Saturday, February 20, 2016

The J Street Version of Israeli History -- Coming To a Jewish School Near You

J Street's activities extend from politics and advocacy -- to education:
J Street University is circulating a map that restores the Green Line and working to get it into synagogues, Hebrew schools, and summer camps. Good for them. Of course, fighting (nonviolently) over maps is preferable to shooting over the borders of the territories they represent, but there’s no substitute for a one-map solution.
Here is the map:

J Street has a lesson plan to go along with the map. I embedded a copy of the lesson plan at the end of the post.

The introduction in the lesson plan introduces what they see as the issue behind maps of Israel today:

The disappearance of the Green Line from our maps is a clear symptom of a larger problem. The vast majority of Jewish Americans, including our communal leaders, claim to support a two-state solution,recognizing that it is the only way to safeguard Israel’s future. Yet we often talk about and teach about Israel in a way that physically erases the Green Line, which forms the basis of that solution. When the Green Line disappears from our maps, it is also eroded from our consciousness.
The plan then goes on to describe J Street's goal in a pretty straightforward way:
The goal of this lesson plan is to help learners, 9th graders and up, understand the realities of the status quo in Israel and the Palestinian territory. Recognizing that maps play an important role in reinforcing cultural narratives and national identities for both Israelis and Palestinians, and their supporters, we’ll look at various maps of this area that reflect different hopes, aspirations, and political perspectives.
In order to frame those differing perspectives, J Street divides them into 3 groups in terms of whether the Green Line should appear on the map:
  • Why the Green Line should not appear: map labels entire area as Israel
  • Why the Green Line should appear: labeled as "Joint Perspective"
  • Why the Green Line should not appear: map labels entire area as Palestine
Putting aside how the lesson plan organizes and structures how the actual discussion is carried out, there is the larger issue of how J Street frames the issue and the information it intends to pass on to the participants as fact.

On page 10 of the plan, is the section labeled: All About The Green Line, where the overall background on the Green Line is given as "the original armistice line of the 1948 Arab-Israel war." However, J Street writes in their lesson plan that among the consequences is that:
These territories [Gaza and the West Bank] are viewed by the international community as being under “military occupation,” although their status is more complicated within Israel.
On the contrary, the fact is that the issue of "military occupation" is complicated -- period, regardless of whether you are Israeli or not. There is legal precedent for saying Gaza is not occupied and arguments that can be made about the West Bank, under control of the Palestinian Authority, as well. One doesn't have to going into details or surrender a balance of views in order to convey the complexity of the the issue of "occupation", but surely it should not be ignored either.

Another J Street claim in the general background of the lesson plan is:
All past negotiations over the future Israeli-Palestinian border have been based on the Green Line with land swaps.
Not exactly all negotiations. After all, it was Abbas himself who turned down the idea of land swaps when he declared:  "No to Israel as a Jewish state, no to interim borders, no to land swaps" at the Fifth Fatah Revolutionary Council Convention in December 2010. The lesson plan thus overlooks the fact that the idea of land swaps itself is a new idea: the Palestinian Arabs did not accept the idea of land swaps -- and only "minor" swaps at that -- until 2013.

A final note on the general background section of the lesson plan is in the segment entitled "How Is Israel Blurring The Green Line?" Keep in mind that legally the Green Line is nothing more than an arbitrary armistice line indicating where the fighting stopped in 1948 -- in no way is it a border.

Despite this fact, J Street claims:
  • Since 1967, Israel has politically and economically encourage Jewish settlement over the Green Line
    • This is considered illegal according to Article 49 of the Geneva Convention
Actually, Article 49 of the Geneva Convention specifies the forcible transfer of populations -- a response to the Nazis who conducted massive transfers of people into occupied territories. Also, based on the British Mandate, the area given to the Jews included Judea and Samaria -- the area they were illegally forced to flee, the area that became known as "the West Bank" based on 19 years of Jordanian control. J Street is the blurring the facts, declaring as absolute, what is at best debatable

The lesson plan gives a historical time line in accordance with the Israeli, Palestinian and "Joint Perspective". According to the time line of the "Israel Perspective:
1920-1948: Mandatory Palestine, the British Mandate for Palestine transfers power from military rule to civil rule. The British rule continues to face resistance from both Palestinian and Jewish forces.
This is how J Street summarizes how the League of Nations granted Britain the Mandate for reconstituting the Jewish homeland. But in fact, the fact sheet does not mention the League of Nations even once, and only uses the word "league" once -- in reference to the Arab League. The students are never told the basis for Britain's Mandate giving it control in then-Palestine. This omission not only denies context to the Arab opposition to the Mandate, but also the Jewish opposition -- which was based on changes made to the Mandate and on opposition to the 1939 White Paper. Surprisingly, mention of White Paper is also omitted from the lesson plan.

 According to the time line of the "Joint Perspective":
  • 1916: Sykes–Picot Agreement, the UK and France promised Arab control over Palestine
    Not true: As someone corrected me, here J Street is confusing the Hussein-McMahon correspondence with the Sykes-Picot Agreement. About the latter, there is no argument and it is not related to the issue. Regarding the former, the claim that Arabs were promised Palestine is hotly debated, and the British government insisted that then-Palestine was not included.

  • 1920s and 1930s: Violent clashes begin, as Jews continued to immigrate to Palestine, Zionist-Arab antagonism boiled over into violent clashes among Jews, the Palestinians, and the British Police.
    So according to J Street, even then it was a cycle of violence? This ignores both the initiation of the Arab massacres of Jews and the long history of Arab persecution of Jews during Ottoman rule

  • 1920-1948: Mandatory Palestine, the British Mandate for Palestine transfers power from military rule to civil rule. The British rule continues to face resistance from both Palestinian and Jewish forces.
    There is no mention of Transjordan, which was cut out of the area originally part of the Palestine Mandate

  • 1949: Armistice Lines are agreed upon. Gaza is under Egyptian control and The West Bank is under Jordanian control. The Green Line is drawn, which will become the basis for any future peace agreement.
    This misleads by implying that Egyptian control over Gaza and Jordanian control over the "West Bank" was internationally recognized, when in fact only Great Britain and Pakistan recognized the annexation as legal. Also, the Green was not the basis for all future peace agreements, since the current peace agreements Israel has with Egypt and Jordan are both based on the British Mandate -- not on the Green Line
In all three perspectives, the lesson plan claims:
1947: UN Resolution 181, partitions Palestine into two states: Arab and Jewish.
This is not true. The UN did not create 2 states. After all, the British continued executing the Mandate into 1948. What the resolution did do was recommend a partition, as the resolution itself makes clear.

J Street is entitled to their opinion, but in their rush to push the idea of the centrality of the Green Line, the omission of important facts and the distortion of others prevent the balanced view that they claim as their goal. Instead of a lesson plan about a significant issue affecting Israel, J Street's project has been reduced to propaganda for their political agenda.

Hat tip: AB, for pointing out additional J Street errors.

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