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Monday, July 3, 2017 - 2:30pm
By: American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen
Featured in the Jerusalem Post
 
From today, the Kotel [Western Wall] is open to all Jews.” So said Diaspora Affairs minister Naftali Bennett in January 2016 when a deal was agreed to enable men and women to pray together at the Western Wall in a designated zone. Well, following the government’s decision to “freeze” the “Kotel Deal,” now apparently the Wall is not for all Jews. This a slap in the face to millions of Jews all over the world who believe in religious freedom and pluralism. It also makes it much harder to defend and advocate for Israel in the US and the international arena.
 
Like many others, I welcomed the January 2016 compromise, seeing in it not just a deal to enable egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall but a reaffirmation of the liberal democratic principles on which the State of Israel was established.
 
After this volte-face I feel disappointed and fearful for the future complexion of Israel.
 
Religious freedom has been a problematic issue ever since the establishment of the state. At the beginning there was the status-quo agreement struck between David Ben-Gurion and the religious parties, which effectively gave the Orthodox establishment a stranglehold on religious matters. To this day the Chief Rabbinate has authority over kashrut, shabbat, Jewish burial and personal status issues, such as marriage, divorce and conversion. Secular and non-Orthodox Israelis and Diaspora Jews still smart under the impact of that agreement.
 
In the “Kotel deal” at long last sought to address one of the injustices of the Orthodox religious monopoly. Not only did the deal provide a practical solution for those non-Orthodox Jews who wanted to express their faith according to their traditions at Judaism’s most holy place, but it also offered the hope that creative solutions could be found to address the legitimate concerns and aspirations of non-Orthodox Jews.
 
I agree with the assessment of Natan Sharansky that “[The] decision... will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together increasingly more difficult.” For those of us at the coal face, defending Israel from criticism and vitriol, this decision is a significant obstacle. I and many others like me have not fought all these years for a haredi- dominated religious state. Here in the US, the American Jewish Congress has been a leading voice in advocating for hundreds of civil rights and religious freedoms cases.
 
Americans and especially American Jews cherish their religious freedom, and this decision in Israel portrays the country in a negative light. In one fell swoop it has the potential to alienate our youth and undermine the impressive success of the Birthright program in cementing the connection between young American Jews and Israel. Many more Jews will be turned off Israel now than were won over to Israel through Birthright. The support of the American Jewish community is crucial to the US-Israel relationship and there can be no doubt that this decision will be demotivating for a very large proportion of that community. Unsurprisingly a high-level delegation from AIPAC has been hurriedly organized to discuss the impact on support for Israel in Congress.
 
The government’s action is deeply damaging and plays into the hands of Israel’s critics, especially the growing number of progressives in the US. They will all now be emboldened in their view that the State of Israel has strayed from the high-minded principles embodied in its Declaration of Independence. This decision therefore has strategic implications.
 
It undermines the democratic pluralistic essence of Israel and Israel’s relationship both with American Jewry and the broader Diaspora.
 
Though he points to the wrong culprits, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau is absolutely right to remind everyone that the reason given for the destruction of the Temple, from which the Western Wall derives its holiness, was “sinat hinam” (baseless hatred) between Jews.
 
United we stand, divided we fall.
 
The negotiations announced by the Prime Minister’s Office last Sunday must begin soon. We hope the government can respond to rectify quickly this disappointment and repair some of the damage.
 
This was clearly a political maneuver, but the Western Wall should be out of bounds for politics.
 
Monday, June 12, 2017 - 6:06pm

 

The nation of Israel is one of the United Sates' most important allies, and the Israeli and American people share a special bond that contributes to the alliance. Here are 5 reasons why I support the state of Israel:

 

1.  Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, and Israel is a defender of free government and equality in the region.

 

2. Israel and the United States share intelligence on terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and Middle Eastern politics to help make the world a better and safer place.

 

 

3. Israel is a "start up nation" with more start-up business on average than any country in the entire world.

 

4. Israel produces state of the art technologies that save lives and help people all over the world.

 

5. Israel holds many of the worlds most important religious and historical sites including for the world's three largest religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The nation of Israel preserves and cares for these locations and allow people of all faiths to visit and worship at the most important holy sites.

 

Do you support Israel? Click here and tell us why you support the nation of Israel.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017 - 2:06pm

May 26, 2017

By: Jack Rosen

Jack Rosen is the President of the American Jewish Congress and CEO of Rosen Partners, LLC. 

 

Now that the President has firmly touched down in Europe and attention has moved away from the Middle-East, we wanted to look at the five take-aways from his visits to Israel and Saudi Arabia, what we can expect and how they will impact the region going forward.

 

1.     Trump’s vows on extremism

The President’s comments on extremism were extraordinary, the leader of the free world drew a crowd of prominent Arab leaders and told them to ‘drive out’ extremism from their countries. This was unprecedented. He was rightly applauded for encouraging leaders to rid themselves of terror and do everything they can to face up to terrorism. America needs to play an active role in the region, if they are the policeman we often see a change in behaviour from across the Middle-East. Trumps speech is an important step and we all hope that it will have an effect on the war on terror. His behaviour was the opposite of what many had predicted, would it be too much to call it a U-turn?

 

2.     Direct flights

If Trump was out to make a point on this trip it wasn’t through his normal disruptive behaviour. No matter what your opinions on his views, he certainly knows how to get a reaction. On this trip we saw none of that. Rather the focus was on diplomacy and extending the hand of friendship. One possible exception was his direct flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel. The difficulty in travelling between the two countries is known but the President was out to make a statement, Israel is his ally and he was not ashamed to express it.

 

3.     Trump at the Kotel

The image of Trump at the Western Wall, was very powerful. He wanted to take in the majesty of Israel and became the first serving President to visit. This was Trump reaching out to the Jewish community following a number of months where there has been an obvious tension between his premiership and our communities. We may find out what his note said, as it seems likely that it will end up online, but the contents shouldn’t matter. This was an important and necessary gesture and we should be pleased he did it.

 

4.     The Iran Nuclear Deal

The Iran Nuclear Deal was disastrous for Israel and the Israeli people. It was no surprise that when Trump stated ‘Iran will not be a nuclear power,’ that he was greeted by applause. It came in the context of Trump reaffirming his commitment to Israel and the peace deal saying, ‘we will get it done.’ While actions speak far louder than words, this was an important engagement with both sides and one that we hope will lead to progress. We have always argued for greater dialogue and this was the first step.

