Cracks in Democrats seeking unity on Israel
The Democratic Party has spent the first couple of days of its convention projecting unity on issues from fighting racism to fair trade. But fissures are showing on one issue that Democrats have long been united on: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Pictured: Florida State Senator Dwight Bullard, wearing a Palestinian kaffiyeh, or headscarf, said Palestinians should have the right to citizenship in Israel. He visited the West Bank and Israel in May as part of a delegation from the Black Lives Matter movement.
PHOTOGRAPH: BEN SALES
Their party, which has long commanded the vast majority of Jewish votes, like the Republican side has defined itself as pro-Israel – ensuring military aid to Israel and defending it on the world stage. But some Democratic delegates believe that should change.
Delegates for Bernie Sanders, many of them young, would like to see America’s sympathies shift from robust support of Israel to outspoken opposition to the oppression of Palestinians. These delegates see opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank as part of other human rights issues they champion.
“Absolutely we need to take a stand on the occupation of Palestinians,” said Jennifer Merecki, a Sanders delegate from Montana. “The US should stop funding Israel. They use that money for the oppression of Palestinian people.”
The change in US policy that Sanders delegates are demanding tracks with a generational divide in the Democratic Party. While more older Democrats want the United States to favour Israel over the Palestinians, among Democrats aged 18 to 29, support is equally divided between Israel and the Palestinians, according to a late 2014 Washington Post poll.
In May, the Pew Research Centre found that more liberal Democrats, and more Sanders supporters, sided with the Palestinians over Israel, some 40 per cent to 33 per cent. Seventy-one per cent of millennials voted for Sanders, as opposed to 28 per cent for Clinton. Republicans favour Israel over the Palestinians by wide margins.
Several delegates, for both Sanders and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, suggested that the United States take measures it has already long taken. Some called for the US to convene negotiations between the two sides, which Democratic and Republican administrations have attempted every few years. Others said the US should oppose settlements, which it has since Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War.
But all who said they want US policy to shift, emphasised that they want the government to take a more vocal stand in defence of Palestinian rights.
“We feel Palestinians deserve their own nation and that they deserve human rights,” said Elacido Salazar, 71, a Sanders delegate from Northern California whose wife, Bobbie, wore a pin that said “I support Palestinian human rights”.
“We should have discussions with the Israeli government to stop the settlements. [Palestinians] are defending their right to exist,” he said.
Clinton delegates supported the views of their candidate, which are largely in lockstep with traditional Democratic support of Israel. They advocated a two-state solution but firmly defended Israel.
“I am a supporter of Israel,” said Maria Luna, vice-chairman of the New York State Democratic Party and a Clinton supporter. “We need to come to agreement between the two sides, otherwise the struggle will continue for dozens of years.”
Palestinians, she said, should gain American support “if they change their way of behaving toward Israel”.
Some Sanders delegates called for a significant change on US policy toward Israel, with a few saying America should stop providing its annual $3 billion assistance package. Dwight Bullard, a Florida state senator who went on a May trip to the West Bank and Israel focused on Palestinian rights, said Israel should extend citizenship to Palestinians living in the territories.
“You have people who lived in the region prior to the establishment of Israel,” said Bullard, 39, who wore a kaffiyeh, or Palestinian headscarf, around his neck on Tuesday to signal support for Palestinian rights. “As an African-American, it’s hard for me to buy into the notion of segregation whether in the US or abroad. Someone born in Jerusalem [should have] the rights of a citizen.”
Sanders advocated for increased recognition of Palestinian rights throughout his campaign. In a speech he gave concurrent with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee national conference in March, the Vermont senator supported Israel but called for friendship toward Palestinians.
“But to be successful, we have also got to be a friend not only to Israel but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza unemployment today is 44 per cent and we have there a poverty rate which is almost as high,” Sanders said. “So when we talk about Israel and Palestinian areas, it is important to understand that today there is a whole lot of suffering among Palestinians and that cannot be ignored.”
When the Democratic Party platform was drafted in June, representatives of Sanders voters, including philosopher and civil rights activist Cornel West, pushed for the word “occupation” to be inserted into the section on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the Democratic Party has long condemned Israel’s control of the West Bank, the wording change proved too controversial.
In the end, the platform echoed traditional bipartisan positions backing Israel: support for Israel’s security, a two-state solution to the conflict, the establishment of a Palestinian state and for Jerusalem to remain the capital of Israel. Sanders’ appointees were disappointed that the platform didn’t recognise Israel’s “occupation” nor refer to “settlement activity”.
“We got defeated,” West acknowledged on Monday in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “But we’ll bounce back, though.”
The Republican Party also saw changes to its Israel policy in this year’s platform, tacking to the right. The party abandoned the longstanding bipartisan commitment to the two-state solution and opposed “any measures intended to impose an agreement or to dictate borders or other terms”.
For some pro-Israel activists, even reliable friends like Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s choice for running mate, represent a softening of Democratic support for Israel.
