“Saying ‘We invented the cellphone and have a great record on gays’ doesn’t explain Jewish rights to live in Hebron”

February 15, 2017

As I have pointed out before, this iconic photo was staged, but it is still being widely used as if it were not staged, giving a somewhat skewed impression of attitudes on the ground.

 

MORE PEACEFUL RELATIONS: PREFERABLE THAN TWO STATES THAT GO TO WAR

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach five articles published in advance of the meeting today between U.S. President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. (Three of the pieces are by liberal-left writers, and two by more conservative ones.)

White House sources revealed that Trump will not use the term “two states” during his meeting today, and instead Trump will focus on a regional peace initiative that would bring peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors and not automatically assume two states is the way to achieve the most peaceful outcome.

A White House official added that a two-state solution that doesn’t achieve peace is “unwanted”. The goal is to achieve peace, whether through the two-state solution or otherwise, the official said.

Regarding the fourth piece below, from The New York Times (titled “Trump’s Shift to ‘Outside-In’ Strategy for Mideast Peace Is a Long Shot”) the Associated Press’s astute Diplomatic Correspondent Matt Lee tweeted out its headline saying:

“Hmm. Maybe not, but the record of the ‘peace process professionals’ over the last 17 years ain’t so hot either... https://t.co/1pXwbN5nlY”

https://twitter.com/APDiploWriter/status/830874952001847296

***

(Once again, I don’t necessarily agree with all of the points in these pieces.)

 

CONTENTS

1. “A Step Toward Mideast Peace: Tell the Truth” (By Max Singer, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 14, 2017)
2. “U.S. Official: Trump Wants Israeli-Palestinian Peace, but Not Necessarily Through Two-state Solution” (By Barak Ravid, Haaretz, Feb. 14, 2017)
3. “A Settler’s View of Israel’s Future” (By Yishai Fleisher, NY Times, Feb. 14, 2017)
4. “Trump’s Shift to ‘Outside-In’ Strategy for Mideast Peace Is a Long Shot” (By Ian Fisher and Ben Hubbard, NY Times, Feb. 14, 2017)
5. “Boycotting Ivanka and Israel Is Equally Indefensible” (By David Rosenberg, Haaretz, February 15, 2017)

 

ARTICLES

ENOUGH PC: TIME TO TELL THE TRUTH

A Step Toward Mideast Peace: Tell the Truth
Netanyahu’s Washington visit is an opportunity to debunk pernicious falsehoods about Israel.
By Max Singer
Wall Street Journal
Feb. 14, 2017

Donald Trump ran for president pledging to throw off political correctness and tell bold truths. That’s something to keep in mind this week. On Wednesday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit the White House. Thursday will bring Senate confirmation hearings for David Friedman, Mr. Trump’s nominee for ambassador to the Jewish state. Both events offer an opportunity for the fearless truth-telling that Mr. Trump promised.

The U.S. has long favored Israel, even during the relative chill of the Obama administration. Washington has nevertheless parroted or passively accepted the conventional falsehoods about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Mr. Trump wants to advance the possibility of peace, he should begin by challenging the five big untruths that sustain the anti-Israel consensus:

• Israel occupies “Palestinian territory.” This is nonsensical: There never has been a Palestinian government that could hold any territory, meaning Israel could not have taken “Palestinian land.” Quite possibly large parts of the West Bank should become Palestinian territory, but that is a different claim.

The Trump administration should always describe the West Bank as “disputed” land and speak against the phrase “Palestinian territory” – except when used in the future tense. It should also recognize that Israel came to the territory it holds not only during a defensive war but also through historical and legal claims, including the 1922 League of Nations mandate to establish a Jewish homeland.

• Millions of Palestinian “refugees” have a “right of return” to Israel. The standard international view is that Israel has prevented five million Palestinians, many living in “refugee camps,” from returning to their homes. But practically none of these people are refugees as normally defined; rather they are the descendants of refugees. The Arab world has kept them in misery for three generations to preserve their plight as a weapon against Israel.