 

5.     Don’t mention the Embassy

While the Ambassador seemed to accompany Trump throughout his visit, there was no mention of moving the Embassy. This key election pledge seems to have disappeared. While it may not have been the deciding factor in the peace process, it may have been a catalyst for a faster and more efficient process. It shouldn’t overshadow a successful trip but it certainly represents another U-turn from the President. Add that to his cordial meeting with the Pope on Wednesday and the predictions that his talks with NATO will be softer than expected, all in all we saw a new President. Let’s hope he is effective.

 

 

Friday, May 15, 2015 - 5:29pm

 

CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 

Spring 2015 

By: Jack Rosen

Jack Rosen is an American businessman, President of the American Jewish Congress, and Chairman of the American Council for World Jewry

 

IF the many practitioners of politics around the globe can agree on one thing, it is the notion that “timing is everything.” The 2002 Middle East peace initiative—referred to as the Saudi Peace Plan or the Arab Peace Plan—has languished for well over a decade as a striking example of an idea that failed the “timing is everything” test. But it is an idea whose time may be coming soon.

While the Plan offered the bold promise of a wide-ranging rapprochement between Israel and its neighbors, it arose in the midst of the Al Aqsa Intifadah—the second and bloodier of the two Palestinian uprisings—claiming the lives of roughly 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians between 2000 and 2005.

That might have been a propitious time to get the combatants to come to the negotiating table; but the decades-long history of the conflict tells us it is the United States that plays the role of the indispensable mediator to push and prod the parties forward. When the Beirut Summit took place in March 2002—the venue at which then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah made his peace proposal—America was still in a state of shock from the events of 9/11, in the midst of being engaged in a war in Afghanistan, and one year away from invading Iraq.

In short, the timing was awful. But the wheel has turned more than once in the region, and the outlook for Israelis and Palestinians—as well as the key outside players—has changed. Certainly, peace seems no closer today than a decade ago; but the real threat of ever-widening Iranian hegemony has served to concentrate the minds of many Arab leaders in ways that could produce a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We are witnessing a historically disruptive moment. Fear is a powerful motivator.

Threats in the Gulf

While Israel has carried the banner for those in the region who see Iran as a dangerous, even existential, threat, the Arab Gulf States also are in the crosshairs.

For example, Tehran has long menacingly eyed Shia-majority Bahrain, with occasional indiscreet and revealing comments by the regime of the mullahs suggesting the small island nation ought to become the newest province of Iran. But as an Arab Member State of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Bahrain’s religious character may not be the trump card that defines its future. Even Manama’s ethnic-Persian citizens are highly dubious about life under the Ayatollahs. Still, Iran’s tentacles are long and its ambitions great—as, for instance, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon can attest.

Indeed, Iran’s growing influence in the Arabian Peninsula has ratcheted up the stakes dramatically for the entire region. In recent months—with dangerous Persian proxies finding increased success—GCC members have set aside old rivalries and tensions in the interest of creating a more solid front.

The December 2014 GCC meeting in Doha found broad agreement as to the most serious common threats. As Al Jazeera trumpeted, the meeting in Qatar was an important step in diminishing internal GCC conflict and focusing sharply the regional organization’s attention on the twin dangers of Iran and ISIS. As recently as mid-March 2015, the Emir of Qatar made a personal trip to meet with President Obama to discuss the Iran threat and review opportunities that have the potential to change the political landscape. He is not alone among regional leaders in trying to gain President Obama’s ear in the hope of convincing the White House that the Middle East requires priority attention, as well as more active involvement of the United States.

As David Petraeus, President Obama’s former CIA Director and perhaps the top military strategist of our time recently said, “I would argue that the foremost threat to [...] broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State; rather, it is Shiite militias, many backed by—and some guided by—Iran.”

Petraeus, who still consults with the White House, argues the Iranian regime “is ultimately part of the problem, not the solution” to the region’s issues.

The most powerful Gulf player, Saudi Arabia, has been the most outspoken. For many years, Saudi princes have traveled to Western capitals to sound the alarm about Iran—especially with respect to Tehran’s decades, old, multi-billion dollar effort to acquire nuclear weapons. Their opeds have filled newspapers, whilst their advocacy—sometimes taking the form of a charm offensive and at other times utilizing threats—has been constant.

The entire Gulf community has relied heavily on the United States to stand with its traditional friends and allies in the continuing Sunni-Shia struggle. Recently, however, trust in the United States has diminished; doubts about the White House’s commitment to stop Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons are common—not even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s personal pleas for patience in
Riyadh were able to forestall the kingdom’s recent announcement that it is taking initial steps to attain nukes.

Throughout the Gulf and across the Arab world, today there is a willingness to think anew—in good ways and bad—about old relationships and assumptions. The strength and reliability of decades-long ties with the United States is under review throughout the Sunni Middle East—given the general Arab unhappiness over U.S.-Iran negotiations on nuclear weapons.

None of this has been lost on Israel. The great irony is that while it has become more politically isolated in recent years, many of the Gulf states have quietly but unmistakably shown they are willing to think about Israel in a new light. Israelis have begun working under the radar with some neighbors who see a nuclear Iran—rather than Israel—as the greatest threat to stability and security in the Middle East.

Whether these events alone are enough to drive them further into each other’s arms remains to be seen; but it wouldn’t be the first time unintended consequences produced profound change. If a cost-benefit analysis showed that the best way to achieve enhanced security and prosperity was via a broad rapprochement between Israel, the Palestinians, and most of the Arab world—as outlined in the 2002 Arab Peace Plan—it might well become the consensus vehicle to satisfy core interests endangered by Iran.

Economic Opportunity

With the prevalence of long-term economic stagnation widely evident across the Middle East—from North Africa across the Arab world to Mesopotamia—Israel stands out in stark contrast from most of its neighborhood. The exceptions, of course, are the regimes blessed with enviable natural resources. While they have bet all their marbles for sustaining political and economic security on their hydrocarbon industries, one day they may rue the fact they have not done enough to diversify their economies.

The lack of economic progress in much of the Arab world has been chronicled for decades, and is attributed to many things. For example, beginning in 2002, the United Nations issued a series of Arab development reports that cited three major “development deficits” to progress. These roadblocks were defined as: knowledge, women’s empowerment, and freedom.

Even in the relatively successful Gulf, economic prosperity has not flowed down to all citizens. Whether it is a lack of economic diversification or one or more of the factors noted in the development reports, Gulf regimes should be concerned about issues of inequality, pockets of dissent, and the one-dimensional nature of their economies. These leave them overly dependent on fluctuations beyond their full control.

Famously known as the “Start up Nation” for its booming high tech industries, Israel has not been spared from the vagaries of other market economies. Income disparity, for example, is extremely high; but quality education for all citizens and a risk-taking culture that breeds both innovation and leadership make it well situated for long-term growth and prosperity—especially if and when its security problems are resolved.

