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Nov 20, 2015

Bashing Arabs, Muslims, and Refugees

The bomb attacks in Beirut on November 12th, and in Paris on November 13th, have underscored the brutality of the Islamic State. ISIS has also claimed responsibility for horrific attacks in other countries including Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.

Judging by the vitriolic reactions against Muslims—and especially Syrians—in U.S. society after the Paris bombings, it is clear that few understand that the vast majority of the casualties of ISIS’s bloody strikes are actually Muslims. The group has wreaked havoc in majority Muslim states for a number of years. But so many people in Europe and the United States seem not to understand that the Islamic State does not represent Muslims, and that Muslims are in fact terrified by and abhor the savage tactics of the group. They are trying desperately to escape the lands under ISIS control.

In the same way as during the aftermath of 9/11, we are now witnessing a hysteria against Muslims in the United States. The latest ISIS attack has made many question allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the country; indeed, the House of Representative just approved tougher refugee screening—a brazen move against President Obama, who has threatened to veto such legislation. Earlier this week, thirty governors called for stopping the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States altogether.

In fact, negative perceptions and treatment of Arabs and Muslims started way before 9/11, with media analyst Jack Shaheen characterizing stereotypes of Arabs as “bombers, belly dancers, and billionaires.” After 9/11, Shaheen notes, Muslims and Arabs took on the more heinous stereotype of the villain in Hollywood and in American popular culture.

Stereotyping is the first phase in a vicious cycle that leads to prejudice, and then, to discrimination. This “psychology of prejudice” suggests a strong linkage between stereotyping (for example, “Syrians are violent”), prejudice (“I don’t want Syrians to be settled in my state because they are violent”), and discrimination (“Let’s pass laws against allowing Syrians in our country”). In the United States we have experienced this same process—stereotyping leading to prejudice, leading to discrimination—historically with many ethnic, racial, and other minority groups, but most visibly and profoundly with the African-American community, to disastrous results that continue to reverberate deeply in our society today.

In Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu took advantage of the current global antagonism against Muslims and Islam and declared the Islamic Movement in Israel an unlawful association. The timing for this declaration is clearly to plant the idea in the international community that this Islamic group, which represents many Palestinian citizens in Israel, espouses similar violent strategies as ISIS. The Palestinian civil and human rights group, Adalah, countered that the Islamic Movement “is part of the national representative bodies and elected local bodies of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and all its political activities are in accordance with the law. The order issued by the Defense Minister, without a hearing or trial, is a violation and crackdown on the Islamic Movement’s rights to freedom of association and political expression, and harms the Palestinian-Arab minority in Israel as a whole.”

The situation of the Palestinian citizens of Israel is a true example of institutionalized discrimination. Indeed, there are over 50 laws in Israel, enacted since the establishment of the state in 1948, which discriminate directly or indirectly against the Palestinian citizens of the country in such arenas as “political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures.”

It’s a slippery slope from stereotyping to prejudice to discrimination, and the United States should look at its own history—and that of its allies—as a cautionary tale. It would serve us well to check our words and public pronouncements about Arabs, Muslims, and refugees before making hasty decisions that are harmful to us and to those we are trying to help.

Zeina Azzam is executive director of The Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, the Palestine Center. The views expressed are her own.

Nov 18, 2015

War of Words: Israel and the Semantics of Oppression

by Mohamed Mohamed

The Hebrew word “hasbara” translates to “explaining,” but it is a euphemism for the propaganda that endorses the state of Israel and its actions. In its efforts to influence world opinion and promote itself on the international stage, Israel’s hasbara campaign has relied on misdirection, careful selection of words, empty semantic arguments, and the omission of crucial facts. These tactics are part of a deliberate strategy by Israel and its supporters; one example is The Israel Project’s 2009 “Global Language Dictionary,” which is a propaganda booklet that instructs its readers on the “words that work” and “words that don’t work” when fighting the media war for Israel.

The Concept of Palestine and Palestinian Identity
Supporters of Israel frequently note that a state of Palestine never existed prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948. This implies that Israel was founded on uninhabited territory and that Palestinians have no basis for claiming their own land. It also ignores a historic Palestinian national identity. Similarly, a state called “Native America” never existed, but this certainly does not justify the displacement and atrocities committed against millions of Native Americans.

Along similar lines, supporters of Israel also deny the existence of a Palestinian national identity prior to 1948. In 1969 Golda Meir, one of the founders and prime-ministers of Israel, said that “there were no such thing as Palestinians” and that “they did not exist.” Today, this attitude persists among hardline supporters of Israel. In a 2013 op-ed for Arutz Sheva (Israel National News), Palestinians are described as “the counterfeit Arabs.” Even Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum have parroted this claim as a tactic to draw pro-Israel voters, which suggests that this mindset is still quite popular in pro-Israel circles.

Ironically, Israel is the primary reason behind the reinforcement of the Palestinian identity that many of its supporters wish to deny, as it is logically inevitable that a stronger identity would emerge to distinguish the Arab inhabitants uprooted from their land in 1948. Over the last 67 years, Israel’s continued belligerence and discriminatory policies toward the Palestinians has only served to solidify this identity.

The bottom line is that Israel was established at the expense of an existing native population. The argument that no Palestinian state or national identity existed before Israel is a tool of misdirection that completely ignores the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and the denial of their right to return. This misdirection becomes apparent with Israel’s use of the word “absentee” when referring to the Palestinian residents who were expelled or forced to flee their homes. Such euphemisms are common in Israeli doublespeak.

