In stark contrast to the 40,000 marching with joyful exuberance and pride in the Celebrate Israel Parade on Sunday, June 2, there was a smattering of the oddest collection of protesters, who stood on one small stretch Fifth Avenue in front of the fountain between 58-59 streets.
There were religious Jews who claim that a state of Israel should not exist until the Messiah has come; a few Palestinians accusing Israel of terrorism, clearly ignoring the thousands of bombs lobbed from Gaza; and a couple of what are presumed American Jews who charge that the West Bank settlements are immoral and an impediment to peace.
Things got testy at points between the marchers and
the handful of pro-Palestinians, with loud shouting matches and dueling flags, the
protesters wielding cellphones, hoping to provoke some viral video, across a
10-foot “no man’s land” between metal barriers guarded by police.
When US Senator Charles Schumer came by, he at first
passed stoically as a few hecklers taunted him (a Trump supporter yelled at him
to “Go Home” – the Senator from New York is from Brooklyn) but finally turned
his bullhorn to respond to a woman who screamed “Why are you supporting Israel?”
with a comment that boiled down to “Why shouldn’t Jews have a homeland?” At
which point his aides refocused him and he marched on.
The encounters seemed to get more heated as the
afternoon wore on, but as the police successfully moved marchers along using tact
and restraint to defuse the situation, even stopping the protesters from using
an elongated pole on their flag like a lance, and the marchers went into a celebratory
song and dance.
But as I stood between the two screaming entities,
reflecting on the thousands of marchers parading jubilantly, protected by a
police force against the smattering of opponents, I thought how different it
would be living in a society that oppressed Jews (or any minority), where that
minority had to live in fear, practice in secret, where the police, the courts
and the government were agents of suppression and repression, and instead of
thanking the police officer on 57th Street as they passed, as I saw
just about every group do, they had to fear the police, fear the state. The
images of police beating protesters at Pettus Bridge in 1965 Selma; Kristallnacht
in 1938 Germany came to mind.
How different things could be.
“And I want the people of this state to be clear: anti-Semitism
is not just wrong and immoral and unethical and anti-American; it is also
illegal,” Governor Andrew Cuomo told a press gaggle as he began the march. “And
we will enforce the law to the fullest extent and you have my word on
“As a sign of solidarity, at this time of crisis for the Jewish
people, I’m going to be doing another trip to Israel as a trip in solidarity
right after the legislative session and I invite my Jewish colleagues to join
us as a sign of solidarity. New York stands with Israel. We are all Jewish
today. We all appreciate the Jewish community. They are part of what makes New
York, New York and one of the best parts.”
Asked what is being
done to combat the wave of anti-Semitism, Cuomo said, “We have increased the hate crime penalties all
across the state. We are working on more understanding, more
communication, but we’re also going to enforce the law because it has
reached a critical point. Eighty-three percent increase in the state
of New York. Twenty-two percent increase in neo-Nazi groups. And by the way,
I invite all politicians to condemn the neo-Nazi groups for what they are. They
are domestic terrorists. That’s what they are. And this is not part of the
democracy. They spread hate, they spread violence, they attack and every
politician—Democrat, Republican—should condemn these neo-Nazi groups and call
them for what they are.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo had as his special guest Devorah
Halberstam, who runs the Jewish Children’s Museum. Halberstam started the museum in
honor of her son Ari Halberstam who was killed in an anti-Semitic
attack. This week, an anti-Semitic note was left there, “Hitler is
“We are here to celebrate Israel,” Cuomo said. And it’s more appropriate than usual this year because the blunt truth is there has been an increase in the number of anti-Semitic attacks in this country and in this state. There’s been about a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks in the United States of America. People have heard about the Pittsburgh horrendous temple attack, in California. But a 57 percent increase. There’s been an 83 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks in the State of New York, 83 percent increase all over the state – upstate, Long Island, Brooklyn, I just mentioned Devorah Halberstam’s most recent attack.”
Just a few days later, on June 6, after another incident of anti-Semitism in which the words “Kill All Jews,” “Israel” and “Mario Cuomo” were written on a mailbox in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Cuomo said, “Hate speech and threatening language has no place in our state, and the mailbox was immediately replaced with a new one after the graffiti was reported.
“Enough is enough.
We are reaching our breaking point and these despicable acts of violence must
stop. We will not back down in this fight against intolerance and bigotry, and
we will continue to stand up to those individuals who spew hateful language and
attempt to spread fear across our state.
“As New Yorkers and
as a nation, we must denounce anti-Semitism and hate in all its forms. I am
directing the New York State Police Hate Crimes unit to assist the NYPD in the
investigation into this incident and to provide all resources necessary to hold
accountable those responsible.
“In the face of
these ongoing incidents that are ripping at the fabric of our State, we will do
everything in our power to ensure the continued safety and equal treatment of
all New Yorkers.”
of thousands of marchers and supporters turned New York City’s Fifth Avenue
white and blue for this year’s Celebrate Israel Parade, the 55th
annual parade which has become one of the biggest events in a city known for
its fantastic parades and festivals. Among the dignitaries and elected
officials who marched to show support was Governor Andrew Cuomo who used the
occasion to denounce anti-Semitism and announce he will soon make a visit to
Israel to show solidarity.
Andrew Cuomo, who marched with his mother, Matilda, daughters Michaela and
Cara, and administration officials, government leaders including State Senators
Anna Kaplan and Brad Hoylman, and Assemblymember David Welprin and Council
Member Ben Kallos, as well as the Israel General Consul Dani Dayan, noted his special
guest, Devorah Halberstam, who runs the Jewish Children’s Museum. Halberstam started the museum in honor of her son
Ari Halberstam who was killed in an anti-Semitic attack; this week,
an anti-Semitic note was left there, “Hitler is Coming.”
“We are here to celebrate Israel,” Cuomo said. And it’s more appropriate than usual this year because the blunt truth is there has been an increase in the number of anti-Semitic attacks in this country and in this state. There’s been about a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks in the United States of America. People have heard about the Pittsburgh horrendous temple attack, in California. But a 57 percent increase. There’s been an 83 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks in the State of New York, 83 percent increase all over the state – upstate, Long Island, Brooklyn. I just mentioned Devorah Halberstam’s most recent attack.”
Cuomo said the rise in bias and hate crimes was akin to a “cancer
of the American body politic.”
“Cancer of the American body politic has been the new way.
Cancer because one cell attacks another. When you have Jewish people being
attacked, gays, members of the LGBTQ community being attacked, with
anti-Semitic sayings just last night, anti-Muslim, anti-African-American.
This is a cancer of hate that is all throughout our country and unfortunately
even in our State of New York.
“There was a time when we could have political differences, but
it didn’t turn into hate. We’ve always had political differences, back to our
founding fathers we had political differences. But we tolerate them and we
understand them. We can have political differences about Israel and Palestine,
that’s what makes democracy that debate. But when did the strongest four letter
word in America become hate instead of love? That’s what’s most troubling. And
that is what is now going on. These anti-Semitic attacks are personal to the
Cuomo family. We have many friends who we grew up with who are of the Jewish
faith. I have two brothers in law who are Jewish, my mother has two sons in
law, my daughters have two uncles – Howard and Ken – who are Jewish. These
anti-Semitic attacks, the Cuomo family takes personally. Every family in New
York takes personally.
“And I want the people of this state to be clear: anti-Semitism
is not just wrong and immoral and unethical and anti-American; it is also
illegal. And we will enforce the law to the fullest extent and you have my word
“As a sign of solidarity, at this time of crisis for the Jewish
people, I’m going to be doing another trip to Israel as a trip in solidarity
right after the legislative session and I invite my Jewish colleagues to join
us as a sign of solidarity. New York stands with Israel. We are all Jewish
today. We all appreciate the Jewish community. They are part of what makes New
York, New York and one of the best parts.”
Asked what is being
done to combat the wave of anti-Semitism, Cuomo said, “We have increased the
hate crime penalties all across the state. We are working on more
understanding, more communication, but we’re also going to enforce the law
because it has reached a critical point. Eighty-three percent
increase in the state of New York. Twenty-two percent increase in neo-Nazi
groups. And by the way, I invite all politicians to condemn the neo-Nazi groups
for what they are. They are domestic terrorists. That’s what they are. And this
is not part of the democracy. They spread hate, they spread violence, they
attack and every politician—Democrat, Republican—should condemn these neo-Nazi
groups and call them for what they are.”
Cuomo made his remarks
just before starting the march, the gaggle collected on the street which turned
out to be across from Trump Tower. When a reporter pointed that out, Cuomo
said, “I didn’t even notice that until you mentioned it.”
Asked about the Pride flag that was burned at a downtown bar, Cuomo said, “Same thing. I call it a cancer that is spreading in this country. Why a cancer? Because cancer—one cell in the body attacks other cells and that’s what you’re seeing in this country right now. You’re seeing white versus black, Christian versus Muslim, anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQ the other night. This is destroying America. Because America is diversity and once we start attacking each other for our diversity, that defeats America and who we are.
“We are a pluralistic society. Emma Lazarus, a great Jewish New Yorker who wrote the words for the Statue of Liberty. That’s the founding of this nation. George Washington visited a synagogue in Rhode Island and said, the Jewish people are here, free to celebrate their religion. It was freedom of religion. And now we are demonizing each other’s religious preferences? This is not America. This is not who we are. And we’re going to make the opposite statement in the state of New York. Let’s march, thank you.”
55th Celebrate Israel Parade
year marks the 55th anniversary of what has become one of the largest events in
New York City, known for mammoth parades and festivals, growing exponentially
each year in attendance and excitement since its founding in 1965 by Ted Comet.
