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Irony abounds in Nov. 19 human-rights commentary criticizing Israel

Irony abounds in Sylvia Schwarz’s piece, “Human rights: Not to be entrusted to governments” (MinnPost, Nov. 19), which is a title camouflaging yet another diatribe against Israel.

To begin, Schwarz correctly advises that human-rights violations occur throughout the world. Yet, she descends into the same intellectual dungeon as the United Nations Human Rights Commission in dedicating most of her space to criticism of Israel — as is the habit of the Human Rights Commission. Indeed, such human-rights malefactors as Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, who are also members of the Human Rights Commission, channel its energies to a perpetual critique of Israel. By contrast, the commission ignores such abuses as Iran’s treatment of homosexuals (public executions) and members of the Baha’i faith (imprisonment for the practice of their religion). I believe this obsession — whether in a MinnPost commentary or the halls of the United Nations — betrays a true agenda: delegitimization of Israel.

A second irony lies in Schwarz’s use of the word “amnesia.” It is precisely the lack of context — the casting aside and forgetting of history — that makes her comment, “for more than 60 years governments have been playing at a ‘peace process,’ ” either mean-spirited or profoundly ignorant. Let us review the facts of those who “played” at peace:

• Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 for negotiating a peace with Israel in 1979.

• Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 for seeking a two-state solution with the Palestinians — a position favored by a majority of Israelis — in the aftermath of Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan in 1995.

Moreover, we have seen over the past 75 years the promulgation of plans for resolving the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine through a two-state solution; they were serious attempts to reconcile conflicting national aspirations and bring peace to the Holy Land:

• The 1937 recommendation of the Peel Commission to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab States.

• The 1947 approval of the United Nations to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab States — supported by both the United States and USSR.

• The 2000 negotiations at Camp David led by President Clinton, which were at the brink of success with the Palestinians receiving nearly all of the West Bank. Tragically — not “playfully” in light of the efforts of American, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators — Yasser Arafat rejected this political solution, leading us to today’s impasse.

Precipitated by terrorism
A terrible symptom of this current deadlock is the humanitarian crisis in Gaza — which all parties must take steps to address. This crisis — and this point was “forgotten” in Schwarz’s piece — was precipitated by Hamas terrorists using Gaza as a launching pad for terrorism after every Israeli settler and soldier had left Gaza in 2005. Hamas — a client of Iran — did not seek a better life for Gazans after the Israeli departure, but rather began the indiscriminate shelling of southern Israel with missiles. Since 2005, more than 6,300 rockets were launched into Israel, and more than 3,000 rockets were fired in 2008 alone.

Israel, with its citizens under fire (Jewish and Arab alike), exercised its sovereign right of self-defense through Operation Cast Lead. Despite Israel’s unprecedented attempts to limit civilian casualties (and every civilian casualty is a tragedy), Israel was again placed in the dock with the Goldstone Report, which was authorized by a Human Rights Council Resolution that prejudged Israel’s guilt and omitted criticism of Hamas.

(Please read this article by Moshe Halbertal in The New Republic analyzing the Goldstone Report from the perspective of a leading Israeli intellectual of the left who has served on a commission of the Israel Defense Forces to codify ethics in this age of “asymmetrical warfare.”)

Important context
The information contained in the links below provides context illustrating the difficulty in fighting terrorists embedded in the civilian population of Gaza who kill indiscriminately.

The absurdity and third irony of Schwarz’s piece is that the delegitimization of Israel and associated boycott movement would have the disastrous effect of denying the world the following technological innovations and medical advances developed in Israel:

• The cell phone;

• instant messaging;

• voicemail;

• the Intel Pentium chip;

• radiation free breast cancer diagnostic testing;

• internet firewall security;

• the “Gut cam” ingestible pill camera to diagnose cancer; and

• drip irrigation.

In conclusion, it should be noted that Schwarz’s “International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network of the Twin Cities” represents little of the local Jewish community. Regardless of political or religious affiliation, the Jews of Minnesota, for their part, are for historical, religious, cultural and familial reasons strongly supportive of Israel. A community survey of 2004 found that 89 percent feel an attachment to Israel and for good reason in light of the historic and democratic ties between our country and Israel.

Steve Hunegs is the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by myles spicer on 11/30/2009 - 02:26 pm.

