The Truth Machine

Issues, not "isms"

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Saturday Feb 27, 2:30 PM:

Session: Jerusalem: Divisible with Liberty and Justice For All?

Chair: Yuval Beziman, Usa Director, Geneva Initiative

Moderator: Eetta Prince-Gibson, Eitor-in-Chief, The Jerusalem Report

Panel: Rabbi Ed Feld – Senior Editor of Mahzor Lev Shalem, Danny Seidemann – Founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, Laura Wharton – Member of Jerusalem City Council

Prince-Gibson: Not just a religious center, but an actual urban center. Also a spiritual City, and a contested city. Purpose of discussion is to go beyond the issues of “possession” and look at it in a more complex but rewarding way.

Seidemann: If the current pace of development in East Jerusalem continues Jerusalem will be so balkanized that it will no longer become possible to reach a compromise. This is the loss of the two state solution and thus challenges the existence of Israel. Since Aug 9, 2005 when Sharon’s Cabinet voted on it, there has been a plan in action to transfer the control of the religious groups to Secular groups married to a Jewish Old City government position. The historic and religious integrity of Jerusalem is being compromised and turning a national issue into a religious issue that will expand the conflict. Third, the Palestinians of East Jerusalem cannot vote nationally or locally – it is a sytemic disfunctionality. Can’t deliver mail, collect trash, etc. etc. in East Jerusalem. It is in East Jerusalem, where the law is essentially suspended. If democracy is in danger in Israel, then East Jerusalem is where it is dying. These are all existential dillemas. In the next several years Jerusalem is where Israel will finally be driven into full Pariah status, or it will be the city where the Saudi Embassy will exist and the Mosque will be treated with the sam respect as the Temple. This is not just a question for Israel, any national plan for a two state solution MUST include a plan for Jerusalem.

Wharton: As far as she is concerned Jerusalem is already divided, but NOT in the way people think. The way it is divided could be either a problem or a solution. 1 – Leave each sector to itself, 2 – le the loonies keep going until people have had enough (“The Algeria Solution”), or UNITE Jerusalem on how to DIVIDE Jerusalem. This last one is what she believes is the best solution. Biggest demonstration was of 100,000 Ultra-Orthodoxes who wanted to disallow Sephardim from the Ashkenazi majority schools, so there is a micro split. The CITY council has 10 parties. It is a divided mosaic BEFORE you count in the Arabs and Palestinians. This is why it might be solvable the last way – no one group large enough to enable the process.

International City will not work because no one can agree who would be on the committee. This is what killed the idea in 48. Jerusalem would have to be divided by the Jewish Members of the Knesset, which will make the decision seem illegitimate. Perhaps the only way to make Jerusalem divisible is to first let the Jews in Jerusalem feel democracy and then they can develop empathy for social justice for the Palestinians. Jerusalem is ruled largely by Orthodox Jewish law. Also, most Jerusalemites are poor. So the Jewish people in Jerusalem need to have obs, an education, and step away from racism towards each other before they can care about what happens to Palestinians.

3:44 PM:

Rabbi Feld – “I can be in Israel for six months and never leave Jerusalem.” First came to Jerusalem in 66. City was still divided. Went through Jordan to go to the wailing wall. So walking to the wailing wall from the Israeli side was a very special day for him. He was overjoyed until he talked to an ultra-orthoox anti-zionist and said aren’t you happy and he responded “Do you think that pile of stones is the messiah?” It woke him up to a sophisticated new way of looking at the prophetic image of Jerusalem as the voice of peace to the world. The image in Isaiah of Jerusalem is an image of Peace and Social Justice – “the city of righteousness, the faithful city”. The dream of Jewish return is not a dream simply of national power and renaissance, but the dream of the implementation of ideals, the Zionist dream of the Jew having powerwill be able to implement that power in a way we did not ourselves experience them. That a Jewish people who were oppressed can rule without oppressing others. This only works, the dream of Jerusalem, only works if the Palestinians enjoy all of the same basic services. He believes in the internationalization of the Holy Sites. That is the real dream of Jerusalem. It is meant biblically to be a place where the world comes to speak with god.

Author’s note: The above was me typing as fast as I can. I no doubt have many typos to correct later, and realy wish I had recored. For both the speech and the tone in its entirety was the most spiritually moving and politically convincing argument I have heard so far.

P-G: There is such a thing as a Jerusalemite, but many of us as individuals fly many flags, and the question is how do we hear the word of god above the screams and pain and explosion. SOvereignty, ownership, united, divided, none of these terms work for Jerusalem. It is a city that no one owns and everyone owns.

Question: How to give control of urbanism to the city of Jerusalem and not to outside developers who invest in land development to prevent the ability to divide East Jerusalem.

Question: Why do Palestinians see a light rail in Jerusalem as a threat.

Question with an Answer built in: A Rabbi suggesting a way to put writings from Tannach and Talmud that show Israel as an International City and “land for peace” as an idea given license in the talmud.

Seidmann on Q1: Don’t worry about it, It has failed to move anyone. Only 2,500 people and no displacement. The municipality has the ability to stop it as does the prime minister. If you enforce the same law for ALL the problem goes away.

Wharton: We control East Jerusalem, right or wrong, so should we develop it. Problem is that if we build there people don’t trust and I can understand that. We built them a post office they burnt it down. If we build a school people are okay. If we build or pave a road sometimes they will have support and sometimes not. A light rail that goes through Arab neighborhoods would help Arabs get jobs and get to the hospital

Feld – Yes, we need to take back the bigger meaning of the word religious and that kind of literature could help.

Q- How work it pragmatically?

Q – Should PA be allowed to operate there now?

Q- What are the modern advantages and disadvantages of internationalism?

Q- What do you think the Americans and J Street should be advocating for Jerusalem to maintain the possibility of a two state solution.

Seidmann: This will be the least romantic peace in history. WATCH THE FEET. Where the Israelis walk today will be Israel and where Palestinians walk will be Palestinian. We rule East Jerusalem unfairly because we rule East Jerusalem at all. Only the 5% where they both walk, in the old city, is up for question. It is worth noting that since the Biden disaster, Netenyahu FROZE, he just never said it,. Netenyahu blinked, he didn’t change a position,he had an existential moment with the President of the United States. He froze and he survived, so his whole argument of he cant get away with it is done. He did it and Obama did not get beaten up politically so he can demand it.

Wharton: Disagrees with Seidmann: Yes, we should get out of East Jerusalem yesterday, but until then we do we have a moral responsibility to provide for the people in these neighborhoods. We should not be there, but that cannot be a reason to not provide health care and schooling until we do leave. It is not about a defacto united Jerusalem, it is about human rights.

On to the next session. Back in 20 minutes!


4:10 PM:

Plenary Session: Knesset Roundtable: Israeli Politics and Policy in 2011

Chair: Davidi Gilo, Chair of J Street Board of Directors

Moderator: Barbara Slavin, Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and contributor to Foreign Policy and AOL News


For Kadima: Knesset Members Yoel Hasson, Shlomo Molla, Nachman Shai

For Labor: Knesset Members Amir Peretz, Daniel Ben Simon, Orit Zuaretz

This one will probably be pretty fast and furious, so I am more likely to spit out ideas expressed without necessarily creiting everything for which I apologize in advance.

Only five – not sure who is missing as the Chair who introduced them had a thick accent.

Nachmann Shai doing opening for all of them:

Talking about a run he took up Masada. The story of Masada is a reminder of the importance of united Judaism. The Jewish people are two small now, just two generations after the holocaust to let ourselves be divided. .. I believe that we must have our internal debates but we must not allow the outside world to misstate our intentions. Criticism is legitimate, we need to learn to better discern between constructive criticism and delegitimization. We cannot allow our internal disputes on how to be a true Dmocratic Jewish State to feed those who question our right to exist at all.

Moderator thanking Israeli Knesset for putting off vote on bill on leftist NGO Investigations so that members could be here. Now open to panel on that bill, next 6 months, stability of coalition, and will Kadima join government.