40,000 marchers representing some 250 organizations from throughout the New
York metro area, Connecticut, New Jersey, Philadelphia, dignitaries and musical
guests, 30 floats, 15 marching bands including the famed Mummers from
Philadelphia, groups of rollerbladers, motorcyclists, dance groups, juggling
clowns, marched from 57th
Street to 74th Street, with
the theme, “Only in Israel,” to highlight the positive impact the Jewish and
democratic state of Israel has on people in New York and around the world.
Celebrate Israel Parade broadcast is sponsored by Friends of Maimonides Medical
Center. Parade Co‐Chair
Judy Kaufthal remarked, “The Celebrate Israel Parade is the world’s largest
expression of support for solidarity. It’s breathtaking to see Fifth Avenue
filled with people of all ages celebrating Israel and its culture.”
Parade is produced by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC‐NY), in
cooperation with UJA‐Federation
of New York and the Consulate General of Israel in New York.
Miller, Executive Vice President & CEO of the Jewish Community Relations
Council of New York (JCRC‐
NY) said, “The Celebrate Israel Parade acts as a convener each year for
international communities to stand together to promote unity on a global scale,”
Michael Miller, Executive Vice President & CEO of the Jewish Community
Relations Council of New York (JCRC‐ NY) said.
A. Mermelstein, Founder and CEO of One & Only Realty and President of ZAKA,
the Grand Marshall, said, “As an
immigrant New Yorker and a proud Jew, walking up Fifth Avenue as the grand
marshal of the Celebrate Israel Parade is the pinnacle of the American dream. I
am so proud to stand with Israel.”
addition to the Grand Marshal Edward A. Mermelstein, honorary Grand Marshals
Ted Comet, Founder of the Celebrate Israel Parade
Siggy Flicker, Author and TV Personality
Sid Rosenberg, Co-Host of Bernie & Sid in the Morning
Stephanie Butnick, Host of the Unorthodox Podcast
Liel Leibovitz, Host of the Unorthodox Podcast
Elizabeth Savetsky, @ExcessoriesExpert Instagram Influencer
Israeli Public Officials included: Consul General Dani Dayan; Deputy Consul
General Israel Nitzan and Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon
American Public Officials included:
Cuomo, NYS Governor, Attorney
General Letitia James and NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli
US Senator Charles Schumer
US Congress Members Eliot Engel, Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney
de Blasio, NYC Mayor andCity
Comptroller Scott Stringer
Borough President Gale Brewer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams
District Attorney Darcel Clark and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez
Assembly Speaker Felix W. Ortiz and NYS Assembly Members Steven Cymbrowitz, Nicole
Malliotakis, Helene Weinstein
NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson and NYC Council Members Margaret Chin, Chaim Deutsch, Vanessa Gibson, Barry Grodenchik, Mark Levine, Mark Treyger, Eric Ulrich, Helen Rosenthal, Ben Kallos, Joseph Borelli, Andrew Cohen, Rafael Salamanca.
Here are more highlights from the Celebrate Israel Parade:
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, chairing the Security Council meeting on Thursday, September 20 focused on the Middle East, listened as one member after another attacked Israel for “disproportionate” response to Palestinian protests, the looming humanitarian crisis which demands international support and calls for Israel to stop the demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar in the West Bank, where 181 Palestinians live, as a provocation which would further hamper the prospects for a two-state solution.
“The urgency of the situation that we face on the ground is really desperate – Gaza can explode any minute,” UN Special Coordinator Nikolay Mladenov, briefing the Security Council, stressed.
“We have a humanitarian responsibility to react but we must understand that it cannot be solved only on the basis of humanitarian action…It must be solved with a political perspective to resolving Israeli-Palestinian conflict and we have a responsibility to support the parties.”
Mladenov listed Israel’s continued military occupation of Palestinian territory; uncertainties about the future of the peace process and the two-state solution; Hamas’ continuing hold on Gaza and its militant activity, as exacerbating the situation on the ground.
“No steps have been taken during the reporting period to cease settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem,” he said, asserting that settlement activities are “a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace.”
He pointed to violence, acts of provocation and inflammatory rhetoric – both by Hamas and Israel, and that on at least three occasions the situation “escalated dramatically” and calm was restored only after Egypt and the UN intervened to de-escalate tensions.
On the humanitarian side, of most concern is the power crisis in Gaza and, with the UN running out of funds for emergency fuel, critical health, water and sanitation facilities are at “immediate risk” of shutting down. Levels of critical medicines are also running dangerously low.
The crisis is being further exacerbated by the serious cash shortfall – due to the withdrawal of US funding – confronting UNRWA, the Organization’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, he said, calling for urgent funding to allow it to continue its vital services.
Mladenov reminded the Security Council that 25 years have passed since the Oslo Accords were signed in the US capital, Washington D.C.
“It was a historic moment that captured the world’s attention and filled Palestinians, Israelis and the region with hope that a genuine peace could be realized. Sadly, that courageous vision of a lasting peace now lies in tatters,” he said.
“We must restore that hope – the alternative is perpetual cycles of violence. We must overcome the current impasse and refocus our efforts on ultimately returning to meaningful negotiations to end the occupation and bring a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
After his report, one by one, the ambassadors expressed criticism of Israel.
But instead of responding, she sidestepped the issue entirely, focusing instead on Iran as the more dangerous actor destabilizing the Middle East.
“I’ve listened to my colleagues statements this afternoon with great interest,” Haley said. “I have always been open about my belief that this Middle East debate has been excessively and unfairly focused on Israel. Today, I will go one step further. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is serious and worthy of this Council’s attention. But if there is one country that is the source of conflict and instability in the Middle East – one country that merits a quarterly debate in the Security Council – that country is not Israel. It’s Iran.”
She proceeded to lay out the case against Iran, which will no doubt be a key focus for the United States in the upcoming General Assembly and Security Council meetings, when the US will likely marshal support for its decision to pull away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by which Iran agreed to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for relief from sanctions. The US has demanded reimposition of sanctions.
“For almost 40 years, the Iranian regime has existed outside the community of law-abiding nations. It is difficult to name a conflict in the Middle East that does not have Iran’s fingerprints on it.
“The Iranian regime has backed dictators who gas their own people. It stokes conflict. It funds foreign fighters and terrorists. It transfers missiles to militants. It acts against the interests and policies of this Security Council, time and time again. Across the Middle East, Iran has trampled on the sovereignty of its neighbors. In Lebanon. In Syria. In Yemen. And the Iranian regime has shown a total disregard of the sovereignty of a country that is at a critical stage in its political development: Iraq.
“Iran’s leaders pretend their interference in the sovereignty of other nations is done in the name of religious affiliation. They like to claim that they have been “invited” into the affairs of other countries. In fact, the motives of the mullahs are much less elevated. They are interested in power. In the case of Iraq, their goal is to exploit uncertainty in order to create an Iranian controlled corridor for weapons and fighters from Tehran to the Mediterranean.
“In recent months, Iran’s aggression has escalated. Iranian proxies in Iraq operate openly, with funding, training, and weapons supplied by Tehran. The Iranian regime has reportedly begun over the last few months to transfer ballistic missiles to these proxies in Iraq. It is reportedly developing the capability for its proxy militias to produce their own missiles inside of Iraq.
“In a blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty, the Iranian regime recently fired a barrage of missiles from Iran into Iraq. Iran attacked the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, killing eleven people. This was not an act of Iranian proxies but of the Tehran regime itself. It was Iran’s first direct military strike into Iraqi territory in over a decade. This Iranian interference in the sovereignty of Iraq should be of great interest to the Security Council for many reasons, not least of which is because it occurs in clear defiance of Security Council resolutions.
“Iranian General and head of the IRGC Quds Force Soleimani is leading an effort to influence the composition of a new Iraqi government. I remind my colleagues that Soleimani was banned from traveling outside of Iran by the Security Council in 2007. That ban was reaffirmed in 2015 with the passage of Security Council Resolution 2231. Despite this unambiguous travel ban, Soleimani has practically taken up residence in Iraq since the May elections. This fact was noted by the Secretary-General in the most recent 2231 Implementation Report. And let’s be clear about what Soleimani is up to in Iraq. He is not there to help create a government in Baghdad that is responsive to the Iraqi people. He is there to build an Iraqi government that is under the control of the Iranian regime.
“Iran treats Iraq as if it was not an independent nation. Iran sees Iraq as merely a transit point for Iranian weapons and a training ground for Iranian proxies. Iran seeks to keep Iraq economically weak and dependent on its exports – even though Iraq has plenty of its own resources. Why? Because Iran wants to use a weak Iraq to illicitly fund its terrorist activities.
“There is one more recent Iranian escalation that bears special consequence to Americans. Two weeks ago, two Iranian proxy groups launched rocket attacks on the American Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Basra. Using proxy forces in Iraq does not give the Iranian regime plausible deniability when attacks like this occur. The Trump Administration does not, and will not, buy that. Iran could have stopped its proxies’ attacks. It chose not to, so the White House responded by putting Tehran firmly on notice. We hold the Iranian regime fully accountable for its proxies’ attacks on U.S. facilities and personnel in Iraq. And we will not hesitate to vigorously defend American lives.
“The sovereignty of Member States is an issue that comes up a lot in the Security Council – for good reason. Every nation has the sovereign right to govern itself, protect its people, and defend its borders. No less than any nation, Iraq has that right. And yet, at a critical time in its history – as Iraqis build their government – Iran is acting in shameless disregard of Iraqi sovereignty. It is threatening populations to promote its own political leaders. It is undermining a key feature of sovereignty – a state monopoly on the use of force – by promoting its own militias.
