On November 26, 2019, a progressive Reform Temple in Westchester County, New York brought together a collection of people from the far-left and anti-Israel community to talk about the situation in “Israel/Palestine.” The discussion was civil and disappointing.
The Israel Action Committee of the Temple Israel of New Rochelle put together the event with “Friends of Mossawa,” an organization based in Tarrytown, NY which claims to fight for equality in Israel, and the United Nations, an organization which claims to be a unifying agency for people all over the world. As the evening demonstrated, what unites these parties is their strong distaste for Israel.
The speakers included Laura Wharton, a left-wing, anti-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu member of Jerusalem’s City Council; Rana Abu Farha, a host on the Palestinian run Ma’an 24 news show; and Hanan Al Sanah, a representative of an NGO in the Negev which advocates for Bedouin women. It was moderated by Paul Warhit, President of the Westchester Jewish Council.
Hanan Al Sanah, Rana Abu Farha, Laura Wharton and Paul Warhit at TINR
November 26, 2019
From the outset, the tone of the two hour evening discussion was clearly not going to follow the script as laid out in the invitation “The Lived Reality in Israel and the Palestinian Territory: Current Political Developments and the Prospects for a Peaceful Settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” The members of the TINR clergy and Israel Action Committee who welcomed the fifty-person audience repeatedly referred to “Israel/Palestine,” and not the “Palestinian Territory,” upgrading the PA-ruled lands to an actual country. They also noted that one of the evenings invited speakers, Ali Ghaith, an “activist and freelance journalist” was not able to attend as he had recently written a negative piece about Netanyahu and was therefore not able to get a travel visa from Israel. Various people in the audience booed Israel’s actions.
The Left-Wing Israeli Politician
Wharton began the discussion stating that she has “complete solidarity with the Palestinian people” and would state later that she is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. Her comments during the evening really only proved the latter.
Even though she serves as a member of the Jerusalem’s City Council, she was woefully ignorant of the city’s composition stating that only about 2,000 Jews live in “East Jerusalem,” even though the actual number is over 200,000 in the eastern part of the city.
Wharton was particularly worried about mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. She said that it was “worrisome that more Israelis are moving into Palestinian neighborhoods,” especially right-wing Israelis. She said that Jerusalem will ultimately need to be divided as part of a peace agreement and the Jewish presence among the Palestinians made that separation harder. She voiced her belief that the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall should remain in Israeli hands, but the balance of East Jerusalem should be part of Palestine, with Christian holy places under the jurisdiction of the United Nations.
Wharton believed that the problems in Jerusalem paled relative to the West Bank. She commented that the settlements are illegal by international law and many are also illegal under Israeli law. She believed that all of the settlements complicated matters significantly by placing Jewish towns alongside Arab towns. Neither she nor the moderator chose to mention how Jews and Arabs get along just fine in Haifa, the headquarters of Mossawa.
Wharton ended her remarks by stating that she supported the B.D.S. movement of Israeli goods made in the West Bank but urged people in the audience to not boycott Israel in its entirety, as it silenced the voices of the dovish Israelis like herself and gave ammunition to the right-wing.
The Anti-Israel Palestinian Newscaster
Rana made Laura’s pro-B.D.S. comments look tame.
She decried the “occupation” throughout her remarks, stating that the over 130 Israeli settlements consisting of 1 million Jews pushed 2.5 million Palestinians to live in “ghettos.” (The actual number of Jews in the West Bank is half that number). She said that Netanyahu went to war in Gaza the other week because he feared he was losing the election so thought it would help to kill Arab civilians to excite the Israeli public. She added that the entire notion that Israel is democratic is a joke, and that it just holds election as a marketing ploy to the western world that it shares democratic ideals when it is really just a racist colonial occupier. The moderator chose not to push back aggressively on these libels.
The Palestinian newscaster went on that she thought that every single settler must leave the West Bank and that all 6 million Palestinian refugees (there are actually 5.5 million registered with UNRWA) should be allowed to move to Israel. When asked by Warhit how Israel could possibly allow 6 million Arabs into the country to overwhelm the Jews, she simply stated that “it’s their land so it’s their choice.” The members of the UN and Friends of Mossawa who sat in the audience grunted their approval. Warhit could only summon that he appreciated her position about getting rid of the settlements but could not imagine Israel allowing 6 million Arabs into the country. The TINR organizer of the event admonished Warhit to not share his opinion and just get the panel talking.
The Bedouin Arab
Compared to the other people on stage, Hanan was actually quite good, even while her English was the weakest. She said that she considered herself an Israeli but was frustrated by the country’s lack of investment in the Bedouin community and Israel’s refusal to allow them to live in their traditional lifestyle. At the same time, she acknowledged that she was also frustrated by her own Bedouin traditional lifestyle that kept women illiterate and as second-class citizens. She was advocating for change in the Bedouin culture to empower women, but for more of the traditional status quo from the Israelis to not force them to move into conventional cities.
The Q&A at the end of the panel discussion was mostly a repeat of prior comments. When asked about the Palestinian and left-wing Israeli poll in the summer of 2018 that showed that almost all Israeli Arabs were in favor of capping the number of refugees coming to Israel and in favor of Israel’s Nation State Law, the denials began to flow.
The questioner was first directed by the panelists to call Israeli Arabs as “Palestinian Citizens of Israel” and told that the poll figures must be wrong. Both Laura and Rana mentioned the huge protests in the streets after the Knesset passed the law which undermined the poll’s statistics. Wharton considered the poll’s point of Israeli Arabs wanting to cap refugees as perhaps stemming from Palestinian Arab viewpoint of Israeli Arabs as collaborators with Israel while they suffered in refugee camps. Rana effectively ignored the question and repeated that all of the Palestinians have a natural right to return to their homes (or more accurately, grandparents’ homes).
At program’s end, when Rana was asked how many Jews she thought could live in a Palestinian State, she repeated that every settlement had to be removed. Pushed further if she would accept a situation in which every Israeli soldier left the land, and every Jewish civilian in the West Bank opted to become a Palestinian citizen, she reiterated her stance that no settlers could remain. When challenged as to why she would take such an antisemitic stance to forbid any Jew from living in a Palestinian State, the organizer of the event from TINR jumped in and said “don’t put words in her mouth” and then tried to escort her out of the room.
Temple Israel of New Rochelle is proud of its progressive bona fides. Its rabbi serves on the board of J Street (a left-wing Israel advocacy group), Planned Parenthood, and Rabbis for Human Rights. It was therefore not surprising to see such a progressive organization give a warm welcome to people advocating for a boycott of Jews in the West Bank, expulsion of all the Jews living there, and changing Israel into a bi-national state. Such is the state of progressive views about Israel today.
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