Friday, May 27, 2011

No More Applause

By Cecilie Surasky, Deputy Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, a US Campaign member organization
May 26, 2011

I was stunned to see that our entire U.S. Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu 29 standing ovations on Tuesday. Twenty-nine. Unbelievable, given what his speech contained.

The speech that Netanyahu gave that day will go down in history as an extraordinary embarrassment to Americans and Israelis alike. Read on to find out what he said and why we cannot let it go unanswered.

To put it simply, Netanyahu proved yet again that he prefers settlement expansion and Jewish domination of Palestinians to any kind of true peace agreement that would benefit both peoples. He claimed that Israel isn’t occupying anyone—ignoring nearly 44 years of increasingly brutal Israeli control over the lives of millions of Palestinians.

He stated that Israel had no need for American military assistance—ignoring the $3 billion in military equipment and aid the U.S. provides Israel each year. He said Israel supports the desire of Arab peoples to live free—saying nothing about the ongoing Israeli shootings and arrests of Palestinians who nonviolently protest for their right to be free. (1)

What makes this so outrageous is that Netanyahu’s speech found a shockingly sympathetic audience in the U.S. Congress while people like you and me could only watch in disbelief.

I’ve had it. I cannot stand by and watch my member of Congress applaud this man and his litany of distortions, myths and outright fabrications. Please, I urge you to join me in writing your US Representative to say, “How could you? Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has shown repeatedly that he is not interested in a viable future for either Palestinians or Israelis and you rewarded him with 29 standing ovations as the world watched."

Here’s a taste of what Netanyahu said, and Jewish Voice for Peace’s debunking of it:

“You don’t need to send American troops to Israel, we defend ourselves.“

Not true. Israel does not defend itself. Israel is historically the number one recipient of US foreign aid. The US gives Israel a whopping $3 billion a year in aid and military equipment, most of which is used to defend Israel’s illegal occupation.

“In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not occupiers.” (Raucous standing ovation.)

Not True. Israel’s nearly 44-year long occupation of Palestinian territories is illegal according to international law. The more than 500,000 Jewish Israelis who have been moved into the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967 are settlers who occupy Palestinian land – much of it privately owned by Palestinians and stolen by Jews the rest of it expropriated by the Israeli state – all taken for exclusive Jewish use. (2) This is occupation.

Moreover, “Judea and Samaria” are the biblical terms for that piece of land. Is Bibi suggesting a state based not on secular law but on the Bible? A Jewish theocracy? Is this the Israel that our Congress promotes?

“You don’t need to export democracy to Israel. We’ve already got it.”

Not true. Within Israel, the 20% of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian do have the right to vote and run for office. But they are victims of systematic housing, workplace and resource discrimination. For example, 93% of Israeli land is reserved for Jews.(3) In the West Bank, more than 2 million Palestinians live under Israeli occupation—that is, their lives are ruled by Israeli military law, while their Jewish settler neighbors are subject to Israeli civil law. Another 1.5 million Gazans live under siege by the Israeli military. Is this democracy?

“Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.”

Not true. The original UN charter that created Israel, as still recognized by the international community, identified Jerusalem as an internationalized zone that must be shared by all parties.

I should say that I’m not really shocked by Netanyahu’s speech. But, I am shocked – shocked, stunned, discouraged, outraged – by the reaction of our elected officials. Clearly, they are not hearing from the growing number of people like you and me who are ready for a change. They won’t stop applauding until we speak up – and speak up loudly.

Rae Abileah is with the advocacy group Code Pink and a member of Young, Jewish, and Proud, the young adult arm of Jewish Voice for Peace. She was physically attacked by some members of the Israel lobby group AIPAC, hospitalized with neck injuries and then arrested after she bravely shouted out the truth during Netanyahu's speech to Congress.(4) The night before, 5 protesters interrupted Netanyahu's AIPAC speech and were similarly assaulted.

Not all of us can put our bodies on the line the way Rae and so many others have. But we can all take action today, by telling our elected officials they must represent us, not the interests of one of the most right-wing and intransigent governments in Israeli history.

If you live outside of the United States, please write to President Obama to tell him how you feel this has further damaged the United States' standing in the eyes of the world.

Thank you,

Cecilie Surasky, Deputy Director
Jewish Voice for Peace

P.S. Two of the many Jewish Voice for Peace members in Washington this week were interviewed about AIPAC counter-protests this week. Seventeen year-old Hanna King was on Al Jazeera and Jesse Bacon was on National Public Radio.

(1) Jewish Voice for Peace, "Clouds over freedom in the West Bank."
(2) Btselem, "Taking Control of the Land in the West Bank."
(3) Adalah, "Historical Background."
(4) CNN, In The Arena, "Why Rae Abileah says she disrupted Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday."