Shira Herzog: What does being pro-Israel mean?

In North American and European Jewish communities, criticism of Israel’s attack on the Turkish flotilla has reignited discussion over a deceptively simple question: What does being pro-Israel mean? Regardless of widespread domestic criticism (even after this week’s findings by an Israeli military investigation) of both the decision to attack and its faulty execution, leading Jewish organizations largely defended Israel. Liberal Jewish organizations questioned Israel’s action, as they do others with which they disagree.

These divisions aren’t new, but they’re particularly sensitive now. Last year’s Gaza incursion and the flotilla incident have isolated Israel to an unprecedented degree. In parallel, recently formed American (J Street) and European (JCall) Jewish lobby groups have gone public with their dissent without following the Jewish establishment’s automatic support of Israeli policies. They consider themselves no less pro-Israel and see ending the Palestinian conflict and holding Israel accountable for its human-rights record as critical for its future.

Last month, Peter Beinert spawned the latest round in this debate with his New York Review of Books essay, The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment. Mr. Beinert argued that, if established Jewish advocacy groups don’t make room for “pro-Israel criticism of Israel,” they’ll alienate liberal American Jews from an Israel whose policies are increasingly dissonant with their American values. Mainstream Jewish organizations quickly contested his conclusions, reiterating that, in an increasingly critical world, burdened by unique security imperatives and with only one reliable ally (the U.S.), being pro-Israel requires holding the line against public criticism.

There’s no doubt that Israel is more vulnerable due to the growing presence and sophistication of what the Tel Aviv-based Reut Institute calls “the delegitimization network.” That disparate, largely viral coalition links European and North American radical left NGOs and fundamentalist Islamic groups in rejecting Israel’s legitimacy. In other words, they don’t distinguish between Israel and its continued occupation of Palestinians and territory. They’re focused not on resolving the Palestinian issue through a two-state deal that would respect Israel’s territorial integrity and Jewish majority alongside a Palestinian state, but on branding Israel as a pariah internationally. (The loose network includes the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers this new “battleground for legitimacy” serious enough to rank it as one of Israel’s key challenges (along with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian process). He isn’t wrong: Reut’s comprehensive report documents the potential scope of the network’s reach and its strategic implications for the country’s international standing unless checked….READ MORE

Support for Israel near record high, Gallup Poll shows

Source: JTA, 7-14-10

Support for Israel among Americans is at a near record high, a new poll showed.

According to the Gallup Poll, 63 percent of Americans say their sympathies in the Middle East conflict are with Israel, while 15 percent side with the Palestinians. The rest favor both sides, neither side or have no opinion.

Support for Israel was higher only in 1991, shortly after Israel was hit with Scud missiles during the Gulf War, when it was at 64 percent.

The poll, conducted in early February, was part of Gallup’s annual World Affairs survey in which Americans were asked a series of questions about their opinions of 20 countries or entities, including Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel’s ranking, at 67 percent favorable, was among the highest of the countries surveyed. The Palestinian Authority, at 20 percent, was among the lowest.

Support for Israel increased more among Republicans and independents than Democrats, the poll showed. Since 2001, there has been an increase of 25 points among Republicans and 18 points among independents. Support for Israel among Democrats has stayed about the same.

Asked whether peace eventually will be reached in the Middle East, 67 percent of respondents answered “doubtful” and 30 percent said “there will come a time” when there will be peace.

In a general trend over the past 10 years, Democrats were more optimistic than Republicans about the chances for peace. Thirty-nine percent of Democrats said it will come; 25 percent of Republicans agreed.

Pollsters conducted telephone interviews with a random sampling of 1,025 American adults between Feb. 1 and 3. The poll has a 4 percent margin of error.

Israeli Bill Reflects Frustration With Academics Who Support Boycotts

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, 7-14-10

Israeli Bill Reflects Frustration With Academics Who Support Boycotts 1Gideon Sa’ar, Israel’s education minister (left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), says he welcomes sanctions against professors at public universities who support boycotts. (David Silverman, AP Images)Enlarge Image //

An effort to discourage Israeli public-university professors and others from supporting boycotts of the Jewish state is roiling the country’s academics.

While an academic boycott and other efforts to isolate the country have long been debated, recent public condemnation of Israel’s botched military raid on a flotilla of ships bound for Gaza has heated up the political situation.

Israeli legislators, feeling embattled by hostile world opinion, are considering a series of measures responding to what they regard as inappropriate sanctions against their country and its leaders, some of whom have been threatened with arrest for alleged war crimes.

A bill introduced in June in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, proposes that Israelis could be sued by anyone affected by a boycott and forced to pay up to $8,000 in damages. Foreigners could find themselves banned from entering Israel for 10 years and denied the ability to hold a bank account or purchase land.

The primary target of the new legislation, which is sponsored by 24 of 120 Knesset members, is the Palestinian Authority boycott of goods from Israeli settlements, which has also won support from some European countries.

But according to a draft of the bill, supporters of academic boycotts would be included in its provisions. Such boycotts urge professors and students not to attend academic conferences in Israel, not to invite Israeli scholars to conferences, not to accept them as students or faculty members in their own institutions, and not to publish scholarly articles by Israelis….READ MORE

MESS Report / IDF probe of Gaza flotilla carefully avoided placing real blame

Giora Eiland’s conclusions on the takeover of the Gaza-bound flotilla are as ineffectual as those he provided four years ago after investigating the abduction of Gilad Shalit.