Kadima member: No way. Do not believe the current gov’t can move the peace process forward, Gov’t more interested in staying in power than anything else. Netenyahu not in control of this government, Lieberman and his ilk more in control. Betting that instability will start to show by 2012 and believes that Israel should move immediately to election. The bill mentioned is an example of how problematic the coalition is. The bill would have done huge damage to the image of Israel in an attempt to silence the left.


Zuaretz on Church State issues and impact on governing coalition: Yes, tension exists – Israel is mostly orthodox, and the Ultra Orthodox Anti-Zionist Anti-Democratic forces hold great sway and in their communities live by rabbinical law. We are being measured on the Knesset by a dangerous religious yardstick that could break this coalition. Coalitions do not break apart because of the opposition, but because of cracks in the coalition and there are lots.

Hasson: Ethiopian, talking about Ethiopian Jews tend to be centrist and not Orthodox while ussians are more likeley to be far right and/or Orthodox – so ifferent immigrants with different attitudes. All but one of the MKs here are immigrants.

Ben Simon – Tens to not trust the Israeli politicians who say the main enemy is that the world does not accept us. It started only a few years ago because of Israeli policies. It is too fake. We cannot carry on with these politics. We have to change course. Prime Minister to Knesset is talking about how the whole world is against us. We have one of the fastest growing economies, we are a financial and population superpower -Those that say the world hates us, we have to be united and stop the peace process because of what is happening in Tunisia, etc. It is simply not true. It is a paranoid politics of fear started by Sharon and renewed by Netenyahu.

Moderator: Are you going to dismiss a UN Vote and the 133 countries already recognizing a Palestinian State as delegitimization?

Shai: This is a dangerous thing, but the solution is to stop endlessly talking about Peace and to make Peace. I will be honest, I care about Israel before I care about the Palestinians, but I know that the only way to do what is best for Israel and Democracy is to make piece now with Abu Mazzen and Fayyad, as no one better is coming along.

Molla: Yes, the time is now. We need to move the two state solution from the left of Israeli Politics to the center. We must learn not to be scared of making peace, but scared of not having peace.

Moderator: Impact of Intifadahs throught arab world on Palestinians – will they reunite or suppress and how will it effect Peace process?

Hasson: Big differenc between Hamas and Fatah. If they come together with Hamas forswearing violence we can talk. But the Hamas interest is the Iranian/Hezbollah interest. It is in our interest to have a two stage solution where we make a deal with Fatah and then work Gaza into it. The most important hold now is what exactly will we trade in land for peace and we need the US to strongly advocate for the two state solution. If we cannot come to agreement because of this, then we need the US to put down a plan an say “take it or leave it”.

Zuaretz: It was only two years ago that we were meeting regularly and we were all around the table. It has been there, it is possible. But the instability of Israel and our elections stopped that, and we can’t continue because of it. The Peace process is running away from us because of our economy. Netenyahu spoke last week about being connected to reality when he is the one disconnected from reality. Sometimes when not everyone can sit at the table, you need a responsible adult to step in (U.S.).

Moderator: How do you plan to bring Labor party back to relevance? (to Ben Simon)

Ben Simon: Amonth ago Labor moved to the opposition. Being in partnership with Likud he felt like a hostage. History has to be fair to this party, we created this state, its values, its arts. Despite the fact that this party is in agony you cannot forget the role it played it creating this society. Labor for the first time is at harmony with itself, now the question is can it define itself  give the Israelis an image of what we are. We have become identified with Likud, and now we must tdecide what we are – are we right, are we left are we center. Netenyahu will lose the next election because he has repeated the mistakes he made in 1996. He has taken hope away. Tzipi Livni is very dynamic leader and if Kadima is more like its leader an we can work with them with us as perhaps a left center party we can build from 8 members to 10-12 and work with Kadima.

Moderator: Why Israel does not have a constitution? Any possibility for electoral reform?

Shai: As long as coalition governing continues the way it has neither is possible. We need a strong Labor to the left so we can pull back to the center with Kadima and then the center can pull the moderate right to the middle and create a strong secular government not beholden to the religious party. That is when you can have a constitution and electoral reform.

Moderator: Vice Foreign Minister of Israel recently spoke to  LA ewish organizations an asked them to tell U.S. gov’t to lay off because Israeli gov’t is not ready to make peace. Is this policy?

Everyone caught off guard by that.Eventually Hasson makes clear that this is not the general desire of the Israeli people or Knesset.

Moderator: US Jews appear to be more to the left than US Jewish leaders would have Israel an the US Government believe. What can you do to help the American left Jews get their message accross to our government.

Zuaretz: Our own left is being threatened by the current gov’t. Someone put a lot of money into calling 80,000 members of Kadima to avoid our coming to this event. Others are trying to shut down our own left through this postponed legislation because our own left is getting a voice again. This is something new, and the old are always scared of something new, but the new is the future. What the Deputy Foreign Minister said he was speaking the truth, they are not ready to bring peace, and that means they should leave. We must have leadership that can make peace, because that is the only way Israel has a democratic future, and when Netanyahu says one thing to Obama about making Peace and the next day Lieberman says the opposite to the U.N. then the President has GOT to speak up.

Hasson: We in the knesset as we see law after law passed that puts democracy at risk we must speak up and tell our people that J-Street is a friend of ours and a frien of peace so you can help us more.

Moderator: What about lifting seige of Gaza, especially since Egypt’s new gov’t might lift theirs.

Shai: We cannot forget that they have been holding an Israeli soldier somewhere underground for 1700 days. It is not all about Israel. He was kidnapped on Israeli territory. I know you see it as a collective punishment but I (Shai) do not. Until the world van make Hamas come to the table we have no choice.

Ben Simon: We are our own worst enemy. We cannot give up peace. Peace is a Prime Ministerial decision and he has not made it. After 2,000 yars we have the land and the power, but now we do not have the courage to make peace. It is the dream of the father. We have o give the Israeli parents that there will be no more war. We have to find a way to live together or Israel will not be what we wnat her to be,

Molla: We need moderates on both sides, only they can bring peace. btween 2011-2012 either oneside can do something dramatic to move peace forward. If not we must create a huge force to come to the next election that says we can do better than Netenyahu on all things and then we should, all of us, be focused to bring more an more people in Israel to believe that the two state solution is in the full interest of the Jewish People and the Israeli People.

5:30 PM

Ben Ami briefly steps up to thank them and say how courageous it wasto be there. Now off to a cocktail party. I’ll wrap up the day later tonght.


Good morning all. Day 2 is filled with Panel and Plenary Sessions. I, of course, can only be in one place at a time so we will be starting with Do Israelis “Care About Peace”?

Saturday, Feb. 27, 9:00 AM:

Chair: Hanna Barag, Board Member, Yesh Din. Israeli organization that monitors and advocates for the enforcement of Israeli law equally for Jews and Palestinians.

Moderator: Attila Somfalvi, Ynet Corrresponent

Panel: Daniel Ben Simon – Member of Knesset (Labor), Yuval Benziman – USA Director Geneva Initiative, Shlomo Molla – Member of Knesset (Kadima), Dahlia Scheindlin – Israeli Political Consultant and Public Opinion Analyst


Ben Simon: Real question is do we have the right leaders? What price will we pay? Every move towards peace put before the people has passed with between 72 and 90% of vote. Labor joined Netenyahu because they believed he was ready to be a statesman, not a politician. They were wrong. Palestinians have prepared now, have a more pragmatic leadership than Israel. Israeli leaders make peace or get sent home, that is the history Netenyahu ignores. West Bank has the mechanisms in place now for a state.


Benziman: 55% of Israelis think an agreement is not possible, BUT the same numbers SUPPORT an agreement on the basis of the Geneva Accords. Do not look at the right third, they will never change their mind. Concentrate on the other 67%. When fed Peace process in pieces, people oppose the invdividual items, BUT when presented with the same items in a full package they support them.  In times of crisis, the people support their leaders in Peace and War. The leaders must lead to peace. Just like the average American does not know the details about Obama’s health care bill, just a general feeling – the average Israeli is the same about the Palestinian Conflict. The myth that all Israelis know what is going on is just that, a myth.

