Sara Yael Hirschhorn writes: On July 31, in the West Bank village of Duma, 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh was burned alive in a fire. All available evidence suggests that the blaze was a deliberate act of settler terrorism. More disturbingly, several of the alleged instigators, currently being detained indefinitely, are not native-born Israelis — they have American roots.
But there has been little outcry in their communities. Settler rabbis and the leaders of American immigrant communities in the West Bank have either played down their crime or offered muted criticism.
It’s worth recalling the response of the former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to another heinous attack two decades ago, when an American-born doctor, Baruch Goldstein, gunned down dozens of Palestinians while they prayed in Hebron.
“He grew in a swamp whose murderous sources are found here, and across the sea; they are foreign to Judaism, they are not ours,” thundered Mr. Rabin before the Knesset in February 1994. “You are a foreign implant. You are an errant weed. Sensible Judaism spits you out.”
The shocking 1994 massacre was, at the time, the bloodiest outbreak of settler terrorism Israelis and Palestinians had ever seen. Less than two years later, Mr. Rabin himself would be dead, felled by an ultranationalist assassin’s bullet.
Suddenly, a group of American Jewish immigrants that had existed on the fringes of society became a national pariah. A former president of Israel, Chaim Herzog, labeled the United States “a breeding ground” for Jewish terror; the daily newspaper Maariv castigated American Jews who “send their lunatic children to Israel.” One Israeli journalist even demanded “operative steps against the Goldsteins of tomorrow” by banning the immigration of militant American Jews.
But tomorrow has arrived. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The attacks on Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, since he announced his support for the nuclear accord with Iran have been so vicious that the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Anti-Defamation League both felt compelled this week to publicly condemn Jewish voices of hate.
On the other side, three Jewish Democrats in the House who oppose the deal released a joint statement denouncing “ad hominem attacks and threats” against not only supporters like Mr. Nadler but also Jewish opponents, who have been accused of “dual loyalties” and treason.
This August recess has not produced the kind of fiery town hall-style meetings that greeted lawmakers in 2009 before their vote on the Affordable Care Act, but in one small but influential segment of the electorate, Jewish voters, it has been brutal. Infighting among Jewish Americans may be nothing new, but the vitriol surrounding the accord between Iran and six world powers has become so intense that leaders now speak openly of long-term damage to Jewish organizations, and possibly to American-Israeli relations. [Continue reading…]
The Times of Israel reports: World Jewry is finding it increasingly difficult to support Israel due to its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, leading many communities to shun discussing the Jewish state altogether, a new major study has found.
The trend is eroding the Diaspora’s support for the Jewish state, warns the report by the Jewish People Policy Institute think tank, to be formally published next week.
While most Jews sympathize with Israel’s needs to wage war in self-defense and believe that its army acts according to high moral standards, there is growing discomfort with some Israeli policies they believe unnecessarily perpetuate conflict, according to the 100-page report by the JPPI, which was made available to The Times of Israel.
Diaspora Jews are not convinced that Israel is doing enough to prevent military conflicts and are troubled by the number of civilian casualties they often produce, though they generally blame Israel’s enemies for the bloodshed. The accusation of the use of “disproportionate force” makes it difficult for these Jews to defend Israeli actions. Somewhat paradoxically, however, Jews in the Diaspora are disappointed that Israel doesn’t manage to end its wars with decisive victories.
“Many Jews doubt that Israel truly wishes to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians, and few believe it is making the necessary effort to achieve one,” according to the study’s author, Shmuel Rosner. [Continue reading…]
Anshel Pfeffer reports: ‘The Cossacks aren’t coming’ – a series of dispatches from Jewish communities across Europe – was born from a feeling that the true story of Jewish life in Europe is not being told.
It is obscured in both Israeli and international media due to a, perhaps understandable, focus on terror attacks and perception of a rising tide of anti-Semitism washing over the continent. The narrative which has emerged in recent years, to an increasing degree since last summer’s conflict in Gaza and in the wake of the Paris killings in January, has been one of fearful and endangered Jews on the brink of tragedy – that can only be averted by mass emigration to safer shores.
Much of the reporting on European Jewry in recent months has been tinged with disbelief: Who are these foolhardy Jews that have failed to learn the lesson of the Holocaust and are once again ignoring the coming storm in this cursed continent?
