Whereas if they were all released right in the beginning, Hamas would be taking the risks that the Israelis might immediately resume hostilities.

Do you accept the idea that a successful negotiation is one in which both sides are disappointed?

No. If the people are rational actors, it should create an outcome that each side views as superior to what their best alternative otherwise would be. Now, it is often the case that the negotiated deal is disappointing in comparison with a perfect world. But on the other hand, almost by definition, if you and I settle a terrible dispute, we wouldn’t have made a deal if we didn’t think it was superior to our expected alternative. And what’s often true is sometimes you and I could settle a conflict with an arrangement that makes us feel positive about doing business together in the future.


The post Why Israel had no choice but to make a ‘bargain with the devil’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7

Eden Alene, winner of the reality show “The Next Star to Eurovision,” during finals in Neve Ilan studio near Jerusalem on Feb. 4, 2020. Photo: Shlomi Cohen/Flash90.

Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar sent the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) a letter on Thursday urging them to approve Israel’s submission to the Eurovision song competition, after the EBU called it “too political.”

“As you know, the State of Israel is experiencing one of the most difficult and complex periods since its establishment. We lost our loved ones, and there are women, men and children who are still held captive by a terrorist organization,” Zohar said.

Israeli media reported that the broadcasting union would not approve the song, called “October Rain,” after a number of countries even issued threats to boycott the event if Israel participates. The EBU issued a statement saying “We are currently in the process of carefully examining the lyrics of the song – a process that is confidential between the EBU and the Public Broadcasting Corporation until a final decision is made. To all broadcasters, they have until March 11th to officially submit their songs. If a song does not meet the criteria for any reason, the corporation will be given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, according to the contest rules.”

“The song that Israel sent to the Eurovision Song Contest was chosen by a professional committee made up of well-known names in the local music and entertainment industry,” Zohar added. “It is a moving song, discussing renewal and revival from a very fragile reality of loss and destruction, and describes the current public mood in Israel these days. We see now most clearly because our lives – as one, united society – manage to overcome even the greatest suffering. This is not a political song.”

Despite the news that the song by Israeli singer Eden Golan would not be approved, The CEO of KAN, Israel’s national broadcasting service, and the body that approves the song, Golan Yokhpaz, said “We will not change the words or the song, even at the cost of Israel not participating in Eurovision this year.” Adding “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) is in dialogue with the EBU regarding the song that will represent Israel at Eurovision.”

Zohar said later in a television interview “The songwriters, KAN, and the singer will have to make the decisions at the end of the day… I do think that Israel should participate in Eurovision because it is important for us at this time to be represented there, and to express ourselves throughout Europe.”

Speaking to the EBU, he said, “We trust that you will continue in your important task of keeping the competition free from any attempt at political manipulation.”

The post Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7 first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’

UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine Francesca Albanese, October 27, 2022 (Photo: Screenshot)

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories referred to Israelis as “colonialists” who have “fake identities” while quoting another Twitter/X account on Wednesday, raising questions about the impartiality of the international body.

Francesca Albanese responded to a long post by Alon Mizrahi, a far-left activist, arguing that the reason many Western nations support Israel is that they are colonial projects. 

She highlighted the following quote from Mizrahi: “free Palestine scares them [Westerners] bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities.”

” free Palestine scares them bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities..” https://t.co/N1wkOPgKJs

— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) February 21, 2024

The original post claimed that “All colonial powers work together to guarantee the supremacy of made-up identities over genuine, native ones. Because if this model breaks anywhere, it will collapse everywhere.”

Mizrahi argued that “A Palestinian state would be a major, major moral blow to white, Western colonialism.”

The tweet was met with immediate condemnation.

David Friedman, who served as the US Ambassador to Israel from 2017 to 2021 under former President Donald Trump wrote that her tweet was “Exhibit A why the UN is a failure and why we no longer belong in that bastion of hypocrisy and corruption.”

An account documenting Hamas’ October 7 atrocities asked, “If Israel is indeed a ‘colonialist project’ Where should all the Israelis go if this project should be dismantled?”

The perception of UN bias against Israel has also been boosted by the fact that, in 2023, Israel was condemned twice as often as all other countries combined.

It is not the first time Albanese has made comments that raise eyebrows. Earlier this month, in response to French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron calling the October 7 attack “largest anti-Semitic massacre of the 21st century,” she said “No, Mr. Macron. The victims of October 7 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.”