Molla: Made his way to Israel on foot when missed in two Israeli Government operations to help African Jews migrate. In Knesset since 2008. His speech much more political than the others. Talking that Kadima can bring peace, Likud can’t. Netenyahu  has chosen ideology over peace. We need to send Netenyahu home. It is the only way. Netenyahu and Barak (Israeli Defense Secretary) have to go. We need Tsipi Livni.

VERY political speech, be probably correct.

Scheindlin: March 2010 Isralis put the conflict in 4th place (Arab pop put it in first). Education, Security, Poverty more important. But the other figures supporting Peace are also true. The problem is that many people don’t think it is possible. Since it is out of reach, it is not a high priority. 51% believe a peace deal could hurt Israeli security, result of the “Oslo reaction”., 68% do not trust that Palestinians will implement an agreement (the “Camp David reaction”).

Center leans just (52%) towards Peace, they need to be approached. 62% believe (mistakenly IMHO) that Israel can continue with status quo.

Somfalvi: Much distrust after results of disengagement from Gaza, pushed many from the left to the right. All three leaders take advantage of this fear to take votes. Even Livni as a negotiator stopped shrt. How can they bring peace?

Molla: Kadima stands behind their leader, and their leader needs to be willing to tell the people that pace is a good thing.

Somfalvi: Will she give up East Jerusalem?

Molla: Tried to make gov’t but failed BECAUSE she would not say to Shah that Jerusalem was not on the table.  Molla does not go as far though as saying “Yes”.

Somfalvi: (to Ben Simon) How can a weak left push a peace agreement.

Ben Simon: The tragedy is that there are no real big parties anymore. Years ago 47 were not enough to form a government, now Likud has one with 27. Without large parties ou cannot have consensus. The process is broken. Each group has its own demand. You can not run a state, make a peace, win a report, with 20 different wills in the Knesset. “It is not going to be a peace of lovers, it is going to be a nice divorce.”

Somfalvi: How does Labor bring the left back to the party?

Ben Simon: The left has become so insignificnt politicaly but we still have the ideas. “Israeis elect the right to carry out the ideas of the left.”

Somfalvi (to Scheindlin an Benzimen): With Hezbollah quiet and the midle class secure, how do you convince them that their normal, combined with the fear inside the Israelis, is bad for their future.

Scheindlin: Israelis ARE awake and DO want peac. The obstacle is that Israelis do not believe they have a partner in the Palestinian Authority. Israelis need to feel that they have a partner that can speak for West Bank AND Gaza and sign a real deal. Israelis need someone they feel they can sign a deal with. Believes such people exist but need to show themselves. Likud’s official position is the position of Labor in 1998, peace. So Israelis tust them to be better negotiators. They have not been. (cynical Likud?)

Benzimen: Not looking at eternal problems in Israeli Society. Erosion of the democratic culture on may levels. Inseperable from the Palestinian conflict. Israelis need to learn to see the connection between their internal problems and finding peace. You cannot solve the former without FIRST solving the latter. Example, most Israelis see Iran as the biggest threat, but do not see how peace with Palestinians helps isolate Iran.


Somfalvi: Statement: Israeli laders USE the threats to run away from important decisions. Ianian problem is gov’ EXCUSE not to deal with questions.


Mna questions asked, then answers all together, I asked if the fact that for the first time in history he Israelis an Palestinians are both afraid of the same thing and it is NOT each other, it is the change around them. How can this be used to move forward the peace?


Answers to questions (sorry I don’t have the questions, but I was on line.

1 – No, the actual system will not change. Israeli law requires an agreement of ALL parties involved to change the parliamentary system. That will never happen. The advantage is that the coalition is so strongly controlled by Netenyahu that he can do anything, INCLUDE MAKE PEACE, if he only ha the will.

2 – Millions spent on Peace programs have not been wasted. We are not there. WikiLeaks just reinforced peoples beliefs, regardless of content. However, the ability to discuss peace openly and without fear of reprisal, while not complete, is much stronger than it used to be because of that money spent.

3 – Idea of Palestinians pitching for a one state solution will rush Israel to a two state solution, it will lock them into opposing peace.

4 – My Q – answered by Scheindlin – Yes Egypt is a real opportunity. May bring Israel to promote stability through a peace process and Palestinians may look for it through elections if they happen.


On to the next session.


10:15 PM:

My big mistake. I have both Press and regular credentials, butI left the rgular credentials at the hotel, so the panel I wanted to attend next, Finding You Voice: Having the COnversation on  Street and Israel in Your Community, I can’t – it is NO PRESS.

So instead I am attending Expanding the Tent for the Two-State Solution in Israel.

Chair: Rachel Steinberg – International Education Program Manager for OeVoice

Moderator: Attila Somfalvi – Same as last panel

Panel: Yoel Hasson – Member of Knesset (Kadima) and head of the Two State Lobby, Oren Magnezy – Former Avisor to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Dahila Scheindlin (see last panel)

Ask each for their overview:

Scheindlin: 45% Right, 27% Center, 17% left, 12% DK/unidentified. 12% believed to probably lean right. Next slide is same slide from last panel showing how the center tends o agree with left on peae.

21% of Kadima make peace higher priority as compared to 14% labor and 11% Likud ( onl Shas is lower with 5%) However 70% of Kadima think Peace is essential, only 34% of Likud (again, only Shas worth with 31%)

Hasson: Two State Peace is an idea of the Center, not the left or the right. Sharon built the fnc reluctantly out of acknowledgement that their needs to be a real border. Now the center can bring it about.

Somfalvi interrupts to oint out that Kadima heaed a pace negotiation that failed.

Hasson respons that if you look at the Palestinian Papers you can see that Kadima was ready, the Palestinians were not. A real “politicians answer”, more adressing what the can do in the center than what they failed to do.


Somfalvi points out that Oren and Yoel started on the right and have moved center.

Magnezy: Headed Likud Youth movement. Parents were Libyan refugees, first language was Arabic. Easy for someone like him to keep Peace for granted. This “experiment” has been going on for 63 years, and it needs change to go on. Could not stay in a party whose “platform starts with the word ‘No'”. No change on his belief of what is right, just in the level of need to get it done now. A lot of it is about how you reach the center, which may not appeal to J street, even if we have to challenge on issues like water rights.

Somfalvi: Are we perhaps pushing a process that nes to develope over time. What is the urgency?

Scheinlin: Back to status quo question: only 30% believes Israel risks becomig single state/arab majority. Being on the left has become “toxic”. Israelis do not think in terms of long term viability. Israelis think in the moment, and feel in this moment that they are safe maintaining the status quo.

Magnezy: Issue for Israelis is fear of returning to the past dangers. That is the interest.

Somfalvi: Interest of Sharon was disengagement, not peace. Unilateral exit from Gaza was disengagement, not negotiation.

Scheinlin: Politicians have a way of saying one thing and doing something different. That both Kadima and Likud are guilty of speaking about peace and then taking actions that torpedo it.

Magnezy: If Israelis vote for the center it will not be because of the Palestinian peace, but because Israel’s perception of itself as starting to suffer in it’s place in the world and ability to deal with its own issues. The real poll question, more than sum of all of the issues, is “Do you believe that the country is going in the right direction?” Parties in Israel don’t win. other parties lose. People decide the current government is failling and gives the other a chance (Author’s not – true in US too). If you fight to change the economy and at the same time make clear that the Palestinian Peace Process ties into that, you have possibility. If you leave the Palestinian Issue as just one of human rights it dos not have traction for Israeli’s not because they are cruel but because they are facing their own economic problems.


Q & A: One person points out we have not discussed what the Palestinians think in his panel.

Scheinlin:  Israelis need to see that Palestinian Statehood is on its way. Settlement issue must be addressed FIRST if Palestinians are going to take a two state solution.

Hasson: We KNOW that in a final agreement that most Settlements will have to go. But some people want to use the settlements as a bludgeon. All building is us for nedeed room at this point an Israel knows they will have o abandon them. (Author’s note: Does not address why Palestinians should believe that.)