    I have long believed there will have to be compromise on both sides if there is ever to be peace in this conflict; but it will also take PERSONS OF GOODWILL who truly want a peaceful solution, to make that happen. To that end, it is essential to understand Hamas, and then determine if any “goodwill” resides in that group. As I noted to Schwarz, most people to no really understand Hamas, and few if any have read their Chrater. I did! She should. That is essential to knowing what this group is all about. I would refer you to Articles 13, 28, and 32 — the Charter is well published. After reading those Articles, and only then, can you make a judgement on Hamas’ goals and aspirations.

  2. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/30/2009 - 03:10 pm.

    Mr. Hunegs: I think you have brought more heat than light to the subject matter of Ms. Schwarz’s column.

    You’ve alleged Ms. Schwarz’s “true agenda” is the “delegitimization of Israel”.

    I find nothing in her column that makes such an implication, or indicates such a design.

    Please note that peaceful measures designed to influence Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians are not an attempt to “delegitimize” Israel. They are an attempt to create conditions where peace has a chance.

    There are many reasonable people in this world who see Israel as contributing substantially to its own dilemma.

  3. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/30/2009 - 03:37 pm.

    I’m assuming Mr. Spicer is referring to Hamas’ original charter, modeled after that of a radical Egyptian group I believe, in which they say they want to destroy Israel.

    Today’s members of Hamas have said quite a few times that they will be happy to recognize Israel’s right to exist as soon as Israel offers Palestinians the same courtesy. And would no doubt stop resisting Israel’s violence with the only weapons they have (homemade rockets) when that violence stops.

    There is a wide range of opinion among American Jews, and I’d say Mr. Hunegs is far to the right.

  4. Submitted by myles spicer on 12/01/2009 - 10:03 am.

    I refer to the Charter drafted in 1988. Stop “guessing”…READ IT!

    I sincerely believe there are people of goodwill among the Palestinians. I sincerely believe most people on earth want to live peaceful, safe, productive lives. But, the people of Gaza elected a government whose agenda demands that Israel become an Islamic state (read the Charter!). That is an obstacle to a peaceful solution, and strengthens the right in Israel, which also inhibits a peaceful solution.

    In short, the radicals are the voices now: Schwarz and Hamas in the Palestinian territories; and Netenyahu in Israel. Neither will find a path to peace given this situation.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/01/2009 - 11:02 am.

    The Narrative Mr. Hunegs promotes is simply collapsing under the weight of indisputable facts and numbers that pile up as every month passes by. The narrative that Israel is simply defending itself from unprovoked terrorist attacks and inflicting regrettable but unavoidable casualties in the process is simply not supported by history or casualty figures. The censorship and media control that perpetuated that narrative are finally breaking down giving more and more people a clearer picture of the conflict.

    The facts are not disputed. Israel has illegally occupied Palestinian territory since 1967. That occupation is the main cause of the conflict. Israel refuses to end the occupation and has continually built settlements within the occupied territories. The Palestinians (and others) have fought the occupation using terrorist tactics, and they have killed many innocent Israelis. However, the numbers simply do not support a narrative of a powerful nation bending over backwards to avoid civilian casualties in a fight against an enemy devoted to inflicting civilian casualties. Around 5,300 Palestinians have been killed just since 1987 for instance while 1,500 Israelis have been killed, almost a five to one ratio. Mr. Hunegs is wise to focus on missiles fired into Israel instead of actual casualties inflicted, but what’s missing are figures of Israeli ordinance used to inflict 15,000 – 20,000 Palestinian casualties just since the turn of the century. Given the ongoing Israeli occupation and the hugely lopsided casualty figures, the narrative of a peaceful Israel suffering at the hands of Palestinian aggression is just running out of steam.

    Most of original antagonists who sought the destruction of Israel have now either accepted its right to exist, or stated they would accept it’s right to exist were it to resolve the Palestinian conflict. In any case, no one in the region presents an existential threat the state of Israel which is without doubt the most powerful state in the region. Regardless of who thinks Israel ought to exist, it’s existence in not in jeopardy. It’s disingenuous to suggest that any parties refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist presents a threat to Israel’s actual existence. Some people may not ever accept Israel’s right to exist, but this does not justify the conflict, and it’s not unique to Israel. China does not recognize Taiwan’s existence for instance but there is no ongoing military conflict there. The issues here when Israel will accept the existence of a Palestinian state, and how the two parties will work out security issues.

    Clearly the Israeli government’s objective in the late sixties and early seventy’s was the permanent occupation and annexation of the occupied territories. At the time the Palestinians were not seen a serious obstacle. The Palestinian resistance took everyone by surprise. Nevertheless the Israeli government has not abandoned the original objective. No serious plan for an autonomous and sovereign Palestinian state has ever been on the table, and no one can expect the Palestinians to ever accept anything short of sovereignty.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/01/2009 - 11:28 am.

