Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: J Street

 

Pressing Israel in U.N. remains a U.S. taboo, veto on settlements resolution shows

image
Construction workers labor at a construction site in the Har Homa neighborhood, south of Jerusalem, a day after the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council draft resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction as illegal. Gili Yaari/Flash 90/JTA

NEW YORK – In the run-up to last week’s U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal, the Obama administration faced a dilemma.

The administration views Jewish settlements in the West Bank as illegitimate, and has made few bones about saying so, but it also rejects the notion that the place to settle the matter is the United Nations, with its long tradition of anti-Israel resolutions.

Put in a seemingly awkward position, the administration had to decide whether to veto a resolution whose substance it essentially agreed with at a time when the Arab street is looking for signs of the Obama administration’s proclivities on Middle Eastern issues, or discard America’s usual practice of vetoing one-sided U.N. resolutions on Israel and anger many Israel supporters.

While some left-wing Jewish groups such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now urged the president to shun the veto, adding to the pressure on Israel, the reaction from Capitol Hill showed that it wasn’t a stance endorsed by the left or right wing in Congress.

Republicans and Democrats both said that using the United Nations to pressure Israel was out of bounds. Leading members of both parties -- including Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip -- urged the president last week to veto “any U.N. Security Council resolution that criticizes Israel regarding final status issues.”

When the resolution finally came to a vote at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 18, the administration’s decision to exercise its veto earned praise from fellow Democrats.

“I praise the Obama administration’s veto, and call on the U.S. to reject any future resolutions at the U.N. that unfairly target Israel, and instead push the Palestinians back to negotiations where they belong,” said Rep. Shelly Berkley (D-Nev.). “I hope the Arabs, having failed to force the issue at the U.N., will return to the negotiating table immediately and begin the real process of reaching a solution.”

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, B’nai B’rith International and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee all issued statements expressing appreciation for the veto.

“Exercising the veto is a painful decision, particularly for an administration with a deep and sincere commitment to multilateralism,” said David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “That is why we salute President Obama and his team for their courage in vetoing this mischievous resolution, which would have caused irreparable damage to the future prospects of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Obama used the veto for the first time after pursuing a compromise proposal -- a nonbinding Security Council statement calling settlements a “serious obstacle to the peace process” -- that ultimately failed.

The United States has vetoed dozens of Security Council resolutions condemning Israel going back nearly four decades. Occasionally, however, the United States has withheld the veto on resolutions focused on criticizing Israel, abstaining instead. On May 19, 2004, for example, the George W. Bush administration abstained from a resolution expressing grave concern for Israel’s demolishing of Palestinian homes in Gaza and criticized Israel’s killing of a Palestinian civilian in the area of Rafah, Gaza.

This time, the Obama administration’s willingness to countenance a compromise resolution, and its refusal to say in advance whether it would veto the resolution, suggested to many that its reliability with the veto was in question.

Obama has put the issue of settlements squarely in his sights as part of his Middle East peace push, and he has been generally warm toward J Street, dispatching top Middle East adviser Dennis Ross to address the group’s upcoming conference even as Israeli officials have shunned it.

While not fundamentally altering U.S. policy, which under several presidents officially has opposed settlement expansion, Obama has been far more vocal on the subject. All of which prompted reactions from Israel’s allies on Capitol Hill and beyond, several of whom reacted strongly to reports that the administration was pursuing a compromise.

Speaking in the council chamber on the day of the vote, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, rejected the resolution as unhelpful to restarting negotiations between the parties. But she was withering about the administration’s view of settlement activity.

“Our opposition to the resolution before this council today should therefore not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity,” Rice said. “On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.

“For more than four decades, Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 has undermined Israel’s security and corroded hopes for peace and stability in the region. Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties and threatens the prospects for peace.”

Americans for Peace Now said Obama’s use of the veto represented a missed chance to exercise leadership that could yield a peace agre

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Do hearings on Muslim radicalization leave room for nuance?

WASHINGTON – Are the congressional hearings on radicalization among American Muslims an instance of McCarthyism, or is the opposition to them political correctness run amok?

Jewish groups may disagree on why, but there appears to be wide consensus that the congressional hearings led by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, are off on the wrong foot.

The differences are over whether hearings, which began March 10, are needed at all — and if they are, what they should address.

The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee agree that examining Muslim extremism is a proper issue for Congress, and AJC went a step further by saying that lawmakers should not bend to political pressures.

An AJC official, Yehudit Barsky, director of the organization’s division on the Middle East and International Terrorism, submitted written testimony to the hearings, which officially are called “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response.”

In her testimony, Barsky said it was “essential that we all tread carefully so as to avoid rhetoric that smacks of stereotyping members of a particular faith and similarly avoid actions that amount to discrimination against, much less persecution of, members of a faith group based on their identity or beliefs, as opposed to their actions.”