“The United States is committed to working with Iraq to help it create an inclusive and independent government. Iraq is working to recover from years of conflict against ISIS and still to overcome the legacy of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny.
“Not only is Iranian interference preventing forward progress for the Iraqi people, it is pulling them backward to the conflict and division they are striving to put behind them. This is the very same conflict and division that Iran promotes in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and across the Middle East.
“All members of the Security Council who respect the principle of national sovereignty should be concerned. And all who respect the right to self-determination for the Iraqi people should come to their defense.”
After listening to very erudite analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics by Mark Rosenblum, a former Queens College Professor of Mideast Studies and co-founder of Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding (CERRU) at a meeting of Long Island grassroots activists, Reachout America, I came to my own enlightenment. It came when Rosenblum, who is also a founding member of Americans for Peace Now, showed us a map of Israel with the Palestinian communities shown as brown clusters on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Then he made this point: 80% of the 420,000 Jewish settlers in the so-called Occupied territory, the vast majority secular and not messianic Jews, live along a sliver of that territory that hugs the internationally recognized border of Israel.
Now, for the longest time, the contention has been that even though the Arab states invaded Israel in 1967 en masse intending to drive the Israelis (Hebrews) into the sea and despite the fact Israel won the war for its very existence, that the Palestinians are entitled to 100% of the land that Israel occupied (forget the fact that Israel has already given back the entire Negev to Egypt in a “land for peace” deal, and has already uprooted its settlers to give back the Gaza Strip). The Palestinians insist on Israel being returned to its pre-1967 borders, including dividing once again the holy city of Jerusalem, which it intends to make its capital. And even after the rest of the occupied territory is given “back” to Palestinians, they are still demanding the right of return into the Jewish State. They want it all, despite being the aggressors.
I happen to support a two-state solution, convinced of the argument as expressed by former President Ehud Barak when he spoke in Great Neck, that Israel cannot swallow up the Palestinians and simultaneously remain secure and democratic – the demographics are such that unless Palestinians are not allowed full citizenship (and the ability to vote and be represented in the Knesset), the Jewish State would fairly quickly become majority Muslim.
But what I don’t understand is that the Arabs who sought in 1967 and still today seek to destroy Israel (despite any calculatedly tempered language) should have all the territory returned without bearing any consequence.
Israel should not apologize for taking the lead on drawing the new borders – it should dictate those borders according to its own self-interest, and that means a unified Jerusalem and a border that includes the vast majority of the settlers, and no right of return.
Israel should be a contiguous nation with defensible borders – not hollowed out with a Gaza strip from which thousands of rockets have rained down on Israel’s civilian communities and would continue to be an incubator for terror attacks. That is intolerable. Israel should take back Gaza and allow the Palestinians to relocate to the new Palestinian state, or if they stay, become loyal citizens of Israel (yes I recognize the issue, but Israel already has Arab citizens). This would not be the same as ethnic cleansing, which is repugnant, because the Palestinians would not be thrown out. They would have the freedom to choose their citizenship, just as they chose to leave in the first place. Meanwhile, Jewish settlers would also have to be uprooted from the territory that abuts Jordan.
This is not to be confused with another sticking point, which oddly is rarely mentioned in terms of why the Israel-Palestine conflict has been intractable: the right of return. There should not be any right of return. In the first place, the Arabs who left, left because they thought they would be able to join the conquering army and throw out the Jews. In other instances, the land was purchased.
So, looking at the map that Rosenblum presented, carve out from that a Palestinian State. Let the Palestinians make their desert bloom as the Israelis did with sweat, innovation and invention.
I heard all of this, and then went to the UN General Assembly and heard Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu basically say what Rosenblum said: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the larger Arab-Israel conflict – was the cornerstone, the touchstone about how to think about the Mideast, …the Israel-Palestinian conflict was the driver – if you don’t solve that problem, you don’t solve anything. Today, one has to think of Israel-Palestine in context of Mideast imploding with contagion.” And terrorism that has spilled over from the Mideast.
Netanyahu, put it another way:”We’re in the midst of a great revolution. A revolution in Israel’s standing among the nations. This is happening because so many countries around the world have finally woken up to what Israel can do for them.” This is because, he said, “Israel is THE innovation nation. THE place for cutting-edge technology and agriculture, in water, in cybersecurity, in medicine, in autonomous vehicles” and counterterrorism. Israel hasprovided intelligence that has prevented dozens of major terrorist attacks around the world. We have saved countless lives. Now, you may not know this, but your governments do, and they’re working closely together with Israel to keep your countries safe and your citizens safe.”
Indeed, Netanyahu had very little to say about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, except almost matter-of-factly, “Israel is committed to achieving peace with all our Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians.” Instead, he devoted a considerable portion of his remarks attacking Iran and a call to “fix or nix” the Iran nuclear agreement and rein in Iran’s terror activities.
But while Netanyahu seemed to breeze through the Israel-Palestinian conflict (the topic of a Security Council meeting on Sept. 25), Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in his General Assembly address, went on a tirade about how dare the UN not enforce the 1967 borders, including making Jerusalem the Palestinian capital, how dare the good people of the world not boycott the settlements, how dare Britain not apologize for the Balfour Declaration, and not make reparations to the poor, poor Palestinians, and how could the UN not demand the right of return (with recompense) to Palestinian refugees.
Mind you, Netanyahu had only hours before called the United Nations “the epicenter of global anti-Semitism.”
There is a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict: a two-state solution around practical borders that Israel gets to set. But there does not seem to be the ability to embrace it, as even Rosenblum, who has been working on the issue for 42 years, seemed to conclude:
“They will not by themselves have the will or capacity to pull themselves out of the mud and blood they are soaking in. Leaders on all sides -Netanyahu, Abbas, Trump – represent not the Three Musketeers but the Three Stooges. They will take us no where toward a historic breakthrough.
“The Israeli street and Arab street are stuck as to whether enemy or frenemy for eternity. Every morning, Mideast changes- yesterday frenemy is today ally, yesterday enemy is frenemy today.
“We have to find way of addition through subtraction,” said Rosenblum. “The real hope for a breakthrough toward Israel-Palestinian peace is coming from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Gulf States except Qatar. They treat Israel as an ally, a bulwark against Iran – that’s what the Trump generals are most interested in working on.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his address to the General Assembly Sept. 19, 2017, pointed to “a revolution in Israel’s standing among the nations,” heaped effusive praise on US President Donald Trump, but chided the United Nations as the “epicenter for anti-Semitism” in its resolutions. But he used a good portion of his address to follow Trump’s condemnation of the Iran nuclear agreement (which Trump has hinted he would de-certify). Netanyahu called to “fix or nix” the Iran nuclear agreement, heaping harsh attacks on Iran as a purveyor of terror in the region. Later, Iranian President Rouhani and Palestinian President Abbas hurled attacks back at Israel, a reminder of why the conflicts are so intractable. Here is a highlighted transcript of Netanyahu’s speech- Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features
Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, we’re in the midst of a great revolution. A revolution in Israel’s standing among the nations. This is happening because so many countries around the world have finally woken up to what Israel can do for them. Those countries now recognize what brilliant investors, like Warren Buffet, and great companies, like Google and Intel, what they’ve recognized and known for years: that Israel is THE innovation nation.THE place for cutting-edge technology and agriculture, in water, in cybersecurity, in medicine, in autonomous vehicles. You name it, we’ve got it.
Those countries now also recognize Israel’s exceptional capabilities in fighting terrorism. In recent years, Israel has provided intelligence that has prevented dozens of major terrorist attacks around the world. We have saved countless lives. Now, you may not know this, but your governments do, and they’re working closely together with Israel to keep your countries safe and your citizens safe. I stood here last year on this podium, and I spoke about this profound change in Israel’s standing around the world. And just look at what has happened since, in one year.
Hundreds of presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other leaders have visited Israel, many for the first time. Of these many visits, two were truly historic. In May, President Trump became the first American president to include Israel in his first visit abroad. President Trump stood at the Western Wall, at the foot of the Temple Mount, where the Jewish people – or rather the Jewish people’s temples stood for nearly 1,000 years, and when the president touched those ancient stones, he touched our hearts forever.
In July, Prime Minister Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. You may have seen ten pictures. We were on a beach in Hadera, we rode together in a Jeep outfitted with a portable desalination device that some thriving Israeli entrepreneur invented. We took off our shoes, waded into the Mediterranean, and drank seawater that had been purified only a few minutes earlier. We imagined the endless possibilities for India, for Israel, for all of humanity.
In the past year, Israel has hosted so many world leaders, and I had the honor of representing my country on six different continents. One year, six continents. I went to Africa, where I saw Israeli innovators increasing crop yields, turning air into water, fighting AIDS. I went to Asia, where we deepened our relations with China and with Singapore and expanded our cooperation with our Muslim friends in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. I went to Europe, where in London and Paris, Saloniki and Budapest, we enhanced our security and economic ties. I went to Australia, becoming the first Israeli prime minister to visit our great allies down under, and just last week, I went to South America, visiting Argentina and Colombia, and then I went on to Mexico, becoming, if you can believe it, the first Israeli prime minister ever to visit Latin America.
After 70 years, the world is embracing Israel, and Israel is embracing the world.
