How Israel went from atheist Zionism to Jewish state

Shlomo Sand writes: Zionism as a national movement that rebelled against historical Judaism was mainly atheistic. Most of its leaders and activists ceased believing in redemption through the coming of the Messiah, the long-standing essence of Jewish belief, and took their fate into their own hands. The power of the human subject replaced the power of the omnipotent God.

The rabbis knew that, and were terrified – and, therefore, almost all of them became avowed anti-Zionists. From Hasidic rebbes Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, the Admor of Lubavitch (Chabad) and Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (the Admor of Gur) to leading U.S. Reform Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, founder of the Reform Central Conference, mitnagdim and Hasidim, Orthodox, Reform and Conservative, all saw the rise of Zionism as the end of Judaism. Due to the sweeping opposition of the rabbis of Germany, Theodor Herzl was forced to transfer the First Zionist Congress from Munich to the Swiss city of Basel.

But beginning with the first stages in the consolidation and settlement of the Zionist movement, it was forced to meticulously sort and thoroughly nationalize some of the religious beliefs in order to turn them into nation-building myths.

For the atheistic Zionists, God was dead and therefore the Holy Land became the homeland; all the traditional holidays became national holidays; and Jerusalem stopped being a heavenly city and became the very earthly capital of an eternal people. But it wasn’t these decisions, or many others, that prevented secular nationalism from serving as the foundation for the establishment of the State of Israel.

The main reason for Zionism’s inability to establish a secular entity with a constitution – in which religion is separated from the state – lay elsewhere. The problematic nature of defining the “Jew” according to secular criteria – cultural, linguistic, political or “biological” (despite all efforts, it’s still impossible to determine who is a Jew by means of DNA) – was what eliminated the option of a secularized identity.

For example, in 1918, Ben-Gurion – the future founder of the state – was convinced, as were many others, that most of the population of the Land of Israel had not been exiled, but converted to Islam with the Arab conquest, and therefore was clearly Jewish in origin.

In 1948, he had already given up on this confused and dangerous idea, and instead asserted that the Jewish people had been exiled by force and had wandered in isolation for 2,000 years. Shortly before that, he presented the weak and depleted religious Zionist stream with a valuable gift: In the famous “status quo” letter, all the laws pertaining to marital status, adoption and burial were given over to the Chief Rabbinate. The fear of assimilation was the nightmare shared by Judaism and Zionism, and it won out in the end.

Within a short time, the principle of the religious definition was accepted in identity politics: A “Jew” is someone who was born to a Jewish mother or converted, and is not a member of another religion. In other words, if you don’t meet those conditions, you cannot be a part of the revival of the “Jewish people,” even if you adopt Israeli culture, speak fluent Hebrew and celebrate on Israeli Independence Day. It’s a very logical historical process: Since there is no secular Jewish culture, it’s impossible to join by secular means something that doesn’t exist.

And then came 1967. The State of Israel expanded significantly, but at the same time a large non-Jewish population was also brought together under the country’s muscular Jewish wing. The Jewish constraints also had to be tightened in the face of the confusing misunderstandings that were liable to be created as a result of the territorial-demographic booby trap.

From now on, more than ever, the emphasis had to be on the heading “Jewish” – in other words, the state belonging to those who were born to a Jewish mother or converted according to Jewish law and, God forbid, not the country of all its citizens. [Continue reading…]

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Trump to plunge Middle East into ‘fire with no end’ with Jerusalem speech

The Guardian reports: A cacophony of angry and despairing voices across the Middle East and the world have urged Donald Trump not to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at a planned speech on Wednesday, warning him that any such announcement would destroy the peace process, strengthen the extremists and weaken the US’s standing in the world.

The pope issued an unusually heartfelt plea to the president to respect the status quo on the city, and to conform with UN resolutions. He told thousands of people at his general audience: “I cannot keep quiet about my deep worry about the situation that has been created in the last few days.”

Pope Francis said he hoped “wisdom and prudence prevail, in order to avoid adding new elements of tension to a global panorama that is already convulsed and marked by so many cruel conflicts”.

The spokesman for the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said the US was “plunging the region and the world into a fire with no end in sight”. He added that the Organisation for Islamic Co-operation would meet in Istanbul on 13 December in a special session to co-ordinate a response. [Continue reading…]

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Israel bulldozes democracy

Ayman Odeh writes: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is expected to visit Washington this week to meet with President Trump, presumably to discuss the political philosophy they share: power through hate and fear. A government that bars refugees and Muslims from entering the United States has much in common with one that permits Israeli settlers to steal land from Palestinians, as a new law that Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition pushed through Parliament last week did.

Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Netanyahu used blatant race-baiting tactics to win his last election, in 2015. Since then, he has made discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel central to his agenda. This takes many forms; a particularly painful one is his government’s racist, unjust land use and housing policies.

Arabs make up one-fifth of Israel’s population, yet only 2.5 percent of the state’s land is under Arab jurisdiction. And since the founding of the state, more than 700 new towns and cities have been built for Jews, while no new cities have been built for Arabs.

In Arab towns, the government has made building permits so difficult to obtain, and grants them so rarely, that many inhabitants have resorted to constructing new housing units on their properties without permits just to keep up with growing families that have nowhere else to go. As a result, Arab communities have become more and more densely populated, turning pastoral villages into concrete jungles. [Continue reading…]

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Liberal Zionism in the age of Trump

Omri Boehm writes: For weeks now, Jewish communities across America have been troubled by an awkward phenomenon. Donald J. Trump, a ruthless politician trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes, has been elected to become the next president, and he has appointed as his chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, a prominent figure of the “alt-right,” a movement that promotes white nationalism, anti-Semitism, racism and misogyny. Though Bannon himself has expressed “zero tolerance” for such views, his past actions suggest otherwise; as the executive chairman of Breitbart News for the past four years, he provided the country’s most powerful media platform for the movement and its ideologies.

Still, neither the United States’ most powerful Jewish organizations nor Israeli leaders have taken a clear stance against the appointment. In fact, they have embraced it.

Immediately after Trump appointed Bannon, the Zionist Organization of America prepared to welcome him at its annual gala dinner, where he was to meet Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister of education, and Danny Danon, the country’s ambassador to the United Nations. (Bannon didn’t show up.) Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador in Washington, publicly announced that he was looking forward to working with the entire Trump administration, including Bannon. And Alan Dershowitz, the outspoken Harvard emeritus professor of law who regularly denounces non-Zionists as anti-Semitic, preferred in this case to turn not against Bannon, but against his critics. “It is not legitimate to call somebody an anti-Semite because you might disagree with their politics,” he pointed out.

The alliance that’s beginning to form between Zionist leadership and politicians with anti-Semitic tendencies has the power to transform Jewish-American consciousness for years to come. In the last few decades, many of America’s Jewish communities have grown accustomed to living in a political contradiction. On one hand, a large majority of these communities could rightly take pride in a powerful liberal tradition, stretching back to such models as Louis Brandeis — a defender of social justice and the first Jew to become a Supreme Court justice — or Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched in Selma alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On the other hand, the same communities have often identified themselves with Zionism, a political agenda rooted in the denial of liberal politics. [Continue reading…]

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Shimon Peres obituary: Peacemaker or war criminal?

Jonathan Cook writes: Famously in the late 1990s, [Shimon] Peres [the last major figure in Israel’s founding generation, who died today, age 93] made the mistake of asking a Labour party convention whether he was a “loser”. The delegates roared back: “Yes”.

Over two decades, Peres lost five elections in which he stood for prime minister.

Although he served in the top job on two occasions, he never won a popular mandate.

He briefly took over from Rabin after the latter was felled in 1995 by an assassin’s bullet. He was also prime minister in an unusual rotation agreement with his Likud rival Yitzhak Shamir after neither secured a parliamentary majority in the 1984 election.

Unlike Rabin and Ariel Sharon, two figures of his generation who enjoyed greater political acclaim, Peres suffered in part because he had not first made a name for himself in the Israeli army, Ezrahi observed.

He was seen as more uninspiring technocrat than earthy warrior.

Even on Israel’s left, said Roni Ben Efrat, an Israeli political analyst and editor of the website Challenge, he was viewed as an opportunist.

“His real obsession was with his own celebrity and prestige,” she said. “What he lacked was political principle. There was an air about him of plotting behind everyone’s backs. He was certainly no Nelson Mandela.”

Rabin, who tussled regularly with Peres for leadership of the Labour party, called him an “inveterate schemer”.

With Rabin’s victory in 1992, Peres was appointed number two and returned to what he did best: backroom deals, in this case a peace track in Norway that led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

When Rabin was assassinated two years later, it was assumed that Peres would romp home in the general election a short time later, riding a wave of sympathy over Rabin’s death.

