My missing family in Syria: Naming and shaming in Yarmouk

Ramzy Baroud writes: Members of my family in Syria’s Yarmouk went missing many months ago. We have no idea who is dead and who is alive. Unlike my other uncle and his children in Libya, who fled the NATO war and turned up alive but hiding in some desert a few months later, my uncle’s family in Syria disappeared completely as if ingested by a black hole, to a whole different dimension.

I chose the “black hole” analogy, as opposed to the one used by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – “the deepest circle of hell” – which he recently uttered in reference to the plight of Palestinians in Yarmouk following the advances made by the notorious Islamic State (IS) militias in early April. If there is any justice in the hereafter, no Palestinian refugee – even those who failed to pray five times a day or go to church every Sunday – deserves to be in any “circle of hell”, deep or shallow. The suffering they have endured in this world since the founding of Israel atop their towns and villages in Palestine some 66 years ago is enough to redeem their collective sins, past and present.

For now, however, justice remains elusive. The refugees of Yarmouk – whose population once exceeded 250,000, dwindling throughout the Syrian civil war to 18,000 – is a microcosm of the story of a whole nation, whose perpetual pain shames us all, none excluded.

Palestinian refugees (some displaced several times) who escaped the Syrian war to Lebanon, Jordan or are displaced within Syria itself, are experiencing the cruel reality under the harsh and inhospitable terrains of war and Arab regimes. Many of those who remained in Yarmouk were torn to shreds by the barrel bombs of the Syrian army, or victimised – and now beheaded – by the malicious, violent groupings that control the camp, including the al-Nusra Front, and as of late, IS. [Continue reading…]

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We need to talk about Israel’s ‘right to exist’

Ben White writes: There was outrage last week when the University of Southampton cancelled a forthcoming conference on Israel and international law, ostensibly on the grounds of “health and safety”.

The university had been under pressure from pro-Israel advocacy groups, and organisers have begun legal efforts against what they see as a concession to outside interference and bullying. The story of the campaign to shut down the conference should not, however, distract from why Israel’s supporters found the topics scheduled for discussion so objectionable.

One theme dominated criticism of the conference, summed up by this headline in the Daily Express: “Outrage as BRITISH university questions Israel’s right to exist.” This is therefore a useful opportunity to examine what has become a cliché in discussion about the Middle East by politicians and pundits.

So, does Israel have a “right to exist”? The answer, or at least an important part of the answer, is that no states have a “right to exist”, without exceptions. States come and go, are formed, and broken up. South Sudan was created in 2011. The USSR ceased to exist in 1991. Czechoslovakia became Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993.

There is popular discussion and scholarly work about the legitimacy of numerous states. This debate is generated by factors such as the legacy of decolonisation, or the dozens of active independence and separatist movements across the world.

But what about whether Israel has a “right to exist” as a “Jewish state” specifically? The UN Partition Plan and General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947 did indeed call for the establishment of an “Arab state” and a “Jewish state” within the boundaries of British Mandate Palestine.

However, it did so based on population distribution at the time – it did not define a “Jewish” (or Arab) state so as to encompass Jews not already living there. It avoided, in other words, “invoking an abstract right to self-determination of Jews as an extra-territorial group”. [Continue reading…]

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Jews in Europe are not blind fools

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…]

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The myth of the two-state solution

Israel declared its independence in 1948. Less than twenty years later it expanded its territorial control across the West Bank and Gaza (and Sinai).

What has subsequently come to be referred to as “The Occupation” has referred to the status quo which (with a few modifications) has endured for the overwhelming majority of Israel’s existence.

The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, and the so-called “peace process” which followed, have merely provided political cover for the relentless expansion of Jewish settlement and Palestinian dispossession across the West Bank.

What right-wing Zionists refer to as Judea and Samaria is not an aspiration — it is the political reality of a state in which full democratic rights are granted to Jews but not Palestinians.

While the mantras of ending the occupation and dismantling the settlements have tirelessly been repeated, year after year, the settlements have grown.

Both the terms settlement and occupation, mask with seeming impermanence a reality that has been set in reinforced concrete.

Given that over the course of more than twenty years, no progress whatsoever has been made towards the implementation of a two-state solution, the fact that it has now been rejected by Benjamin Netanyahu is a non-event. Yet this is a non-event that is deeply upsetting to many American Jews.