In a statement, the ADL echoed that sentiment.

“Homegrown Muslim extremists pose a real threat to the United States, but the issue is one that may be difficult to explore seriously in a hearing that has engendered an unfortunate atmosphere of blame and suspicion of the broader American Muslim community,” the ADL said. “We need to be careful not to single out an entire community for special scrutiny or suspicion.”

The Reform movement called on congressional Democrats to expand the hearings to encompass all forms of terrorism.

The National Jewish Democratic Council and J Street said the hearings are indelibly tainted.

Critics of the hearings say King seeks to smear American Muslims. They note that in the lead-up to the hearings, King said there are “too many mosques” in America. King also has suggested that Muslim leaders do not cooperate with authorities and that the vast majority of clerics are radicalized.

The Republican Jewish Coalition said King was fulfilling his proper mission.

“The hearings have met with strong resistance from the left, but they are critically needed,” the RJC said in its newsletter.

King was unrepentant as the hearings began last week.

“To combat this threat, moderate leadership must emerge from the Muslim-American community,” he said.

Yet King failed to invite to the hearings major Muslim-American groups, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to defend themselves against charges that they coddle terrorist sympathizers. The council criticized the King hearings as tainting all American Muslims.

But the hearings also did not invite those who maintain that much if not all of the Islamic world has been radicalized.

If anything, the hearings provided an opportunity to hear a range of voices, including both those who praised the American Muslim community’s stance against radicalism and parents of American Muslims lured into terrorism. There were also a number of Muslims who have criticized insularity among Muslim Americans.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress, testified before the committee. So did Leroy Baca, the Los Angeles County sheriff who praised the Council on American-Islamic Relations as cooperative.

In her testimony, Barsky, who listed recent planned attacks by Muslim extremists on U.S. Jewish targets, cautioned against viewing the hearings as an assault on all Muslims.

“Some Muslim organizations, joined by well-meaning supporters, have reacted to the idea of discussing the threat posed by Islamic extremist terrorists by raising the specter of McCarthyism,” Barsky said. “They and others have demanded that any discussion or investigation of this national security threat be broadened to include all extremists in all communities.

“Logic and experience, however, dictate that any meaningful inquiry focus on particular organizations and extremists that currently pose a national security threat.”

The Reform movement said the failure to broaden the inquiry unfairly singled out Muslims.

“A wide-ranging exploration of radicalism writ-large is necessary, and we would welcome it,” Mark Pelavin, the associate director of the movement’s Religious Action Center, said in testimony submitted to the committee. “But today’s hearing is not that exploration. It is a narrow, myopic investigation into the American Muslim community which unfairly targets one group of citizens in congressional proceedings.”

Pelavin joined a Capitol Hill protest that included representatives of Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim bodies and described the hearings as “anti-Muslim.” Also appearing at that event were a prominent Conservative rabbi, Jack Moline, who has advised the Obama White House, and Marc Schneier, an Orthodox rabbi and co-founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

Steve Emerson, who heads the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a research organization that has consulted with a number of pro-Israel groups, said the concerns were overblown.

“Those involved in terrorism are a tiny sliver of the overall Muslim-American population,” he wrote in a New York Daily News Op-Ed. “But one ought to be able to focus on a very real problem — homegrown terrorism fueled by Muslim extremism — without being accused of painting the entire U.S. Muslim population with a broad brush.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), perhaps the most passionately pro-Israel lawmaker in Congress, said in a statement that King’s tone mitigated against a sober assessment of domestic Muslim extremism.

“Instead of singling out this particular community for investigation, our focus should remain on the many sources of terrorism and violence that threaten our nation and its residents,” she said, noting her concerns about the “tone and substance” of the hearings.

“I ask,” she said, “if this hearing were focused on the Jewish community, Japanese community, or the African-American community, or any other community, would we not be justifiably outraged?”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Brandeis Hillel excludes a controversial group

Hillel may be the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, but that doesn’t mean every Jewish student group is welcome.

Last week, Brandeis University’s Hillel voted not to accept the membership bid of the local campus chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that has been criticized for its support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel and was listed by the Anti-Defamation League last October as among the top 10 anti-Israel groups in the United States.

“While we understand that JVP at Brandeis considers itself a pro-Israel club, based on positions and programming JVP has sponsored, we do not believe that JVP can be included under Hillel’s umbrella,” Brandeis senior Andrea Wexler, the president of the 11-member Hillel student executive board that rejected the application of Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote in a letter explaining the board’s decision.

Wexler said the group’s words and actions put it beyond what is acceptable to Hillel.

Fellow Brandeis senior Lev Hirschhorn, who presented JVP’s case to the Hillel board, said Hillel should not exclude any Jewish student group.

