Tag Archives: peace

Israeli President Shimon Peres told 3,500 GA listeners that Israel must have courage.

Peres Calls For Peace, For Courage

President Shimon Peres addressed the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly on Monday with a message of courage and call for a celebration of human life.

Israeli President Shimon Peres told 3,500 GA listeners that Israel must have courage.

Israeli President Shimon Peres told 3,500 GA listeners that Israel must have courage.

Peres, speaking to the close to 3,500 attendees at the federation’s annual conference, coined “The Global Jewish Shuk,” told listeners that he remembers the days of Israel’s founding, when the people arrived to a small piece of land, which was unfriendly, with swamps in the north and desert in the south and with only the mosquitos as neighbors – the rest were enemies.

“There was no water. We had two lakes. One was dead and the other was dying. There was one river, the Jordan River, which is full of fame and short of water – not for irrigation. … We had no guns. We were outnumbered with no support,” said Peres. “But you know what we discovered? The greatest treasure in life is the human being. When you have nothing, you have people. Israel is a story of people.”

Peres said that he has heard of the debate about whether or not Israel should be – or is – more Jewish or more democratic and at the notion that there would even be such a discussion he scoffed. .

“The first democrat on earth was Moses. … Every person was born in image of the Lord, which was first declaration of democracy. When it says [in the Torah] we should not be like slaves and what fight oppressors, a second declaration. When it says love your fellow man like yourself, a third declaration,” Peres said. “Democracy is a love of people and a belief in them.”

Answering questions posed by David Horovitz, founder and editor of “Times of Israel,” Peres made clear that the strength of the Jewish people is its brains and he said it is in science and education that the Jewish state should invest. He also called on the people to stay focused on peace.

“Peace is our goal,” he said.

Though he did not indicate that there would be an easy path.

Is peace at hand? He said people have to understand, “We are negotiating not because we agree, but because we do not agree. Negotiating is to convert disagreements to agreements, to convert enemies to friends. … When we start out it is difficult, complicated, we have to change many prejudices.”

And he said sometimes the greatest prejudices lie within your own people and it is them you have to convince.

A final call to action was to the young generation.

“We are not owners of land, we are creators of ambition,” said Peres. “The ambition is to do and to make a better world and now is your time.”

He continued: “Logic has a limit, not courage.”

Find out what is happening with the Washington, D.C. delegation>> 

 

 

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Unlikely Allies

Ambassador Elin Suleymanov says Azerbaijan can serve as a model for Jewish-Muslim relations. (Courtesy of the Fletcher School/John Davis Photography)

Ambassador Elin Suleymanov says Azerbaijan can serve as a model for Jewish-Muslim relations. (Courtesy of the Fletcher School/John Davis Photography)

“Azerbaijan is a friend of the Jewish people, of the Israeli people and of the American people,” said Elin Suleymanov, the Republic of Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States. “This is not just a coincidence. It is a conscious decision by the government of Azerbaijan and the people of Azerbaijan.”

That was the message that Suleymanov reiterated more than a handful of times during a meeting this summer in his office in Washington, D.C. — a meeting that took place in armchairs and included hot tea and sweets native to Azerbaijan, which is pronounced Az-er-bu-jan and is located in the Caucasus Mountains west of the Caspian Sea, south of Russia and north of Iran.

“Azerbaijan is located at a crossroads of cultures,” said the ambassador, as he reviewed his nation’s deep history, which is both fairly old and fairly new at the same time.

The Azerbaijan Democratic Rep-ublic (ADR) was established in 1918 as the first secular Muslim-majority country built on the principles of a Western-style democracy with a constitution that granted equal rights to all citizens, including voting rights for women.

“Everyone was allowed to work and be a part of the society,” said Suleymanov. “This was before even the United States.”

ADR, however, existed for only 23 months, as it was invaded and incorporated into the Soviet Union by the Red Army under the name Azerbaijan SSR. On the verge of the Soviet Union’s collapse, ethnic strife in Nagorno-Karabakh and Moscow’s indifference to the conflict resulted in calls for independence and secession, which culminated in Black January. Subsequently, ADR’s flag was restored as the state flag, and, following that, the modern Republic of Azerbaijan emerged as a successor to Azerbaijan SSR on Oct. 18, 1991.

Throughout its history, the people of Azerbaijan have remained open, and that includes not only to women and the West, but also to the Jews.

Suleymanov said there were always Jews who served in parliament and that one of the country’s first ministers of health was a Jew. Suleymanov grew up going to school with Jewish children, was educated by Jewish teachers and had a Jewish doctor.

According to Suleymanov, the Jewish population of Azerbaijan dates back 2,500 years.

“It is not like they live in our country — I don’t know who lives in whose country. There is a long history,” he said.

The story goes that the Azerbaijani Jews, referred to as the “Mountain Jews,” arrived in the area after the exodus from Israel. They passed through Persia, where they picked up the Farsi-based language they still speak, and eventually settled in the Caucasus Mountains.

The Circle of Friendship: Azerbaijan and Israel

Whether they were spoken by the great Chinese military strategist Sun-tzu or Machiavelli or even fabled Godfather Michael Corleone, the words “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” offer great advice. But, seemingly, they have been ignored by the United States, which excels at taking its allies for granted and creating needy and desperate relationships in the eyes of its enemies.

One such case in point is Azerbaijan, a robust, secular, majority Muslim, emerging democracy and a trusted and valued ally that is showing great allegiance to Israel and to the United States. This, while simultaneously driving Mullahs and extremists throughout the world crazy (evidenced by the constant stream of vehemently angry rhetoric emanating from Tehran and elsewhere)  by embracing Western culture and ideas.