Having had its economic growth tied throughout its existence to defense and security needs has resulted in somewhat contradictory outcomes. On the one hand, through necessity Israel has built its own weapons infrastructure—allowing it to export various munitions in the world market, which helps its trade balance sheet. On the other hand, the country still devotes an inordinate percentage of its GNP to defense spending. Freed from that burden, its economy no doubt would soar to new heights.

Achieving a peace sanctioned by the larger Arab world—as envisioned in the 2002 Arab initiative—would generate vast opportunities across the region. With its cutting-edge position in countless applications in medicine, biomedical research, and agricultural innovations, as well as an array of IT products, Israel is already the envy of many emerging economies—seen by many as a desirable partner. Israel’s development and trade officials are popular guests in China, India, and the world’s other major markets.

It doesn’t take a wild imagination to understand the potentially enormous benefits of a political breakthrough between the “High Tech Nation” and a group of oil-driven economies in search of investment ideas and a pathway to economic diversity through twenty-first-century opportunities. Such ties might even lead to new hope in the wider region—especially among the vast number of idle and underemployed young Arabs, who see the world passing them by. It could be the spark that creates an economic surge, fomenting a spirit of entrepreneurialism extending to key Arab nations—most notably including Egypt and Jordan—which already enjoy relatively quiet borders with Israel, albeit in the form of a cold peace that does not yet involve economic, cultural, or other links.

Successfully negotiating an end-of-conflict treaty would constitute the single most dramatic set of changes in the region in a century, and usher in opportunities that would give true meaning to the notion of an Arab Spring. Nothing would do more harm to the region’s extremists than to see a silent majority rise up to assert national prerogatives by pursuing less ideological and more pragmatic options based on the vision of regional economic cooperation, addressing the shortcomings outlined in the UN development reports, and broad based social and political modernization.

Though seemingly far-fetched today, the idea that all these efforts to address the Arab future could include meaningful and productive ties with Israel is less remote than most believe. The main missing ingredient is creative thinking and imaginative leadership that believes Israel can turn from being a regional outcast to becoming part of the regional solution. Assuming the self-interest of a new and better life for the average citizen in much of the region is a winning argument.
Rebuilding Gaza

In the context of a successful peace initiative, Gaza can be seen either as the largest hurdle to surmount in the quest to achieve a political settlement, or as a great opportunity.

Events on the ground have a way of surprising us, and only someone unaware of Gaza’s sad history would suggest easy answers. Conventional wisdom holds that the most salient factors in seeing Gaza clearly include the vicious Hamas-Fatah rivalry; that Hamas is the ideological extension of its parent organization, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood; that Hamas is dependent on, and acts as the proxy of, Iran and its Revolutionary Guard; that large swaths of the Strip reveal unlivable, bombed-out neighborhoods where potable water and electric power are available only intermittently; and where unemployment is extremely high and governance almost entirely absent.

Further, the typical international aid conferences that take place with regularity—and which provide little more than flowery words and unkept promises of financial assistance—demonstrate the cynicism of both Western governments and the oil wealthy Arab countries. For its part, Israel remains under heavy international pressure to allow unrestricted aid to flow into Gaza-with no acknowledgment that Hamas continues to misappropriate reconstruction materials by building more terror tunnels, whilst embezzling humanitarian assistance to support its friends. The nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza are surely exhausted and frustrated after nearly 10 years of living under a terrorist regime sustained by outside forces offering only more conflict and misery—with not a single realistic, tangible political or economic plan for change.

But there is another way to look at the situation—hard as it may be to see much hope. Though Iran would work hard to block anything that diminished the stature of its Palestinian proxy, Hamas could not survive in its present form in the face of a unified Arab world in which Palestinians would have the genuine opportunity to achieve statehood.

An agreement supported by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, and most of North Africa would be decisive—especially with the United States, Russia, China, and other major countries on board.

Could this come about through the same channels as in the past, with the United States trying to mediate between Israelis and Palestinians-as attempted by every American president in recent memory? Almost certainly not.

But could it happen in the framework of the 2002 initiative, wherein the wider Arab community takes the lead in a way that speaks to Israel’s security needs? As Israeli scholar and activist Alex Mintz has argued, “Such a coalition is Hamas’s greatest nightmare.”

It’s a nightmare scenario-not only because it would end Hamas’s dreams of destroying Israel, but also because it would lead to the demise of Hamas as we know it. Amidst its political ashes would rise the first genuine opportunity for investment to alter Gaza’s landscape. One of the main reasons putative funders speak loudly in front of the cameras, but then fail to deliver the promises they made, is the hard-headed calculation that putting money into an unstable situation controlled by Gaza’s kleptocratic leaders is both bad business and foolish public policy.

Under new management, Gaza could be expected to receive priority attention for the first time from GCC states-not to mention Western countries that could assume their investments would not be squandered. It is a reasonable expectation that in this scenario Gaza would stabilize and begin to flourish. It is not out of the question to think that within a decade of reconstruction, Gaza could become a magnet and a showcase: the beginning of a twenty-first-century Singapore in the Eastern Mediterranean.

For those around the world that insist on pointing fingers at Israel—and who have ignored the price paid by average Palestinian families in Gaza for the destructive role of their leaders—the time will come when their good will and intentions will be tested. But even absent that obligation, investment will come because time will demonstrate that it’s a wise business decision.

No one should be surprised that Israelis will be near the front of the line. They have been stymied for obvious reasons, but Israelis are eager to back real change-and they know Gaza’s success will enhance Israel’s security and prosperity. After all, Israelis and Palestinians have formed business relationships for decades in the West Bank. There is no shortage of Israelis with business know-how who have proposed reconstruction plans and who are ready for partnerships with responsible counterparts in Gaza who share the Singapore vision. Without the terrorist presence of Iran-backed Hamas, there is no reason a successful peace plan can’t create a new and inviting investment environment that welcomes Israelis, and one day catapults Gaza into the twenty-first century.

The dirty little secret about the persistent Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that there can be no final winner or final loser. Ultimately, they will either win together or lose together. If peace comes, one side’s prosperity will reinforce the wellbeing of the other. Their destinies are linked, and while all people must be free to pursue independent paths, the potential exists over time to create partnerships that can serve to advance a variety of mutual interests.

Israeli Perspectives

While the particulars have changed, the siege mentality generations of Israelis have lived with persists after more than six decades. As they look around the region, there is little to suggest meaningful change will arrive soon.

Even before its birth, through its War of Independence in 1948, and in all the years until today, Israel never has had an opportunity to work out its differences with the Palestinians without the intervention of outside Arab countries. Their combined forces attacked the fledgling state in the hope of snuffing it out in its crib; and when that didn’t work, Egypt took Gaza for itself while Jordan took the West Bank.

