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April 20, 2016 8

Why I’m Speaking to Students at J Street U

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium on April 17, 2016.

J Street U

This morn­ing, I will speak to stu­dents at the J Street U National Assem­bly, the annual gath­er­ing of more than 200 young lead­ers from across the coun­try who con­verge on Wash­ing­ton D.C. to dis­cuss the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, and to exchange views about what they can do on cam­pus to advance a two-state solu­tion. J Street U reached out to me seek­ing to engage with the Jew­ish com­mu­nity, eager to estab­lish a rela­tion­ship with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which it has never had.

As I begin to chart the course of my lead­er­ship, I felt it was impor­tant that I accept this invi­ta­tion. I feel this way because of my con­vic­tion that it is vital to engage with all mem­bers of our com­mu­nity, even and espe­cially those with whom we might have disagreements.

We can’t talk only to those who are aligned with us on every point.

In our time of hyper-polarization and the ero­sion of civil dis­course, I believe it’s imper­a­tive that the orga­nized Jew­ish lead­er­ship mod­els the traits that we want to define the broader pol­i­tics in our coun­try. When I started my tenure as CEO, the coun­try was locked in a bit­ter debate over the Iran deal. More than any­thing, the expe­ri­ence showed me that our com­mu­nity suf­fers from an inabil­ity to thought­fully and respect­fully engage across polit­i­cal divides.

I saw it first­hand as Jews who sup­ported the deal as well as those who opposed the deal both were attacked viciously for their views, par­tic­u­larly by fel­low Jews. I was dis­mayed by the self-destructive behav­ior — tak­ing out news­pa­per ads, plas­ter­ing munic­i­pal buses, exco­ri­at­ing oth­ers with ad home­nim attacks — such attacks don’t advance the debate. They dimin­ish all of us.

For a peo­ple who ele­vated the notion of dis­sent as a bedrock prin­ci­ple of our reli­gious prac­tice, the unwill­ing­ness to coun­te­nance oppos­ing views is counter to the best tra­di­tions of our peo­ple. As a leader, I will not engage in these tac­tics. Instead, as the CEO of ADL, I will be an active advo­cate for civil­ity and avoid the pol­i­tics of per­sonal destruction.

Build­ing from this frame, I see my remarks today as a major oppor­tu­nity for ADL to accom­plish two things.

The first is to deliver the mes­sage that, at ADL, we are com­mit­ted to ensur­ing Israel remains a safe and secure, Jew­ish and demo­c­ra­tic state, as enshrined in its procla­ma­tion of inde­pen­dence. It was that remark­able Zion­ist vision expressed from the cra­dle of Israel’s birth that cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and the world, the notion that Israel would be a coun­try unlike all others:

“…based on free­dom, jus­tice and peace as envis­aged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure com­plete equal­ity of social and polit­i­cal rights to all its inhab­i­tants irre­spec­tive of reli­gion, race or sex; it will guar­an­tee free­dom of reli­gion, con­science, lan­guage, edu­ca­tion and culture…”

Frayed Israel Flag

That is why ADL has had a pol­icy of sup­port for a two-state solu­tion for decades. This means advo­cat­ing for the legit­i­macy and secu­rity of the Jew­ish state even as we sup­port Pales­tin­ian dig­nity and equal­ity of Arab cit­i­zens in Israel. These ideas should not be in con­flict. Rather, they are con­sis­tent with our cen­ten­nial com­mit­ment to civil rights and social justice.

Sec­ondly, I see an oppor­tu­nity to deliver an impor­tant mes­sage to these impas­sioned stu­dents who are gal­va­nized by the imper­a­tive to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. At ADL, we equally want to see a res­o­lu­tion of the con­flict. Israel must take real, mean­ing­ful mea­sures to pro­mote an end to the impasse. How­ever, the idea that peace can be brought about only by apply­ing pres­sure to one side of the con­flict — Israel — is a strat­egy bound to backfire.

Fur­ther iso­lat­ing Israel at a time of great local tumult and regional volatil­ity will only rein­force the polit­i­cal psy­chol­ogy of Israelis who eye con­ces­sions made in the con­text of nego­ti­a­tions with the Pales­tini­ans as inevitably endan­ger­ing them. And this fear is real. It is sub­stan­ti­ated in the unrav­el­ing of the mod­ern Mid­dle East, the rise of vio­lent non-state actors com­mit­ted to the destruc­tion of Israel, ter­ror­ist groups like Hezbol­lahISIS and Hamas, and the regional power of Iran whose rev­o­lu­tion­ary ide­ol­ogy remains firmly rooted in anti-Semitism. As Israelis look around they see regional chaos engulf­ing their neigh­bor­hood: whole­sale slaugh­ter in Syria, chaos in Sinai, chal­lenges to the sta­bil­ity of their friends in Jor­dan. Any rea­son­able approach to solv­ing the con­flict in order to be cred­i­ble in the eyes of Israel must bear in mind this new reality.

