Tag Archives: Israel

Why the UAE Agreement Matters

Last week brought the welcome news of the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.  

I’m taken aback and frankly disappointed that this development has not been fully celebrated in all quarters here in the U.S. That may be, in some part, due to how we overwhelmed we are by domestic concerns right now, or maybe because of our fractured political times and the key role that our current administration played in facilitating this agreement.  It would be regrettable if we chose to ignore this historic moment only because President Trump was the one who announced the agreement from the White House.  

As Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) said this week: “Not everything needs to be partisan, and especially Israel.”  

So I’d like to take this moment to expand on our statement this week welcoming the announcement and to explain why we did so. 

First, anything that serves to normalize Israel's presence in the region is a good thing. Israel continues to be the only country that is not only challenged in the international arena for its actions, but also regularly questioned  for its legitimacy altogether. This step by the U.A.E. – and others that may soon follow – advances the just and still necessary cause of normalizing the very existence of the world’s only Jewish state.

Second, this new, important step strengthens the cause of peace. When the international community treats Israel like any other country, one which fully belongs among the nations, good things happen – such as the Egyptian peace, the Oslo Accords. Israel being treated like a pariah only amplifies the Israeli people’s legitimate sense of isolation and vulnerability as a country in a largely hostile region. Their understandable and reasonable reaction is to focus on self-defense as the primary driver of national discourse. This week’s events demonstrate to Israelis first and foremost that the benefits, for them, of peacemaking, are in fact possible and tangible; namely recognition and normalcy in the region. 

Third, “suspending” talk of plans for annexation gives everyone – including us in this county – an opportunity to step back from the heated rhetoric and emotional fractures of earlier this summer. From our synagogue Zoom rooms to the halls of Congress, we were tearing each other apart by debating and publicly criticizing something that never came to pass. At this point de jure annexation is farther from a realistic possibility than it has been for some time, a reality that, still this week, some in this country refuse to acknowledge. This past week’s events reinforce an Israeli political center that wants normalcy and engagement with its neighbors. The stakes of what could be lost for Israel’s center should talks of annexation rise again, have been heightened by bringing more Arab nations to the table of recognition, with all the commensurate benefits.  

To put it another way, as Ambassador David Friedman (someone who we at JCRC have been deeply critical of in the past) said: "We prioritized peace in the region over West Bank annexation...you can't have peace and annexation at the same time." That’s a shift. It’s a good thing. Let’s embrace and build upon it. 

Lastly, for us and for the Israelis we’ve come to know and believe in, peace with the Palestinians remains the ultimate goal. We know this can only be accomplished through building societies that recognize the dignity and humanity of the other. We believe that building and deepening public exchanges with a range of Arab countries advances a regional culture of such recognition. This development can help that process, and that is another reason that it should be viewed as a step toward progress.  

Of course, it’s only one step in a long line of many that must still be taken to build more ties between Israelis and Palestinians, so that they recognize each other’s dignity. We can hope that this past week’s developments will serve as a launchpad for further progress toward peace for Israel, the surrounding Arab States, and the Palestinians. And we urge Congress and the American people to invest the necessary capital for peacebuilding between Israel and its neighbors, to achieve progress toward peaceful coexistence in the region and encourage similar diplomatic actions in the future. 

On July 24th, the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) was passed with bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation would provide $250 million over five years to radically scale up peace and reconciliation programming. And now the legislation moves to the Senate. 

To learn more about the work of investing in peacebuilding and the role the U.S. Congress has to serve, JCRC of Greater Boston is partnering with the JCRC of Greater Washington and others to invite you to a program on August 27 at 2pm EDT to learn about our advocacy together with the Alliance for Middle East Peace in support of this legislation, "The Partnership Fund For Peace."It is an opportunity to learn about the legislation and the impact the fund would have on grassroots peace-building and economic development efforts in the region - directly from those doing the work, and also to learn what you can do to help champion this vital piece of legislation.  

