Jennifer Loewenstein on Progressive Radio News Hour

Progressive Radio News Hour, Jun 12th, 2011

Jennifer Loewenstein teaches at the University of Wisconsin and is Associate Director of its Middle East Studies Program. She’s also a board member of the Israeli Coalition against House Demolitions-USA branch, founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and a freelance journalist.

Libya, Occupied Palestine and other Middle East issues will be discussed.

What Bibi Gains by Misrepresenting Obamas Middle East Policy

Joe Klein, Time, May 26, 2011

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress in Washington on May 24, 2011 [Jason Reed / EPA]

Of all the petty annoyances, misdemeanors and felonies of public life, there is none that Barack Obama detests more than to have his words twisted or oversimplified. It is a big part of his frustration with the media; it is a bigger part of his disdain for the talk-show wing of the Republican Party. And so it wasnt hard to imagine smoke jetting from the Presidents ears as Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, willfully misinterpreted Obamas statement about the need to renegotiate Israels borders — in Obamas presence, in the Oval Office on May 20. The President had said that a two-state solution, which Netanyahu alleges to support, should be based on the pre-1967 borders, with mutually agreed-upon land swaps that would enable Israel to incorporate the vast majority of its — dare I say — illegal settlements into its territory while giving over equal amounts of Israeli turf to the Palestinians. (Did Obamas Speech Give Syrias Assad a Breather?)

This is not a groundbreaking proposition. In the arcane world of Middle East peace negotiations, it is the equivalent of saying many Jews and Arabs eat hummus. Indeed, this exact formulation was used by Israels Ministry of Foreign Affairs after Hillary Clinton met with Netanyahu on Nov. 11. The swapping of borderlands was at the heart of Bill Clintons nearly successful attempt to negotiate a peace deal in 2000. It was at the heart of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmerts nearly successful effort to negotiate peace with the Palestinians in 2008. There are maps circulating that show how such a border might look. The most plausible, one of three versions proposed by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is shown on this page.

But Netanyahu did an astonishing thing: he chose to ignore the part about the land swaps. He also chose to ignore some significant, and rather hard-line, statements of principle that Obama made in his May 19 speech on Middle East policy, reiterating that Israel shouldnt have to negotiate with terrorist groups like Hamas that deny its right to exist; that Israels security requires a long-term military presence in the Jordan River Valley, eventually leading to a full withdrawal (but setting no timetable for that withdrawal); that any Palestinian state must be demilitarized; and that he would actively oppose any unilateral U.N. effort to declare Palestinian statehood. Instead, in a most condescending manner, Netanyahu chose to lecture the President on a position that he knew Obama hadnt taken — a return to the indefensible pre-1967 borders.

Why on earth would Bibi Netanyahu choose to be so boorish and provocative? Because he can be. He has the U.S. Congress in his pocket, a fact made obvious by the applause tsunami that attended his speech to a joint session (and by the fact that an astonishing 68 Senators and 286 Representatives attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee banquet the night before he spoke). He also has a stronger argument this time around. The apparent reconciliation of the Palestinian factions allows Netanyahu to focus on Israels greatest fear: when push comes to shove, the Palestinians have never really acknowledged Israels right to exist. The one exception to that rule — Yasser Arafats signing of the Oslo accords — seems hollow, given the subsequent Palestinian rejection of both the Clinton and Olmert offers. But Netanyahus offensive also had an important tactical effect: Israels continued, illegal construction of settlements on Palestinian lands — an impediment to peace every bit as great as the Palestinian refusal to truly acknowledge Israels existence — took a distinct backseat during the week of dueling speeches. Netanyahu was playing offense so he didnt have to play defense.

Netanyahu knows American politics. The ease and eloquence of his address to Congress were stunning evidence of that. And so he must have been aware of the political impact of his cheesy gambit: he has now, overtly, tossed his support to the Republicans in 2012. Mitt Romney was able to say that Obama had thrown Israel under the bus. Given his congressional support, Netanyahu may be able to get away with playing so bold a hand — but it is inappropriate behavior for an American ally, and you can bet that Obama wont forget it.

Copyright © 2011 Time Inc.

Egypt partly reopens Rafah border with Gaza

Commercial traffic to pass through border points with Israel

Adel Zaanoun, Agence France Presse, 28 May 2011

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Egypt on Saturday reopened its Rafah border crossing with Gaza, allowing people to cross freely for the first time in four years, in a move hailed by Hamas but criticised by Israel.

Among the first to cross the reopened border post were two ambulances ferrying patients from the hitherto-blockaded Gaza Strip for treatment in Egypt as well as a minibus carrying a dozen visitors.

A total of around 200 Gazans crossed by early afternoon.

The crossing is to open to people for eight hours a day from 9:00 am, apart from holidays and Fridays, giving Gazans a gateway to the world as Rafah is the only crossing which does not pass through Israel.

Under the long-awaited change, which excludes the flow of goods, people under the age of 18 or older than 40 require only a visa to pass, but men between 18 and 40 still need security clearance, officials said.