Needless to say, this was not done for the good of the Palestinian people, and the land grab was not sanctioned by the international community. Evidently, for nearly two decades it never occurred to Palestinians, Jordanians, or the international community that a Palestinian state should be established on those territories. When three outside Arab states provoked the pivotal Six Day War in 1967, the aim was not to redress any perceived wrong done to the Palestinians, but to try to eradicate the then 19-year-old country.

The history of the conflict demonstrates that every time Arab states took it upon themselves to try to eliminate Israel, the Palestinians paid the heaviest price whilst Israel got blamed. The moment at which we have arrived today may be one where the Arab world finally could be mobilized to make a positive contribution—not because over time they have fallen in love with Israel, but because therein may lie the salvation to their own existential problems.

The essence of the 2002 Arab Peace Plan was remarkable for its promise that reaching the finish line would provide Israel not just an agreement with the Palestinians, but a comprehensive deal with all its neighbors-opening up political and economic opportunities throughout the region.

Understandably, many Israelis now see the glass as more than half empty. Security problems abound in every direction. Hezbollah has moved into parts of southern Syria to expand its presence along Israel’s border, and other terror organizations such as the Al-Nusra Front and even ISIS elements are literally meters away from Israel in the once relatively calm Golan Heights. In the south, Hamas actually boasts that it is working feverishly to rehabilitate its tunnel system meant to get inside Israel to kill civilians. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—now ensconced in the eleventh year of his four-year term of office—seems preoccupied not with ending corruption and improving governance, or even negotiating directly with Israel, but with erecting more statues and naming more public squares to “honor” terrorists whose claim to fame is killing Israelis.

In this context, a preponderant skepticism reigns in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent reelection reveals again the power of fear and insecurity as Israelis assess their nation’s place in a hostile Middle East. The consensus view is that reviving direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis is futile for the foreseeable future. It’s possible, though, that starting from a different vantage point—which has been necessary for years—may have received a boost as a consequence of the election.

Revisiting the Arab Peace Plan could give Netanyahu a lifeline to demonstrate he seeks solutions, with a broader approach coming to possibly offer more assurance that moderate Arabs are potential allies to address the shared Iran problem and terror threats. If the Gulf states, together with Egypt and Jordan, emerge as forces Israel believes are reliable, and the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas coalition can be diminished, Netanyahu may yet surprise his critics—at home, in Ramallah, in Washington and elsewhere around the globe.

One key difference now from when the Arab Peace Plan was introduced in 2002 is widespread Arab awareness of the acute peril they face. If Israel was uncertain about the meaning and intent of Arab outreach a decade ago, Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons has made it abundantly clear that most of the Sunni world shares Israel’s profound worries today. There may never be a better time for Israel to act on this dynamic.

Furthermore—at least for some Arab states—recognition of the futility of basing an entire foreign policy on anti-Israel diatribes is not entirely new. For example, Israel had a representative office in Qatar 15 years ago. Neither party made a huge fuss about it, but neither was it a big secret. Things changed, and the office was closed, but Qatar was the canary in the coal mine that provided a hint of the benefits that could accrue under a cooperative arrangement. Neither side has forgotten those days, and surely there are many who reminisce at the thought of what might have been—secure in the knowledge that forging a mutually beneficial relationship was doable then, and is possibly so again today.

In fact, many Israelis have moved past the theoretical to the practical. There already exists a forward-looking community of investors, business people, scientists, and others who communicate with and quietly travel to see counterparts in the GCC and elsewhere. With an existing
Qatari model in mind, conversations have taken place again in Doha, the United Arab Emirates, Riyadh, and elsewhere—and the common Iranian threat only propels these initiatives forward with greater urgency. Just as in Israel, the time seems right for a comprehensive effort that puts on the front burner the idea that many in the Sunni world are ready to move beyond old arrangements that hold back their progress.

Even though the private sectors are ready, political leaders will have to make new outreach a priority—a brave decision to sweep away irrational fears from another era, predicated on recognizing that national security realities have changed. This is why people everywhere crave strong leaders who can see around obstacles and embrace progress.

Many in the Gulf have said privately for many years that they are receptive to a normalization of relations with Israel-but that they do not want to go first. Just about everyone has been willing to be second in line. If they are serious about addressing the new threats to their security, this is the time for someone to take the lead, bear the burden, and take the Arab world forward. Israel is the place—and not Iran—to test the theory of whether an outstretched hand can be met with an unclenched fist.

As the preeminent global power from the post-World War II era until today, the United States has been viewed as the only outside country with the ability to play a facilitating role in bringing recalcitrant parties to the table and influencing the outcome of negotiations. For all the current discussion about America’s diminished capacity to lead, Washington still carries great weight.

The long wars in which the United States has been engaged for more than a decade understandably have lessened the public’s enthusiasm for military adventures; but given the many tools available in its basket—diplomacy, economic assistance, intelligence sharing, political support—the United States remains an indispensable partner in the Middle East. The prime variable is the quality of American leadership.

No one can dispute the strategic value to the region and the world of a successful initiative that practically reinvents the modern Middle East. Though it always has been an absurd fallacy to argue that peace between Israel and the Palestinians would be the balm to soothe every regional problem, it is also undeniably true that a broader rapprochement that included much of the Arab world will create new alliances and partnerships that could address many long-standing problems. Some (not all) of the region’s terrorist problems would be easier to deal with, moderates in most states would gain at the expense of extremists, and attention could be turned towards economic challenges rather than the pursuit of destructive ends.

Furthermore, as the process of working toward a plan along the lines of the 2002 Middle East peace initiative would gain more traction, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Revolutionary Guard would suffer a major setback in the drive for regional hegemony. Hamas’s nightmare of better days through regional cooperation with Israel would be just as much a disaster for those pulling strings in Tehran as for those launching rockets in Gaza.

The last six years have witnessed a desire by Washington to “pivot” to the problems posed by various Asian nations—especially a rising China. Few would argue with the assessment that American economic and security interests should focus intensely on the challenges along the Pacific Rim. But a great nation must be able to do more than one big thing at a time. It cannot afford to turn away from a region now on fire—a part of the world in which it has historic, economic, moral, and security interests at stake.

If it has given either friend or foe the impression that it is looking for a way out of the mess—one it in fact may have inadvertently exacerbated—that must be corrected. The idea that the United States simply faces too many problems at home or elsewhere abroad to remain an active player in the region is just as misguided as the notion that it is the world’s policeman.

The White House today seems to believe the potential exists to pacify Iran through an agreement on its nuclear weapons program. Whatever one may believe about its virtues and shortcomings, even a narrow agreement—which is precisely what the parties seek—ignores fundamental questions about how a new Middle East might look in the context of such as “success.” Suffice it to say that Iran and the coalition it brings to the table—lackeys in Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and even Iraq—are not candidates to play a positive role.

