This is the second year I have attended the AIPAC seminar for Rabbis. I decided to return because of several reasons. The first is that it is a diverse group of rabbis from all the branches of Judaism. That in and of itself produces a wonderful array of conversation and learning. The second reason and the most important is that no other Jewish organization brings to us the array of speakers and policy experts on the Middle East and Israel like AIPAC does. Of course this seminar is scheduled right before the High Holy Days knowing full well that Rabbis need material and insights on Israel for at least one or two of their high holy days sermons. So yes there is a pragmatic component to this seminar.
AIPAC is the preeminent policy organization in Washington on Israel. That is their niche. They have the best research staff and access to elected officials and whomever you want to meet at
these seminars. Rabbis have to familiarize themselves and be up to date on Israel and Middle East security issues as spiritual leaders of their congregations.
For all these reasons I am grateful to AIPAC for their interest in the Rabbis and for their commitment to and understanding of how important temples are to educate American Jewry about policy issues which impact the survival of Israel.
Anat Wilson lunch speaker
former Israeli MK, on the political left and a avowed atheist.
She is an AIPAC policy analyst,writer who lives in Tel Aviv
She attacks the left who say that one does not have to insist on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state before a peace agreement is settled.
She acknowledges that progressives in Israel are forced to face uncomfortable realities in watching the Palestinians refusal to say yes to peace.
She asks; "Do they the Palestinians really want a two state solution?
The 2nd intifada was the turning point towards revealing a true problem in recognizing the unwillingness of Palestinians to choose peace albeit an imperfect peace.
She narrates several stories about her meetings with moderate Palestinians in the 90s. The things they said then that the Jews are not a people but just a religion and religions do not have a right to a state. The idea of the Jewish connection to the land is entirely made up. Moreover they said about the Israelis, " You are taking the land away from the true native population." Wilson argues - the Jewish and Palestinian people- are both indigenous peoples and have a right to the land.
Who she asks amongst the Palestinians will sign off on that?
She has now come to believe that any peace agreement and true peace must demand the right of the Jewish people to sovereignty to settle in the land.
Netanyahu advocates this position as well. Peace means accepting the Jews as an indigenous people to the land and the region.
My question was whether she has turned from the left to the right?
She felt strong that Israelis are debating the question of what does the Jewish state mean?
The definition of the Jewish state is a fluid and an ongoing debate. Wilson argues that Jews need to give Israel time maybe centuries to figure that out.
Even though she is a devout atheist and leftist, she defends Netanyahu's demand to insist that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
She is skeptical about the situation between Palestinian and Israeli relations because she is unsure on the Palestinians desire to engage in a two state solution. She has come to the belief that there is not a willingness from the Palestinian side to accept these fundamental principles underlying Israel's existence.
She reminded the audience that the American ethos of try and fail and try again is part of the american ethos. Yet it is a bad way to go about foreign policy in the Middle East particularly with regards to making peace between Israelis and Palestinians.There is no room for failure.
Palestinians and Israelis know each other entirely well. She advocates less ambitious goals, in other words,smaller agreements rather than comprehensive peace agreements..
She then addresses the question about the viability of secular zionism.
It is definitely in danger. why? Herzl believed zionism would solve the Jewish question making Jews equal to all other peoples. The question 19th century Europeans were asking was whether there was a solution for the Jews. Israel may not be enough for those critics. Secular zionism counted on it. This is a disappearing creed because the issue of change in the world today.
Only America is challenged with accepting ethnic nationalism. Other nations have no issue with that.
Most of the world still has a 19th century viewpoint. As we see in so many conflicts today how old borders of nations are breaking up into tribes and ethnic indentities.
Question is are there increased elements of racism in Israeli society?
She admits that they exist even though zionism taught that Israel was to be inclusionary of diverse groups. Read herzl's famous book alteneuland. He criticizes those Jews who seem ethno-centric.
She believes that Israel needs diaspora voices in shaping the vision for the Jewish state.
Diaspora Jews must participate in the conversation.
Speaker Two: Mosab hassan yousef son of sheikh hassan yousef a founding member of hamas.
This young Palestinian man ultimately rejected the violence and terror caused by Hamas and began working with the Shin Bet to foil terrorist plots. He left not only his family but Islam and converted to Christianity. Eventually he sought asylum in the US. He wrote a book about his experiences.
An excerpt from the interview.
Question: "Did you feel you were betraying your father."
"No. I betrayed the ideology of it. yes.
I did the right thing for my conscience."
"Was there a conflict of interest?"
" I made difficult choices."
Then the response of his israeli friend and former shin bet officer who participated in this program as well. He spoke about the courage of Mosab and his determination to stop the violence.
Mosab said, "Hamas is an ideology of jihad.
Israel is fighting that ideology. can a military campaign fight an ideology?"
Mosab said they (Hamas) hijacked the people with their ideology.