Instead he lost to Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who profited from the right’s campaign to discredit the peace process and its architects as “Oslo criminals”.

Peres would see out much of his remaining time in frontline politics providing a veneer of international respectability to right-wing Sharon governments through the second Intifada as they crushed the Palestinian leadership and built a steel and concrete barrier through the West Bank. [Continue reading…]

Anshel Pfeffer writes: Perhaps the final irony of Shimon Peres’ life was that his last act in the service of peace, remains secret and undocumented. As an octogenarian president, he observed the conventions of the ceremonial office and refrained from openly intervening in politics. That didn’t stop the commanders of the army and chiefs of the intelligence services turning to him for advice when they felt their political masters were dangerously wrong. Towards the end of his seven-year term, he was the secret leader of the faction within the defence establishment that successfully worked to block the plans of Netanyahu, the prime minister and the defence minister Ehud Barak to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, before it could build an atomic bomb.

Ultimately he had to rely on the generals and spy chiefs to avert war. He never convinced ordinary Israelis to make the same leap of faith he had. [Continue reading…]

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Untangling the complicated legacies of colonialism and failed Arab regimes overshadowing today’s conflicts in the Middle East

Rami G Khouri writes: Why have most Middle Eastern lands that Great Britain, Italy, and France managed as mandates or colonies become violent wrecks and sources of large-scale conflict and human despair? It is just as dishonest to blame mainly Western colonialism for our national wreckages and rampant instability as it is to blame only Arab people and culture for those failings. We need a more complete and integrated analysis of the multiple phenomena that shaped our last erratic century.

Initially, we must absolutely acknowledge that Arab states’ inability to achieve sustainable economic growth and pluralistic democracies is the core reason for our problems today. The main reason for this reason, however, is to be found in a more complex set of interlocking relationships among powerful political actors inside our countries and capitals far and near.

This requires going back before 1916, maybe a century or two, to recall how European powers conquered much of the world as colonies or sites of unchecked imperial plunder. The main problem with Sykes-Picot is not only what happened in and after 1916; it is also heavily a consequence of the European colonial mindset that matured in the century before 1916, and continued to exercise its colonial prerogatives for decades to follow — perhaps even in today’s continued use of European, Russian, and American military power across our region.

At the same time, three critical issues after 1916 made it virtually impossible for many Arab countries to transition from Euro-manufactured instant states born on after-dinner napkins in the hands of Cognac-mellowed British and French colonial officers, to stable, democratic, prosperous sovereign states.

These three issues were, in their historical order:

1) British support for Zionism and a Jewish state in Palestine in November 1917, which plunged Palestine into endless Zionism-Arabism warfare since then, and sucked in other Arab states, Iran, and others yet;

2) the discovery of large amounts of oil in the Middle East in the 1930s especially, which the West needed to maintain access to for its own industrial expansion; and,

3) the post-1947 Cold War between the U.S.-led West and the Russian-led Soviet Communist states that was translated into perpetual proxy wars across the Middle East for forty-four years, and maybe is resurfacing today in new guises. [Continue reading…]

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Israel must recognize its responsibility for the Nakba, the Palestinian tragedy

Saeb Erekat writes: For the Palestinian people, the Nakba is a collective tragedy whose wounds have yet to heal 68 years later.  What we call the ‘Catastrophe’ is not just the destruction of at least 436 villages or the forced displacement of 70 percent of our people, but of our ethnic cleansing at the hands of a colonialist strategy. For reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel must recognize what it has done to the Palestinian people.
 
It is time for Israelis to confront reality: when the Zionists came to Palestine, there were another people living here. Over 100 years ago, a Zionist mission was sent to Palestine and their report acknowledged this fact: “The bride is beautiful but she is married to another man.” And this: soon plans to displace Palestine’s population were unveiled. Millions of Palestinians still pay for the colonialist British promise referred to as the Balfour Declaration. No people on earth would have accepted such a clandestine deal, sealing their fate to a foreign power intent on wiping its presence and identity from the land they came from, tilled, and souls returned to.
 
Unfortunately, Nakba deniers throughout Israeli society continue to use neocolonialist nationalism to rejects the existence of the Palestinian people while redefining traditional constructs of colonialism to justify the systematic Israeli theft of Palestinian land and deprivation of Palestinian human rights.
 