Kaine has been a vocal supporter of US security assistance to Israel, but like most Democrats bucked the pro-Israel lobby and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in supporting the Iran nuclear deal.
During the fight over the deal, Kaine absented himself from Netanyahu’s speech to Congress opposing the deal, but subsequently worked to smooth the waters between the prime minister and Senate Democrats.
Tellingly, Kaine has worked closely with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, despite their disagreements over the Iran deal, while at the same time earning the approval of J Street, the liberal Jewish group that seeks a more assertive US policy in promoting the two-state solution.
He rarely talks about the two-state solution without reminding the Palestinians of their obligations to honour past commitments and affirm Israel’s right to exist.
Sanders delegates, too, even as they called for significant changes in how the United States relates to Israel, said they opposed any infringement on Jews’ safety and rights in Israel. Israel, some said, should remain a Jewish homeland because of the atrocities committed against Jews in the Holocaust.
“As far as what happened to Jewish people in the Holocaust, they deserve a home,” said Alex Storer, 20, a delegate from Florida. “They have more in common with our society than other countries in the region.” (JTA)
Habonim honours Anstey, a ‘superman without a cape’
The outgoing manhig (leader) of South African Habonim Dror, Errol Anstey, took his departure from the youth movement after 20 years of service in an online Zoom call with nearly 300 current and former members, friends, and family.
“I agreed to take the job for a year or two back in 2000, and never dreamt it would end up being 20 years of challenging but hugely satisfying work,” Anstey said in an emotional speech to his audience from around the world.
In the late 1990s, the movement had dropped in numbers, finances were in a mess, and the well-known Onrust campsite was in bad shape, former shaliach Ronen Segall recalled. “Errol was the obvious choice for someone with deep knowledge of the movement, its workings, and its campsite. In my eyes, Errol became Habonim’s true hero, a superman without a cape but full of capability.”
In a short space of time, Anstey led a significant turnaround for Habonim along with the team of shlichim and Habonim leadership. His fundraising, finance, and administration skills shone, and over his term as manhig an estimated R20 million has been raised and invested in the Onrust campsite to make it one of the most sought-after and valuable campsites in South Africa.
“This has enabled the movement not only to maintain the site to a high level, but the revenue has helped finance many of the movement’s activities,” Anstey proudly told his audience.
The traditional role of the manhig since the founding of SA Habonim Dror was always to be the “adult in the room” to act as a guide and mentor to the movement’s young leadership. Former mazkira klalit (general secretary) of Habonim from 2005, Micaela Browde, paid tribute to Anstey saying, “You were really a stalwart for us, you fought for us, you had our backs, you made sure we were supported, guided, and you did so with strength, humility, and humour.”
Anstey described some of the challenges during his stint including differences of opinion and sometimes open confrontation with mainstream Jewish community leadership when Habonim was critical of some of Israel’s actions. “It wasn’t easy to be a lone voice for progressive, liberal thinking as South Africa’s community became predominantly conservative,” he said with his usual frankness.
Another mazkir klali, Daniel Sussman from 2019, described Anstey’s catch phrase as “do everything, all the time, never sleep”. This succinctly summed up for him the endless number of projects and activities which Anstey led over the past two decades on behalf of Habonim.
Stanley Bergman, originally from Port Elizabeth and now in New York, the national treasurer for Habonim in 1968, paid tribute to Anstey’s enormous efforts to support several generations of Habonim members. He praised him for his ability to connect with graduates from the movement around the world and develop a donor community to support the Habonim Foundation which he initiated.
Anstey spoke of the erratic provision of Habonim shlichim from Israel over the years, and how he had additionally become a shaliach himself, which meant mentoring the leadership and members of the movement. He emphasised that he had “the privilege of working with the cream of South African Jewish youth” and said “there was nothing more fulfilling than working with inspired youth”. Their activism had motivated him to run successfully for public office in 2011 as a member of the Democratic Alliance.
During the Zoom session, many participants showered praise on Anstey’s term as manhig including Isaac Herzog, the chairperson of the Jewish Agency for Israel, who acknowledged the “outstanding contribution” that he had made to Habonim over so many years.
Former mazkir klali in the early 1980s, Stephen Pincus, expressed his appreciation for Anstey’s earlier roles as camp organiser at one of the largest Onrust camps ever, and later in spearheading the 50th anniversary celebrations of the movement.
“It was clear from those early years that Errol had that obvious aptitude for organisation along with a commitment to the movement,” he said. “Little did we know that we unleashed a formidable force which reverberated in the movement for more than 40 years.”
Anstey told the audience that his two children, Saul and Talia, had followed in his footsteps, having attended 12 Onrust camps and later became his “eyes on the ground” regarding movement dynamics. He also noted that it was probably an unprecedented situation that they had actually left the movement before their father did.
Anstey warmly welcomed the new incoming manhig, Wayne Sussman, in his usual modest style saying how satisfying it was for him to hand over the mantle to “someone who will be better than me and will take Habonim to new heights”.