One year, six continents. Now, it’s true: I haven’t yet visited Antarctica, but one day, I hope to go there. I want to go there, too, because I heard that penguins are also enthusiastic supporters of Israel. Now, you laugh, but penguins have no difficulty recognizing that some things are black and white, are right and wrong, and unfortunately, when it comes to UN decisions about Israel, that simple recognition is too often absent.
It was absent last December when the Security Council passed an anti-Israel resolution that set back the cause of peace. It was absent last May when the World Health Organization adopted – you have to listen to this – the World Health Organization adopted a Syrian-sponsored resolution that criticized Israel for health conditions on the Golan Heights. As the great John McEnroe would say, you cannot be serious. I mean, this is preposterous. Syria has barrel-bombed, starved, gassed and murdered hundreds of thousands of its own citizens and wounded millions more, while Israel has provided life-saving medical care to thousands of Syrian victims of that very same carnage. Yet who does the World Health Organization? Israel.
So is there no limit to the UN’s absurdities when it comes to Israel? Well, apparently not. Because in July, UNESCO declared the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron a Palestinian World Heritage Site. That’s worse than fake news; that’s fake history. Mind you, it’s true that Abraham, the father of both Ishmael and Isaac, is buried there, but so, too, are Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca – Sarah’s a Jewish name, by the way – Sarah, Rebecca and Leah, who just happened to be patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people. Well, you won’t read about that in the latest UNESCO report, but if you want to, you can read about it in a somewhat weightier publication. It’s called “the Bible.” I highly recommend it. I hear it even got four and a half out of five stars on Amazon. And it’s a great read. I read it every week.
Ladies and gentlemen, a moment to be serious. Despite the absurdities, despite the repetition of these farcical events, there is change, slowly but surely. There are signs of positive change, even at the United Nations.
Mr. Secretary-General, I very much appreciate your statement that denying Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitism, pure and simple. Now that’s important because for too long, the epicenter of global anti-Semitism has been right here at the UN, and while it may take many years, I’m absolutely confident that the revolution in Israel’s ties with individual nations will ultimately be reflected here in this hall of nations.
I say that because there’s also a marked change in the positions of some of our key friends. Thanks to President Trump’s unequivocal support for Israel in this body, that positive change is gathering force.So thank you, President Trump. Thank you for supporting Israel at the UN, and thank you for your support, Ambassador Nikki Haley. Thank you for speaking the truth about Israel.
But ladies and gentlemen, here at the UN, we must also speak the truth about Iran, as President Trump did so powerfully this morning. Now, as you know, I’ve been ambassador to the UN, and I’m a long-serving Israeli prime minister, so I’ve listened to countless speeches in this hall, but I can say this: None were bolder, none were more courageous and forthright than the one delivered by President Trump today. President Trump rightlycalled the nuclear deal with Iran – he called it “an embarrassment.” Well, I couldn’t agree with him more. And here’s why: Iran vows to destroy my country. Every day, including by its chief of staff the other day.
Iran is conducting a campaign of conquest across the Middle East, and Iran is developing ballistic missiles to threaten the entire world.
Two years ago, I stood here and explained why the Iranian nuclear deal not only doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, but actually paves it. Because the restrictions placed on Iran’s nuclear program have what’s called “a sunset clause.” Now let me explain what that term means. It means that in a few years, those restrictions will be automatically removed, not by a change in Iran’s behavior, not by a lessening of its terror or its aggression: they’ll just be removed by a mere change in the calendar. And I warned that when that sunset comes, a dark shadow will be cast over the entire Middle East and the world because Iran will then be free to enrich uranium on an industrial scale, placing it on the threshold of a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons. That’s why I said two years ago that the greater danger is not that Iran will rush to a single bomb by breaking the deal, but that Iran will be able to build many bombs by keeping the deal.
Now, in the last few months, we’ve all seen how dangerous even a few nuclear weapons can be in the hands of a small rogue regime. Now imagine the danger of hundreds of nuclear weapons in the hands of a vast Iranian-Islamist empire with the missiles to deliver them anywhere on earth. I know there are those who still defend the dangerous deal with Iran, arguing that it will block Iran’s path to the bomb. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s exactly what they said about the nuclear deal with North Korea, and we all know how that turned out.
Unfortunately, if nothing changes, this deal will turn out exactly the same way. That’s why Israel’s policy regarding the nuclear deal with Iran is very simple: Change it or cancel it. Fix it or nix it. Nixing the deal means restoring massive pressure on Iran, including crippling sanctions until Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons capability. Fixing the deal requires many things, among them inspecting military and any other site that is a suspect, and penalizing Iran for every violation. But above all, fixing the deal means getting rid of the sunset clause. And beyond fixing this bad deal, we must also stop Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and roll back its growing aggression in the region.
I remember when we had these debates. As you know, I took a fairly active role in them – and many supporters of the deal naively believed that it would somehow moderate Iran. It would make it a responsible member, so they said, of the international community. Well, you know, I strongly disagreed. I warned that when the sanctions on Iran would be removed, Iran would behave like a hungry tiger unleashed, not joining the community of nations, but devouring nations one after the other. And that’s precisely what Iran is doing today.
From the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, from Tehran to Tartus, an Iranian curtain is descending across the Middle East. Iran spreads this curtain of tyranny and terror over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere, and it pledges to extinguish the light of Israel. Today, I have a simple message to Ayatollah Khamenei, the dictator of Iran: The light of Israel will never be extinguished.
נצח ישראל לא ישקר.
Those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril. Israel will defend itself with the full force of our arms and the full power of our convictions. We will act to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military bases in Syria for its air, sea and ground forces. We will act to prevent Iran from producing deadly weapons in Syria or in Lebanon for use against us. And we will act to prevent Iran from opening new terror fronts against Israel along our northern border. As long as Iran’s regime seeks the destruction of Israel, Iran will face no fiercer enemy than Israel.
But I also have a message today for the people of Iran: You are not our enemy. You are our friends. (Farsi: Shoma duste ma hesteed.) One day, my Iranian friends, you will be free from the evil regime that terrorizes you, hangs gays, jails journalists, tortures political prisoners and shoots innocent women like Neda Soltan, leaving her choking on her own blood on the streets of Tehran. I have not forgotten Neda. I’m sure you haven’t, too. And so, the people of Iran, when your day of liberation finally comes, the friendship between our two ancient peoples will surely flourish once again.
Ladies and gentlemen, Israel knows that in confronting the Iranian regime, we are not alone. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those in the Arab world who share our hopes for a brighter future. We’ve made peace with Jordan and Egypt, whose courageous president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi I met here last night. I appreciate President al-Sissi’s support for peace, and I hope to work closely with him and other leaders in the region to advance peace.
Israel is committed to achieving peace with all our Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians. Yesterday, President Trump and I discussed this, all of this, at great length. I appreciate President Trump’s leadership, his commitment to stand by Israel’s side, his commitment to advance a peaceful future for all. Together, we can seize the opportunities for peace, and together we can confront the great dangers of Iran.
The remarkable alliance between the United States and Israel has never been stronger, never been deeper. And Israel is deeply grateful for the support of the Trump administration, the American Congress and the American people.
Ladies and gentlemen, in this year of historic visits and historic anniversaries, Israel has so much to be grateful for. One hundred and twenty years ago, Theodore Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress to transform our tragic past into a brilliant future by establishing the Jewish state. One hundred years ago, the Balfour Declaration advanced Herzl’s vision by recognizing the right of the Jewish people to a national home in our ancestral homeland. Seventy years ago, the United Nations further advanced that vision by adopting a resolution supporting the establishment of a Jewish state. And 50 years ago, we reunited our eternal capital, Jerusalem, achieving a miraculous victory against those who sought to destroy our state.
Theodore Herzl was our modern Moses, and his dream has come true. We’ve returned to the Promised Land, revived our language, ingathered our exiles, and build a modern, thriving democracy. Tomorrow evening, Jews around the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of our new year. It’s a time of reflection, and we look back with wonder at the remarkable, the miraculous rebirth of our nation, and we look ahead with pride to the remarkable contributions Israel will continue to make to all nations.
You look around you, and you will see these contributions every day. In the food you eat, the water you drink, the medicines you take, the cars you drive, the cell phones you use, and in so many other ways that are transforming our world. You see it in the smile of an African mother in a remote village who, thanks to an Israeli innovation, no longer must walk eight hours a day to bring water to her children. You see it in the eyes of an Arab child who was flown to Israel to undergo a life-saving heart operation. And you see it in the faces of the people in earthquake-stricken Haiti and Nepal who were rescued from the rubble and given new life by Israeli doctors. As the prophet Isaiah said, (says in Hebrew first) “I’ve made you alight onto the nations, bringing salvation to the ends of the earth.”
Today, 27 hundred years after Isaiah spoke those prophetic words, Israel is becoming a rising power among the nations, and at long last, its light is shining across the continents, bringing hope and salvation to the ends of the earth.
Happy new year. Shanah tovah from Israel. Thank you.
Iran Exerts Right of Reply
The representative of Iran, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the representative of the Israeli regime had made unfounded allegations against his country. The nature of that regime was founded on aggression, occupation, suppression, violence and terror, he said, adding that in the information age, “weapons of mass deception” were becoming more useless day by day. That representative could have explained why his regime had invaded all its neighbours, and even countries outside its region, waging 15 wars in its short lifetime. Why did that regime continue to disrespect resolutions adopted by the Assembly, the Security Council and other United Nations bodies, he asked, and why was it a State sponsor of terrorism, including support for ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) with arms and other military assistance. It was the world’s last apartheid regime and the warden of its biggest prison, arresting and jailing Palestinians and imposing an inhumane blockade on the Gaza Strip. He went on to ask why that regime, the only nuclear weapons possessor in the Middle East, lectured the world on non-proliferation and Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. The representative of the Israeli regime had hypocritically tried to abuse the Assembly by accusing others and stirring anxiety about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, he said. It was a regime that favored conflict and war over diplomacy, he added.
