This weekend the “price tag” policy of extremist settlers got well and truly out of hand. Price tag is an attempt to demonstrate to law enforcement bodies that any action which interferes with settler interests will result in vandalism on highways and in Palestinian villages — and sometimes also harm to individual Palestinians.
On Friday the mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf was vandalized and burned, apparently in reaction to the settlement freeze. A graffiti message read: “Price tag — greetings from Effi.” See articles about the attack here, here and here.
There has been a mass of reaction. There has been condemnation from various places, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres. Politicians have spoken of how they fear it could lead to an escalation in violence. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called it a “despicable crime.”
In settler and pro-settler circles the response has mostly been swift. The settler representative body, the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, aka the Yesha Council condemned the attack. Lawmaker Uri Orbach of the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party, penned an impassioned article condemning the attack and saying it is the wrong way for settlers to oppose the settlement freeze. He wrote: Will the bad fire end the freeze or deepen it?
But not everyone was so quick to condemn this action. Michael Ben-Ari, lawmaker for the far-right National Union party refused to do so.
Writing in Ha’aretz, Marco Greenberg offers an ode to Jewish life on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and drops the following bombshell: “Even the New York Times has recently picked up on the UWS-Jewish connection.”
Greenberg goes on to observe that the “Upper West is perhaps the last spot on earth where people walk rather than drive.” Clearly, he has never been to the Upper East Side.
The Ha’aretz Magazine’s “Family Affair” column is one of my favorite regular journalism features. Each column looks at a different Israeli family — some ordinary, some less so — and probes their lives, their dreams, their beliefs, their values, their family histories.
As watchers of reality TV know, glancing into the lives of others has its own inherent allure. But Israel’s tremendous diversity and the tumultuous history of the Jewish people over the past century makes “Family Affair” consistently engrossing.
This week’s is a particular winner, focused on Miki and Yehudit, two Israeli sisters in their 60s who were born in Holland with Hitler on the march, hidden by their parents with non-Jewish farmers during the war and then grew up in a succession of orphanages and boarding schools.
Theirs is a tremendously moving story about two women whose childhoods were marked by enormous tragedy and dislocation — as is the case for so many of their compatriots of a certain age — but managed to build normal lives for themselves in Israel.
Here’s their story.
Ha’aretz editorializes in response to an investigative broadcast that exposed abuse of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank:
This time, it was regular soldiers in the Kfir Brigade. They exposed their backsides and sexual organs to Palestinians, pressed an electric heater to the face of a young boy, beat young boys senseless, recorded everything on their mobile phones and sent it to their friends. One of their “mischievous acts” was to test how long a Palestinian who was being choked could survive without breathing. When he passed out, the experiment was stopped. The soldiers described activities to “break the routine” that consisted entirely of abuse. It was enough for a boy “to look at us the wrong way” for him to be beaten.
Earlier, at the trial of First Lieutenant Yaakov Gigi, officers spoke of burnout, of “something bad happening to the brigade,” of a Wild West, of a moral crisis. The commander of the brigade, Colonel Itai Virov, said “we failed on several parameters.” His words reflect a denial of the depth of the failure. This continuing routine, far from the eyes of the commanders, must lead to a series of investigations, and perhaps to dismissals as well. It is unconscionable for the head of the Hebron Brigade, the division commander, the GOC Central Command and even the chief of staff to ignore the ongoing behavior of soldiers in the brigade responsible for routine security in the West Bank. Colonel Virov admitted that there was a conspiracy of silence in the brigade - in other words, a norm of abuse and its concealment. To change norms, one has to shock and be shocked, not be satisfied with a few imprisonments and empty words about a loss of values.
Perfectly ordinary people, as the American psychologist said of the Abu Ghraib abusers, are capable of behaving like monsters when they receive a message from the top that it is permissible to abuse, beat, choke, burn, make people miserable and generally do anything that man’s evil genius is capable of inventing to others who are under their control. Something bad is happening to us, they are saying in the Kfir Brigade. That “something” is the occupation.
The dovish Israeli daily Ha’aretz takes a tough line on the ongoing Qassam fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza in an editorial titled “Restraint is not possible”:
If the limited military actions Israel is undertaking in an effort to bring an end to the Qassam rockets will not bring an end to the shooting; if the moderate states, and first and foremost Egypt and Jordan fail to contain Hamas — Israel will have no option but to embark on a broad military operation.
The Israel Defense Forces raison d’etre is to protect the country’s citizens from attack. Even if the success of a military operation is not guaranteed, that concern must not prevent the government from doing what is necessary in order to protect the lives of its citizens and the state’s border. The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is political, and should always be pursued. At the same time, Israel must prove that the blood of its citizens cannot be forfeited — so that in the future, its neighbors will abide by the agreements to which they have committed.
