Bintel Blog

Israel's Monument to 9/11

By Nathan Jeffay

Whatever tensions may exist between Jerusalem and Washington at the moment, there was a show of unity this week as Israeli leaders and American officials came together to unveil a 9/11 memorial. With that, Jerusalem became one of the first cities outside the U.S. with a memorial to 9/11 victims.

Visitors of Arazim Park in Jerusalem cannot miss the monument. It includes a sculpture that stands 30-feet high, and is composed of a waving American flag transformed into a memorial flame — standing on a granite grey base that uses some material from the original Twin Towers. The sculpture was donated by Edward Blank, a Jewish man from New York whose wife died a few days before 9/11 and who saw it as a good way to “recognize the many feelings I was having.”

The sculpture lies within a large plaza, which contains the names of everyone who died as a result of the terror attacks. There are benches to sit and reflect.

The memorial was not an initiative of the Israeli government, but rather of the Jewish National Fund-USA/Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael. Nevertheless, the government was represented at the ceremony by the likes of minister Benny Begin. And donors of the monument, in their speeches, presented it as an initiative that binds the two countries on a leadership level.

Relations of victims voiced similar sentiments. Israel Defense Forces Brigadier General (Ret.) Dov Shefi, whose 34-year-old son Hagay was killed on 9/11 while addressing a conference of bankers at the Windows of the World restaurant on the 106th Floor of the North Tower, said that the memorial “symbolizes the identification of the State of Israel, of J.N.F. and the donors, with the thousands of families of the victims of September 11th throughout the world, with the United States and with the City of New York.”

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Unrest on the Day of Rest: The Irony of the Haredi Parking Lot Protests

By Nathan Jeffay

Shabbat is known as the “day of rest,” and the etymology of Jerusalem is often said to be “city of peace.” But this Shabbat in Jerusalem was neither restful nor peaceful. Some 28 Haredi demonstrators were arrested during riots over the opening of a parking lot. Six people were wounded.

On Friday night, thousands of Haredim went out to the city thoroughfare of Bar Ilan Street for what was billed as a mass prayer rally to protest the opening of the facility. Secular residents asserting the right to open the car park held a counter demonstration.

Then on Saturday, there were riots. The organizers of the prayer rally are billing it as a success, while insisting that they are not responsible for the riots.

So what’s the struggle all about? It’s a rather odd fight to pick, at first glance. Driving on Shabbat is prohibited though, of course, roads rarely close. So people can drive, which as we’ve just established, is the act of Sabbath desecration. It’s ironic, therefore, that the Haredi leaders are against people stopping driving — by parking.

Maybe the secular counter-demonstrators got it wrong. Perhaps a more effective demonstration would have been to take, en masse, to the streets in their cars, and fill the holy city with the noise of Sabbath desecration all through Shabbat. They could have held placards out of their windows saying “less parking equals more Sabbath desecration, not less.”

But alas, the Haredi campaign does not seem to be about a devout desire to reduce the occurrence of Sabbath desecration. After all, if you think about it, the irony is that as a result of the protests and riots, there was probably more Sabbath desecration – among both Haredim and others – than there would be on a normal Saturday even if people were parking cars.

Here are a few examples of how:

1). Haredi rioters taking actions prohibited on Shabbat, such as throwing stones.

2). Hareim arrested. The policemen don’t say – “do you want to take a Sabbath stroll to the station?” They are hauled in to the back of a van and end up traveling on Sabbath.

3). Protests and riots necessitate breaking of Shabbat by police, for example by using vehicles, radios etc.

4). Cameramen and journalists flock to report on what is going on.

5). Thousands of news junkies turn on the television, log on to the web or turn on their radios to find out what is happening.

Instead of a real bid to reduce the occurrence of Sabbath desecration we have a turf war, and a very interesting one at that. Beyond the obvious religious-secular tensions coming to the surface, there’s something else going on – some internal Haredi politics – which are easy to miss.