Sussman responded in the session with his usual passionate style, describing the six previous manhigim who preceded him as “giants on whose shoulders we stand”. He lamented the fact that the Habonim leadership was on a Zoom call and not at the annual Onrust camp, and how challenging it was going to be in 2021 without the lessons learned and experiences from machaneh.
“Our first task will be to assist the 2021 bogrim led by the new mazkir, Aaron Sher, to capture some of the magic which will be lost, but I’m confident we can do it,” said Sussman.
JNF Blue Box enters the digital age
When is a Jewish National Fund (JNF) Blue Box not a blue box? Never. Even though the physical box now has a digital donation option, it’s still the age-old Blue Box.
This box has for decades symbolised the JNF and the commitment of Jewish people around the world to rebuild Israel.
And for decades, it has been filled to the brim with pennies, cents, nickels, dimes, lira, and francs – coins of every denomination dropped in, one could almost say, religiously every Friday evening before Shabbat candle lighting.
Now it’s no longer limited to physical coins and a metal box. The new Blue Box with a digital donation option via SnapScan will be launched in time for Channukah to keep the tradition of the Blue Box alive for the next 120 years.
The first real Blue Box was, oddly enough, Theodor Herzl’s hat. At the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901, he used his hat to solicit donations from delegates as a means of purchasing land to establish a Jewish homeland.
Soon after, a Polish bank clerk proposed that a collection box bearing the words “National Fund” be placed in every Jewish home to raise money for land purchases. Production began in Vienna. The boxes were initially produced in a blue material and thus became known as Blue Boxes.
Over the past 120 years, funds collected via the Blue Box from around the world have assisted the JNF to realise its aim of developing land in Israel: building roads and water reservoirs, establishing parks, and preparing the soil for agriculture and settlement. Beyond fundraising, the Blue Box is also an important educational tool for spreading the Zionist message and renewing the historic bond between the Jewish people and EretzYisrael.
Stories about the Blue Box have become legendary. In the United States around Tu B’Shvat, teams of children brandishing JNF Blue Boxes would travel from Brooklyn to Manhattan on the New York City subway system. They would move from train car to train car with these ubiquitous boxes in hand, soliciting contributions from passengers and stopping only when they sensed or saw the approach of policemen.
In South Africa, members of the JNF would visit Jewish homes every Sunday to collect and then empty Blue Boxes, diligently counting the hundreds or thousands of coins inside them. In addition to being proudly displayed in almost every South African Jewish home, Blue Boxes were also present in schools, shuls, Jewish-owned businesses, medical waiting rooms, even hairdressing salons.
In times past when life wasn’t so frenetic and women could spend afternoons playing rummy and socialising, the money raised and won during the games was often dropped into the Blue Box, adding to the largesse and reputation of that particular hostess.
Today the iconic Blue Box (or pushke) remains the link between the Jewish people and the land, and to many, perhaps even to the majority of the Jewish world, it’s a symbol of Jewish continuity. They can also be quite valuable: a few antique Blue Boxes were auctioned by Sotheby’s recently, realising more than $3 000 (R46 006) each.
However, in the age of credit cards, cryptocurrency, and e-wallets, fundraising via a coin-based Blue Box risks becoming an anachronism.
So, the JNF has relaunched the Blue Box and linked it to the SnapScan mobile-payments app. A QR code will be found on all new Blue Boxes purchased from the JNF. People with old boxes can bring them in to have the QR code imprinted for no extra charge.
It’s modern technology indeed, but inextricably linked to a century-old tradition of keeping Israel alive in every Jewish heart.
Back to Work
So many in our community have lost jobs since the onset of lockdown. We are publishing their details to help them find work. This is the last group for this year. We will resume in 2021.
Name: Fran Lurie
Experience: Sales Consultant
More information: I have worked in the exhibition industry for 20 years, and because of COVID-19 this was the first industry to go. I was retrenched and now seek new employment. I am driven, enthusiastic and ready to take on a new venture.
Current location: Johannesburg
Willing to relocate: No
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Name: Nicole Williams
Email address: email@example.com
Experience: National Key Accounts Manager/PA/Secretary
Education: Matric (Herzlia); Travel and Tourism diploma (Travel and Tourism Academy)
More information: I’d like to work for a company which will allow me to grow professionally and as an individual. I’m eager to work in a team structure and am happy to travel. I enjoy new challenges, and having a proactive mindset has helped me achieve success. I’m creative, energetic, and pay attention to detail. I’m committed, loyal, enthusiastic, and give 101% in everything I do.
Current location: Cape Town
Willing to relocate: No
Letters/Discussion Forums1 day ago
An open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa
OP-EDS1 day ago
Why it must be cool to be a Jew on campus
Featured Item1 day ago
Could vaccination save Netanyahu’s political life?
Featured Item1 day ago
Farewell to an architectural giant
Voices1 day ago
But he is good for Israel
Voices1 day ago
The holiday that couldn’t happen
Voices1 day ago
Second waves and second chances
Featured Item1 day ago
A December of COVID-19, paranoia and cancelled plans