The White House just issued this statement on the American Embassy in Israel:
“While President Donald J. Trump signed the waiver under the Jerusalem Embassy Act and delayed moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat from the President’s strong support for Israel and for the United States-Israel alliance. President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interests. But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when.”
Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister of Israel, argued forcefully for a two-state solution as the only way to preserve “The Zionist Project” – a nation that is both Jewish and democratic. Indeed, he asserted, a two-state solution is the only way to preserve Israel as a strong, independent nation.
While there are no options that do not bring risk, he asserted, the basis for his contention is that Israel is the strongest economy and has the strongest military in the region, would insist on drawing the border lines that protect its security. The existential threat, he argued, would be to abandon the two-state solution.
And he insisted that Israel’s Right Wing government leaders need to wrest themselves from paralysis and politics and act, even unilaterally, to setting the stage.
The former Prime Minister spoke in front of an audience of some 800 New Yorkers who filled Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, Long Island, coming from a broad swath of the region, from Forest Hills Huntington, and representing a broad spectrum of American Jewry, from left to right wing.
Barak laid out a cogent argument, based on a lifetime at the center of Israel’s defense, politics and leadership, serving as Prime Minister, Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces and most recently as Minister of Defense, and set out the context for his insistence that Israel’s existential threat is not from the formation of a Palestinian state, but the lack of one.
“The Zionist Project is by far the most successful national project of the 20th century. When [the early settlers] originally came, 120 years ago, there was literally nothing – 70% of the land was desert, 2 lakes, one alive the other dead, connected by the River Jordan that looks like a neighborhood creek – more history flowed than water.”
In the last 70 years since Israel was established asa nation, despite seven wars, two intifadas and countless terror attacks, the population grew by a factor of 12; the GDP by 70. The Israeli currency (shekel) is one of the strongest in the world. “We are a start-up nation, with more firms on NASDQ than any other. Thanks to the arrival of 1 million Russian Jews between 1990 and 2000, we have more orchestras, ballet companies, chess grand champions per capita than any in the world.”
There are a lot of internal tensions, certainly – many that mirror what is happening in other countries: rich and poor, Arabs and Jews, secular and religious, even the status of Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel which though secular, is dominated by Orthodox Jewry – “they are not treated equally in our homeland.”
And then there are the external tensions, such as the spreading BDS [The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] movement, particularly on American college campuses.
“There is great worry about what happens abroad- the position of Israel in the international community is deteriorating – BDS has spread over the world.
“There are question marks about our policies, something that disturbs the Jewish Diaspora even in this country. We are losing part of the young generation in universities especially in North America and even among young Jewish students. This all needs treatment.”
Israel’s relations in the areas “liberated or occupied is in the eye of the beholder” has been a central problem for the past 50 years since the Six Day War when Israel won territory now known as the West Bank and the Sinai (which in exchange for peace, Israel returned to Egypt years ago).
He said that the rise of ISIS and the globalized threat of terror from radical Islamic jihadists ironically creates an opportunity because it has elevated Israel’s position as an essential actor in a global conflict, while at the same time diminishing the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a regional one.
“The whole world in the last decade is facing unprecedented geopolitical earthquake, the kind of which we had not witnessed since the end of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It covers the whole world, but concentrates around the Middle East. Within the last few years, the Arab Spring turned into an Islamist Winter; nation states collapsed, borders erased, centuries-old conflicts came back to life. Israel found itself in a perfect storm – on the one hand, at the clashing point of civilizations of the West and the world of Islam, and at same time, in the eye of a storm that swirls around the Arab world.
“In this situation for Israel, can see bad news and good news: the bad news is clear – the Middle East is a tough neighborhood. The good news is that Israel, as a result of its achievements, is the strongest country 1000 miles around Jerusalem, from Benghazi in Libya to Tehran in Iran.
“And Israel is going to remain the strongest country in this area for the foreseeable future.”
It’s not just its military defenses – with the help of a supportive US administration – but its strong economy – not the biggest, but the most vibrant in the region.
Barak argues that “Israel, being the strongest player all around the area, can use this position of strength in a self-confident manner” to finally resolve the Palestinian issue.
Israel has always faced existential threats. “We always have to look around, ready to pull trigger../Every several years a new threat emerges- ISIS – old ones, Hamas, Hezbollah – all alive and kicking. Out of all these changes the more demanding is terror. It has become the great fight for the whole globe, which might take years, and must be defeated. The choice for the modern world is clear: either you defeat terror or you might find yourselves defeated by it.
“But this is not a new phenomena – it’s been with us a long time,” he said, recalling as a 22-year old, how as a member of a commando team, he had to rescue a hijacked Sabena airplane; and later, deal with the terrorists who massacred Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
He argued that ISIS is more effective from a propaganda point of view – using the media and Internet to heighten its fearsomeness.
“They are effective in sowing fear, but a military threat? Ridiculous. They are succeeding because they never met a real fighting force- they are 50,000 fighters in 5000 Toyota pickups with WWII-era machine guns, a few old Soviet tanks,– not a real fighting force. They should be met on the ground and defeated by Muslims, not Crusaders or Israelis. That takes time, effort. We can help Iraqis, Kurdish, air support, intelligence, special forces – that will take time. But I am confident that ISIS will be defeated on the ground in the Mideast. That doesn’t mean the phenomenon will disappear, because of its capacity to incite. We don’t know how many Americans have joined and will come home. However loosely connected, they are part of flexible web of organization.
“This is a global phenomenon, a generational war. And it needs international cooperation. We join hands among the leaders of the world.”
“We are never going to find ourselves in an ideal world,” he says soberly. “The Mideast is never going to resemble Scandinavia.”
Which brings him to the next part of his argument:
“The major debate in Israel – how to relate to our Palestinian neighbors problem – is painful but simple. In a small piece of ground about the size of New Jersey, from the River Jordan (the size of a creek) to the Mediterranean live 13.5 million – 8.5 million Israelis, 5 million Palestinians. Among the 8.5 million Israelis are 1.5 million Arab Israelis – 99.9% are law-abiding citizens” but who are likely to vote with Palestinians.
If there is only one, that is Israel, it is inevitable that it will be non-Jewish or nondemocratic. That is because millions of Palestinians have their own national aspirations. There are only two possibilities – if they vote for Knesset [members] Israel overnight becomes a bi-national state and within few years a bi-national state with an Arab majority, almost surely civil war, and no future.
“The other alternative in a one-state Israel, is that the Arabs cannot vote for Knesset members. That doesn’t have a name in Hebrew but in Afrikaner, it means we would develop into an apartheid system.
“Neither is the Zionist dream. It is the consequence of a painful but simple reality: we need a compelling imperative to find a way to disengage ourselves from Palestinians and create a line in Israel that would include settlement blocks and the Israeli’ suburbs of eastern Jerusalem. That would include 80% of the settlers. Beyond this line, should be a place for a viable Palestinian state.
“I reemphasize: it’s not because of the need for justice for Palestinians, not because of the international community, it’s out of our compelling imperative to take care of our own security, future and identity.
“When the right wing in Israel tells you there is no way to bring together the vital security interest of Israel and a two-state solution – that the two are incompatible – that’s not true.
“The Right Wing in Israel [Netanyahu’s Likud government] try to create symmetry between these two arguments, but there is no symmetry. On the one hand, there is immediate existential threat to the future of the whole Zionist project.”
And here, Barak got more technical:
On other hand, there is certain risk which should not be taken lightly. We need to invest some equipment, some … changes in doctrine that a hostile, foreign force cannot enter into the West Bank and threaten.” But, he says, rockets can already come from all around the Mideast. They can be dealt with using advanced technology. Israel already possesses the most advanced missile defense systems in the world, especially for short-range and mid-range rockets.
There are risks and challenges to both, “but that shouldn’t paralyze you from seeing difference between existential threat and the technical military risk we’ve lived with. In a way, what happens in the Mideast doesn’t increase the threat to Israel, but reduces it.
“So the Right Wing is paralyzed in the mindset of pessimism, passivity, anxiety and self victimization. They see shadows on the walls. I see great opportunities, not without risk, but everything in life carries risk, and in many cases, the greatest risk of all is being unable to take one.”
“Zionism is a story about taking fate in our own hands.”
He points to “an opportunity that happens once in generation and might disappear in a year or more, of a joint common interest that has developed between us and Sunni moderate leadership – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and others. The common interest is fighting together against Islamist radical terror; the second is to join hands and putting at bay Iranian nuclear intentions; third, to join hands in huge regional infrastructure projects – energy, water, transportation; and fourth, the Palestinian issue.”
Barak made no reference to recent statements by the Palestinian Authority, the visit of Abbas to the White House, or Trump saying he could care less whether there is one state or two states, as long as the parties agree.
[President Abbas, in his meeting at the White House, May 3, declared: “our strategic option, our strategic choice is to bring about peace based on the vision of the two-state — a Palestinian state with its capital of East Jerusalem that lives in peace and stability with the state of Israel based on the borders of 1967.
“…for us to bring about a comprehensive and just peace based on the two-state solution, such matter would give a great impetus to the Arab peace initiative and the other initiatives, international initiatives — as well as it enables to fight and deter terrorism, and fight the criminal ISIS group, ISIS — that is totally innocent and has nothing to do with our noble religion. And that also, if we create peace that is just and comprehensive, that will also lead the Arab and the Islamic countries to have normal relations with Israel based, as stipulated in the previous Arab summits, the latest of which was the Arab summit in Jordan.”