It fails to take into account that for a million and a half Jews across Europe, this is home. They are part of the social fabric and national identity of the countries where they were born and continue choosing to live their lives. While thousands of communities were wiped out in the Holocaust and many others have since drastically dwindled in numbers, Jews still live openly throughout Europe, both carrying on traditions and creatively innovating new and fascinating Jewish experiences.
Very little of this has been reported, and the complex challenges the Jews do face, are routinely reduced to the simplistic formulations of physical threat from the new Islamization and a resurgence of old anti-Semitism. Most of the coverage has also disregarded how in the wider upheaval occurring now in Europe, the Jews are not victims of change, but also have a key role to play in the continent’s future.
Ten features cannot provide a broad picture of such a wide range of communities, each facing its own particular set of circumstances and carving out a unique place in wider national identities. It is intended to present a series of snapshots, illustrating how the Jews of Europe are not only responding to tragedy and intimidation, but also busy building a future. In addition to my research in five countries, chosen to give a cross-section of regions and Jewish populations of different size and temperament, the insights are informed by my reporting for Haaretz over the last eight years from all the major Jewish communities in Europe and many of the smaller ones as well.
The Jewish cemetary in Krakow. Photo by Moshe Gilad
It is an attempt at a clear-eyed appraisal of the dangers facing Europe’s Jews but also an optimistic view of their future; which is why my journey began down the road from Auschwitz, at the bright and new Jewish Community Center in Krakow. [Continue reading parts 1-10…]
Diana Pinto writes: Europeans, especially European Jews, are used to being treated as museum pieces and historical relics by Americans. We are the object of extensive commentary but rarely regarded as possessing any living voice worth engaging with. I recently had the strange experience of listening to myself and other European Jews talked about as if we were already as silent as a Pompeian plaster cast while reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s article “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” in the April issue of The Atlantic and watching his accompanying video chat with James Bennet and Leon Wieseltier. If a plaster cast may be permitted to speak, I would say that Goldberg and his colleagues aren’t describing my reality; the world I come from isn’t already destroyed; and the story of the Jews in Europe isn’t yet ready to be relegated to museums or to antiquarian sites like Pompeii.
The implicit assumption in Goldberg’s piece, and in many articles going back to at least the end of the Cold War in 1989, is that Europe’s Jews, if they had an iota of common sense and dignity, would not be in Europe. [Continue reading…]
Dimi Reider writes: As flagship events go, the anti-Netanyahu rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, meant to be a high point of the campaign to oust Israel’s Prime Minister in next week’s general elections, left a lot to be desired. The turnout was unimpressive, the speakers uncharismatic, and the mood, attendees reported after the event, surprisingly lethargic.
The reason Israelis are still talking about the rally days later is not because of a passionate speech delivered by the former chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, Meir Dagan, but rather because of a highly embarrassing – and potentially, electorally damaging – speech by an artist and frequent Haaretz contributor, Yair Garboz.
Garboz opened the rally by describing how he viewed Israel with Netanyahu at the helm, indulging in a popular habit of attributing the most extreme aberrations and abuses of powers to a tiny, unrepresentative minority.
“They told us that the man who killed the [former] prime minister [Rabin] was part of a delusional, tiny handful of individuals,” he said. “They told us he was under the influence of rabbis detached from reality, part of the crazy margins. They said those of yellow shirts with black badges, who shout “death to Arabs”, are a tiny handful. They told us the thieves and the bribe takers are only a handful. That the corrupt are no more than a handful…. the talismans-kissers, the idol-worshippers and those bowing and prostrating themselves on the tombs of saints – only a handful… then how is that this handful rules over us? How did this handful quietly become a majority?”
In the heated discussion that ensued, Garboz insisted he wasn’t referring to anyone of any particular ethnic origin. But to most Israelis, the phrase about “talisman-kissers” and “tomb worshippers” was as much dogwhistle politics as American lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s remarks a few weeks earlier about Obama “not being brought up like we were” was to black Americans. Some Ashkenazi Jews do all of the above too, usually in connection to the tomb of the 19th century Rabbi Nachman of Breslaw in Uman, Ukraine. But talismans and pilgrimages are a well-known staple in the lives of Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries – also known as Mizrachim. [Continue reading…]
Anshel Pfeffer writes: “I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people.”
