Assaf Sharon writes: Addressing Israel’s offensive in Gaza, John Kerry said: “Israel is under siege by a terrorist organization.” Living in Israel, I found the secretary’s comment baffling. In my city, Jerusalem, the sirens have sounded only three times. Tel Aviv and its vicinity has had it worse, with three dozen sirens or so over the last month. Yet daily routine has not been greatly affected. In the south, near the Gaza strip, things are different. With numerous rockets daily, life in some Israeli towns and villages has become what happens between one rush to the shelter to the next. This is certainly not acceptable, but it is not a siege either. In Jewish history, the archetypical siege is the Roman siege of Jerusalem, described by the first-century historian, Josephus, thus: “Throughout the city people were dying of hunger in large numbers, and enduring unspeakable sufferings. In every house the merest hint of food sparked violence, and close relatives fell to blows, snatching from one another the pitiful supports of life.” In Zionist history, the paradigm comes from 1948, when Jerusalem was once again stricken with hunger and want of basic supplies. Here is how one mother described it in a letter to her son who was fighting in the north: “Whoever doesn’t have food simply goes hungry. There’s no gas for cooking, people gather wood and cook in the street. Other than bread, (and this too only 200 grams per person daily) there’s almost nothing to buy…. Water is delivered in a carriage with an allowance of 1.5 cans per person for a week (can=eighteen liters), which is precious little. And as there is no fuel for cars, the water must be brought (from great distance) from wells.” Today, this description is more suitable to Gaza than to Israel.
But there is another siege haunting Israel today. This siege is internal rather than external, moral rather than physical. The murder of sixteen-year-old Muhhamad Abu-H’deir, burned alive by Jewish extremists on July 2, made headlines worldwide. But the context in which this crime was hatched receives less attention. The day before, as the three Israeli youths kidnapped and murdered three weeks earlier were being buried, hundreds of extremists gathered in Jerusalem under the banner “We want Revenge!” And their slogans clarified: “Death to Arabs” and “Death to Leftists.” As the mob marched to the city center, they pounded on store fronts, demanding Arab blood. A large group gathered outside McDonald’s shouting for its Arab employees to be brought out. Smaller groups roamed the streets looking for Arabs to abuse. A wave of racist violence has been washing the streets since then. Organized mobs of extremists have been marching through the streets of Jerusalem shouting racist slogans, calling, “Death to Arabs!” Like scenes taken from revolutionary films, they block cars and busses mid-street, checking whether there are Arabs inside. If found, they are assaulted verbally as well as physically. Many Palestinians refrain from traveling on the city’s light rail because it has become a regular venue for racist attacks. [Continue reading...]
JTA reports: If the results of a recent focus group and polls are any indication, the gap is growing between Congress and young Americans when it comes to support for Israel.
Polls conducted in late July by Gallup and the Pew Research Center found that support for Israel is weaker among younger Americans and Democrats than among Americans generally. Add to that the results of a recent focus group culled from 12 congressional staffers — a small but very influential cohort — and pro-Israel activists are worried about the long-term sustainability of broad U.S. support for Israel in Congress.
Last Friday, a select group of Jewish institutions was sent a confidential summary of the staffers discussing the recent Gaza conflict. The tone of the summary, which was obtained by JTA, was one of alarm.
“Congress is supposed to be our fortress,” wrote authors Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Meagan Buren, the founder and a former top aide, respectively, at The Israel Project. “While Israel faces Hamas tunnels, it appears that the negativity and lack of support among young people is tunneling its way into congressional offices, even while the congressmen and senators remain steadfast on the surface.” Mizrahi and Buren left The Israel Project in 2012.
Among the statements the dozen congressional staffers agreed on: “Israel attacked Gaza in a wild overreaction.” “It’s Groundhog Day every 18 months, perennial conflict, doesn’t seem like anyone wants peace anymore.” [The Israeli government is] “not peace loving.”
Several JTA interviews with staffers for pro-Israel lawmakers suggested that the Mizrahi report’s conclusion is on target.
“On the Hill and with some people with whom I have spoken who are robust Israel supporters, people are concerned if not angry,” one of the staffers, a Democrat, told JTA. [Continue reading...]