Given these facts, it is only the con­stancy of Amer­i­can guar­an­tees of moral and phys­i­cal sup­port that will under­gird an even­tual agree­ment. And under­min­ing that sup­port endan­gers the prospects of peace. While a respon­si­ble approach should rec­og­nize that there are steps that Israel must take to ensure the via­bil­ity of a two-state solu­tion, a rea­son­able approach must have expec­ta­tions of the Pales­tini­ans as well.

Ignor­ing the steps they also must take, com­pro­mises they too must make to achieve peace, does a deep dis­ser­vice toward that goal.

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The fact is that the Pales­tini­ans, under the lead­er­ship of Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Abbas, twice rejected seri­ous Israeli peace offers, once in 2008 dur­ing direct talks between Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen, and again under the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion — an admin­is­tra­tion which I was a part of. When Pres­i­dent Obama offered Pres­i­dent Abbas an Amer­i­can frame­work doc­u­ment for the res­o­lu­tion of the final sta­tus of the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, Abbas decided to ignore it entirely. That is an incon­ve­nient fact for some who wish to por­tray the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict as a sim­plis­tic story of Israel’s unwill­ing­ness to make peace. But it is a fact that can­not be ignored.

The cham­pi­ons of Pales­tin­ian self-determination must hold the Pales­tin­ian lead­er­ship to task for its fail­ures as well.

But even as I will make these points, I want to stress that despite this, we must find the areas where we can be partners.

It is vital to be in con­ver­sa­tion with these stu­dents and the next gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Jew­ish lead­ers because it they who can cred­i­bly bro­ker crit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions on cam­puses rooted in a com­mit­ment to peace, while unmask­ing the dam­ag­ing effects of BDS and anti-normalization.

The imper­a­tives for social jus­tice today do not lie in the Israeli-Palestinian nego­ti­a­tions alone. We can­not let our dif­fer­ences over how to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace keep us from work­ing together to address so many other chal­lenges fac­ing our nation. There are vital issues of struc­tural racism that we must address now, mat­ters of press­ing racial injus­tice that wrack our own soci­ety. There are dem­a­gogues ris­ing to power in Europe and the intro­duc­tion of a ter­ri­ble new type of polit­i­cal dis­course that threat­ens our fun­da­men­tal values.

The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 with an endur­ing mis­sion that still rings true today: to stop the defama­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and to secure jus­tice and fair treat­ment to all. For more than 100 years, we have worked to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of big­otry even as we equally have fought for civil rights and social jus­tice for Jews and other mar­gin­al­ized people.

But it always has been a shared strug­gle, one that we have not waged our­selves but that has been a prod­uct of alliances, coali­tions and part­ner­ships. And the work is not yet com­plete. There is still much to do be done. Hope­fully we can do it, together.

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April 20, 2016 0

As Passover Approaches Temple Mount Tensions Remain

With Passover approach­ing, Israeli author­i­ties are gear­ing up for poten­tial ten­sions over the Tem­ple Mount/Noble Sanctuary.

The sacred space has long been the focal point of reli­gious and polit­i­cal ten­sions and con­flicts. The respon­si­bil­ity for the site is shared by Israel, which has sov­er­eignty over the site, and Jor­dan, whose Cus­to­dian Min­istry has man­aged the site since the 1994 peace treaty between Jor­dan and Israel. The agree­ment includes a clause restrict­ing Jews from pray­ing on the Mount, known infor­mally as the “status-quo.” The Waqf, an Islamic reli­gious trust, over­seas the day-to-day oper­a­tions at the site.

Credit: Andrew Shiva

Credit: Andrew Shiva

There have been many flash­points.  For years, there have been accu­sa­tions among Pales­tini­ans and across the region of a con­spir­acy by Israel to “Judaize” Jerusalem, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to this shared holy site. In 2000, then-Israeli oppo­si­tion leader Ariel Sharon vis­ited the site, which the Pales­tini­ans used as an excuse to launch the Sec­ond Intifada. Hamas, the Gaza-based ter­ror group, even praised the recent bus bomb­ing in Jerusalem as a “nat­ural reac­tion” to Israel’s “des­e­cra­tion of the Al-Aqsa Mosque” located on the site.