Following backlash, she wrote that she opposes “all racism, including anti-Semitism, a global threat. But explaining these crimes as anti-Semitism obscures their true cause.”

Hamas’ founding charter, in a section about the “universality” of its cause, reads: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

Albanese has also argued that Israel should make peace with Hamas, saying that “It needs to make peace with Hamas in order to not be threatened by Hamas.” 

When asked about what people do not understand about Hamas, she added, “If someone violates your right to self-determination, you are entitled to embrace resistance.”

The post UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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‘He Has Something to Say to Us Today’: Museum of Jewish History Set to Honor Legacy of ‘The Great Artist’ Arthur Szyk

Arthur Szyk, self portrait

The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City is celebrating the 130th birthday of  the Polish-Jewish artist Arthur Szyk with a special lecture series hosted by the world’s leading expert on his work.

Titled, “Commemorating Arthur Szyk’s 130th Birthday,” the lecture series will include four 90-minutes sessions led by award winning author Irvin Ungar, a former rabbi who has studied Szyk for over 30 years, publishing three books about him and hosting exhibitions of his art at museums throughout the world. Among art historians, Ungar’s scholarship and curation is credited with single-handedly fostering a “Szyk renaissance.”

Born in 1894 in the city of Łódź during the Russian Partition of Poland, Szyk, though his life ended prematurely in 1951, lived through a violent and epochal moment in history — an age of revolution, world war, and genocide. His works, from sketches of the Boxer Rebellion he drew at the age of six to his depiction of Hitler as Pharaoh — and later, Hitler as Anti-Christ — were expressive commentaries on troubled times.

After Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, Szyk fled to England and then America, where he earned a reputation as a “soldier in art” for portraying the Nazis and Axis leaders as primal mad men and using irradiating imagery to alert the world to the plight of the Jewish people under Nazi occupation, an issue that affected him personally. In 1940, his mother, Eugenia, was murdered in the Chełmno extermination camp, just 30 miles from the city in which he grew up. Many more relatives, as well as those of his wife, were murdered during the Holocaust.

Arthur Szyk, Anti-Christ, 1942

Szyk’s contemporaries widely acclaimed his work, both for its creativity and social consciousness. In 1949, he published “Do Not Forgive Them, O Lord, For They Do Know What They Do!,” an anti-racist drawing condemning the bigotry that Black soldiers who fought fascism abroad faced in the segregated American south. In the piece, a soldier is on his knees and bound by rope while two hooded Klansmen holding shotguns watch him from a distance. His humanism once prompted allegations that he was a member of the Communist Party, charges which were entirely unfounded.

Today, Szyk is best known in the Jewish world for what is regarded as his magnum opus, The Haggadah, an “illuminated manuscript” which tells the story of Passover Seder in a series of watercolor illustrations. It was thoroughly anti-Nazi, linking the oppression of Jews in Nazi Germany with the enslavement of Jews in Egypt and, ultimately, their Exodus.

There is much more to learn about Szyk, Irvin Ungar told The Algemeiner on Thursday during a phone interview, including his tireless advocacy on behalf of the Zionist movement and the establishment of the State of Israel, as well as his “prolific” production of illustrations for modern editions of classic books such as Canterbury Tales and Anderson’s Fairy Tales.

“My job has been how to bring all these various aspects and dimensions of Arthur Szyk together and to present an unbelievably talented and creative artists who excelled in book illustration, religious art, and political art,” Ungar said. “He was excellent in all three. It’s very rare to find any artist who can excel in all three areas with the great degree of skill and craftsmanship which he did.”

Szyk, an “artist of and for the Jewish people and for the world,” transcended his time, Ungar added, and continues to speak to ours. Rising antisemitism, illiberalism on the far-right and far-left, and great power conflict were the major themes of his art and make him an invaluable resource for comprehending a world in peril.

“He has something to say to us today,” Ungar emphasized. “He had something to say about United Nations in 1947 and 1948. It applies today. He had something to say about antisemitism being the great softener of his democracy at that time, and that would also apply to our day. You can find numerous of his artwork and think ‘That was created for today,’ and that in my mind is why his artwork is eternal.”

Commemorating Arthur Szyk’s 130th Birthday, begins on Monday, February 26, at 7 PM. Ungar will give two more lectures in March before concluding the series on April 8 with an exploration of The Haggadah.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post ‘He Has Something to Say to Us Today’: Museum of Jewish History Set to Honor Legacy of ‘The Great Artist’ Arthur Szyk first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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