Magnezy: We in Kadima need to do a better job of coming up with new ideas and making people hear that they HAVE good ideas. More Israelis need to see that there is a Palestinian Middle Class.

Audience Questions:

1.What about US support? Does the US actions in the UN, etc., really effect things in Israel.

2. How do you increase Arab vote in Israel?

3. -Street called onUN not to veto UN Resolution. How does that help or hurt J-Street perception in Irael?

4 – Why do issues of human rights and Palestinians resoate so poorly, especially with the youth.

5 – Couldn’t peace proces lose vote amongst ews?

6 – What do you mean exactly by a two state solution in terms of final status issues?


Scheinlin: New youth study -rising sense of patriotism and zionism, that has become the code to their patriotism which puts them against some NGOs. They came to age over a decade of little or no hope. 2nd intifadah started when they were 10. Since is their reality, the sense of resignation. Since Human Rights Orgs equate Zionism wih Racism leaves Non-racist Zionists in the cold.

Magnezy: On Security Council, UN not part of Peace Process, US is plus Israel and Palestinians. The Veto is not a tool that should be used or not used as a tool in the peace process. (Author’s note  I do not agree)

Hasson: On Obama: Thinks he made a mistake in his message to Israel in that he applied pressure, not choice. Choice makes people take positions, while pressure just makes people push back.

11:50 AM:

Plenary Session: History Before Our Eyes: Broader Implications of Democracy Movements in the Arab World

Chair: Ambassador Samuel Lewis, Former American diplomat and former head of the US Institute for Peace

Moderator: Steve Clemons, Senior Fellow, New America Foundation

Panelists: Mona Eltahaway – Journalist, Ron Pundak – Director General, The Peres Center for Peace, Robert Serry – United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Lewis: Describes events as Tsunami, biggest events in Arab world since 1967 War.

Serry: Only international envoy actually based on the ground, in Jerusalem. Starting with standard plattitudes from UN about peace through non-violence, respecting human rights, need to end violence in Libya, and that UN has referred Libya to international criminal court. Need to make sure  revolutions are democratic and not “hijacked by radical forces”. A breakthrough in Israeli/Palestinian conflict would move this forward, while a lack thereof makes it more difficult. Secretary General visiting Obama tomorrow. Came THIS close to acknowledging Iran as an existential threat to Israel, bt just fell short (‘understands the concerns’).

Says that Palestinians have built a state in waiting at this point, but this will disintegrate without a contiguous land in which to enact it. We must aid the Palestinians by helping the Palestinians to settle their own internal differences so they can assure non-violent solutions. Th new rocket fire from Gaza must stop, and urges Israel to exercise restraint. Israel must in a world of uncertain Arab Change secure itself by increasing world support and lowering local liabilities, which can ONLY be achieved through peace based on popular consent.

Israel cnnot tak the talk without walking the walk. Palestinians can only believe what Israel says abou settlements if thy are not tearing down the Shepards Hotel in East Jerusalem and approving 2,000 new settlement units n the West Bank. They cannot expect the Palestinians to just sit down and talk, there must be actions of substance to find a way back to the negotiating tables.

Pundak: “Unfortunately in Israel we do not have as thorough a discussion” as this conference and hopes they can “export what J Street is doing” to Israel.

Best reccomendation for Israel would have been to shut up, but out Prime Minister has a paranoid obsession that everything that is happening can only be looked at in terms of how this will harm Israel. They are obsessed in dealing with the past. Everything is looked at as anti-zionist, anti-semitic, or anti-something. As King George had much to say and no capacity, Netenyahu has “zero to say yet much capacity.” His parents came in 48. “Our government is eopardizing our beautiful, succesful wonderful zionist project”. Says an “honest deal” has never been offered by ANY Israeli Prime Minister (Author’s note: not sure I agree). Also, need to integrate the 20% Israeli Arabs fully into society. Such a working plan exists – what came out of the Geneva Initiatives, but we don’t have an ISRAELI partner, an Israeli leadership that will create the cornerstone for better relationships with the new Egypt, the new Tunisia, and even Iran. A solution including Jerusalem is reachable.

He believes, an may be the only one in Israel, that believes that Iran is using Israel as an excuse, but the nuclear program is NOT an Iranian-Israeli issue. All efforts to avoid a nuclear Iran should continue, but the fact is that the midle East can absorb and survive a nuvlear Iran through programs around the worl already in place. In the meantime Israel alienates Turkey, an ally, based on creating a “false enemy” in Iran.

This administration (Obama) must understand that the current Israeli Gov’t will never put a plan on the table. The US should put a plan on the table of its own. Let Israelis know there is a possibility for a Peace Plan that does NOT require action by Netenyahu – could help the Israelis get rid of Netenyahu.

Eltahaway: Pissed off when Israel’s first question in Tunisia was “what does this mean to Israel” when the real question is about the Tunisian people. It is not about Israel, it is “about us for a change. Don’t be so narcissistic. Be happy for once it is not about you.” Each step of the way, the next step has been called impossible. To think this will magically stop at the border of the Palestinian Territories is ridiculous. The Arab world, regardless of the next government, will not want to go to war with Israel but the hatred of Israel will not end until Palestinians are treated with the freedom of dignity deserved of all human beings. The new Egyptian generation did not grow up during war, but they did grow up seeing the palestinians. She is an example. Her heart is in the middle east but her mind is in the west. She wants to be partenrs with the west, she wants western values, but she can’t be a partner of the west while the west allows the Palestinians to suffer. All the dictators who tried to stop this change were “10 days too late” in addressing them, don’t let Israel be “10 days too late.” It is a people’s movement an it does not stop and it IS NON-VIOLENT. Two dictatorships have been taken apart non-violently. Agree to march non-violently for freedom and dignity for palestinians an arabs will be there with you. Call for that March and I will be there.”



Is there a way for Israel to secure it’s interests with the new governments coming forward, is it possible to do i without resolving Palestine? anto Serry, UN has a ba rep towards Israel with American Jews – is it deserved? What can america do, should we put a plan on the table?

Elthaway: I do not believe that ANYTHING will be resolved without resolving the Palestinian issue. There is no way you can create a “black hole” where Gaza is still under seige and talk with governments that have just thrown off dictatorial governments. They will insist on a resolution.

Pundak: That message needs to go to Israeli people and “cowards” in the Knesset who would not come here, and not to the government because the government dominates from the far right and will be extremist until it is done. “I would like to see an uprising of the Israeli people against OUR government”. Pressure today must come from the Jewish voices of th world  on the Israeli govt that if it continues on this path Israel will wind up with a government like Mubarak or Ali.

Serry: UN has complicate relationship with Israel, but do not forget that UN brought Israel into existence, created an international resolution acknowledging the Holocaust. Also the work they do in Gaza helps Israel as well.

Question to Elthaway: How does Muslim Brotherhood involvement in Egypt Government effect resolution of Hamas/PA split? Is a democracy led by a Muslim party a possible full democracy? Can it work with Israel?

Elthaway: Muslim Brotherhood leadership are old men and this revolution sweeps out old men. The support for the revoluton from MB came late and came from the MB youth. The MB is now going to have its own internal battles, will be tested to come up with a real platform. Mubarak Regime played a role in the suppression of the Gazan people, and this will not ust be forgotten.


Question to Pundak: How DO you get a conversation like J-Street going in Israel?

Pundak: We lack serious progressive think tanks an brave politicians. He thinks Israelis will recognize that, SEPARATE FROM THE PALESTINIAN ISSUE, this government is an existential threat to it’s own form of government. Good news is that once you get a government that will make the moves, the people will support it. Peace between Israel and Syria is doable, and even the Palestinians support it. Now they believe it will help them.

Now the Palestinians are talking about declaring a state in September, and have been working towards it for two years. If this happens and no one has impoved the relationship between now and then in order to avoid another huge crisis.

Question to Serry: How do we move the process forward?

Serry: Quartet meeting next week. Can’t discuss specifics, but there is agreement that something more will be needed than telling everyone to go back to the table.

