Israel has the highest poverty rate in the developed world. Some 21% of Israelis were poor as of 2010, more than in any of the other 33 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, its new report reveals.
Compare this figure with where Israel stood in 2000 and the picture is stark — back then the poverty figure was 15%.
The question is, where does Israel go from here/ Israel’s cabinet has just passed an austerity budget that curs spending across government ministries, and will eat away at some important welfare payments.
Israel was delighted back in 2011 when it was admitted to the OECD. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that it was a “seal of approval” for Israel’s economy. But what of the critique that the kudos came with?
“Countries get the poverty rate they are prepared to pay for,” Angel Gurría, OECD secretary-general, said at a roundtable with Israel’s then-finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, just over two years ago. “If Israel is to cut poverty and reduce inequality, it will have to not only shift the composition of social spending, toward more cost-effective benefits, but also increase its investment in this area.”
Have poverty figures dropped since Israel joined the OECD? The new figures don’t tell us, but given that changes in policy to decrease inequality have been minimal, it looks unlikely. And with the austerity budget about to pass, gaps looks set to widen.
One of the new budget’s clauses is a cut in child allowances — payments that the Knesset Research and Information Center has just reported represent a staggering 28% of the income of Israel’s poorest decile.
Three years in to Israel’s membership of the OECD one can’t help but feel that it has taken the prestige of OECD membership and run with it, the country hasn’t done so much listening and learning.
British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking waded into the Israel debate last week by announcing his decision to boycott an academic conference. Eli Valley, the Forward’s artist in residence, offers his own unique graphic take on the controversy.
Got wheels, Mr. Hawking?
Israelis are about to be taxed to death — literally.
Israelis are furious at the austerity budget, and thousands took to the streets last night to demonstrate.
You may have read about the planned spending cuts or the planned tax increases, but you probably haven’t heard about the cemeteries plan.
The government wants to impose property taxes on graves. According to the plan, grave owners will be liable for the tax while they are living, which if they bought young and go on to live a long life would end up costing far more than the value of the plot itself.
Once people are interred their families will be expected to pick up the cost. It is unclear how long the liability will continue, and whether it will be applies on existing graves.
Property taxes in Israel are paid to the local municipality, and help to meet the cost of a range of services that — at least according to information currently available to us — are enjoyed exclusively by the living, such as parks, cultural services, refuse collection etc.
The new plan raises an intriguing possibility. Over the years many Diaspora Jews have chosen to be buried in Israel for what they perceive as its spiritual value. Could we start to see some casket traffic in the other direction — Israelis going to be buried in the Diaspora to avoid an eternal tax burden?
For Mother’s Day, the Forward challenged you, our readers, to write six-word memoirs encapsulating your mothers — and then we picked 12 winners who penned sweet and silly salutes.
In the process of sifting through your six-word submissions, we learned something important: mommy issues abound in the Jewish world. While most of the memoirs were warm and loving, some were downright disdainful.
Read the Forward’s full coverage of Mother’s Day, from stories to blog posts.
Below, we’ve published the best (or perhaps worst) angst-ridden submissions. We’ve kept the entrants anonymous this time in hopes that they will be able to patch things up with mom later on. Till then, here’s what we discovered:
Some of you think your mother isn’t the brightest crayon in the box:
Yes Mom, I do smoke “marinara.”
Stop texting reminders to call you.
Some of your mothers lay on the guilt and criticism:
Sacrificed her own happiness for ours.
Pressure? Criticism? Guilt? Russian-Jewish mother’s expertise.
Guilt is her paintbrush. Masterpiece. Me.
She expected me to be perfect.
You’re 25! Where are my grandchildren?
That’s not very becoming young lady.
Some of you feel mistreated by your moms:
“My whole family is dead.” Hello??
My mother was an insane monster.
“I’m bored.” “Go play in traffic.”
Mom raged, for she wasn’t adored.
Some of you find your moms supremely irritating:
Mom, why are you so obnoxious?
Listen. Mom is always right. Always.
Mom says, “What’s wrong?” for hello.