    I don’t personally know any enemies of Israel and I am not an enemy myself. On the contrary all I want is peace and security for the Israeli people, but I also want the same for the Palestinians. The fact is you cannot have one without the other. Mr. Hunegs seems to interpret any criticism of Israel as an existential threat, he’s mistaken. Those of us who seek and end to Israeli aggression as an end to the conflict are not ignoring terrorism that Israel has endured, we’re simply making the mundane observation that peace is not possible until all combatants renounce violence. There is no military solution to this conflict, it’s that simple. Until Israel accepts that fact the conflict will continue. The occupation is brutal and illegal and until it ends the conflict will continue. The Israeli government obviously still clings to the notion that it can impose some kind of military solution and accomplish a combination of defacto annexation, outright annexation, and apartheid separation. There’s no reason to believe the Palestinians will ever accept such a fate. We’re all adults here, the end of this conflict will take time. The idea that on some given date all the fighting will stop and no one will ever be killed again is naive. Any peace plan that demands such an outcome is doomed to failure. What’s clear is that the Israeli strategy (supported almost uncritically by the US) over the last 40 years has not and will not work. It’s time to change. The occupation needs to end. The colonial strategy of annexation needs to be abandoned. The Palestinians need to have autonomy and sovereignty. Casualties may continue for a while on both sides, but if you move towards peace, you will eventually get there. In the meantime, I worry that Israel and it’s supporters are losing the capacity to distinguish between friend and foe. When you continually attack those who want peace and security for Israel as enemies simply because they disagree on path to peace, you risk alienation.

  7. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/01/2009 - 02:33 pm.

    Mr. Spicer: I did read the charter quite some time ago, but looked today at the three articles you cite above.

    Very briefly, #13 states there is no peaceful solution; #28 says the Zionist goal is “to totter virtues and wipe out Islam;” and #32 that Hamas is a (or the) leader in the effort to stop Zionist expansion in the Middle East once it has succeeded in accessing all of Palestine.

    I still believe that modern members of Hamas see themselves as resistance fighters rather than a hate group seeking to destroy Zionism. And by Zionism I would say they mean not ordinary Jews but the fundamentalist anti-Arab-racist version favored by Israel’s Lieberman, Netanyahu’s second in command.

  8. Submitted by Bill McGrath on 12/02/2009 - 01:24 am.

    One of AIPAC’S little brothers, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, was offended by a recent MNPOST article written by Sylvia Schwarz. The JCRC’s executive director, Steve Hunegs, described the Schwarz article as “yet another diatribe against Israel.”

    So I in turn will describe the Hunegs article as “another diatribe against anyone who is not Jewish but who is trying to live in their ancestral homeland of Palestine.”

    I will take Mr. Hunegs’ word when he says that the government of Iran has executed Iranian citizens because they were homosexual. He does not say how many. But Iran is not using U.S. tax dollars to kill people. I do know how many Palestinians were killed by Israel during the Cast Lead operation in Gaza. And Israel gets more than $3 billion dollars every year from the United States. I simply do not want any more of my tax dollars going to the Israeli military. Israel has plenty of money, without getting ours, too.

    Mr. Hunegs mentions the 1947 partition “plans for resolving the conflict between Jews and Arabs.” This partitioning might have worked if it had been done correctly. When Palestine was partitioned in 1947, the amount of land that was given to the Jews was vastly disproportionate to the number of Jews compared with the number of Arabs. The land simply was not divided fairly. Arabs were resentful. The resulting tensions might have been ameliorated, over time, had it not been for the Irgun and Stern Gang attacking Arab villages including Deir Yassin. It was that type of behavior by Jewish terrorists that led to the Jews being attacked — one month later — by armies of Arabs.

    Mr. Hunegs says that Yassir Arafat rejected the offer put before him in 2000. I don’t blame Arafat. This offer would have given Palestinians most of the West Bank, but under tight Israeli control. Why should Palestinians agree to live under a military occupation?

    Contrary to Mr. Hunegs, it was not Hamas in 2008 that broke the truce between Hamas and Israel. It was Israel who killed several Palestinians inside Gaza on Nov. 4, which conveniently was also the day of the American presidential election. The next day, Hamas announced the end of the truce.

    Mr. Hunegs says that the Goldstone report criticizes Israel but does not criticize Hamas. This is not true. The report criticizes human rights violations committed by both sides.

    With the exceptions noted above, I commend Mr. Hunegs for writing another masterly article.

    — Bill McGrath

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