Israel should not pay for American Jewish College Students

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Jerusalem Post 08/27/16

According to the latest data from the OECD, Israel gives 0.07 percent of its gross national income away in international aid. This is just under $200 million dollars. Israel ranks just above Russia (at 0.06%) and Thailand (0.02%) at third from bottom. In case you were wondering, the Slovak Republic is just above at 0.1%.

With so little taxpayer money going overseas to support needy causes, it is interesting to note that earlier this month, the government unveiled the recipients of what represents 11% of its total largesse – North American Jewish college students. $22m. will be given to Hillel International, Chabad and Olami to strengthen Jewish identity and deepen Jewish engagement on campus.

Mosaic United is the final incarnation of the “Government of Israel World Jewry Initiative” that became the “Israel-Diaspora Initiative,” three years in the making.

Is it that having the support of the government of Israel will help in campus outreach from a strategic level? If anything the reverse is true; any student will tell you that getting Israeli government support for your activities makes you a target for accusations of acting as a foreign government agent. It’s the same accusation that the government of Israel has made of the NGO community in Israel, namely that by receiving foreign government donations the non-profits are foreign agents.

If it’s not a funding gap and there is no strategic value to having the government of Israel stamp on your program, is it that the government does not trust that the US Jewish community is capable of providing the correct Jewish content to their community?

Israel as a country, and certainly as a coalition government has enough of its own problems in working out what being Jewish means to preach it to its biggest Diaspora. The egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, usage of mikvaot for non-orthodox streams of Judaism, and the issue of conversion are at the forefront of a never-ending laundry list of issues that create tension between the different segments of Jewish practice.

Looking at who the grantees are of this first round of funding, the concern of the Reform and Conservative community in the US is that Israel is trying to create a more Orthodox America. Chabad and Olami are Orthodox outreach movements. It is very easy to paint Mosaic United as Israel’s way to create a more Orthodox Jewish Diaspora who, on average, are more likely to support the policies of the current government of Israel.

Given the tensions that will exist in every Knesset about the issues of Judaism, the government is perhaps the least capable entity to fund a real conversation about Jewish identity today.

If one of the dozen Israeli billionaires or thousand or so millionaires want to fund alongside the North American Jewish philanthropic community programs for American 13-35-year-olds, that would be wonderful.

Until then, Israeli taxpayers’ international aid should support the poor, needy and sick, doubling down on the remarkable programs that help victims of the Syrian civil war, support victims of natural disasters and gift Israeli water technology to help deal with climate change around the world.

Building Peace from the Ground Up

This is a transcript of a talk I gave to the Fathom Fourm in London 

On 30 June 2015, Joel Braunold, US Director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) spoke to a Fathom Forum on the importance of people-to-people movements to any eventual resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When the Palestine Survey and Research Group published their quarterly research on levels of support for the two-state solution, everyone concentrated on the top line point, which is that support for the two-state solution has dropped to 51 per cent support in Israel and has stayed steady on 51 per cent support among Palestinians. But the really worrying statistics were below the fold. As many as 56 per cent of Israelis are worried or very worried on a daily basis that they will be murdered by Arabs and 79 per cent of Palestinians are worried or very worried on a daily basis that they will be murdered or have their land confiscated by Jews. It gets worse. 56 per cent of Palestinians believe that the Israeli objective is to expel them from the land, 25 per cent that the objective is annexation, whilst 43 per cent of Israelis believe that all Arabs are out to kill them and 18 per cent believe their aim is the conquest of Israel and the removal of their citizenship. Aggregated, between 60 and 80 per cent percent of the two populations believe that the intent of the other is the removal of their rights or their actual destruction. The Pew opinion surveys demonstrate that the youth of Israel and Palestine are even more pessimistic than their elders about the future, so any hopes that change may come with the new generation are likely misplaced.