It’s not that they believed that peace was just around the corner. On the contrary, the value of the two-state solution has never derived from expectations about the future. Instead, its value is based very much in the present.

For liberal Americans — Jewish and non-Jewish — the two-state solution ideologically sanitized Israel by ostensibly embodying the desire that the political aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians could be recognized. If this promise is taken away, liberals are deprived of a fiction that allowed them to avoid confronting the illiberal nature of the Jewish state.

Americans want to be able to say they support Israel and democracy and Israel is forcing them to choose between the two.

Noam Sheizaf provided a reality check for participants at the J Street conference in Washington DC this week, when he said:

In Israel, we’ve got to the point where arguing for a state for all its citizens — equal rights for everyone — is a form of ‘Arab nationalism’ that should be made illegal. While arguing for an ethnic state that gives privileges to one group over the other is ‘democracy’…

I am 40 and I only know one Israel — and that’s from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea. And in which there live Palestinians and Jews, roughly the same size of populations — they’re totally mixed with each other. They’re mixed in the Galilee, they’re mixed along the coast, they’re mixed in the West Bank by now, they’re mixed in the Negev — everywhere Jews living next to Palestinians.

One group has everything — all the rights — the other one has privileges given to it according to a complicated system of citizenship and where they happen to live and where their grandparents were in ’48…

I think we need to start looking at this in civil rights issues, if that’s what we believe in — and that’s the kind of activism I’m looking for. Not redrawing maps in a way that will keep some people in and some people out so that we can call themself [a] democracy.

Sheizaf also took J Street to task for its failure to talk about Gaza:

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What it feels like to be a ‘demographic threat’ to Israel

Yousef Munayyer writes: I am a demographic threat.

I am a demographic threat; I am the son, grandson and father of demographic threats; and I am the husband of demographic spillover. I am a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and this is the language that the State of Israel, its leaders and its elites have sanctioned within their discourse to refer to me and to millions of other human beings.

And once you have defined a threat, what action is there to take other than to attack it, marginalize it, contain it or eliminate it?

It is refreshing to see that so many are appalled at the rhetoric Benjamin Netanyahu used in Israel on election day, when he mobilized ultra-right-wing voters by saying “right-wing rule is in danger” because “Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations.” Some have likened it to the “Southern Strategy” in the United States, when the Republican Party appealed to racism among white Southerners in the late 1960s to draw them away from a Democratic Party that had come out in support of civil rights.

But Netanyahu’s language was not just an electioneering tactic. Indeed, as Palestinians — whether citizens of Israel, residents of Jerusalem or those living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza or in refugee camps or in the diaspora — know, this demographic fear-mongering is rooted in the foundation of the Zionist project in Palestine. The origin and maintenance of Zionism has relied on demographic engineering to ensure that political power remains in the hands of one ethno-religious group, Israeli Jews. This isn’t about an election tactic; this is about Zionism itself. [Continue reading…]

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To evangelicals, Zionism is an increasingly tough sell

Ryan Rodrick Beiler writes: While the lobby giant AIPAC wields power in Washington, evangelical Christians have long been the grassroots base of Israel advocacy in the US. But that support is eroding.

According to a National Association of Evangelicals poll, forty percent of US evangelical leaders have changed their thinking about Israel over the past fifteen years.

The most common change? “A greater awareness of the struggles faced by the Palestinian people,” the survey concludes.

“One of the most important developments is that Christian voices are coming out of Palestine,” said Munther Isaac, Vice Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College in the occupied West Bank. “They are challenging evangelicals to be in conversation with them.” [Continue reading…]

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Israel and Netanyahu: A racist prime minister can only stay in power with the support of racist voters

Allison Kaplan Sommer says that: “Israelis, whether they want to admit it or not, have spent a good part of the past year feeling afraid.”

She goes on to detail how Benjamin Netanyahu masterfully built his election campaign around the exploitation of that fear.

He systematically painted the main contenders vying for the premiership Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni as weak and ineffective, laughably so. He began by feminizing them and infantilizing them with mocking videos that portrayed them as gossiping girlfriends in a kitchen and misbehaving children in a preschool.

