February 2012 Archives

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Father Roy writes: Are you ever surprised to notice the different ways that some people reason, i.e., think?   I am.  Yet, it’s necessary that we at least be familiar with the different ways other folks think if ever we hope to make the Peace of Jerusalem a fact on the ground.  Click on the activated links in the article pasted below, and you’ll probably be interested in the information.  As you digest what you read, you’ll probably find the subject of religion growing more and more interesting to you.   Peace, Roy

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Picture courtesy of stopthewarnow.net…

Neocons are Using Religion to Rile Them Up to Justify War Against Iran

By Washington’s Blog

…………….. The Founding Fathers weren’t particularly anti-Islam.

But millions of Americans believe that Christ will not come again until Israel wipes out its competitors and there is widespread war in the Middle East. Some of these folks want to start a huge fire of war and death and destruction, so that Jesus comes quickly.

According to French President Chirac, Bush told him that the Iraq war was needed to bring on the apocalypse:

In Genesis and Ezekiel Gog and Magog are forces of the Apocalypse who are prophesied to come out of the north and destroy Israel unless stopped. The Book of Revelation took up the Old Testament prophesy:

“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”

Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac:

“This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins”…

There can be little doubt now that President Bush’s reason for launching the war in Iraq was, for him, fundamentally religious. He was driven by his belief that the attack on Saddam’s Iraq was the fulfillment of a Biblical prophesy in which he had been chosen to serve as the instrument of the Lord.

And British Prime Minister Tony Blair long-time mentor, advisor and confidante said:

“Tony’s Christian faith is part of him, down to his cotton socks. He believed strongly at the time, that intervention in Kosovo, Sierra Leone – Iraq too – was all part of the Christian battle; good should triumph over evil, making lives better.”

Mr Burton, who was often described as Mr Blair’s mentor, says that his religion gave him a “total belief in what’s right and what’s wrong”, leading him to see the so-called War on Terror as “a moral cause”…

Anti-war campaigners criticised remarks Mr Blair made in 2006, suggesting that the decision to go to war in Iraq would ultimately be judged by God.

Bill Moyers reports that the organization Christians United for Israel – led by highly-influential Pastor John C. Hagee – is a universal call to all Christians to help factions in Israel fund the Jewish settlements, throw out all the Palestinians and lobby for a pre-emptive invasion of Iran. All to bring Russia into a war against us causing World War III followed by Armageddon, the Second Coming and The Rapture. See this and this.

This all revolves around what is called Dispensationalism. So popular is Dispensationalism that Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series has sold 65 million copies.

Dispensationalists include the following mega-pastors and their churches:

They are supported by politicians such as:

  • Texas Senator John Cronyn
  • And others

Dr. Timothy Webber – an evangelical Christian who has served as a teacher of church history and the history of American religion at Denver Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Vice-President at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, IL, and President of Memphis Theological Seminary in Tennessee – notes:

In a recent Time/CNN poll, more than one-third of Americans said that since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, they have been thinking more about how current events might be leading to the end of the world.

While only 36 percent of all Americans believe that the Bible is God’s Word and should be taken literally, 59 percent say they believe that events predicted in the Book of Revelation will come to pass. Almost one out of four Americans believes that 9/11 was predicted in the Bible, and nearly one in five believes that he or she will live long enough to see the end of the world. Even more significant for this study, over one-third of those Americans who support Israel report that they do so because they believe the Bible teaches that the Jews must possess their own country in the Holy Land before Jesus can return.

Millions of Americans believe that the Bible predicts the future and that we are living in the last days. Their beliefs are rooted in dispensationalism, a particular way of understanding the Bible’s prophetic passages, especially those in Daniel and Ezekiel in the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. They make up about one-third of America’s 40 or 50 million evangelical Christians and believe that the nation of Israel will play a central role in the unfolding of end-times events. In the last part of the 20th century, dispensationalist evangelicals become Israel’s best friends-an alliance that has made a serious geopolitical difference.

