Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Synagogue in US hosts event to aid West Bank settlers

Synagogue in US hosts event to aid West Bank settlers
The Associated Press
Published: February 25, 2007

TEANECK, New Jersey: As protesters chanted and waved signs outside, roughly 250 American Jews were able to get information on buying homes in the West Bank during a Sunday event promoted as a way to help Jewish settlers.

The sales pitch, organized by the Israel-based Amana Settlement Movement, took place in Teaneck at an Orthodox synagogue, Congregation B'nai Yeshurun.

The event drew rebukes from an Israeli group, as well as pro-Palestinian organizations, who say such efforts undermine international peace efforts.

The opposition groups believe the gathering represented the first time West Bank homes have been offered for sale in the United States.

They also questioned if the sale of what they consider illegally occupied lands violates anti-discrimination laws, but a New Jersey official has said U.S. state and federal authorities have no jurisdiction on overseas property.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky said people were interested in the houses as an investment and as a possible home for themselves, "as well as to make a public statement that there are Jews in the world who believe, want to send a message that, the land belongs to us, to the Jewish people, and we make that statement without any shame, any hesitation."

Aliza Herbst, a representative from Amana, said the company was turning to North American Jews to buy homes so it can rent them out to young Israeli families who want to move into the West Bank, but can't afford to build.

One person who left the Teaneck event with plans on buying was Jack Forgash, 60, of Teaneck, who said he would see the purchase not only as an investment.

"I would consider it generosity, charity, a form of giving somebody a chance to live in a house, not be homeless," said Forgash, who described himself as a business executive.

"I don't see a problem with Jews living there because I recognize the fact that over a million Arabs are living in Israel proper, and they came to be happy with their lives," Forgash said.

The settlements are controversial because Israel promised in the early 1990s to freeze settlement construction on the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of the Oslo peace process. The lands were captured in the 1967 Mideast War. In addition, under the 2003 "road map" peace plan, Israel agreed to remove dozens of Jewish outposts from the West Bank.

Nearly 270,000 Jewish settlers, up 6 percent over the past year, live in the West Bank among 2.4 million Palestinians. In the summer of 2005, Israel evacuated all 8,500 settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Many Orthodox Jews believe that Jews have a right to settle on lands that are part of the biblical land of Israel.

Opposition groups, however, contend that increased settlement damages efforts to create a Palestinian state, a goal backed by the U.S. government.

"Every settler who is added to the West Bank makes the realization of President Bush's vision of a two-state solution more difficult," Ori Nir, a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, the sister organization of Israel's largest peace group, Peace Now, said last week.

Aaron Levitt, a member of Jews Against the Occupation, said the sale was deliberately inflaming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The enemies of the U.S. are able to use the Israeli occupation as a rallying cry," the 37-year-old Queens, New York, resident said as he took a break from protesting in a crowd of about 25 people.

Samer Khalaf, a member of the New Jersey Chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee who was also protesting, said his group wants to make sure "discrimination doesn't rear its ugly head in New Jersey."

"This country, decades ago, got away from selling land to someone based on their religion, ethnicity or race. That's essentially what's going on," the 39-year-old Paramus attorney said, adding that his group also wants to discount the argument that the land can be sold because it is not occupied.

Police were on site to make sure the protest remained peaceful, which it did, even after a handful of counter-protestors gathered in front of the synagogue.

In a letter to American Jews, Amana noted that the Israeli government has ended new home subsidies for settlers.

"Almost all communities in (the West Bank) are full, with no possibility of accepting new young couples or families," the letter said. "If we don't find a solution now, we will create our own population freeze, which may, in turn, begin a phenomenon ... of families leaving in communities."

Single-family homes begin at $120,000 (€91,365), the letters said. American Jews were asked to buy a home and then rent it to settlers for about $250 (€190) month.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Teaneck synagogue seeks to aid West Bank

Here is the article from today's New Jersey Record:

Teaneck synagogue seeks to aid West Bank
Friday, February 23, 2007


A Teaneck synagogue may become a flashpoint this weekend in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Congregation B'nai Yeshurun will host a real estate fair aimed at persuading American Jews to buy property in the disputed territories of the West Bank.

"The purchase of a home ... is an ideological gesture of love of the Land of Israel," said a letter to potential American investors from the Israeli group that's conducting the event.