We invite you to be a partner to the people of Israel, to the Palestinians, and to the kinds of forward-thinking responsible actors in the region who made these recent developments possible. 

Shabbat Shalom,  

Jeremy

JCRC Statement Welcoming Normalization of Ties Between Israel and the United Arab Emirates

The JCRC of Greater Boston welcomes this last week’s announcement that Israel and the United Arab Emirates will move to normalize diplomatic relations. We offer our congratulations and thanks to President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahlan. We hope that this development can serve as a launchpad for further progress toward peace for Israel, the surrounding Arab States, and the Palestinians. We urge Congress and the American people to invest the necessary capital for peacebuilding between Israel and its neighbors, support efforts to reinforce progress toward peaceful coexistence in the region, and encourage similar diplomatic actions in the future.

Statement on Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz Forming a Government

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, on behalf of our organized Jewish community, congratulates Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz on their success in forming a national unity government. It is noteworthy that the coalition includes 73 Members of Knesset, nearly two-thirds of the body. After months of caretaker governments, the new coalition will have greater authority to set national priorities during the COVID-19 crisis.

As we celebrate the vibrancy and strength of Israel’s democracy, JCRC reaffirms its commitment to the two-state solution, and in particular to those Israelis and Palestinians who inspire us by working together for a shared future and peaceful co-existence. JCRC will continue to support, validate, amplify, and celebrate the work of these peacebuilders who are creating the conditions on the ground that facilitate an eventual resolution to the conflict.

AIPAC and How Bipartisanship Matters

This essay was originally published in The Times of Israel.

“Our challenge is less to calm the forces that are pelting our society than to reinforce the structures that hold it together. That calls for a spirit of building and rebuilding, more than of tearing down. It calls for approaching… institutions with a disposition to repair so as to make them better versions of themselves.” – Yuval Levin, A Time to Build

I thought of these words while attending AIPAC’s policy conference this week.

I came because I believe that for the United States to be an effective leader on the world stage, we need a comprehensive foreign policy – one that is built on a strong, bipartisan consensus. I’ve written before about the fraying global credibility of the United States as a consistent partner, which is due to the failure of incoming administrations to uphold the international commitments of previous opposing party administrations, and, in some cases, the outright reversal of those agreements. Our commitments are most reliable when they are built on a broad foundation of support across Congressional aisles. When bipartisan commitment is lacking for an agreement – whether on climate change or on how to contain Iranian ambitions – critical support does not endure beyond one administration. But the security relationship with Israel is the best example of the ongoing commitment that results from bipartisan support through Congress after Congress, under both parties’ control, upholding and sustaining ten-year agreements made under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Because we desperately need more of that credibility in the world, I believe in the importance and value of institutions like AIPAC; the rare spaces these days where Americans come together despite partisan differences in support of a bipartisan shared agenda on key foreign policy concerns.

This week, as in the past, there was so much that I appreciated at AIPAC, like the diversity of voices and the honest conversations, including explicit main stage calls to support Palestinian rights and statehood (which we support). There was some candid criticism of Israel’s actions in the West Bank by supporters of the US-Israel relationship. There were some speakers that didn’t resonate as much for me, making the strong case for policies that I don’t agree with. But hearing those voices is a part of committing to bipartisanship.

I welcomed the message of “yes, and” from some on the main stage; the articulation of “and this is how I work for two-states” as part of a statement that “yes, I’m committed to Israel’s security.” Notably, it was exciting and validating to hear Senator Schumer announce his support for the Partnership Fund for Peace on the main stage this year. It’s an area we’ve focused on at JCRC for several years, under the leadership of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, as an essential component of how we engage with the conflict.

Still, when I see that bipartisanship which AIPAC strives to represent being strained – from without and within – by the fractured politics of our time, I worry. When I see those in or seeking power working to replace the pursuit of shared values across political ideologies with doctrinaire, partisan approaches to the world, I worry. And when our allies and enemies watch us with increasing doubts about our will, knowing that our commitments, which are no longer bolstered by broad consensus, are not likely to last more than 4-8 years, I worry.