***

Starting in the 1970s, dispensationalists broke into the popular culture with runaway best-sellers, and a well-networked political campaign to promote and protect the interests of Israel. Since the mid-1990s, tens of millions of people who have never seen a prophetic chart or listened to a sermon on the second coming have read one or more novels in the Left Behind series, which has become the most effective disseminator of dispensationalist ideas ever.

***

During the early 1980s the Israeli Ministry of Tourism recruited evangelical religious leaders for free “familiarization” tours. In time, hundreds of evangelical pastors got free trips to the Holy Land. The purpose of such promotional tours was to enable people of even limited influence to experience Israel for themselves and be shown how they might bring their own tour group to Israel. The Ministry of Tourism was interested in more than tourist dollars: here was a way of building a solid corps of non-Jewish supporters for Israel in the United States by bringing large numbers of evangelicals to hear and see Israel’s story for themselves. The strategy caught on.

***

Shortly after the Six-Day War, elements within the Israeli government saw the potential power of the evangelical subculture and began to mobilize it as a base of support that could influence American foreign policy. The Israeli government sent Yona Malachy of its Department of Religious Affairs to the United States to study American fundamentalism and its potential as an ally of Israel. Malachy was warmly received by fundamentalists and was able to influence some of them to issue strong pro-Israeli manifestos. By the mid-1980s, there was a discernible shift in the Israeli political strategy. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Jewish state’s major lobbying group in Washington, D.C., started re-aligning itself with the American political right-wing, including Christian conservatives. Israel’s timing was perfect. It began working seriously with American dispensationalists at the precise moment that American fundamentalists and evangelicals were discovering their political voice.

**

Probably the largest pro-Israel organization of its kind is the National Unity Coalition for Israel, which was founded by a Jewish woman who learned how to get dispensationalist support. NUCI opposes “the establishment of a Palestinian state within the borders of Israel.”

***

In their commitment to keep Israel strong and moving in directions prophesied by the Bible, dispensationalists are supporting some of the most dangerous elements in Israeli society. They do so because such political and religious elements seem to conform to dispensationalist beliefs about what is coming next for Israel. By lending their support-both financial and spiritual-to such groups, dispensationalists are helping the future they envision come to pass.

***

Dispensationalists believe that the Temple is coming too; and their convictions have led them to support the aims and actions of what most Israelis believe are the most dangerous right-wing elements in their society, people whose views make any compromise necessary for lasting peace impossible. Such sentiments do not matter to the believers in Bible prophecy, for whom the outcome of the quarrelsome issue of the Temple Mount has already been determined by God.

Since the end of the Six-Day War, then, dispensationalists have increasingly moved from observers to participant-observers. They have acted consistently with their convictions about the coming Last Days in ways that make their prophecies appear to be self-fulfilling.

***

As Paul Boyer has pointed out, dispensationalism has effectively conditioned millions of Americans to be somewhat passive about the future and provided them with lenses through which to understand world events. Thanks to the sometimes changing perspectives of their Bible teachers, dispensationalists are certain that trouble in the Middle East is inevitable, that nations will war against nations, and that the time is coming when millions of people will die as a result of nuclear war, the persecution of Antichrist, or as a result of divine judgment. Striving for peace in the Middle East is a hopeless pursuit with no chance of success.

***

For the dispensational community, the future is determined. The Bible’s prophecies are being fulfilled with amazing accuracy and rapidity. They do not believe that the Road Map will-or should-succeed. According to the prophetic texts, partitioning is not in Israel’s future, even if the creation of a Palestinian state is the best chance for peace in the region. Peace is nowhere prophesied for the Middle East, until Jesus comes and brings it himself. The worse thing that the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations can do is force Israel to give up land for a peace that will never materialize this side of the second coming. Anyone who pushes for peace in such a manner is ignoring or defying God’s plan for the end of the age.

***

It seems clear that dispensationalism is on a roll, that its followers feel they are riding the wave of history into the shore of God’s final plan. Why should they climb back into the stands when being on the field of play is so much more fun and apparently so beneficial to the game’s outcome? As [one dispensationalist group’s] advertisement read, “Don’t just read about prophecy when you can be part of it.”

Not a Problem with Judaism … Or Christianity

Most Americans confuse Zionism and Judaism.