In recent years ten­sions relat­ing to the site have inten­si­fied, with a notice­able increase in the num­ber of Jews vis­it­ing and secretly pray­ing on the Mount, a vio­la­tion of the status-quo. Among them, Israeli gov­ern­ment min­is­ters and politi­cians, some of whom have called for Jews to be allowed to pray on the Mount.

And over the past week, other inci­dents have focused atten­tion on the sacred space.  Last week, the Tem­ple Mount Insti­tute, a Jew­ish mes­sianic orga­ni­za­tion, con­ducted a secret Jew­ish wed­ding on the Mount, which was filmed and posted on social media. While it may sound strange to con­demn a Jew­ish wed­ding at a holy Jew­ish site, the inci­dent was part of the larger, poten­tially explo­sive effort by some on the reli­gious right, to change the sta­tus quo on the Tem­ple Mount.

And from the Pales­tin­ian side, there was the adop­tion by the UNESCO exec­u­tive board of a highly-biased, one-sided res­o­lu­tion on Jerusalem which ignored the Jew­ish con­nec­tion to holy sites like the Tem­ple Mount and West­ern Wall. The res­o­lu­tion described both sites only in their Muslim/Arabic names, alleged Israel was plant­ing fake Jew­ish graves, and crit­i­cized, on polit­i­cal grounds, a recent Israeli deci­sion to build an egal­i­tar­ian prayer area in the West­ern Wall Plaza. Shock­ingly, a num­ber of West­ern coun­tries voted to sup­port the res­o­lu­tion, includ­ing France, Spain and Sweden.

The Israeli gov­ern­ment, much to its credit, has taken steps to reduce ten­sions, includ­ing ban­ning all gov­ern­ment min­is­ters and Knes­set mem­bers from vis­it­ing the Mount. They have also worked closely with US and Jor­dan­ian gov­ern­ments on a plan to install sur­veil­lance cam­eras on the Tem­ple Mount, which would help refute claims that Israel is vio­lat­ing the sta­tus quo. In an unfor­tu­nate devel­op­ment how­ever, Jor­dan announced this week that it was drop­ping this plan due to objec­tions from the Pales­tini­ans who were “skep­ti­cal” about the ini­tia­tive. Pales­tini­ans had also placed notices on the Mount threat­en­ing to smash any secu­rity cam­eras which were installed. This is not an encour­ag­ing development.

In the ancient tra­di­tion of Passover, Jews were required to make a pil­grim­age to Jerusalem and bring a spe­cial Passover sac­ri­fice to the Jew­ish Tem­ple. While the sac­ri­fice is no longer prac­ticed, the next week will bring many tens of thou­sands of Jews to the Old City of Jerusalem and West­ern Wall area adja­cent to the Tem­ple Mount for prayers, bless­ings and celebrations.

While Israel must con­tinue efforts to ensure the status-quo remain unchanged, the Pales­tini­ans must refrain from fur­ther esca­lat­ing the ten­sions by using the Mount as a polit­i­cal issue to attack Israel. Any seri­ous esca­la­tion of ten­sions over the Tem­ple Mount/Noble Sanc­tu­ary — over Passover and beyond — could turn into a poten­tially explo­sive and vio­lent situation.

 

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April 19, 2016 0

The Iranian Regime Has Not Changed

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium

Iran Deal-condensed

Talks in Geneva over the Iran Deal in 2015.

A lit­tle over a year ago, the Anti-Defamation League reacted to the newly announced para­me­ters of the agree­ment between the world pow­ers and Iran, say­ing it left us with “many unan­swered ques­tions” about Iran’s nuclear pro­gram and the Islamic Republic’s inten­tion to fully and trans­par­ently uphold its com­mit­ments. “The Iran­ian regime has not changed, “ADL said then, “and we do not expect a change in its behavior.”

A year later, and months into the imple­men­ta­tion of that agree­ment, there is no clear evi­dence that Iran is vio­lat­ing its com­mit­ments, although our ques­tions on Iran’s true inten­tions regard­ing its long-term nuclear ambi­tions remain.

These ques­tions are more impor­tant than ever with ongo­ing debate tak­ing place in Wash­ing­ton over whether the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion should take more steps to facil­i­tate inter­na­tional bank­ing trans­ac­tions and trade between Iran and other states.

With this dis­cus­sion under­way, it’s timely to review the pre­dic­tions made by some experts that the agree­ment would lead to a more mod­er­ate and con­struc­tive Iran. Some opined that the deal would usher in a new approach, mak­ing it a fit­ting mem­ber of the com­mu­nity of nations. The steady pace of com­mer­cial and diplo­matic del­e­ga­tions vis­it­ing Tehran might lead one to believe that there is a glas­nost afoot.