Israel as an Occupier of Gaza
As part of its propaganda efforts, Israel emphasizes that it “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005. In a 2004 general outline of “The Disengagement Plan,” the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs explicitly states that “there will be no basis for claiming that the Gaza Strip is occupied territory” once Israeli forces and settlers withdraw.

This is an attempt to dilute the perception of Israel as an occupying power and to avoid responsibility for Gaza’s population. Despite physically pulling out of Gaza, Israel maintains “effective control” over the territory. Specifically, it continues to uphold a relentless siege of Gaza’s land, airspace, and territorial waters, which translates into severe limitations on Palestinian economic activity, mobility, and self-determination.

Israeli naval ships frequently open fire on Gaza fishermen who are within the six nautical mile limit imposed by Israel (although 20 miles were allocated in the Oslo Accords). With this limitation, Gaza fishermen are only capable of supplying about 20 percent of the needs of 1.8 million people. Additionally, about 35 percent of Gaza’s agricultural land lies within the Israeli buffer zone, a “no-go” area where Palestinians, including farmers, are at great risk of being shot and killed.
This chokehold also allows Israel to attack and invade Gaza at any moment with relative ease. In fact, over a six-year span, from 2008 to 2014, the number of Israeli wars on Gaza (three) was greater than the number of Knesset elections held (two).

Within the scope of international law, a number of arguments exist as to whether or not Israel can be classified as an occupier of Gaza. Under the Geneva Conventions, some argue that Gaza is occupied territory as long as it remains non-sovereign, while others argue that this only applies to the invasion of sovereign states, a designation Palestinians never had.
These arguments are essentially questions of terminology and hinge on technicalities. Furthermore, international law itself does not guarantee that sovereign states such as Israel will comply, as there is no formal mechanism to enforce these principles. Dozens of ignored UN resolutions condemning Israel are a testament to this reality.

From an economic and humanitarian standpoint, the average Palestinian civilian does not care about how Israel’s treatment of Gaza is labelled. In any case, Israel’s actions are certainly hostile. Even if the crippling siege and other belligerent policies do not formally qualify as acts of war under international law, in practice they devastate the livelihood and well-being of 1.8 million people. Semantic arguments about the word “occupation” are a distraction from tangible consequences of Israeli aggression toward Gaza and the denial of basic freedoms and rights to its people.

Israel as a “Beacon of Democracy” in the Middle East
When appealing to Americans and others on the international stage, Israel is quick to peddle the claim that it is a liberal democracy and shares many of the same core values cherished by modern societies. Recently, this argument has been exploited to counter the apartheid metaphor that is used to describe Israel.

For example, AIPAC describes Israel as a “unique sanctuary of democracy, freedom and pluralism in the Middle East, protecting its citizens’ rights while upholding the progressive values it shares with America.” This statement is highly misleading, if not outright deceptive, as it applies only to Israel’s eight million citizens. It takes advantage of the concept of statelessness, which is a legal status that is unfamiliar to many American spectators, but applies to millions of Palestinians. Using the word “citizens” implies that this includes all members of the population under Israel’s authority.
However, an additional four and a half million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem are effectively under Israeli control, but as stateless people, they are neither citizens of Israel nor of any other state. This means that a third of the people living in territories that Israel “administers” are not entitled to many of the same fundamental rights and protections that it claims to respect. These people are routinely subjected to restrictions on their movement, unequal access to basic services such as water and electricity, imprisonment without charges, collective punishment, and many other unacceptable violations. Unsurprisingly, AIPAC and other blind supporters of Israel neglect to mention these facts, because doing so would severely undermine Israel’s self-proclaimed status as a liberal democracy.

To make matters worse, the roughly 1.5 million Palestinians who do hold Israeli citizenship face “institutional, legal, and societal discrimination,” as noted in a 2010 US State Department report on human rights. One example of this is the Admissions Committees Law passed in 2011, which allows residents of small towns to prevent individuals “who do not suit the lifestyle and social fabric of the community” from residing in these towns. In practice, this law primarily targets Palestinian citizens of Israel but it can also be used to exclude other marginalized groups such as homosexuals and persons with disabilities. Another example is the “Nakba Law” of 2011, which punishes those who commemorate the Nakba or undermine the “Jewish character” of the state. Promoting laws that essentially entrench ethnic or national segregation and restrict freedom of speech goes directly against the so-called common values that Israel claims to share with liberal democracies.
When trying to legitimize its image as a democratic and inclusive state, Israel also points to the fact that its Arab citizens (again, avoiding use of the term “Palestinian”) are elected as Members of Knesset (MK) and appointed to the country’s highest courts. However, important details about this participation are left out.

One MK described Arabs as “worms,” while another referred to them as “invaders” and “new crusaders.” When voicing opposition to discriminatory policies or condemning Israeli military forces, Palestinian MKs have been branded as traitors and terrorists by their fellow MKs. MK Avigdor Lieberman has even called for the trial and execution of MKs (and Arab citizens) who he feels have shown disloyalty to the state by commemorating the Nakba, for example. He questioned why “no Arab MK sings the national anthem or raises the flag on Independence Day,” yet failed to acknowledge that the anthem itself focuses on Jews, thereby excluding Arabs and other non-Jewish citizens.