Question: If Israel does not act why don’t we ultimately impose a “soft deal” that it can blame on the US and the UN but thus act without taking the blame. Same as how we got Japan to liberalize their markets. Give them no choice but to do what they already know they need to do and let them blame us for doing it (Authors Note: On first thought that actually sounds like a good idea)

Pundak: Pressure and support in enforcing neeed, not a mandate.

Serry: What do you do if it doesn’t work? the absence of a hope for peace is dangerous? Doou come with a peace plan that you know will be rejected by one party or another? What does that cause? At the same time, he knows that 2011 is the year that the international community will be held accountable for it’s behavior ( Elthaway:or the west can become irrelevant – Gaza war, an unjust massacre of Gazans that the Israeli gov’t was tone death to the people on the ground aroud the world an how the worl was looking at Israel).

Question: Israel is always blamed for failure to peace? Are the Palestinian leaders also responsble? Any truth to talk of party change b Pundak? What are you most concerned/optimistic about from these changes,

Serry: Compares to Eastern Europe. Elthaway is right that this is a positive people’s agenda, but it will be shaped over time. Serry still hopes that it will be possible under US and Quartet leaership to salvage peace under this Israeli gov’t.

Eltahawy: Hamas was elected because the PA was corrupt and the US knew it and turned a blind eye. Nobody pushed for the space for the middle to talk because “we like strong dictators”. That era is finished. Hamas and PA will no survive it, what comes in it;s place? The youth have already signed a protocol saying essentialy FU Hamas, FU PA, FU Israel, FU US”.

Pundak: Many groups in Israel are working towards creating a united front that will make the change towards what Israeli peopl want.

Clemons (closing): All feels so urgent because of two forces, the changes in the Arab World and deterioration of Israeli democracy. US stand that Mullen is spreading coring to what White House told him is that “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” That they cannot expect the US to prop them up if they violate the social contract with their own people. We need to say the same to Israel (Author’s note: Not sure I would put it quite the same way, but he has a point)



9:30 PM:

That is all for tonight. More tomorrow. Thanks to anyone who actually followed my babbling. At the end of the three days I WILL write something comprehensible.  Also, stay tuned Monday or Tuesday afternoon for a podcast interview with Ann Toback, Executive Director of Workmen’s Circle, one of the Conference sponsors, as well as a post from my attendance at a press conference Monday with Jeremy Ben Ami, President of J Street. If you have any questions for Ann or Jeremy, or anything specific about the conference that you would like to know more about, please do not hesitate to post a comment or contact me and I will work to fit it in.


9:25 PM:

Third Honoree: Dr. Izzeldin Abuelash, Physician, Founder of Daughters for Life Foundation and author. Palestinian who lost three daughters and a niece to a single Israeli shell in the Gaza Strip. Instead of giving up and going for revenge, he seeks justice – which he believes only comes from each side living their own lives free from fear of each other in heir own homes. He has become a leader in writing and speaking about a peaceful two state solution from a Palestinian viewpoint.  Person introducing him describes him as someone honest about his losses and fears but who moves forward not just despite but because of them.

“It is important to feel anger and rage, but we have choices.”

He points out that Palestinian freedom also means Israeli freedom from fear if they can both succeed.

Author’s note: 2,000 Jews giving a standing ovation to a Gazan Palestinian may be a first.

More quotes from Dr. Abuelash:

“I am proud to be here, and would be glad to see my daughters come out of their graves and see that their blood might not be a waste…We need to live the HUMAN values, that is what’s needed. As a Muslim of faith I swore … not to relax or rest …because I want to leave them giving them honor and justice … I am not the hero, my daughters are the heroes. … When we start to defend the values that all human beings have faces,names, and hopes, those are the values we need to face. As human beings, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and Arabs…to overcome our mutual problems we must change course. There cannot be a solution for peace for one that can be enforced. We are all born free and should remain so. No one should have to pay for their freedom.”

“You can do a lot, don’t underestimate what you can do with your vote and with speaking to our friends an family. Our illness is our illness of our ignorance. We convince ourselves that we know each other (Israeli and Palestinian) but we do not know each other. We need two vital Democratic states and admit that there are values to both of us in this. There are barriers that can be overcome as long as their is political willingness. There is nothing large to be talked about. Everyone has acknowledged the road map to piece. We must ACT on it. {Palestinians are people with hops and dreams, who want to succeed and be free, and others to be free, bot to stop at the borders of Palestine. We do not look for war and revenge. We need to heal our people and treat our wounds, not continue to open in them. “I do not believe in impossible things, the only impossible thing I believe in is to bring my daughters back.”

“‘Too late’ are the words of cowards. It is never too late for dignity, peace and security for the Palestinians. We need leaders whose eyes are focused on their nations, on the poor and the homeless. Not  whose eyes are on the next elections and their possessions. Every one of us here can be true to Palestinians without being untrue to Israelis and true to Israelis without being untrue to Palestinians …G iving up on peace is NEVER an option.”

Closed with “I believe in you, I believe in you, I believe in you. Have hope, have faith, but TAKE ACTION.” The road map is to humanity, the humanity we all belong to.”


9:00 PM:

Second honoree: Sara Benninga, Organizer, Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement. “Solidarity” is an Israeli Peace movement that marches for peace EVEY WEEK in Israel. There marches were oppressed and govt moved to crush them. Have had to fight for their legal right to demonstrate peacefully – continue to march, but the anger to them IS the danger to Israeli Democracy. She is a young woman who a few years ago was just a kid in Western Jerusalem living in a bubble, untouched by the injustice a few hundred yards away in East Jerusalem. She was immersed in school in the principles of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. She asked how we would react if we realized that our government treated our constitution as words on a piece of paper to be ignored. The audience laughed, to which she replied I CHOOSE TO FIGHT. Not only does she make the case that Israel has violated its own stated principles, she can’t help but make you think about how little we are doing as our government begins (continues?) to do the same. Young Palestinians learning that first time refugees can become second time refugees through being pushed out of their homes in East Jerusalem by Jews who are claiming land they owned before 1948 but lost in the war and were compensated for by the state with land in West Jerusalem. Essentially it is a right of return for Jews. She s not arguing for Palestinian Right of Return, she is arguing against hypocrisy.

160 members of her group have been arrested. 40 are facing indictment. She herself is facing three trials. Yet her partner and friend who is Palestinian is facing much worse punishment for the exact same thing – more proof of inequality/ “Committed to Direct Engagement where injustice occurs” Working in the tradition of the American Civil Rights Movement. “Systematic discrimination is irreconcilable with Democracy … We reject the false dichotomy between security and democracy” (Author’s note – another example we could learn from here).


8:40 PM:

Beinart – We are the last ones to fight ford emocracy in Israel. Without change, the next generation will gather to mourn it. We have won the land but we have forgotten Hishel: “The holiness of Israel is not the land of Israel, but the holiness of the people of Israel”


8:30 PM:

Head of J Street U, a college kid, ust introduced first honoree ,Peter Beinart. He talked about how Binart’s writings were the moment he ralized there were others like him, Jews (the kid was born in Israel) who deeply absorbed the Jewish progressive ethical tradition growing up, and thus realized that the Gaza war was a moment when in a need for real defense Israel crossed a line that contradicted those Jewish Ideals, and that for it to continue to exist it must re-find those values, which can only occur with the creation of a Palestinian state.


8:06 PM:

He is covering a lot very quickly. I am recording and will post sound bites later. Stressing that -Street Principal 1 is the right of Israel to Exist. Principal 2 is that Israel can ONLY be both Jewish and Democratic IF it gives up the idea of one state, that being Pro-Israel does not mean being Anti-Palestinian. It means acknowledging the need for a Palestinian state. The Third Principal is that criticism of Israel is not the same as not supporting Israel. It is not the criticism of Israeli policy that endangers Israel, it is the policies themselves. The fourth principal is that the US debate over Israel is a vital part of Judaism. No one belief can define acceptable speech in the Jewish Community. The Jewish Establishment in doing so puts the Jewish community at risk by distancing the youth not just from Israel but from Judaism, and is why opposition of J-Street from both the left and the right have been invited and are participating, as are five members of the Knesset.  AIPAC/ADL refusals to share any stage or mic with J-Street needs to end. Fifth and last principle is we ground our work in our Jewish value and our American Values, that it is possible to not  “check your liberalism at the door of Zionism.”