The U.S. has failed to challenge this false narrative. It is the principal financial supporter of Unrwa – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – whose sole purpose is to provide for the basic needs of these perpetual “refugees.”

Privately, American diplomats understand that the normal description of Palestinian “refugees” is a fraud and that these descendants have no legal “right of return.” A first step to peace, then, would be to end the charade and begin to dismantle Unrwa. The Trump administration might also mention the estimated 800,000 Jewish refugees who, in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, were thrown out of the Arab countries where they had been living for millennia. Most of them settled in an impoverished, newborn Israel without international assistance.

• Israelis and Palestinians have comparable claims to Jerusalem. This is the best example of the false “evenhandedness” that has long characterized American policy – saying, for instance, that “Jerusalem is sacred to both religions.” Although the city’s Al Aqsa mosque is significant in Islam, Jerusalem itself has essentially no religious importance. It is not mentioned in the Quran or in Muslim prayers. It was never the capital of any Islamic empire.

Peace requires recognizing three things: that Jerusalem must remain the capital of Israel; that the city’s religious sites must be protected and free, as they have been only under the Jewish state; and that any provision for a Palestinian capital must not threaten the city’s peaceful unity. A bold truth-teller would also move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, despite the threats of a violent response, and would allow the passports of American citizens born in the capital to record that they were born in Israel.

• There was no ancient Jewish presence in Israel. Palestinian leaders insist that this is true, and that the historical Jewish temples were not actually located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This feeds their claim that the Jews came to Israel as foreign colonialists imposed by the Europeans after the Holocaust.

This falsehood can be sustained only because it is politely tolerated by the U.S. and Europe – and sometimes supported by U.N. agencies like Unesco. It works against the possibility of peace by denying the Palestinians a moral basis for negotiating with Israel. The Trump administration should contradict these absurd denials of history so often that Palestinian leaders begin to look foolish to their own people.

• The Palestinians are ready to accept a “two-state solution” to end the conflict. The U.S. has a tendency to assume that Palestinian leaders are ready to accept Israel if suitable concessions are offered. The Trump administration ought to ask: What is the evidence for this? When did the Palestinians give up their long-term commitment to destroy Israel, and which leaders backed such a dramatic change? Undoubtedly, many Palestinians are willing and even eager for peace. Yet it is still taboo in Palestinian debate to publicly suggest accepting Israel’s legitimacy or renouncing the claims of the “refugees.”

Washington is practiced at superficial evenhandedness, always issuing parallel-seeming statements about both sides. What the Trump administration can bring is genuine evenhandedness: respecting each side’s truths and rejecting each side’s falsehoods, even when this leads to a position that seems “unbalanced.”

Israel, too, should move toward a strategy of truth-telling and stop appeasing the false international consensus. It ought to make its case defiantly to the world. Israel can be ready and willing to make concessions for peace without pretending that today there are any terms on which the Palestinians are willing to agree. The Israelis should continue to help the Palestinian economy but not refrain from publicizing the ways that Palestinians sabotage the effort and undermine their own welfare.

Even in a conflict as fraught as this one, there remain underlying truths – and American policy in the Middle East will benefit from telling more of them.

 

U.S. OFFICIAL: TRUMP WANTS ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE, BUT NOT NECESSARILY THROUGH TWO-STATE SOLUTION

U.S. Official: Trump Wants Israeli-Palestinian Peace, but Not Necessarily Through Two-state Solution
Term ‘two-state solution’ isn’t well defined, official says, U.S. won’t force it on sides: ‘We’re not going to dictate what the terms of peace will be.’
By Barak Ravid
Haaretz
Feb. 14, 2017

WASHINGTON - Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is high on the agenda of U.S. President Donald Trump, but whether or not that will entail the two-state solution depends on the two sides, a senior U.S. administration official told reporters in Washington on Tuesday, a day before a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. president.

“It’s not for us to impose that vision,” the official said, adding that the term “two-state solution” has not been particularly well defined.

“If I ask five people what a two-state solution is, I get eight different answers,” the officials said. “We’re looking at the two sides to come together to make peace together and we’ll be there to help them.”