A deputy interior minister labelled Palestinian opposition MKs as terrorists and called on them to give up their citizenship. Ironically, he added that they are in a “democratic state,” and that they should respect it. Outspoken Palestinian MK Haneen Zoabi faces frequent verbal abuse by other Israeli MKs, and she was also physically attacked while participating in an election panel.  Such incidents clearly indicate that discrimination and racism reach substantial levels within Israeli institutions as well as the public. 

The Apartheid Connection
In light of these facts, defending the democratic character of Israel becomes very difficult. Yet, many argue that the apartheid analogy does not apply to Israel, since the South African apartheid model was fully intended to be a framework of racial segregation and was enforced through formal legislation. They say that Israel does not have such openly racist laws, therefore apartheid does not apply.

Again, this is an empty, semantical argument.  Even if “apartheid” is an imprecise term to describe the Israeli system, the system is undoubtedly an oppressive one. The fact that the Israeli structure even raises such comparisons should be a concern for anyone serious about issues of human rights. Does it matter that Israel holds free elections, has an independent judiciary, and provides a range of civil and political rights to its citizens, when it simultaneously oppresses and rules over four and a half million people who do not enjoy these rights? Is a system of discrimination acceptable as long as it remains implicitly, rather than explicitly, racist?

Supporters of Israel and others interested in the conflict must ask themselves whether Israel’s behavior is acceptable in today’s world, particularly in the democratic “Western” societies. Would the population of Chicago agree to live under military occupation? Would the citizens of Phoenix endure a total siege? Would it be acceptable for local communities to exclude black residents based on their race, or for 50 priests to issue a ruling forbidding the renting of homes to blacks? Would it be normal for a US congressman/woman to refer to Latinos as invaders or worms? The bottom line is that these things would not be tolerated, and Israel should not be an exception.

Policy vs. Image
However, Israel’s hasbara campaigns have been effective in “explaining” its actions to the world and reinforcing the fallacies behind its positive image. Israeli journalist Gideon Levy comments that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is not “hasbarable” because ultimately its policies are unjust and unacceptable. This explains why Israel’s propaganda efforts rely heavily on obscuring key facts, presenting misleading information, and misdirecting audiences away from core issues. By resorting to such deceitful tactics, Israel indirectly recognizes that its policies are too difficult to justify in reality. Logically, why else would it choose a strategy of deception? In fact, the truths of Israel’s establishment and continued existence are so inconvenient that they are also concealed from its own public. This is clear with the depopulated Palestinian villages of 1948, which were physically destroyed and erased from Israeli consciousness, despite being one of the fundamental unresolved issues of the conflict. Until internal and external pressures create overwhelming costs for maintaining the status quo, Israel has no reason to dismantle its apparatus of occupation, oppression, and obfuscation. Until then, Israel’s war of words will continue.

Mohamed Mohamed is the Finance, Grants & Development Associate at The Jerusalem Fund

 The views expressed by speakers, writers, and others do not necessarily reflect those of the Palestine Center or The Jerusalem Fund.

The Palestine Center is a non-political, educational forum and does not take positions on issues.

Interview with Author Noga Kadman

On October 16, 2015, the Palestine Center hosted Israeli researcher Noga Kadman as she presented her recent book, Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948. Kadman’s presentation focused on different mechanisms used to build the collective memory of Israelis after the 1948 war and aspects of marginalization and erasure of Palestinian villages from Israeli consciousness. She argues that this resulted in a picture for Israelis that theirs is a Jewish country with very little Arab history and geography. Kadman asserts that it is very important for Israelis to see with open eyes what happened in the past in order to take responsibility for the harm that was caused and to move forward.

This interview with Noga Kadman was conducted by the Palestine Center Interns.

What sparked your interest in learning about the ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages of 1948?
I was working for years in human rights organizations in Israel, documenting human rights violations in the Occupied Territories and being introduced to that. I became curious to learn more about the history of the conflict and what happened before the occupation and why there were refugee camps in the West Bank. So this brought me to study more about the conflict and the history, and in addition, traveling in Israel and visiting those places that used to be Palestinian villages, and realizing that these were villages. So I wanted to learn more about this, about the encounter between Israelis and the villages.

What does the average Israeli know about these villages?
Quite a few Israelis know that this was an Arab place or an Arab neighborhood in the cities, but it’s just like a title. It’s not deeply understood what it means, that people used to live here not so long ago and what happened to them. And also the magnitude, how many villages, how many people, what happened to them--we don’t have enough knowledge.

So, it’s a distant history to most Israelis…
It’s not only distant, we didn’t receive enough information to have this knowledge [sink] in and be part of the picture and history.

How is this history taught in most schools, if at all?
When I grew up, it was not taught at all. We studied about ‘48, about what we called the “war of independence” and also about the war of ‘67, but we studied just the military aspect of it, and what army came from here and here; nothing about refugees and occupation and all that. Now, it’s changing in the last twenty years. It depends on the schools and the teachers, but there are textbooks that mention it or refer to it and try to make a more balanced view of history. But it’s still marginal and controversial, so in school, you still don’t learn a balanced view of history.

