Summary: There is a Jewish community in New York with a long-standing effort to maintain a strong Community: among the various denominations of Judaism within the city, and in staying connected with the Jewish State. For the 67th birthday of Israel, it opted to destroy all of those efforts.
The Jewish community of White Plains NY is not a typical New York City suburb. The five synagogues of the city (5SWP) – Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and two Modern Orthodox – all sit within 1.5 miles of each other and actively seek to maintain a sense of close community. Each temple helped to establish the communal eruv around the residential neighborhood. The rabbis have study groups together. And lastly, the members of the shuls do their Israeli programming together.
In the spring of 2015, a group from the Israel Action Committee of the 5SWP decided that it was time to invite a left-wing speaker to address the group, as past speakers included right-of-center speakers including Bret Stephens and Malcolm Hoenlein. While voices of dissent came from within the committee as they learned about the proposed speaker’s line of work as a lawyer for Palestinian Arabs that sues the government of Israel, the group elected to invite Danny Seidemann to speak anyway – on Israel’s Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Danny Seidemann was presented to the audience as a “Leading Israeli Expert on Contemporary Jerusalem.” He spoke to the group for roughly one and one-half hours, including Q&A. If Danny is an expert, it is in deception. For 90 minutes, the group of 70 attendees heard deliberate misstatements and lies of omission. However, Danny’s views and message were very clear: that Jerusalem has never been united and can never be a united capital of Israel.
Here is a selection of some of Danny’s lies to support his position.
Palestinians are deliberately excluded from Jerusalem society. Danny made several remarks early in his talk that he clearly knew to be untrue. He stated that Palestinians in East Jerusalem are “deliberately and permanently disenfranchised” and “are not allowed to be leaders” in Israel. However, in Q&A at the end of the talk, he admitted that Palestinians in East Jerusalem are permitted to ask for Israeli citizenship and thousands have already become citizens. How can the Palestinian Arabs be “permanently disenfranchised” if they can become Israelis, similar to the over 1 million Arabs that are currently citizens of Israel? Those Israeli Arab citizens include members of the Israeli Knesset and the Supreme Court.
A minority of Jerusalem’s residents celebrates Israel Independence Day. Danny asserted that the capital of Israel barely celebrates Yom Ha’azmaut, undermining the claim that the city can truly be the capital of Israel. Along with Palestinian Arabs living in Jerusalem who are not Israeli citizens, are roughly one-quarter of the population that are Ultra-Orthodox Haredi who are not Zionists according to Danny, leaving only a minority of the population in Israel’s capital celebrating the holiday. However, Danny later admitted that the Haredi do actively participate in Israeli elections and actively seek roles in the Israeli Knesset. Does he not like the black hat brand of patriotism? Further, these Haredi Jews predominantly live in the western half of Jerusalem- does Danny question the legitimacy of the western part of the city too?
No Jew enters East Jerusalem. Danny claimed that “80% of East Jerusalem is off-limits to Jews.” First, that is untrue as many Jews go into East Jerusalem all of the time (and not just the Old City). For example, Pisgat Ze’ev, the largest Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, lies next to Shu’afat. Further, would a neighborhood being dangerous or consisting of a single ethnic group mean it ceases to be part of a city? If few Jews visit Umm al-Fahm, an Israeli city that is nearly 100% Arab (compared to the eastern part of Jerusalem which is 60% Arab), would that mean that the city is not part of Israel? When few white people entered areas of black Harlem in the 1970s, did Harlem cease to be part of New York City?
No Arab enters West Jerusalem. Danny said that Arabs no longer enter the western part of the city. That is patently false. On most days, there are more Arabs in Independence Park than there are Jews. Danny may claim that these are Israeli Arabs and not Palestinians from East Jerusalem, but how could he make such claim without speaking to the hundreds of Arabs that anyone can see in the streets of western Jerusalem every day without talking to each one?
Countries do not recognize Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel because of East Jerusalem. Danny argued that Jews pretend that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital but that such claim is untrue as no country places its embassy in the city. His point deliberately led the audience to believe that this international action is a direct result of Israel’s annexing the eastern half of the city. That is completely false. No country moved their embassy BEFORE Israel annexed the eastern half of the city because the entirety of Greater Jerusalem and Greater Bethlehem (known as the “Holy Basin” in the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan) was planned to be an international city. World governments are waiting for final status negotiations before moving any embassy, as they viewed the 1949 Jordanian annexation of East Jerusalem and the Israeli annexation of West Jerusalem as contrary to that 1947 Plan. It has NOTHING to do with Israel’s taking East Jerusalem in 1967.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not want Peace. Danny claimed that the four-term Israeli Prime Minister “is a terrible person who preys on Israelis’ fears of security.” Not only did Seidemann ignore Netanyahu’s numerous statements supporting a two-state solution (without any part of Jerusalem for Palestine), but Danny also failed to relay that it was Netanyahu who handed over half of the Holy Basin (Bethlehem) to the Palestinian Authority back in 1995.
The US Democratic Party Considers East Jerusalem too Controversial. Danny relayed how the 2012 Democratic National convention had removed its long-used platform language that Jerusalem would be the capital. He said that Americans were “tired of being bullied” about the contested city. What Danny failed to say was that the 2012 platform also removed the standard language that: Palestinian refugees would be settled into a new state of Palestine, not Israel; that it is unreasonable to expect that the borders of Israel would follow the 1967 “borders”/ the 1949 Armistice Lines; and that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Are Democrats tired of believing all of these platform items too? Are they now welcoming Hamas? Danny made it appear that the status of East Jerusalem was the only reason Democrats were breaking with Israel, while in fact, it was the entire pro-Israel platform that was either intentionally or unintentionally gutted.