On the other hand, the potential for Israel and many of its neighbors to enter into meaningful negotiations is real. Leaving aside Iran’s allies and proxies, Israel’s neighbors are not interested in prolonging war. They have come to recognize that Israel is here to stay, and that they have far more pressing interests-not least of which is to defend themselves against a nuclear Iran further emboldened to expand its Shia Islamic revolution far beyond its borders.

Moreover, this is a project where the United States can play a central role—reestablishing the goodwill it has lost by seeming to downplay the concerns of much of the Sunni Arab world-especially in the Gulf. This would require bold action—but the United States would not have to go it alone. Resurrecting and prioritizing the 2002 Arab Peace Plan would serve Washington well in most of the Arab world in which it has lost ground; in addition, it would instantly gain the support and backing of European allies eager to see reassertion of American leadership in the region.

Click here to read more! 

The Hill
Thursday, January 12, 2017 - 4:20pm

By Jack Rosen, President of the American Jewish Congress

Published in The Hill, January 12, 2016 

“People all over the world are looking to the United States for leadership. We are known as the indispensable nation for good reason. No nation has more opportunity to advance the cause of democracy and no nation is as committed to the cause of human rights as we are.”

When Secretary of State John Kerry made this statement in his confirmation hearing four years ago, no one could have predicted what that would mean for the Middle East and the international community.

In the immediate aftermath of Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing, it is important to reflect on Secretary Kerry's time in office and understand what a secretary of state can achieve.

Kerry’s credentials were second to none — a former presidential candidate, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, well-travelled and well-connected to many heads of state.
 

At the time, commentators believed that there could not have been a more worthy choice. For some, Tillerson is the opposite of that model. Questions have been raised considering his business associations, including his dealings with Putin, but it would be wrong to use the Kerry profile to judge Tillerson.

Anyone, myself included, who has been working long enough in international business and with foreign leaders on policy, will have come across people whose ideals they don't agree with, but who they dealt with to advance their company or organisational interests.

Who you have done business with does not necessarily lessen your support for America and it would be a mistake to assume that Tillerson’s business relationships disqualify him to be the next secretary of state.

Kerry looked like the perfect mould for the position, but the decisions he made may result in history judging his tenure very harshly.

Four years ago, no one present at Kerry's hearing would have thought to ask him, "Would you be happy to sit by and allow hundreds of thousands of people to be slaughtered in Syria?"

Or, "Is it acceptable to allow a country that openly declares it wants to wipe out its neighbor to be a threshold nuclear power?"

Yet, with the Iran nuclear deal and his policies regarding ISIS and Syria, that is exactly what has happened.

Culminating in his late December speech, Secretary Kerry’s record on Israel has been disastrous. He has targeted Israel in the U.N. and made the chances of constructive bilateral discussions less likely.

Rather than maintaining the long-standing U.S. policy of vetoing any resolution that interferes with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he allowed for the further isolation of Israel.

Kerry should have been preparing for a smooth transition to the new administration's policy goals, which would have included a veto on the previously mentioned resolution. Instead, Kerry chose to allow the U.N. to classify the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, as “occupied territory”.

Furthermore, while Israel has been the leading democracy in the region for generations, Kerry declared that it cannot be both Jewish and Democratic. The damage he caused in two weeks may take years to repair.

This is the position that Rex Tillerson will inherit. His approach to the U.N., which he has outlined on social media, will begin to correct the damage that has been done.

We will only be able to judge Tillerson by his actions, as we hope he will stand up and change the policy direction on Israel and the Middle East. 

Monday, May 23, 2016 - 11:31am

BDS Hotlist: May 2016

The momentum continued in favor of those who oppose BDS this month, as more state legislatures moved towards passing anti-BDS resolutions. While anti-Semitism unfortunately continues to plague the world, rearing its ugly head especially in the United Kingdom this past month, the battles over BDS resolutions continue to tilt in the favor of those who support the Jewish State.

One hard-fought battle in particular culminated in a huge victory for both our organization's efforts and for supporters of Israel. Find out what happened below.


International Political Arena

The UK's Labour Party faces a crisis of conscience in the public eye. After four separate incidents in which current or former elected officials from the Party made blatantly anti-Semitic remarks in public, the leftist group, which holds 229 seats in the UK Parliament -- the second most of any party -- must now contend with what appears to be a serious affliction within its morale.

Late last month it was announced that two Labour members -- Member of Parliament (MP) Naz Shah and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone -- would be suspended from the Party for anti-Semitic remarks made while both were out of office. In Shah's case, the controversy arose over Facebook posts she made in 2014, before being elected to Parliament, in which she suggested that moving Israelis to the United States would solve the conflict in Israel. She was a rising young star in the Party and has since apologized and distanced herself from the remarks. 

Ken Livingstone's story is a bit different. The former London mayor and 40-year stalwart of the Labour Party, Livingstone was suspended for making controversial remarks on Zionism and the Holocaust, and for comparing Hitler's policies to those of present-day Israel. Not only did he refuse to apologize for his claims, but he defended them in a public setting and insinuated that the backlash over the wave of anti-Semitism in Labour is a "well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticized Israel as anti-Semitic." Some members of the Party argued that Livingstone's suspension was unfair under the auspices that most of his comments relating to Hitler and Zionism "were true."

But wait, there's more. Two Labour Party councillors were suspended at the beginning of May for even more outrageous anti-Semitic remarks. Councillor Ilyas Aziz called for Jews in Israel to relocate to America in a series of Facebook posts and also posted offensive images calling for Jews to "stop drinking Gaza blood." The other councillor, Salim Mulla, claimed that Israel is behind ISIS and posted the same message as MP Shah about the "relocation" of Jews to the United States.

What do all of these elected officials have in common, aside from their party allegiance? They all supported the candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn, the controversial new leader of the Labour Party who has long been an outspoken critic of Israel.

Since the first few incidents, Corbyn has been cracking down on the Party, and it was soon revealed that these suspensions were only the tip of the iceberg. All in all, some 50 Labour members were secretly suspended for making racist and/or anti-Semitic remarks in the past two months. And now, as of yesterday, Ron Liddle, the British pundit and Labour Party member, has also been suspended from the Party for saying that "anti-Semitism is rife among Muslims." 

Conspiracies over the crisis have flown from the left and the right. Some believe that this is a methodical smear campaign intent on diminishing the reputation of Corbyn. Debate has intensified within the Party over the justification of the suspensions and how long they should be served. 