Some of you have contentious relationships with your mothers-in-law:
Righteously earned her Gold Meddle Award.
Evidently, I’m not bad for shiksa.
But no matter how you feel about your mother, all of you can probably relate to this one:
It’s complicated, yet I love her.
Could Tzipi Livni be sweetening feminists before dropping a bombshell?
As discussed earlier on Forward Thinking, Justice Minister Livni has just announced that she is working on legislation to criminalize the exclusion of women from the public sphere. The timing is interesting — just as she could find herself in a very awkward position on women’s issues.
Women of the Wall, the interdenominational feminist group that prays once a month at the Western Wall, is waiting to see what will become of its newfound rights.
For the first time ever, women tried to hold public prayers at the Western Wall with he blessing of the state today. It was be the group’s first prayer meeting since a landmark court ruling that will put an end to the police’s habit of detaining its members.
Women planned to gather at the Wall, some of them wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries, with guarantees from police that they will respect the protection that the court afforded them.
Instead of the police, women found themselves facing off against thousands of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators. Police had to protect them from the Haredi mob.
Now, non-Orthodox religious leaders are demanding an investigation into the violence.
Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has just dealt the political establishment a trump card to clamp down on the women. This week he waived his right to challenge the permissive court ruling they received as he believes it accords with the current law, but in his decision he left the door wide open for the Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett to redefine the law and put a stop to their newly-won right to public prayer at the Wall.
If Bennett decides to alter the law, he will head straight to Livni’s office for her signature to do so. The pressure will be high on Livni, the junior party of the coalition, from strongman Bennett. Perhaps she’s making a big gesture to women in her announcement today so that, if and when the time comes to reel in rights at the Kotel, she can say that she’s only lost a battle but won the war.
Either way, the ball is in Tzipi’s court.
When President Obama nominated Jack Lew to be his next treasury secretary, he could not avoid teasing Lew for his only known fault – his illegible signature. “Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency should he be confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury,” Obama joked back in January.
And Lew took notice.
After two and half months in office, Jack Lew unveiled his new signature, doing away with the loopy squiggly John Hancock that had become his trade mark, in favor of a way more conventional “Jacob Lew” signature, with a pronounced J and L and a winding W at the end.
Lew is the most senior Jewish member on Obama’s team and the only Orthodox Jew to hold a top cabinet position. When first nominated, handwriting experts said his eccentric signature, made up of a series of loops, indicated a personality that can “adapt quickly” and Lew proved to be just that, with his complete signature makeover.
Attention to Lew’s signature was not only an item of curiosity and a rare glance into the head of the otherwise perfectly molded civil servant. As Treasury Secretary, Lew’s signature will be on every new currency bill printed in the United States. And so the threat of having dollar bills carry an strange looking string of circular loops has been lifted, depriving Americans from an opportunity to see a more whimsical signature adorn bills in their wallets.
Are the days numbered for second-class citizenship for women in Israel?
Following two announcements in two days, it seems the exclusion of women from Israel’s public sphere may finally be nearing an end. The Attorney General Wednesday recommended criminalizing behavior that stops women from receiving “public services with equal conditions.” And today, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that she is starting work on the legislation.
Israeli politicians should write Haredim who demand segregated buses a letter of thanks. They have provided them with the ultimate fits-every-occasion always-grabs-a-headline cause for whenever they need a bit of love from liberals or for when news is quiet. Women’s exclusion was never a popular story until it became about the ever catchy “back of the bus” and there is a seemingly endless supply of political points for anyone who condemns them.
But in the past we have seen the issue of gender exclusion disappear from the headlines as suddenly as they appeared. At the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 gender segregation and women’s exclusion topped Israel’s national agenda. “They will be huge issues in the next general election,” went the common prediction. Yet soon after the international community finished its New Year vacation and news picked up again, it became yesterday’s story.
Now, once again, the “back of the bus” story has been wheeled out. The changes being promised are important and welcome. The subject is better for the government than having people talking about Syria or Prisoner X.
But will it survive the next big new story or will it just fade away? Only time will tell.