What is it like working at an Israeli human rights organization in a society that is increasingly right-wing?
It’s not easy because many people who work in human rights work for their own oppressed society. But in this case, it is the opposite: we work for another people that our country oppresses. But to many people in our own country, we are perceived as traitors by helping the enemy who wants to kill us. So it’s difficult in many ways: you both encounter very difficult stories and situations of what happens to the Palestinian, and you feel you are responsible in a way because you are part of this country; and you also have constant struggles and discomfort in your own society.

Do you find a good deal of support from fellow Israelis?
Yes, there is. There are many, many groups, human rights groups, political groups, who try to work for the Palestinian cause in this way or another. There is a lot of that, but in general, it is not the mainstream. The mainstream are people that have a good heart. They are not aware or they are dealing with their own things, they have their own prejudices and it is difficult. I often avoid saying what I do. I just say I work in research and writing, a social justice organization, something more general. Or I say I work for ACRI, an organization for civil rights in Israel, which is true, I work with them sometimes, but they also deal with rights to medical care for Israelis. That sounds less controversial.

Many of the Jewish voices in your book offer a deeply sympathetic and remorseful perspective on settling depopulated Arab villages. Why is this, and why are their voices significant to understanding the depopulation and the subsequent repopulation of Palestine?
The people themselves, the Jewish refugees that came, they didn’t chose the situation to live in a house of someone who lost the house. They also lost houses, and many of them - I don’t know how many - but some refused to receive empty houses of Palestinians. They said, “This happened to us, we cannot do it to others.” But many, they didn’t have much choice. They were offered an Arab house, and yes some felt discomfort in this way or another but generally after the years, they accepted that ...this is the reality, this is the inevitable, “We have to defend ourselves, this is a conflict and if it is not us living in their houses, they would live in our houses and we would be somewhere else.”

And with the first wave of immigrants, you mention the systematic erasing. How was this done to the children of the immigrants who were now living in these new homes and maybe were not aware of the memory that existed?
They all know that this place used to be an Arab village before. They mention it in their [the immigrants’] publications. It’s a well-known fact. I also grew up in Jerusalem, in a Palestinian neighborhood and we knew it’s an Arab place, but nothing went beyond this. It is just a title. You don’t really understand what it means and you don’t talk about the people themselves and where they are and what happened to them in ‘48. And you know the history of the place, it was Arab and it was also Roman before and now we are here and we don’t think much about what happened there before.

It’s not something that the [first generation’s] parents would talk about with their kids? Or was it something that they dealt with internally?
The first generation who came, they sometimes dealt with it [the difficulty of living in formerly Palestinian homes] but I found that in most places they didn't deal with it. In some places, they dealt with it a lot. But also the first settlers, the first generation, they were struggling very hard for their own survival, to build their home in a new place. It was very usually ruined [from the war] and very difficult to live in so they didn’t always deal with the moral issue sometimes but that was a thing with the first generation. Later on, the second and third generation don’t deal with it really because they didn’t encounter the houses with the [Palestinian] property inside and sometimes the refugees themselves. The houses they live in, it’s not really a reminder, a concrete reminder of the refugees [for the second and third generations].

Could you discuss the role of national parks and state-owned spaces in the continued erasure of Palestinian villages?
The physical erasure was completed pretty early on, but then there were changes in landscapes sometimes covering the ruins by planting trees on them, making them into recreational parks and forests. And national parks were declared in many places where there used to be Palestinian villages because those villages sometimes were sitting on places that were more ancient than the national park was going to preserve. In those places, sometimes the important past is considered ancient past, and sometimes what is more new, like the [Palestinian] village, was not considered important. Many times, the buildings of the village were erased so you can excavate the more ancient layers. And also the information that is given to tourists in these places focuses on the more ancient history and sometimes ignores the village information and it is very partial. Sometimes they mention a building but they skip the history of the village. They will mention “Ottoman” but not mention Palestinian.

The Jewish National Fund [and other state and non-state funded groups] will plant non-indigenous plants in these public parks. Why is that? Why non-indigenous?
They began planting trees since the beginning of the 18th century. At first they began planting to make it seem more European, to make it look like a forest they were familiar with. So it was mostly pine trees, lots of them. But in the last twenty years, they realized that for environmental reasons, it was not so good, it would not survive well, it will not last storms. Pine trees are very weak and they don’t allow other plants to grow under them. So now they’re trying to make a variety, to plant local species, and some pines, too. There are some native pines in Israel, too, but the ones they planted are not native. In many places, it totally changed the landscape. There are places that are covered with pine trees... even in the desert. The biggest Jewish National Fund park is in the desert, in north Be’er Sheva.

 The views expressed by speakers, writers, and others do not necessarily reflect those of the Palestine Center or The Jerusalem Fund.

The Palestine Center is a non-political, educational forum and does not take positions on issues.

Oct 26, 2015

Snap Shot: 2016 Presidential Candidates' Views on the Middle East and Palestine

This autumn marks the beginning of the 2016 U.S. presidential election cycle, in which a multitude of candidates will compete for their party’s support through a series of primary polls and debates. This year, there is a wide array of candidates on both sides of the ticket. The Republican candidates alone are so numerous that Fox News was forced to broadcast two separate debates. As corporate commitment and campaign spending begin to increase, we present here the presidential candidates by party and their views on Palestine and the broader Middle East. 