Rabbi Michael Lerner writes: My heart is broken as I witness the suffering of the Palestinian people and the seeming indifference of Israelis. All my life I’ve been a champion of Israel, proud of its many accomplishments in science and technology that have benefited the world, insistent on the continuing need for the Jewish people to have a state that offers protections from anti-Semitism that has reared its head continuously throughout Christian and Islamic societies, willing to send my only child to serve in the Israeli Army (the paratroopers unit-tzanchanim), and enjoying the pleasures of long swaths of time in which I could study in Jerusalem and celebrate Shabbat in a city that weekly closed down the hustle and bustle of the capitalist marketplace for a full 25 hours. And though as editor of Tikkun I printed articles challenging the official story of how Israel came to be, showing its role in forcibly ejecting tens of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 and allowing Jewish terrorist groups under the leadership of (future Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir) to create justified fears that led hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians to flee for their lives, I always told myself that the dominant humanity of the Jewish people and the compassionate strain within Torah would reassert itself once Israel felt secure.
That belief began to wane in the past eight years when Israel, faced with a Palestinian Authority that promoted nonviolence and sought reconciliation and peace, ignored the Saudi Arabian-led peace initiative that would have granted Israel the recognition that it had long sought, an end to hostilities, and a recognized place in the Middle East, refused to stop its expansion of settlements in the West Bank and imposed an economically crushing blockade on Gaza. Even Hamas, whose hateful charter called for Israel’s destruction, had decided to accept the reality of Israel’s existence, and while unable to embrace its “right” to exist, nevertheless agreed to reconcile with the Palestinian Authority and in that context live within the terms that the PA would negotiate with Israel.
Yet far from embracing this new possibility for peace, the Israeli government used that as its reason to break off the peace negotiations, and then, in an unbelievably cynical move, let the brutal and disgusting kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens (by a rogue element in Hamas that itself was trying to undermine the reconciliation-with-Israel factions of Hamas by creating new fears in Israel) become the pretext for a wild assault on West Bank civilians, arresting hundreds of Hamas sympathizers, and escalating drone attacks on Hamas operatives inside Gaza. When Hamas responded by starting to send its (guaranteed to be ineffective and hence merely symbolic in light of Israel’s Iron Shield) missiles toward civilian targets in Israel, the Netanyahu government used that as its excuse to launch a brutal assault on Gaza.
But it is the brutality of that assault that finally has broken me into tears and heartbreak. While claiming that it is only interested in uprooting tunnels that could be used to attack Israel, the IDF has engaged in the same criminal behavior that the world condemns in other struggles: the intentional targeting of civilians (the same crime that Hamas has been engaged in over the years, which correctly has earned it the label as a terrorist organization). Using the excuse that Hamas is using civilians as “human shields” and placing its war material in civilian apartments, Israel has managed to kill more than 1,000 civilians and wounded thousands. The stories that have emerged from eyewitness accounts of hundreds of children being killed by Israel’s indiscriminate destructiveness, the shelling of United Nations schools and public hospitals, and finally the destruction of Gaza’s water and electricity, guaranteeing deaths from typhoid and other diseases as well as widespread hunger among the million and a half Gazans most of whom have had nothing to do with Hamas, highlights to the world an Israel that is rivaling some of the most oppressive and brutal regimes in the contemporary world. [Continue reading...]
Until recently, American Jews willing to speak out against Israel knew that by doing so they were stepping outside the mainstream. They needed sufficient conviction to withstand the frowns of their relatives. But something different is happening now. Liberal Jews who still see themselves as pro-Israel are finding it increasingly difficult to witness what Israel is doing. Ezra Klein, for instance, writes: “I haven’t become less pro-Israel. But I’ve become much more pessimistic about its prospects, and more confused and occasionally horrified by its policies.”
Tom Gara, referring to Klein’s essay, makes this prediction:
I suspect these kind of essays are the leading edge of an Iraq war style mea culpa process in the media. http://t.co/BglCklowz7
— Tom Gara (@tomgara) July 31, 2014
Some may want to hold on to their pro-Israel sentiment by differentiating between Israel and Netanyahu, but when 50% of Israelis think that Netanyahu has been too soft on Gaza, it’s increasingly hard to see that this is a differentiation worth making. The ugly truth may be that Netanyahu is an all too faithful representation of the nation he leads.