Palestinians are Arabs who immigrated to Israel. We Jews fended off the attacks by seven Arab armies in self-defense. These declarations deny the very existence of the Palestinian people, continue to justify the atrocities committed against us, and deny Palestinian refugees’ legitimate right of return. However, if Israel aspires to live in peace in the region, it must face its own archival evidence attesting to the past that ties our two peoples together. Even 68 years after the Nakba, Jews are still the minority in historic Palestine while Palestinian Christians aren’t even recognized by Israel as Palestinian. Israel cannot continue to deny what it has done to the Palestinian people, and it’s time it understood that coexistence means acknowledgment. [Continue reading…]

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Zionism threatens to bring anti-Semitism full-circle

Jonathan Ofir writes: Zionism is very much a mirror image of anti-Semitism. It was founded and based on an assumption that assimilation is bound to fail, and that the Jews must resort to other measures in order to protect their existence – as persons, but perhaps even more significantly – as a supposed nation. David Ben-Gurion’s words to the Mapai committee in 1938 reveal how the national aspect could supersede the humanitarian concern to actual people: ”If I knew that it was possible to save all the children of Germany by transporting them to England, and only half by transferring them to the Land of Israel, I would choose the latter, for before us lies not only the numbers of these children but the historical reckoning of the people of Israel.” In that same year he spoke to the Jewish Agency in regards to the Évian conference which sought to facilitate the plight of Jewish refugees, saying, “[I do] not know if the conference will open the gates of other countries. . . . But I am afraid [ it ] might cause tremendous harm to Eretz Yisrael and Zionism. . . . and the more we emphasize the terrible distress of the Jewish masses in Germany, Poland and Rumania, the more damage we shall cause” — to Zionism and Eretz Israel by promoting emigration to western countries. [Both quotes at this link.]

That is to say, that the priority of nationalism (as opposed to personal security) was extremely high in Zionism from the outset. Zionism sought to forge a sense of ‘nationhood’ for a people that were of a vast spectrum of ethnicity, language, even religion (from ultra-orthodox to atheist) and claim that they were one. The British (and notably Jewish) Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu, in his critique of Her Majesty’s Government’s intentions to endorse a ‘Jewish national home” in Palestine in 1917, said: “I assert that there is not a Jewish nation. The members of my family, for instance, who have been in this country for generations, have no sort or kind of community of view or of desire with any Jewish family in any other country beyond the fact that they profess to a greater or less degree the same religion. It is no more true to say that a Jewish Englishman and a Jewish Moor are of the same nation than it is to say that a Christian Englishman and a Christian Frenchman are of the same nation: of the same race, perhaps, traced back through the centuries – through centuries of the history of a peculiarly adaptable race”. [Continue reading…]

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Labour antisemitism row: There was nothing Zionist about Hitler’s plans for the Jews

By Rainer Schulze, University of Essex

When the former London mayor Ken Livingstone said in an interview that Hitler was “supporting Zionism” before he “went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”, he was quickly suspended from the Labour Party, which was already in the throes of a painful row over anti-semitism. But while Livingstone’s tone-deaf comments came at a very politically sensitive moment, the historical error at their heart is all too familiar.

Claims that Hitler was a Zionist, or supported Zionism, before his anti-Jewish policies turned into murder and extermination flare up at regular intervals. They usually cite the controversial Haavara Agreement (Transfer Agreement) of August 1933 as the most potent evidence of a wilful cooperation between Hitler and the Zionist movement. When viewed in a certain way, this deal does superficially seem to show that Hitler’s government endorsed Zionism – but just because it was a mechanism to help German Jews relocate to Palestine it does not imply it was “Zionist”.

The Haavara Agreement was the only formal contract signed between Nazi Germany and a Zionist organisation. The signatories were the Reich Ministry of Economics, the Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland (Zionist Federation of Germany) and the Anglo-Palestine Bank (then under the directive of the Jewish Agency for Palestine).

Under the agreement Jewish emigrants had to hand over their possessions before they left Germany, and the proceeds were used by a company specifically set up for this purpose in Tel Aviv to purchase German goods for sale in Palestine. The proceeds of these sales were then paid in Palestinian currency to the emigrants in Palestine.

The agreement was immediately criticised from all sides. The Zionist Federation was accused of collaboration with the Nazis, and the Nazi authorities were criticised by fellow Nazis for helping Jews when their official policy was to “solve the Jewish question”. Still, at this point in time, both sides no doubt saw potential benefits for themselves in such an agreement.