Yet, despite all of this unfolding right before the local elections in early May, a Labour Party member was elected as the new mayor of London on May 5. Sadiq Khan, the London-born son of Pakistani immigrants, is now the first Muslim mayor of London. He is also the first non-white mayor of London, although, it should be noted that the position has only existed since 2000.

Upon entering office, Khan quickly condemned the recent instances of anti-Semitism within his Party, and also made clear that he opposes the BDS movement. He even attended a Yom HaShoah ceremony. So far, he's off to a great start. We recently applauded him for his efforts

But wait. There's even more. Ironically enough, at an event centered on the theme of anti-Semitism within the UK's Labour Party, held by the University of London Student Union, several panelists called for the destruction of Israel as a solution to anti-Semitism. Tariq Ali -- a British Pakistani writer, journalist and filmmaker -- espoused an opinion that the annihilation of Israel would greatly benefit both Palestinians and Israelis, and would henceforth put anti-Semitism to rest altogether. This of course coming at an event focused on combating anti-Semitism.

And, in a much more positive note, the French bank Credit Mutuel shut down the account of La Campaigne BSD France -- the group that organizes on behalf of the BDS movement in France -- amid escalating concerns over illegal practices. 


Associations

For months, since it announced that it would divest its pension funds from several Israeli banks, the United Methodist Church has threatened further punitive action against the Jewish State. The Church, which has 7.2 million members in the U.S. and 12 million globally, has an outsized impact on the religious world. And for months, the American Jewish Congress has lobbied for the organization not to take further action in support of BDS or against Israel. 

Over the weekend, several pro-BDS resolutions were rejected by senior leaders of the Church amid its quadrennial policy conference. One senior leader, John Lomperis -- the director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy's United Methodist Action Program -- was quoted as having said that the resolutions "pretty much went down in flames," a telling indicator of a poorly planned boycott attempt by a religious organization that has necessary ties to the country that it seeks to boycott. Given the vast range of influence that the Church has, this was considered a big victory in the fight against BDS.

The United Methodist Church oversees tens of Methodist hospitals across the United States, and as many people are aware, much of the high-tech medical equipment used in medical facilities today originates in innovative medical research laboratories in Israel. Surely, the Methodist hospitals across the country employ Israeli technology, which is the basis for the argument that AJCongress made when imploring the Church not to boycott Israel after it announced its initial divestment last fall. This again comes as a big win for our organization.

Last week, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who is a practicing Methodist, issued a statement in condemnation of the BDS movement. The statement was believed to be directed towards the Church, although there is no mention of it. Regardless, her voice may have played a big role in ending the Methodist Church's pro-BDS streak, and for that we thank her.


Anti-BDS Laws

Iowa was the latest state to join the ranks of legislatures that have passed anti-BDS legislation in recent months. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed a bill that was approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in February and it was sent to Governor Terry Branstad for his approval. The bill prohibits public entities from entering into contracts of $1,000 or more with companies that participate in BDS activities. The Iowa State Senate also passed a resolution in support of Israel calling for a negotiated settlement resulting in a Palestinian state.

Meanwhile, we continue to wait with baited breath as the New York State Assembly decides which of the two anti-BDS bills that it is currently considering -- A.9036 or A.8220 -- will move forward in the legislative process. We will continue with our advocacy campaign to encourage the Assembly to move forward with A.8220 for the duration. Click here if you are a New York resident and would like to contact your legislator in support of this bill, which would forbid the State of New York from conducting business with entities that support BDS and would require the State to compile a list of companies that boycott Israel -- one of the strongest and most comprehensive anti-BDS bills put forth in any state legislature. 

We are also staging an advocacy campaign for California to pass an anti-BDS bill that its legislative bodies are currently considering. Click here to contact your California elected officials in support of AB. 2844.


Colleges

The University of Chile's Law Faculty Student Union passed a resolution in support of BDS in early May. The resolution prohibits any academic interaction with the State of Israel or its citizens. The students voted in the affirmative of the following two questions:

  • 1. "Do you agree to ban activities that involve the participation of functionaries of the State of Israel or with funding from the Israeli embassy in the law school?" and
  • 2. "Do you agree that the University of Chile should not maintain institutional links with Israeli universities that directly contribute to the violations of human rights of the Palestinian people?"

But in brighter news, early in the month, a BDS resolution was shot down at Vassar College, a prestigious liberal arts school in New York that is no stranger to anti-Israeli sentiment. At Vassar, 39 professors publicly support BDS, and a speaker who made reference to the accusation that Israelis harvested Palestinian bodies for organs was brought to campus in February. To say that rejecting BDS on a college known for its anti-Semitic streak is a big win would be a huge understatement.

Following the controversy of the BDS resolution passed by the NYU Graduate Student Union last month, members of the union have filed an appeal to reverse it. The NYU administration already condemned the resolution, and so did members of the Graduate Student Union who filed the appeal on the claim that the resolution violates both the codes of their parental union, the United Auto Workers, and the student union's contract with NYU.

And, as anti-Semitism continues to plague college campuses, the AMCHA Initiative just published a study that sought to unlock the underlying conditions that predict hostile incidents towards Jewish students and anti-Semitism on college campuses in general. The study discovered that the "strongest predictor of anti-Jewish hostility on campus is the presence of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel." Big shocker.


Celebrities

Last, but not least, American actor Michael Douglas, who won the 2015 Genesis Prize* -- awarded to Jewish individuals who have attained international renown in their chosen field and are firm defenders of the Jewish community and/or Israel -- will speak at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York next week. Douglas will be interviewed live by J Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde, and will speak about Jewish values, cultural issues and concerns facing the community.

*AJCongress President Jack Rosen serves on the Genesis prize committee and was very happy to see Mr. Douglas receive the award last year.


 

Thursday, May 5, 2016 - 12:10pm

On Yom HaShoah we pay our respects to those lost in the Holocaust, but we also look to the future at what must be done to prevent another atrocity of this magnitude, and seek to restore justice to the remaining Holocaust survivors who have to live with the burden of their experiences.

We at the American Jewish Congress reflect on the Holocaust every day, not just on Yom HaShoah. We strive to educate world leaders on the historic injustice of what our ancestors faced, and set the record straight on the current struggle in Israel. Every year, amid our annual Israel Mayors Conference, we take leaders (such as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, pictured below with AJCongress President Jack Rosen and Israeli Consul General Ido Aharoni) to Yad Vashem in an effort to cultivate understanding and tolerance.

Monday, April 25, 2016 - 2:01pm
BDS Hotlist: April 2016

Supporters of the Jewish State suffered a serious blow over the past week, as two major educational institutions passed pro-BDS (Boycotss, Sanctions, and Divestments movement) measures, and another is scheduled to vote on an academic divestment resolution on Friday. It seems that colleges and universities have become the breeding ground for BDS, as more and more student governments vote on resolutions to boycott Israel.