Sigal Samuel writes: Since Israel launched its military operation in Gaza, other countries are seeing an increase in anti-Semitic hate speech and attacks. In France, synagogues are being firebombed. In Belgium, coffee shops are barring Jews from entry. In Chicago, leaflets threatening the Jewish community are being discovered on parked cars. In India, Jewish sites are being threatened with terrorist attacks. And all around the world, protests that start out as “pro-Gaza” or “pro-Palestine” or “anti-Israel” or “anti-Zionist” are quickly devolving into pure, old-fashioned anti-Semitism.
For many American Jewish liberals, this trend is deeply dispiriting — and confusing. They’ve spent years arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two different things, that the former isn’t necessarily rooted in the latter. But now, they complain, that argument is becoming harder and harder to sustain. The lines are getting blurry. If these protesters don’t actually hate Jews, they ask, then why do they keep conflating Jews and the Israeli government? Why are they resorting to this anti-Jewish — and not simply anti-Israel — rhetoric?
Or, in the words of recent Forward contributor Tova Ross:
When angry protesters shout “Death to the Jews!” at “anti-Israel” rallies in Antwerp, Berlin and London, and Jews are trapped in a Paris synagogue and firebombed by an angry mob, how can you honestly posit that anti-Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism?
My response to that question is: Of course the two have something to do with one another — of course they’re uncomfortably intertwined — and are you really so shocked by that?
Is it really so hard to understand why — after Jews have spent decades telling every Jewish child that they are owed a free trip to Israel, citizenship in Israel, life and land in Israel purely by virtue of being Jewish — the world is slow to distinguish between Jews and Israel?
Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state. [Continue reading...]
Shira Lipkin: I’m writing this in my new baby niece’s room. I am here in Florida visiting my family because of this niece, this tiny pudgy innocent baby. We are Jewish, and it’s time for my niece to receive her Hebrew name in a sweet little ceremony at our longtime synagogue.
Last night I sat at the synagogue next to my 19-year-old daughter. I felt a swell of joy as the services began; I’d been away too long. I’d loved services as a child and teenager.
And then we hit the first mention of Israel as the Promised Land, and I burst into tears.
On the way to services, I’d caught up on Twitter a bit. I’d read about the Israeli missiles still falling on Palestine. I’d read about the outright murder of Palestinian children.
And I sat there and listened to the rabbi call Israel our Promised Land, and it broke something in me.
I am an American Jew of a certain age (40), and what that means is that I was raised to believe that Israel was ours by divine right.
It sounds ridiculous when you say it aloud. Especially because, like many of my generation of Jews, I’m not particularly religious. Many Jews my age slid into paganism, a sort of ambivalent agnosticism, or outright atheism; we are cultural Jews rather than religious Jews. And yet when I first spoke about the conflict between Israel and Palestine some years ago, I found that falling out of my mouth – that God promised us Israel. It’s ours because God said so.
My daughter, trying to comfort me after the services, said, “Maybe it is the Promised Land, just not right now.”
My daughter is an atheist. And the narrative got her, too.
The history we are taught in our Sunday school is that we were there first, and that therefore the Palestinians are occupying our land. How long ago were we there, though? And who, exactly, is we? I find myself using that we – “We need to stop bombing Palestine,” “we need to give land back,” but I am not Israeli. I have never been to Israel. This is how deep it runs, this idea of possession. [Continue reading...]
David Grossman writes: Look at us: The strongest nation in the region, a regional superpower that enjoys the support of the United States on an almost inconceivable scale, along with the sympathy and commitment of Germany, England and France – and still, deep inside, it sees itself as a helpless victim. And still it behaves like a victim – of its anxieties, its real and imagined fears, its tragic history, of the mistakes of its neighbors and enemies.
Allison Benedikt writes: In 2012, Los Angeles native Max Steinberg traveled to Israel for the first time, on a 10-day trip sponsored by Birthright Israel. A few months later, he joined the Israel Defense Forces. On Sunday, he died fighting in Gaza, leaving behind his parents, who will now take their first trip to Israel to bury their 24-year-old son.
