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Philip Weiss picks the wrong enemies

In a recent post, Philip Weiss denounces Americans for Peace Now and J Street for “equivocating” about the assault on Gaza. He believes they have not been emphatic enough in their opposition to Israel’s behavior because they have not come down hard enough against Palestinian civilian casualties.

His conclusion: “It is very difficult, nigh impossible, to be in a Jewish or Zionist communal organization and take a strong position against the destruction of Arab lives or for Arab human rights. It just won’t happen. It’s in the water.”

Sadly, Weiss is correct that the American Jewish communal world finds it much too difficult to criticize Israeli human rights violations or express concern about Palestinian suffering. I have made the same point many times on this blog. But he is picking the wrong enemies and the wrong examples in this particular fight. He subsequently wrote something positive about J Street so I’ll take issue with his bromide against Americans for Peace Now.

Here is the specific APN language that Phil finds equivocal and problemmatic:

Over the past weeks, Israelis, Palestinians, and the world have once again witnessed the unfolding of a serious and dangerous military escalation between Israel and Hamas. APN and its Israeli sister organization, Peace Now, have repeatedly expressed solidarity with the residents of communities of southern Israel, who have been subject to the terror of incoming fire from the Gaza Strip.

Israel has the right – indeed, the obligation – to take measures to bring these attacks to a halt… However, simply escalating the violence is not going to resolve the situation.

These paragraphs were part of a larger statement that responded to the prevailing view within the organized Jewish community that Israel’s Gaza operation is entirely justified. That is the community that APN must try to galvanize. Weiss not only left out the rest of the statement; he omitted the context, which was a specific question posed to APN:

“Why is Americans for Peace Now pressing for another ceasefire, when the last ceasefire was used by Hamas, predictably, to shore up its forces and prepare for even steeper violence against Israel. Israel is fighting a war against an organization dedicated to wiping it off the map. Given this reality, APN should be supporting Israeli efforts to defeat Hamas, not putting pressure on Israel to establish self-defeating, short-lived ceasefires with it?”

The answer was a cogent analysis –yes, from Israel’s perspective, sorry if that bothers you, Phil– that is a welcome contrast to much of the blather eminating from the organized American Jewish community:

Israel’s military leaders know that while the IDF can achieve short-term tactical gains in Gaza, the Israeli military cannot destroy popular support for Hamas, stop all rockets from falling, or force the release of Gilad Shalit. Indeed, this escalation of violence risks playing into the hands of extremists, while increasing dangers to both soldiers and civilians, and risks getting Israel bogged down in an open-ended mission in Gaza. It also raises the specter of a two-front war, should Hizballah decide to renew conflict on Israel’s northern border, with all the challenges to the IDF and danger to Israeli civilians that this would entail.

Many would argue that this is precisely what Hamas wants. We would argue that these are yet additional important reasons to seek to avoid an escalation and move quickly to a ceasefire, recognizing the extreme difficulty Israel faces in achieving any sustainable ceasefire agreement, formal or informal, with an extremist, ideologically-motivated organization like Hamas.

The breakdown of the recent ceasefire does not prove that ceasefires are futile. Rather, it demonstrates the danger of treating a ceasefire as an end unto itself. As we have warned repeatedly in the past – indeed, every time we have called for a ceasefire – a ceasefire is useful and desirable only as a means to halt violence and chaos in the immediate term, creating the space to facilitate improvements in the humanitarian situation, stabilize the political situation, and get the process back on track to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Absent improvements in the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the re-emergence of a serious, productive political process, any ceasefire risks becoming merely an intermission to allow those attacking Israel to re-arm, re-trench, and enhance their military capability. Sadly, this is exactly the situation today.

Looking ahead, the only way out of the current crisis is to re-establish the ceasefire, but this time not as a short-term fix but rather as part of a serious, longer-term strategy to deal with the core issues at play in Gaza. In this way, and only in this way, it can allow the sides to avoid the re-emergence of violence in the longer term. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, at its heart, a political conflict. Palestinian terrorism against Israel – including Hamas-fired rockets from Gaza – is a horrendous aspect of this conflict that cannot be brought to an end simply by increasing the harshness of the Israeli response.