While Abbas could take an outwardly more moderate stance, Hamas, which controls Gaza, has not abandoned its commitment to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth.”
Trump has not said whether or not he cares if there is a one-state or two-state solution, as long as the parties agree.]
Barak seemed to take this into account without directly referring to the statements, saying “The situation in the Arab world, the Arab street especially, does not allow them to make any sincere statement to accept or recognize Israel as a member of the family of nations of the Mideast if the Palestinian issue is not moving forward dramatically.
“No one can tell for sure whether Palestinians are ripe for painful decisions needed from both sides for a breakthrough in peace process.”
But, he added, Israel should not wait, but should initiate forward movement. “I argue that even if there is no way to achieve a breakthrough these days, it doesn’t mean we should be paralyzed, that we should be blind to our interest in starting…”
He said that “professionals” can find their way to a solution. “A group of the most senior leaders of ISF, Mossad, Israeli police, generals have formed Commandos for Israel Security (cis.org.il). They have proposed a practical plan for what should be done now to start disengagement, independently of Palestinians, with backing of Americans and others in the world community. “It contains all the elements – political, practical, and security – written by best experts of Israel.”
“They will tell you that Israel is better protected and safer if we delineate this line, if we have to struggle against terror that takes place from outside, beyond the line, and the real enemy of 80% of settlers that live in settlement of blocks, 220 suburbs of eastern Jerusalem, the real enemy are the elements of the government that keep poking the eye of the Palestinian government by continuing settlement operations.”
He concluded, “The Mideast is a tough neighborhood and will remain so, but we are the strongest player around and will remain the strongest player. Time has come to not just keep killing the mosquitoes, which we are doing effectively, but we should look for opportunities to drain the swamp,” he said to applause.
To do this, we need leadership which is not paralyzed by the complexity or uncertainty of the situation.
“We need leadership sober, open eyed, self confident of the strength of Israel and ready to act, holding in their hand an inner compass, not a weather vane. The most immediate and urgent mission is to put a wedge on that slippery slope toward one nation, one state for two peoples. The effect that extremists on both sides- our right wing and Hamas – both dream and act to haveone state is what makes one-state agenda the real existential threat to the Zionist project and Israel.
“It will take time. An optimist that can put wedge and take the state of Israel back on track and keep moving, the way Zionism has heralded.”
During question-and-answer, Barak dismissed the contention that settlements provide an important buffer for Israel’s security, but provides a basis for the government to use “propaganda that relieves them of doing the right thing.”
He also argued that the debate has become the equivalent of Climate Change vs Climate Denial and Creationism versus Evolution in this country, with propaganda, fake news and identity politics thrown in that makes it even harder to find a practical solution.
“The Right Wing is not committed to the security of Israel. Likud has been hostilely taken over by the settlers. The real strategy of government has a messianic tinge which does not serve the state of Israel…
“I don’t believe it is irreversible now, but if we continue to walk this slippery slope, it might become an irreversible situation. We have to act according to our interest – disengage from Palestinians, start, however gradually, short of perfect. Nothing is perfect, but that shouldn’t paralyze you from doing the right thing.”
There are those who will regard the US decision to abstain from the United Nations vote condemning Israeli settlement building as a betrayal. There have been many such resolutions in the UN Security Council and the US had consistently used its veto power to cause them to fail, including every single one during Obama’s eight years in office.
But this was different. And the rage being pointed at Obama is misplaced.
In essence, if you believe in a two-state solution as the only way toward Israel-Palestinian peace which preserves Israel as both democratic and a Jewish state, you would understand why the US took this course. If you believe, as Obama and 99.9% of the international community believes, that the two-state solution is the only viable path to peace for Israel with Palestinians and its Arab neighbors, you would understand why Obama took this extraordinary step.
The way I understand the resolution, it addresses future settlements and does not impose a final status or set borders – which the US would have vetoed. That means that the hysteria (not unlike the hysteria fomented with misinformation over the Iran nuclear agreement), that Jerusalem is “occupied territory” that would be returned, that the land the Hebrew University sits on would have to be returned, is unjustified. And if the resolution went this far, the US would have vetoed it.
But first consider the context:
One may wonder why, with the atrocities being committed by the Syrian Government, Russia and Iran, the United Nations takes up action against Israel, which happens to be a country that is helping to heal Syrian victims in its hospitals, instead of hold a war crimes tribunal of Assad and Putin.
Why now? I believe there were two provocations: the US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers had just delivered a scathing attack on the United Nations for failing to intervene in Syria and stop the vicious assault on civilians, on hospitals, on schools. (I believe Assad and Putin should be charged with war crimes for the atrocities they have committed.)
Second: Donald Trump stated that he would the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a clear provocation – and named as his nominee for Ambassador to Israel , David Friedman, a man who is encouraging settlement building, who opposes the two-state solution, and who has likened liberal American Jews to “kapos” in the Nazi concentration camps.
Recall also that during his reelection campaign, Netanyahu made derogatory statements about Israeli Arabs and said (briefly, until he had to walk it back), that he was no longer interested in pursuing a two-state solution.
Netanyahu actually got on the phone with Donald Trump to get him to push the US to veto the resolution– which along with his extraordinary appearance in front of a joint session of Congress to lobby for the defeat of the Iran nuclear agreement, was an enormous snub to Obama and the US. Trump, delighted to be in the limelight, tweeted his foreign policy: “Things will change after Jan. 20th.”
Consider this context: Israel was actually making headway in tamping down the aggressive stance from its Arab neighbors. Israel , has an important role to play in the counter offensive to radical Islamic fundamentalists generally and ISIS in particular which is a threat to Israel’s Arab “neighborhood.” On a recent “60 Minutes,” Netanyahu was boasting about its biotech industry, its commercial deals with Arab countries.
Now, Netanyahu’s rage – lashing out at Obama and promising retribution against the nations that voted for the resolution – will undo the progress in tamping down hostility to Israel as the Arab world focused more on countering radical jihadism. Because for awhile, Israel was not solely seen in context of Israel-Palestinian conflict, but as a key player on the right side of a global conflict.
The White House got on the phone with journalists to give a fuller explanation beyond the headlines.
“This is consistent with longstanding bipartisan U.S. policy as it relates to settlements, as it relates to our opposition to Israeli settlements, as it relates to our opposition to, and condemnation of, incitement and violence and terrorism, and, above all, about our affirmative support for a two-state solution,” stated Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.
“And one of our grave concerns is that the continued pace of settlement activity — which has accelerated in recent years, which has accelerated significantly since 2011, when we vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution that condemns settlements — puts at risk the two-state solution, as does any continued incitement to violence. And we’ve been very concerned that these accelerating trends are putting the very viability of a two-state solution at risk. And in that context, we therefore thought that we could not in good conscience veto a resolution that expressed concerns about the very trends that are eroding the foundation for a two-state solution.
“We exhausted every effort to pursue a two-state solution through negotiations, through direct discussions, through proximity discussions, through confidence-building measures, through a lengthy and exhaustive effort undertaken by Secretary Kerry earlier in the President’s second term. We gave every effort that we could to supporting the parties coming to the table.”
Rhodes noted, however, that this resolution – versus countless ones before which the US vetoed – is more “balanced” in that it also condemns incitement, violence and terrorism against Israel, and does not impose final status, which the US would have vetoed.
As for the propaganda that Obama is anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic, these are the facts:
“President Obama has done more for Israel and its security than any previous U.S. President. We just recently signed with Israel the single largest U.S. military assistance package in history — $38 billion over the coming decade. That comes after an administration in which we provided lifesaving assistance for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System. We’ve achieved what Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has described as unprecedented security cooperation between our military and intelligence officials. We have repeatedly stood up for Israel in international fora in a variety of different ways, whether it was opposing efforts to address final status issues through the United Nations, or supporting greater Israeli integration into international fora.
“So I believe that despite what has at times been very strident Israeli government criticism of U.S. policies that President Obama has always made Israel and its security sacrosanct in his approach to these issues. In fact, we’ve always said that our pursuit of a two-state solution is guided in part by our belief that that is the only way to preserve and strengthen Israel’s security in the long run, and to achieve the goal that we share with the Israeli people of having a state of Israel that is both Jewish and democratic in nature.
“All of that said, with this criticism it seems like the Israeli government wants the conversation to be about anything other than the settlement activity. And the fact of the matter is, as you heard Samantha say, since 2009, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank has increased by more than 100,000 to nearly 400,000…
“So this is not simply a matter of construction within the so-called blocks, within what has long been considered the likely borders of a future — within a future peace agreement. We have acknowledged publicly that there will have to be an acknowledgement of the growth since the 1967 lines were established as a part of any future peace agreement. But in fact, what we’ve seen is much more accelerated settlement construction. And now the total settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem exceeds 590,000.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu recently described his own government as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history.’ Those are his words. And we’re concerned about these trends. We were concerned after our election, when one of his leading coalition partners, Naftali Bennett, declared that ‘the era of the two-state solution is over.’
“So, for us, the question here has always been about what is the best way to pursue the security that the Israeli people deserve. And we cannot simply have a two-state solution be a slogan while the trend lines on the ground are such that a two-state solution is becoming less and less viable.