Source: Haaretz, 7-13-10

Every four years Maj. Gen. (res. ) Giora Eiland is called to the flag. He retrieves his general’s epaulets from storage, squeezes into his fatigues and sets out to investigate the army. The results are fairly similar.

His conclusions on the takeover of the Gaza-bound flotilla, released yesterday, recall those he provided four years ago this week after investigating the abduction of Gilad Shalit: a clear and detailed analysis identifying numerous mistakes, and no recommendations regarding the individuals involved.

Eiland describes a series of mistakes, but none reflecting dereliction of duty. There were not enough soldiers on deck to face off against the violence of the Turks and the unpredicted magnitude of their opposition.

The naval commandos who arrived by boat were met by violence (including live fire ) that stopped them from boarding, leaving the 15 commandos who had slid down ropes from a helicopter at a disadvantage.

Coordination problems among intelligence agencies created gaps in information before the operation started. The navy, according to Eiland, did not properly consider alternatives to the original plan. It was not clear under what circumstances a decision could be made to delay the operation (for instance, an encounter on deck with activists armed with axes and clubs ). After all, the operation was taking place a few miles from Israel’s shores. Tel Aviv was in no immediate danger.

The report also reveals that Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi had warned in a letter to government officials on May 13 – two and a half weeks before the operation – that the military option should be a last resort.

Should he have done more than that? Eiland did not say so…READ MORE

Thousands rally for Israeli soldier after 12-day trek

Source: AFP, 7-8-10

The parents of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit set up camp outside the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, vowing to stay there until their abducted son is freed.

They reached the site after a massive rally capped a 12-day march to Jerusalem aimed to pressure the government into doing more to secure their son’s release.

“It’s time to say enough is enough. Four years of hell — that’s too much,” the soldier’s mother Aviva Shalit told an estimated 25,000 people at Jerusalem’s Independence Park.

A former head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service told the crowd: “Gilad in prison: it’s inhuman, it’s immoral, it’s illogical.”

The droning of vuvuzelas mingled with Israeli pop music blaring from car-mounted loudspeakers as the marchers made their way into central Jerusalem earlier in the day.

Many sported T-shirts bearing an image of the 23-year-old soldier and the words “Gilad is alive.”

A banner proclaimed “The people have decided: Free Shalit.”

“We are here to give power to the family of Gilad,” said Sagai Seleb, an 18-year-old Israeli of Ethiopian descent….READ MORE

Shalit supporters march into Tel Aviv

Source: JTA, 7-5-10

Thousands of supporters accompanied the family of Gilad Shalit as it marched into Tel Aviv.

The march urging Israel’s government to bring home the captive Israeli soldier held in Gaza reached its midway point on Monday during a rally at Rabin Square.

The family visited the site of Shalit’s capture near the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza Monday evening. Israeli conductor Zubin Mehta led the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert in the soldier’s honor at  Kibbutz Kfar Aza, located about three miles from the Gaza border.

The Shalits were scheduled to return to Tel Aviv later Monday night.

“Words, justifications, press conferences and explanations saying why this is difficult or dangerous don’t count,” Noam Shalit said during the rally at Rabin Square. “What counts are results only. I call on you again and again, look at this mighty wave of civilians that follows us. That is the will of the people.”

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Meir Lau, the Tel Aviv chief rabbi and former chief rabbi of Israel, spoke at the rally.

Earlier Monday the protesters stopped in front of the Tel Aviv home of Israeli Defense Minsiter Ehud Barak. Barak’s wife, Nili Priel, spoke to the Shalits and then walked with them for one section of the march.

Tel Aviv experienced major traffic disruptions on Monday due to the march.

Shalit’s father calls for his release

Source: CNN, 7-2-10

The father of Gilad Shalit on Friday resumed calls on Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help get the soldier freed.

The soldier’s father, Noam Shalit, said: “I call on the prime minister, listen to the people. Get the strength from them to make this difficult decision before it is too late.”

Noam Shalit spoke to CNN by phone while participating in a march for his son’s release.

Gilad Shalit’s family is on a planned 12-day march from their home to Jerusalem. Thousands of people have joined the march. The family intends to camp outside Netanyahu’s official residence until Shalit is free….READ MORE

Israel won’t ‘pay any price’ for Shalit release, Bibi says

Source: JTA, 7-1-10

Israel will free 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for the release of Gilad Shalit, but it will not “pay any price,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a live address to the nation.

The address Thursday comes on the fifth day of a cross-country march by the captured Israeli soldier’s family and supporters that has attracted thousands of people. The march will end next week in Jerusalem, where Shalit’s parents have vowed to camp out across from the prime minister’s official residence until their son is released.

“The German mediator’s offer which we agreed to accept called for the release of 1,000 terrorists. This is the price I am prepared to pay to bring Gilad home,” Netanyahu said. “I said yes to the deal and it is ready for immediate implementation. But there are prices that I am not prepared to pay and they are not included in this difficult deal.”

Netanyahu said he would not be willing to return dangerous terrorists to the West Bank, nor is he willing to release what he termed “top terrorists,” worried that they would commit more terror acts after their release.

Shalit’s father, Noam, said after the speech that Netanyahu was recycling the words of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Also, he said, “The prime minister drew horrifying scenarios from 25 years ago and from six years ago about terrorists who were released and then murdered Israelis, as if nothing had changed since then, as if Israel had no security services.”

Hamas gunmen abducted Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid in June 2006. The International Red Cross has not been allowed access to Shalit in his four years of captivity.

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