Dueling Jewish Perspectives on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

Today I read two articles concerning the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, both focusing in part on recent comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and both reflecting Jewish perspectives. They almost couldn’t have been more opposite. I thought it would be good to post both of these perspectives together, for the sake of comparison, and without any further comments on my part.

The first perspective is from Jewish Voice for Peace, whose tagline is “Israelis and Palestinians. Two Peoples, One Future.” JVP is based in Oakland, California, and describes itself as “a diverse and democratic community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights [to] support the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination.” The second perspective is from Israel Today, which describes itself as “a Jerusalem-based news agency providing a biblical and objective perspective on local news.”

The following is Jewish Voice for Peace’sStatement on Peace Process, 4/11/2014“:


It wasn’t exactly poetry, but Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony to Congress this week on the stalled peace talks might go down in history as a fundamental turning point in the last 20 plus years of US-orchestrated negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. (1)

For the first time— and despite later efforts to backtrack— a US Secretary of State admitted it was the Israelis who derailed talks.

Kerry couldn’t have been clearer about the sequence of events. First Israel refused to release the last group of Palestinian prisoners they had promised to free, then they announced construction of 700 new settlement units, and only then did the Palestinians respond with an announcement that they would attempt to join 15 international human rights conventions.

The US and Israel vigorously criticized that move, prompting many to ask: what kind of “peace process” considers signing on to covenants promoting the rights of children, the disabled, and others a threat to peace? (2)

Of course, unilateral Israeli actions to undermine peace go back much further.

Since the Oslo Accords, the number of Jewish settlers on Palestinian land has more than doubled and today there are some 650,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (3) In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu campaigned for re-election on a promise of one million Jews living in “Judea and Samaria”. (4)

Rather than holding Israel accountable, the United States has repeatedly rewarded the Israel government whenever it violated the law or agreements, now fueling the occupation with $3.2 billion in annual military aid.

During these talks, the United States is acting like a broker—one representing Israel’s interests.

The losers in this peace scam? The Palestinians most of all, but also every Israeli who wants a lasting and just peace.  And every US resident who wants our tax money to be used for freedom and democracy, not occupation and apartheid.

What about the peace framework that Kerry wants as a basis for negotiations?

The terms Kerry and Israel set forth have nothing to do with equality – they’ll require Palestinians to sit at the back of the bus.

But they give us an idea of what will be on the table should talks limp along.

They include an unprecedented demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state. That’s code for condemning Israel’s 25% of citizens who are non-Jewish to second and third class status, and denying the internationally recognized rights of Palestinian refugees. (5)

And the land being negotiated for a future Palestinian “state”?

It looks more like the holes in a piece of Swiss cheese, thanks to decades of US-enabled settlement expansion. Put another way, whatever the rhetoric of a “two-state solution,” Israeli policies have already created a de-facto single state including all of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem, albeit one built on the premise of separate and unequal lives for Jews and non-Jews. This is the very definition of apartheid.

So what next?

At Jewish Voice for Peace, we believe that the struggle for freedom and self-determination will still end, like similar struggles in Northern Ireland and South Africa, at the negotiation table. But that can only happen when all parties can sit down together with equal power.

Israel has one of the strongest militaries of the world, the only nuclear arsenal in the entire Middle East, the unconditional backing of the world’s sole super power, and is the 24th wealthiest country in the world, while the Palestinians across the table remain stateless, impoverished, occupied, or second-class citizens inside of Israel.

But the balance of power is changing.

And the engine of that change is the unstoppable movement of nonviolent resistance by Palestinians and their allies – including Jews of conscience – around the globe. Education, lobbying, the involvement of international legal bodies, demonstrations in the streets in Israel and Palestine, have all made a difference and will continue to grow.

And where our governments have thus far failed us, more and more people everywhere have begun to stand up and use nonviolent, economic power to build pressure on Israel to do the right thing.

The successes of the Palestinian-led nonviolent movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions are growing, with billions of dollars and major multinational corporations already impacted. That pressure has already been felt at this round of talks. That pressure is so significant that Prime Minister Netanyahu mentioned BDS 26 times in his speech to AIPAC, the US largest pro-Israel lobbying organization.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is where the Civil Rights movement was when the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. 

This movement for us as Jews is a form of tochecha, the Jewish tradition of sacred rebuke, which comes from a place of love and is the religious obligation to remind one’s friends to live by their values. It is a nonviolent and principled way to liberate our own community from the dehumanizing role of oppressor.

Can BDS really work? We think so.

Israeli government officials agree. Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid warned that even a limited EU boycott could cost the Israeli economy over $5 billion dollars a year.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni put it even more directly: “The boycott is moving and advancing uniformly and exponentially…Those who don’t want to see it, will end up feeling it.”

Already impacted, even Israel’s business elite is organizing to demand a negotiated agreement.

Certainly, BDS is working better than any strategy has before. It’s a movement rooted in Palestinian civil society – women’s groups, trade unions, students – and so it has no leader that can be stopped. No single funder that can be cut off.

It is fueled instead by the same love for justice, equality, and human rights that has fueled every successful justice movement the world has ever seen.

But why BDS to get to the negotiating table?

Martin Luther King famously wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

“You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

That is precisely what we are doing.

And we ask you to continue to join us in this historic movement at this historic moment. So that all who live in Israel and Palestine, in whatever configuration both peoples choose, can live as equals, with the same opportunities to raise families safely, go to school, and build a future of equality.