How can you go wrong by saving a human life.? he said.
He was working with the shin bet to stop terrorist cells
In one story the Shin Bet officer told us that once in Ramallah one of mosab's friend was killed by the Israelis in the attempt to arrest him.
They sent him to the hospital to see if he was really killed. This was the hardest mission they sent him on.
Why did mosab end his relationship with shin bet?
He said he was living in a triple life. He felt that the agency did not trust him.
He told a story about how he failed a lie detector test. He was risking his life.They gave it to him again and even though he passed it the relationship was never the same.He refused to work with them and that was the trigger that led him to seek asylum in the US.
The israeli shin bet officer said people never felt comfortable with him especially during the 2nd intifada.
There is a conflict between the intelligence system and the failure of it to recognize the uniqueness of the individual.
He left the shin bet in 2006
The Israeli shin bet officer told how he found out in 2008 about mosab in a newspaper officer about his conversion to christianity.
He reached out to the israeli journalist to find out where he was. He felt he was like leaving a soldier behind on the battlefield which was why this former shin bet officer whose father was an Israeli general had to reach out to Mosab.
mossab says that Hamas will not and cannot make peace with Israel from an ideological perspective.
It goes to the core of the reason Hamas exists. To acknowledge any aspect of the land as Israel's would be a violation to the Islamic faith.
Mosab feels Hamas is killing their own people. they praise death over life.
it was a matter of conscience.
"Do i recognize the state of Israel?
I risked my life for Israel. I love Israel.
He speaks about christ's conscience. He stated that if jesus came back it would be christians as the first to kill Jesus. He is disappointed in the american church. He is not active in the american church. They do not see the big picture.
"i do not follow so much a religion but it all flows into my conscience.
I am not following the religion.
I believe in a cosmic consciousness.
My parents do not speak to me.
Humanity is my family.
How to make peace?"
He says, "Israel should work on protecting itself."
Speaker Three: The Honorable Antony Blinken-assistant to the president of the US and Deputy Natl security advisor
Israel is not alone
US commitment to Israel is absolute
Security cooperation is stronger than it has ever been.
Military , diplomatic and political cooperation
funding iron dome.
He tells the story of a visit from Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer to blinkin re funding the iron dome this summer.
President Obama said ; "Lets get it done. In two days it was done.
There is constant contact constant consultation between Israel and the US.
The US is opposed to the UN commission of inquiry on israel for gaza rule.
The human toll in Gaza is terrible
Israel lives under the double standard with Gaza.
Hamas is also responsible for its own civilian casualties.
Blinkin believes we cannot dehumanize each other that we lose sight of the humanity of people on all sides.
Natanyahu and Obama spoke daily and even hourly.
Long term issues in Gaza:
Israel must live in peace and security
Palestinian authority must play a larger role in Gaza.
Only true path is through a negotiated peace settlement.
Nuclear Iran is a threat to the world including israel.
lran has carried out its commitments.
How to make a verifiable final agreement?
4 paths to a weapon for Iran
have the weapon
means to deliver it
material -facility producing plutonium AraK. facility deep underground . natanz- and a covert program. these paths were frozen. we will be looking for a definitive roadblock to these paths. mixed results. nov 24 getting to yes not clear. we will not take a bad deal.
ISIL-their goal is extermination of all opposition including sunni muslims.
clear and direct threat to american interests in the region.
it could pose a direct threat to us if they are not checked.
us needs a partner in Iraq.
ISIL feeds off the feeling from sunnis that feel alienated from the government which is shia. An inclusive govt. will shrink the water that isil swims.
Building a coalition of nations in the region to fight isil.
Even though we at times disagree with our israeli partners it does not mean that we do not have a close relationship anymore. it is a constant relationship.
Responding to idea that us foreign policy should focus on smaller gains than on comprehensive peace plans. His response was the withdrawal of chemical weapons in Syria was an example of a first step.
Explaining the events that happen and making sense of events is a challenge in the instant media market. He acknowledges that the administration needs to do a better job.
I went to two breakout sessions during the day which were on the state of Zionism today and a policy analyst talking about jihad and terrorism today.
The security expert was excellent in providing specific data about ISIS and the rest of the terrorist groups out there in the MIddle East. Israel is not on ISIS' priority list right now. They have bigger fish to fry. They need to make their presence felt in Iraq, Syria and other places. Israel is not on their top tier priority list. America comes next and how easy it is for an Isis assassin to make their way to Turkey and take a plane to Mexico and from there cross the border to America.
Truthfully there is a lot more to discuss. I 'll save it for the Holy Days. All I can tell you is thanks for taking the time read my report and know that wherever I go you, my congregants, are on my mind and with me.So I bring you back these notes from the trip. I wish you a pleasant shabbat.
L'shana Tova Tikatevu
Rabbi Brad Bloom