For the Zionist Federation, it was a way to save Jews from the claws of an increasingly hostile regime and attract them to Palestine, while for the Nazi state signing an international agreement was further proof of its legitimacy, broke the Jewish movement of boycotting German goods, and helped the recovery of German exports at a time when the German economy was still in the depth of depression.

[Read more…]

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Ken Livingstone blames ‘embittered Blairite MPs’ for antisemitism row

The Guardian reports: Ken Livingstone has refused to apologise to the Jewish community for insensitive comments linking Zionism to Adolf Hitler, claiming the crisis at the centre of the Labour party was caused by “embittered old Blairite MPs” and is “not about antisemitism”.

The former mayor of London, speaking on LBC, took the opportunity to publicly say sorry to the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the party for causing “disruption” but pointedly refused to apologise for his original comments, which he reasserted as “historical facts” on Saturday.

“I’m sorry to Jeremy and the Labour party that I am caught up in this but it wasn’t me that started this problem, this is embittered old Blairites bringing it up,” he said. “I’m sorry if anyone was upset by what I said, I’m sorry for that. But it happens to be a statement of fact.”

Pushed to say whether he regretted bringing the German dictator into the debate, Livingstone said: “I regret mentioning Hitler because it brought up this nonsense.

“I’m sorry that I said that because it’s wasted all this time but I can’t bring myself to deny the truth and I’m not going to do that. I’m sorry it’s caused disruption.”

Earlier in the interview, the former mayor of London appeared to mistakenly cite a statement by the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, in his defence. “This is what annoys me about the degradation of British journalism, no one does any research,” he said.

“Two days before I did that interview [on Thursday], the prime minister of Israel Binyamin Netanyahu is addressing the World Zionist Congress, this is the sentence he says: ‘Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews but only to expel them.’ Now, I haven’t seen that in any British paper, I had to get it off the internet.”

In fact, Livingstone appears to be referring to Netanyahu’s address to the WZC in October last year, where the Israeli PM did not refer to Zionists collaborating with Hitler, but instead accused the second world war Palestinian grand mufti of Jerusalem of having suggested the genocide of the Jews to the Nazi leader. [Continue reading…]

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Before Zionism: The shared life of Jews and Palestinians

Noam Rotem writes: Menachem Klein’s book, Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron, is a depressing one. Originally released in English, the book — which is being published in Hebrew — paints a picture of a shared life between Palestinians and Jews at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, bringing us face to face with daily life, commerce, education, celebrations, and sadness. It shows that us this kind existence, despite everything we were taught by the Israeli education system, is possible. And then Klein goes on and destroys this delicate balance, burning everything left of it today.

As the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Palestine at the time, began losing its power toward the end of the 19th century, a new, local identity began developing out of the lived experiences of Jews and Arabs. This identity, which took precedence over religion, was shared by Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

Israel’s education minister wants to reduce Jewish history to pogroms By Gil Gertel | March 12, 2016
Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, both the Zionist movement and the Palestinian national movement began trying to take control of that identity and define the people of the land as either Jewish Zionists or Palestinian Arabs. There were those who called for unity, such as Jerusalem Mayor Raghib al-Nashashibi, who wanted not to speak of Arabs and Jews, but of Palestinians. Klein debunks the myth according to which the residents of the country before the advent Zionism or the Arab national movement lacked all identity. Instead, he describes a lively and vivacious community with its own traditions and customs, bringing testimonies from Jews, Muslims and foreigners as proof. [Continue reading…]

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Most Israeli Jews think they deserve preferential treatment — almost half favor ethnic cleansing

Universally, the targets of discrimination are more conscious of being treated unfairly than are the perpetrators of discrimination. Israel is no exception.

A new Pew Research report includes the following findings:

Roughly one-third of Muslims report having experienced at least one incident of discrimination in the past 12 months

Whereas only 21% of Israeli Jews see “a lot” of discrimination against Muslims, 79% of Israeli Arabs (Muslim and non-Muslim) do.

Vast majority of Arabs see 'a lot' of discrimination against Muslims

Perhaps the reason so few Israeli Jews see discrimination is because so many believe that as Jews, they deserve preferential treatment.

Most Jews say Israel should give preferential treatment to Jews

For half of Israeli Jews, a privileged status is apparently not enough — they would like to see Arab Israelis kicked out.