Finally, the lessons of the 2006 Lebanon War should not be lost here. Any realistic, sustainable resolution to this crisis will require Israel and Hamas to engage, directly or indirectly, to achieve a ceasefire. The only questions then are: how many more Israelis and Palestinians will die or be wounded in the interim; how much less international sympathy Israel will have when the ceasefire is being negotiated; how much bigger will the disaster on the ground be, both in Israel and Gaza, once a ceasefire is achieved; and how much damage will have been done to the credibility and viability of the peace process and the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps?

And perhaps most importantly, will a ceasefire this time be accompanied by both the kind of changes on the ground and the establishment of some sort of political process necessary for it to succeed?

What is equivocal about that? Now, there is much in that APN statement that I am sure some of the regulars here will dispute.I don’t quite follow the last paragraph, for example. But castigating APN because its closely argued statement does not devote more space to the victimization of Palestinians is like objecting to a bill calling for prison reform because it does not devote many provisions to “unequivocably” condemning the death penalty.

32 thoughts on “Philip Weiss picks the wrong enemies

  1. But didn’t the IDF also use the ceasefire to plan this current military response? It doesn’t seem right or just to accuse Hamas of the same thing that Israel did (under cover of the ceasefire use the lull to prepare for armed conflict) without mentioning that both sides didn’t use the ceasefire in the manner in which we think it should have been intended; i.e., to negotiate for peace not plan for war.

  2. Israelinvades Gaza with a massive ground attack and this is what you’re worried about? Your energy is misplaced here Dan

  3. It would be great if the so-called progressive Zionist organizations didn’t continually provide cover for the most radical and violent impulses of the ongoing Zionist conquest, but they can’t help fixating, in tribal unity, on the “threats” and “enemies” facing “their people,” so that even though they claim to oppose war crimes and such, they bolster the very ideology that has caused and justified them for nearly a century.

    Jewish activists are going to have to choose between peace and justice or ethnic nationalism–the last century has made clear that there simply won’t be both.

  4. (Unless Israel murders all 1 billion Arabs and Muslims, of course. Boy, wouldn’t that be showing Hitler who’s boss!)

  5. MM,

    APN called for a ceasefire, and for a political process with Hamas’ participation, among other things I presume you agree with. They don’t and never will go as far as you would, but how does their statement “provide cover for the most radical and violent impulses of the ongoing Zionist conquest.” Plus, doesn’t the fact that Peace Now confronts the radical settlers all the time argue against what you asserted.

  6. Also, as I understand it, it is Peace Now, as always, that is one of the more important mobilizers of Israelis demonstrating against the Gaza assault.

  7. Amaliada (#2)

    Good point. I agree. But political messages targeted to a specific audience generally don’t present the whole picture. They are not comprehensive analyses, they are arguments with that audience in mind.

  8. Better that Israel and Hamas be prepared and CHOOSE not to aggress.

    And that takes TWO. My sense is that Israel is prepared to not aggress, while Hamas isn’t.

    The assertion that Israel should allow unhindered passage across its borders is ludicrous.

    Even at borders as innocuous as those between Mexico and the US, it is often slow and difficult to cross.

    Between a state and Gaza, it is UNREASONABLE to expect unmitigated crossing.

    If, when Gaza joins the PA and submits to being a part of the PA (and keeping the PA’s non-aggression agreements), then it will be possible to relax the borders.

    “Stranglehold” is a rhetorical word over 3/4 of the period of the cease-fire.

  9. Yes, Richard, your “sense” is well merited. Are there any examples of Israeli aggression in your “sense”? Or just sensible reactionary policies that were for the sole purpose of peace. What happened in Syria late last year?

    Israel would not have to make the borders so pourous; the details can be worked out. But Gaza needs an outlet to the world, no? Could Egypt’s border be eased into opening? That could be helpful.

    What’s unreasonable is expecting that such a stranglehold on Gaza would mend tensions and push Hamas into partnering with Fateh to be part of the PA. That’s unrealistic, in my “sense”. Secondly, the PA has not effectively done a thing to make the West Bank any better, only better than Gaza because that became so much worse.