8:00 PM:

J-Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami now speaking.” J-street PAC is now biggest Pro-Israel PAC in the country”

Author’s note – If that is true, AIPAC must be sh—-ng themselves.


7:50 PM:

Sapperstein talking about UN, and how there is such a visceral distrust of the UN by Israelis and Jews, that to consider any resolution – even a good one – alienates the main stream. Thinks that the pro-resolution stance of J-Street was a mistake because it alienated Conservative Jews who support J – Street. Arguing that we need to hold the mainstream when our action cannot make a difference so we might bring them along when we can.  We need to differentiate between BDS and de-legitimization, one can oppose BDS but cannot equate it with de-legitimization without alienating the mainstream. If we alienate the mainstream we cannot push the moral vision for true peace. We will become the audience, not the speaker.


7:36 PM:

Sapperstein, for those who don’t know, is a leader in the US Jewish Reform movement and has been a loud voice against genocide in Darfur and the use of torture by the United States.

“Why do we care so much about social justice? Because god says so.”

“We do not exist for existence alone.”

“One can not claim to be a god-intoxicated Jew without an unquenchable thirst for social justice.”

Speaking about the core Jewish concept that Jews have a responsibility to treat those in their community that are not Jewish the same as they treat any Jew, and how this compels a Palestinian State.

Author’s note: Readers should be aware that there IS an invited Palestinian presence here, including participation in panel discussions and Palestinian press.


Friday, Jan 26, 7:25 PM:

So yes, here I am, press pass and all, at the J-Street Conference. Apparently someone (the wonderful Amy Spitalnik, J-Street’s pres secretary; thank you Amy) considers some of hat I have written to count as journalism.

Each day I will have a different running commentary so if you are a subscriber or follow me on Facebook you will know when I have started. I will try to bounce over to FB now an then to let you know of anything interesting that I hope will bring you over, but I won’t do each post individually so you won’t get hit with “new blog” notices all day.

Rachel Lerner, the conference director is speaking now, stressing the theme, “giving voice to our values,” as well as the difficulties that Jews such as ourselves face for speaking up for true peace, a peace for both sides.

“The American Jewish community has more to say than those who claim to  speak for us all”

“We believe in Pluralism”

First Speaker Rabbi David Sapperstein coming up.

Just a quick note to let you know that, technology willing, I will be blogging LIVE from the J-Street Annual Conference this Sunday and Monday. I am hoping to include some guest bloggers and interviews, as well as a photo journal. Again, this is a technological deep dive for me so we will see how it all works out, but stay tuned starting Feb 27th for regular updates. Since each post will be updated running commentary, subscribers will NOT receive a notice every time something is added so check back often.

Blog ya’ in D.C.!


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Keith's World

Keith's World

Well I could hardly write so much about his time on the air and not comment on his going off, now could I?

As I read through the online chatter about The Olbermann/MSNBC divorce I am amazed how the left sound exactly like FOX viewers would sound if O’Reilly got canned.

I love Olbermann’s show, and I will miss it, but there is a great article on about this. In many ways Keith was done in by his own success. When he built Countdown from just another pundit show to liberal “must see” in ’06 with his “special comment” take down of Rumsfeld that went viral he gave the station direction and, for the first time, less-than-crappy ratings. Since then they have built a lineup that while leaning to the left is also diverse and informative, backing their opinions with fact.

At the same time, Keith is NOTORIOUS in the TV business as being extremely difficult to work with. He has left practically every job he has had, politically oriented or not, on very bad terms. As one person who worked with him at ESPN said, “when he left he didn’t burn bridges. He napalmed them.”

The truth will come out over time, but looking at how he went, the terms of his exit, etc, I consider it far more likely that in the end the decision to go was his. Those who are all over “the interwebs” screaming COMCAST CONSPIRACY! CORPORATE PLOT! do us all a disservice. The problem with seeing conspiracies everywhere is that the real ones can slip by easier. Olbermann has been fired after a few years for being snarky with his bosses nearly everywhere he was worked. Yesterday was not exceptional, it was the rule.

In the meantime, if you want to turn off your TV and leave the medium to the Right out of indignation by all means go ahead. However, you would accomplish more by voting with your viewership. Everyone who stops watching Rachel Maddow because Keith is gone is sending one message to the owners of ALL media, that the Right are loyal to an idea while the Left are only loyal to a person. I don’t think that is the message we want to send.

It is time for us all to agree on one thing at least; the shootings in Arizona Saturday were not about Left or Right, and the only people who are saying that are the right, who claim they are being “demonized.” This is about responsible vs. irresponsible behavior. Not just the behavior of the individual, but of those who incite the individual.

The rise of rapidly accessed mass media after WW II has increased awareness of inexcusable violence and hate speech from both sides of the political spectrum.

In the waning days of the 60s and the early 70s The Weather Underground and the Black Panthers both resorted to violence, and non-political actors like the SLA used the violence and the radical revolutionary speech as an excuse for even more violence.

Today, however, that sort of speech and encouragement is coming from the right. Someday it may come from the left again, I hope not, but who can predict the future? Now, however, is the time for those who demonized those leftists who devalued life 40 years ago to STOP hypocritically calling the same vitriol from the right “meaningless demonization.”

Some schizophrenics can go a lifetime without turning violent, and most who do turn violent are reacting to a non-existent threat made rational only in their own heads. There is also a third and less common class, the trigger-able schizophrenic, who turns violent when an actual rational basis is supplied for their irrational desires. For over two years now, mental health professionals have been writing Op Ed articles and presenting studies in mental health journals hypothesizing that what happened yesterday was inevitable as long as people like Sharon Angel suggest that Americans may have to turn to “2nd Amendment Remedies” while Sarah Palin tells people, “Don’t retreat! Reload!”

Which brings us to this chain of events:

  1. In October of last year the Governor of Arizona claimed that illegal aliens were beheading Arizonans in the desert.
  2. At the same time Jesse Kelly, Giffords’ (who is to the right of most Democrats on border issues) Republican opponent, aired ads of him holding an M15 and held rallies billed on his website as “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M15 with Jesse Kelly
  3. Less than 48 hours before the shootings, Palin reposted the map she had taken down from her web site under pressure due to  the gun cross-hair images on the SarahPAC website under the headline “We’ve shown you the problem. Will you help provide the solution?”

Any one of these actions, while deplorable, is not likely to result in an immediate response. However, when you put them together over a relatively short stretch of time, and the mainstream media and press turn them into a debate on political tactics rather than morals (with no one on the right to courageously repudiate them) you have provided the rational basis that will influence the irrational desires of an unstable individual — the kind of person mental health professionals refer to as psychotically dangerous.

So was this a political act? Almost certainly not. The bigger question is, Could this act have been avoided if irresponsible behavior of individuals seeking political advantage had not occurred?

The answer to that is quite likely yes. It is far from certain, but the simple reality that we are all either suggesting it was or insisting it wasn’t is proof enough that we all know it could have been. And knowing that means that all of us have a shared responsibility to make sure that in the future it never can be. That starts with everyone, left and right, repudiating  violent rhetoric used  in order to advance an agenda regardless of the actual desire of those spouting it to cause violence. In the here and now, this means that Sarah Palin, Sharon Angle, Jesse Kelly, Jan Brewer, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Anne Coulter all have to be held to account.

Someday we may find ourselves once again repudiating leftists like the Weather Underground

But not today.

Last week I wrote angrily (and rather long-windily) about how Obama has let me down, about where he could have made a difference and didn’t.

I still believe he has blown incredible opportunities to work towards peace in the Middle East, TRUE health care reform, and an end to Bush-era surveillance and detention policies. I continue to feel strongly that the tax cut “fight that wasn’t” has set us on the road to really draconian measures.