For decades, AIPAC has framed American support for Israel as one in which we have “friends, and potential friends.” Notably, this week we heard a distinct shift to the effect that “some people will never be our friends.” It was hard to hear this, but – in the hyper-fractured politics of our time and with some who are waging an active war on the US-Israel relationship – I have to agree, sad as that makes me regarding the state of our nation.

But if the core of this work is about building and maintaining bipartisanship on foreign policy and support for the US-Israel relationship, then it is also true that some of our friends, regardless of their love of and devotion to Israel, are doing us no favors either. Not for the first time, a very small number of speakers at AIPAC used that platform to make hyper-partisan attacks across the aisle, to applause from some part of the audience; I believe that they do as much damage to our purpose as the ones who attack the movement from outside. I hope that AIPAC will find a way to convey more clearly that these voices hurt our movement, and will educate participants to not respond to such overly partisan attacks when they come.

I care about the continuing success of AIPAC and about the success of American bipartisan leadership in the world.

Yuval Levin challenges us: “This is not a time for tearing down. It is a time to build.”

Let us continue to build together a broad consensus where we can.

Building a Coalition for Peace

Photo from one of Boston Partners for Peace's partner organizations, Roots-Shorashim-Judur

This week, a joint message from Executive Director Jeremy Burton and Director of Israel Engagement Eli Cohn-Postell:

In the two weeks since President Trump released his administration’s framework for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, reactions have exposed the pre-existing divides in our discourse about the region and about the way forward. This may be unintended, but it is certainly unsurprising, as a consequence of this latest round of attention to the conflict.

Here at JCRC, we did not wake up the morning after the plan was released wondering about our role in this complicated historical moment. For years, we have been helping to lift up grassroots peacebuilders through our Boston Partners for Peace initiative. Today we are going public with endorsements from a broad coalition of religious, political, and civic leaders throughout Massachusetts. This is the beginning of a new phase of our work to validate and support the inspirational work of Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders; building upon the multi-year investment by JCRC in engagement through travel by civic leaders to the region and programming here at home.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a complex and divisive issue. The information we receive through traditional media channels is limited, and often distorted. Many times, we find ourselves in difficult conversations with our non-Jewish partners about how we understand and sit with these multi-layered issues. These conversations also take place in challenging intracommunal discussions such as with our Council, representing a broad diversity of views within our community. We at JCRC sit at the center of this complexity, as people who are inspired by the Israel we know and love, and also not looking away from its imperfections and its challenges, including in its relationship with the Palestinians.

This public statement of support for grassroots peacebuilding gives credence to our approach to engaging with hope for the future of this region. With over 60 leaders (and counting!) lending their names in support of Boston Partners for Peace, we are hearing from elected officials from across the Commonwealth, rabbis of every denomination, a diverse group of Christian clergy members, and other civic leaders. The vast majority are alumni of our Study Tour program, which introduces Boston’s civic leadership to the intricacies of Israel and to Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders who are working to build trust and mutual recognition across real and metaphorical boundaries. As Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn put it when meeting with representatives from the Hand in Hand schools last fall, these interactions “make us a better city and a more effective city council.”

But, more than anything, this action speaks volumes about the work of Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders. They are following in the footsteps of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, armed with the knowledge that building peace between individuals is a necessary condition for building peace between societies. Their jobs seem to get more difficult all the time. Yet they continue to serve as a common source of inspiration. In a time when many of us cannot agree on the future direction of Israel or our own role in this process, we can agree on this: Israelis and Palestinians coming together at the grassroots level provide us with hope, inspiration, and optimism about the future.

Through Boston Partners for Peace, we are now running regular programs and reaching hundreds of people here in Massachusetts. People from many communities are coming together to hear from peacebuilders and apply best practices from their efforts to our own challenges here in the United States. As our Boston Partners for Peace community continues to grow we look forward to placing down new markers like this one, indications that we are building a coalition of people coming together to say, “Yes—we support you, yes—we support peace, and yes—we want to take our next steps together.”

