Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I just got back to our apartment here in Kyriat Schmuel, a little neighborhood in Jerusalem. It is a good day to be inside. A cold wind is blowing, the sky is overcast, and the air is brown. We're having a sand storm. If you saw pictures of Cairo in the last few days, you saw that it looked pretty bleak. The storm has worked its way toward us. As people here sometimes note, we are in a desert.

I had taken our rental car over to a tire dealer on Beit Lechem Street in the beautiful neighborhood of Baka. I blew a tire on the car as we drove into town last night from a visit in Beersheva. I managed to glance the curb at just the right angle to rip the tire to shreds. The car rental company is smart; tires are on the renter.

The owner of the tire shop is an Arab citizen of Israel. He speaks no English and my Hebrew is pretty basic, to be kind to myself, and my Arabic is non-existent. But I managed to get the point across: rental car, cheap tire. After about 20 minutes I was on my way and he was onto other customers.

I only mention this little transaction because it is so typical and it is so foreign to the image of constant strife and oppression one might have if all your image of Israel is only gathered from mainstream media or, worse, from some of the terribly anti-Israel media that seems to be so prevelant. Life in Israel is not perfect, by any means. Like minorities everywhere, Arab citizens certainly have plenty of legitimate complaints. But life is not a constant battle and it is not the cesspool of injustice that the parties out to dehumanize and deligitimize Israel would have you believe. In fact, my transaction with the tire dealer is a slice of normal life.

As I have mentioned previously, I have been involved in fighting against the insidious, hate-filled campaign to boycott Israel. I am happy to report that the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop recently declined a request that it join in the boycott, although the pro-boycotters seem to never stop coming. In the course of the debate, I wrote a letter to the Coop Board which gives a little bit more of a picture of life in Israel. The letter is below:

Dear Natural Foods Coop Board Members:

My name is Alan Edelstein. I have been a resident of Sacramento for the last 50 years. More recently, my wife and I have been living part of the year in Jerusalem, Israel. This year we will be living there for about six months.

I am writing to respectfully and strongly urge you to reject consideration of a boycott of goods grown or made in Israel. I thought that my experience living there part-time might help provide a little insight into life in Israel beyond the headlines and hyperbole of organized campaigns.

My apartment is in a quiet neighborhood about a 15 minute walk from downtown Jerusalem and about a 30 minute walk from the Old City. I am within walking distance of several Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. About a million Arabs, or 20% of the population, are Israeli citizens. (Some now prefer to be called Palestinians. However, for the sake of distinguishing them from Palestinians in the territories, I will refer to them as Arabs here.) When I go the local market, I see Jewish, Arab Moslems and Christians, and persons of other ethnic groups shopping along with me. When I go to HomeStore (Israel's version of Home Depot), I again see all kinds of shoppers, including Arabs. When the cabinets at my remodeled apartment were installed, the owner of the cabinet company was Arab. When my wife and I stroll at the new, high-end, open air Mamilla Mall near the Jaffa Gate, we stroll along secular Jews and Arabs, tourists, openly gay men and lesbians, Ethiopians rescued from oppression in the only instance of a nation bringing black people to its land so that they can live freely, Arab women in traditional dress, and Arab women with their hair covered but wearing very fashionable jeans. When we take our Saturday walk through any of several nearby parks, we see Arab as well as Jewish families barbecuing, playing games, talking, laughing. And, we have seen an Arab father and his sons down on their knees in one of the parks saying their prayers. On our last stay, my wife and I were invited by an Arab man to join him in a game of ping pong.

When we go down south to Eilat for a few days of the beach and sun, we share the beach, the hotels, and the boardwalk with Arab citizens of Israel. When we go down to the spas at the hotels at the Dead Sea, we share the whirlpools and the dining rooms with Israeli Arab citizens. If we go to the landmark King David Hotel for some iced tea on the beautiful patio overlooking the Old City, chances are the head waiter and a good part of his staff will be Israeli Arab citizens who are long-time, proud employees of Israel's grand hotel. When we have gone to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, we have seen Arab members (some of whom make speeches that would be considered treasonous if given in the U.S. Congress), Communist members, left-wing, and right-wing members. In short, we have seen a robust and free wielding democracy.

If we go up to the university campus, we will see hundreds, if not thousands, of Israeli Arab students taking courses alongside all the other students and engaging in the same vociferous and open discussion as you might find on any campus. If you step into a classroom at the university, you might very well witness professors providing some of the most critical analysis of Israeli policy as you will find anywhere. When we recently took an Ulpan course (intensive Hebrew instruction) at the Reform movement's campus in Jerusalem, among our 12 classmates were three young Arab professionals taking Hebrew so as to improve the opportunities in their fields. Two of these young professionals lived outside of Jerusalem in what is commonly referred to as the West Bank. Therefore, I do not believe they are Israeli citizens. When I asked about the possible difficulties of getting through the checkpoint into Jerusalem, they indicated that things were going smoothly and that, in their view, Israelis would have a harder time going the other way because the government is afraid of a hostage situation or worse.