The opposition to parking facilities being open on Shabbat has been drummed up by the hard-line body the Eida Haredit, backing more mainstream leaders into a corner. With the issue of parking forced on to the agenda, they had to come out for or against it, and could hardly come out in favor.

In short, what the Eida Haredit has done is to force more moderate elements in the Haredi community, most importantly the Haredi political parties, to get involved in a fight it is widely believed they wanted to keep out of. There was a strong indication of this process in play ahead of Friday’s “rally,” with top rabbis from the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Haredi sectors — Shalom Elyashiv and Ovadia Yosef respectively — joining the Eida in promoting the gathering.

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Offbeat Israel: Gay Pride Brings Religious Zionists to Arab Neighborhoods

By Nathan Jeffay

Here in Israel, there has been no shortage of secular-religious tensions in recent weeks.

As the Bintel Blog discussed here, there have been the turf wars of Ramat Aviv where secular residents fear a Haredi takeover.

More recently we’ve had violence over recreation. Haredi residents of Jerusalem, where there is no public transport on Shabbat, became furious earlier this month when the municipality opened a parking lot on Shabbat in a bid to give weekend visitors somewhere to park and stop them from blocking the streets.

There were violent protests organized by the hard-line Eida Haredit, which scored something of a coup. On June 12 mayor Nir Barkat agreed to a police request to close the parking lot in question for two Saturdays in an attempt to find a solution that is acceptable to Haredim and non-Haredim. “This was not a capitulation to violence,” said the mayor who was elected on a platform of stemming Haredi control of the city.

Now comes the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade — a source of annual tension as mentioned in this story in the latest edition of the Forward. It is due to take place on Thursday.

Interestingly, the Haredi reaction this year is expected to be measured. But the right-fringe of the religious-Zionist camp is stepping in and planning on making two points at once.

Protestors, led by National Union lawmaker Michael Ben Ari, plan to raise their objections to the Gay Pride parade during marches through Arab towns. This is a strange prospect, as many residents of Arab towns have the same disdain towards gay rights that Ben Ari and his supporters do. Of course, it’s unimaginable that locals in these towns will join in, given that Israeli flags will be waved alongside anti-gay banners.

The rationale behind Ben Ari and company taking their protest against Gay Pride to Arab towns is an intriguing one: They posit that Jerusalem is a predominantly religious city; the majority its residents are opposed to the parade. If that is not enough to stop the Gay Pride march from happening in Jerusalem, then why, they ask, should they not exercise what they deem a parallel right to march with Israeli flags through Arab villages?

“One rule must apply to all,” the Israeli media quoted Ben-Ari saying. “The people from the Open House” — a Jerusalem-based organization that serves the GLBT community — “are not the only ones who have the right to march.”

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Jerusalem Gets the PBS Treatment

By Sarah Kessler

As the site of — depending on how one worships — Abraham’s divinely-commanded sacrifice (and last minute recall) of his son, Jesus’s resurrection from the dead and Mohammed’s ascension to heaven, Jerusalem is no longer the “militarily and strategically” insignificant spot 35 miles off the coast of Mediterranean, that it was 40 centuries ago, according to a documentary that airs tomorrow at 9 p.m. on PBS.

Jerusalem: Center of the World” is a two-hour long exploration, two years in the making, of a city that is the spiritual focus for hundreds of millions of people worldwide, in whose name more than a hundred wars have been undertaken, and unthinkably countless more have died.

From Two Cats Productions — directed by veteran filmmaker Andrew Goldberg, and co-written and narrated by Ray Suarez, a senior correspondent with PBS’ “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer”— the camera pans past sweeping views of forests, deserts and camels at sunset, and attempts to unravel the archeology and oral traditions of the city and the faiths that lay claim to it.

Suarez probes the city for remnants of a Jerusalem as described in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, the Talmud, the Hagaddah, the Koran and the Hadith. He finds it at the same wall that the Biblical King David faced in the 10th century B.C.E., capturing the city; at the Dome of the Rock (a.k.a. Temple Mount) — usually off-limits to non-Muslims. Bit by bit he builds a picture of a city that, like an M.C. Escher painting, seems to contain more facets than is physically possible — making it, as one newspaper so rationally puts it — the world’s most contested real estate.