This bald statement by Benjamin Netanyahu, at a gathering of French-speaking Likud supporters in Jerusalem on Sunday, should be astonishing. He was saying that when he insisted on taking part in last month’s solidarity march of world leaders in Paris, against the wishes of French President Francois Hollande, he was acting on behalf of French Jews. He is now planning to do the same in Washington: “Just as I went to Paris, so I will go anyplace I’m invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to kill us.”
It should be astonishing, because for the first time an Israeli prime minister is not only saying that Israel has a responsibility for Jews in jeopardy around the world, that it works to rescue those living under despotic rule and is also the homeland of Jews who choose to live elsewhere; Netanyahu is going a step further, claiming to be the true spokesman and leader of those Jews — even when that puts him at cross-purposes with their democratically elected leaders, and even when Jewish members of Congress implore him not to openly defy their president by addressing the chamber next month.
It should be astonishing, but it isn’t. No one who has followed Netanyahu in recent years could have reached a different conclusion. He believes he represents the interests of Jews in the Diaspora better than they do themselves. It is implicit in the story he often tells of his late father, Benzion Netanyahu, who as a young acolyte of Zeev Jabotinsky in the 1930s tried to warn the leaders of American Jewry of the impending tragedy in Europe, but failed to shake their complacency.
The father did not have the power to make them listen and to begin evacuating Jews from the gathering storm. The son has that power and he will use it no matter what: As he said on Sunday, there are “those who want to kill us” and “I will not hesitate to say what’s needed to warn against this danger, and prevent it.”
This is the task thrust upon Benjamin Netanyahu by history. Who are you, Jews of America and France, to tell him it is not his burden to take up?
They are right of course, all the French Jews who told me last week in Paris — and not only from the left — that they were deeply insulted by Netanyahu’s high-handed manner. Many deeply Zionist Jews told me they felt he was making a mockery of centuries of effort and sacrifice to integrate into the Republic, that he had no right to come to Paris and lecture them on the futility of their endeavor. Just as the U.S. Jewish leaders who are finally speaking out and saying that Netanyahu does not speak for them are simply stating the obvious: They didn’t vote for him, and he has no right to defy their president on their behalf. He is the prime minister of Israel, and if he thinks safeguarding Israel’s interests justifies a confrontation with its allies then that is his duty. But leave the Diaspora out of it.
They are right, but their reactions were a case of too little and much too late.
If the Jews living outside of Israel didn’t want Netanyahu speaking and acting on their behalf, they should have called him out years ago, privately and if necessary also in public. Save for a few commentators and fringe organizations, they were silent. At the same time, they feted Netanyahu at every opportunity and acquiesced to hiring like-minded figures, who rarely if ever criticized him in public, to head major national and international Jewish organizations. [Continue reading…]
Michael Steinhardt, one of the founders of Birthright Israel, concedes, “it’s easier to be a Zionist in Manhattan than it is in Tel Aviv.”
Philip Weiss writes: As a liberal, I think this really is a better way to be, tolerating others, worshiping whoever you want to (right now George Eliot), minding your own business. It’s great that Bernard Avishai gets a lot out of Bialik. That’s no reason to insist on a Jewish democracy. Especially when that Jewish democracy breeds people like Moshe Feiglin and Caroline Glick who believe the bible is a title for the Jews to the land of all of Israel. That’s lunacy. When one of our lunatics Sarah Palin sets out to protect Christmas from the cultural war against it, I don’t feel the least bit threatened. But Feiglin and Glick are truly threatening characters, because theirs is a vital belief system: the government is stealing land and forcing Palestinians out of their homes on that basis.
I used to be afraid of my mother’s best friend, who had escaped Berlin to move to the U.S. and then Jerusalem; it took me a while to come out to her as an anti-Zionist, when she started shouting at me about the Holocaust, and one reason I didn’t is that I had assimilated the idea that Jews in Jerusalem were aliyah, higher, than Jews in the Diaspora, yoredim, lower. It was an old religious idea inside my subculture. Without getting into who’s higher or lower, Zionists sure have propagated some backward ideas. Jewish democracy and the Jewish people’s right to self-determination are out of step with the culture that Jews and others have fashioned in my country over the last 30 or 40 years. Whether that identity is assimilationist or areligious or syncretist or idealistic, I leave to others to sort out. I know it’s where I’m happiest and most fully engaged. If the people of Israel gave up the idea of ethnic-religious self-determination, the Palestinians might give up theirs too, and they might get to the same place. I want to encourage them.