But critics say such land sales would inflame the conflict by bringing more Jewish settlers to the predominantly Palestinian territories.

The settlements, built on land that Israeli forces seized in 1967 and continue to occupy, have been condemned as obstacles to peace by the United Nations, U.S. government officials and even many Israelis.

A Teaneck resident said he's organizing a protest to take place outside the synagogue.

"Our objection to this happening in Teaneck and America is that it makes us complicit in Israel's violation of international law," said Richard Siegel, who is active in the group New Jersey Solidarity.

Fast facts

 An Israeli settler group is asking American Jews to buy property in the disputed territories of the West Bank.

 A Teaneck synagogue is backing the program by hosting a real estate fair Sunday for potential investors.

 Critics say the effort will inflame the Mideast because it bolsters Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory.

 Some Jews believe they have a religious obligation to settle in the biblical land of Israel.

A prominent North Jersey Palestinian agreed, adding that the event is inherently racist.

"I'm sure if I attended the meeting and told them I was an American citizen interested in purchasing land that I would be denied," said Aref Assaf of the American Arab Forum in Paterson. "And yet I was born there."

The group organizing the meeting -- the Amana Settlement Movement -- did not return two phone calls seeking comment.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, the spiritual leader of B'nai Yeshurun, represents an Orthodox Jewish community that, generally speaking, opposes a Palestinian state and holds that Jews have a right, and a responsibility, to settle in the territories that are part of the biblical land of Israel.

Indeed, Pruzansky, who calls the territories by their biblical names of Judea and Samaria, said the meeting will be held in the sanctuary of his synagogue -- rather than in its conference room -- to underscore the notion of religious duty.

"It's not occupied land -- it's disputed, unallocated land," Pruzansky said. "And Israel certainly has a valid claim."

He blamed the Mideast conflict on Arabs who don't recognize Israel.

"I don't think there is much hope for peace in my lifetime, unless the Messiah comes," Pruzansky said. "And the main reason is that there are too many people who are not reconciled to Israel's existence."

About 250,000 Jews, including many from New York and New Jersey, live in the West Bank. The actual settlement towns constitute a tiny fraction of the land, but settlers control more than 40 percent of the land in the West Bank, according to statistics compiled by Peace Now, Israel's largest peace group.

There are about 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank, according to the U.S. government.

The bid to seek American investment is a relatively new program and reflects the worries of settlers about whether their numbers will continue to grow.

Amana's letter to American Jews notes that the Israeli government has stopped subsidizing new homes.

"Almost all communities in [the West Bank] are full, with no possibility of accepting new young couples or families," the letter says. "If we don't find a solution now, we will create our own population freeze, which may, in turn, begin a phenomenon ... of families leaving in communities."

The letter said single-family homes cost as little as $120,000. American Jews are being asked to buy a home and then rent it to settlers for about $250 per month.

Investors may buy vacant land to build new homes, or preexisting homes, said Dov Hikind, an assemblyman from Brooklyn who's promoting the program.

Pruzansky said the meeting will provide an overview to potential investors as well as answers to questions on financing, security and other issues.

American Jews are divided.

Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, a strong supporter of the settlements, said the program is "a statement that Jews from America, Europe and anywhere else have a sacred right to live on this land."

A spokesman for Americans for Peace Now disagreed.

"As a matter of principle, we think it's wrong for Americans to be underwriting a politically damaging enterprise," Ori Nir said. "We think the whole settlement movement is damaging to Israel in many ways."

Friday, February 23, 2007

Occupied Gaza like apartheid South Africa, says UN report

Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem
Friday February 23, 2007
The Guardian

A UN human rights investigator has likened Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories to apartheid South Africa and says there should be "serious consideration" over bringing the occupation to the international court of justice.

The report by John Dugard, a South African law professor who is the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, represents some of the most forceful criticism yet of Israel's 40-year occupation.

Prof Dugard said although Israel and apartheid South Africa were different regimes, "Israel's laws and practices in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] certainly resemble aspects of apartheid." His comments are in an advance version of a report on the UN Human Rights Council's website ahead of its session next month.

After describing the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, with closed zones, demolitions and preference given to settlers on roads, with building rights and by the army, he said: "Can it seriously be denied that the purpose of such action is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group (Jews) over another racial group (Palestinians) and systematically oppressing them? Israel denies that this is its intention or purpose. But such an intention or purpose may be inferred from the actions described in this report."