The international community has been very good at focusing on doing civics, economics, or politics at any one time, but never all three simultaneously. When diplomatic efforts seemed to be succeeding during the Oslo years, governments placed a heavy emphasis on ‘people-to-people’ programmes designed to bring Jews and Arabs together, but post-Intifada there was a move towards a more economic approach with state building that saw $3 billion of US loans being poured into the construction of a Palestinian state. When this failed to lead to the creation of Palestinian state, the economic approach was abandoned in favour of a renewed focus on diplomacy, exemplified in John Kerry’s belief that if you managed to get the right people in the room and push hard enough a solution could be found. In short, the three components for Palestinian statehood and the end of occupation – which are all necessary but insufficient in themselves – have been segmented, resulting in repeated failure.

Underlying these failures has been a huge gulf in trust. It is that gulf which the ‘people-to-people’ community has been trying to close. Both within the Green Line and beyond it, there are a number of civil society groups that seek to bring Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs together, in agriculture, education, industry, high-tech work, and advocacy programmes. The Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) was established in 2003 in Washington DC by Avi Meyerstein in response to the tendency of such ‘people-to-people’ movements to travel to Washington, meet with a member of the administration, and then leave empty-handed. ALLMEP is a coalition of 91 organisations which seeks to persuade lawmakers that the work of grassroots programmes is not only nice, but also necessary. At the moment, ALLMEP secures $10 million a year for grassroots programmes, 23 per cent of the global total, but this is not enough. The $1.5 billion fund that the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) had at its disposal over a 25 year period ensured that $33 per capita was spent on reconciliation programmes there, as opposed to $3.75 in Israel-Palestine. ALLMEP’s calculations suggest a $200 million Israeli-Palestinian Fund for International Peace is required to properly finance the vital work of peace and reconciliation organisations.

ALLMEP’s work extends beyond the financial dimension. On the human capital front, our regional director Huda Abuarquob seeks to build a sense of community amongst these extremely diverse groups, covering everything from Kids4Peace to Center for Religious Tolerance, and to help them co-operate, learn from each other, and leverage each other’s successes. We seek attention not to simply generate positive news stories but to ensure such stories are both noticed and seen as important. This is vital as Jewish philanthropists are prepared to channel vast sums of money into efforts to combat the movement for Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS), but are more reluctant to give to efforts to build peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The Joint Social Venture Fund, the collective giving fund of the Jewish Federations of North America with a combined income of $3 billion per annum, gives only $800,000 towards efforts to build bridges between Jews and Arabs. There are some federations that sponsor this work such as in San Francisco and New York, but this lack of collective giving is a serious problem. So a greater focus on this work, whilst not a panacea, will go a long way to correct this problem of under-resourcing.

There are some, especially within the BDS movement who say our work is pointless, that it will never lead anywhere, and that it has no endgame. All I ask is that they hold their own community to the same standard to which they hold ours. The concept that the arc of history will suddenly bend and all will be well when you apply enough pressure is an absurdity today, when you have an armed and secure Israel that will under no circumstances give up that status. The best the BDS movement can hope for is an impoverished pariah state with unconfirmed nuclear weapons. The BDS movement has won the spotlight, but it needs to mature and decide how it wants to use it. At the moment, it promises full equality to Palestinians who live in Israel, the end of occupation to those who live in Gaza and the West Bank, and the full right of return to refugees. Everyone wins. The reality is that not everyone will win because there is another population there. The challenge the BDS movement faces is how they come to terms with that fact and engage with it.

More worrying still is the anti-normalisation movement, which seeks to police interactions between Israelis and Palestinians, cutting off all links that the BDS activists deem not to contribute to the right of return, the end of occupation, or full equality. Ultimately, these attempts to enforce separation are futile. But they make life especially difficult for those in the ‘people-to-people’ community, whose work is premised on bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. The philosophy of the anti-normalisation movement, built as it is on a refusal to believe in the power of conflict resolution or in the value of anything that does not directly support Palestinian struggle or protest, is intellectually coherent, but ultimately self-defeating. The average Israeli is not going to join Anarchists Against The Wall, yet almost everyone in the anti-normalisation movement is from the constituency of people who would. This ideological dogmatism chokes these movements, as they will achieve none of their goals by refusing to engage with the very Israeli Jews who disagree with them and that they need to persuade.

