May 29, 2013

Does Israel get to define "anti-Semitism"?

A true Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism should not be sponsored by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which understandably has its own agenda -- and limitations -- regarding the fight against anti-Semitism. The Israeli Government's priority has to be promoting and defending the State of Israel, which explains why Prime Minister Netanyahu's video greeting stressed anti-Semitism as the motivation for criticism of Israel, including the common claim that Israel isn't pursuing peace; he barely mentioned anti-Semitism as a phenomenon targeting Diaspora Jews.

With Senator (then-Rep.) Ben Cardin
at OSCE's 2004 Berlin Conference
A true Global Forum should be sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and Simon Wiesenthal Center, with local Jewish communities and national governments, including Israel. Multilateral organizations, especially the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Organization of American States (OAS), ought to facilitate. 

Politicians should attend and deliver opening remarks, but only bonafide and relevant experts should present. This means people with credentials in research and polling, media, law enforcement, education, and human rights training. The role of community leaders and lobbyists should be to get people in the room, respond to the presentations with real-life concerns, and help implement the best practices which emerge from the proceedings.

When it comes to anti-Semitism, Israel hardly has all the answers, and it carries a clear conflict of interest -- its national interest. It's not a bad idea to have periodic assemblies devoted to ensuring effective hasbara ("explaining" or promoting Israel). But that's a far cry from the nuts and bolts of overcoming anti-Semitism. If Israel owns the "anti-Semitism" brand, then it will ultimately be about Israel and hasbara, not about combating anti-Semitism on the ground. And in our real world, that makes it far less appealing to the very governments we need on board. We can't fight anti-Semitism and defend the State of Israel in the same place at the same time, and expect to succeed in both, or perhaps either one.

May 13, 2013

Bibi talks the talk, about talks

The latest Mideast peace effort by Secretary of State John Kerry and some of the Gulf states is encouraging, but there's little new that hasn't been available to Israel and the Palestinians during the past five years. A little reality check never hurts.

A top Palestinian representative has just revealed that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had a series of talks over two years ago, but no negotiations, until the Israeli side discontinued the talks -- apparently without explanation. These preliminary 'talks about talks' even culminated in a face-to-face between Yasser Abed Rabbo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The first reaction I'm reading. and which I share, is that this means there's still some hope for an eventual return to kind of negotiations that had once been seen as natural and unremarkable. 

My own second reaction? Abed Rabbo's claim refutes Netanyahu's narrative that there is no one to talk to, that Israel is ready to re-open negotiations but for the unwillingness of the Palestinians to return to the table. 

Last fall, when the Palestinian Authority scored upgraded State Observer status at the United Nations, Netanyahu called the move a violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords which undermines the possibility of a two-state solution. As I wrote at the time:

...the average Israeli would literally laugh at the idea that the Oslo Accords were anything but a failure, so why pretend they still care about preserving or fulfilling Oslo? Arguing that Netanyahu actually wants to negotiate a realistic two-state solution, without preconditions; that Israel eschews unilateral actions; that Israel has no partner for negotiations -- this should be insulting to most people who have an understanding of the issue. Those making such claims come off as either dishonest or naive. And it does not help Israel advance its case to anyone who's not already convinced.