The official added that a two-state solution that doesn’t achieve peace is unwanted. The goal is to achieve peace, whether through the two-state solution – if that’s what both sides wish – or through another solution, the official said. “If that’s what the parties want, we’re going to help them,” he said, adding: “We’re not going to dictate what the terms of peace will be.”

The official added that Trump is interested in organizing a bilateral meeting between Israel and the Palestinians, and that advancing the peace process is high on his agenda.

Two days before he landed in Washington, Netanyahu told his ministers that Trump is serious about the peace process. An official with knowledge of the cabinet meeting said that Netanyahu told the ministers that Trump asked him in a phone conversation two days after his inauguration if and how he intends to advance the peace process with the Palestinians. Netanyahu said that he told Trump that he supports the two-state solution and a final status agreement, but stressed that he told the president that the Palestinians are unwilling and detailed the reasons why a peace deal cannot be reached at this time.

“They (the Palestinians) will want, they will make concessions,” was Trump’s response, Netanyahu told the ministers, the official said.

Netanyahu revealed the details of his phone call with Trump after Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked pressed him to urge the U.S. president to take the two-state solution off the table.

The senior official said that Netanyahu replied that he doesn’t believe that was possible, noting the American president’s stances and temperament. “Trump believes in a deal and in running peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” Netanyahu stressed. “We should be careful and not do things that will cause everything to break down. We mustn’t get into a confrontation with him.”

Netanyahu landed in Washington Tuesday morning, straight into an unprecedented internal crisis in the White House following the resignation of Trump’s national security adviser, Mike Flynn. Flynn was a central figure in preparing for the meeting between Trump and Netanyahu and a crucial figure in forming American policy toward Iran.

It is still unclear how Flynn’s resignation will affect the meeting, but in light of the pivotal role he had in preparing for the summit and the White House’s need to find a solution to the crisis it produced, the resignation is certainly liable to cast a shadow over the meeting.

On Tuesday Netanyahu and his advisers concentrated on preparing for the summit. Some of the preparatory discussions were held Tuesday night at the Israeli embassy in Washington, and not at Blair House, mainly due to fear of wiretapping.

Netanyahu will try to reach the closest possible coordination with the Americans regarding settlement construction and how to proceed in negotiations with the Palestinians. Already on Sunday he dispatched his special envoy, Yitzhak Molho, for discussions with Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is expected to be involved in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and Tillerson, who is also expected to play a major part on this front.

According to Israeli officials, Netanyahu hopes Trump will support a regional peace initiative in which the Palestinians will be only one part of a wider arrangement. Obama did not support such a move because he did not trust Netanyahu.

 

“‘WE INVENTED THE CELLPHONE’ DOESN’T EXPLAIN JEWISH RIGHTS”

A Settler’s View of Israel’s Future
By Yishai Fleisher
New York Times (opinion)
Feb. 14, 2017

HEBRON, West Bank – Last week, Israel’s Parliament passed a controversial bill that allows the government to retroactively authorize contested West Bank Jewish communities by compensating previous Palestinian land claimants. Opposition parties warn that this law could open Israel to prosecution at The Hague, and the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said, “Israel’s Parliament has just approved a law to legalize theft of Palestinian land.” This theme has been echoed recently at the Paris peace conference, in a United Nations Security Council resolution and by a major policy speech by then Secretary of State John Kerry, which all condemned settlements.

Israel never seems to have a good answer to accusations against the settlement enterprise. Whenever the claim that Israel stole Palestinian lands is heard, Israel’s answers inevitably are: “We invented the cellphone,” “We have gay rights,” “We fly to help Haiti after an earthquake.” Obvious obfuscation. And when pushed to explain why the much-promised two-state solution is perennially stuck, the response is always to blame Arab obstructionism.

This inability to give a straight answer is a result of 30 years of bad policy that has pressed Israel to create a Palestinian state in the historic Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria, which the world calls the West Bank. This policy has worked to legitimize the idea that the territory of Judea and Samaria is Arab land and that Israel is an intractable occupier. Today, as Israel is beginning to walk back the two-state solution, it is not easy to admit we were wrong; and many people’s careers are on the line. This is why Israel mouths the old party line, yet takes no steps toward making a Palestinian state a reality.