“As members of the Brandeis Jewish community, we wanted Jewish Voice for Peace to be included at the Jewish communal table,” he said.

The battle at Brandeis over JVP is part of the growing heated debate in the American Jewish community over what constitutes acceptable criticism of Israel.

Last summer, a furor erupted in San Francisco over Jewish federation funding for a Jewish film festival that screened a film about pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie. For the past three years, the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group J Street has stirred passions on both sides of the divide for its calls for increased U.S. pressure on Israel to deal with the Palestinians. This month, Israel’s Knesset decided to investigate J Street.

At Brandeis, the organization’s college chapter, called J Street U, blasted Hillel’s decision on Jewish Voice for Peace.

“While J Street U and JVP strongly disagree about many issues related to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the BDS movement, we nonetheless believe that they should be a part of the Jewish communal conversation,” J Street U said, using the acronym for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign.

Unlike J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace does not describe itself as pro-Israel. That and JVP’s support for the BDS movement were critical to Hillel’s decision, Wexler said. The decision, she added, was “very difficult” and not unanimous.

“According to the pro-Israel guidelines given to us, which we support and agree with, we didn’t feel they fit into what we consider a Hillel-member group,” Wexler said of JVP.

The membership guidelines to which Wexler referred were released by Hillel’s international body last December. The guidelines reiterate Hillel’s support for Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state,” and say Hillel “will not partner with, house, or host” groups or speakers who do not agree with that statement, including those who support the BDS campaign.

Hirschhorn says the Brandeis chapter of JVP supports boycotting only goods produced in Gaza and the west bank, not Israel proper, so it should not be considered anti-Israel.

“We know what the national guidelines say, but we also know Brandeis is an open, welcoming community,” he said.

Wexler said the campus JVP chapter cannot be considered apart from positions taken by its national organization, which held its national membership conference over the weekend in Philadelphia.

Wayne Firestone, Hillel’s president and the main author of the new membership guidelines, says that any organization, including Hillel, has the right to define its limits.

“We do not feel we can be true to our values and partner with groups that deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state,” he said.

Firestone noted that the guidelines also would exclude right-wing student organizations that do not support Israel as a democratic state, although no such groups have applied to Hillel since the regulations were put in place.

The Brandeis chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, which was created last fall, was the first JVP chapter nationwide to apply for Hillel membership. The organization, which began in the San Francisco area, also has chapters at the University of California, San Diego, the University of Arizona, St. Lawrence University, and Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. It is organizing on six more campuses, according to a spokesperson.

Adam Lerner, a sophomore at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where JVP is organizing, says Hillel, which has the stated goal of providing a safe space for students to explore their Jewish identity, should not set a political litmus test for who is in and who is out.

“If Hillel promotes itself as ‘the’ center for Jewish life on campus, they need to have as pluralistic a voice as possible,” Lerner said. “If Israel is open to all Jews, then Hillel should be open to all Jewish groups on campus. They should take the model they’re promoting for the Jewish state and apply it to themselves.”

Jonathan Horovitz, a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, says the issue isn’t Hillel banning a particular opinion but choosing not to partner with an organization that is disruptive and uncivil. He noted that JVP supporters have heckled pro-Israel speakers, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the group aligns with organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine and the International Solidarity Movement.

“The actions of JVP and their guests abuse the openness offered by the mainstream Jewish community by responding with hostility,” Horovitz said. “A group that hosts such events and welcomes such disrespectful jeering should not be allowed in the Jewish community.”

Firestone says all students are welcome at Hillel as individuals, no matter their organizational affiliations. But “that’s different from co-sponsoring with an organization that does harm to our central values,” he said.

Ben Sales, editor of New Voices, an online publication serving the American Jewish student community, says this position is disingenuous.

“If Hillel wants to be the Israel advocacy organization on campus that also provides a wealth of other programming for Jewish students, that’s fine,” Sales said, “but then it’s inaccurate to call itself the center for Jewish life while excluding a group of Jewish students who do not support Israel as a Jewish and democratic state but who are not violent or discriminatory, and who ground their positions in Jewish values.”

It turns out the debate about the Brandeis Hillel decision is much more heated off-campus than on it; both Hirschhorn and Wexler say there is no hostility between their groups.

“I study Hebrew with a lot of them,” Hirschhorn said of the Hillel board members. “They made sure we understood this isn’t a personal thing.” Wexler added that after the meeting, several of the students became “friends” with each other on Facebook.

“We encourage these conversations,” said Larry Sternberg, executive director of the Hillel at Brandeis. “This whole thing reflects the fact that there are such conversations taking place. And the fact that JVP wants to be part of Hillel is a good thing.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

What does the ‘J’ stand for?

 

‘The Spider-man syndrome’  (turn off the dark)

 
 
Page 3 of 3 pages  <  1 2 3
 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30