    Lastly, Hamas has already offered to be part of the PA as a silent partner with Abbas as the main negotiator with Israel, which was thoroughly rejected by Abbas (gee, what a surprise) and Israel.

    “The assertion that” Hamas “should” just let Israel dictate everything to them “is ludicrous”. What is Israel willing to give up just to recognise that Hamas has legitimate concerns of security also?

  10. “Israel would not have to make the borders so pourous; the details can be worked out. But Gaza needs an outlet to the world, no? Could Egypt’s border be eased into opening? That could be helpful.”

    It doesn’t happen by wishing. It happens by considering the reasons for managing borders at all, and the specific relations in this case.

    Regarding the border of Egypt. The reason the Egyptian border is closed is internal to Egypt. Specifically, Hamas is considered more than indirectly related to the Muslim Brotherhood, which undertook first mass rallies, and attempted coups in Egypt. They are an illegal organization in Egypt.

    Egypt regards Hamas as a terrorist organization that had and would support one of their primary internal revolutionary organizations.

    If YOU think that a real theocracy controlled by a small number of medieval clerics is superior to even the appearance of a democracy with some appealable court system, then you are on a different planet than I.

    Hamas has NEVER made an offer to the PA or to Israel that stood the scrutiny of long-term commitment.

    The current cease-fire was a willing test on Israel’s part of Hamas’ intentions. That the gullible assume that without any direct communication, “border management could be worked out”, is sad.

    Electricity requires a complete circuit to function. It does NOT happen with breaks in the circuit. It does NOT happen by magic. There are objective conditions that are required for a result to occur.

    It is the same with statecraft. Hamas HAS the opportunity to establish itself as a responsible proto-state. And, it has grossly FAILED that test recently.

    If you are a committed anarchist and desire NO STATES anywhere, and are prepared to undertake the degree of personal and community change to realize that, then that would be a very difficult, confusing, but at least politically consistent approach.

    If you are to select Israel for condemnation for seeking to responsibly function as a state, then you will just be hypocritical.

  11. Richard,

    As Joshua says, there is a wide spectrum of options between allowing unmitigated movement between Israel & Gaza and completely sealing off the crossing points. Obviously, the border crossings & the lifitng of the siege have to be worked out in context of a negotiated agreement between Israel & Hamas which would include an end to the rocket fire.

    Personally, I would like to Hamas re-incorporated into the Palestinian Authority through another unity government between Hamas & Fatah. However, the reality is that the level of tensions of tensions between Hamas & Fatah are so high right now that there is little chance of this happening anytime soon. Your insistence on preconditions to a negotiated arrangement between Israel & Hamas is a formula for unending conflict & bloodshed.

  12. Hamas consistently rejects everything that you recommend Peter.

    I also would love if the relationship could be changed.

    My sense from comments by Livni, Olmert, Peres, Barak, is that they are willing to respond to actions, to regard Hamas’ rule conditionally.

    My sense from Hamas is different, that they UNCONDITIONALLY oppose Israel and seek its eventual demise.

    That creates a problem in negotiation, AND it creates a problem of consistency for dissenters whose sole philosophical basis of even reluctant support for Hamas, is that they imagine that Hamas will conditionally accept Israel (responding to actions and policies).

    War is horrible. EVERYONE (except for a few nuts) assumes that and seeks to apply it. Its horrible to be threatened, and for a humane person or community, its horrible to threaten.

    “Your insistence on preconditions to a negotiated arrangement between Israel & Hamas is a formula for unending conflict & bloodshed.”

    I hear your fear. Its still necessary for Hamas to become part of a state, or declare itself a state in Gaza, to establish a parallel relationship to Israel, that international institutions (bi-lateral and multi-lateral) can apply consistently.

    It won’t work well for them if they, as a state, continue to make war on their neighbors. Perhaps that is why they remain quasi-state, insisting from “dissenters” that they have the rights of a state, but none of the responsibilities of a state (either to its citizens or to others).