But for us settlers, the truth is clear: The two-state solution was misconceived, and will never come to pass, because Judea and Samaria belong to the Jewish people. Our right to this land is derived from our history, religion, international decisions and defensive wars. Jews have lived here for 3,700 years, despite repeated massacres, expulsions and occupations – by the Romans, Arabs, Crusaders and Ottomans. And the world recognized the Jewish people’s indigenous existence in this land in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the San Remo Accords of 1920.

When Israel declared independence in 1948, Jordan, along with five other Arab states, attacked Israel, occupied Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, and drove out Jewish residents. Again, in 1967, Jordan attempted to wipe out the Jewish State, but this time, Israel forced the Jordanian army back across the Jordan River. While the government of Israel was ambivalent about whether to retain the newly emancipated areas, the settler movement was not. We set about holding and developing the land, just like the pioneers of the Kibbutz movement.

Today, the estimated number of Arabs living in Judea and Samaria is 2.7 million, though some researchers dispute the data and argue that the figure is far lower. Yet the presence of these Arab residents alone does not warrant a new country. Arabs can live in Israel, as other minorities do, with personal rights, not national rights. But many Arabs reject that option because they do not recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish State, with or without settlements.

This pervasive intolerance was laid bare in the aftermath of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, when Hamas seized control in 2007 and turned the territory into a forward base for jihad, starting three wars in seven years. As a result, most Israelis, however pragmatic, no longer believe in a policy of forfeiting land in hopes of getting peace in return. While a Hamas-controlled Gaza is now a reality, no Israeli wants an Islamic State of Palestine looking down at them from the strategic heights of Judea and Samaria.

Therefore, most settlers say without ambivalence that the two-state solution is dead, and the time has come for a discussion of new options by which Israel would hold onto the West Bank and eventually assert Israel sovereignty there, just as we did with the Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem. Yes, Israel will have to grapple with questions of the Arab population’s rights, and the issues of the country’s security and Jewish character, but we believe those questions can be worked out through the democratic process. At least five credible plans are on the table already.

The first option, proposed by former members of Israel’s Parliament Aryeh Eldad and Benny Alon, is known as “Jordan is Palestine,” a fair name given that Jordan’s population is generally reckoned to be majority Palestinian. Under their plan, Israel would assert Israeli law in Judea and Samaria while Arabs living there would have Israeli residency and Jordanian citizenship. Those Arabs would exercise their democratic rights in Jordan, but live as expats with civil rights in Israel.

A second alternative, suggested by Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, proposes annexation of only Area C – the territory in the West Bank as defined by the Oslo Accords (about 60 percent by area), where a majority of the 400,000 settlers live – while offering Israeli citizenship to the relatively few Arabs there. But Arabs living in Areas A and B – the main Palestinian population centers – would have self-rule.

A third option, which dovetails with Mr. Bennett’s, is promoted by Prof. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University, near Tel Aviv. His premise is that the most stable Arab entity in the Middle East is the Gulf Emirates, which are based on a consolidated traditional group or tribe. The Palestinian Arabs are not a cohesive nation, he argues, but are comprised of separate city-based clans. So he proposes Palestinian autonomy for seven non-contiguous emirates in major Arab cities, as well as Gaza, which he considers already an emirate. Israel would annex the rest of the West Bank and offer Israeli citizenship to Arab villagers outside those cities.

The fourth proposal is the most straightforward. Caroline Glick, a Jerusalem Post journalist, wrote in her 2014 book, “The Israeli Solution: A One State Plan for Peace in the Middle East,” that, contrary to prevailing opinion, Jews are not in danger of losing a demographic majority in an Israel that includes Judea and Samaria. New demographic research shows that thanks to falling Palestinian birth rates and emigration, combined with opposite trends among Jews, a stable Jewish majority of above 60 percent exists between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean (excluding Gaza); and this is projected to grow to about 70 percent by 2059.