“I would add that we’ve repeatedly condemned incitement to violence by Palestinians. We’ve repeatedly condemned Palestinian terrorism. We have stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket fire from Gaza, even when we were one of the only countries in the world that was taking that position. So we’ve been willing time and again to support Israel in international fora, just as we’ve supported Israel’s right to defend itself, by itself, and just as we’ve ensured through our assistance that Israel will maintain its qualitative military edge for the enduring future.
“So, again, President Obama’s track record on Israel’s security is clear. Anybody can review it. But, in fact, I’d take umbrage at language that suggests that this was our preferred course of action and that we initiated it. The fact of the matter is, we’d been warning — President Obama and Secretary Kerry publicly and privately for years — that the trend line of settlement construction and settlement activity was just increasing Israel’s international isolation. This is not a new position for us; we’ve been saying that for many, many, many years. Secretary Kerry, as Frank can attest to, has had hundreds of conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We’ve made precisely this point.”
Rhodes also explained why the US abstained, versus voted in favor:
“..the United Nations, we continue to believe, is a flawed venue for this issue in that it has frequently been used to single out Israel, often through completely over-the-top exercises, that — again, when it comes to final status issues, we believe that those should be negotiated between the parties.
“We would have vetoed any resolution that we thought sought to impose a solution that sought to impose a view on the final status issue…
“On the narrow question of the resolution that was put in front of us, we saw a resolution that in large part was consistent with U.S. policy…
“We also abstained because while there was balance, as I discussed, in that the resolution addressed and condemned violence and incitement of violence, we thought that that could have been more prominent in the resolution…it was not sufficiently elevating at length the issues that we care very deeply about. We’re pleased that that was included, but again, when you see horrifying knife attacks, when you see continued incitement to violence, you see continued anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic slogans and calls for violence from with the Palestinian Territories, that gravely concerns us. And that’s an enormous obstacle to peace, of course.
“So again, that explains that abstention, those two issues — the U.N. as a future venue for final status issues, given its history, and the emphasis in this resolution being more focused on Israeli activity than some of the concerning activities that are addressed in the resolution with respect to the Palestinians but I think could have been addressed at greater length…..
“Prime Minister Netanyahu had the opportunity to pursue policies that would have led to a different outcome today. Absent this acceleration of settlement activity, absent the type of rhetoric we’ve seen out of the current Israeli government, I think the United States likely would have taken a different view, because our preference is for there to be a credible peace process underway.
“So, again, it’s very important that this — the fact that this is happening towards the end of our eight years indicates that this is not our preferred course of action and that we’ve given years and years and years of opportunities to address issues related to the settlements or to address issues related to the peace process that, frankly, we believe could have been more productive. And, frankly, President Obama, if you look at speech after speech that he gave, kept warning that the trends in the conflict were going to lead to greater international efforts to apply pressure in Israel; that the settlement activity was going to lead to greater national efforts to apply pressure to Israel.
“There’s a huge record on this, and I think it’s very unfair and inaccurate to suggest that somehow this was an outcome that we sought. If it was an outcome that we sought, we would have done this long ago. But the fact is, we were compelled to because of the choices that have been made over years by the Israeli government in building settlements and not taking different opportunities that were presented for a credible peace process.
“I should add that the Palestinians also failed to take opportunities. As Frank and Rob know well, Secretary Kerry’s effort did not move forward because of the decisions by both Israelis and Palestinians. So I just want to be very clear here that the Palestinians have missed plenty of opportunities under this administration as well….
“We’ve tried everything. We’ve tried proximity talks, we’ve tried direct talks, we’ve tried the Secretary of State who dove into this and made it an enormous priority for a long period of time. We’ve tried to step back. And the one consistent outcome was that it didn’t work. We can go back and look at what we did differently, but at the end of the day, precisely because we believe this can only be resolved in negotiations, it’s up to the parties to show that they’re serious about those negotiations and that talking about a peace process isn’t just a phrase — it’s an actual, meaningful, diplomatic effort to try to achieve a resolution.
“….We hear the words about a two-state solution, and then we see the actions that are making a two-state solution far less likely, if not out of reach. And at a certain point, the words and the actions become irreconcilable. And that’s what we’re concerned about. And we believe that that would be not in the best interest of Israel. And precisely because President Obama cares so deeply about Israel and its security, he would like to see a return to a meaningful effort to pursue peace.”
Of all the US presidents, Obama has shown the greatest empathy and respect for Israel and American Jews.
During one of the Hanukkah celebrations at the White House (which he has conducted every year), Obama said, “We recall Hanukkah’s many lessons: How a small group can make a big difference. That’s the story of the Maccabees’ unlikely military victory, and of great moral movements around the globe and across time. How a little bit can go a long way, like the small measure of oil that outlasted every expectation. It reminds us that even when our resources seem limited, our faith can help us make the most of what little we have. The small State of Israel and the relatively small Jewish population of this country have punched far above their weight in their contributions to the world. So the Festival of Lights is also a reminder of how Isaiah saw the Jewish people, as a light unto the nations.”
As we mark the passing of Shimon Peres, the former President of Israel, who New York Times in its obituary called A Pillar of Israel, From Its Founding to the Oslo Accords, I reflect back on what was very possibly the closest Israel and Palestine ever came to forging a true peace, and it came during the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative, when Peres sat next to Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, on a panel with President Bill Clinton and Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa and provided a roadmap to cooperation. Here’s my column from that panel, on September 21, 2010:
Israel, Palestine Leaders Offer Vision of Peace – and It Looks Real
Prayers for peace in the Middle East are a ritual in Great Neck, and for one hour last week at the Clinton Global Initiative, a vision for peace seemed less than a perennial dream, and took the shape of a real prospect.
During a special session at the Clinton Global Initiative, which brings together world leaders, business moguls, philanthropists and do-gooders who labor at nongovernmental organizations, the President of Israel and the Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority painted their vision of what peace would look like: a vast economic region with joint projects including a water pipeline crossing the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, modern irrigation techniques that could make the Palestinian desert bloom as it does in Israel, even a regional electric grid, and an economic boom that could snuff out the anger that fuels terrorism. There would even be equality for women.
And for that hour, it all seemed within grasp, with the Bahrainian Crown Prince giving his imprimatur to how the whole region would benefit from a peace “dividend.”
But just days after, the expiration of Israel’s 10-month moratorium on settlement building in the disputed territory of the West Bank which brought out jubilant and triumphant settlers who released white-and-blue balloons, has burst that bubble of optimism over whether the Palestinian Authority will follow through on its threat to pull out of this latest effort at peace negotiations.
Still, the Palestinians seemed to hang in there as the Obama Administration – Sec. Hillary Clinton and special envoy George Mitchell – were frantically trying to keep things together.
Here’s why this time might be different: the leaders were able to specify the economic and social benefits.
What is more, the body language looked good.
Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority and Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel shook hands, genuinely, then took seats next to each other, rather than bookending President Bill Clinton and HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Kingdom of Bahrain. Seated elbow to elbow, Fayad and Peres looked straight into each other’s faces when the other was speaking. Mostly.
President Clinton posed the question to the Prime Minister first: “Assume that the parties come together, and don’t want to wait another decade, what would peace look like?”
Fayyad, offered his vision of what peace would look like in the state of Palestine, but when I heard him say “Jerusalem as its capital” I thought the session would end as quickly as it began, or veer off. But Peres never addressed the remark; his body language did not change.
But Fayyad continued: “What the region might look like minus the conflict? The vast economic potential – the region looks like a single economic space. ..vast growth potential, that can be exploited by dealing with elements that impeded commerce across state lines…That’s the kind of region that I believe can emerge after so many decades of conflict, with obvious benefits – for Arabs, Israelis and the rest of the Arab world.
“Amongst the possibilities: infrastructure improvements that cut across borders. Several have been on the drawing board – one is [close to] the heart of Shimon Peres – a project intended to link the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, to deal with ever shrinking [water supplies] that threatens to make it even more dead than it is. That’s one project that could happen..even before the conflict over. Something that could prepare for a better future. There are a lot of projects of direct benefit, cutting across boundaries in the region – in the area of energy, electricity, regional power grid….
“We could devote more energy, time and resources to bring about development –economic, socially, culturally. [Peace] would remove all the obstacles to interact with the rest of humanity on the basis of shared values, equal opportunity, no discrimination against women… ”
Women’s rights, Fayyad said “is something that unfortunately has caused us a lot of problems in region and around the world. The problem has to be addressed not only because of vast potential if women are afforded opportunity, but because it’s the right thing to do… ”
Then to Peres, Clinton said, “Suppose peace was made 3 or 4 days ago. What does Israel want out of it, what can Israel do to make sure it takes hold In order to make sustainable peace? [Particularly in the area of food production]… Today you can produce food not by size or land but science and technology. There is almost no water, yet [Israel’s] agriculture produces eight times more from same acre than 50 years ago.”
Technology has unleashed economic development throughout the developing world, and can do its magic in the Middle East, as well. Sharing Israel’s innovations with the Palestinian state would be a key benefit of the peace dividend, Peres offered.
“One thing both of us agree – not just governmental intervention but private initiative…we all are ready to accept high tech in their countries- that has nothing to do with territory… it’s global,” Peres said. “The two young boys that created Google didn’t hurt anyone…[technology] can build an economy, and I think that should be the first…. We are ready in Israel to share what we have. Our high tech started with agriculture. You can have it the next morning, and provide food to the children. That’s number one, after peace. Number two is health. ..There is no hospital in Israel where you don’t have Arab doctors and Arab patients…. If we can live in peace in hospital, why can’t we live in peace out of hospital?
“Next: Education. The moment we have peace is the moment we can provide for education.