Majorities of Haredim, Datim agree Arabs should be expelled

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A visit to the world of segregation where Jews are on top

Philip Weiss writes: On my first night in an Israeli settlement, David served chicken soup left over from Sabbath and told me an unsettling story about the birth of Israel. His great uncle had escaped Europe to come to a Jewish kibbutz called Ein Harod. On the next hill was a Palestinian village. When hostilities broke out between Jews and Palestinians in 1948, the Jews went up to the village and announced that the next day they were bringing bulldozers to level the place, the people should leave. The next day they went back and were surprised to find that the Palestinians had all fled– fearing a massacre like the one that took place in Deir Yassin. The Jews then leveled the village and used the stones to build a stadium in their kibbutz. David said his uncle had told this story “with a twinkle in his eye.”

David was not the only settler to tell me stories of the Nakba. And the meaning was clear: A previous generation of Zionists had done terrible things to Palestinians in order to build the state of Israel. Now David and the other settlers were taking that same project– Zionism, the renewal of the Jewish people in their land—to the next part of the land of Israel. And they were doing so without destroying Palestinian villages, as their socialist predecessors had done.

The settlers told me that the great political development of the last year or two is that the Tel Aviv elite now concede that the settlers are never leaving. The elites give lip service to a Palestinian state because the world wants to hear that. But few in Jewish Israeli society even want that to happen; it would tear the country apart. [Continue reading…]

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Behind disputed views of Jewish identity looms a much larger question about the future of inclusive societies

The Guardian reports: The US State Department has moved to back America’s ambassador to Israel in a febrile and escalating row over his remarks on Monday that Israel applied law in the occupied West Bank differently to Palestinians and Israelis.

Ambassador Daniel Shapiro’s unusually critical comments drew harsh criticism from ministers in Israel’s rightwing government – including from the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Shapiro was also publicly lambasted on Israeli television on Tuesday by a former aide to Netanyahu who used the deeply offensive Hebrew word “yehudon” – which translates as “little Jew boy” – to disparage the ambassador. The term is used by rightwing Israelis against other Jews – particularly those in the diaspora – whom they regard as not being sufficiently Jewish or pro-Israel. [Continue reading…]

The remarks by Aviv Bushinsky, who served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff when he was finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s governmen, are reminiscent of an incident reported by the Washington Post in 1997.

U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk, still seething at a two-week-old slur, ran into his accuser Thursday and fixed him with a glare. According to Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Party member of Israel’s legislature, this is what happened next:

“The last time someone called me a Jew boy,” Indyk said, harking back to school days in Australia, “I was 15 years old and he got a punch in the face.”

A right-wing legislator, Rehavam Zeevi, had indeed called Indyk a yehudon — Hebrew invective translated variously as “Jew boy,” “yid,” or “kike” — at a parliamentary caucus late last month. He looked up from his seat at a memorial service for the late Yitzhak Rabin and glared back at Indyk. “Try me,” Zeevi replied. Then, taunting Indyk, he added distinctly: “yehudon, yehudon.”

Zeevi, a retired general who is chief of the ultranationalist Moledet (Homeland) party, apparently meant to say that Indyk, the first Jewish U.S. ambassador here, betrayed his coreligionists by pressuring the Israeli government for concessions in peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Zeevi’s political platform, the most extreme of any party in the parliament, calls for expulsion of Arabs from the West Bank to make room for Jews.

A.B. Yehoshua, one of Israel’s most famous novelists, has for many years been among the most vocal in promoting this view that Jews who remain living outside Israel are only, as he says, “partial Jews.”

But instead of being preoccupied with where Jews plant their bodies, he and those who share his views, might consider where the Jewish conscience may better thrive.

In 2003, Avraham Burg, former member of the Knesset, a chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and a Speaker of the Knesset, who was born in Jerusalem, wrote:

It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their parents’ shock, that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. From the window you can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation. Traveling on the fast highway that takes you from Ramot on Jerusalem’s northern edge to Gilo on the southern edge, a 12-minute trip that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it’s hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger forever, it won’t work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing.

As much as all of this might sound purely like a struggle over Jewish identity, it mirrors an affliction in which people across the globe withdraw into their various ethnic, religious, or ideological ghettos of identification and their cherished definitions of my people.

The testing ground for challenging this trend is now Europe.