  13. Richard,

    With all due respect, you’ve provided no evidence for your assertions. Here is at least one article that says Hamas would agree to a ceasefire provided that Israel agrees to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.,7340,L-3646415,00.html

    Hamas has failed to establish itself as a “responsible proto-state” because it has never been given the opportunity to do so. To quote Daniel Levy of the Century Foundation, “U.S., Israeli and international policy towards Hamas has greatly exacerbated the situation. Hamas participated in and won democratic elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2006. Rather than test the Hamas capacity to govern responsibly and nurture Hamas further into the political arena and away from armed struggle, the U.S.-led international response was to hermetically seal-off Hamas, besiege Gaza, work to undemocratically overthrow the Hamas government and thereby allow Hamas to credibly claim that a hypocritical standard was being applied to the American democracy agenda. “

  14. Internally, it doesn’t function as a democratic proto-state.

    It imprisons its opponents. It silences its critics, and FAR more violently than Israel does.

    You should actually take the time to investigate its governance before you risk your nameless reputation on that gamble.

    A single reference was made by Haniyeh that he would consider accepting the Arab League proposal, but abstained when it actually came to a vote.

    I get that there is a maybe that Hamas will accept a temporary (ten-year) say cease-fire. But, thats as far as it goes.

    And, that is why Livni, Olmert, Barak, Peres each early expressed conditional agreement to continue and expand the cease-fire, but that olive branch was similarly rejected by Hamas.

    You pander for them, Peter. Wishful thinking isn’t enough here.

    Two weeks ago, when they were in the process of considering whether to continue the cease-fire or to return to shelling, they rejected an offer by Jimmy Carter to meet with them. They rejected even that level of intrusion into their adrenaline driven internal “debate”.

    Its a good inquiry into whether Israel is over-reacting. There is strong substantiation for that, that maybe other options were available.

    Its a self-deception to apologize for Hamas, even if they (through their own coup) is the only game of authority in the Gaza town.

    The conditions of actual peace are the SAME as they’ve been for a very long time.

    Restraint from shelling civilians.

    There IS a moral and tactical difference between shelling civilians (as their USE of their Mutually Assured Destruction deterrent), and Israel’s targeting quasi-military installation and support centers.

    I strongly wish that it hadn’t gotten military, but to conclude that Hamas didn’t want it to escalate is delusional.

  15. One reason that I conclude that Phil picks the wrong enemies, is his emphasis on the political, and specifically the either/or political of Palestinian nationalism VS Zionism.

    I personally consider that a Palestine and a Zionism can co-exist, in the formula of “two states for two peoples”, two healthy and mutually helpful states especially.

    Hamas does not live that. (Current Israel does not either.) Hamas is in know way invested in two healthy states for two healthy peoples. It is invested in healthy Palestine only, and by a very limited and one could say immature vision of what constitutes Palestinian health.

    Peace comes from dedicated interest in the welfare of the other, and not like a mother-in-law is interested (often intrusively and passively dictatorially).

    Defending Palestinians from horrors is a DIFFERENT effort than the effort for reconciliation between peoples. It is important to protect civilians especially. Those that sincerely are motivated to do so, and that is the basis of their dissent towards Israel, are motivated by compassion obviously.

    In contrast, IF Phil were more interested in the social and ecological in Israel/Palestine, then the Arabs and Jews that he would be seeking out personally and commenting on journalistically, would be the ones that see beyond differences in practice, not the ones that ADVOCATE FOR different differences.

    That is what constructs division, and on the basis of whether one agrees with a political halachic list of criteria, with the consequence of being outside of that list, the equivalent of stoning.

  16. Richard,

    I don’t disagree that Israel wanted to continue on the ceasefire. The point is, Israel wanted to do its on its terms – an end to the rocket fire AND smuggling WITHOUT lifting the blockade of Gaza & opening the border crossings. The issue is not that Israel did not want calm, but rather is that it was not make the necessary concessions to ensure calm.

    I concede that Hamas has failed to establish itself as a responsible actor. I also believe that this is at least partially because Israel, the United States, the international community, & Fatah have given Hamas *very little incentive* to establish itself as a responsible actor. I do believe that Hamas is capable of (some level of) compromise – if the political conditions are right. If the international community had engaged Hamas after the 2006 Palestinian elections rather than isolate, punish & undermine it, then the dynamics in Gaza might be very different right now.