We invite you to join them in supporting Boston Partners for Peace and the work of peacebuilding.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy and Eli

For American Jews: A Time To Vote

With 2020 primary voting finally upon us in just a few weeks, and Israel’s unprecedented third round of elections coming up in six weeks, I want to draw your attention to another election that begins next week: the American Jewish vote for the 38th World Zionist Congress. Though this election, which begins on Tuesday, has generated noticeably less buzz, it represents an important opportunity for us to make our voices heard in shaping the future of Israel.

Every five years, as the largest Jewish community outside of Israel, we get to choose 152 of the 500 members of the World Zionist Congress, a body that sets priorities for important institutions in Israel, including the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish National Fund. All told, the World Zionist Congress oversees the allocation of nearly $1 billion in funding in support of Israel and global Jewry.

Much ado is made in our community about what our appropriate voice is in addressing the challenges that Israel faces: is it our obligation only to support the policies of Israel’s elected government? Should we encourage our own government to pursue policies that are or are not aligned with Israel? How should we express our disagreements over visions for Israel’s future?

Whatever your view of these and other debates, the Zionist Congress is one place where there is over 100 years of consensus that we — and other Jewish communities around the world — should have a voice in at least some of those debates over vision and priorities. And this year, with fourteen American slates running, the diversity of American Jewish thought is on full display. Whether you are inclined to support a Jabotinsky-esque vision or a Progressive one, an Israeli-American, Sephardic, or youth movement voice, or if your preference is to be represented by leaders from Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox movements, there are slates for you.

Voting is open to any Jewish resident in the United States, 18 years and up, who ascribes to the “Jerusalem Program,” a platform of unity for the Jewish people, with a bond to our homeland in the land of Israel and the centrality of the State of Israel as our national project. Despite the loud voices proclaiming otherwise, the fact is that all polling and studies of American Jewry suggest that well above 90% of us are aligned with this platform, in all our diversity.

All you need to do is go to azm.org/elections starting this Tuesday, January 21st, register, pay an administrative fee of $7.50, and you have a vote. The voting remains open until Wednesday, March 11th.

Personally, I haven’t decided yet who I’ll be voting for. I have friends and colleagues whom I respect who are running on at least half of the slates, including many friends from Boston.

What I do know is the outcome of these elections will give us a snapshot of how diverse our American Jewish community is and what we think, broadly, about how we want our voices to be heard in a global Jewish conversation. The more of us who participate, the clearer and more representative our voice will be.

And, as someone once said: If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. And who would we be as a community if we don’t have the right to complain?

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

The Middle Game

This month's JCRC Study Tour for Elected Officials at the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem

From JCRC Director of Israel Engagement, Eli Cohn-Postell:

A game of chess is played in three phases. The opening moves set the stage for the drama to come. Most of the direct action comes in the middle game, where pieces are traded and sacrifices are made. By the end game, little remains. Only a few pieces are left as they try to outmaneuver each other and secure a victory. Successful chess players are able to coordinate their armies during all three phases of the game, creating harmony out of different pieces and their unique abilities.

In Israel’s current political moment, no one seems to have a clear vision for the end game. And, as a result, everyone is playing their own middle game. There is no strategic or tactical cohesion. People across political and social divides are worried that any move they make will only deepen existing fault lines. In this moment, I see only one way to move forward with coordination and cohesion: to focus on the moments that bring people together, regardless of their circumstances or their differences.

While in Israel last week, I saw how people were wearied by the inevitability of a third election in 12 months, taking place in March 2020. I mourned from a distance as more Jews were murdered in the third mass killing targeting our community since last October. And I watched with trepidation as Britain’s Jews were left without a political home, feeling both betrayed by antisemitism in the Labour party and anxious about being used as a scapegoat for both the election results and a variety of other issues. Many of our speakers last week presented us with an immediate next step, but no one was prepared to offer a comprehensive vision of the future.