Jamal Nijem, 53, whose wife and daughter live in his spousess native Egypt, was among hundreds who flocked to the Rafah border post, but he was unsure whether he would be allowed to cross.

I came here three years ago to rejoin my family but my Egyptian residency permit had run out because of frequent closures of the crossing, and the security services barred me from going back, he said.

Commercial traffic will continue to have to pass through border points with Israel to enter the impoverished Palestinian enclave.

According to an official in charge of administrative procedures on the Palestinian side of the terminal, the process is going without a hitch, and we are providing the facilities for travellers to pass quickly and comfortably.

On the Egyptian side, an official said: We are going to do everything possible to ease the passage of our Palestinian brothers, and we hope procedures will be simplified further in due course.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi announced in April that the crossing would reopen permanently, stressing this would help ease the blockade imposed by Israel.

The border has remained largely shut since June 2006 when Israel imposed a tight blockade on Gaza after Palestinian militants snatched Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.

The blockade was tightened a year later when the Islamist movement Hamas seized control of the territory, ousting forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

The United Nations has called the blockade illegal and repeatedly demanded it be lifted.

The decision to permanently reopen the Rafah crossing came more than three months after former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned under pressure following 18 days of massive street protests against his rule.

It was hailed by Hamas and the European Union, but Israel has greeted the news with trepidation.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said Thursday the move was a courageous and responsible decision which falls in line with Palestinian and Egyptian public opinion.

The European Union said it was in consultations with Egypt, the Palestinians and Israel about returning its team of advisers to monitor activity along the frontier.

But Israel expressed concern, with Home Front Defence Minister Matan Vilnai telling public radio it would create a very problematic situation.

Continue reading

Madison-Rafah Sister City Project Internships

The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (MRSCP) was started in 2003 by a group of concerned citizens in Madison, Wisconsin and Rafah, Palestine. The goals of the project include building wider public awareness of issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and lasting person-to-person relationships between people in the U.S. and in Palestine. MRSCP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

We are looking for college students in the Madison area who share our organization’s goals and are interested in the following internship opportunities:

Applicants should send resume, contact information, and a brief cover letter explaining why they are interested in the position to rafahsistercity (at)

Review other Madison-Rafah Sister City projects.

Obama Presses Israel to Make ‘Hard Choices’

‘I can continue defending you to the hilt, but if you give me nothing to work with, even America can’t save you.’

HELENE COOPER, The New York Times, May 22, 2011

WASHINGTON — President Obama struck back at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in a speech to a pro-Israel lobbying group on Sunday, defending his stance that talks over a Palestinian state should be focused on Israel’s pre-1967 borders, along with negotiated land swaps, and challenging Israel to “make the hard choices” necessary to bring about a stable peace.

Mr. Obama, speaking before a conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, offered familiar assurances that the United States’ commitment to Israel’s long-term security was “ironclad.” But citing the rising political upheaval near Israel’s borders, he presented his peace plan as the best chance Israel has to avoid growing isolation.

“We cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace,” Mr. Obama said. The world, he said, “is moving too fast.”

Administration officials said it would be up to Mr. Obama, during an economic summit in Paris next weekend, to try to talk his European counterparts out of endorsing Palestinian statehood in a coming United Nations vote, a prospect that would deeply embarrass Israel. Some French officials have already indicated that they are leaning toward such an endorsement.

“He basically said, ‘I can continue defending you to the hilt, but if you give me nothing to work with, even America can’t save you,’ ” said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator and a fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.

The appearance by Mr. Obama on Sunday punctuated a tense week in which he and Mr. Netanyahu made their separate cases about Palestinian statehood to American audiences. Mr. Netanyahu will address the same group on Monday and will speak before Congress on Tuesday at the invitation of Republican lawmakers.

In his speech, Mr. Obama did not directly confront Mr. Netanyahu, who, while seated next to him at the White House last Friday, rejected the proposal Mr. Obama made a day earlier that negotiations use Israel’s 1967 borders as a starting point.

Mr. Obama’s decision to stick to his position, albeit with strong reassurances about America’s lasting bond with Israel, is a risky one politically. Mr. Obama is just starting a re-election campaign, and Republicans are doing what they can to present themselves to Jewish voters as more reliable protectors of Israel than the Democrats.

Republicans moved swiftly to criticize his Middle East proposal. “The U.S. ought not to be trying to push Israel into a deal that’s not good for Israel,” the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Administration officials said Mr. Obama chose to confront Israel on the stalled peace negotiations after his aides calculated that given the historic upheaval under way in the Arab world, the United States and Israel would both benefit from being seen as taking bold steps toward ending the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians.

As Mr. Obama himself pointed out, his theme in the speech last Thursday was not extraordinary. American presidents, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have consistently instructed their foreign policy aides to pursue an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians using the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps, as a basis for talks.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, in fact, made such a proposal to the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in 2008, as the two sides rushed to complete a peace deal before Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert left office.