 

Meanwhile, positive developments continued on the state level here in the US, as another state legislature passed an anti-BDS measure in the past month. One of the largest states in the country -- that also has one of the biggest populations of Jews outside of Israel -- is also considering an anti-BDS measure in the coming days. Meanwhile, a highly prominent Congressman took a trip to Israel where they expressed solidarity with the Jewish State a couple of weeks ago.

 

Find out which congress member visited Israel and learn more about the global fight against BDS by reading on below:


International Political Arena
US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan visited Israel earlier this month with a bipartisan delegation comprised of seven congressmen from across the country. During the visit, Ryan reaffirmed his country’s devotion to the Jewish State and condemned the BDS (Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement. He also linked BDS to anti-Semitism while discussing the recent rise in European anti-Semitism on a radio show, calling BDS a “ridiculous and counterproductive shenanigan.” It was Ryan’s first trip to a foreign nation since assuming the speakership.


Anti-BDS Laws
California is well on its way to becoming the eighth state to pass a law aimed at curtailing the efforts of the BDS movement. The state legislature is considering a measure similar to those of many states that have already prohibited state entities from contracting with businesses that engage in boycotts against Israel. Before the bill can reach the Assembly floor, it must first pass through a number of committees. It was approved by the Assembly Accountability Administrative Review committee last week and will pass through the Judiciary Committee tomorrow, and ultimately the Appropriations Committee before either branch may vote on it. We are currently staging a contact your legislator campaign for our California followers to urge their state representatives to pass the bill.

Colorado became the seventh state to pass an anti-BDS measure late last month as Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law a bill requiring the state’s retirement program to divest from companies that boycott Israel.

In late March,Illinois officially became the first state to publicly list companies that are banned from doing business with any state entity for boycotting Israel. Overall, 11 companies were listed by the Illinois Investment Policy board as being barred from conducting business with state entities for their support of the BDS movement. This, of course, comes amid a wave of state-sponsored legislation targeting BDS supporting corporations.

The recent wave of anti-BDS bills clearing state legislatures is considered a huge boon for supporters of Israel, especially as anti-Israel sentiment gains support on college campuses and in the international political arena. State legislation has increasingly become an integral component of the fight against BDS, gaining traction in particular after the European Union (EU) began labeling goods made within the disputed territories last year. Jewish advocacy organizations (including this one) have turned their attention to state-sponsored anti-BDS measures in lieu of support from foreign nations and international political bodies. The US government paved the way for the recent wave of anti-BDS laws in state legislatures with a law designed to legally strengthen states’ abilities to pass anti-BDS legislation.


Colleges
The BDS movement suffered two defeats in five weeks at the University of Minnesota, as a pro-BDS resolution put forth and supported by a number of student and faculty groups was twice shot down. While the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) did pass a heavily amended version of the BDS bill, the final product contained no references to specific countries, including Israel, and instead resolved that MSA endorse divestment generally from “corporations involved in human rights violations,” and from “companies profiting from human rights abuses and violations of international law.” You can track all college and university votes on BDS resolutions on the website of the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit focused on monitoring anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately, BDS gained ground with victories at two major educational institutions: the City University of New York (CUNY) system and the University of Chicago (UChicago), in the past week. On Friday, the CUNY Doctoral Students Council overwhelmingly voted in favor of an academic boycott of Israel, and last Thursday the UChicago student government voted that the university should divest itself from ten companies that profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Following the vote, however, the UChicago administration issued a statement clearly articulating that it would not divest from companies doing business in Israel.

New York University’s graduate student union will consider a resolution in support of BDS later this week. The measure would request an academic divestment from Israel, the divestment of the university’s endowment from Israeli companies, and the closure of the university’s Tel Aviv campus. A spokesperson for the school -- which has an incredibly high percentage of Jewish students -- said that the administration has long been opposed to BDS, and that the “vote is at odds with NYU’s policy on this matter,” is “at odds with the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas,” and “is even at odds with the position of their own parent union, the UAW.” The UAW already nullified the pro-BDS resolution passed by academic workers in the University of California system in January, and will likely do so again if the NYU student union passed their version of a pro-BDS measure.


Associations
The Rockefellers, an historic family known for amassing unprecedented sums of wealth during the Gilded Age, are on the hotseat for supporting BDS. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), a charity organization owned and operated by the family, has reportedly donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to pro-BDS organizations, according to the Shurat Hadin Israel Law center who sent the RBF a scathing letter threatening legal action. The RBF said in response that while they do not support BDS, “they stand behind all the organizations supported by the fund and which work for a just and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians.”


Celebrities
A-list celebrities continue to stand by the Jewish State. Kevin Costner recently dismissed the BDS movement during his second trip to Israel, knocking famous BDS activist and Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters in the process. And legendary British singer-songwriter Elton John and American comedian sensation Louis CK are set to perform in Israel in the coming weeks.


 

Monday, March 28, 2016 - 2:33pm

 

 

BDS Hotlist: March 2016

American legislatures are coming out strong against the BDS (Boycotts, Sanctions, and Divestment) movement, as an anti-BDS sensation seems to be sweeping across the United States. Multiple state legislatures have passed anti-BDS laws in recent months, and the number will continue to rise in the coming weeks as considerably more states have opened up to the idea of opposing BDS with formal legislation, and have pending bills in their respective state houses.

This, of course, comes in the heels of mounting anti-Semitism at colleges across the United States and in Europe, and in the wake of one of the biggest anti-Israel showings in the past few years: “Israel Apartheid Week,” which was celebrated by proponents of BDS across the world late last month and into March.

Overall, the past month of BDS-related news saw more victories for Israel than defeats, and ended with a boom as a well-known critic of Israel -- and a powerful member of the international political arena -- changed her stance and decided to come out in support of the Jewish State and against BDS.

Find out who it was, and learn more about the global fight against BDS by reading on below:

 


Anti-BDS Laws

The US Congress introduced yet another piece of anti-BDS legislation at the end of February. A new resolution aimed at encouraging the Obama administration to invest in Israeli security technologies and other tech sectors -- including those that could prevent cyber security attacks and other national security threats -- is being spearheaded by a bipartisan group of Congress members from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The resolution implores the Obama administration “to explore new agreements with Israel, including in the fields of energy, water, agriculture, medicine, neurotechnology, and cybersecurity.” Congressional insiders indicate that the resolution is intended to send a message to the Obama administration, as well as anti-Israel groups, that the United States is Committed to Israel.

And following the introduction of another congressional bill aimed at legally strengthening states' abilities to pass anti-BDS legislation last month, a multitude of state legislatures passed or introduced bills aimed at supporting Israel in recent weeks. Among other things, the bill protects state and local governments' right to disassociate pensions and contracts from entities that boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel.