Republican Presidential Candidates

Donald Trump- T.V. personality and real estate tycoon 

Donald Trump is one of the Republicans most popular candidates. Even though he isolates himself from the rest of the Republican Party, often attacking and slandering other candidates, Trump has shown great resilience and steadfastness in early polling. His brash nature and refusal to be “politically correct” have a good deal of Republicans rooting for the businessman. 

On the Issues

Israel-Palestine: “I love Israel!” Trump has shown his unbridled support for Israel and the current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In 2013 during the Israeli campaign, Trump released a short video endorsing Netanyahu claiming, “Terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel.” 

Middle East: The issues facing the Middle East today are primarily ISIS, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the Iran deal. Trump’s foreign policy is to “bomb the hell out of Iraqi oil fields” in order to cut the flow of capital to ISIS. This would, of course, require troops on the ground to secure the oil fields, a decision that Trump deems necessary in the fight against the group.

As for Iran, Trump does not fall into the Republican stereotype. Trump says that the deal is a “poorly negotiated deal” that only makes Iran wealthy and powerful. However, he claims that as president, he would not “rip up the deal,” but rather monitor Iran with the utmost scrutiny.

Jeb Bush- Former Florida Governor, Brother of former president G.W. Bush

Jeb Bush is a member of the Bush political dynasty that begins with his father George H.W. Bush and continues through his brother George W. Bush. Among Bush family members, Jeb is the middle ground. He shares similarities with both his father and his brother. Jeb represents a part of the old political party in a race against new and younger faces. 

On the Issues

Israel-Palestine: “We’ve got your back.” Jeb strongly supports the American tie to Israel and believes that the relationship has been strained as of late. He offers reassurance that America will make clear who its friends are and who are its enemies. “Governor Bush’s support for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu is unwavering, and he believes it’s critically important our two nations work seamlessly to achieve peace in the region.” 

Middle East: Jeb is very aware of his brother’s failed campaign in Iraq, but is willing to reopen the possibility of deploying troops to combat ISIS. He thinks that widespread coordination with Middle East governments, especially Iraq, is crucial to bringing down ISIS. 

Ben Carson- Neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital 

Ben Carson is a candidate who is largely a surprise on the list of candidates for the 2016 GOP nomination. He has no political background, but gained a great deal of celebrity due to his skill as a neurosurgeon. His humble background and Christian roots are appealing to many supporters, but his lack of experience is a concern to many. 

On the issues

Israel-Palestine: “I would make it very clear that Israel and the United States have a long, cordial relationship, and I don’t think we should ever leave the Israelis in a position of wondering whether we support them.” Carson has also offered an alternative to the two-state solution by relocating the Palestinians to Egypt so that Israel will be free of Hamas rockets.

Middle East: “I would not hesitate to put boots on the ground [in Syria].” Dr. Carson says that it is necessary to eradicate ISIS while we still can, using all available resources. Quoting Winston Churchill, Dr. Carson says we must, “fight our enemies when we can beat them.”

Marco Rubio- Florida Senator

Marco Rubio is the youngest candidate (age 44) for the nomination in both parties. His experience with foreign policy in the Senate and his youthful energy will be his ticket to combatting other candidates, however, in a crowded race he will need more than just a foreign policy background to succeed against household names. 

On the issues

Israel-Palestine: “The conditions simply don’t exist” [for peace between Israel-Palestine]. Rubio stands firmly with many other GOP candidates, holding strong support for the Israel. “Israel is everything we want that region of the world to be.”

Middle East: Rubio’s foreign policy requires bolstering U.S. armed forces and taking a more forceful position on both Iran and ISIS. “We should also work with our allies, particularly with neighboring states such as Jordan and Turkey, to set up safe zones in border regions of Syria, where the moderate opposition can begin to govern free of the threat of regime (or Islamic State) attacks.”

Ted Cruz- Texas Senator

Ted Cruz is another young candidate (44) for the GOP. As a senator, Cruz will aim to use his foreign policy experience against other, less experienced candidates. His connection to the Tea Party makes him an attractive candidate for many young Republicans who want to move away from the party’s old policies and stances. 

On the issues

Israel-Palestine: “Unapologetically for Israel.” “The principal impediment to peace is that, to date, the Palestinians have refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and have refused to renounce terror.”

Middle East: “I don’t think it’s the job of our military to engage in nation-building.” “If need be,” Cruz says he would deploy U.S. troops to combat ISIS, but his first steps are to “arm the Peshmerga,” and “bomb ISIS back to the Stone Age.” 

Rand Paul- Kentucky Senator

Rand Paul, a Tea Party candidate and current senator from Kentucky is an anomaly in the GOP nomination race. He was the only senator of either party to vote against a bill that would take containment of Iran off the table, though last year he backtracked on this stance saying, I am unequivocally not for containing Iran.” Paul is also less inclined to resolve crises through military means, but rather chooses to pursue diplomacy.

On the issues

Israel-Palestine: “We cannot give away money we don’t have” Paul says, on cutting surplus foreign aid to Israel. He also states that, “Israeli cafes and buses are bombed, towns are victimized by hundreds of rockets, and its citizens are attacked by Palestinian terrorists. It’s time we took a stand for Israel by standing up to the enemies of Israel, the enemies that murder Israeli citizens.”

Middle East: In 2012, Rand Paul is the only senator between both parties to vote against a bill that would take containment of Iran off the table. In the same year, he voted to increase sanctions on Iran to bring them to negotiations. On Iraq, Paul states, “I vow to explore all diplomatic options before sending our armed forces into battle. Finally, if and when we choose to fight, we will empower our military to fight to win.”