But many devout Jews are against Zionism, and Zionists can be Christian.

Those who say that criticizing Zionism is anti-semitic are misleading people for their own ulterior motives which have nothing to do with ensuring the safety of the Jewish people.

Israeli Zionists are no more true to the cultural heritage of the Jewish people than Christian Zionists are.

Atheist War Hawks Manipulate Believers to Beat the Drums of War

Leo Strauss is the father of the Neo-Conservative movement, including many leaders of the current administration.

Indeed, many of the main neocon players – including Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Stephen Cambone, Elliot Abrams, and Adam Shulsky – were students of Strauss at the University of Chicago, where he taught for many years.

The people pushing for war against Iran are the same neocons who pushed for war against Iraq. See this and this. (They planned both wars at least 20 years ago.) For example, Shulsky was the director of the Office of Special Plans – the Pentagon unit responsible for selling false intelligence regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass. He is now a member of the equivalent organization targeting Iran: the Iranian Directorate.

Strauss, born in Germany, was an admirer of Nazi philosophers and of Machiavelli. Strauss believed that a stable political order required an external threat and that if an external threat did not exist, one should be manufactured. Specifically, Strauss thought that:

A political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat . . . . Following Machiavelli, he maintained that if no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured

(the quote is by one of Strauss’ main biographers).

Indeed, Stauss used the analogy of Gulliver’s Travels to show what a Neocon-run society would look like:

“When Lilliput [the town] was on fire, Gulliver urinated over the city, including the palace. In so doing, he saved all of Lilliput from catastrophe, but the Lilliputians were outraged and appalled by such a show of disrespect.” (this quote also from the same biographer)

Moreover, Strauss said:

Only a great fool would call the new political science diabolic . . . Nevertheless one may say of it that it fiddles while Rome burns. It is excused by two facts: it does not know that it fiddles, and it does not know that Rome burns.

So Strauss seems to have advocated governments letting terrorizing catastrophes happen on one’s own soil to one’s own people — of “pissing” on one’s own people, to use his Gulliver’s travel analogy. And he advocates that government’s should pretend that they did not know about such acts of mayhem: to intentionally “not know” that Rome is burning. He advocates messing with one’s own people in order to save them from some “catastophe” (perhaps to justify military efforts to monopolize middle eastern oil to keep it away from our real threat — an increasingly-powerful China?).

What does this have to do with religion?

Strauss taught that religion should be used as a way to manipulate people to achieve the aims of the leaders. But that the leaders themselves need not believe in religion.

As Wikipedia notes:

In the late 1990s Irving Kristol and other writers in neoconservative magazines began touting anti-Darwinist views, in support of intelligent design. Since these neoconservatives were largely of secular backgrounds, a few commentators have speculated that this – along with support for religion generally – may have been a case of a “noble lie”, intended to protect public morality, or even tactical politics, to attract religious supporters.

So is it any surprise that the folks who planned war against Iraq and Iran at least 20 years ago are pushing religious disinformation to stir up the evangelical community?

I’ve recently seen a swarm of spam claiming that all Muslims are evil, that they want to take over the world and establish a Muslim caliphate, and that they want to nuke Iran. They misquote Muslims and use false statements to try to stir up religious hatred.

They are simply promoting the Straussian playbook: stir up religious sentiment – even if you are personally an atheist – to create and demonize an “enemy”, so as to promote war …

Postscript 1: While there are certainly some Arab terrorists, Islam cannot be blamed for their barbaric murderous actions, just as Christianity cannot be blamed for the Norwegian Christian terrorist – Anders Behring Breivik’s – actions.

University of Chicago professor Robert A. Pape – who specializes in international security affairs – points out:

Extensive research into the causes of suicide terrorism proves Islam isn’t to blame — the root of the problem is foreign military occupations.

And the 9/11 hijackers used cocaine and drank alcohol, slept with prostitutes and attended strip clubs … but they did not worship at any mosque. See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this.

Postscript 2: Neoliberals and Neoconservatives are very similar in many ways. And because Neocons are not conservative, nothing in this post is meant to criticize conservatism.

Postscript 3: Most evangelicals are not dispensionalists, and so do not want to bring on armageddon.

Original post on Washington’s Blog

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Father Roy writes:   Jim covers a lot of ground in his latest Wallwriting.  In this essay, after speaking to the subjects in his headline, he brings us up-to-date on the Plight of the Presbyterian and the Methodist Churches as they seek to do God’s bidding at their upcoming national conferences (this Spring, next Summer).  The Methodists and the Presbyterians are taking stands on the Holy Land issues, and they’ve come under attack by The Swarm.   Not to worry, Peers.  Enlightened Christians, True Muslims and Righteous Jews are spearheading an on-line campaign which will neutralize the efficacy of the Swarm once and for all.  We’re “outsmarting” these folks.  We’ve learned that there’s POWER in the truth.  Nobody likes gossips and slanderers.  Please read on.  Some of you may not have read Rachel’s Letters (e-mails).   Peace, Roy

Which Matters Most, AIPAC’s Power, or Rachel Corrie’s Death?

26Feb12

by James M. Wall

Two events arrive next month on the American political calendar: The annual AIPAC Policy Conference, and the anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death.

These two events are related the way yin relates to yang, a concept from Asian philosophy which “is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn”. (Wikipedia)

I have referenced this connection before, and it continues to resonate, for me, in the complex interconnection of contrasting approaches to political action.

Rachel Corrie was killed March 16, 2003,  by an Israeli soldier who drove an American-built Caterpillar bulldozer over her. When she died, Rachel, a 23-year old American from Olympia, Washington, was wearing a clearly visible orange vest. She was shouting at the driver through a bull horn, asking him  to stop.

She was crushed to death by the bulldozer. Mother Jones reported what happened next:

The Israeli government, which rarely acknowledges the deaths of Palestinian civilians killed during its military operations, went into damage-control mode. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised President Bush a “thorough, credible, and transparent investigation.” Later Israel declared the killing a “regrettable accident” and blamed it on overzealous Corrie and the other activists working as human shields.

Subsequent calls for Congress to investigate Rachel Corrie’s death were ignored. A civil lawsuit brought by her family against the Israeli military, has been in Israeli courts since March 15, 2005. A final verdict on the suit is expected this spring.

Before this year’s ninth anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC, will hold its annual Policy Conference, March 4-6, 2012, in Washington, DC. These two events recur every year.

The annual gathering of AIPAC receives considerable media attention, while the anniversary of the death of  a young American working for peace through a non-violent protest, registers hardly a blip.

The difference is easily explained. AIPAC is the power center lobby engine that drives American foreign policy. It reaches, rewards, and where needed, threatens, members of the US power elite.

This year AIPAC has Iran on its mind, prompted, of course, by Israel’s obsession over Iran. Enabling that obsession, Senate leaders sprang into action. Atlantic blogger Robert Wright writes:

Late last week, amid little fanfare, Senators Joseph Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and Robert Casey introduced a resolution that would move America further down the path toward war with Iran. The good news is that the resolution hasn’t been universally embraced in the Senate.

As Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, the resolution has “provoked jitters among Democrats anxious over the specter of war.”

The bad news is that, as Kampeas also reports, “AIPAC is expected to make the resolution an ‘ask’ in three weeks when up to 10,000 activists culminate its annual conference with a day of Capitol Hill lobbying.”

Israeli leaders Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israeli President Shimon Peres will attend this year’s AIPAC gathering. They are also expected to speak.

The partial list of the American power elite invited by AIPAC to speak during its March 4-6 conference, includes President Barack Obama.

From the US Congress, invited speakers include Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

Senator Levin, a Democrat, is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services; Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Independent who votes with the Democrats,  is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Senator Johnny Isakson, is a Republican from Georgia.

Among media notables invited to speak are CNN contributor and former advisor to President Bill Clinton, Paul Begala, Democratic Party strategist Donna Brazile, Fox News contributor Liz Cheney, and Jane Harman, former member of Congress, from California, now President of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Cheney is the daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney. Harman, since the death of her husband, is an owner of Newsweek magazine. She is a longtime AIPAC loyalist.