Whatever happens in the coming days and weeks, we have turned a corner, and there’s no going back. 

We invite you to join one of the fastest growing justice movements the world has seen. 

1) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/09/world/middleeast/israeli-settlement-plan-derailed-peace-talks-kerry-says.html

2) http://mondoweiss.net/2014/04/absolutely-palestine-process.html

3) http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/oxfam-oslo-20-factsheet.pdf

4) http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/israel-going-for-one-million-jews-in-the-west-bank.premium-1.508510

5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Israel

6) IMF 2013

Israel Today’s perspective was featured in a Breaking Christian News (BCN) article two days ago:

(Israel)-Israel Today reported that Israel was “stunned” by US Secretary of State John Kerry’s accusation that Israel sank peace talks with its plans for new housing for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem, across 1967 lines, in an area Palestinians claim for a future state.

“Poof, that was sort of the moment,” said Kerry, referring to the housing plans.

Israelis, stung by what they’ve labeled the “poof speech,” countered that it was the Palestinians who had “violated their fundamental commitments” by applying to join 15 UN international conventions and treaties.

In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the following remarks on at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting:

“In recent months the State of Israel has conducted negotiations with the Palestinians in order to reach a peace agreement. Israelis expect peace, a genuine peace, in which our vital national interests are assured, with security first and foremost. During these talks we carried out difficult steps and showed a willingness to continue implementing moves that were not easy, in the coming months as well, in order to create a framework that would allow for putting an end to the conflict between us. Just as we were about to enter into that framework for the continuation of the negotiations, Abu Mazen hastened to declare that he is not prepared even to discuss recognizing Israel as the national state of the Jewish People, which we have made clear to both the President of the United States and to other world leaders as well.

“To my regret as we reached the moment before agreeing on the continuation of the talks, the Palestinian leadership hastened to unilaterally request to accede to 14 international treaties. Thus the Palestinians substantially violated the understandings that were reached with American involvement.

“The Palestinians’ threats to appeal to the UN will not affect us. The Palestinians have much to lose by this unilateral move. They will achieve a state only by direct negotiations, not by empty statements and not by unilateral moves. These will only push a peace agreement farther away and unilateral steps on their part will be met with unilateral steps on our part. We are ready to continue the talks but not at any price.”

Israel Today included the following within their statement on the matter:

Israel was stunned on Wednesday, as attested to by the morning newspaper headlines, that US Secretary of State John Kerry had effectively “thrown it under the bus” by apportioning the lion’s share of the blame for failed peace talks to the Jewish state.

During a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Kerry explained the failure of his obsessive peace efforts thus:

“The [Palestinian] prisoners were not released by Israel on the day they were supposed to be released and then another day passed and another day – and then 700 [housing] units were approved in Jerusalem and then poof.”

…What Kerry left out is that the “unhelpful” step taken by the Palestinian leadership not only threw a wrench in current negotiations, but was a fundamental violation of all signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians going back to 1993.

As chief Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni pointed out, when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 treaties with international organizations and conventions, he reneged on the Palestinians’ promise to only seek independence and sovereignty via a bilateral agreement with Israel.

In response to Abbas’ maneuvering, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday ordered his government to suspend all ties and cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

As things currently stand, an overwhelming 92 percent majority of Israelis do not believe negotiations can lead to a final status peace agreement, according to a survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University. Even 87 percent of left-wing Israelis said peace with the current Palestinian leadership is beyond reach.

2 thoughts on “Dueling Jewish Perspectives on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

  1. Adam i read both of these articles this past week, and you are right; they couldn’t be more opposite in tone and content. Amazing, isn’t it?

    JVP is an excellent organization: i just today received their spring newsletter (snail-mail) in which they write about the impact BDS is having…finally! After years of almost being invisible, people are listening. Especially here in the US. I praise God for that and for the work JVP is continuing to do.

    I had to laugh at one line in particular, from the article at Israel Today. When i first read it the other night i believe i laughed outloud:

    “Israel was stunned on Wednesday, as attested to by the morning newspaper headlines, that US Secretary of State John Kerry had effectively “thrown it under the bus” by apportioning the lion’s share of the blame for failed peace talks to the Jewish state”

    They were “stunned?” aha. Don’t know why, but i thought it was funny. Actually i can believe they “were” stunned, in as far as someone representing the US finally speaking the truth, even if it was the one word, “Poof” 🙂

    I commented under the article, about the “throwing Israel under the bus” line. Saying it was the first i’d heard of that phrase being used against someone for speaking the truth.

    Don’t know if you saw this article which appeared at Politico last week and was picked up by Mondoweiss: http://mondoweiss.net/2014/04/heavyweights-netanyahu-crimea.html

    Good article, and was happy to read of a few Washington political “heavyweights” FINALLY speaking the truth on this matter.


    • The difference really is amazing. I’m grateful as well for JVP’s work. I’ve known about their organization for about two years, I believe.

      I hadn’t seen that Mondoweiss article. Thank you for sharing it. I read it just a little bit ago, and it’s good to see what those Washington insiders said. If the tide really is turning in Washington, that’s probably nothing short of a miracle. Other indications that this is the case, from the last 6-7 months, are that AIPAC didn’t get its way with an all-out war on Syria or with Iran sitting alone at the negotiating table.


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