To see the trailer, click here.

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Jerusalem Is Sold?

By Daniel Treiman

The Babylonian Talmud says: “Ten measures of beauty descended the world, Nine of them were taken by Jerusalem, and one by the rest of the world.”

But how many of those measures will be left once the real estate developers are done with the holy city? Jewlicious takes a look at the high-rise developments looming in Jerusalem’s future, and takes us on a walk through the not-too-distant past, when things that now elicit shrugs, instead generated outrage.


It’s the End of Jerusalem as We Know It, and Israelis Feel Fine

By Daniel Treiman

In an anguished column, Ha’aretz’s Uzi Benziman warns that Jerusalem — Israel’s capital and the spiritual heart of world Jewry — is being ceded to its ultra-Orthodox population:

For years the Jewish/ultra-Orthodox component in the Jerusalem landscape has been increasingly crowding out the colorful mosaic that characterized it in the past. Not only secular and moderate Orthodox people have become a minority in the city - the multinational and multireligious minorities that once bustled through the city’s streets seem to have withdrawn in the face of ultra-Orthodox domination.

Predictions show that in seven years the number of schoolchildren aged six to 14 in ultra-Orthodox educational institutions will be three times the number in state secular and state Orthodox schools.

The state and the wider public treat this trend complacently: They leave it to Jerusalemites to determine their municipal fate. The most productive population in the city has indeed drawn its own conclusions and is leaving in droves - there has been negative migration of about 60,000 over the past five years.

Why should it matter that Jerusalem is becoming increasingly ultra-Orthodox? Well, for starters, there’s the matter of Israel’s capital being dominated by a population that is, for the most part, either non-Zionist or anti-Zionist and, by and large, doesn’t serve in the Israeli military. Then, there’s the fact that the ultra-Orthodox community hasn’t been the most tolerant steward of the city, whether it was the ugly resistance to gay pride events in Jerusalem or the ridiculous insistence that young girl dancers cover up at the celebration for the city’s new Santiago Calatrava bridge.

But Benziman directs most of his anger, not at Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community, but rather at the larger Israeli public, which, he suggests, seems remarkably indifferent to Jerusalem’s fate. Perhaps they forgot the words of the Psalmist: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.” The ultra-Orthodox, it seems, have not forgotten.


Jerusalem of Ghosts

By Daniel Treiman

JTA has a great article on how Jerusalem students are organizing against absentee homeownership. Diaspora Jews are buying up large chunks of the capital’s housing stock and turning entire neighborhoods into virtual ghost towns for much of the year:

When the masses of visiting American Jews who own vacation homes in Israel’s capital leave Jerusalem to return home after Passover, they’ll be leaving behind mostly empty apartments – and frustrated Jerusalemites.

While many Diaspora Jews consider their Israeli homes an important investment in the Jewish state, many locals say absentee homeowners have driven up market prices, drained the market of available rentals and made many Jerusalem neighborhoods unaffordable for Israelis.

That’s why a coalition of student activists has launched a campaign to persuade the absentee homeowners to open up their homes to Israeli renters.

“We think it’s great that foreign Jews are buying here and investing in Jerusalem,” said David Uziel, 29, a graduate student in urban planning at Hebrew University. “But if they keep their apartments empty, they are weakening Jerusalem.”

To highlight the problem, a group of some 80 students held a demonstration last December in which the students dressed as ghosts and marched through “ghost town” neighborhoods of Jerusalem, including the upscale David’s Village development opposite the Old City’s Jaffa Gate.

“We walked with megaphones through these neighborhoods shouting, ‘Is anyone home?’ ” said Roy Folkman, the head of Hebrew University’s student union. “We saw no one. No one came out.”

Read the full article here.