The unhelpful attitude prevails on both sides of the conflict. Anti-normalisation should be set alongside the proposed Israeli NGO laws to tax donations from foreign governments, brand NGOs that receive such donations as ‘foreign agents’, and limit government co-operation with such potential. Government restriction of funding to control the debate is the parallel of the anti-normalisation community. Just as the anti-normalisation community seeks to shut down anything that does not directly advance their specific agenda, such legislation attempts to shut down anything that disrupt the image that Israel puts out to the world.

‘People-to-people’ work has brought thousands together and has the potential to do so much more. A sceptical parent’s outlook might be changed by sending their children to a Hand In Hand School, a farmer’s through cross-border agricultural work with Olive Oil Without Borders, and someone with limited access to water can be reached by a cross-border water programme with EcoPeace. The best people to convince Israelis that Palestinians are not monsters, and to show the Palestinians that Israelis are not monsters, are the respective populations. It is only through affecting this kind of change by building trust that Arab-Jewish relations will be normalised. Yes, Jewish-Arab alliances must be built on the political level: Israeli governments routinely exclude 20 per cent of the population and a fundamental shift in political culture is needed there. But they must also exist on the local level. Until trust is built through practical action on the ground, every solution will ultimately be swallowed up by its absence.

Shutting down dissent in both Communities

This first appeared in Haaretz July 2nd and was co-authored by Huda Abuarquob 

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has dominated headlines of late, with anti-BDS legislation being passed in Congress and in the Knesset; pro-Palestinian students in America being “exposed;” an Israeli government minister being appointed especially to combat this threat; Britain’s national student union joining the BDS movement; the list goes on. Perhaps the BDS movement’s greatest achievement is the seriousness with which it is taken.

Yet, for those who are interested in advancing the cause of peace by building the necessary trust between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, the BDS movement is not the greatest threat; the anti-normalization movement is.

The anti-normalization movement has called for an end to all interactions between Israelis and Palestinians that do not subscribe to three key tenets: ending the occupation; equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians; and a full right of return for Palestinian refugees. These three tenets are shared with the BDS movement, and, as such, the two movements are joined at the hip. Yet the effects on the ground of the anti-normalization movement are far more serious.

It seeks to police all interactions between Israelis and Palestinians, and, as such, disrupts programs that it perceives as being unaligned with its agenda. This makes life particularly hard for those of us in the “people-to-people” community – who bring Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians together in school, agricultural, high-tech and advocacy programs or camps.

The movement does this because it believes that normalized relations between Palestinians and Israelis draws a false equivalence between the parties, and does nothing to address the power imbalance created by the occupation. Normalization, it contends, would remove the urgency for ending the occupation and granting Palestinians independence and sovereignty.

The only joint programs anti-normalization advocates condone are those that support resistance or protest. All others, they believe, undercut the Palestinian national struggle.

While the argument for anti-normalization is intellectually coherent, it is ultimately self-defeating. How, for example, will those who seek a full right of return for Palestinian refugees but refuse to allow them to engage with Jewish Israelis who reject the idea, succeed in convincing the Israelis that it is a viable option? How do they expect two conflicting parties to empathize with one another’s narratives when neither side has the opportunity to learn of the other’s struggle on a personal level? And how can they break the victim-perpetuator cycle if they do not seek an end to the victim-perpetrator identities? Preventing the conflicting sides from interacting enables anti-normalization activists to define the “other” in their own terms.

In their effort to delegitimize coexistence programming, anti-normalization activists lampoon people-to-people activities as Israelis and Palestinians coming together to eat hummus then go home. This is an utterly false representation of the people-to-people movement today. Look at the thousands engaged by Parents Circle or Combatants for Peace, the farmers whose crops have not wasted thanks to Olive Oil Without Borders or the communities receiving fresh water owing to the work of EcoPeace. These are just a sample of thousands of people whose lives have been changed through joint programs.