There are many people to blame for Steinberg’s death. There is the Hamas fighter behind the weapon that actually killed him. There are the leaders, on both sides, who put him in Gaza, and the leaders behind all of the wars between Israel and the Palestinians. I can trace it back to 1948, or 1917, or whatever date suits you and still never find all the parties who are responsible. But I have no doubt in my mind that along with all of them, Birthright shares some measure of the blame. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: Once a unifying cause for generations of American Jews, Israel is now bitterly dividing Jewish communities.
Jewish organizations are withdrawing invitations to Jewish speakers or performers considered too critical of Israel, in what opponents have denounced as an ideological litmus test meant to squelch debate. Some Jewish activists have formed watchdog groups, such as Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art, or COPMA, and JCC Watch, to monitor programming for perceived anti-Israel bias. They argue Jewish groups that take donations for strengthening the community shouldn’t be giving a platform to Israel’s critics.
American campuses have become ideological battle zones over Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories, with national Jewish groups sometimes caught up on opposing sides of the internal debate among Jewish students. The “Open Hillel” movement of Jewish students is challenging speaker guidelines developed by Hillel, the major Jewish campus group, which bars speakers who “delegitimize” or “demonize” Israel. Open Hillel is planning its first national conference in October.
And in a vote testing the parameters of Jewish debate over Israel, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, a national coalition that for decades has represented the American Jewish community, denied membership in April to J Street, the 6-year-old lobby group that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace and has sometimes criticized the Israeli government. Opponents of J Street have been showing a documentary called “The J Street Challenge,” in synagogues and at Jewish gatherings around the country, characterizing the group as a threat from within. [Continue reading...]
Gideon Levy writes: This kind of talk could only take place in darkness; in beer cellars, at violent fringe demonstrations or at the headquarters of outlawed organizations. Only the extreme, fascist, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and xenophobic right would dare to breathe a word of it. Only skinheads and their masters would dare to speak of national purity and of defining their country based on ethnicity, religion, race, nationality or heredity.
No one would dare to say France for the French, America is all-American, Germany is a German state or Italy is a Catholic one. Anyone who did so wouldn’t be considered credible. These countries are democracies of all their citizens; their character is determined by the components of the entire population. Living in each are minorities, their numbers growing in this era of globalization and migration. No one speaks of a nation-state, of a state of one religion, of one racial group.
But this kind of talk is fashionable in Israel. It’s legitimate and even Zionist: a Jewish state. Only in Israel are individual rights and the character of the state determined by origin, like having a Jewish great-grandmother. The hell with members of minority groups – most of whom were born here.
This kind of talk has also become a basic condition for the negotiations with the Palestinians. It’s just a cheap excuse, of course – one more obstacle on the road to reaching a peace agreement, heaven forfend. But the disease’s malignant symptoms are deeply encoded in Israel’s DNA.
Israel is returning to the ghetto, building its own neo-ghetto with its own two hands. Welcome to the Israel Ghetto; it built the walls and fences that surround it long ago, and the mental and cultural walls are on the way. What was done to the Jews for generations, the Jews are now doing to themselves: judging people by their ancestors and withdrawing into a ghetto-state whose nature will be determined by its degree of purity. [Continue reading...]
Eva Illouz writes: [T]he critiques of Israel in the United States are increasingly waged by Jews, not anti-Semites. The initiators and leaders of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement are such respected academics as Judith Butler, Jacqueline Rose, Noam Chomsky, Hilary Rose and Larry Gross, all Jews.
If Israel is indeed singled out among the many nations that have a bad record in human rights, it is because of the personal sense of shame and embarrassment that a large number of Jews in the Western world feel toward a state that, by its policies and ethos, does not represent them anymore. As Peter Beinart has been cogently arguing for some time now, the Jewish people seems to have split into two distinct factions: One that is dominated by such imperatives as “Israeli security,” “Jewish identity” and by the condemnation of “the world’s double standards” and “Arabs’ unreliability”; and a second group of Jews, inside and outside Israel, for whom human rights, freedom, and the rule of law are as visceral and fundamental to their identity as membership to Judaism is for the first group. Supreme irony of history: Israel has splintered the Jewish people around two radically different moral visions of Jews and humanity.