He dismissed Israel's argument that the sole purpose of the vast concrete and steel West Bank barrier is for security. "It has become abundantly clear that the wall and checkpoints are principally aimed at advancing the safety, convenience and comfort of settlers," he said.

Gaza remained under occupation despite the withdrawal of settlers in 2005. "In effect, following Israel's withdrawal, Gaza became a sealed-off, imprisoned and occupied territory," he said.

Prof Dugard said his mandate was solely to report on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and he described as a violation of international humanitarian law the firing of rockets by Palestinians from Gaza into Israel. "Such actions cannot be condoned and clearly constitute a war crime," he said. "Nevertheless, Israel's response has been grossly disproportionate and indiscriminate and resulted in the commission of multiple war crimes."

Read the UN report (pdf):

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Dear President Carter:

I am an American Jew and a member of the Middle East Crisis Response (MECR) of the Hudson Valley of New York (http://www.mideastcrisis.org), a group formed during the summer of 2006 in the wake of Israel's attack on Gaza and its subsequent invasion and massive bombing of Lebanon. Many in the group besides myself are also Jewish and share my feeling that neither the Israeli government nor AIPAC nor the mass Zionist organizations represent us or our beliefs. I am writing to you, however, as an individual who has just read your book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, to express my appreciation of what you have so bravely done to insist that there be honest, open discussion and inquiry in the United States about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the U.S.'s relationship to it.

Crucial questions, too long left untouched or superficially and misleadingly handled by the U.S. media, need to be raised in the public arena. Your book has been significant in enabling a necessary and long-overdue conversation. Even in Israel--particularly in the pages of the leading daily Ha'aretz--there is a debate on occupation and the gradual ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. Unfortunately, much of that debate remains untranslated from the Hebrew and inaccessible to people here. Important Israeli dissident writers such as Israel Shahak have made precisely that point.

There are a few issues I very much wish you had discussed in the book. You did not discuss the institutional racism directed at Palestinians living inside Israel. In fact, you disavow the idea that Israeli "apartheid" has anything to do with racism at all. You also do not include the notion of a secular, democratic state as even one alternative to be considered in resolving the problem.

But overall, you have done something extremely important and have admirably stood your ground amid the onslaught unleashed against you by those who deem sincere attempts to address the reality in Israel-Palestine as "anti-Semitic." Of greatest value is the fact that your voice is one that is hard for people to ignore or dismiss. In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, your voice is one of "moderation," Christianity, religiosity and spirituality, fairness, kindness, reason, and (not least!) incomparable personal experience. It seems to me just the right, credible voice to get the U.S. public started on a vital conversation. Thank you, President Carter.

Harriet Malinowitz

Hillary speaking to AIPAC

You need a strong stomach to read the whole speech:

Senator Clinton's Remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) (2/1/07)

But here are a few nuggets:

"At this moment of peril, what is vital is that we stand by our friend and our ally and we stand by our own values. Israel is a beacon of what's right in a neighborhood overshadowed by the wrongs of radicalism, extremism, despotism and terrorism. We need only look to one of Israel's greatest threats: namely, Iran. Make no mistake, Iran poses a threat not only to Israel, but to the entire Middle East and beyond, including the U.S...

The highest priority of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens and that is why, as I have said, I've been a strong supporter of Israel's right to build a security barrier to keep terrorists out. I have spoken out against the International Court of Justice for questioning Israel's right to build that fence of security. On my trip to Israel a little over a year ago, I went to see the fence with my own eyes. During a trip to Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood, I was greeted by Col. Danny Tirza, who was overseeing the construction of the security fence...

There are no quick solutions for the difficulties we face today, but we know that we have to stand with democracies and free peoples against the threat of nihilism and extremism. That is why we stand with Israel because it is a beacon of democracy in the region; that is why we stand with Israel because its very existence is a defiant affront to anti-Semitism; that is why we stand with Israel because in defeating terror because Israel's cause is our cause. And that is why we stand with Israel because of our shared values and our shared belief in the dignity of men and women and the right to live without fear or oppression..."