From a political power standpoint, that is a lot of fire power. Which brings us to the question, which matters most, AIPAC’s political power or Rachel Corrie’s witness for peace?

Two Protestant denominations will soon face that question in a most pragmatic and public fashion. The United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church, USA, will hold national decision-making meetings, starting in April and June.

At those meetings, delegates representing United Methodists and Presbyterians will be asked to instruct their leadership to divest or not divest their denominational funds from corporations that are currently supporting Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian population.

It is times like this, for these two church bodies, when the rubber really hits the road. To be specific,  decision time for AIPAC or for Rachel Corrie, will come for United Methodist General Conference delegates, between April 24 and May 4, in Tampa, Florida, and for the Presbyterian Church, USA, General Assembly delegates, in Pittsburg, PA, from June 30 to July 7.

The 2012 United Methodist conference was originally scheduled for Richmond, Virginia, until it was discovered that Richmond violated a United Methodist church policy “regarding meeting in cities that are home to professional sports teams with Native American names”.

According to the United Methodist press office:

At the time of the initial selection, commission members were unaware that Richmond is home to the Richmond Braves, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Atlanta Braves.

These United Methodists have their standards, which they adhere to closely, John Wesley would expect no less.  This could portend something about how they will vote between April 25 and May 4, depending, perhaps, on whether they go with their yin or their yang.

The Presbyterian Church USA, General Assembly in Pittsburg, PA, will consider resolutions on divestment from corporations involved in Israel’s occupation.

Like the United Methodists, the Presbyterians will target three specific corporations, Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard.

The Presbyterians will be asked to vote for or against a resolution instructing the denomination to stop investing in the three companies ”until they have ceased profiting from non-peaceful activities in Israel-Palestine.”

In their two national assemblies, United Methodists and Presbyterians will choose between the way of AIPAC , and the way of Rachel Corrie.

When the Presbyterians meet in their General Assembly, they will have as a biblical theme for their deliberations, Isaiah 40:31 (NIV):

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

In the name of all that John Wesley and John Calvin held to be holy and sacred, why is the choice between AIPAC and Rachel Corrie so difficult to make?

The picture above, of Rachel Corrie, is taken from a poster produced and distributed by If Americans Knew, a program and web site, developed and directed by Allison Weir. Copies of the posters and other material related to Rachel Corrie, may be ordered from this site.

Original Post on ‘Wallwritings’: Which Matters Most, AIPAC’s Power, or Rachel Corrie’s Death?

 

 

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Father Roy writes: It appears that the situation in the Holy Land is causing a political storm in Malaysia, too.  Israel’s Foreign Minister. Ehud Barak, is over there doing damage control.   Peace, Roy

Original post in Haaretz

Ehud Barak at the center of political storm in run up to Malaysian elections

An exchange of letters between Ehud Barak, when he was Israel’s prime minister, and his Malaysian counterpart in the 1990s, is causing quite a stir in the Muslim nation.

Last week Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited the air show in Singapore, Israel greatest ally in south-east Asia. Barak did not know that at a distance of only some tens of kilometers from there, in neighboring Malaysia, his name was the subject of a mutual mudslinging battle between the opposition and the ruling coalition in the run-up to elections in the Muslim state.

In the political battlefield stands an exchange of letters between the then Prime Minister Barak at the end of the 1990s, and Mahathir Mohamad, who was Prime Minister of Malaysa at the time. The existence of the letters themselves was a secret, although they were revealed recently by the leader of the opposition in Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim.

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Ehud Barak.
Photo by: Moti Milrod

Ibrahaim revealed the existence of the letters as part of his attempt to defend himself against attacks by the ruling party, that claimed that he supports normalization of ties with Israel and denies the rights of the Palestinians. Ibrahim, who announced that if he was elected as prime minister he would lead dramatic reform in the state, was asked in a “Wall Street Journal” interview when he would establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

Some refuse to recognize the state of Israel,” he said, “but I think our policy should be clear – protect the security [of Israel] but you must be as firm in protecting the legitimate interests of the Palestinians.”