Chris Christie- New Jersey Governor

Chris Christie has held the position of Governor of New Jersey from 2009 until the present. He has played a significant role in the Republican Party, most notably as a keynote speaker at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Despite his prowess among Republicans, early polls show his support is mediocre at best. 

On the issues

Israel-Palestine: “A threat to Israel is a threat to America. A threat to the Israeli way of life is a threat to the American way of life. Christie, after visiting Israel, claims, “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.” 

Middle East: On Iran Christie says, “Stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear-weapons capability must be a top priority of the United States of America. Any president, Republican or Democrat, who allows such a thing to occur on his watch, would be acting in a way that is profoundly against the national security interests of the United States and the security interests of our friends in Israel.”

Mike Huckabee- Arkansas Governor

The former governor from Arkansas is not the poll leader, but he can always be counted on to make a strong run within the GOP. Although his international experience is limited, Huckabee’s resume as a governor gives him an edge over other more popular candidates like Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson. 

On the issues

Israel-Palestine: In a trip to Israel in 2014 he said, “I don’t think the [peace] talks are going anywhere at all. Nothing has been asked of the Palestinians, nothing, not one thing. And until there’s an understanding of the Jewish state’s right to exist, I’m not sure there’s anything to negotiate.”

Middle East: Mike Huckabee is more of a hawk than many of his counterparts. When asked about his strategy on ISIS he said, the key is to “arm the Kurds” and “bomb the daylights out of ISIS.” He would go on later to say that he would do “whatever it takes” to defeat ISIS including putting U.S. troops on the ground. 

Carly Fiorina- Businesswoman

Carly Fiorina has experienced a recent surge in the polls and has moved from a lower-middle candidate to the top three. Like Trump, Fiorina has no political background but has made her name as the first female CEO of a Fortune 100 company at Hewlett Packard as well as HP’s first female CEO. 

On the issues

Israel-Palestine: Fiorina shows her unequivocal support for Israel by stating, “My first phone call [as president] would be to my good friend, Bibi Netanyahu, to reassure him that we will stand with the state of Israel.” 

Middle East: On Syria and the humanitarian crisis Fiorina says, “I think the United States, honestly, sadly, cannot relax our entrance criteria. We have to be very careful about who we let enter this country from these war-torn regions to ensure that terrorists are not coming here.” 

Democratic Presidential Candidates

Hilary Rodham Clinton- Former Secretary of State, New York Senator

Hillary Rodham Clinton is currently the poll leader for the Democratic nomination and arguably the strongest of the five candidates. Her political history and her extensive experience in foreign policy gives her authority over every other candidate on both sides of the ticket. 

On the issues

Israel-Palestine: “If anyone challenges Israel’s security, they challenge America’s security.” Clinton has a long record of staunch support for Israel and the Israeli lobby in the U.S.; she has repeatedly condemned the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, UN recognition of a Palestinian state, and “structural bias against Israel” in international organizations. She also says that, “We share bedrock beliefs in freedom, equality, democracy, and the right to live without fear.”

Middle East: Clinton voted for the Iraq war in 2003 and now believes a more forceful presence in Syria is necessary. She has said, “You know, ISIS is a phenomenon and ISIS came out of the terrible turmoil in Syria. I personally had advocated that we do more to help the rebels against Assad because I worried that terrorists would take and occupy territory, and that has come to pass, not only with ISIS but other Al-Qaeda affiliates and terrorist networks.”

Bernie Sanders- Vermont Senator

Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, announced his candidacy on April 23, 2015. While his entry was received with ambivalence, he has quickly gained popularity over the course of the past six months and is currently Hillary Clinton’s main contender in the Democratic primary race. In the most recent poll conducted by NBC/WSJ, Sanders was the first choice candidate of 35 percent of primary voters, second to Clinton’s 42 percent.

On the issues

Israel-Palestine: Sanders differs slightly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict compared to other candidates. While he supports Israel, he is among the first to take a stance against Israeli settlements and blockade of Gaza. He has said, “The Palestinians must unequivocally recognize Israel’s right to exist, and hold accountable those who have committed terrorist acts. The Israelis must end the blockade of Gaza, and cease developing settlements on Palestinian land.”

Middle East: Sanders’ voting record on the Middle East shows he takes a clear non-interventionist approach to foreign policy. He voted against the first Gulf War and the second Gulf War in 2003. On ISIS Sanders says, “While we must be relentless in combating terrorists who would do us harm, we cannot and should not be policeman of the world, nor bear the burden of fighting terrorism alone. The United States should be part of an international coalition, led and sustained by nations in the region that have the means to protect themselves. That is the only way to defeat ISIS and to begin the process of creating the conditions for a lasting peace in the region.”

Martin O’Malley- Former Maryland Governor

Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, has been consistently polling in the single digits for the Democratic presidential nomination since he announced in May. O’Malley, like Sanders, has positioned himself as a more progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton. With regards to foreign policy, O’Malley often sees American engagement with the rest of the world through an economic lens.

On the issues

Israel-Palestine: “I think the relationship between the United States and Israel is strong, will remain strong, and must be strong for our own security,” O’Malley said. “But also, we have to continue to wage peace, and in this context, waging peace means pushing for a two-state solution.”