If we are to find an appropriate analogy to understand the rift inside the Jewish people, let us agree that the debate between the two groups is neither ethnic (we belong to the same ethnic group) nor religious (the Judith Butlers of the world are not trying to push a new or different religious dogma, although the rift has a certain, but imperfect, overlap with the religious-secular positions). Nor is the debate a political or ideological one, as Israel is in fact still a democracy. Rather, the poignancy, acrimony and intensity of the debate are about two competing and ultimately incompatible conceptions of morality.
[W]hat started as a national and military conflict has morphed into a form of domination of Palestinians that now increasingly borders on conditions of slavery. If we understand slavery as a condition of existence and not as ownership and trade of human bodies, the domination that Israel has exercised over Palestinians turns out to have created the matrix of domination that I call a “condition of slavery.”
The Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Ministry has documented that between 1967 and 2012, Israeli authorities arrested some 800,000 Palestinians by power of the “military code.” (A more conservative assessment from Israeli sources documented that 700,000 Palestinians were detained between 1967 and 2008.) This number is astounding, especially in light of the fact that this represents as much as 40 percent of the entire male population. When a large part of the adult male population is arrested, it means that the lives of a large number of breadwinners, the heads of a family, are disrupted, alienated and made into the object of the arbitrary power of the army. In fact, which nation would create a Prisoner Affairs Ministry if imprisonment was not such a basic aspect of its life?
These facts also mean that a significant portion of the non-incarcerated population lives under the constant fear and threat of imprisonment. [Continue reading...]
The Times of Israel reported in late January: Yair Netanyahu is “spitting on the grave of his grandfather and grandmother,” Dr. Hagai Ben-Artzi, brother of Sara Netanyahu, said Monday of his nephew’s relationship with a non-Jewish Norwegian woman.
News that the prime minister’s son, who is 23, is dating Sandra Leikanger, 25, was first reported by the Norwegian daily Dagen. The tall, svelte blonde met the younger Netanyahu at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, where the two study.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week that his son traveled with Leikanger in Norway over the summer, and that the two had been dating for months.
In an interview with ultra-Orthodox website Kikar HaShabbat, Ben-Artzi urged his nephew to cut ties with his new girlfriend, and warned him that should he choose to pursue the relationship, Ben-Artzi would personally see to it that he would not be allowed near his grandparents’ graves.
“It’s terrible,” Ben-Artzi said. “Just terrible, and the son of the prime minister no less. It is the worst thing that is threatening and was a threat throughout the history of the Jews.”
Should his nephew marry Leikanger, Ben-Artzi said he “would bury myself, I don’t know what I would do with myself, I’d take to the streets and rip the hair out of my head — and here it’s coming true.”
If his father was alive, Ben-Artzi added, that is precisely how he would respond too.
Ben-Artzi and Sara Netanyahu have not been in touch for years for undisclosed reasons.
Earlier on Monday, ultra-Orthodox Shas MK Arye Deri responded to news of the relationship by saying, “If God forbid it’s true, then woe to us, woe to us.”
Deri told the Kol Barama radio station the relationship was no mere personal matter because Netanyahu is a “symbol of the Jewish people.”
“I know friends of mine who invest tens of millions and more, hundreds of millions to fight assimilation in the world,” Deri said. [Continue reading...]
Elianna Yolkut, a Conservative Rabbi in New York City, writes: Though it might sound fatalistic, if our Jewish leadership and institutions do not stop obsessing over demographics and statistics, we will lose the true fight. Judaism will lose its wisdom, its value and its meaning. We must, as a community, dedicate our resources, time, money, leadership and energy to being the voice for the powerful messages Judaism can bring to the world, and to Jewish community; message of love and responsibility, of hope and possibility, of compassion and commitment.