Hat Tip: Marty Peretz
An impassioned editorial in Ha’aretz rails against the Orthodox rabbinate for erecting barriers to the conversion of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were brought to Israel under the Law of Return:
Bitter infighting, saturated with political power plays, deal-making of the lowest form, and strong-arm tactics driven by personal animosity have brought division to the national religious camp. In matters of conversion, just like in matters of matrimony, liberals in that camp side with the view that as many immigrants as possible must be helped to attain that desirable entry ticket into Israeli society with relative ease. On the other hand, all roads to conversion are blocked by pedants and purists, who succumb to ultra-Orthodox rabbis on all issues. They transform conversion into an ongoing nightmare, which may repel the new immigrants from the entire process and alienate them from Israeli society and Judaism.
Conversions are being carried out by the most stringent guardians of the halakha, who are essentially a minority group among world Jewry. They pose halakhic requirements for the converts and their families that are very strict. At the gate to the national home established by Zionists now stand representatives of the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodoxy.
What’s noteworthy here is that a liberal Israeli daily wants so badly for immigrants to have access to Orthodox-recognized conversion. If the Orthodox establishment, however, continues its intransigence, don’t be surprised when Israeli liberals simply throw up their hands and cease to care about conversion. Instead, secular and liberal Israelis will simply become resigned to the idea that Israeli Jewry is divided into two peoples. If this comes to pass, the Orthodox establishment will deserve much of the blame.
Indeed, there is also an implicit threat within the editorial: “[for] those who do not wish to convert and those who are unable to do so — the government must find an appropriate solution outside the parameters dictated by religion.”
The editorial concludes on the following note:
The State of Israel encouraged and brought to the country hundreds of thousands of immigrants on the basis of their connection to the Jewish people. It thus has a historic and Jewish responsibility to complete the process of fully accepting them into Israeli society.
Read the full article.
Last month, a British Zionist group sparked a big brouhaha when it withdrew a speaking invitation to Ha’aretz columnist Danny Rubinstein after he described Israel as an “apartheid” state at a U.N. conference. Today, however, it is a Ha’aretz editorial that is trotting out the a-word.
Lamenting the situation in the occupied territories, the editorial says:
The de facto separation is today more similar to political apartheid than an occupation regime because of its constancy. One side — determined by national, not geographic association — includes people who have the right to choose and the freedom to move, and a growing economy. On the other side are people closed behind the walls surrounding their community, who have no right to vote, lack freedom of movement, and have no chance to plan their future.
Sure, there are similarities between the lives of Palestinians under Israeli occupation and those of black South Africans under apartheid. Indeed, in certain respects, the conditions Palestinians face are arguably even worse. But while the Palestinians’ circumstances may in some ways resemble those once faced by blacks in South Africa, the apartheid analogy ignores crucial context for why this is the case.
Unlike South African blacks, Palestinians bear no small share of the responsibility for their plight. If not for repeated Arab threats and efforts to destroy the Jewish state, there would have been no occupation in the first place. And if not for wave after wave of terrorism, there would quite possibly be an independent Palestinian state today instead of a West Bank security barrier. And, it goes without saying, constant rocket barrages from post-disengagement Gaza do little to encourage Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank.
But Israel’s foes do not deploy the “apartheid” analogy for reasons of descriptive utility. It is a term of moral opprobrium, a cudgel used to beat up and de-legitimize Israel in the court of world opinion. If Israel is like apartheid South Africa, then it is an evil regime that should be boycotted and ostracized, or so the analogy goes.
Ha’aretz, too, is using the word as a cudgel: not as a cudgel to beat up Israel before a world audience, but rather as a cudgel to beat Israelis out of their apathy about the very real pain and injustice that the occupation inflicts upon Palestinians. Ha’aretz is trying to tell Israelis that they need to do everything in their power to bring about the end of a morally corrosive occupation, that they must stop turning a blind eye to the dangers of settlement expansion and seize diplomatic opportunities to advance the cause of peace — above all, that they mustn’t be complacent. This is a message that needs to be heard.
Nevertheless, Ha’aretz is playing a dangerous game with its reckless use of the a-word. Ha’aretz may have decent aims, but Israel also has indecent enemies. And for these enemies, the a-word is a key weapon in their arsenal. Now, when Israel’s friends abroad seek to counter the campaigns of demonization and divestment, the Jewish state’s foes will have a ready retort: “Even Ha’aretz says it’s apartheid.”
Ha’aretz’s Bradley Burston writes that we could learn something from them, and that the Muslim world could use some self-haters of its own.
The liberal Israeli daily Ha’aretz is urging American Jews to reconsider one of the cornerstones of our community’s liberalism: opposition to government funding for religious schools. In an editorial on the importance of Jewish education for maintaining Jewish identity, citing in particular the effectiveness of day schools, Ha’aretz writes:
If Jewish community leaders in the United States are genuine in their desire to slow the processes weakening their community, they would do well to reexamine their entrenched opposition to state or federal support for religious education, including Jewish education. They fear that such support, even in the form of tax rebates, would violate the absolute separation of church and state, which could in the long term harm the Jews above all. But it would appear that the proven danger of assimilation must take precedence over fears of potential dangers, particularly after the experience of other Jewish communities that receive funding from the countries they live in without being hurt as a result.
This recommendation, in addition to being surprising, is problematic on two fronts.