Matt Duss writes: With the myriad challenges the Israeli government currently faces – regional turmoil, unrest in Jerusalem, and opposition to a highly contentious budget — this might seem like an interesting time for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to promulgate a new law defining Israel’s identity as “the nation state of the Jewish people.” The bill, which was supposed to have been voted on this Wednesday but has now been delayed, would recognize Jewish religious law as an inspiration for legislation, and affirm that, “The right to the fulfillment of national self-determination within the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
At first glance, the timing for this bill is odd. The past months have seen the most unrest in years among Israel’s Palestinian population. The murder of 16 year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and set on fire in revenge for the murder of three Israeli teenagers in July, have fueled tensions that are high after decades of neglect at the hands of the Israeli government. Anti-Arab demagoguery by Israeli politicians, and anti-Arab attacks by Israeli citizens who take that demagoguery seriously, is on the upswing In the view of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, who make up some 20% of the population, the new law would make clear that they are second-class citizens.
The move is understandable, however, when one takes into account that Netanyahu needs to protect his right flank from rising contenders like Naftali Bennett, Minister of the Economy, who recently wrote a New York Times op-ed declaring the two-state solution dead. Netanyahu is also pressured by critics within his own Likud Party, where he finds himself representing the left-leaning camp in an increasingly right-wing party. [Continue reading…]
In the eyes of many observers, Israel has never had more than the pretense of being a democracy, but for some of its most ardent supporters, even that pretense is becoming difficult to uphold.
David Ellenson and Deborah Lipstadt write: When Palestinians murdered worshipers in a west Jerusalem synagogue at morning services on Nov. 18, one of the first Israeli policemen on the scene was Zidan Saif, a member of the minority Druse religious community. He played a key role in stopping the assault and was murdered as he did so. The entire nation took note of his sacrifice. Israelis, among them many ultra-Orthodox and President Reuven Rivlin, turned out in droves for his funeral as a sign of respect and gratitude. Now the Israeli Knesset is poised to consider a bill which would demean this man’s standing as an Israeli citizen.
It is with sadness that we write these words. We are both staunch supporters—indeed lovers—of the state of Israel. We rejoice in the fact that we have lived there for extended periods. We consider Israel to be central to our own self-understanding and identity as Jews.
It is precisely because of that love that we find ourselves so alarmed by the Israeli cabinet’s support last week for a proposed basic law called “Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is intent on introducing this proposed bill to the Knesset. The lawmakers may take an initial vote in the next few days; if the bill passes this first stage, it will be sent for mark-up and two more rounds of voting, but its essential effect is unlikely to be altered: The law would formally identify Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, enshrine Jewish law as a source of inspiration for legislation, and delist Arabic as an official language. It pointedly fails to affirm Israel’s democratic character.
The proposed legislation betrays the most fundamental principles enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which promises “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex and will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture.”
Such a bill would certainly concern, if not inflame, Israel’s Arab citizens. However, it also is a cause of concern for countless Jews in Israel and throughout the world who are committed to Israel as a democratic state devoted to human rights and equality. [Continue reading…]
Nervana Mahmoud writes: While handing me Karen Armstrong’s book A History of Jerusalem, my Jordanian colleague said, “Start from the eighth chapter, the earlier chapters are irrelevant.” Like many Arabs, my colleague has never been interested in the early history of the holy city. He said, “Why should we be? The modern history is more relevant to the city.”
The perpetual turmoil in the city comes from all sides choosing to have a selective memory. Arabs want to ignore the city’s ancient history, which is largely a Jewish history. This Arab indifference is equally matched by Jewish bias against the Arab and Muslim history of the city. In other words, both choose to consider — and twist — half the story of the holy site and ignore the other half. Historical illiteracy does not help in any political fight; in fact it only creates strife.