Welcome, readers! This week’s news quiz takes us from ultra-Orthodox England to Corky’s Ribs & BBQ in Memphis, Tenn. with a stop by Warren Buffett’s brain and heart to see what he believes in! And was that Kentucky Senator Rand Paul we just glimpsed? Did he really…?
It’s no surprise that Johns Hopkins geneticist Eran Elhaik stirred a hornet’s nest of controversy with his claim to have debunked the scientific theory that Jews are mostly members of a single race, with origins in the land that is now Israel.
But as Rita Rubin, the science writer who penned the Forward’s piece on the dispute, points out, Elhaik isn’t really saying Jews aren’t a distinct race — he’s questioning which race. And that makes all the difference.
“I think what’s at stake is how we Jews view ourselves,” Rubin told the Forward’s Paul Berger during the paper’s weekly podcast. “The conventional wisdom is that we are a people descended from the indigenous Jews of Judea and Samaria …. This new study says that’s all wrong even though it’s been backed up by well-respected scientists in well-respected journals.”
Elhaik’s study flies in the face of 15 years of studies by notable scientists and geneticists who found that Jews — and Ashkenazi Jews in particular — bear more genetic similarities to fellow Jews than their non-Jewish neighbors.
The theory, most strongly promulgated by Yeshiva University geneticist Harry Ostrer, asserts that Jews are mostly descended from a group of people who lived in what is now Israel during Biblical times. That theory, of course, is a critical emotional and political cornerstone of the Jewish claim to Israel.
In an effort to push forward stalled gun control legislation, Vice President Joe Biden met on Monday at the White House with faith leaders, including three representatives of the Jewish community.
In the meeting, which lasted two and a half hours, Biden discussed at length the current status of the background check legislation which failed its first test in Senate last month. Biden encouraged the group of 22 clergy members to continue their work in all states to make lawmakers know of their support for the legislation. He noted it is still not clear when would be the right time to bring the bill back to a vote on the Senate floor and made clear he believes it would happen only after debate over immigration reform is completed.
The event, organized by the White House office of faith-based initiatives, included Christian, Jewish, Sikh and Muslim religious leaders. The Jewish community was represented by Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, Jared Feldman who heads the Washington office of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.
“It was an unusual meeting in it duration, intensity and thoughtfulness,” Schonfeld said after the meeting. In the meeting, Rabbi Schonfeld used a Hebrew phrase, roughly translated to “we will cross the bridge when we reach it” to address claims by those who voted against background checks that it will lead to further limitations on gun ownership if passed. “Our country is so divided in anticipatory anxiety,” she said, suggesting that all can agree on background checks and later deal with other aspects of gun control.
In the legendary days of the Yiddish Forward, Ab. Cahan, the founding editor, could leave his office at 175 East Broadway and roam the streets, synagogues, restaurants, schools yards and tenements of the Lower East Side to listen to his readers. And he did, often. It helped him keep a finger on the pulse of his community and enabled the newspaper to directly connect with and reflect the ongoing concerns of his readers’ daily lives.
Now my office is on the eighth floor of a building in Lower Manhattan, largely removed from most of our far-flung readers. But I am able to tap into a virtual Lower East Side in cyberspace — a shtetlsphere, if you will — where engagement with readers can produce an ongoing conversation and some terrific journalism.
That’s what we’ve been doing this year. I hope you’ve noticed.
We began by asking you to nominate your most inspiring rabbi, and the result was a mesmerizing set of profiles of spiritual leadership across the nation. Then we asked for “Six Words on the Jewish Mother” and the result is published in this week’s paper — 18 charming, concise, hilarious odes just in time for Mother’s Day. A similar project for Father’s Day, also in conjunction with Smith Magazine’s Six-Word Memoir®, will commence soon, with a May 29 deadline for submissions.