Ms. Glick thus concludes that the Jewish State is secure: Israel should assert Israeli law in the West Bank and offer Israeli citizenship to its entire Arab population without fear of being outvoted. This very week, Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, announced his backing for the idea in principle. “If we extend sovereignty,” he said, “the law must apply equally to all.”

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, similarly advocates for annexation and giving the Palestinians residency rights – with a pathway to citizenship for those who pledge allegiance to the Jewish State. Others prefer an arrangement more like that of Puerto Rico, a United States territory whose residents cannot vote in federal elections. Some Palestinians, like the Jabari clan in Hebron, want Israeli residency and oppose the Palestinian Authority, which they view as illegitimate and corrupt.

Finally, there is a fifth alternative, which comes from the head of the new Zehut party, Moshe Feiglin, and Martin Sherman of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. They do not see a resolution of conflicting national aspirations in one land and instead propose an exchange of populations with Arab countries, which effectively expelled about 800,000 Jews around the time of Israeli independence. In contrast, however, Palestinians in Judea and Samaria would be offered generous compensation to emigrate voluntarily.

None of these options is a panacea. Every formula has some potentially repugnant element or tricky trade-off. But Israeli policy is at last on the move, as the passing of the bill on settlements indicates.

Mr. Kerry’s mantra that “there really is no viable alternative” to the two-state solution is contradicted by its manifest failure. With a new American administration in power, there is a historic opportunity to have an open discussion of real alternatives, unhampered by the shibboleths of the past.

(Yishai Fleisher is the international spokesman of the Jewish community of Hebron.)

 

TRUMP’S SHIFT TO ‘OUTSIDE-IN’ STRATEGY FOR MIDEAST PEACE IS A LONG SHOT

Trump’s Shift to ‘Outside-In’ Strategy for Mideast Peace Is a Long Shot
By Ian Fisher and Ben Hubbard
New York Times
Feb. 14, 2017

HAMAD CITY, Gaza Strip – Wail al-Gatshan, 44, a mechanical engineer, is grateful for his new apartment here in a growing neighborhood in southern Gaza. For just $140 a month, there are separate bedrooms for his three girls and two boys, as well as a guest bathroom.

The complex is being built by Qatar, the oil-rich Persian Gulf state that has stepped in repeatedly in recent years to help isolated, war-racked Gazans. But there are limits to Mr. Gatshan’s thankfulness.

“As a Palestinian, I would not support Qatar if they said they wanted a two-state solution,” he said. “I want my human rights. My rights are to live without any limits or restrictions and without occupiers.”

When President Trump meets Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Washington on Wednesday, they are likely to discuss the role Arab states like Qatar could play in securing a two-state solution, under which Israel and an independent Palestinian state would live side-by-side in peace.

The Trump administration plans to move away from a so-called inside-out strategy, in which a deal between Israel and the Palestinians would pave the way for normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries.

Instead, the new approach would be “outside-in,” meaning that Israel would first pursue agreements with Arab countries to help solve the conflict with the Palestinians.

Such an approach has been tried before, without success, because of deep and nearly universal Arab opposition to Israel. And the realities on the ground make the likelihood of success seem more remote than ever.

The Palestinians remain sharply divided: the Palestinian Authority, backed by the United States and European powers, governs parts of the West Bank, while Hamas, a militant Islamist movement committed to Israel’s destruction, rules the coastal Gaza Strip.
Israel’s government has moved steadily to the right, expanding settlements on land that the Palestinians and much of the rest of the world say should be part of a future Palestinian state.

Given those realities, there is little that Arab countries can do to break the deadlock, especially at a time when uprisings and wars have left them focused on domestic affairs, said Oraib al-Rantawi, the director of the Quds Center for Political Studies in Jordan.
“What can Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia do?” he said. “In the end, the occupation has to end or you will have no end to the conflict.”

Historically, sympathy for the Palestinians and their quest for statehood was one of few unifying causes across the Arab world. Arab armies came together to wage wars against the Jewish state, and many governments later provided financial and military aid to armed Palestinian factions.

Even after the Oslo peace accords of 1993 led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, most Arab countries rejected formal relations with Israel on principle, considering it a usurper of Arab land. Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties with Israel, but Israel remains unpopular with their citizens.