This mindset on both sides of selectivity and indifference fuels the current tension regarding sanctuary at the Al-Aqsa mosque versus the right of Jews to pray inside the Temple Mount. Ironically, both sides cover and report the recent tension in the Temple Mount in a similar, selective way. Israeli media reported on October 29th how a prominent U.S.-born right-wing activist, who campaigned for greater Jewish access to the Temple Mount was seriously wounded in a Jerusalem shooting. Meanwhile Arabic and Turkish media stressed later clashes on November 5th between Israeli police, settlers and Palestinians at the al-Aqsa mosque.
Tracing a logical, accurate sequence of events in any news related to Jerusalem is always a difficult task. Nonetheless, the basic story here is that Jewish religious groups see the compound as their holy site, and want to lift the ban forbidding Jewish prayer inside. In contrast, Palestinian inhabitants see this group as invaders who want to disrupt the sanctuary of the holy Muslim site. This is a recipe for an explosive environment that can flare up at any time. [Continue reading…]
Aeyal Gross writes: In 2000, the High Court of Justice ruled in the Kadan case that the state must not discriminate in the allocation of state lands, and was thus forbidden to build on its lands communities that exclude Arabs. If the proposed Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People being advanced by coalition chairman MK Zeev Elkin (Likud) passes, this ruling is liable to be overridden.
Elkin’s bill states that the government is permitted to allow members of the same nationality or religion to develop separate communities. Essentially, this means it would be constitutionally valid to allocate separate lands for Jews and Arabs – and separate, as we well know, is never equal. This echoes the justification given in South Africa for their apartheid regimes and separate land allocations. Each group, it was argued then, was entitled to its “separate development.”
Another court ruling that could fall by the wayside requires the municipalities of mixed cities to display dual-language (Hebrew and Arabic) signage. While the proposed basic law speaks of Arabic’s “special” status, Hebrew would be the state’s only official language if the bill passes.
Both these examples demonstrate how the proposed law could bring about a retreat in the realm of equality – although, even now, the situation is far from ideal. [Continue reading…]
Peter Beinart writes: The most important trend in American Jewish politics today is the collapse of the center. The American Jewish establishment isn’t only being challenged by left-leaning groups like J Street. It also faces a less widely recognized, but equally powerful, challenge from the right.
Consider this week’s spat between Sheldon Adelson and Abraham Foxman. At an event last Sunday, Adelson’s fellow oligarch, Chaim Saban, said Israel needed to support a Palestinian state if it wanted to remain a Jewish democracy. To which Adelson replied, “I don’t think the Bible says anything about democracy. I think God didn’t say anything about democracy. God talked about all the good things in life. He didn’t talk about Israel remaining as a democratic state, otherwise Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state — so what?”
So what? With that question, Adelson lobbed a grenade at the American Jewish establishment. When the American Jewish establishment defends Israel, it doesn’t talk much about God. That’s because while theological language plays well among conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews, it tends to alienate secular liberals. Indeed, it alienates some of the secular liberals who populate American Jewish organizations. As a result, America’s mainstream Jewish groups generally justify Israeli policy not via religion but via America’s civil religion — democracy — a creed that enjoys unquestioned reverence across the political spectrum. By claiming democracy doesn’t matter, Adelson was sabotaging the case for Israel that the American Jewish establishment has been making for decades. Which is why one of that establishment’s senior members, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman, called Adelson’s remarks “disturbing on many levels.” Foxman added that, “the founders of Israel got it exactly right when they emphasized the country being both a Jewish and democratic state. Any initiatives that move Israel away from either value would ill-serve the state and people of Israel.”
The problem is that Israel has been pursuing just such an initiative for almost a half-century now. Since 1967, it has established dominion over millions of West Bank Palestinians who lack citizenship or the right to vote in the state that controls their lives.
Far from apologizing for that control, or seeking to undo it, Israel’s current government is making it permanent. And the Israeli leaders most committed to the settlement project freely acknowledge that for them, democracy is not the highest value. In the words of Moshe Feiglin, deputy speaker of the Knesset, “The State of Israel was created for the Jewish people, and its democracy is supposed to serve the Jewish people. If this state acts against the interests of the Jewish people, there is no longer any point in its existence, be it democratic or not.” [Continue reading…]
David Remnick writes: Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, the new President of Israel, is ardently opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. He is instead a proponent of Greater Israel, one Jewish state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. He professes to be mystified that anyone should object to the continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank: “It can’t be ‘occupied territory’ if the land is your own.”