At the same time, I was moved throughout the week by people in Israel who are creating new bonds despite their differences. I saw my friend Noor, who has blossomed from a skeptic into an activist. With his partners and friends at Roots, he is working every day to heal the divides between Israelis and Palestinians. Noor is waging an uphill battle, fighting against the voices among both his Jewish and Palestinian neighbors that call for complete separation from the other. In my visits with Noor over the past three years, I have seen how his ability to share his message has grown in effectiveness and complexity, and I am inspired.

I met Asmeret, an asylum seeker from Eritrea, at Kuchinate. Asmeret is a single mother raising three children while balancing the challenges that come from living in a foreign country with limited opportunities. Not only does she provide for herself and her family, she has become a manager at Kuchinate and now actively helps others improve their own circumstances. In speaking with us she shared a message of patience, love, and compassion.

We also saw our old friend Nadav Tamir, formerly Israel’s Consul General to New England. Now working at the Peres Center for Peace in Innovation, Nadav insists that peace must be made from the bottom-up as well as the top down. He is also certain that the things that make Israel great do not belong to Israel alone, and that the wonders of Israeli innovation must be shared with Israel’s neighbors equally and to the benefit of all.

There is much to be done. I learned recently that the Good Friday Accords were signed 12 years after the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) was established, and that the IFI and EU have invested roughly three billion Euros in peacebuilding projects in Ireland. This is more than 15 times what the EU and USAID have invested in Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding, severely limiting the opportunities for trust-building and reconciliation between the parties. Israelis, Palestinians, asylum seekers, and others have much that they can do on their own. But we also heard many times this week that American aid and leadership are necessary components of creating a shared future. We have to do it together.

Looking at the events of this week, I wonder when the fractures became so deep, and how we have arrived at this point without fully realizing what brought us here. Our end game must be one where these rifts are healed. To get there, we will need a middle strategy that emphasizes recognition in the face of division; an approach that will lead to an end game with as many options as possible. While we can never know the future with certainty, we pursue this approach with faith in people like Noor, Asmeret, Nadav, and the thousands like them building something together despite the obvious complications.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach,

Eli

JCRC to Lead MA Legislators on Study Tour of Israel

(BOSTON) – The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston continues its long history of conducting annual study tours of Israel with Massachusetts community leaders through this month’s study tour, which will provide Massachusetts legislators with an in-depth look into the economic, political, and security challenges and successes facing Israeli society.

From December 5-15, Massachusetts legislators will travel throughout Israel and the Palestinian-controlled areas, learning from government officials and religious, academic, media, labor, and business leaders.

“This trip will allow Massachusetts leaders to deepen their understanding of Israel's politics and culture, and examine some of the economic ties that bring Israel and Massachusetts together,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of JCRC of Greater Boston. “The best way to deepen the MA/Israel connection is through a mutual understanding of our common interests—participants will gain firsthand knowledge about how they can strengthen relationships with their Israeli counterparts."

The Massachusetts labor leaders will:

  • Meet with government officials and other influential leaders from all sectors of Israeli and Palestinian society, developing city-to-city connections and sharing best practices in addressing current labor issues,
  • Visit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and border regions,
  • Discover the growing economic and cultural ties between Israel and Massachusetts,
  • Gain new perspectives on modern day Israel, and
  • Develop a nuanced understanding of the complex political and security challenges facing Israel.

The trip is paid for by a grant from the nonprofit Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. Participants pay a registration fee for the trip from their own funds.

The following are the participants in JCRC’s December 2019 Study Tour of Israel:

Senator William Brownsberger
Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem
Senator Julian Cyr
Senator Adam Hinds
Senator Eric Lesser
Senator Jason Lewis

About the Jewish Community Relations Council
JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.

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From Israel: Finding Inspiration in Dysfunctional Times.