As the campaign wore on, he moved away from a comic approach and started making his charges more seriously. His rivals were naive dupes, he said, vulnerable to foreign pressure, and would leave Israel exposed to its enemies – while he positioned himself in contrast as a strong protector who can stand up to pressure no matter where it came from (even the White House!) and whatever he deems necessary to keep Israelis safe, no matter how brutal, immoral, or racist.

The derisive manner in which Netanyahu condescended to “Tzipi” and “Bougie” and “the left” when he spoke evoked the famous Jack Nicholson speech in “A Few Good Men” when, testifying as Col. Jessup, he smirks “Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom … My existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.”

At every juncture, when the going got tough for Netanyahu, appealing to fear was his go-to campaign strategy. Some might argue it was his entire campaign strategy. To those who understood this, it was clear in his showdown with President Obama that he would never submit to White House pressure to cancel his speech before Congress, no matter how hard Obama and the Democrats piled on the pressure.

The reason had nothing to do with the urgency of the issue of Iran or even Netanyahu’s desire to impress his electorate with the speech – but because backing down would utterly undercut the tough unbending image he was working to project to the electorate.

The ultimate proof of the effectiveness of his scare-mongering tactics – and his willingness to cross any line to implement them – was the now-infamous last-minute online video released well into Election Day, expressing fears based on factually-challenged claims: “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.” He compared the need to vote for him to the emergency military reserve call-up notice: “Get out to vote, bring your friends and family – in order to close the gap between us and Labor. With your help, and with God’s help we’ll establish a nationalist government that will safeguard the State of Israel.”

In the video, Netanyahu puts out the call in the urgent tones of of a military commander planning strategy and giving out orders with a tone of urgency. He makes the pronouncement seated in front of a map of the Middle East, clearly designed to remind voters of the neighborhood in which they reside: Hamas to the south, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and now, ISIS just over the border with Syria.

It all worked brilliantly. Israelis went for the devil they know – they voted for an internationally unpopular bully rather than roll the dice on a man they feared might be too nice to keep them safe.

Whether one is an Israeli or not, Jewish or gentile, everyone understands what it means to be afraid. Fear is easy to exploit and so those whose fears are exploited are easy to view as victims.

From this perspective, Netanyahu, the bully, coerced Israelis and took advantage of their prevailing fears.

For Israel’s liberal supporters — especially in America — this way of viewing Netanyahu’s ability to retain his hold on power is essentially sympathetic. It provides room for loving Israel while despising its leader.

But Israel’s prime minister did not get re-elected simply by being a very effective fear-monger. What he did was wholeheartedly tap into the racism that lies at the core of Israelis’ fears.

Netanyahu did not snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by desperately resorting to racism. Racism was his trump card which he played with perfect timing, confident that it would have its desired effect.

Rather than letting the power of racism become blunted by being scattered among the small parties of the Right, Netanyahu successfully presented voting for Likud as the best way of holding back the Arab threat.

In America, for a politician, even at a minor local level, to make such a blatantly racist move would almost certainly destroy his career.

Even though racism still pervades American culture in many ways, it is no longer culturally acceptable. Even though a lot of the political opposition to Barack Obama has had racist undertones, racism rarely blatantly shows its face in contemporary America — at least among those who hope to win elections. Racism has to be concealed, but when exposed, is generally disavowed.

When Netanyahu warned about “Arab voters coming out in droves,” he was in fact reiterating the core presupposition upon which Zionism is founded: that non-Jews pose a threat to Jews and Jewish security depends on the protection of Jewish power.

Peter Beinart, one of Netanyahu’s harshest critics, describes Israel as “the one state in the world that has as its mission statement the protection of Jewish life.”

That is indeed true, but the implication is that without the protection of such a state, Jewish life is inevitably in jeopardy.

Yet even though the U.S. Constitution has no provisions that relate specifically to the protection of Jewish life, it’s hard to argue that Jews living here are any less safe than those living in Israel.

On the contrary, what protects Jewish life and the lives of every other minority more than anything else is not any form of nationalism, but instead it is democracy.

In a democracy, citizens share equal rights. In Israel they do not.