But the prominence of the Palestinian issue in the Arab consciousness has waned in recent years, as the Arab state system has weakened because of popular uprisings and civil conflicts.

Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Persian Gulf are bogged down in a war against Houthi rebels in Yemen and are increasingly worried about Iran’s influence – a strategic concern they share with Israel.

Syria and Iraq, longtime enemies of Israel, have been locked in lengthy wars that have drained their governments’ resources and given them little time to focus on issues beyond their borders.

Egypt, too, has turned inward, as its economy has worsened and a jihadist insurgency has taken root on the Sinai Peninsula.

“Care is there, but attention is not,” Mahmoud Yehia, an Egyptian lawmaker, said of the Palestinian cause. “People are dealing with all these new internal issues now, and they have been struggling economically for years and years before that.”

Supporters of the outside-in approach say that the merging of interests between Israel and Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt could provide an opening.

But on-the-ground opposition in Arab countries would make it hard for even committed leadership to push toward a deal with Israel.

Last year, a survey of attitudes across the Middle East by Zogby Research Services found that 41 percent of respondents in Egypt and 39 percent in Saudi Arabia considered the Israeli occupation “the greatest obstacle to regional peace,” surpassing any other issue.
So while Saudi and Egyptian leaders may collaborate with Israel privately on issues of shared interest, doing so publicly could incite a blowback from their populations.

For many Arabs, the sheer number of crises in the region leaves little energy left for the Palestinians.

“There is also a growing realization among people that the region is now very chaotic,” said H. A. Hellyer, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a research organization based in Washington. That causes “a sense of helplessness” toward the Palestinian issue.

The divisions among Palestinians also undermine support for their cause.
“Even if they wanted to do something, they don’t know who they should support now,” Mr. Hellyer said.

Many Palestinians have given up altogether on the idea of a two-state solution.

A decade has passed since Palestinian infighting left the West Bank and Gaza under the control of competing administrations with opposing views of how the Palestinians should pursue statehood.

Multiple rounds of talks have gained only limited benefit for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which supports a two-state solution, while Hamas’s dedication to its slogan of “resistance” seems as strong as ever. On Monday, it announced that Yehya Sinwar, a hard-line member of its military wing, had been chosen as its new Gaza leader.

Others felt that too much time had passed to expect that the West Bank and Gaza could again be brought under a single authority.

“It’s impossible to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza,” said Ibrahim Madhoun, a columnist for the Hamas-affiliated newspaper Al Resala. “Now, Gaza is one thing and the West Bank is something else.”

Hamad City, where Mr. Gatshan lives with his family, is home to tidy shops, playgrounds and a mosque that will soon hold 3,000 people. A second wing of roughly 1,400 spacious units has just opened. But the Qatari initiative has risen on a potent symbol of deadlock.

Much of the land once belonged to an Israeli settlement, which was evacuated in 2005. Israel called it a move toward peace. Gazans said there should never have been settlers there in the first place. But Israelis complain bitterly that this showed that pulling back from settlements does not work: Militant groups, including Hamas, fired rockets into Israel. Three wars followed, from which the scars have hardly healed.

Though Hamas has ended the fire in a truce, and largely controlled other groups who try to do so, some Israelis say a new war in Gaza is the only choice.

Israel “cannot be the only country in the world where children cannot walk down the street without worrying that a missile will fall,” Naftali Bennett, a far-right lawmaker and education minister, said on a visit to the fence dividing Gaza and Israel last week. “Our enemies are investing all their resources in developing ways to kill us.”

“Only with a complete victory can we put an end to this cycle,” he said.

 

OPINION BOYCOTTING IVANKA AND ISRAEL IS EQUALLY INDEFENSIBLE

Opinion Boycotting Ivanka and Israel Is Equally Indefensible
The boycotters demonstrate an inflated and highly selective moral sensibility: Nordstrom and other retailers sell far more objectionable items, like fur coats.
By David Rosenberg
Haaretz
February 15, 2017

You may have been blissfully unaware of it, but if you had been flipping through the dress racks at your local Nordstrom department store over the last few months, you were engaged in a highly political and morally offensive act. The same applies if you shop at Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, and Bloomingdale’s or Amazon.