“Other things: Tourism. Tourism accounts for 17% of world economy, and we have everything to attract the largest amount of tourists but peace. If we shall make peace – with the Palestinians and the Jordanians, have enough points of attraction to promote ..
“Water. We are saving half of the water that is being used elsewhere. By irrigation, by recycling, by introducing vegetation that don’t drink so much water, using electronic controls. All of this is available.
“Now when it comes to electricity – the choice is that everyone will build a nuclear reactor for electricity… The greatest nuclear reactor in the world is the sun. The sun is democratic, open to everyone. We know already how to produce solar energy, but not to produce it in a competitive way. We believe by [marshalling] solar energy…. it would enable us to be natural, would be cheaper…and give the people water and electricity..
“We introduced ‘drip irrigation,’ now we have ‘drip electricity’ – we can move electricity from one place to another without physical connection.” [Israeli companies have developed a technology that transmits electricity the same way, over the same architecture, as wireless voice communications.]
“We can send electricity 2-4 miles away, and it can reach the target. It is quite revolutionary,” he said.
“I believe that the future, that the most sensational 10 years in human life will occur because of the level of computerization.”
President Clinton noted that even in this economic downturn, Israel has done well, “and most certainly will be the first to have 100,000 electric cars on the road.”
Israel and Palestine have a lot to gain from a peace dividend, but how might countries in the region like Bahrain benefit? Will there be a regional economy, and what does that mean for you? President Clinton posed to Prince Salman.
“Our region is caught between the rule of the gun and the rule of Koran, captive market and capitalist markets, pluralism and plutocrats,” Prince Salman said. “The region has been held back by the negative. In every choice, people have singled out their fear, mistrust, disappointment, in the ability of governments to achieve the dignity they [deserve]. We must achieve this peace – because the future is very bright.”
He said that the region represents a $1 trillion market, and by 2020 will be a $2 trillion market…”It grew at 70% in the last 8 years, 40% [of exports] go to the region, so you can start to see that regional economic cooperation is a reality… and if we can build on what President Peres said about science… that the world in 15-20 years will be fundamentally different, then the future will be bright, whether agriculture, medicine, productivity. I am very optimistic…. the ease by which we can communicate, the productivity we have gained… in the development of human history, this is a flash, a spike.
“We will be cooperating, the dislocations that shake us, to our core, will be absent. ….It is a future I see very much in a positive way…. That I will dedicate myself to, to come true, and one in which all of us have a role to play.
“The private sector in US., government in Middle East. We must all believe in this process, make the hard choices that need to be made, and when the process looks shaky, that we are there to support it. Thank you Mr. President, for getting us here today, and even though I am on the periphery and not a direct negotiator, my life, my children’s lives will be immeasurably better.”
Giving a vision of hope, Peres suggested it might finally be time. “In Europe, if someone would have stood up in 1943 that in 30-40 years, Europe would be united, people would laugh. It took generations for French, Germans, British to come together. The young people, anyway, live in a different world. They are connected personally. The world is more connected, and the younger you are, the more connected.
“Today the greatest choice before the Middle East is either to be a Middle East of independent states or fall under the spell of Iranians,” Peres said. “This is the greatest danger. Under the spell of Iranians is also terror. We have a common menace, if not a common enemy, so we have a common purpose.
But Clinton noted, “If the vision [for peace and regional cooperation] you are sketching out takes hold, the Iranians would have a very different choice than they do today. It would maximize that the current fears we have can be resolved in a peaceful way, and maximize the risk if they choose not to do that.”
“I think [peace] would be better for everyone,” said Fayyad. “People throughout the region could interact more freely – in peace, security. We could focus on doing things better, governing better, providing services more effectively. Our economy is only 4% the size of the Israeli economy – that alone, even if you don’t factor in what this means in regional cooperation, and better access to rest of region — simply by virtue of sitting alongside such a huge economy, that is Israel. When you begin to factor in other benefits – tranquility, civility in the region, you can see how the benefits would begin to spread. That would happen on the strength of having some serious partnerships here.”
Ahead of the April 19 New York State Primary, the gloves came off between the two contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, at what is being called “The Brooklyn Brawl” – the Democratic Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The confrontation was the most contentious to date, but still substantive with both candidates making strong arguments on major issues.
Here are annotated highlights from the “Brooklyn Brawl” – the debate between Democratic contenders for the nomination for president, former Secretary of State and New York State Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, based on a transcript provided by CNN, the news organization that hosted the debate, April 14.
Of all the issues raised during the Brooklyn debate, the only one of particular importance to the New York primary voters raised concerned US-Israel Relations. It also inspired surprising reaction from the audience.
BLITZER: Senator, let’s talk about the U.S. relationship with Israel. Senator Sanders, you maintained that Israel’s response in Gaza in 2014 was, quote, “disproportionate and led to the unnecessary loss of innocent life.” (APPLAUSE) What do you say to those who believe that Israel has a right to defend itself as it sees fit?
SANDERS: Well, as somebody who spent many months of my life when I was a kid in Israel, who has family in Israel, of course Israel has a right not only to defend themselves, but to live in peace and security without fear of terrorist attack. That is not a debate. (APPLAUSE)
“But — but what you just read, yeah, I do believe that. Israel was subjected to terrorist attacks, has every right in the world to destroy terrorism. But we had in the Gaza area — not a very large area — some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed.
“Now, if you’re asking not just me, but countries all over the world was that a disproportionate attack, the answer is that I believe it was, and let me say something else. (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING) As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel, in the long run — and this is not going to be easy, God only knows, but in the long run if we are ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity. (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING)
“So what is not to say — to say that right now in Gaza, right now in Gaza unemployment is s somewhere around 40%. You got a log of that area continues, it hasn’t been built, decimated, houses decimated health care decimated, schools decimated. I believe the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people. That does not make me anti-Israel. That paves the way, I to an approach that works in the Middle East.” (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING)
BLITZER: Secretary Clinton, do you agree with Senator Sanders that Israel overreacts to Palestinians attacks, and that in order for there to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel must, quote, end its disproportionate responses?
CLINTON: I negotiated the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in November of 2012. I did it in concert with (APPLAUSE) President Abbas of the Palestinian authority based in Ramallah, I did it with the then Muslim Brotherhood President, Morsi, based in Cairo, working closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli cabinet. I can tell you right now I have been there with Israeli officials going back more than 25 years that they do not seek this kind of attacks. They do not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages. (APPLAUSE)
“They do not believe that there should be a constant incitement by Hamas aided and abetted by Iran against Israel. And, so when it came time after they had taken the incoming rockets, taken the assaults and ambushes on their soldiers and they called and told me, I was in Cambodia, that they were getting ready to have to invade Gaza again because they couldn’t find anybody to talk to tell them to stop it, I flew all night, I got there, I negotiated that.
“So, I don’t know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist tact, rockets coming at you. You have a right to defend yourself. [She said with increasing assertiveness.] (APPLAUSE)
“That does not mean — that does not mean that you don’t take appropriate precautions. And, I understand that there’s always second guessing anytime there is a war. It also does not mean that we should not continue to do everything we can to try to reach a two-state solution, which would give the Palestinians the rights and…”
BLITZER: … Thank you…
CLINTON: … just let me finish. The rights and the autonomy that they deserve. And, let me say this, if Yasser Arafat had agreed with my husband at Camp David in the Late 1990s to the offer then Prime Minister Barat put on the table, we would have had a Palestinian state for 15 years. (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING)
“…of course there have to be precautions taken but even the most independent analyst will say the way that Hamas places its weapons, the way that it often has its fighters in civilian garb, it is terrible. (AUDIENCE REACTION)
“I’m not saying it’s anything other than terrible…remember, Israel left Gaza. They took out all the Israelis. They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people. And what happened? Hamas took over Gaza.
“So instead of having a thriving economy with the kind of opportunities that the children of the Palestinians deserve, we have a terrorist haven that is getting more and more rockets shipped in from Iran and elsewhere.”
Sanders then attacked Clinton for not “discussing the needs of the Palestinian people,” in her speech to AIPAC, the American-Jewish organization that lobbies on behalf of Israel.
CLINTON: Well, if I — I want to add, you know, again describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it. And I have been involved, both as first lady with my husband’s efforts, as a senator supporting the efforts that even the Bush administration was undertaking, and as secretary of state for President Obama, I’m the person who held the last three meetings between the president of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of Israel.
“There were only four of us in the room, Netanyahu, Abbas, George Mitchell, and me. Three long meetings. And I was absolutely focused on what was fair and right for the Palestinians.
“I was absolutely focused on what we needed to do to make sure that the Palestinian people had the right to self-government. And I believe that as president I will be able to continue to make progress and get an agreement that will be fair both to the Israelis and the Palestinians without ever, ever undermining Israel’s security.” (APPLAUSE)
SANDERS: There comes a time — there comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.”
CLINTON: If you are from whatever perspective trying to seek peace, trying to create the conditions for peace when there is a terrorist group embedded in Gaza that does not want to see you exist, that is a very difficult challenge.
Sanders Strategist Weighs In
In the spin room after the debate, Sanders’ campaign strategist Tad Devine was asked whether Sanders’ comments about Israel could get him into trouble in New York?
“The thing about Bernie Sanders is he doesn’t give answers to seek political advantage. He says what he believes. And I think he believes sincerely – and this is from someone who is Jewish, someone who spent 6 months on a kibbutz in Israel, who has a number of family members there – he believes the best way forward for peace is the one he described tonight. I would just suggest that the answers he gives not just on that issue, but a number of issues, are not given for political calculation but are given because this is what he believes.”
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