Yet while there may be improved p.r., the regime has changed very lit­tle. It con­tin­ues to dis­play lit­tle regard for the human rights of its own cit­i­zens. It main­tains its poli­cies of regional aggres­sion includ­ing weapons devel­op­ment and test­ing. And it has not slowed its sup­port of ter­ror­ism and spread of base hatreds against Israel and its Jew­ish peo­ple. Indeed, just this week the sup­pos­edly reformed minded Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani called for vig­i­lance “against the dan­ger of the Zion­ist regime” and accused it of “con­tin­ued massacres.”

So much for change.

Unceas­ing Human Rights Vio­la­tions

Iran’s fail­ure to change, despite hopes for greater “open­ness” and “mod­er­a­tion” is most evi­dent in its abysmal human rights record. As the Spe­cial Rap­por­teur for Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Sha­heed, recently told the U.N. Human Rights Coun­cil, there “is an alarm­ing surge in the rate of unlaw­ful exe­cu­tions in the coun­try, and ongo­ing arbi­trary arrests, deten­tions and pros­e­cu­tions of indi­vid­u­als for the exer­cise of their fun­da­men­tal rights.“ In 2015, accord­ing to offi­cial gov­ern­ment records at least 966 peo­ple were exe­cuted — the high­est num­ber since 1989, and 10 times as much as a decade ago. Grass­roots reports pro­vide higher rates.

Amnesty Inter­na­tional reports that Iran is the world’s lead­ing execu­tor of juve­niles — and at least 160 indi­vid­u­als under the age of 18 are cur­rently on death row. The Spe­cial Rap­por­teur reported that just since Jan­u­ary, “at least 47 jour­nal­ists and social media activists were report­edly detained in the coun­try …and over 272 inter­net cafe busi­nesses were report­edly closed in 2015 for their alleged ‘threat to soci­etal norms and values.’”

Iran con­tin­ues to per­se­cute reli­gious minori­ties, par­tic­u­larly the Baha’i com­mu­nity, restrict­ing their rights, as the Spe­cial Rap­por­teur said, to “openly man­i­fest their beliefs, to edu­cate their chil­dren, and to earn a liv­ing.” One recent exam­ple: Iran impris­oned a young Baha’i woman whose sole crime was protest­ing the poli­cies that pre­vented her from pur­su­ing higher education.

A legal sys­tem estab­lished by a gov­ern­ment that accords sec­ond class sta­tus to a spe­cific cat­e­gory of its own cit­i­zens, restrict­ing their access to basic ser­vices like edu­ca­tion and shrink­ing their basic civil rights is unacceptable.

Push­ing the enve­lope on aggres­sive weaponry

Pres­i­dent Obama recently said that while “Iran, so far, has fol­lowed the let­ter of the (nuclear) agree­ment” it is under­min­ing the “spirit of the agree­ment” with its “provoca­tive” actions. Most egre­giously, Iran thumbed its nose at the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity with its March launch of long-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles — an action restricted by UN Secu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 2231.

An aerial view of a heavy-water production plant, which went into operation despite U.N. demands that Iran roll back its nuclear program, in the central Iranian town of Arak, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2006. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared Saturday, after the inauguration of the plant, that his nation's controversial nuclear program poses no threat to any other country, even Israel "which is a definite enemy."  (AP Photo/ ISNA, Arash Khamoushi)

An aer­ial view of a heavy-water pro­duc­tion plant, which went into oper­a­tion despite U.N. demands that Iran roll back its nuclear pro­gram, in the cen­tral Iran­ian town of Arak, Sat­ur­day, Aug. 26, 2006. (AP Photo/ ISNA, Arash Khamoushi)

Four of the six world pow­ers who signed the Iran­ian agree­ment — the U.S., U.K., France and Ger­many — sent a let­ter to the heads of the U.N. and Secu­rity Coun­cil call­ing Iran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile oper­a­tions “incon­sis­tent with” and “in defi­ance of” the Secu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion which bars mis­siles that could carry nuclear weapons. In an omi­nous wink to the coun­try Iran has most pub­licly threat­ened, the Iran­ian news agency Fars said one of the mis­siles tested on March 6 had “Israel must be wiped off the Earth,” writ­ten along its side in Hebrew.