When I wrote “Dear Mr. President” (which I probably should have written more like an actual letter, but hey…) the common wisdom on all sides held that the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the ratification of New Start, passage of the Dedicated Health Fund for 9/11 Responders Bill, and of the Food Safety Reform Act were all DOA.

Then something funny happened on the way to the morgue. 

They passed.

All of them.

It feels awkward to be so pissed at,  yet also in awe of, this man. President Obama has massively moved his agenda forward during the “lame duck” session. Even the Tax Plan has to be looked at in a different light. Without that deal all the rest might not have happened. I didn’t think of that when he made the deal, but he probably did.

My anger at Obama for what he can but doesn’t do blinded me to a bigger question; Given the Bush years (especially the meltdown), is there anyone who could have done better?


He is “better than the last guy”, MUCH better. Same for the guy before that, and the guy before that, and the guy before that.

I may not ever understand the man, but I respect him. I will continue to hammer him for not being all he can be, but he is a far better President than I have given him credit for. The continuation of Gitmo, state sanctioned murder of US Citizens, and electronic surveillance remain inexplicable. Yet this was the week that saw an old acquaintance  who has coughed up inexplicable gunk since helping at Ground Zero will get the help she needs, my food will become safer, the chances of a loose nuke blowing me away at work will decrease significantly, and 14,000 proud American Veterans will be told “you did nothing wrong. We did.”

All in all, not a bad week.

Buehler? Buehler?


I’m confused.

The one thing I have come to count on when I blog is that for every 15 – 20 unique readers of a given article I can expect one reply. Some agree, some disagree, and some think I am way off the beam but no one would ever accuse the people I know of lacking opinions.

So you can imagine my surprise that a week after I posted “Dear Mr. President, or How You Lost Me” I have had one person comment. One. And that person happens to also be my father. Even those who have accused me in the past of “drinking the Obama Kool Aid” have failed to post an “I-Told-you-so.”

So I ask you all to do something unique. I want to hear why you have nothing to say. Is it disinterest? Is it not wanting to face an ugly truth? Is it that I come across as a pompous windbag?

This is not ego speaking. My readership is small to begin with, and it is a busy time of year. Plus I know not everything I write is going to be a gem. However, if by some small chance I touched a nerve here I am very curious to know what nerve I touched.


Dear Mr. President,

As you prepare to undertake the Afghanistan War Policy Review, I thought it might be time for me to undertake my own American Presidency Policy Review. As the ground situations in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed dramatically as the result of your decisions, so the ground situation in the United States has changed (or in some cases failed to change) as the result of  me, and many millions like me, choosing you to lead our new American Soil ground strategy. Given the dramatic changes on the ground here in the first week of November, it is time to look at that strategy and see if a course correction is in order, or if the strategy is working.

Mr. President, the strategy is not working. In fact, I am hard pressed to say just what the strategy is. Your election was seen by many, myself included, as the end of a long cycle of Democrats pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. Of course, many things conspired to help you along your way; an economy on the brink of collapse, a war with an abysmal approval rating and another that many felt had been incorrectly pushed aside, and an opposition candidate whose campaign amounted to “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!” with a running mate that looked way too much like Tina Fey for anything good to come of it for the Republicans. I have no doubt that if not for the festering racism still present in this country you would have won by a much wider margin than you did.

However, two years after you proudly told a weeping Oprah (and millions of others) that “Change has come to America,” I see instead Americans begging for change in the form of nickels, dimes, and quarters. Yes, I know, you inherited a disaster and if not for some quick and difficult decisions things would be worse. You are always telling me that. I think you may even believe it, and therein lies the problem. How can our relationship work if you can’t even be honest with yourself?

I didn’t go into this relationship with blinders on. I knew you were a moderate who knew how to say the right things to make liberals feel like they were part of the club again. It is how you managed to both push Edwards out and eventually get his support. People forget now that the battle was between two moderates and a liberal – Edwards, and only after Edwards was pushed out did you pick up some of his platform to consolidate your vote.

But you did mislead me in one important way. I understood what your true convictions were, but I believed you had the courage of those convictions. I knew that there would be compromises, especially to avoid the traditional power turnover in congress in the midterms, and I prepared myself for priorities and policies that would be more moderate than I would choose, but would still be real change after the proto-fascism that had started to fester under the surface of the Bush Administration.

You got off to a good start, rapidly issuing a series of executive orders overturning decisions made by executive order under the Bush administration. Stem Cell research was mostly back, abstinence-only teaching requirements for foreign aid to countries still fighting an AIDS epidemic were thrown out. You even signed an order to close Gitmo within 12 months (side note: how is it that Presidential orders are not legally binding on the President who issues them?). When Republicans pushed back hard on this, you actually engaged them in direct conversation, even attending their annual retreat and taking questions, yet you were firm enough to remind them that “elections have results.”

It could have been beautiful if it had continued like that, but then a side of you emerged that I and others had never seen before. The Republicans decided to use the power of cloture (commonly, but not always accurately, referred to as the filibuster) to an unimaginable degree. They literally went into a snit and pouted, saying they wouldn’t vote until they got their way, and a new side of you emerged. Perhaps it wasn’t a new side, but just an extension of your determination to win, with the discovery that you defined “win” very differently than most did. Either way, you revealed yourself to be, for lack of a better word, a bottom.

If you had fought to get as much for us as you could, and then compromised at the end to get things through, I would have understood. If you had realized that you did not have the bully pulpit in terms of popular support, I would have understood. However, what you turned out to have was absolutely no willingness to fight for your ideals. At all. Ever.

You decried the domestic communication interception policies in the Patriot Act during the campaign, but then ordered the Justice Department to defend them in court. You called this a matter of necessity –the government has to defend its own laws as a matter of course, but that is a lie. Throughout U.S. history Presidents have chosen to not defend laws passed under the previous administration. Yet your administration did amicus briefs defending immunity for the telecoms that carried out these illegal orders. You decried the lack of habeus corpus rights for “Enemy Combatants” as well as the term itself, but even as you stopped using it you still defined it as a matter of choice. You submitted an amicus brief supporting the right of the President, solely and without legal review, to classify individuals as “Enemy Combatants”. Rather than sticking to the basic principle that it was illegal, you chose instead to say “it’s legal but extreme so I am not going to do it.”

Ironically, you then failed to use the exact same approach to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Currently, DADT is the law of the land, pending several court challenges, but as Commander-In-Chief you are empowered to order that the military end all enforcement of DADT pending a final legal resolution. You could say the EXACT same thing you said in defending the right to torture and to wiretap innocent Americans, but you didn’t. Why? Because even though the American people supported your originally stated positions on these items by a wide margin, Republicans had taken a publicly stated position that their number one priority was to make sure you were a one term President. Not the economy, or the war, or the threat of terrorism. No, their number one priority was defeating you. In doing so, they handed you the opportunity to use the bully pulpit to greater affect than anyone since Reagan, but instead you caved. Three months into your first term you went into political future mode, abandoning policy mode. You gave a speech to Congress on Health Care Reform in which you tipped your hand on your willingness to compromise away the Public Option, even though it was popular among 62% of Americans and 80% of Democrats, because the Republicans wouldn’t allow you the votes. You could easily have turned it around into a discussion of how Republicans were intentionally stifling the will of the American people at the request of a select few who funded them, a key argument in your election campaign, but you didn’t. You caved. You gave up the option for the votes, not even considering that putting up a GOOD bill, and convincing the American people it WAS a good bill, and then letting it go down to defeat in the Senate (if it would have) would increase your chances of getting a public option on a second go-around. No, you wanted the “win,” which you defined by saying “we must deal with an issue and we deal with it.” Somehow, our dealing with it correctly no longer mattered. Even if it would be years to the next go around, the rest of your agenda may have moved much smoother once the public outcry at the defeat began to deafen the Republicans. It also taught the Republicans a lesson that would shape the entirety of your first two years and, in the end, I suspect may define your entire administration. You taught them that in a game of chicken you would blink very, very early. This would become the (successful) modus operandi of the Republicans throughout, and continuing after, the midterms.