But before then, we invite you to take part in a different kind of conversation on the brit milah, the circumcision ritual that has been a staple of Jewish life for millennia and is now under assault, from within and beyond our community. It’s a ceremony that inspires emotions ranging from rejoicing to repugnance — with dissonant combinations of everything in between. We would like you, our readers, to share your experiences as parents of a Jewish newborn facing this ancient, primal rite, or as an adult who chose to enter the convenant. Were you conflicted or inspired? Was it a moment of discovery or of disgust? Or did you, perhaps, walk away from it? What were the consequences?
As you can see, our efforts to engage readers span from the celebratory to the serious, as befits a publication that seeks to capture the many facets and challenges of American Jewish life today. Join us.
The company made waves this week when it changed the geographic tagline for the Palestinian version of its search engine, Google.ps, to read “Palestine” instead of “Palestinian Territories,” Foreign Policy reported.
“We’re changing the name ‘Palestinian Territories’ to ‘Palestine’ across our products,” Google spokesman Nathan Tyler said in a statement to the BBC. “We consult a number of sources and authorities when naming countries.”
“In this case, we are following the lead of the UN, Icann [the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers], ISO [International Organisation for Standardisation] and other international organisations.”
In November, the U.N. General Assembly voted to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a non-member state.
Dr. Sabri Saidam, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told the BBC that the Palestinian Authority had asked Google and other international companies to use the term “Palestine” instead of “Palestinian Territories” after the U.N. vote.
“Most of the traffic that happens now happens in the virtual world and this means putting Palestine on the virtual map as well as on the geographic maps,” he said.
It comes as no surprise that Israeli officials weren’t pleased.
“Google is not a political or diplomatic entity, so they can call anything by any name, it has no diplomatic or political significance,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Times of Israel.
On Twitter, some saw the name change as a significant step:
Google is de facto recognizing a state of Palestine. bit.ly/12wVNC4ampmdash; Cassandra Vinograd (@CassVinograd) May 3, 2013
Others thought the company could have gone further:
And some users who disagree with the tech giant’s decision won’t be Googling anymore:
What do you think about Google’s decision?
Warren Buffett, the famed investment Oracle of Omaha, is in love with the Israeli economy, or at least with one company.
On Wednesday, shortly after announcing his purchase of Israeli cutting tool maker Iscar for $2 billion, a move that would complete his takeover of the company, Buffett sat down with Israeli reporters at the modest corporate headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway investment company in Omaha, Nebraska.
“It’s 2 billion votes of confidence in Iscar and in the Israeli economy, you can’t separate the two,” he told Israeli TV’s Channel 1, “when we put $2 billion into Iscar, we’re putting $2 billion into Israel.”
Buffet made his first investment in Israel exactly seven years ago, buying 80% of the company’s shares for $4 billion. Seven years later, Iscar’s value has doubled in the remaining 20% ownership were sold for $2 billion, reflecting an estimated company value of $10 billion.
In back-to-back interviews with Israeli reporters, days before he holds the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting followed closely by investors across the world, Buffett showered praise over his Israeli partners. Asked what he found most impressive in doing business in Israel, he said: “If I could take our managers from Israel and clone them I would feel very, very good,” he said. “They have brains, they have energy, they’re never satisfied with where they are today, they always think things can get done better and they don’t get discouraged when the world economy slows down, they just try harder.”
As the World Jewish Congress prepares to convene in Budapest, Paul Berger covers the increasingly hostile conditions under which Hungarian Jews — one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe with an estimated population of around 85,000 recorded in 2012 — are forced to reside.
Primarily, the problem in Hungary is a political problem. With an unemployment rate of over 11 percent and low economic growth, the electoral success of the fascistic Jobbik movement, and an annual rise in recorded hate crimes last year, the European faultlines of economic malaise, political extremism, and the persecution of immigrants and minorities are meeting in Hungary with troubling consequences.
Fidesz, the ruling political party, has since 2010 set about trying to concentrate authority in the parliament in which it has been able to muster a supermajority, taking powers of oversight away from the other organs of government. Recent constitutional amendments passed this year included limiting the power of the country’s Constitutional Court to strike down any laws passed by a two-thirds majority, castrating the court and allowing to rule out on procedural matters. The retirement age for judges was also lowered in an attempt to weed out uncooperative justices.