Sources in the ruling party rushed to attack Ibrahim, claiming that he was giving up on Malaysian principles when he agreed to recognize Israel. Ibrahim claimed, in his defense, that he supports a two-state solution in accordance with UN decisions, but that he would not establish diplomatic relations with Israel, until Israel truly supports the ambitions of the Palestinian people.

The spiritual leader of the opposition party, Nik Abdul Aziz invited Ibrahim for a talk to clarify the issue. At the end of the talk, he announced that the party will never recognize Israel.

“It is forbidden to accept the existence of Israel, all the more when the Israeli authorities engage in the endless torture and killing of the Palestinian people, including children, women and the elderly,” said the spiritual leader.

Following the political storm, Anwar Ibrahim came out with a counter-attack, claiming that the ruling party in Malaysia is the one that is normalizing relations with Israel. According to him, the current administration has trade ties with Israel and allowed to cargo ships owned by the Israeli shipping company “Zim” to dock in the country on February 16.

Ibrahim even revealed that the former head of the ruling party Mahathir Mohamad engaged in an exchange of letters with Ehud Barak, when the two of them served as Prime Ministers of their respective countries at the end of the 1990s. In response, Mohamad confirmed that he did send the letter to Ehud Barak, but claimed that it expressed Malaysia’s refusal to recognize Israel.

“Barak was the one to initiate the first correspondence in order to establish Malaysia’s stand toward the Israel-Palestine conflict,” Mohamad said.

“I responded saying that Malaysia will not have any ties with them (Israel) for as long as they refused to acknowledge the rights of the Palestinians.”

Mohamad, who today stands at the head of a non-governmental organization that is involved, amongst other things, in organizing flotillas to the Gaza Strip, approached the incumbent Prime Minister, Najib Razak, asking to publish the letters in order to prove that he did not concede anything to Ehud Barak.

At first, the Prime Minister disapproved of publishing the letters, but in the face of the mounting political pressure, he announced on Sunday that Barak’s letter to Mohamad, and his letter in response, will be published on Monday, or Tuesday.

“This will enable the people to understand the reason why Dr. Mahathir Mohamad wrote the letter was to champion the Palestinian struggle to establish a sovereign nation,” the prime minister said.

Razak said the letter showed Mahathir Mohamad’s concern in the West Asia peace process, and that its content was in line with the government’s policy then and now.

He said the issue had been manipulated by the opposition to raise suspicions over the government’s position, in order to divert the people’s attention from the opposition leader’s assertion of his support for Israel.

I approached Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and asked him if he remembers the correspondence with Malaysia’s Prime Minister at the end of the 1990s. Barak was not aware of the current political scandal in Malaysia, but he did remember the letters.

“In Barak’s letter there was praise for the Malaysian people and for the Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad over his courage in the international arena,” one of Barak’s advisors told me.

“Mahathir wrote in response that he hoped that the Israeli leadership would have the courage to take the corresponding steps in order to achieve peace with the Palestinians. The content of the letters was general and there was nothing there that could embarrass Mahathir.”

Original post in Haaretz

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Father Dave writes: It is deeply encouraging to hear divergent Jewish voices sounding from the US, and practical actions like the alternative tours organised by J Street can only help to bring greater clarity to the members of Congress who keep the Palestinian Occupation in place.

U.S. congresswomen see Israel, Palestinians in the eyes of J Street

By Linda Gradstein · February 27, 2012

Source: JTA: The Global News Service of the Jewish People

KALANDIYA, West Bank (JTA) — The U.S. congresswomen get off the bus and stand in the chilly shadows of the Kalandiya crossing point between the West Bank and Jerusalem.

It’s late morning, well past the rush hour when thousands of Palestinians congregate here, and only a few dozen Palestinians stand in line. To cross, the Palestinians go through a series of metal turnstiles and wait with their documents until they are called, one by one, to approach the Israeli soldiers sitting behind bullet-proof barriers.

One Palestinian man strikes up a conversation.

“I have American citizenship but I am not allowed to travel through Ben Gurion Airport because I have a Palestinian ID card,” Hamad Hindi of Louisiana tells the congresswomen. “We are seen as guilty of something because we are Palestinian.”