The genocidal policies of the Nazis resulted in the deaths of about as many Polish Gentiles as Polish Jews, thus making them co-victims in a Forgotten Holocaust. This Holocaust has been largely ignored because historians who have written on the subject of the Holocaust have chosen to interpret the tragedy in exclusivistic terms — namely, as the most tragic period in the history of the Jewish Diaspora. To them, the Holocaust was unique to the Jews, and they therefore have had little or nothing to say about the nine million Gentiles, including three million Poles, who also perished in the greatest tragedy the world has ever known. — Richard C. Lukas, preface to The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles under German Occupation 1939-1944
We are surrounded today by fictions about the past, contrary to common sense and to an elementary perception of good and evil. As The Los Angeles Times recently stated, the number of books in various languages which deny that the Holocaust ever took place, that it was invented by Jewish propaganda, has exceeded one hundred. If such an insanity is possible, is a complete loss of memory as a permanent state of mind improbable? And would it not present a danger more grave than genetic engineering or poisoning of the natural environment?
For the poet of the “other Europe” the events embraced by the name of the Holocaust are a reality, so close in time that he cannot hope to liberate himself from their remembrance unless, perhaps, by translating the Psalms of David. He feels anxiety, though, when the meaning of the word Holocaust undergoes gradual modifications, so that the word begins to belong to the history of the Jews exclusively, as if among the victims there were not also millions of Poles, Russians, Ukrainians and prisoners of other nationalities. He feels anxiety, for he senses in this a foreboding of a not distant future when history will be reduced to what appears on television, while the truth, as it is too complicated, will be buried in the archives, if not totally annihilated. — Czeslaw Milosz, 1980
The Polish-American poet John Guzlowski writes: My mother wasn’t an educated woman. She had no college, no high school even. She couldn’t read the books that argue about who was and who was not in the Holocaust.
When I was growing up, she never said she was in the Holocaust. She wasn’t a talker, but she talked a little about what happened to her family. Her mother and sister and the sister’s baby were killed by German Soldiers and Ukrainian neighbors. She had two aunts who died in Auschwitz with their Jewish husbands. My mother spent a couple years in a slave labor camp in Germany. There were Jews and non-Jews in her camp; people suffered and died there. She didn’t talk about any of this much, and when she did she didn’t use the word “Holocaust.”
This changed as she got older. Toward the end of the 1990s, she started talking about how she was in the Holocaust. I think part of this might have come from the fact that people in general, not historians or academics but “just plain folks,” were using the term more often. They had seen Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful and Holocaust and other films about the Holocaust. I heard her using this word and saying that she was in the Holocaust. She said this to Christians (she was Catholic) and Jews alike. Maybe it was a sort of short hand for her. She was getting older and it was harder for her, I think, to try to explain to people that Polish Catholics also were in death camps and slave labor camps like their Jewish neighbors.
Was my mother right to use this word “Holocaust”? Did she have a right to use this word?
I think she had a right. When my father tried to talk about what happened to my mother during the war, he couldn’t say much. Sometimes, he would start crying, and all he could say then was, “She suffered so much.”
I have an education, and I’ve read about the debate concerning the word “Holocaust.” I think I can lay out some of the arguments from each side in a rudimentary sort of way given the complexity of everything that happened in World War II. One side feels that the Holocaust is what happened to the Jews alone. This side feels that the Nazis and their anti-Semitic allies in all countries worked to eliminate the Jews, and that what happened to the Jews was unique. The other side of the argument has it that Non-Jews by the millions from all of Europe suffered and died alongside the Jews, and that the term Holocaust should apply to all of those who suffered and died in the camps.
So, you ask, what do I think about using the word “Holocaust.” First, I’d have to say that I would never have told my mother that she wasn’t in the Holocaust. I think she had a right to describe her experiences in any way that she saw fit. She was there, she suffered. If she felt she was in the Holocaust, I wouldn’t argue with her.
Second, let me say, that I believe that what happened to Jews was different from what happened to non-Jews. Jews were singled out for immediate destruction. They suffered, they starved, they waited, they died, they waited, they died. Non-Jews who were considered non-Aryan (the Poles, the Italians, the Russians, the Rumanians, the Czechs, and others) were not singled out for immediate destruction. They suffered, they lingered, they starved, they waited, they died, they waited. My father used to talk about the difference between the death camps that the Jews were in and the slave labor camps he was in this way: The Jews, he would say, were in the death camps; he was in the slow-death camps.
To me, it doesn’t seem necessary to spend time discussing the word “Holocaust” and whether it’s applicable to what happened to my parents and other non-Jews.