Middle East: O’Malley believes in “containing, degrading, and defeating ISIS,” which includes “an integrated approach...focused not only on military power, but on political solutions. We will not be successful in degrading ISIS if the number of militants taken off the battlefield is exceeded by the number of new recruits replacing them.”

Jim Webb- Former Virginia Senator

As a former Democratic Senator from Virginia with a lengthy military background (and a former Republican), Webb is a more centrist candidate compared to the increasingly left-leaning campaigns of O’Malley, Sanders and Clinton. As a former military man, his campaign has attempted to frame him as strong on foreign policy.

On the Issues

Israel-Palestine: In 2009 Webb responded to the escalating violence in Gaza saying, “Israel indeed has a right to defend itself from Hamas rocket attacks, but in my view a meaningful ceasefire must be brokered to stop the escalation of violence, followed by a serious conflict resolution process that involves all parties in the region. To state the obvious, a lasting solution to the conflict in the Middle East is critical to global peace and security.”

Middle East: Webb appears to be in strong support of military intervention as needed. In regards to the “war on terror,” he says, “We will act vigorously against terrorist organizations if they are international in nature and are a direct threat to our national security. This includes the right to conduct military operations in foreign countries if that country is unwilling or unable to address the threat.”

 The views expressed by speakers, writers, and others do not necessarily reflect those of the Palestine Center or The Jerusalem Fund.

The Palestine Center is a non-political, educational forum and does not take positions on issues.

Sep 24, 2015

The Pope and the Refugee Crisis

The first visit of Pope Francis to the United States coincides with the autumnal equinox, when days and nights all over the world are equal in length. Such auspicious timing resonates with the Pope’s message of global parity in all arenas, including human and economic rights, environmental conservation, and protection of the vulnerable.

Pope Francis’s populist religious and international persona puts him in a unique place in terms of encouraging and supporting work for what he called, during his White House speech, “the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom.” Indeed, he is credited with helping to facilitate the recent rapprochement between the United States and Cuba.

Last November Pope Francis stated, “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery… The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance.” He then issued an appeal earlier this month for all Catholic institutions—parishes, monasteries, and the like—in Europe to take in families of refugees, starting with two parishes within the Vatican. It would be a positive gesture if the pontiff would ask the same of Catholic institutions in the United States.

President Obama has committed to accepting 10,000 refugees from Syria over the coming year. Secretary of State Kerry’s statement that he would like the United States to accept up to 100,000 refugees by 2017 would be a more generous step, though it is unknown whether Congress would approve the plan.

Many of the families fleeing Syria come from the 12 Palestinian refugee camps there, including the largest one, Yarmouk Camp. The experience of displacement is familiar to them; most fled Palestine decades ago, in 1948, when the state of Israel was established. About three-quarters of a million Muslim and Christian Palestinians fled for their lives, many forced to do so as a result of armed conflict. Generations have been born and raised in the camps. Some of them continue to carry the keys to their homes in Palestine, even as they flee from the dangerous situation in Syria at present. For them, “It is 1948 all over again.

There are 560,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria registered with UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees), 95 percent of whom are in constant need of humanitarian aid. Half of the total are now internally displaced. Lebanon and Jordan host approximately 44,000 and 15,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria, respectively.

Despite the laudatory efforts of Europe and the incipient efforts of the United States, the vast majority of refugees from Syria continue to remain in the region—mostly in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. A political solution in Syria is sorely needed. Pope Francis, President Obama, and Arab and European leaders must have this as their overarching goal.

Like their co-religionists, Catholic Christian Arabs regard Pope Francis as the supreme leader of the Catholic Church. Christian Arabs (approximately 10-12 million) in general, as well as non-Christian Arabs, have a special and deep respect for the Pope. And at this crucial time in history, they look to him to help in providing solace and relief for those fleeing war and danger. They also hope he will enlighten others in the world in the principles of equality and peace with justice for all, especially the refugees.

Zeina Azzam is executive director of The Jerusalem Fund. The views in this essay are hers and do not reflect those of the Fund.

Sep 21, 2015

Talking BDS with Chris Hedges

Last week, the Palestine Center hosted its first speaker of the fall, author and Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Chris Hedges. In a lecture entitled “Building the BDS Movement for Justice in Palestine,” Hedges asserted that the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement is the only remaining avenue by which activists can effectively advocate for the rights of Palestinians. Likening Israel to apartheid South Africa, he argues that only by crippling Israel economically can activists bring the state to the negotiating table. Prior to the lecture, the Palestine Center interns sat down with Hedges to gain some insight on the reasons for which he supports the BDS movement. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Will pressure on corporations and simple shifts in consumer culture be enough to disrupt the functions of a political entity such as the state of Israel? Do political institutions need to endorse BDS in order for the movement to be successful?

Chris Hedges: No, not unless there is an arms embargo as well. Boycott, divestment, and sanctions includes weapons; that is key.