Other provisions restricted the liberty of the individual to work, travel, and marry. Students whose college education is subsidised by the state are required to work in Hungary for a certain period of time after graduation, while others who elect to move abroad now have to pay back the value of that subsidy. The law now also gives preference to traditional family relationships, in other words those between one man and one woman with children. At the behest of the European Union, a provision allowing only public media to broadcast political advertising before general and European elections was amended.
Welcome, readers! This week’s news quiz will have you kicking yourself — or at least thinking about Jews who kick, even as you also think about the sea, the South, the shekel and… breasts. (If you weren’t already.) Enjoy!
Skeptics point out that all that happened yesterday was that Arab leaders acknowledged what everyone already knows — that if and when Israel makes a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, it won’t return exactly to 1967 borders.
This is true. When the Arab League indicated that it is updating its position from its Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, to accept some degree of land swapping so that Israel won’t have to return to 1967 borders, it was really just a matter of its leaders coming closer to earth and recognizing that the Green Line won’t become a border. The Palestinian Authority and the international community have long realized that Israel will cede land in its sovereign borders in return for holding on to parts of the West Bank.
In fact, when the so-called Palestine Papers were leaked in 2011, they showed that the Palestinian Authority had been prepared to deviate significantly from the 1967 lines, at least in Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, stating the obvious can be important. The road to peace is obstructed by taboos from both the Israeli and Palestinian side, and the breaking of each and every taboo is an important landmark. Only when key players publicly break a taboo can the discourse start to shift, closer to agreement. The fact that the Arab League has shown willingness to revise its “1967 lines” mantra, and inject some flexibility in to the take-it-or-leave-it Peace Initiative could, if capitalized upon, present an opportunity.
There is still a huge gulf that divides Israel and proponents of the Peace Initiative, with massive differences in important areas. But the latest development updates it from an offer frozen in its time to one that could potentially be revived and form the basis of talks.
One of the most interesting questions is how, if this leads somewhere, will Hamas react. Hamas’ ideology is uncompromising, and doesn’t lend itself to the idea of agreements. However, in the scenario that the Arab world, represented by the Arab League, moves forward, there could be significant pressure on Hamas not to stand in its way. Hamas has kept its reaction to the plan in check in the past, resisting the temptation to vote against it at an Arab League summit in 2007 and instead abstaining.
But there’s another less obvious factor that could prove relevant. It was Qatar that met with John Kerry and announced the openness to land swaps. Hamas is increasingly reliant on Qatar for donations and political credibility. In October the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, visited Gaza - giving the regime kudos by going there and promising $385 million, for building projects. This gives Qatar obvious leverage withHamas.
Yesterday’s development is by no meant a fast-track to a peace agreement, but it could simplify a still-difficult route.
Sid Schwarz’s new book has a rather ambitious title, but then, this rabbi/entrepreneur is a rather ambitious man. In “Jewish Megatrends”, he aspires to do nothing less than, as the subtitle says, chart the course of the American Jewish future. He’s not doing it alone, of course. That’s where I came in.
Schwarz asked me to moderate a panel at the JCC Manhattan with him and just some of the 14 Jewish leaders and thinkers who contributed essay to “Megatrends.” The event took place last night and what could have been an unwieldy gabfest — there were, after all, seven of us with microphones — instead turned into a coherent, stimulating discussion.
The framework was provided by Schwarz when he posits in the book that there are “tribal” Jews and “covenantal” Jews and that American Jews in their 20s, 30s and even 40s are much more the latter than the former. Theoretical attachment to the Jewish people, the state of Israel and the legacy of the Holocaust is no longer enough to get American Jews to join a synagogue and contribute to Federation.
Judaism, he argues, needs to be seen as a path “to help us live lives of sacred purpose.”
And, in what he terms a countercultural statement: “Jewish community should be the place where people and relationships count.”
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, famed for his uncompromising support of Israel, locked horns with a jeering crowd of even more uncompromising supporters of Israel in a Times Square hotel ballroom on Sunday.