Change is painfully slow and real progress does not come fast enough for those who suffer the brunt of the occupation, but these joint programs are the best hope of fundamentally changing the worldviews of those who have been fighting for generations. People-to-People work today has evolved to be less about dialogue and far more about building trust. This is painfully slow and offers only incremental progress, yet given how each population fears the other, offers a real option for progress.

While the anti-normalization movement’s intimidation tactics and efforts to shut down dissent make up the Arab part of the challenge facing groups that operate in the people-to-people community, from the Israeli, Jewish side, the key challenge lies within the coalition.

We fear that legislation in the Israeli government could shut down discourse on a people-to-people level by weakening NGOs. The government has already introduced bills to tax donations by foreign government to such organizations, and brand NGOs or individuals who receive funding from foreign governments as “foreign agents.” Another bill would limit the degree to which the Israeli government and army cooperates with groups who receive financial support from foreign governments. This has the potential to prevent these NGOs’ programs from ever being integrated into Israel’s public sector.

By starving their funds, limiting their access to the government, and preventing them from communicating to the public at large, Israel portrays these groups as foreign interlopers, branding them, at best, as naïve, or, at worst, as the enemy within; dangerous agitators who draw false equivalences between Israel and her enemies.

Israel’s efforts to limit discourse mirror the anti-normalization movement’s efforts to curb dialogue – only the former does so via legislation, while the latter uses threats and intimidation. Together, these efforts become an anti-democratic front against coexistence groups working to create a shared society. Both sides hope to prevent having the voices heard of those who seek a different path to that of the majority. Both sides fear that unchecked discourse will undermine the majority’s political posturing and goals. Both sides seek to control the debate by preventing it from happening.

Yet, if we are to see any progress in the areas of peace, coexistence, security, freedom, justice and rights, it will be on a basis that Palestinians and Israelis have a shared future. We need space to run programs that bring Israelis and Palestinians together to explore these values as one, without fear or intimidation. Jews and Arabs are either destined or doomed to share the land together. Let us work for the former to avoid the latter.

Will American Zionists be sued for urging a boycott of Israeli settlements?

This article first appeared in Haaretz 4/29/15

There has been a long running debate within the Jewish pro-Israel community in the Diaspora about how to best deal with BDS. One argument states that you must reject BDS in any form or format. Boycott of settlements is just a slippery slope to boycotting Israel and therefore everything from labeling products to identifying settlement companies should be opposed.

The other, often used by the Zionist left, states that the best way to deal with BDS is to demonstrate the utility of the tactic when it comes to settlements and draw a clear line between Zionist BDS (to borrow a phrase from Peter Beinart) and the general BDS movement, whose demand of a full right of return and ambiguity on what solution they are seeking threaten Zionism itself.

When the pro-Israel Jewish community established its red lines, support of BDS was the litmus test. The uncertainty around these red lines boiled down to this: Can one support a settlement boycott and still be part of the pro-Israel community?

In America this debate is played out every year in the Israel Parade in New York, when the Jewish Community Relations Council deals with the pro-Israel right’s attempts to ban the pro-Israel left from marching. The right claims that the left’s support for a boycott of the settlements means it should not be allowed to take part.

This month, Israel’s High Court of Justice upheld the “Anti-Boycott Law” and codified that BDS is an all-or-nothing enterprise. Israel’s finance minister now has the ability to punish entities that call for a boycott of the settlements. In addition, individuals can be liable for damages caused by their call for boycott, be that of settlements or Israel “proper.”

In practice, this means that if you have some 50,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter and you write a status that says that you encourage your friends not to buy wine produced in the settlements, you could be liable for damages that the vineyard could bring against you, if they can show they lost a sale.

The more effective your call is, the more liable you could be.

It’s not clear how much this will affect foreign nationals at this point, but the court decision has legislated an end to the debate within the pro-Israel community. BDS is now an all-or-nothing enterprise, an approach that maintains that there is no difference between the West Bank settlement of Mevo Dotan and Tel Aviv. This is the argument that settler groups have always maintained. Those in the BDS community who also argue that the Green Line is a false distinction join them.

The new all-or-nothing approach is further strengthened by pending Congressional legislation that also links boycott of Israeli settlements to the general BDS movement. The amendment to the customs act would punish corporations and trade partners who support a boycott of Israel or “any of its territories.”

The result of the High Court decision is that one can call for a boycott of a business for unfair labor practices, environmental issues, gender or social statements by business owners or a whole other host of reasons. But calling for a boycott based on the location of the business could cause an NGO to lose its non-profit status.

The High Court’s ruling means that non-profits and individuals no longer have the freedom to express their views on this existential issue for Israel without significant legal and financial ramifications.

It will be interesting to see if prominent left-wing Diaspora Jews, like Peter Beinart and others could be ordered to appear before an Israeli court to pay damages for their activism.

What is for sure, is that the application of this law will further tear apart the pro-Israel community and force people into polemical positions; Israel right or wrong, or support real pressure to get Israel to change course. The ongoing debate within the Diaspora of how one can express their disagreement with Israeli settlement policy has just been severely restricted.

Much like the results of the Israeli election, these legislative moves in Jerusalem, and potentially in Washington, help destroy a complex relationship between the Jewish Diaspora and the Jewish state by forcing people into abject support or rejection of Israel. With a new narrow right-wing government on the horizon in Israel, this will continue to erode U.S. bipartisan support and damage Israel’s most strategic asset.

Interview with Children of Peace

Children of Peace 4/9/14

Sarah Brown: How did you first get involved in OneVoice?

Joel Braunold: During University I was a member of the National Union of Students National Executive Committee. While an office holder the war in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead) broke out and I saw the effect of the conflict spill over into UK campuses and made me wonder what people in the region thought of their advocates abroad.

It was during this time that I met Jake and Sayeeda from OneVoice Europe who were attempting to hold the advocates of Israelis and Palestinians accountable to what people on the ground actually thought. I had spent two years studying Talmud in Jerusalem and thought that I knew the region well, but meeting OneVoice allowed me to actually speak to people living under occupation and within the conflict.

When I graduated I won a fellowship with the Legacy Heritage Foundation (out of the US) and convinced them to allow me to work for OneVoice Europe as a fellow. Now almost five years later (with a little break for some grad school and private sector work) I am still with the movement.

SB: Could you tell our readers about any experiences that you found particularly striking or surprising during your involvement with OneVoice?

JB: Despite the asymmetry with the conflict the populations, Israelis and Palestinians, are mirror images of each other. Before starting at OneVoice I had spent a significant amount of time in Israel and knew the Israeli psyche very well. My first time travelling to the West Bank, to work with our Ramallah office, I encountered Palestinians who spoke about Israelis the same way that Israelis spoke about Palestinians. The populations are so similar in their outlook of the other, both positive and negative, that it is a tragedy that they cannot recognize themselves in the other.

SB: I recently heard Moshe Amirav give a talk in which he suggested that the Arab League and the European Union should replace the United States as the key intermediary in negotiations between Israel and Palestine. What is your view of that proposal?

JB: It’s interesting. While I was at grad school I wrote a paper about the challenge of the mediator being perceived as impartial. After twenty years of attempts, the US is seen as flawed as an honest broker. Yet there are two very important points when considering this view point.

1) It is the US’s relationship to Israel that makes them a valid broker at all. The Palestinians’ main complaint is not that the US has a unique relationship with Israel, but is that they don’t use it to motivate the Israelis to achieve a two-state solution. Seeing that any solution would require the Israelis to make the main amount of sacrifice at this point (the Palestinians made their compromise with their acceptance of two-states), the Israelis are the ones who need to move from the comfort of the status-quo. If the US could use its influence to affect that, then I think that their relationship with Israel would be seen as an asset rather than a liability.

2) There is a tendency to blame the mediator when the talks fail. The US is not involved enough, or they are obsessed by it. They need to want the deal more than the parties or they cannot want it more than the players involved. Whatever happens, the US is the easy party to blame, as by blaming the party in the middle, the Israelis and Palestinians avoid the responsibilities for their own failures. The biggest issue is not the US but the belief gap that exists within each population. As long as the populations are willing to accept two-states but do not believe it will happen in the medium term, then the conflict will never be solved as those opposing a deal enter into that incredulity gap and will build ‘negative facts on the ground’. Those opposing a two-state outcome are therefore empowered by this belief gap while those wanting the outcome are left advocating over a diminishing reality.