Rivlin does not have the starched personality of an ideologue, however. He resembles a cheerfully overbearing Borscht Belt comedian who knows too many bad jokes to tell in a single set but is determined to try. Sitting in an office decorated with mementos of his right-wing Zionist lineage, he unleashes a cataract of anecdotes, asides, humble bromides, corny one-liners, and historical footnotes. At seventy-five, he has the florid, bulbous mug of a cartoon flatfoot, if that flatfoot were descended from Lithuanian Talmudists and six generations of Jerusalemites. Rivlin’s father, Yosef, was a scholar of Arabic literature. (He translated the Koran and “The Thousand and One Nights.”) Ruvi Rivlin’s temperament is other than scholarly. He is, in fact, given to categorical provocations. After a visit some years ago to a Reform synagogue in Westfield, New Jersey, he declared that the service was “idol worship and not Judaism.”
And yet, since Rivlin was elected President, in June, he has become Israel’s most unlikely moralist. Rivlin—not a left-wing writer from Tel Aviv, not an idealistic justice of the Supreme Court—has emerged as the most prominent critic of racist rhetoric, jingoism, fundamentalism, and sectarian violence, the highest-ranking advocate among Jewish Israelis for the civil rights of the Palestinians both in Israel and in the occupied territories. Last month, he told an academic conference in Jerusalem, “It is time to honestly admit that Israel is sick, and it is our duty to treat this illness.”
Around Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Rivlin made a video in which he sat next to an eleven-year-old Palestinian Israeli boy from Jaffa who had been bullied: the two held up cards to the camera calling for empathy, decency, and harmony. “We are exactly the same,” one pair read. A couple of weeks ago, Rivlin visited the Arab town of Kafr Qasim to apologize for the massacre, in 1956, of forty-eight Palestinian workers and children by Israeli border guards. No small part of the Palestinian claim is that Israel must take responsibility for the Arab suffering it has caused. Rivlin said, “I hereby swear, in my name and that of all our descendants, that we will never act against the principle of equal rights, and we will never try and force someone from our land.”
Every Israeli and Palestinian understands the context of these remarks. In recent years, anti-Arab harassment and vitriol have reached miserable levels. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who treasures his fragile ruling coalition above all else, is more apt to manipulate the darkling mood to his political advantage than to ease it.
“I’ve been called a ‘lying little Jew’ by my critics,” Rivlin told the Knesset recently. “ ‘Damn your name, Arab agent,’ ‘Go be President in Gaza,’ ‘disgusting sycophant,’ ‘rotten filth,’ ‘lowest of the low,’ ‘traitor,’ ‘President of Hezbollah.’ These are just a few of the things that have been said to me in the wake of events I’ve attended and speeches I’ve made. I must say that I’ve been horrified by this thuggishness that has permeated the national dialogue.” [Continue reading…]
The Jerusalem Post reports: The time has come to admit that Israel is a sick society, with an illness that demands treatment, President Reuven Rivlin said at the opening session on Sunday of a conference on From Hatred of the Stranger to Acceptance of the Other.
Both Rivlin and Prof. Ruth Arnon, president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, which organized the conference at its premises on the capital’s Jabotinsky Street, spoke of the painful and bloody summer, and the resultant resurgence of animosity between Arabs and Jews that had escalated to new heights.
Referring to the mutual expressions of hatred and incitement, Arnon said that Jews, who in the Diaspora had been exposed to anti-Semitism and persecution, should be more sensitive to the dangers of incitement. “But are we?” she asked.
Rivlin wondered aloud whether Jews and Arabs had abandoned the secret of dialogue.