A short while ago, I arrived at Ben Gurion airport. Together with JCRC’s Director of Israel Engagement, Eli Cohn-Postell, we’re starting out on our biannual civic leaders study tour, this time together with members of the Massachusetts Senate.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with an Israeli friend with both British and American citizenship. This person, only half-jokingly, commented that, at the moment, it was hard to tell which of these nations had more dysfunctional politics.

It is, to my mind, a tough question; especially when I focus on the negative aspects currently manifesting in each system. When I was last in Israel – in July – the Israeli people were in the midst of their second national election campaign this year. I never imagined the possibility that during this week’s trip they could embark on their third election cycle in less than a year. Since summer, Britain has blown through its latest Brexit deadline, with national elections pending next week (and a deeply worried Jewish community to wit). And, in the US, well, where shall we start?

But there’s another way of looking at this, which is to see the half-full glass, the moments, people, and institutions that inspire hope.

Observing developments in Israel, of course there’s much to be said about a nation whose prime minister is facing a trial over corruption charges. But there’s also something to be said about a country where the attorney general who brought those charges was himself appointed by that very same prime minister. And, whether one agrees or not with specific policies of the government, it’s notable that the institutions of justice are taking a stand, and how that action – to many of us – compares favorably with the role of our own attorney general in our current political process addressing our own President’s behavior.

And while three national elections within one year appears chaotic, it is also worth noting that a large chunk of Israel’s electorate is “holding the center.” Politicians and parties are, through their “constitutional” process (though Israel doesn’t have an actual constitution) reaching out from center-left to center-right and trying to form a consensus politics about the direction of the state and its character. Does this compare favorably to our own fractured politics in the US where a House divided has become the default, and the idea of common ground or shared understanding seems a distant memory? I think so.

And at a time when Americans, obsessing in our like-minded bubbles on social media, increasingly living and working in red and blue silos, and telling pollsters that the greatest tragedy would be for our children to marry across party lines, I’m inspired by my friends here. Because the divides between Israelis and Palestinians are surely even deeper than much of what divides us as Americans. And yet, as on every trip, we’ll be meeting with folks who are reaching out across these divides to build empathy and compassion. 

Thousands of Israelis and Palestinians are working together on grassroots projects for mutual recognition, dignity, and peace. We, through Boston Partners for Peace, believe in their ability to change the narrative and shape the future. They inspire us and I look forward to reporting on their efforts again after our visits this week.

So, I’m not ready to say which of our countries is most dysfunctional right now, nor do I think this is a particularly useful exercise. But what I can say – without in any way being naïve about the extraordinary challenges that Israelis, Palestinians, and the people of this region face, and the importance of supporting their efforts to resolve these challenges – is that I also think we can learn from and be inspired by what we witness here; people who don’t give up in the face of adversity; people who keep reaching out to each other and remain committed to building a hopeful future; and people who are representing the institutions and systems of a functioning democracy.

And maybe, just maybe, instead of judging them too harshly for their very human flaws, we Americans – who live in a glass house of our own – can be a little quieter and do a little more listening as we seek to understand the people who live here. And, hopefully, as I do on every trip here, I can come away a little more inspired, a little more committed to not giving up on the people here, and even learning from what they can teach us about our own dysfunctional politics right now.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

CJP, JCRC Stand with Israel Amid Rocket Attacks from Gaza

More than 150 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since Tuesday morning. For the first time since 2014, schools and workplaces from Southern Israel to Tel Aviv are shuttered and citizens have been instructed to stay indoors near bomb shelters. 

Rocket attacks have been ongoing since an Israeli military strike on a senior leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

Israel’s soldiers and citizens are always in our thoughts and prayers, but even more so during difficult times. CJP and JCRC stand in solidarity with the people of Israel and reaffirm the right of the state to defend itself. 

Our hearts are with the hundreds of thousands of people in harm’s way. We pray for their safety and a speedy end to the escalation in violence.