Last year, Burg wrote:

In a generation in which we Israelis have forgotten how to be sensitive and empathetic to minorities, to those who are different, to the persecuted, and many American Jews are swallowed up in their comfort zones of white society and are abandoning their partnership with the “others,” in America, the “United States of Europe” is presenting a new model of identity – a union between those who are different, and the “other.” It’s a model no different from the American one which seeks to assimilate all into a monochromatic American democracy.

Further, Europe is the current meeting point between Islam and the West. Some of that encounter involves clashes, and some involves learning. The Christian continent is learning to make space for other, rich and varied identities. My friends, Ziya from Bangladesh, Shaida whose family is from Turkey and Rob from Jamaica, are impressive Europeans, and Europe is better off with them. Just like Shaul from Venice, Yoop from Amsterdam and Brian from London – there is no dissonance between their Jewish heritage and their European identity. The discourse between white, Christian Europe and those who are different is fascinating. More important is the dialogue between Western Europe and the Muslim forces in its midst.

The Muslim world and some of its members are embarking on a long journey toward the Western values of freedom, equality and brotherhood. The institutionalization of Western Islam in the heart of Europe – that which is absorbing values of democracy while remaining true to Muslim tradition – is where the strategic potential exists for bridging the gaps peacefully in the generations to come. It’s not happening in the Middle East or North America, but only in Europe. That is where the vanguard of humanity and humaneness is to be found.

Since Burg wrote this, the vision of Europe has become profoundly challenged by an expanding refugee crisis, acts of terrorism, growing nationalism, cultural protectionism, and the drumbeats of xenophobia and Islamophobia.

Both in Europe and the U.S., it often seems like the political momentum favors those who promote retreat in its various forms — through strengthening borders, heightened national security, and disengagement from foreign affairs.

At the same time, the inexorable global trends point in the opposite direction as populations expand and people choose or are compelled to cross borders.

In such a world, the task of building more inclusive societies is not an idealistic goal; it has become an urgent necessity.

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‘Death to Christians, enemies of Israel’ — Hebrew graffiti defacing Jerusalem monastery

Dormition_Abbey

Reuters reports: Israel ordered a high-priority police investigation on Sunday into anti-Christian messages scrawled in Hebrew on the walls and doors of a Jerusalem monastery, saying they marked an assault on religious harmony.

“Idols will be extirpated” – a line lifted from the Jewish prayer service – and “Christians Go to Hell” were among graffiti left outside the Dormition Abbey with felt-tip pens. The varying handwriting suggested several vandals had been involved.

The Benedictine monastery, on Mount Zion in the Old City, is near a site where many Christians believe Jesus held the Last Supper as well as a tomb revered as the last resting place of the biblical King David and which draws many Jewish worshippers.

“We will not let anyone undermine religious coexistence in Israel,” Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement, adding that police would put a high priority on “nabbing those who carried out this despicable act”.

Israel has been struggling with a spate of hate crimes by suspected Jewish ultra-nationalists targeting Christian sites as well as Palestinians and Israeli human rights activists. [Continue reading…]

The Times of Israel: “Despite promises by the government, these incidents continue to happen,” Wadia Abu Nasser, the executive director of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops in the Holy Land, railed Sunday morning. “If we were to actually count all of these incidents, they’d be in the hundreds.

“We have limited resources at our disposal. It’s the state’s responsibility to not only apprehend these perpetrators, but to make the necessary changes in the education system to educate against this sort of thing,” he told Army Radio. [Continue reading…]

Ynet adds: “The inscriptions are not only against Jesus the Messiah, but also call to slaughter the Christians and send them to hell! How long will these acts of vandalism continue?” the church said.

“This is the area of our convent, which until today is not monitored by police cameras, although this has been promised to us in the summer of 2013 by the Israeli security authorities after the cars of the monastery were badly damaged and several hate graffiti were discovered.”

The Domition Abbey further complained of “aggressive gathering with loud music and chanting by Jewish right-wing radicals in our immediate neighborhood in the area of the Tomb of David” almost every weekend for the past three years. [Continue reading…]

In 2011, I posted a collection of articles under the headline, “Being spat at remains part of life for Christians in Jerusalem.” This included reports from Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and The Forward. Attacks on Christians were described by Eric J Greenberg in 2004 as what has been “Jerusalem’s dirty little secret for decades.”