So will it be necessary that political institutions support an arms embargo?
Hedges: The problem is [that] political institutions won't get behind it. We have to build a mass movement that demands it because political institutions are hostage to corporate power and corporate profit. General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon are essentially running foreign policy; they want endless war because that means endless profit. We just saw Jeremy Corbyn become the head of the Labour Party: he doesn’t officially support BDS, but he supports almost everything that BDS stands for, including a two-way arms embargo (meaning we won’t buy from Israel, and we won’t sell to Israel). That is the only hope we have left because within the system, money has replaced the vote. Between the Israel lobby and the war industry, elected officials have just been bought up. You saw it in the middle of the bombing of Gaza a year ago: 100 senators [voted to support the bombing] like it was like the old Soviet Union. You are telling me that not one senator disagrees with what is patently a war crime: the bombing of a civilian population that is defenseless, with no army, no mechanized units, no artillery, no navy, and no command in control.

[BDS is] all we have left, and that is why Israel is quite frightened. They are trying to pass laws in states making it illegal. They understand it is a long process, but just as the apartheid regime in South Africa was discredited and sanctions brought them down, I think that Israel is fearful [of the same fate]. This movement has a lot more support in Europe than in the United States, but it is growing. When you have institutions calling for divestment, it is moving. It is the biggest threat to Israel.
There are some well known academics, such as Norman Finkelstein, who have criticized BDS and have subsequently been denounced by Palestinian solidarity circles. What do you think of these BDS criticisms?

Hedges: First of all, [Finkelstein] is a friend and someone I admire very much. He has paid a horrific price for his integrity and courage. As I understand it, his criticism of BDS [refers to] the intent behind it: he believes that its intent is to destroy the Jewish State. But I don’t know what other mechanism we have at this point. Politically, the Israeli government does whatever it wants. It ignores Washington: it is no secret that the White House detests Bibi Netanyahu and the [Likud] government, but they are almost powerless, given the strength of the Israel lobby, to carry out any kind of restraint. They humiliate the Secretary of State, John Kerry, when he visits; they just don’t care. And the Congress is bought and paid for, as we saw with the [2014] vote in which 100 senators, like wind-up AIPAC dolls, trotted out to cheerlead not an act of war, but an act of mass murder [in Gaza]. I don’t think there is any other mechanism we have. We have to make [BDS] work.

The expansion of BDS to the global scale is an effective method of advocacy for the Palestinian diaspora. But how will it affect those on the ground in Palestine who are in need of the assistance of USAID and other organizations?

Hedges: Well, USAID is a weapon used against Hamas. Let’s be clear: it’s a counter-insurgency weapon. Money gets funneled to the Palestinian Authority because it is pliable and malleable to U.S. and Israeli interests, so the idea that USAID is providing significant resources to Palestinians is just incorrect. The only group that is doing that is the UN. At this point, the level of human suffering  in Gaza is so egregious, and there is so little help from the international community, that I think it has become imperative for us to build some kind of resistance. Things in Gaza have really deteriorated in terms of daily life. It has become horrific; I don’t see how BDS is going to make anything worse. Israel controls everything that goes in and out.

Do you think the BDS movement would be more effective if it endorsed a political solution: either one-state, two-state, or something else?

Hedges: No. I think the power of the BDS movement is in bringing Israel to the [negotiating] table and in punishing Israel enough that they stop the slow motion genocide that they’ve put in place. They have already taken so much land: 40 percent of the West Bank and all the aquifers, including [those] in Gaza. It’s going to be really hard to roll back, but it can be rolled back if Israel is punished the way South Africa was punished. They are already an international pariah. I don’t think people recognize that on the world stage, Israel is a pariah. The linchpin is the United States. Without U.S. support, Israel can’t do what it does. That is why it is vitally important that the BDS movement gains support in the States: if we can get enough traction behind it, and once Israel is not propped up by the U.S. empire, it’s finished. I mean, it has to change.

Another criticism of BDS is that people often see it as the end and not the means; however, BDS is just one tool in a toolbox of a variety of tactics for Palestinian advocacy. How can organizations continue to work on BDS campaigns without losing sight of the main goal?  

Hedges: What would be the other tactics at this point?

Well, there is always protesting, lobbying…

Hedges: Lobbying is a waste of time. It is an utter waste of money and time. Under international law, Hamas has a right to defend itself; that's just a fact which most people don’t want to ingest. According to international law, if a subject population is attacked and appeals to the international community for help, and there is no help forthcoming, they have a right to resist. So Hamas has every right to resist. The Qassam rockets, I think, are more of a psychological weapon; that’s another issue. Hamas has every right to do what is does. I would argue that the Qassam rockets are a war crime because they are indiscriminate, but they don't compare to the war crimes committed by the Israeli government because the size of disparity is so vast. And [look at the] numbers: you had over 2,000 dead, 500 [of whom were] children, while almost every Israeli killed was a soldier. For those of us on the outside, BDS is the tactic, whether there is a one-state solution or a two-state solution. At this point, we have to force Israel to begin to recognize the rights of Palestinians—they don’t even do that—and then whatever is negotiated is negotiated. Israel has to be crippled. That is the only way Israel is going to bend.

So we are not even necessarily talking about fully scaling back but rather about bringing Israel to the negotiation table.

Hedges: Well, [we will bring Israel to the negotiation table] the same way that South Africa was brought to the negotiation table. South Africa didn’t have a choice. It’s not like they developed some sort of sensitivity to racial justice; it's because they were pressured. We have to build the same kind of pressure on Israel if we are to successfully defend the interests of the Palestinians.

The views expressed by speakers, writers, and others do not necessarily reflect those of the Palestine Center or The Jerusalem Fund.

The Palestine Center is a non-political, educational forum and does not take positions on issues.