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B’Tselem’s battle to be Israel’s conscience

Eve Fairbanks writes: On 15 August last year, five weeks into the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Hagai El-Ad, the director of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, appeared on a morning radio show to discuss the conflict. Throughout the fighting, B’Tselem did what it has done for 25 years since it was founded during the first Palestinian intifada: document human rights violations by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza. It compiled film and testimony gathered by volunteer field researchers on the ground, tallied daily casualty figures that were used by the local and international press, and released names of individual Palestinians killed by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

B’Tselem’s founders intended it to serve a purpose unlike any other organisation in Israel’s fractious political atmosphere: to provide pure information about the Israeli military’s treatment of Palestinians, without commentary or political agenda. But by last summer, this stance had become a source of controversy. For many Israelis, identifying human-rights violations by the Israeli military, but not its enemies, was tantamount to treason. When B’Tselem tried to run radio ads listing the names and ages of 20 Palestinian children killed in Gaza, Israel’s national broadcasting authority banned them on the grounds that they constituted a political message masquerading as neutral information. A group called Mothers of Soldiers Against B’Tselem was formed; Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, endorsed one of their protests.

That morning on the radio, the host, a journalist named Sharon Gal, pressed El-Ad over and over to agree that he believed Hamas is a “terrorist organisation”. El-Ad reminded Gal that B’Tselem, by its very core principles, declined to make that kind of characterisation because it believed doing so would be a political act. “We’re talking about armed Palestinian organisations; that is the professional term, and we criticise their activities when they are illegal,” he said. Gal responded that Israel was locked in a battle for its survival; at such a moment, he argued, refusing to call Hamas a terrorist group was a political – and disloyal – act. Newspaper columnists were still talking about it a month later. “Hagai El-Ad has essentially become a Hamas apologist,” one declared.

Three and a half months after the end of the Gaza war, in early December, I met El-Ad at Talbia, a wine bar beneath the Jerusalem Theatre. Forty-five years old, he looks barely over 30. He has a soft, almost hushed voice, glasses that press down on the tops of his ears, making them flop over like wings, and a frequent, mirthful smile. “Don’t sneeze,” he laughed, as a waitress propped a cork under a wobbly leg of our table, creating a fragile balance. El-Ad arrived at B’Tselem last May after spells as the director of Jerusalem Open House, Jerusalem’s premier gay-advocacy group, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

B’Tselem, in Hebrew, means “in His image,” from the line in the Book of Genesis: “And God made man in His image.” El-Ad possesses a fierce belief in Israelis’ ability – and duty – to live up to their human godliness by being just and manifesting an expansive empathy. “I self-identify as a Jew who cares deeply about the Jewish future and the Jewish identity,” he told me. “To be Jewish is to treat people with dignity.” He grew up in Haifa, on the Israeli coast, and takes as the basis for his personal creed an anecdote from a visit Golda Meir paid to the city during the 1948 Israeli war for independence, when she noted that scenes of Palestinians fleeing their homes reminded her of images of Jews fleeing Poland before the second world war. “If Golda Meir could notice the similarities,” he said, smiling, “then anybody can recognise Palestinians as human beings who ought to be treated with equal rights.” [Continue reading…]

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Whither Zionism?

Slavoj Žižek writes: In July 2008, the Viennese daily Die Presse published a caricature of two stocky Nazi-looking Austrians, one of them holding in his hands a newspaper and commenting to his friend: “Here you can see again how a totally justified anti-Semitism is being misused for a cheap critique of Israel!”

This joke turns around the standard Zionist argument against the critics of the policies of the State of Israel: Like every other state, the State of Israel can and should be judged and eventually criticized, but the country’s critics misuse the justified critique of Israeli policy for anti-Semitic purposes.

When today’s Christian fundamentalist supporters of Israeli policies reject leftist critiques of those policies, is their implicit line of argumentation not uncannily close to the caricature from Die Presse? Remember Anders Breivik, the Norwegian anti-immigrant mass murderer: He was anti-Semitic, but pro-Israel, since he saw the State of Israel as the first defence line against Muslim expansion—he even wanted to see the Jerusalem Temple rebuilt.