Last month I received a message from a reader claiming that these incidents are being used “as a stick to beat all Jews,” to which I responded:

In none of the reports cited — all reports made by Jewish journalists — is the behavior of “young Jewish bigots” in Jerusalem portrayed as representative of Jews as a whole. At the same time, this phenomenon doesn’t sound like something that deserves being ignored — especially if the Jerusalem Post reports that the attacks on Christians are not rare but are in fact “habitual.”

Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Gilad Erdan, says:

“We will show zero tolerance to whomever harms the democratic foundations of Israel and its freedom of religion and we will apprehend those who carried out this heinous act.”

How can anyone take seriously this claim that the Israeli government has “zero tolerance” for these types of attacks on religious freedom when it has been clearly documented that they have been going on for decades?

This isn’t just a domestic political issue for Israel, or reason for Israeli leaders and business owners to be concerned about the impact on tourism.

If a blind eye has been turned towards these hate crimes, it most likely also includes that of American Christian Zionists who are more closely aligned with right-wing Israelis than they are with fellow Christians in the Holy Land.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers Christians United for Israel “to be a vital part of Israel’s national security.”

I guess for CUFI and Netanyahu, the latest anti-Christian incident in Jerusalem will be a cause for little more than mild and fleeting embarrassment.

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Israel faces new brand of terrorism, this time from young settlers

The New York Times reports: To hear his father tell it, Mordechai Meyer, 18, a high school dropout, has spent the past few years camping out with his teenage friends in the rolling hills around Jewish outposts like this one in the northern West Bank. They want “to live simply, to build their own things and to commune with God,” said the father, Gedalia Meyer.

But Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, says the younger Mr. Meyer belongs to a Jewish terrorist network, some of whose members have been charged with grave crimes, including the July arson attack that killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents in the West Bank village of Duma. The two suspects in that case also spent time in these hills.

The existence of the network, known as the Revolt for the title of its manifesto, became known about six months ago, after the arrest of several suspected members. This latest manifestation of Jewish terrorism is the creation of young extremists rebelling against what they view as the inertia of the Israeli establishment, and it has fermented in lawless outposts like Baladim, a tiny encampment outside Maale Shlomo, and Geulat Zion to the north. [Continue reading…]

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Trump is no more racist than mainstream Israeli policy

Mairav Zonszein writes: Racism — and various forms of discrimination against Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians — is just as rampant here in Israel as it is inside the Trump camp, if not more so. Except in Israel, racism and ethno-religious discrimination is not only accepted rhetoric in the halls of power and the sidewalk cafes of Tel Aviv, it is also long-standing formal state policy.

Trump called to ban Muslims from entering the United States. In Israel, there is already a law banning Muslims from immigrating — the “Law of Return” which gives that right to Jews alone. Even those who were born here but fled, or whose families lived here for generations upon generations, are forbidden from returning.

The Anti-Defamation League on Monday called Trump’s plan to “bar people from entry to the United States based on their religion” is “deeply offensive and runs contrary to our nation’s deepest values.” Has the ADL ever spoken out against Israel’s Jewish-only immigration law and discriminatory border control policies?

Inherent institutional racism can also be seen in the two separate-and-unequal legal systems for Palestinians and Israelis living meters from one another in the occupied West Bank. It can be seen the total negligence of infrastructure, resources and education for Palestinians in annexed East Jerusalem as opposed to Jewish neighborhoods in the same territory. It can be seen in the rampant and deep-seeded discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel when it comes to housing, land confiscation and re-distribution, education and employment. And these are just the most obvious examples. [Continue reading…]

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American donors funding West Bank settlements

Mitchell Plitnick writes: A great deal of support for Israeli settlements comes from the United States in the form of tax-deductible contributions from private donors. The Obama administration, like all administrations before it, opposes Israeli settlement in the West Bank and considers it an obstacle to peace. Yet, at the same time, the United States government effectively incentivizes support for the settlements by allowing American charities to disburse millions of tax-deductible dollars in support for them.

This problem has not gone unnoticed, even though it continues unimpeded at this point. The Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, is publishing a series of reports and data uncovered by journalist Uri Blau detailing the extent of private American support for the settlements.

This investigation by Blau pushes forward efforts that a number of US-based groups have made in the past. Most recently, T’Ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights brought attention to this issue by filing a complaint against one such group, Honenu, in New York. Earlier in 2015, the group Avaaz petitioned the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of The Hebron Fund, which directly supports the flashpoint Israeli settlement in that Palestinian city. [Continue reading…]

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