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Silencing critics not way to Middle East peace

This article points out the growing importance of grass roots speakers and programs. Censorship on this level is much easier to identify, and becomes harder and harder to defend, especially to a local audience. Thanks, Eldad, for sharing this.


Silencing critics not way to Middle East peace
Tuesday, 06 February 2007
By Joel Beinin

Last Sunday in San Francisco, the Anti-Defamation League sponsored "Finding Our Voice," a conference designed to help Jews recognize and confront the "new anti-Semitism." For me, it was ironic. Ten days before, my own voice was silenced by fellow Jews.

02/06/07 "ICHBlog" -- - I was to give a talk about our Middle East policy to high school students at the Harker School in San Jose. With one day to go, my contact there called to say my appearance had been canceled. He was apologetic and upset. He expected the talk would be intellectually stimulating and intriguing for students. But, he said, "a certain community of parents" complained to the headmaster. He added, without divulging details, that the Jewish Community Relations Council of Silicon Valley had played a role.

I was raised a Zionist. I went to Israel after high school for six months to live on a kibbutz. I met my wife there. We returned four years later thinking we'd spend our lives on a kibbutz, working the land and living the Zionist dream. Why did the council feel the need to silence me?

In fact, this was not our first run-in. I have long advocated equal rights for the Palestinians, as I do for all people. I criticize Israeli policies. I seem to have crossed the council's line of acceptable discourse. Because I am a Jew, it is not so easy to smear me as guilty of this "new anti-Semitism." Instead, hosts like the Harker School, and others, are intimidated, and open dialogue on Israel is censored.

In 2005, Marin's Rodef Sholom synagogue caved to the council and revoked my invitation, unless my talk could be accompanied by a rebuttal. Roy Mash, a board member, resigned in protest. He asked in his resignation letter whether "given Judaism's long and deep tradition of concern for justice and ethics, a Jewish venue is (not) precisely the setting most appropriate for a speaker like Dr. Beinin?"

I was indeed raised to believe that being Jewish meant being actively committed to social justice. I moved to Israel expecting to pursue that ideal. Yet much of what I saw there called this into question.

I tended livestock on Kibbutz Lahav, which was established on the ruins of three Palestinian villages. The Palestinian inhabitants had been expelled and, because they are not Jewish, were unable to return. One day, we needed extra workers to help clean manure from the turkey cages. The head of the turkey branch said we should not ask for kibbutz members to do the work because, "This isn't work for Jews. This is work for Arabushim." "Arabushim" is an extremely derogatory racial term.

I had participated in the civil rights movement in America, picketing Woolworth's stores that wouldn't serve African Americans. Yet in Israel I discovered the same, stark racism. How could this bring peace between Palestinians and Israelis? While still living in Israel, I began to speak out for equal rights for Palestinians, as I had done for blacks in America.

Organizations claiming to represent American Jews engage in a systematic campaign of defamation, censorship and hate-mongering to silence criticism of Israeli policies. They hollow the ethical core out of the Jewish tradition, acting instead as if the highest purpose of being Jewish is to defend Israel, right or wrong.

No one is spared. New York University Professor Tony Judt also moved to Israel with notions of justice. Judt learned, as I did, that most Israelis were "remarkably unconscious of the people who had been kicked out of the country and were suffering in refugee camps to make this fantasy possible." In October, the Polish Consulate in New York canceled a talk by Judt after pressure from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.

Even former U.S. presidents are not immune. Jimmy Carter has been the target of a smear campaign since the release of his latest book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." Carter's most vociferous critics have not challenged him on the issues. Rather, they discredit him with personal attacks, even insinuating that the man who has achieved more than any other American president in Arab/Israeli peacemaking is anti-Semitic.

Why discredit, defame and silence those with opposing viewpoints? I believe it is because the Zionist lobby knows it cannot win based on facts. An honest discussion can only lead to one conclusion: The status quo in which Israel declares it alone has rights and intends to impose its will on the weaker Palestinians, stripping them permanently of their land, resources and rights, cannot lead to a lasting peace. We need an open debate and the freedom to discuss uncomfortable facts and explore the full range of policy options. Only then can we adopt a foreign policy that serves American interests and one that could actually bring a just peace to Palestinians and Israelis.

Joel Beinin co-edited "The Struggle for Sovereignty: Palestine and Israel,."

Stanford professor Joel Beinin's article first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle