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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 Off

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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February 8, 2016 1

The French Initiative

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Times of Israel blog

Here they go again. The French For­eign Min­is­ter, Lau­rent Fabius, has announced a new ini­tia­tive toward con­ven­ing an inter­na­tional con­fer­ence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The his­tory of such inter­na­tional gath­er­ings, with the unique excep­tion of the Madrid Peace Con­fer­ence fol­low­ing the first Gulf War, has not been a good one. Most often, they become forums for bash­ing Israel rather than mak­ing real progress to break through on the tough­est final sta­tus issues that still divide Israelis and Palestinians.

This bad his­tory is com­pounded, how­ever, in this instance, by the accom­pa­ny­ing state­ment by Mr. Fabius that if such a con­fer­ence fails to lead to progress toward peace, France will rec­og­nize a Pales­tin­ian State. What incen­tive remains for the Pales­tini­ans to be forthcoming?

This alone would guar­an­tee the fail­ure of a con­fer­ence. It is always a chal­lenge to get the Pales­tini­ans to be forth­com­ing toward Israel. If they know for cer­tain that they will be rewarded for inac­tion, the like­li­hood of progress is even more remote.

The French posi­tion reflects the fun­da­men­tal fal­lacy of much of the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity in address­ing the con­flict. Because they see Israel as the occu­pier and stronger party, they see pres­sure on Israel as the way to move the process. In this view, there is noth­ing expected of the Palestinians.

Make no mis­take: Any hope for peace requires actions and com­pro­mises by both sides. Israel has to be forth­com­ing, as well as the Palestinians.

The record, how­ever, shows repeat­edly that Israel can nego­ti­ate in good faith and offer solu­tions that give some­thing to each side.

This was true at Camp David in 2000, when Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Barak offered the Pales­tini­ans a state on more than 90 per­cent of the ter­ri­tory; this was true when his suc­ces­sor Ariel Sharon pulled Israel out of Gaza in 2005; this was true in 2008, when Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert offered the Pales­tini­ans even more than Ehud Barak did for build­ing a state. This was true ulti­mately in the recent effort of U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry to bro­ker a compromise.

While the Netanyahu gov­ern­ment has been less will­ing to pro­pose an ini­tia­tive on peace, there is every rea­son to believe, based on Israel’s his­tory of both the left and the right, that Israel will be there if Pales­tini­ans demon­strate they are pre­pared to truly engage in direct nego­ti­a­tions and will­ing to make impor­tant com­pro­mises for peace.

The so-called friends of the Pales­tini­ans, who blame Israel for every aspect of the con­flict, do the Pales­tini­ans no favor by expect­ing noth­ing of their friends in return.

A far more pro­duc­tive exer­cise for the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity, as coun­ter­in­tu­itive as it may seem, is to direct its atten­tion toward Pales­tin­ian behav­ior. The focus should be on what changes are nec­es­sary from the Pales­tin­ian side in order to bring an inde­pen­dent state closer to real­ity. This does not mean Israel is exempt from expec­ta­tions that it make seri­ous and sus­tained efforts to achieve peace. How­ever, the world should expect the Pales­tini­ans to com­pro­mise as well.

Such com­pro­mises that should be demanded of the Pales­tini­ans include accept­ing the legit­i­macy of Israel as a Jew­ish State; the recog­ni­tion that Pales­tin­ian refugees will be reset­tled in a Pales­tin­ian State, just as Jew­ish refugees were reset­tled in the Jew­ish State; the acknowl­edge­ment that a peace agree­ment between the sides will mean the end of the con­flict and future demands; and the ces­sa­tion of incite­ment cam­paigns against Israel and Jews and an end to cel­e­brat­ing to those who com­mit ter­ror­ist attacks.

That’s a lot to ask of the Pales­tini­ans, you say, par­tic­u­larly because they are the occu­pied party.

Maybe so, but it has never been tried. And the Pales­tini­ans remain in their dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. Mean­while, Israeli ini­tia­tives have not only gone nowhere, they have often been fol­lowed by Pales­tin­ian violence.

It is, how­ever, not merely that this approach has not been tried. It is more that it speaks to the root of the prob­lem and to under­stand­able Israeli skep­ti­cism that the Pales­tin­ian goal has not changed at all from 1947 when it was clear that Israel’s destruc­tion was its pri­mary aim.

How­ever much one seeks to blame Israel for the Pales­tin­ian con­di­tion, it is Pales­tini­ans them­selves, with a changed approach, who can bring about a fun­da­men­tal change in the sta­tus quo. Israel’s reac­tion to a new Pales­tin­ian approach will undoubt­edly be cau­tious but will be a response that could move things for­ward toward a two-state solution.

Hav­ing said all this, Israel needs to think about tak­ing its own ini­tia­tive, not because any such move will ensure that there is peace — that can only hap­pen when the Pales­tini­ans engage in the rethink­ing described above — but in order to cred­i­bly demon­strate to the world its com­mit­ment to peace.

Inter­nally, inac­tion has cre­ated a vac­uum that is being filled by peo­ple who are against a two-state solu­tion and who would like to erode Israel’s demo­c­ra­tic values.

Exter­nally, boy­cotts and dele­git­imiza­tion cam­paigns con­tinue to mount against Israel and one-state ideas gain momentum.

An Israeli ini­tia­tive — whether on halt­ing set­tle­ments, bet­ter respect­ing Pales­tini­ans’ rights, or offer­ing a plan — will not bring an end to anti-Israel activ­ity. It will, how­ever, weaken it sig­nif­i­cantly. It could draw away from it many well-meaning peo­ple who are frus­trated with the decades-old stale­mate and sta­tus quo.

Respon­si­bil­ity for peace and for accept­ing at least parts of the oth­ers’ nar­ra­tive lie on both parties.

It is the Pales­tin­ian rethink, how­ever, that could make all the difference.

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