Olmert ultimately realized the need to give up East Jerusalem. Danny said that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ultimately concluded late in his career that the only way to get to a final status agreement with the Palestinians was to give up East Jerusalem. What Danny failed to say was that Olmert only pitched this approach as he was about to get indicted on bribery charges, and was hoping that he could win over the liberal Israeli press to save him for going off to jail (it was too late and he was ultimately sentenced). Further, Danny failed to mention that acting President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas never responded to Olmert’s plan for Jerusalem.
If Jews move to East Jerusalem, then Arabs will have an added case for the Right of Return. The “expert” on Contemporary Jerusalem has no understanding of the Palestinian claim of the “Right of Return.” Danny spoke about recent “terrible” news of Jews legally (according to Israeli law) buying homes in an East Jerusalem neighborhood called Sheik Jarrah. He described that some of these homes had been owned by Jews before the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, which were then taken over by Arabs at the war’s end.
For starters, it should have been noted at some point in the speech that the Israeli War of Independence started when several Arab armies initiated an attack to destroy Israel when it declared independence at the end of the British Mandate. The land wasn’t “Arab” and Israel’s war was of self-defense.
Secondly, Danny failed to clarify that the Jordanians (and Palestinians who accepted Jordanian citizenship), evicted all Jewish inhabitants from East Jerusalem and all of the West Bank, and then further barred their reentry after the war, counter to the Fourth Geneva Convention. Conversely, after the war, Israel granted citizenship to roughly 160,000 Arabs.
Third, Jews acquiring homes in East Jerusalem is legal according to Israeli law in the same way that Arabs may buy homes in West Jerusalem; there is no discrimination either way. These are private transaction between private people, and the government does not get involved. Danny’s commentary left the exact opposite impression that the Israeli government acted in a discriminatory manner.
Lastly, and perhaps most telling, the private purchases of homes have absolutely NOTHING to do with the Palestinian Arab claim for a Right of Return. A quick review for this “Israeli expert”:
- Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his COUNTRY (emphasis added).” The law is about returning to a person’s country, not a particular house where someone’s grandparent may have lived.
- In regard to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, UN Resolution 194 Article 11 “Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and LIVE AT PEACE WITH THEIR NEIGHBOURS (emphasis added) should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.” Palestinian Arabs are not refugees, but the children and grandchildren of refugees. And as Seidemann makes abundantly clear throughout his talk, they have no intention of living at peace with Israel.
Jews acquiring properties in Silwan or Sheik Jarrah or any other parts of East Jerusalem have absolutely nothing to do with these laws and give Palestinian Arabs no additional rights or claims to any “Right of Return” to any part of Israel or western Jerusalem.
These were just some of the false comments that the speaker made about Jerusalem. Seidemann did say that Jerusalem is holy to Jews and referred to “Jewish Jerusalem,” but he made the comment only about the western part of the city. He gave no historical context that the area called “East Jerusalem” was an artifice of war. That its creation was solely from a war started by Arabs to utterly destroy any Jewish state, and the only reason that there are fewer Jews than Arabs in that part of the city was because of the ethnic cleansing committed by the Palestinian and Jordanian Arabs.
- There was no clarification that Jews have been a majority in ALL of Jerusalem since the 1860s.
- No mention that the Ottomans never limited where Jews could live in Jerusalem for 400 years.
- No mention that the British Mandate of Palestine allowed Jews to live throughout the region, including what some today refer to as the “West Bank.”
Overall, Seidemann’s speech was an attempt to portray Israel as an evil, racist occupier of eastern Jerusalem. To the more informed in the audience, all his speech actually conveyed was that the Palestinian Arabs hate the Jews, hate Israel and will never want to be part of the Jewish State.
That may be true, but it certainly does not make Israel an evil racist occupier and does not mean that Jerusalem isn’t completely part of Israel.
Seidemann’s Call to Action
An hour into the Seidemann story, he became particularly excited.
Call for BDS of the “Settlement Enterprise”. Danny gave a short preamble that what he was about to say was illegal. He then raised his hand and voice and declared that all settlers living in the West Bank should be boycotted. That all businesses in the territory should be boycotted. That he, as a “true Zionist” that paid taxes and served in the army needed to protect his country from “right-wing idealogues” who threatened his vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
At that point, people in the audience finally began to leave.
Seidemann Refusal to Engage
At the reception after the talk, Seidemann continued to lie (or being more generous, show how uninformed he was):
- Palestinians support Abbas. Seidemann claimed that Abbas enjoyed broad support of the Palestinians. When he was confronted that it was not true as shown in every poll conducted by Palestinians themselves, including recent university elections, he refused to back off his claim.
- Abbas is in control. When Seidemann was asked how Israel can possibly negotiate with Abbas since he lacked control of the people and territory, he reiterated that Abbas had complete control. After it was pointed out that if Abbas was in control, he was therefore responsible for the Gaza war that fired thousands of rockets into Israel, Seidemann ripped off his yamulke and stormed away.
While the speaker demanded total silence and respect from the audience, he showed the group none.
A community that sought to be educated about Israel was lied to for 90 minutes. A group that wanted to bond with fellow Jews and Israel, heard from a speaker that called for Jews to punish and economically strangle Israeli Jews.
As this self-declared UberZionist drove away, the community was left with bitter feelings. At least it was no longer on the Israeli Independence Day.
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