Now Israel’s closest ally in the Eurasia and, by extension, the Middle East, Azerbaijan is thriving by proving the world wrong about its perception of Muslim culture and body politic.

While the Middle East burns, American politicians seem to be blind to the bigger picture: It is not the gift of American bombs and warplanes to warring factions that will create a safer world, but it is the spread of Western culture, trade and ideals.

While President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin level expressions of distaste at one another, and while Obama meets with the Chinese as they blatantly spy and steal our biggest secrets, nations such as Israel and Azerbaijan suffer from conspicuous neglect.

Perhaps they have become the two guests at a party who suddenly find themselves with no one else to talk to and thus forge a friendship … and a very good one indeed.

One trip by the American president to Azerbaijan would speak volumes about that country’s policy and its support of Israel, the U.S. and Europe.

Even as America seemingly plays into the hands of the Iranians by allowing their stalling tactics to remain intact as they rush to finish a nuclear weapon, Azerbaijan remains a friend and ally of the U.S., Europe and Israel.

Even as America stands by as Iran threatens the very existence of Israel and the West,
Azerbaijan retains its policies of freedom and tolerance toward all relations and ethnicities.

As America sends more weapons to enable warring factions that will all prove disastrous for peace processes, Azerbaijan and Israel remain partners in trade and support.

However important the friendship of these two nations, it is the high profile presence of a major world power that can call attention to the better side of our natures.

More than ever it is crucial that all nations who respect tolerance, integrity and the dignity of the human spirit to remain diligent in their efforts to grow and prosper while helping one another.

Azerbaijan’s recent hosting of Jennifer Lopez singing and dancing in front of an adoring Azeri Muslim audience is proof there is much common ground. Azerbaijan’s trade and diplomatic relations with Israel is proof countries can work together for the greater good, despite the Mullahs seething over Azerbaijan’s Western proclivities.

In Azerbaijan, they respect and educate women, men, Jews, Christians, Sunnis and Shiites, all of whom can be elected members of its parliament and serve in high-ranking government and business roles.

The wonder of the human condition is that, after all is said and done, it is our sameness that draws us together, the common need in us all to be respected and admired as individuals.

Perhaps the U.S. should more closely examine the relationship between Azerbaijan, Israel and the West. The friendship that exists between Azerbaijan and Israel is a great place to begin looking for positive signs — in the present and for the future.

Also read, “Unlikely Allies.”

Norma Zager is a freelance journalist and columnist who teaches at California State University, Los Angeles.

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Jewish and Arab Israelis: Different Perspectives

Sammy Smooha says there has been a hardening of Arab Israelis’ viewpoints on Israel.  (Provided)

Sammy Smooha says there has been a hardening of Arab Israelis’ viewpoints on Israel.
(Provided)

An extensive survey released late last month indicated that Arab Israelis have become more extreme in their attitudes to the state and its Jewish majority, while Jewish Israelis have maintained their positions or have become more amicable to the Arab minority.

On the surface, the statistics of the 2012 Index of Arab-Jewish Relations In Israel seem straightforward, but professor Sammy Smooha of Haifa University, who conducted the study, said this is not the case. There are many reasons for the shift, and Israel has to own up to its side of the story.

“Why the hardening of the Arab view?” asked Smooha on a recent call from Israel. In the last decade, he answered, Arab-Israeli aspirations have been shattered.

“The second term of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, from 1992 to 1995, was a golden age of Jewish-Arab relations. The Oslo Accords meant for the Arabs the right to self-determination. … Aspirations for peace skyrocketed,” said Smooha. “Rabin … reduced many of the discriminations against the Arabs, he engaged in negotiations with their leaders, he respected them, and he felt the Israeli government could work with the Arab Israelis with respect and with equality.”

After Rabin’s assassination in November 1995, the Arabs’ hopes were shattered; the gap between their aspirations and reality became wider and wider.

Moreover, he said, Israeli action against the Palestinians since 2000 — the second Lebanon war, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense — affected attitudes, too.

“Arabs were disaffected by the state’s behavior toward [the Palestinians],” he said.

What is striking is that Israelis don’t recognize this. But Smooha said, “Why would they?” The issues that affect the Arabs often have little to do with the Jews, and the Jews don’t see it from the Arab perspective.

“Let’s take the war on Gaza. While from the Arabs’ view this was against the Palestinians, against the Arabs, and they feel a part of that group … as far as the Jews are concerned, this is an act of war and security and has nothing to do with the Arabs of

Israel,” Smooha explained.

In addition, he said, as Israel becomes more democratic — and despite media reports, he said it very much has — this affects the Jewish perspective. Jews are becoming more centrist (not right or left), which leads to a more moderate viewpoint and a goal of treating Arabs more equally than before. The Arabs, who live in Israel and read and learn about political enlightenment, become more politicized. The more they know, the more impatient they become with the continual discrimination.

Discrimination is a strong word. But Muhammad Darawsha, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, said it is the right term to use when referring to Israeli treatment of its Arab citizens. He said even the state has admitted that discrimination exists. In 2007, for example, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert delivered a speech in which he accused Israel of “deliberately and institutionally discriminating against Arabs.”

Darawsha is not short on examples of this discrimination.

Israel’s Land Authority has a policy of preferential treatment of Jews in land appropriation and ownership. Jews control 97 percent of the land; Arabs, who make up 21 percent of the population, 3 percent.

Double the amount of the municipal budget goes to development of Jewish infrastructure. There are gaps in the education budget; Arabs children learn in schools without enough classrooms and with outdated curriculum. The result is that only 12 percent of Arab children (as opposed to 25 percent of Jewish children) attend a university.

And after college, there is discrimination in the workforce.