There’s also, of course, a larger point to be made about the ethical and practical implications of real estate speculation, and what happens (as we’re now seeing here in America) when homes come to be seen, primarily, not as places to live, but as investment opportunities.


On Jerusalem, Breaking a Taboo

By Daniel Treiman

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, the spiritual leader of a Modern Orthodox Los Angeles synagogue, has penned a tremendously brave article in this week’s L.A. Jewish Journal. In it, he writes:

The question of whether we could bear a redivision of Jerusalem is a searing and painful one. The Orthodox Union, National Council of Young Israel and a variety of other organizations, including Christian Evangelical ones, are calling upon their constituencies to join them in urging the Israeli government to refrain from any negotiation concerning the status of Jerusalem at all, when and if the Annapolis conference occurs. And last week, as I read one e-mail dispatch after another from these organizations, I became more and more convinced that I could not join their call.

It’s not that I would want to see Jerusalem divided. It’s rather that the time has come for honesty. Their call to handcuff the government of Israel in this way, their call to deprive it of this negotiating option, reveals that these organizations are not being honest about the situation that we are in, and how it came about. And I cannot support them in this.

These are extremely difficult thoughts for me to share, both because they concern an issue that is emotionally charged, and because people whose friendship I treasure will disagree strongly with me. And also because I am breaking a taboo within my community, the Orthodox Zionist community. “Jerusalem: Israel’s Eternally Undivided Capital” is a 40-year old slogan that my community treats with biblical reverence. It is an article of faith, a corollary of the belief in the coming of the Messiah. It is not questioned. But this final reason why it is difficult for me to share these thoughts is also the very reason that I have decided to do so. This is a conversation that desperately needs to begin.

No peace conference between Israel and the Palestinians will ever produce anything positive until both sides have decided to read the story of the last 40 years honestly. On our side, this means being honest about the story of how Israel came to settle civilians in the territories it conquered in 1967, and about the outcomes that this story has generated.

The full article is very much worth reading.

Among hawks and doves alike, there are those who see everything in black-and-white, whose top priority is feeling affirmed in their own certitudes and feelings of self-righteousness. On the left, these are the people who insist with complete certainty that Israel would have peace, if only it behaved justly — ignoring the Jewish state’s very real security concerns (not to mention the agency and culpability of the Palestinians). On the right, those who want Israel to hold onto every inch of the West Bank conveniently conclude that peace is not possible anyway (and turn a blind eye — and a hard heart — to Palestinians’ legitimate grievances).

Rabbi Kanefsky definitely does not fall into either of these camps. That’s why his voice is so refreshing, particularly since he hails from a community that has been known more for zeal on this issue than for thoughtfulness. One can only hope that his article will be widely read and openly debated within the Modern Orthodox world. Let the conversation begin!


If You're Bored by Holocaust Denial....

By Daniel Treiman

Holocaust denial may be big in the Muslim world, but it’s not the only kind of Jew-targeting denial that’s popular. There’s 9/11 denial. And then, of course, there’s Temple denial. The Jerusalem Post reports:

The former mufti of Jerusalem, Ikrema Sabri, has made the claim that there never was a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount, and the Western Wall was really part of a mosque.

“There was never a Jewish temple on Al-Aksa [the mosque compound] and there is no proof that there was ever a temple,” he told The Jerusalem Post via a translator. “Because Allah is fair, he would not agree to make Al-Aksa if there were a temple there for others beforehand.”

Sabri rejected Judaism’s claim to the Western Wall as part of the outer wall of the Second Temple.

“The wall is not part of the Jewish temple. It is just the western wall of the mosque,” he said. “There is not a single stone with any relation at all to the history of the Hebrews.”

Not a single stone!