I think about the Jewish dead and I think about the non-Jewish dead. They are dead.
What I know of hell comes to me primarily from my reading of Dante’s Inferno. In his hell, no one is untouched by pain. Everyone suffers. Some suffer more. Some suffer most. What I know of pain and suffering teaches me that I cannot judge the suffering and pain another feels. I can try to ease that pain and suffering. That is pretty much all I can do.
Let me also say this, I think that all of us who talk about what happened in those dark years of Hitler’s ascendancy and power and the Holocaust and suffering he helped to bring about finally cannot fully understand what happened or what it felt like or what it was like. In this respect, all of us, despite our very best efforts, cannot know what the Holocaust was. We are finally tourists in the kingdom of the Holocaust. We look, we wonder, we cry, we look, we turn away, we look again.
In a profile of Ariel Sharon written by James Bennet that appeared in the New York Times in 2004, Sharon indicated that he didn’t see Israel as simply a homeland for the Jewish people but rather that the perpetuation of Jewish identity depended on the ability of Jews to isolate themselves from non-Jews.
For those who regard assimilation as a threat, it’s hard to imagine that they can really embrace the idea of peaceful co-existence — be that peaceful co-existence with Palestinians, Arabs, or anyone else. Why? Because peace inevitably leads to the collapse of barriers and if the enduring existence of ones identity is seen as dependent on the perpetuation of such barriers then the enmity which sustains division is preferable to peace.
In the 50’s and 60’s, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, took a shine to the brash leader of Israel’s commandos. Much to the irritation of Sharon’s superior officers, Ben-Gurion would invite him for private chats in his office or even his home. Ben-Gurion’s papers reflect a fatherly interest in Sharon, whom he referred to as Arik and whose roguishness both charmed and worried him. During this period, Ben-Gurion was in his 60’s and then 70’s, Sharon in his 20’s and then 30’s. Their chats followed a tender pattern. Sharon would describe and sometimes defend his exploits. He would complain about his superiors. While lending a sympathetic ear, Ben-Gurion would gently relay to Sharon some of those officers’ concerns, and his own, about Sharon’s behavior. Prodded by Israel’s white-haired founder, Sharon would admit that he lacked discipline and even that he lied, sometimes to Ben-Gurion himself.
“An original, visionary young man,” Ben-Gurion noted on Jan. 29, 1960. “Were he to rid himself of his faults of not speaking the truth and to distance himself from gossip, he would be an exceptional military leader.”
On Nov. 24, 1958, Ben-Gurion recorded an unusual encounter with Sharon. Sharon was just back from 13 months of military study in England. “This was the first time he met with Jews, and he is anxious about the future of our relations with them,” Ben-Gurion wrote in his journal. By “Jews,” he meant non-Israeli Jews living in the Diaspora. Born and raised in what is now Israel, Sharon had not encountered such Jews before.
“The Jews in England are not accepted in the English clubs and golf courses, and they have to situate themselves in Jewish institutions,” Ben-Gurion wrote, recounting Sharon’s impressions. Sharon, he continued, was astonished that these Jews nevertheless did not feel “any personal connection of any kind with Israel.”
It was an insight with a great impact on Sharon. He still speaks about it. When I quoted the passage from Ben-Gurion, it triggered an 18-minute monologue about his fears for the survival of the Jews. “I have many worries, but something that really bothers me is what will happen with the Jews in the future — what will happen to them in 30 years’ time, in 300 years’ time, and with God’s help, 3,000 years’ time.” He laughed. “But I don’t think that then I’ll have to take care of that.”
Returning to his stay in England, he recalled how British officers aimed their anti-Semitism at British Jews but not at Israelis. “It was a kind of an attempt to draw a distinction between Israel and Israelis and ‘their own Jews,’ I would say — Jews in the Diaspora,” he said.
“That worried me,” he continued. “It worried me. I didn’t like it.” He added, “I felt it’s going to be a danger.”
That is classic Sharon: the sweep of the sense of duty, the depth of the tribal consciousness, the sensitivity of the antennae to any threat, maybe real, maybe merely perceived. He regards Israel as a worldwide Jewish project, and he did not want to see any divergence in the Israeli and Jewish identities.