    To me, it’s not an issue of whether Hamas’ actions are justified, but rather what is the best way to deal with Hamas that would end the bloodshed & end the terror & suffering experienced on both sides of the conflict.

  17. The last line of the 1st paragraph should read:

    “The issue is not that Israel did not want calm, but rather that it did not want to make the necessary concessions to ensure calm.”

  18. As I said a few times, I think that Hamas exercised real actual discipline in the agreed cease-fire for the majority of the six months.

    A skillful Israeli leadership would have more prominently acknowledged that, and sited their hope for reconciliation on that basis.

    On the borders. Again, it is UNREASONABLE for Hamas to assume that border crossings would be “open”, in the sense of unregulated border crossings.

    It is in the best conditions an international border between two communities with very different standards of public health for example. There are VERY rational concerns for import and export that Israel needs to govern.

    The blockade is a different question. I personally think that Hamas was hoping for a frankly cheap commitment to open its “port”.

    If Hamas is serious about establishing Palestine as a normalized state, whether Gaza Palestine as distinct from West Bank Palestine, or unified, it HAS to have a longer term view, than simply applaud itself that it restrained from terror directed at civilians for the grand demonstration of six months.

    It seems childish to me.

    Phil Weiss and I exchange e-mails perhaps three times a day. His responses are always flip, contemptuous, “pure”.

    He’s impatient with wishy-washy liberals. He thinks we’re racists, apologists for brutality, missing the point.

    Personally, I think he misses the point. And that is that peace and justice is constructed by civil relation between peoples, and NOT by political agitation, and certainly NOT by irrational demands (of Hamas) enforced by terror on civilians.

  19. “He’s impatient with wishy-washy liberals. He thinks we’re racists, apologists for brutality, missing the point.”

    And good for him. He has more courage and principle in his pinky finger than there is in the entire Hasbara “endless apologism” universe.

    The question is, Richard, if your mind is closed and you’ve rested your case–Zionism is a GOOD–what incentive is there for Phil or anyone to actually extend good faith dialog? There is none. You are ethnocentric and tribally blindered to your core, and you think you are so reasonable.

    Your endless bloviating on Hamas is the essence of “small picture” thinking. The Nakba is for paying lip service–because you see that real progressives don’t buy “Israel the victim” any more, and good for you–but you don’t integrate that knowledge so that Gaza, that collection of refugee camps, is OWED SOMETHING by the Zionist entity that made it so.

    No, you think Hamas owes Israel something. You think that Hamas must formally recognize Israel, as if Israel has ever formally recognized the Palestinians “as a people”, “as a nation”, or any of the other parallels one could make to the Zionist hogwash you spout daily.

    And frankly, that’s an opinion that no one but an ethnocentric Jewish Zionist or somebody on the Zionist payroll (ie a U.S. Congressman) could possess.

    If “peace and justice is constructed by civil relation between peoples,” why do the peace-loving Israelis continue to abide by Yitzak Shamir’s essential lines, “neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat”?

    You can play armchair governor all day long and pretend that your opinion on what Hamas needs to do for there to be peace is actually relevant or valuable, but the world is watching while you and the Hasbara minions provide cover for Israel’s blood-and-soil motivated quest for a Third Intifada.

    Like Herzl said, Zionism needs anti-Semitism, right?

  20. (I don’t expect any reasonable response so save your time for nagging Phil. My message was not for you, but for those whose minds might still be ajar.)

  21. MM,
    You imagine what I think, and innaccurately.

    To your statement “Israel owes Palestinians”, I agree. And, I agree that it hasn’t mustered the political concensus and courage to actually meet its humane obligations.

    But, its humane obligations DON’T extend to not existing.

    It is NOT Zionism that is wrong. Its the application of Zionism that fails to heal its birth and teenage pangs.

    Your repetition of “Hasbara minions” is distorted. That I regard Hamas as less than humane, less than even representative, is widely shared in the world.

    It constructs a “cycle of violence”, that is a dysfunctional dance.

    There is no option for the Israeli state to accept its civilians being shelled by a quasi-state militia, whether there are great flaws with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as people, or as a people, or not.

    Israel does get to choose how it “communicates” to Hamas, which is rationally subject to criticism.