With regard to Jews he said: “I’m not asking if they’ve forgotten how to be Jews, but if they’ve forgotten how to be decent human beings. Have they forgotten how to converse?” [Continue reading…]
Shlomo Sand writes: During the first half of the 20th century, my father abandoned Talmudic school, permanently stopped going to synagogue, and regularly expressed his aversion to rabbis. At this point in my own life, in the early 21st century, I feel in turn a moral obligation to break definitively with tribal Judeocentrism. I am today fully conscious of having never been a genuinely secular Jew, understanding that such an imaginary characteristic lacks any specific basis or cultural perspective, and that its existence is based on a hollow and ethnocentric view of the world. Earlier I mistakenly believed that the Yiddish culture of the family I grew up in was the embodiment of Jewish culture. A little later, inspired by Bernard Lazare, Mordechai Anielewicz, Marcel Rayman and Marek Edelman – who all fought antisemitism, nazism and Stalinism without adopting an ethnocentric view – I identified as part of an oppressed and rejected minority. In the company, so to speak, of the socialist leader Léon Blum, the poet Julian Tuwim and many others, I stubbornly remained a Jew who had accepted this identity on account of persecutions and murderers, crimes and their victims.
Now, having painfully become aware that I have undergone an adherence to Israel, been assimilated by law into a fictitious ethnos of persecutors and their supporters, and have appeared in the world as one of the exclusive club of the elect and their acolytes, I wish to resign and cease considering myself a Jew.
Although the state of Israel is not disposed to transform my official nationality from “Jew” to “Israeli”, I dare to hope that kindly philosemites, committed Zionists and exalted anti-Zionists, all of them so often nourished on essentialist conceptions, will respect my desire and cease to catalogue me as a Jew. As a matter of fact, what they think matters little to me, and still less what the remaining antisemitic idiots think. In the light of the historic tragedies of the 20th century, I am determined no longer to be a small minority in an exclusive club that others have neither the possibility nor the qualifications to join.
By my refusal to be a Jew, I represent a species in the course of disappearing. I know that by insisting that only my historical past was Jewish, while my everyday present (for better or worse) is Israeli, and finally that my future and that of my children (at least the future I wish for) must be guided by universal, open and generous principles, I run counter to the dominant fashion, which is oriented towards ethnocentrism. [Continue reading…]
Nathan Thrall reviews My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit: Ari Shavit is a Haaretz columnist admired by liberal Zionists in America, where his book has been the focus of much attention. In April 1897 his great-grandfather Herbert Bentwich sailed for Jaffa, leading a delegation of 21 Zionists who were investigating whether Palestine would make a suitable site for a Jewish national home. Theodor Herzl, whose pamphlet The Jewish State had been published the year before, had never been to Palestine and hoped Bentwich’s group would produce a comprehensive report of its visit for the First Zionist Congress which was to be held in Basel in August that year. Bentwich was well-to-do, Western European and religious. Herzl and most early Zionists were chiefly interested in helping the impoverished and persecuted Jews of Eastern Europe, but Bentwich was more worried about the number of secular and emancipated Jews in Western Europe who were becoming assimilated. A solution to the problems of both groups, he believed, could be found by resurrecting the Land of Israel in Palestine.
At the end of the 18th century, roughly 250,000 people lived in Palestine, including 6500 Jews, nearly all of them Sephardic. By 1897, when Bentwich’s delegation made its visit, the Jewish share of the population had more than tripled, with Ashkenazi Zionist immigration pushing it up towards 8 per cent. Bentwich, Shavit writes, seems not to have noticed the large majority of Gentiles – the Arab stevedores who carried him ashore, the Arab pedlars in the Jaffa market, the Arab guides and servants in his convoy. Looking out from the top of a water tower in central Palestine, he didn’t see the thousands of Muslims and Christians below, or the more than half a million Arabs living in Palestine’s twenty towns and cities and hundreds of villages. He didn’t see them, Shavit tells us, because most lived in hamlets surrounded by vacant territory; because he saw the Land of Israel as stretching far beyond the settlements of Palestine into the deserts of present-day Jordan; and because there wasn’t yet a concept of Palestinian national identity and therefore there were no Palestinians.
Bentwich’s blindness was tragic, Shavit laments, but it was necessary to save the Jews. In April 1903, 49 Jews were murdered in a pogrom in Kishinev, the capital of Moldova. More than a million Jews fled Eastern Europe over the next decade, the majority of them to America. Most of the 35,000 who immigrated to Palestine were secular and idealistic. They believed Palestine could accommodate Arabs and Jews. They lived in communual agrarian settlements, and transformed the pale, effete Jew of the ghetto into the tanned, masculine pioneer of the socialist kibbutz. [Continue reading…]