And it’s not just bal­lis­tic mis­siles. In a recent Iran­ian news report, Brigadier Gen­eral Hos­sein Salami of the Iran­ian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards threat­ened: “The Zion­ist regime will col­lapse in the near future. When Hezbol­lah has stock­piled over 100,000 mis­siles, it means Iran has tens of times more than that. Iran is in pos­ses­sion of dif­fer­ent classes of mis­siles, and this power is unstop­pable.” Around the same time, offi­cials in the city of Lamard held a mil­i­tary train­ing pro­gram for chil­dren with the goal of “con­quer­ing Tel Aviv.”

And the weapons pro­lif­er­a­tion is not just related to Israel. Three times in the last two months, U.S. Naval ships have seized large caches of weaponsbelieved to be sent by Iran intended for Houthi rebels in Yemen. And oth­ers have reported exten­sively on the con­tin­ued train­ing and weapons deploy­ment in Syria in sup­port of the Assad gov­ern­ment whose bru­tal­iza­tion of its own cit­i­zenry insti­gated the civil war that con­tin­ues to wrack the coun­try and desta­bi­lize the region.

Con­tin­ued cam­paign to destroy Israel and its Jew­ish population

Mean­while, even as Iran puts on a pub­lic face to court inter­na­tional busi­ness and invest­ment, its pro­pa­ganda machine churns out base con­spir­acy the­o­ries about Jews and Israel. A recent absurd alle­ga­tion asserted that imports of “genet­i­cally mod­i­fied prod­ucts are a ‘Zion­ist plot’ to infect Ira­ni­ans with dis­eases and a ‘seri­ous exam­ple of infil­tra­tion.’ And, while Pres­i­dent Rouhani has not touted the issue like his pre­de­ces­sor Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ahmadine­jad had, it is appar­ent that Holo­caust denial and mock­ery are very much alive and well within Iran­ian soci­ety, with aca­d­e­mic exam­i­na­tions of the issue and car­toon contests.

The Jew­ish fes­ti­val of Purim, which com­mem­o­rates ancient Persia’s Queen Esther and Mordechai’s sav­ing of the Jews from the evil Haman who planned to kill them all, has long pro­vided anti-Semitic fod­der in Iran. Point­ing to the Book of Esther’s telling that after Haman was killed, 75,000 Per­sians were slain, Ira­ni­ans have manip­u­lated this ancient story and pre­sented it as a “holo­caust” and “geno­cide” per­pe­trated by the Jews against Ira­ni­ans, and the real source of alleged Jew­ish hos­til­ity toward Iran.

Iran - Anti-Israel Slogan Blog 2015

In a recent arti­cle enti­tled “Purim: the Iran­ian Holo­caust by Jews, A Cel­e­bra­tion of Half a Mil­lion Iran­ian Mas­sa­cred” in Gha­treh, asserted: “Zion­ists’ hatred and jeal­ousy of the ancient his­tory and glo­ri­ous civ­i­liza­tion of Iran for their sci­en­tific advances and their his­tor­i­cal achieve­ments, par­tic­u­larly after the Islamic Rev­o­lu­tion is not some­thing they can hide. The Zionist’s infe­ri­or­ity feel­ing toward the great­ness of the Iran­ian nation has a his­tor­i­cal root. By one glance to the his­tor­i­cal con­text and events that hap­pened between Ira­ni­ans and this peo­ple prove the fact. After Cyrus as a ruler who was a seeker for jus­tice, released cap­tive Jews from Baby­lo­nia, he never imag­ined the same peo­ple after few years would carry out a creep­ing coup against Iran and Ira­ni­ans and respond to the kind­ness of Ira­ni­ans, would be bru­tal slaugh­ter of them.”

It is galling to see the Islamic Repub­lic gain acco­lades for tweets in Eng­lish around Rosh Hashanah while its sup­port­ers use Farsi to issue such anti-Semitic screeds that seem like updated ver­sions of the Pro­to­cols of Zion.

In con­clu­sion, a year after the path was forged to the nuclear agree­ment with Iran much has changed. Pres­i­dent Rouhani trav­eled to Rome and Paris to pro­mote trade and eco­nomic part­ner­ship with Iran. Iran was a key par­tic­i­pant in the talks lead­ing to a cease­fire in Syria — much to the con­ster­na­tion of its Per­sian Gulf rivals. Iran finally released four Amer­i­can pris­on­ers it had been hold­ing, includ­ing Wash­ing­ton Post bureau chief Jason Rezaian.

But when it comes to its inter­nal illib­eral poli­cies, human rights vio­la­tions, the spread­ing of hate against Jews and its con­tin­ued mil­i­tancy against its neigh­bors, the past year has made no dif­fer­ence. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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