President-elect Donald Trump’s recent announcement that David M. Friedman is his pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel sent jitters through much of the mainstream of the Jewish-American establishment.
Mr. Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer, is a staunch supporter of the settlement-building project that Israel has pursued for nearly 50 years now in the West Bank, in clear contravention of international law. He has smeared Jewish-American critics of the settlements as acting like the Jewish “kapos” used by the Nazis to maintain order in the concentration/extermination camps.
Helena Cobban, the Executive President of Just World Educational, agrees with the numerous American thought leaders who have criticized Mr. Trump’s ambassador pick. “This man is an outright supporter and funder of acts that constitute a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention” she said. “By appointing him, Trump is thumbing his nose at any idea that under his presidency the United States has any regard at all for the rule of law in international relations. It’s worth noting, too, that Trump himself is now revealed to have donated money to a West Bank settlement.”
Ms. Cobban did, however, see a possible silver lining in the gloomy cloud of Mr. Friedman’s nomination: “I believe this act by Mr. Trump has some good potential to unite many disparate threads of the Palestinian-rights movement that until recently have been sorely divided among themselves.”
Such a unity, she said, could be built on the basis of clear and unequivocal support for international law and for recognition of the fact that Palestinians “are fully human and are entitled to the same full range of human rights as any other people.”
She noted that Just World Educational has many ground-breaking projects planned for 2017, which is a year of many significant anniversaries for Palestinians. One of these projects is the “Palestinian Milestones 2017” project, a plan to work with allies to organize conferences and gatherings all around the United States in the second half of 2017, to help educate the broad U.S. public about Palestinian rights issues.
Other educational projects JWE has planned in 2017 include educational outreach efforts around the Palestine-related books that Just World Books will be publishing in the first half of the year.
Ms. Cobban has a long and distinguished record of writing and research on international affairs, including contributing a regular column on global issues to The Christian Science Monitor for nearly 20 years. She has also closely studied the fortunes of the Palestinian-rights movement in the United States and elsewhere over the years.
She noted that in recent years, the movement in the United States has been riven by two sets of deep disagreements. “Sadly, the issue of Syria has been one such cause of disagreement,” she said. “But another, even deeper cause of disagreement has been one intrinsic to the Palestinian issue itself, namely, whether people were working for a two-state outcome or a one-state outcome.”
So long as U.S. policy has seemed to hold out some hope for a two-state solution, she added, “there have been many very decent people who have argued that Palestinians and their supporters should do everything possible to make the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel into a possibility, even if that included curtailing some of the Palestinians’ generally recognized rights, such as the right of the refugees from the wars of 1947-48 and 1967 to return to their homes in the context of a peace settlement.
“But once U.S. policy turns its back definitively on what– it has to be admitted– has started to look like the increasingly chimerical goal of the ‘two-state solution’, then what is anyone to do who still fundamentally supports the idea that Palestinians are fully human and endowed with rights just like anyone else?” she asked.
“I believe that in this new context, the intense differences over whether the goal is one state or two may well become smaller as everyone in the rights movement realizes that the issue before us is one of the survival of the Palestinian people in their ancient homeland and avoiding a situation in which our government, here in the United States, would become even more complicit than ever before in the process of, effectively, ethnic cleansing and at least gross ethnic suppression that Israel has been pursuing in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967.”
Ms. Cobban said that the educational projects that JWE is planning for 2017, “now have a new urgency, and great added relevance! Really, for several decades now the American public has been woefully under-informed, or even actively disinformed, about the realities of the situation of the Palestinians in their homeland and in forced exile from it. With our projects, we can partner with the whole new generation of Americans who don’t want our country to be complicit in Israeli violations any more, who want to learn much more about the Palestine Question than the mainstream media has ever been prepared to tell them, and who want to seek out and pursue a hopeful, rights-respecting way forward.”
Anyone who’s interested in working with JWE on these projects is invited to contact JWE’s Director of Outreach, Steve Fake.