His view is that Jews are okay as long as there aren’t too many of them — or, as he wrote in his Manifesto: “There is no Jewish problem in Western Europe (with the exception of the U.K. and France) as we only have 1 million in Western Europe, whereas 800,000 out of these 1 million live in France and the U.K. The U.S., on the other hand, with more than 6 million Jews (600% more than Europe) actually has a considerable Jewish problem.”

His figure thus realizes the ultimate paradox of a Zionist anti-Semite — and we find the traces of this bizarre stance more often than one would expect.

On his visit to France to commemorate the victims of the recent Paris killings, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a call to France’s Jewish community (which is the largest in Europe) to move to Israel for safety reasons. Even before his departure for Paris, Netanyahu announced that he planned to tell French Jews that they would be “welcomed with open arms” in Israel.

The title in the main Polish daily Gazeta wyborsza tells it all: “Israel wants France without Jews.” So do the French anti-Semites, one might add. [Continue reading…]

I remember once hearing a highly respected American academic (who I will decline to name but who is frequently denounced in Israel as an anti-Semite simply for shining a light on Israel’s influence on American politics) going out of his way to make it clear to any Jews within earshot that he has always been a philo-Semite.

I have no doubt his declaration was heartfelt, yet I suspect that if one is Jewish, expressions of philo-Semitism are a bit awkward to hear. At least to my ear, to say that one loves Jews is a bit like loving Red Pandas, making them all too exotic, endangered, and other.

Jews in France or anywhere else where there is evidence of rising anti-Semitism surely don’t want or need additional love as much as to be able to sustain the reasonable expectation that they will be treated as no different from anyone else.

In response to Netanyahu’s appeal that they should flee their homes, a lot of French Jews seemed to have less interest in expressing gratitude for his offer of refuge than they felt the need to underline that they are French.

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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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Meanwhile, Gideon Levy receives a death threat

Gideon Levy writes: “The European Court for Anti-Semitic Crimes. Court Execution squad.

“Re: Proceedings against participants in anti-Israeli activities.

“The Court has been asked to look at the activities against Israel by Gideon Levy, journalist.

“Witness Number 1 showed the article ‘Lowest deeds from loftiest heights’ (Haaretz, July 15, 2014) … Chairman of the court: The court has been convinced that pro-Nazi propaganda has taken place. Once this has been proved, the court has no discretion whatsoever as to the verdict, therefore the above culprit is convicted to death. Given the amount of damage he created, his elimination should take place shortly. Death by ‘accident’: poison, wasps, snakes, viruses, etc.

“P.S: The Pulsa Denura court has no connection with the Israeli security systems … This court is chasing the enemies of Israel wherever they are and verdicts are carried out by the court’s execution squads … Please place this letter in several places in your offices.”

This letter, written in English, arrived last week at Haaretz, in an envelope mailed in Tel Aviv. This letter was not written by a Muslim. At the bottom was written: “Orange pips mean death.” Pips had been stuck to the other side of the letter.

A Sherlock Holmes story is called “The Five Orange Pips,” and revolves around a death-threat letter. This is not the first threat against an Israeli journalist, and not the last.

The attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine last week was preceded by death threats. The massacre came in its wake. It could happen here, too. Anyone who was shocked by the attack on the freedom of the press in France needs to examine what is happening in Israel. [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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For Israelis ‘a growing sense that Israel is becoming an isolated ghetto’

Roger Cohen writes: Uneasiness inhabits Israel, a shadow beneath the polished surface. In a violent Middle Eastern neighborhood of fracturing states, that is perhaps inevitable, but Israelis are questioning their nation and its future with a particular insistence. As the campaign for March elections begins, this disquiet looks like the precursor of political change. The status quo, with its bloody and inconclusive interludes, has become less bearable. More of the same has a name: Benjamin Netanyahu, now in his third term as prime minister. The alternative, although less clear, is no longer unthinkable.

“There is a growing uneasiness, social, political, economic,” Amos Oz, the novelist, told me in an interview. “There is a growing sense that Israel is becoming an isolated ghetto, which is exactly what the founding fathers and mothers hoped to leave behind them forever when they created the state of Israel.” The author, widely viewed as the conscience of a liberal and anti-Messianic Israel, continued, “Unless there are two states — Israel next door to Palestine — and soon, there will be one state. If there will be one state, it will be an Arab state. The other option is an Israeli dictatorship, probably a religious nationalist dictatorship, suppressing the Palestinians and suppressing its Jewish opponents.”