    ANY conclusion that Israel does not have a right to exist, is by definition revolutionary and anti-democratic (unless it emerged from a plebiscite of the consenting governed). And, in the case of much of Palestinian solidarity is fanatic.

    Warring, in arms or in words, is counter-productive for ALL of the parties involved.

    Shelling civilians is a BAD choice of method, that indicates an immaturity of leadership rather than a backbone of leadership.

  22. A plebiscite on Zionism amongst the entire population of Israel/Palestine (not just the Chosen) would clearly, definitively demonstrate that it is Zionism that is anti-democratic. No wonder Israel has never and will never allow such a thing.

    Your perspective on world opinion is incredibly distorted by your chosen sources of information. The New York Times hasn’t been credible on Israel/Palestine (or American foreign relations in general) for many, many, many years now. And yet you imbibe.

    You repeat “shelling of civilians” ad nauseum, day in and day out, even though it is not an accurate description of the rockets being fired into southern Israel, and IS an accurate description of Israel’s current actions in Gaza. (Israel uses targeting munitions; Qassam rockets are not.)

    Furthermore, at least one member of the American intelligence community (Michael Scheuer) contends that Israel’s strategy is to produce another wave of suicide bombings whereby the United States would be obliged to continue its unconditional military support for Israel’s war crimes.

    Might that be the real Zionist intention, masked by so much repetitious Hasbara mantra about rockets? Considering that the Qassams will certainly continue after Israel finally concedes to a ceasefire, it seems likely.

    With over 600 now murdered by state terror in Gaza, you show your ethnocentric stripes every time you even utter the word “Hamas”.

    Your naivete about Zionism’s “teenage pangs” (and since when is a 110 year-old a “teenager” Richard?) is as offensive as someone saying that National Socialism wasn’t wrong; it was just the application of it.

    The world has digested what Zionism means for Palestine, but blind tribalists subsist on nothing but their own kool-aid.

  23. The status of the borders was different during periods of actual calm from periods of shelling.

    Hamas demanded “open borders”, which are impossible.

  24. The rockets are not PR. They actually hit homes, and at random.

    And, have been aimed at civilians only for many years.

    So, Israel rationally declares “enough is enough”.

  25. And Richard Witty repeats himself ad nauseum, with a bare minimum of actual thought.

    Of course the oldie but goodie, “Enough is enough,” wouldn’t apply to being holed up in the world’s biggest refugee camp for 60 years.

    The Gazans should have just accepted their generous Israeli “diet”. Die or be quiet, Gaza–preferably both.

  26. You really don’t read my comments, do you?

    You really demean Hamas, describing them as lacking free will.

    They exhibited free will and self discipline in retaining the ceasefire under difficult conditions.

    Their anger is understandable. Their actions of shelling civilians though is criminal.

  27. Of course your exaggeration that Hamas is “shelling civilians”, which you’ve repeated at least a hundred times (but never once to describe Israel’s actions in Gaza, interestingly)–that isn’t “criminal”–it’s just unbelievably biased to the point of depravity.

    You’re also continuing to make the assumption that Hamas is responsible for all the rocket attacks, which I personally warned was an uncareful assumption, reinforced by the double standard that Hamas is responsible for EVERYTHING that happens in Gaza, while the Israeli state can maintain plausible deniability that it is colonizing even more of Palestine, 60 years after being granted a state. That too speaks volumes.

    …And the world watches on, as Zionists explain away our concerns with so much self-satisfaction. (And as Dan Fleshler courageously points out, the Hasbara squad likely doesn’t even comprehend the endgame–details, details. First let’s assert our military superiority by terrorizing a population, then we can figure out just why.)

    Prediction for 2009–Richard Witty will be shocked, shocked I say, when the Third Intifada arrives. Who could’ve imagined it?

  28. Of course Hamas shells civilians.

    The most you could say in response is that that is rational to do, a decision that they are morally responsible for.

    To assume that there are consequences to one party’s actions, but not to anothers, is just ODD reasoning.

    If you wish to stop injustice, it takes addressing the chain, not a single link.

  29. “Of course Israel kills thousands of mostly innocent Palestinians every year.”

    Is there any reasoning with the totally blindered?

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