That’s because all of these outlets have, or had been, carrying the Ivanka Trump apparel line.

A boycott campaign under the Twitter banner #GrabYour Wallet has been urging people to not only scorn the first daughter’s line of clothing, but the retailers who carry it. Their argument is that wearing Ivanka is tantamount to supporting Donald and his racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, neoliberal and authoritarian policies.

As quixotic as a campaign like that would appear – after all, adhering to GrabYourWallet’s call would narrow an American’s shopping options to almost zero – it seems to be having an effect. Nordstrom, among other leading U.S. chains, has announced they are dropping all or part of the Ivanka line, or is lowering its profile in their stores.

GUILTY AS CHARGED, OF BEING HIS DAUGHTER

To the many people who are justifiably shocked and horrified that Donald Trump is now ensconced in the White House, a boycott seems like an effective response.

Trump’s election is about more than politics – it’s about what kind of country America is or will be; it’s about competing moral visions – and that’s as good a reason as any to boycott your opponent.

But how far does the moral taint of Donald Trump extend?

Ivanka is certainly guilty of being Trump’s daughter. She plays the role of informal adviser and (as the Trump family is wont to do) has exploited the celebrity that comes with being part of the first family to further her business.

But she has taken no formal role in the administration. She has not spoken in public about her views and is not known to have initiated any policies.

FUR COATS AND ISRAELI PRODUCTS

Then, there’s Nordstrom’s complicity, which is infinitesimal. The Ivanka line reportedly generated $14.3 million in sales for the department store in the most recent full fiscal year, equal to about one-tenth of one percent of the company’s total sales.

If you’re looking for real complicity in wrongdoing, you can be quite confident that Nordstrom carries many products made in China. Beijing is certainly a far bigger offender of human rights than Ivanka Trump can even aspire to be. I’m willing to bet that the store sells products made with child or other exploited labor because in the global supply chain, that is inevitable. Nordstrom sells fur coats. And, hey, BDSers, Nordstrom also carries Israeli products.

The boycott of Ivanka Trump and the stores that sell her clothes is an ugly mixture of inflated (but inevitably highly selective) moral sensibilities, combined with an even more inflated sense of self-importance, that says the world should bend to whatever outrage-of-the-day moves you.

Israel has also been the victim of this style of boycott insanity.

We have done worse things than Ivanka Trump has, although to cut us a little slack, we have been around twice as long than she has, we control an army, which poses more human rights problems than owning a fashion line, and we live in the Middle East, a part of the world that presents more than the average number of moral dilemmas (what’s the right thing to do by Syria?).

But by world standards, Israel is not particularly immoral. For true believers of Israeli wickedness, the thing is to elevate everything Israel does wrong into a heinous crime, and everything it does right into no less of an offense. Thus, we plant forests not to roll back the desert but to cover up the former Palestinian presence; we send rescue crews to disaster areas for PR purposes, unlike the rest of the world, which only sends their teams for purely humanitarian reasons.

Most people can see through this and aren’t going to stop patronizing their favorite store or product. Boycotts rely on lots of noise and fictitious victories to keep it in the public eye and give the appearance of success.

But it’s appearance. More than a decade of BDS activity has seen foreign investment into Israel grow by leaps and bounds, and for every business that may have left Israel (and it’s often unclear that BDS is the reason), dozens more are coming.

The Ivanka boycott is also less of an issue than touted to be. Nordstrom said it dropped the line due to sharply falling sales -- and objective, third-party data back that claim.

The intense media coverage the Ivanka boycott has received in America has scared retailers, who fear the slightest offense to their customers. But the sales drop is probably due to women who don’t want to be associated with the name as a matter of personal choice and self-image, just like a Cubs fan won’t sport a White Sox cap. She’s not boycotting Ivanka or the stores that carry her clothing as a matter of principle or politics.

Like BDS, GrabYourWallet will try to say otherwise, but don’t believe it.

 

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