After crossing to the Palestinian side, the congresswomen — part of a trip to Israel and the West Bank organized by the J Street Education Fund — head to Ramallah.

“This is a ticking bomb waiting to go off,” says Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) “There must be some other way to do this. After so many years there should be some resolution for this issue.”

The congresswomen clearly are moved by their experience at the checkpoint, and that’s the point.

J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group that heralds itself as a left-wing alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is trying to present an alternative to the usual pro-Israel fare on congressional missions to Israel. The trip last week included six U.S. congresswomen and a group of women from the Women Donors Network, a coalition of women involved in progressive and social causes.

A spokeswoman for J Street, Jessica Rosenblum, said the trip was part of the organization’s overall effort to promote a two-state solution.

“Our hope is that this and future delegations will help to open up and deepen the conversation in Congress about American policy in the Middle East,” Rosenblum told JTA. “In particular,” she said, the trips are meant to “encourage participating members to convey to their colleagues the urgency of the situation and the need for sustained and vigorous American engagement to reach a two-state solution.”

Over six days, the delegation met Israelis and Palestinians, both leaders and “ordinary women.”

Among the Palestinian business leaders the group met in Ramallah was Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American entrepreneur who says he has had difficulty acquiring an Israeli residency permit.

“I really appreciate what J Street is doing — it’s a breath of fresh air that there is not one line of thought in the American Jewish community,” he told the delegation. “We are at a fork in the road. Either there will be a two-state solution or it will be too late.”

On the way to the Kalandiya checkpoint, two women from Machsom Watch, an Israeli organization that monitors Israeli soldiers at checkpoints, spoke to the group.

“We believe occupation is ruining our society and threatening our democracy and future existence,” said Neta Efrony, director of a 2008 documentary about the Kalandiya checkpoint. “We need your help and to hear your voice. Israelis don’t want to hear and don’t want to know what is happening.”

If the delegation members’ reactions were any gauge, J Street’s strategy shows promise.

“There’s no awareness of this in the U.S.,” Donna Hall, the president and CEO of the Women Donors Network, said in reference to difficulties faced by Palestinians. “The congresswomen are so brave to be here, especially in an election year.”

The congresswomen also heard from Palestinian businesswomen and female hedge fund managers who described ways to empower Palestinian women in business.

“To see people who are building and hopeful and looking forward to the future is so important,” said Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) “We are already figuring out how to change the dynamics of U.S. policy in the region.”

A single mother living on welfare, Moore began her public career as a community organizer and today is also the Democratic chairwoman of the Congressional Women’s Caucus.

The J Street trip also included visits with Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

From Ramallah, the group drove to Shiloh, a Jewish town in the heart of the West Bank halfway between Ramallah and Nablus that because of its location likely would not be incorporated into Israel in any two-state settlement.

A group of Jewish women from several area settlements met with the congresswomen and told them they have no intention of leaving their homes.

“I’m holding the Bible; Shiloh was our first capital before Jerusalem and it has layers and layers of history,” Tzofiah Dorot, the director of Ancient Shiloh, told the women. “This is the heart of Israel and I don’t see a future for the state if you take the heart out.”

All of the women said they were sure that their settlements would remain part of Israel.

“This is our homeland, the homeland of the Jewish nation — period,” Tamar Aslaf told the delegation. “A Palestinian who lives here is welcome to stay. It’s his home but it’s our homeland.”

Several of the settlers described a scenario in which Palestinians could stay in their homes but not receive national or voting rights. That drew a sharp reply from the congresswomen, five of whom are African Americans.

“Some people would call that apartheid,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), the only white congresswomen on the trip.

“It’s easy to sit in your comfortable house and decide what is good for the Jews,” Dorot responded. “I’m begging you to see that we’re not pieces of Lego you can move around. This is life and death. We all need to think out of the box. I’m asking you to forget about the two- state solution.”

Several members of the delegation said the trip gave them a more sophisticated understanding of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv it’s so easy not to see much of what we saw,” said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.). “But what does it mean for democracy when you are willing to sacrifice so much in the name of security?”

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See further the ePalestine Blog of Sam Bahour: www.epalestine.com…