The impression I am trying to convey is that, despite its situation, Israel is a free, functioning home for all of its citizens, not the horrific place that those who promote boycott and divestment would have you believe. I know that minorities anywhere have legitimate complaints and feelings of being treated unfairly. As a Jew in the U.S., where we have been afforded every freedom and opportunity imaginable, I have still confronted issues regarding work on holidays, teachers' insensitivity to my children's religious requirements, the University of California having freshmen move-in day on one of our holiest days and then believing it is sufficient to offer an alternative day for Jews only, and now a high-profile reporter and Hollywood celebrities spewing some of the worst hate and conjuring up some of the oldest and most vile accusations against Jews.

So I am empathetic to the feelings that a member of a minority group can have, and I understand that the majority can sometimes violate the rights of the minority. But I want to convey to you that, while the Arab citizens of Israel have legitimate and real grievances, Israel is not the horrendous nation portrayed by the proponents of divestment and boycott. It is a free country with rights for all where its Arab citizens can go about their lives, make a living, educate their children, and enjoy themselves.

The situation is admittedly different and more complicated in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has time and again, with both left, center, and right leaning governments, offered substantial concessions in exchange for peace. Former President Clinton and Ambassador Dennis Ross in their descriptions of negotiations confirm that Israel offered substantially all of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as a fair compromise on Jerusalem, and was turned down. The allegedly right-leaning current government has endorsed a two-state solution and has called for direct negotiations since the day it took office. In an effort to stop suicide bombers and other terrorist attacks, Israel erected a fence or wall to separate itself from much of the West Bank. Having to do this is unfortunate, but it is the least bad of several bad alternatives. Surely it is better than having terrorist attacks on Israel, or having Israel forced to take military action to prevent such attacks. Ironically, the fence has contributed to the increased freedom of movement and the almost eight percent annual increase in GDP in the West Bank. With the fence preventing terrorist attacks, the present government of Prime Minister Netanyahu has been able to greatly decrease checkpoints, military actions, and other security measures. Combined with the increase in effectiveness of Palestinian troops trained by the U.S., and with Israeli and U.S. business support, this has led to a significantly increased standard of living in the West Bank.

Israel completely withdrew from the Gaza strip and thereafter endured over 8,000 rockets targeted at its civilian population. Only after years of enduring such attacks, did it finally respond with a military action during which Hamas, which forcibly took full control of the area, located its military resources within civilian population. In contrast to Hamas, Israel tries to avoid civilian casualties while Hamas' rockets are deliberately targeted at civilians.

Despite the rejection of its offer of a state in exchange for peace, despite the years of terrorism of the Intifada, despite the rockets from Gaza and from Hezbollah in the north, a recent poll showed a majority of Israelis still in favor of the basic outline of land for peace set forth by President Clinton in 2000.

I recognize that my views on these issues are not the only views. There is plenty of room for disagreement, discussion, even argument. Israel is not without problems and not immune from criticism. However, it is a free, democratic country trying to defend its citizens, Jew and Arab alike, and seek peace in a very difficult environment. All in all, it has done an outstanding job. When one looks at what is happening in the Sudan, in Tibet, in Iran, in Mynannar, in Chechny, and in many other places in the world where genocide is occurring, where tyrants rule, where women, gays, and others are tortured and stoned, one wonders why there is this almost obsessive focus on Israel by the BDS movement. Why, with all of the terrible things going on in so many places in the world, do they focus on the only Jewish-majority country in the entire world and greatly distort its history and actions? Why is Zionism, which is just another name for the Jewish National Liberation Movement, the only liberation movement to which they object? Why the vitriol and hate? Why the willingness to engage in a tactic, totally unjustified, that would hurt innocent Arabs, Jews, Christians, and others?

Jerusalem Post and U.S. News reporter Khaled Abu Toameh, who lives in Jerusalem and describes himself as an Israeli-Arab-Muslim-Palestinian, recently wrote that the people who advocate for isolation and deligitimization of Israel do nothing to help create a state for the Palestinians. He has written that if they truly want to help the Palestinians, they should be demanding that the Palestinian leadership develop a democratic, transparent government, and that the other Arab nations support it.

I have tried very, very hard to come up with a rational reason for this disproportionate and totally unjustified campaign of hate against the Jewish nation. I have been unable to come up with one. After many years of struggling with this issue, I have come to the conclusion that wittingly or not, intentionally or not, the pro-BDS community is engaging in modern-day Jew hatred. I recognize that others may not agree with my conclusion, but I have been unable to come up with any other.

You may or may not agree with my analysis and conclusions. I hope, however, that I have conveyed to you a bit about real life in Israel and about the desire of Israelis to live in peace with their neighbors. I also hope that you are convinced that, regardless of your views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is not an issue that warrants the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop's involvement in a boycott campaign, or even the consideration of such involvement. Such a boycott is totally inappropriate and unfair. It does nothing to advance reconciliation, compromise, and peace. Rather, it is part of a one-sided, hateful campaign against the only Jewish-majority country in the world. Moreover, it will communicate hate, unfairness, and bigotry to many Jews and others in our Sacramento community. In so doing, it will be directly contrary to all that a coop and, specifically, the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop, stands for.

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