The Case Against Dividing Jerusalem

By Daniel Treiman

I believe that Israel’s long-term survival hinges on reaching a settlement with the Palestinians (and that achieving such a settlement is, not insignificantly, also a vital interest of the United States). I believe this will necessarily involve sharing sovereignty over Jerusalem. I recognize that doing so involves profound risks for Israel, but I think that the alternatives are even more dangerous. Still, given the risks that sharing Jerusalem entails, one can, I think, only recommend this course with a great deal of humility and no small amount of trepidation. In an article that should give any thinking dove pause, Ha’aretz’s Nadav Shragai makes the case that dividing Jerusalem would be a disaster:

…It is impossible to talk again and again about the hundreds of thousands of Jews who visit the Old City and Western Wall without explaining that this will stop once Jerusalem is divided. It is impossible to fight for Jerusalem without telling the sorry tale of Rachel’s Tomb, which the Oslo Accords turned into a half-abandoned border post on the outskirts of Bethlehem. It is impossible to wage this battle without recalling the 19 years in which Jews were forbidden to visit their holy places, even though the armistice agreement with Jordan ostensibly guaranteed such visits.

There will be no safe, quiet houses in Neveh Yaakov, French Hill or Pisgat Ze’ev without control over “outlying neighborhoods” such as Shoafat and Beit Hanina, which abut them. There will be no safe shopping at Jerusalem’s Malkha Mall, no visits to the Biblical Zoo, no train rides from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and no peaceful houses in Givat Masua and Malkha without the adjacent “outlying neighborhood” of Walaja. There are also “outlying neighborhoods” adjoining Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, Talpiot and Har Homa. Beit Jala, the “outlying neighborhood” next to Gilo, was inhabited by thoroughly decent people, just as Walaja and Shoafat are — until one day (and this was before the rise of Hamas), it was taken over by armed gangs, who shot at Gilo from it every day.

Those who give the Palestinians control over the Temple Mount, the “outlying neighborhood” next to the Western Wall, will no longer be able to pray in peace at the Wall, or hold Memorial Day ceremonies or induction ceremonies for paratroopers there; nor will they be able to ensure the safety of the president or prime minister should either wish to participate in such ceremonies. Imagine the street battles in the alleys of Sajiyeh and Beit Hanun, in the Gaza Strip, transferred to the ancient streets of Jerusalem, which today teem with Jews. Think about how bar-mitzvah ceremonies or wedding pictures could be held at the Western Wall, or even plain old visits to place a note in the cracks, if Palestinians “controlled” the area a few hundred meters away

Read the full article.


How Not To Negotiate Peace

By Daniel Treiman

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

An adviser to Mahmoud Abbas said the Kotel should be under Palestinian control.

Adnan Husseini, aide to the Palestinian Authority president, said Thursday that Palestinian demands for Israel to cede eastern Jerusalem under any peace accord also includes the Western Wall.

“This is part of Islamic heritage that cannot be given up, and it must be under Muslim control,” Husseini told Israel’s NRG Web site, adding that all of Jerusalem’s Old City should be part of a future Palestinian state. He made similar comments in an interview with Israel Radio.

Husseini, the Palestinian Authority’s “Minister for Jerusalem Affairs” was previously the director of the Islamic Wakf, which effectively controls the Temple Mount (and isn’t known for its respect for Jewish sensibilities). His remarks bring back unhappy memories of how Yasser Arafat made a point at the failed Camp David summit of insisting that the ancient Jewish Temple was actually in Nablus and not Jerusalem.

The reality, of course, is that for both Israelis and Palestinians Jerusalem is a deal-breaker. If either side feels its interests are not being respected vis-a-vis Jerusalem and its holy places, watch out.

Israelis, for their part, have to recognize that Palestinian aspirations cannot be limited to the city’s outer neighborhoods. Any final settlement will likely require difficult Israeli concessions within the city’s “holy basin.” But that’s simply not going to happen unless Palestinians demonstrate that they can be trusted to respect Jewish interests in the holy city (for starters, making sure that stones aren’t raining down on the heads of worshipers of the Western Wall and that Jewish antiquities on the Temple Mount aren’t being wantonly destroyed). When a key Palestinian figure suggests that he cannot even tolerate Israeli sovereignty over the holiest spot in the city’s Jewish Quarter, it doesn’t bode well.



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