I came the closest I have to breaking up with you two months ago when you gave the military and counterintelligence agencies permission to kill an American living in Yemen, not as a defensive action, but as an offensive one. Yes, the man in question is a slime ball terrorist murderer who has at least three times now played a roll in attempted attacks, one successful, on American soil. However, we pride ourselves on being a nation of laws, not men. The order is directly and unquestionably in violation of the Constitution in several ways, but now you are defending this too in court. The precedent, if you should be victorious, is the final tool any future leader will need should they decide that proto-fascism is not enough. The only reason you didn’t lose me on that one is my belief that it both won’t hold up in court and that it, rather sadly, was at least consistent with your now far-right policies on terrorism.

However, despite all of that, I stuck with you. I pointed out your flaws when I thought it might help you change, but I also learned to live with them. But then, over the last week you did the unforgivable. You cheated on me. And not just with anyone. You cheated on me with John Boehner, and then you cheated on me again with Benjamin Netanyahu. Twice, in one week.

First came the bill to extend the expiring tax cuts. Why did tax cuts have an expiration date? Easy, because they were passed by resolution, which means they had to have an expiration date. The reason they were passed by resolution was because Bush couldn’t get the 60 votes for cloture so he used a budget resolution instead – requiring an expiration. Even before the belief that these cuts would turn a good surplus into a mass deficit was proven out, enough people saw them as a bad idea to keep them from being permanent. So Bush chose the approach, “try them for ten years and when they work Congress will make them law.”

They didn’t work, as is clear now. But the Republicans know the formula now. They know how to beat you with a minority. It is easy. Just say “no” and you will say “okay.” To put it succinctly, you are John Boehner’s bitch. Not just in your initial campaign, but during the mid-terms, you called continuing the tax cuts for the top 2% “unconscionable,” yet here you are arguing to continue them because you have been “held hostage” by the Republicans.

Bullshit. Putting aside the first rule of a hostage situation, that when the hostage taker demands a jet you don’t give him the damn jet, you actually still had a hand to play and time to play it. You just didn’t. In fact, you did not even provide those who were ready to help you play that hand a chance to do so – or even take part in the negotiations.

For those who may not know here is the plan, developed by Reid, Pelosi, and Sherrod Brown:

1. Propose two separate bills, one for the extension of unemployment benefits for the 99ers, and one to extend the Tax Break for all but the top 2%. The unemployment extension plan might even be paid for, as demanded, by Republicans.

2. Bring the bill for the unemployment extension to the floor every day between now and Christmas. Stay in session. No one gets to go home. Brown had already rounded up the support for this among Democrats in both houses. It was a done deal.

3. You already have the votes to pass both bills in the house, but you only have two Republicans in the Senate, so you need to pick up 2-4 more depending on how the Independents break. Fortunately there are several Republican Senators up for re-election in 2012 from states that are being battered by unemployment, and the Republicans learned at great cost this year that incumbents can get knocked out in the primaries by underfunded opposition these days. They need every vote. So you put the President on a plane, and he barnstorms through those states, giving fiery, only-like-Obama-can speeches about how he and the Democrats are all ready to help them with unemployment and pay for it, if not for their own Senator getting in their way. Pundits from both the left and the right came up with the number eight for how many Republican votes they would pick up in the Senate.

4. If you time this right, you break the vote barrier on Christmas Eve. After all, who is going to vote against an unemployment extension that is likely to cost them their seat on Christmas Eve? One down.

5. You give the House and Senate Christmas Day, and Christmas day only, off. Then you bring the bill for all of the Tax Cuts but the top 2% up for debate and allow the Republicans to propose an amendment that would extend it to everyone. Then you have the argument — “We paid for the 56 billion unemployment as you demanded, how are you going to pay for the $700 billion in additional tax cuts?” Call out the same Senators who fought so loudly for them to be paid for. Worst case scenario, you wind up where we are now, but WITHOUT the cut in payments to Social Security and the huge deduction increase and rate decrease in the Estate Tax, and the Democrats come out as the fiscally responsible party heading into the new Congress. Best case scenario, same thing without the taxes for the upper two percent.

So the worst thing that could happen is that by allowing the Republicans to propose their amendments you wind up with almost, but not quite, as shitty a deal as Obama made, but do it from the position of strength, not the position of a “hostage.” But you not only said “no,” you refused to discuss it, and cut the members of your party proposing it out of the process entirely. Is your annual Christmas vacation more important to you than the fate of the nation, or are you just that much of a coward? I tend to think a little of both, especially since you actually said, after having the rug pulled out from under you by Boehner during the Health Care debate about a dozen times, during your press conference this week, “I take John Boehner at his word.” I know you’re not an idiot, so I can only assume you are either selfish or a coward.

The decision on the Israeli peace talks, which broke the same day as your press conference and thus got buried, was the last straw. Sec. State Clinton announced that the U.S. was dropping the demand that Netanyahu freeze settlements and returning to the failed “indirect talks” approach of the Bush years. This despite a well-funded and growing Jewish lobby in the United States that SUPPORTS a settlement freeze and a two state solution on the 1967 borders.

So I see now that you are too scared of your own shadow for me to trust you, and without trust there is no basis for a relationship. So, we’re done. I’m looking for a new candidate for 2012. After all, an infuriated right proved that an incumbent with enormously deep pockets and a well oiled machine can be defeated in the primaries. Perhaps an infuriated middle and left together can do the same.

I’m sorry to have to leave you like this, when you are counting on me to stay. But it’s not me, it’s you.

A friend of mine recently wrote about why she believed voting no longer mattered because the Oligarchy controls everything in politics and who you vote for makes no difference. Despite the recent setbacks we have seen, including the large disappointment in Obama shown by Progressives, I believe nothing could be further from the truth.

It is true that in many ways Oligarchs make the real decisions and even those elected to fight the Oligarchy have to do a song and dance just to make changes on the edges. That said, there are three factors that I, a disillusioned Progressive and former Obama-ite, that lead me to continue to vote and suggest others do the same.

The first is those “edges” I mentioned. Those edges are huge. If McCain had been elected…

…stem cell research would not have resumed.
…troop levels in Iraq most likely would have increased, not decreased.
…two Supreme Court appointments would have assured the reversal of Roe Vs. Wade instead of assuring its survival.
…the war against medicinal marijuana users and suppliers in medical marijuana states would NOT have been suspended.
…we would almost certainly be at war with Iran and possibly even North Korea.

And all of that is just off the top of my head and only the first factor.

The second factor is that the con tinned growth of the Oligarchy is largely OUR, the Progressives, fault. WAY too many of us took a “we won” instead of “now we begin” attitude when Obama, who has ALWAYS been a moderate, won. When he made decisions about Health Care and Afghanistan that we did not support, we convinced ourselves and argued to others that it was all part of some master long term plan. He never said it was. We made that up to excuse his behavior instead of more strongly challenging it. Only in the very last days of this election cycle did we start to challenge him, and by then it was too late. When he finally went out on the trail and spoke to our concerns (including finally challenging the republicans stalling strategy, and not just their agenda) the independents had already decided to switch gears and the progressives to stay home. When the Tea Party came along we mocked them but we did absolutely nothing to defeat the growing right wing counter-reaction to progressivism. The only white demographic that Obama won in ’08 were college students, but their turnout was so high it made the difference. So how is it that the enormous outreach to colleges that marked the ’08 campaign was all but absent in the ’10 campaign? The youth vote dropped from an all time high of over 25% to its usual 6%. In other words, voting is a HUGE factor in where we are today.

Finally, the fact that it makes a difference to the Oligarchy means it should make a difference to us. If the Oligarchy did not believe that one party accepts its control while the other tries to fight it, it wouldn’t spend overwhelmingly more on Republicans than Democrats. The unheard of sums being spent to defeat a progressive agenda are proof enough that a progressive agenda is real enough to scare them. That is why now is the time to learn our lesson and truly begin, not retreat.

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