Colorado passed a law that directs its Public Employees Retirement Association to divest from foreign companies participating in BDS just last week. The Indiana legislature -- both the State Senate and the state House of Representatives -- passed a measure that would prohibit the state from conducting business with entities that support the BDS movement, and the bill now awaits Governor Mike Pence’s signature to become law. He is expected to sign. In late February, the Iowa House of Representatives passed a bill similar to the one from Indiana, which is now pending in the State Senate.

And last week, both Florida and Virginia passed resolutions condemning the BDS movement, after Florida already passed an anti-BDS bill -- which was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott last week -- earlier this year.

And in Spain, where a couple of cities have shown support for BDS by passing anti-Israel measures, the municipality of Aviles distanced itself from a pro-BDS motion it passed in January, and denounced it as discriminatory.

 


International Political Arena
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström -- who made numerous headlines for her unabashed criticism of Israel in recent months -- had a change of heart after meeting with Israeli Knesset Member, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Livni. Wallström committed to publicly denounce the BDS movement after the meeting, and will publicly support Israel’s right to defend itself as well. She also expressed hope that Swedish-Israeli relations will be normalized following her concession.

This is certainly a big win for Israel, not just because Sweden is competing for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, but because Wallström is a powerful political figure in Europe and could surely play a role in condemning the ongoing wave of anti-Semitism there.


BDS Propaganda
A troubling new report by an official committee of the Presbyterian Church USA shows that the church is actively promoting the BDS movement while downplaying the extent of Palestinian terrorism. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, said that the “report...promotes boycotts under the guise of religious responsibility,” and that for years “some factions of the Presbyterian Church have [been]....promoting discriminatory attacks against Israel, while ignoring murderous Palestinian terror.”

And in late February, the BDS movement kicked off their annual “Israel Apartheid Week,” which aims at spreading awareness to the Palestinian side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and drawing support for BDS. The anti-Israeli movement is celebrated during different weeks in different regions, but kicked off in the UK during the week of February 22-28. The first day made a sizeable media splash when hundreds of anti-Semitic ads were discovered in over 500 London tube trains, where over 4 million people saw them. Luckily, London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has spoken against BDS in the past, demanded that the posters be taken down, and they were. Transport for London, the group that oversees the London Underground transit system, called the “Israel Apartheid Week” ads an act of vandalism, implying that the posters were not sanctioned to be put up by the organization. “Israel Apartheid Week” is currently being acknowledged in the Arab world, and will be held in the United States from March 27-April 3.

In a similar situation, albeit domestic, a pro-BDS billboard in Chicago is scheduled to be taken down. The advertising agency responsible for the anti-Israel poster, Lamar Advertising, said that it had received a “large number” of social media comments and hundreds of telephone calls protesting it. The billboard is located on a major highway near O’Hare Airport.

And late last month in Los Angeles, the entertainment magazine Variety reportedly refused to publish an anti-Israel advertisement that says “Don’t endorse Israeli apartheid,” proposed by the group Jewish Voice for Peace. Oscar nominees were given a free trip to Israel as part of their “swag bags,” and the advertisement -- whose top line reads “Free Trip to Israel at the Expense of Palestinians” -- called on them to reject the offer. Ultimately, however, the ad will never see the light of day. The Israeli government is sponsoring the $55,000 all-expense paid, 10-day travel package to Tel Aviv for all Oscar nominees for best actor/actress, best supporting actor/actress, and director categories, as well as Oscar host Chris Rock.


Colleges
Three major victories against BDS unfolded on US college campuses in recent weeks:

A resolution in favor of BDS passed in a vote by the Student Association at Vassar College last week, however, a concurrent amendment -- which would have required the VSA to restrict funding from the Vassar Student Activities Fund, did not receive the two-thirds majority needed in order to be implemented. Late last month in Boston, Northeastern University’s Student Government Association rejected a pro-BDS resolution for the second year in a row.

And the Student Senate of the University of Indianapolis rejected a pro-BDS measure with a slim margin -- just two votes shy of passing it.

And up north, students of McGill University -- a liberal arts college in Montreal, Canada -- voted against a BDS motion by a sizeable margin -- 57% to 43%. Pro-BDS forces at McGill have tried and failed three times over the past 18 months to pass a BDS motion.

More troubling news out of Oberlin College -- the ultra-liberal liberal arts college, which has played host to a variety of startling pro-BDS and anti-Semitic events in recent years: the president of the prestigious Ohio school is defending a professor who has been posting a barrage of anti-Semitic rants and strange 9/11 conspiracies on social media. In defense of professor Jay Karega’s freedom of speech, President Marvin Krislov released a letter emphasizing the importance of academic freedom. Although the school did release a brief statement saying that Karega’s views do not represent those of the college.

 

 

 

Thursday, February 25, 2016 - 4:44pm

Egypt once again has a working  Ambassador posted in Israel, and in the daily crush of news out of the region, this important development has flown under the radar. Make no mistake: it’s a big deal.

Hazem Khairat met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem this week, officially making him Cairo’s first emissary to Israel since 2012.

Khairat’s arrival was touted by both governments as a sign of warming relations between the two nations, which became strained under the rule of former Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted in 2013. Ambassador Khairat expressed hope that the two countries’ relationship could be “constructive” towards bringing peace to the region.

The American Jewish Congress has long been involved in the Egyptian-Israeli relationship. AJCongress President Jack Rosen has visited Egypt numerous times in recent years, working to build bridges not only between Egypt and Israel, but emphasizing the importance of Egypt nurturing historic ties with what today is a greatly diminished Jewish community.

Further, there is no shortage of issues Egypt and Israel must work on together, from security and terror threats by Hamas and ISIS, to energy and other trade relations. The momentous Camp David peace agreement is one month short of its 37th anniversary, and it’s past time to move beyond the “cold peace” that has characterized relations. The fact that Egypt and Israel have not fired a shot at each other in generations is cause for celebration, but friendship between the people of each country could generate enormous benefits. 

Khairat’s presence in Jerusalem is a welcome sign of progress. We hope that as stability grows in Egypt, Cairo will continue to reopen diplomatic channels throughout the Middle Eastern and reassume its leadership role.

Israel, of course, also has a vital role to play, with new opportunities to reach out to neighbors prepared to view the Jewish state with fresh eyes. The shared challenge of responding to the hegemonic ambitions of Iran provides Israel and many Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, a chance to work together as never before. 

Let’s hope that Ambassador Khairat’s efforts will bear fruit for both countries, and that in the not-too-distant-future other regional ambassadors to Israel will become the norm rather than the exception.  

 

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