If that sounds stark, it is because choices are narrowing. Every day, it seems, another European government or parliament expresses support for recognition of a Palestinian state. A Palestinian-backed initiative at the United Nations, opposed in its current form by the United States, is aimed at pushing Israel to withdraw from the West Bank by 2017. The last Gaza eruption, with its heavy toll and messy outcome, changed nothing. Hamas, its annihilationist hatred newly stoked, is still there parading its weapons. Tension is high in Jerusalem after a spate of violent incidents. Life is expensive. Netanyahu’s credibility on both the domestic and international fronts has dwindled. [Continue reading…]

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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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Israeli ex-spy chief says Netanyahu policies ‘will destroy Israel’

IntelNews.org: The former director of Israel’s internal security service has warned that the policies of the Israeli government could lead to the complete destruction of the country. Carmi Gillon, Israel’s former ambassador to Denmark, led the Shin Bet, also known as Israel’s Internal General Security Service, from 1994 to 1996. In a scathing attack against Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Gillon accused him of being “an egomaniac” heading “a bunch of pyromaniacs” in government, who are leading the state of Israel “to its final destruction”. Gillon, 64, was speaking on Saturday evening at the “Peace Now” rally, organized outside the official residence of the Prime Minister in Jerusalem. Participants in the rally were protesting against the so-called Jewish State Law, a bill currently being discussed in the Israeli Knesset, which seeks to officially define Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people”.

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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: Don’t call it a religious conflict

Rachel Shabi writes: They are horrifying images of a house of prayer drenched in blood. That an ultra-orthodox synagogue in West Jerusalem was chosen for this latest, gruesome attack, in which four Jewish-Israeli men were killed by two knife-wielding Palestinians, has detonated appalling historic associations and has been widely condemned. This attack has also, inevitably, sparked descriptions of a “religious war” in the region – depicted in media headlines as being in various stages of development: either a current reality or an unavoidably impending one. Those who insist on stressing the religious dimension are bolstered by the reaction from Hamas to this attack, as the Islamist group has, with bleak predictability, praised and celebrated it.

And once again the media framing designates the starting point – and therefore, implicitly, the causes – of the current bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians. Most importantly, in this context, is the question of who or what set off the religious incitement in Jerusalem.

The Israeli government has repeatedly blamed the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

But its own security services quickly quashed such accusations: Shin Bet chief, Yoram Cohen, told a Knesset committee that Abbas (who has no control over Jerusalem) was not involved in igniting violence among East Jerusalem Palestinians.

Indeed, Cohen added, if anyone could be accused of exacerbating tensions, Israeli government officials and legislators are the first in line.

For some months now, this hard right coalition government has not just tolerated but actively supported a movement agitating for “Jewish prayer rights” at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif – a sacred site to both Muslims and Jews. Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own Likud Party are a visible, vocal part of this campaign. There has been a tendency in some quarters to see the prayer issue as a kind of harmless coexistence campaign focused on equal rights. It is not. This movement goes against a long-established status quo agreement, whereby non-Muslims can visit, but not worship at this holy site housing both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

But more than that, it runs contrary to what Jewish religious leaders have been saying for centuries, which is to rule against Jewish prayer at Temple Mount. Today, there is only one, growingly influential rabbinical strain that says otherwise and that’s the one guiding the religious-settler movement, which should make it abundantly clear that the issue is political, not religious. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli cabinet backs nationality bill that risks wider rift with Arab minority

The New York Times reports: The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved draft legislation that emphasized Israel’s Jewish character above its democratic nature in a move that critics said could undermine the fragile relationship with the country’s Arab minority at a time of heightened tensions.

The promotion of a so-called nationality law has long stirred fierce debate in Israel, where opponents fear that any legislation that gives pre-eminence to Israel’s Jewishness could lead to an internal rift as well as damage Israel’s relations with Jews in other countries and with the country’s international allies.

The vote on Sunday also highlighted political fissures within the governing coalition amid increasing talk of early elections. The bill, a proposal for a basic law titled “Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People,” passed 14 to 6, with two centrist coalition parties opposing it. Parliament still has to approve the bill for it to become law. [Continue reading…]

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