After a few years, Sharon thought the problem went away. “I would say the European countries — maybe others as well — they started to treat us as Jews,” he said. In other words, the danger receded as European Christians began treating Israeli Jews with the same prejudice with which they treated Jews at home. It seemed an odd source of comfort.
Sharon plowed on. A Jew, he said, can only “live as a Jew” in Israel. There were many fewer mixed marriages, he said. “All the time I worry — and I check it all the time — that Jews, I would say, might disappear,” he said. That is, the threat to Jews’ survival exists if they are physically in danger or not. If they are safe and welcomed where they are, they are threatened with assimilation.
Nefesh B’Nefesh’s appeal to young American Jews to “go south” involves a cultural mashup, mixing the promise of an open frontier ready to be settled by adventuresome pioneers, along with the idea that the Negev desert is part of their ancestral homeland.
A would-be recruit says that as a Jew in America he’s “living in exile.”
What apparently hasn’t dawned on him or any others who swallow Nefesh B’Nefesh’s bait, is that this sense of exile might have more to do with being American than being Jewish.
The American fascination with roots springs precisely from the fact that nearly everyone comes from elsewhere, yet from exactly where is for so many very hard to trace. What distinguishes the Zionist hucksters is that they can easily trade with a ready-made answer to this question: where do I come from?
Alex Kane writes: On the 17th floor of a Manhattan conference building, young Jews from the New York area listened intently to two Israeli-Americans speak of the wonders of the Jewish state. They were going through the finer points of emigrating to Israel, talking up the varied benefits those who become citizens receive. Outside, it was a dreary and overcast Sunday. But the atmosphere inside was sunny: the banter light-hearted, the jokes from the speakers free-flowing, and all happy to be at the “Think Israel” conference (held on November 17th).
There was a serious task at hand, though: deciding how to choose a community in Israel where they would feel at home, which is part of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s core mission of encouraging aliyah to the Jewish state.
Ravit Greenberg, an Israeli citizen from upstate New York now working for Nefesh B’Nefesh, had just the right answer for them. They should move to the Negev in the south of Israel. It’s an area the government is encouraging Jews to move to with a variety of incentives. Greenberg was asked why the Negev was attractive by a boisterous and overeager pony-tailed man named Aaron.
“They want to encourage development,” Greenberg told him, talking about the Israeli government. And to help the Israeli government, Nefesh B’Nefesh seeks to enlist young North American Jews in the a key state project: populating the Negev with more Israeli Jews. [Continue reading...]
Sarah Posner writes: In an eatery here, 28-year-old Israeli human rights activist Avner Gvaryahu described the first time he came face to face with a Palestinian.
He was 19 and serving in the Israel Defense Forces when his unit invaded the home of a Palestinian family in the dead of night. They were there to perform a “straw widow,” a raid during which soldiers forcibly seize control of a Palestinian civilian home.
“This is the reality of the occupation,” said Gvaryahu, now the Jewish diaspora coordinator for the Israeli human rights group Breaking the Silence, which, using the testimony of veterans such as himself, educates the Israeli public about military tactics and abuses in the occupied territories.
“This is the story of my generation,” said Gvaryahu, who said only a small fraction of Israelis serve in combat units in the West Bank. “No one knows about it. They don’t really understand what we’re asked to do.”
He was on tour for Breaking the Silence’s book “Our Harsh Logic,” the timing of which coincided with the publication of the Pew Research Center’s major survey of Jewish American attitudes. The survey showed an increasing secularization of American Jews, and decreasing affiliation with synagogues and organized religion, a phenomenon that exists within American Christianity as well. It also tracked changes in Jewish American attitudes to Israel.
While 30 percent of respondents professed to be very attached to Israel and 39 percent said they felt “somewhat” attached, 31 percent answered that they felt not very or not at all attached to Israel. Asked whether caring about Israel was an “essential” part of being Jewish, 43 percent answered in the affirmative. And the Pew researchers noted a demographic shift: “Older Jews are more likely than younger Jews to see caring about Israel as an essential part of what being Jewish means to them,” the study noted, with more than half of respondents over 65 believing that caring about Israel was an essential part of their Jewish identity, whereas only 32 percent of respondents under 30 shared that belief. [Continue reading...]