Could a different format work? Well as long as the US was present at the Israeli side and the Arab League there at the Palestinian side I think it could. One creative idea would be to subject any agreement to a vote in the UN both in the general assembly and at the security council where each side is ensured support therefore leveling the playing field. Yet all the talk of different mediation is for nothing unless the parties start trying to prepare their populations for the reality of two-states today. If we do not start building it today then we allow the reality on the ground to be changed by those looking for maximalist positions rather than mutually acceptable ones.

SB: Support for the BDS movement seems to be growing. What is your own view of boycotts?

JB: I think that the first thing to say is that anything that supports non-violent activism to show one’s opposition to the occupation should not be dismissed. The move from violence to non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation is something that should be encouraged and supported. Having said that, there is a difference between the tactic of boycott and the principles of the BDS movement itself.

The BDS movement is principally a rights focused movement that is supposedly agnostic on solutions to the conflict. The rights they endorse they see as inalienable and concern equality, right of return and end of occupation. The rights approach maintains that nothing can mitigate these rights, they can never be balanced or negotiated with.

The implementation of these rights removes the ability to achieve a mutually acceptable two-state solution. The reality of conflict resolution is that it is a balance of rights. The right to self-determination versus the right to security. The right of return versus the right of sovereignty over one’s own population. [This should not be interpreted that I support the current trajectory of laws in Israel around minority rights. I do believe that you can create a state with a stable majority and equal rights that might one day reflect changes in its demographic makeup. It is to say however that no country can be expected to offer a population that is equivalent to 85% of its current population the right to return and naturalize, if they so choose.

In many cases, these rights balance individual rights versus national rights. Now if you reject the concept of a national right then there is no balance to be sought and therefore you can be an absolutist about the rights of the individuals in this case. But this conflict has been about two national movements and two peoples. By reducing it to a contest of individual rights, you remove the concept of the nation state, something that is at the heart of the conflict for the Israelis.

In addition for many proponents of BDS Israel, as a nation, is not a rights holder. Their positions in the negotiations are merely impositions on Palestinian rights born out of colonialism. Reality dictates that you cannot remove the Israelis, but you should not think of their demands in terms of rights as all of them flow from a place of injustice.

I do not subscribe to the view that Israel has no rights. I also do not subscribe to the view that individual rights automatically trump the collective rights of the nation state. I think for a successful resolution that ends the occupation and achieves a mutually acceptable two-state solution, rights have to be balanced against each other. No side will ‘win’. This is not to say that I think that the current series of actors are negotiating in good faith.

I am a solutionist and weigh the various tactics to achieve the outcome that I think is most realistic, in this case the two-state solution. Do I think that boycotts make this solution more likely? Well I think demonstrating the unacceptability of building settlements is essential. My main goal is to get the state of Israel to stop funding them. Is the best way to get there to boycott the settlements? – I think that in many cases the answer is yes. Is it true in all cases? No. There is no hard and fast rule, and it is another reason I don’t subscribe to an absolutist set of principles. I’m a pragmatist looking to achieve a vision of peace that I think both populations can accept.

SB: Which journalists/analysts on Israel/Palestine do you find most insightful?

JB: I have a rich diet of various perspectives. I think it’s essential that everyone read people that they disagree with if they want a broad view.

I generally read Haaretz, Jpost, Ynet, Times of Israel, Maan, Al-Monitor, BBC, NYTimes Aretz 7, PNN, 972 Mag every day. In terms of most insightful, Yossi Verter’s political sketch on Friday’s in Haaretz is a must read and Daoud Kuttab for Al-Monitor is great on PA issues.

 

All Joel Braunolds answers are made in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of the OneVoice Movement. All Children of Peace interviews cover a wide range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and do not necessarily reflect those of Children of Peace.