The Ashkenazi-Mizrahi split that shapes Israeli politics

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…]

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Diaspora Jews in their silence are complicit in Netanyahu’s conflation of Israel and all Jews

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…]

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Jewish self-determination

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.

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What’s behind the effort to make Israel, the ‘Jewish State,’ more ‘Jewish’

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…]

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The Zionists who are losing faith in Israel

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…]

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Jerusalem: Historical illiteracy and political exploitation

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…]

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All signs point toward ethnocracy, not democracy, in Israel

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…]

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The new American Jewish struggle over Israel: Hawks versus ultra-hawks

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…]

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Israel’s one-state reality

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…]

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President Rivlin: Time to admit that Israel is a sick society that needs treatment

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…]

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Shlomo Sand: ‘I wish to resign and cease considering myself a Jew’

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…]

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Feeling good about feeling bad

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…]

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Some of my best friends are Zionists

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Fascism in #Israel: The militarization of Jewish supremacism

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…]

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Disquiet inside #Israel’s Capitol Hill fortress

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…]

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Proud to be #Jewish. Ashamed of #Israel

proud-jewish

I don’t know who this guy is, where he’s standing, or when the photo was taken, but I like his message.

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#Israel has broken my heart: I’m a rabbi in mourning for a Judaism being murdered by Israel

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…]

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American Jews are distancing themselves from #Israel

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:

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.

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