But the 1967 border issue has always been privately understood, not spoken publicly, and certainly not publicly endorsed by a sitting American president.

When Mr. Obama did so last Thursday, he unleashed a furious response from Mr. Netanyahu. The prime minister’s office put out a statement in advance of his meeting with Mr. Obama the next day in which Mr. Netanyahu said he expected to hear certain assurances from the president.

“That was Bibi over the top,” one administration official said Saturday, referring to Mr. Netanyahu by his nickname. “That’s not how you address the president of the United States.”

Mr. Obama addressed his critics on Sunday, saying, “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.”

Continue reading

Dissent is Not a Crime: Two Subpoenaed Activists Speak Out

Sat, May 14, 2011
1:00 – 3:00 pm
St. John’s Lutheran Church
322 East Washington Ave
Madison, WI

Background: On September 24, the FBI raided the homes and offices of peace activists in Minneapolis and Chicago. They seized computers, phones, documents and other personal items. The FBI has also been contacting other activists in an ongoing investigation of alleged “material support of foreign terrorist organizations.” At this point 23 citizens have been issued subpoenas to testify before a Grand Jury in Chicago.

Refusal to testify can result in a grant of immunity followed by jail for contempt if the refusal continues. The federal prosecutor can also issue criminal indictments leading to trial.

Join us to hear the stories of two dynamic and courageous women, Meredith Aby and Sarah Smith, peace and social justice activists who have been subpoenaed to testify to a secret grand jury. Find out what happened to them and why. Hear why standing against FBI raids like those imposed on Meredith, Sarah, and other activists is important to every citizen of the United States. Learn how to protect our constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association which are now at risk. Take the opportunity to support their legal struggle.

Meredith Aby has been an anti-war and international solidarity activist since 1994. She helped found the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee which has helped lead the peace movement there in challenging U.S. war and militarism in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Colombia, Palestine and Afghanistan. Aby has been on human rights delegations to Palestine and Colombia and in 2008 she helped lead protests at the Republican National Convention. In 2010 her home was raided by the FBI and she was subpoenaed to testify at a grand jury. She has refused to testify against herself and other members of the anti-war movement.

Sarah Smith studied Spanish at the University of Havana at the age of 15. In 2005, she traveled to Venezuela for the 16th World Youth Festival. At Grinnell College, she was active with their interfaith Palestinian solidarity group. Last summer she went to Israel and the West Bank with some friends. In December, all were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury about their delegation. They too have refused to testify.

Sponsored By: American Jews for a Just Peace–Madison, Madison Pledge of Resistance, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, Rainbow Book Cooperative, The Progressive, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom–Madison, and Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice.

April 14, 2011
Play: We Belong to the Land

Anderson Auditorium
Edgewood College
7:00 pm

A one-person drama based on the writings of Father Elias Chacour.

You who live in the United States, if you are pro-Israel, on behalf of the Palestinian children I call unto you: give further friendship to Israel. They need your friendship. But stop interpreting that friendship as an automatic antipathy against me, the Palestinian who is paying the bill for what others have done against my beloved Jewish brothers and sisters in the Holocaust and Auschwitz and elsewhere.

And if you have been enlightened enough to take the side of the Palestinians — oh, bless your hearts — take our sides, because for once you will be on the right side, right? But if taking our side would mean to become one-sided against my Jewish brothers and sisters, back up. We do not need such friendship. We need one more common friend. We do not need one more enemy, for God’s sake.

March 22, 2011
Ziad Abbas at MATC

MATC Downtown Education Center
211 N. Carroll Street, Room D240
Madison [Map]
1:30 pm – 3:00 pm

Ziad Abbas will speak on Water and Solidarity with Palestine. He will discuss Palestine’s water crisis in the broader context of ongoing displacement, military occupation, and the current political events in the Arab world.

He will tell you about the Middle East Children’s Alliance’s MAIA Project, which provides clean, safe drinking water for children in Palestine by installing water purification and desalination units in kindergartens and schools. To date, more than twenty-seven units have been installed serving nearly 30,000 children.

Ziad Abbas is from Dheisheh Refugee Camp in the West Bank. He offers listeners his own experience growing up under Israeli Occupation, along with sharp political analysis and inspiration to take action. He will discuss Palestine’s water crisis in the broader context of ongoing displacement, military occupation, and the current political events in the Arab world.

Sponsored by Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and the International Socialist Organization.

April 2, 2011
Palestine Panel at the National Lawyers' Guild Conference

National Lawyers’ Guild Regional Conference Panels
University of Wisconsin Law School
975 Bascom Mall, Madison
3:00 – 4:15 pm: Piecing Together Peace: Countering Israeli Apartheid Through Action

Featuring Jennifer Loewenstein, UW Professor, and a speaker from Minnesota’s Break the Bonds Campaign, an organization calling for the state of Minnesota to support the breaking of economic ties with the state of Israel.

A full schedule is available here.