Appearing at a day-long seminar on Israeli security, the celebrity scholar was repeatedly heckled and booed as he described his contacts with Palestinian leaders and urged civility in public discourse. Returning fire, Dershowitz told the audience they were “part of the problem, not part of the solution” and “you don’t speak for anybody but yourselves. Fortunately, nobody is listening to you.”
The occasion was the second annual Jerusalem Post Conference, an odd combination of high-level exchanges on security policy and raucous, far-right pep rally. The title was “Fighting for the Zionist Dream,” though it might just as easily have been named “Fighting Over the Zionist Dream.” Most of the day was devoted to thoughtful presentations by senior Israeli defense leaders, analyzing the complexities of Iran and Syria policy and discussing ways of reigniting peace talks with the Palestinians. Speakers included a former prime minister, a ranking Likud cabinet minister, a former army chief of staff, a former Mossad director, a former chief of military intelligence and others, including several Jerusalem Post journalists.
The paying audience, close to 1,000 New Yorkers, received most of the speakers politely, applauding only occasionally when someone saluted Israel’s soldiers or criticized Iran and booing lustily when they disagreed. The most enthusiastic reception was reserved for Post columnist Caroline Glick, a passionate opponent of Israeli-Palestinian compromise known for her slashing attacks on liberals.
The Dershowitz flap was essentially a replay in high-definition of a ruckus that punctuated the first Post conference, held a year ago in the same Marriott Marquis ballroom with many of the same speakers.
Bah humbug, it’s Lag B’Omer.
I’m usually game for Israel’s national and religious holidays, eating the correct patisserie items on the correct days (honey and cheese cake on Rosh Hashanah and Shavuot respectively), sweating in a succah on Succot, and even finding a certain comfort in the melancholy of the Fast of Av.
But I’m a Lag B’Omer Scrooge.
And here’s why. Every festival has good traditions apart from this one, which has two common customs: lawless scavenging and superstition.
Jewish children across Israel, religious and secular, have filled the skies with smoke with their traditional bonfires. And for the days before Lag B’Omer, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is a temporary suspension of the laws of theft in the State of Israel where wooden items are concerned. If it’s not screwed and bolted down, it’s seen by some as fair game. Well brought up children who would never dream or of taking what isn’t theirs most of the year can be seen gathering up burnable items which aren’t exactly theirs. Damage is wrought in forests; palettes on building sites grow legs.
And many of them light up without the necessary precautions. Several fires have gotten out of hand this year.
Israel’s new finance minister, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, gave his first Knesset speech as a cabinet minister on Monday, April 22, the opening day of the parliament’s spring session, and in defiance of longstanding tradition, he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Longtime Knesset observers say they can’t remember ever hearing such a frontal, direct confrontation with the Haredi parties from the Knesset rostrum.
Beforehand, the session heard six opposition motions of no-confidence, including several attacks on Lapid’s government budget proposal. Meir Porush of the opposition United Torah Judaism party (the seated man with the white beard; to his right, with a black beard, is UTJ’s Moshe Gafni) complained about the impact of the budget on Israel’s security and also charged that the government was “starving children.” Instead of defending his budget proposal, Lapid delivered a stinging, sarcastic attack on the Haredi parties.
If you understand Hebrew, it’s worth watching. In fact, even if you don’t understand Hebrew well, you can watch it while following along with my translation, which appears after the jump. Lapid’s exchange with the Haredi lawmakers goes up to 7:15. After that he begins to respond to a no-confidence motion of MK Moshe Mizrahi of Labor. I stopped translating after a few sentences of this exchange, because it starts getting into budget technicalities.
For context, you can read this Haaretz report on the proposed cuts in government budgets for Haredim. Also worth reading: this column on the speech and its fallout by Jerusalem Post commentator Ben Caspit, as well as we this one by Haaretz Jewish World writer Anshel Pfeffer on the challenges facing Lapid and this one by Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger looking at ways Lapid and the Haredim can find common ground. But above all, watch Lapid, Porush and UTJ’s Israel Eichler go at each other. It’s great theater.
And my translation: