The controversial new bus ad.
Pamela Geller is at it again. Her new set of black and white posters on Metro buses in Washington, D.C. declare: “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s In the Quran. Two Thirds of All U.S. Aid Goes to Islamic Countries. Stop Racism. End All Aid to Islamic Countries.” An accompanying photo shows Adolph Hitler meeting with Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem during the Mandate period.
Geller is known for her inflammatory ads. But I admit that this one makes me think.
Last week, Foreign Policy CEO David Rothkopf and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren published a frank exchange about Israel’s past and future. But this was no ordinary discussion. It was between friends: Rothkopf and Oren have known each other since college.
The pair’s long letters, edited and published, were revelatory. Rothkopf’s disenchantment with Israel produced the liveliest reactions from commentators. But less remarked upon was Oren’s unflinching devotion to Israel — a devotion so stirring that Oren, a former historian, has forsaken the historian’s craft in favor of the diplomat’s. That is, his missives to Rothkopf made a case for Israel directed at American Jews. But making a case can involve glossing over facts, sometimes even distorting them.
When Oren started speaking about the relationship between American Jews and Israel, it was clear this was going to be a guilt trip. “As so many American Jews of our generation,” Oren wrote to his old college buddy, “you have this idealized image of pre-1967 Israel. But we’re adults now and adults inhabiting an illusion-less world.”
Oren noted that Rothkopf “once felt a part of” the Israeli story. The rupture, Oren wrote, didn’t happen because Israel changed (it improved!), but because Rothkopf did: “[M]uch of American Jewry has also changed — you, in terms of your Jewish identity, have changed — and acknowledging that is a prerequisite for forming your opinions about the Jewish state.” Maybe Oren’s privy to something we aren’t, but it seems to me he’s conflated Rothkopf’s “Jewish identity” with his support for Israel. There are enough worms to fish the Atlantic Ocean clean in that can.
The more shocking stretch of this guilt trip, however, arose from his defiance of American criticisms of Israel, especially from American Jews.
Forward contributing editor Jay Michaelson has won the 2014 Deadline Club award for opinion writing.
The columnist edged out Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner and Fortune magazine’s Allan Sloan to grab the prestigious annual award handed out by the New York City chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists.
“I am so proud of Jay Michaelson for this award, recognizing his brave, insightful and engaging writing,” Eisner said. “Congratulations to him, to his editor Gal Beckerman, and to all the Forward finalists this year.We are in great company!”
The awards, which were announced last night at a dinner in Manhattan, represent excellence in journalism from print newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the Internet.
The Forward had a record six nominations included pieces in news, arts and opinion.
“Zionism has been taken, kidnapped even, by the far right.”
So says Pulitzer-winning Holocaust historian Saul Friedlander in a Haaretz interview published over the weekend. Explaining that he was “a normal Zionist until 1968,” the professor says that nowadays he can no longer call himself a Zionist — thanks to the movement’s right-wing “kidnappers.”
Friedlander’s sense that Zionism has been stolen and besotted over the past three or four decades is one that will resonate with a lot of Jews — especially young Jews, who eye Israel’s rightward ideological shift, uptick in settlement building and price tag attacks, and occupation writ large with increasing dismay.
I share that profound dismay, but I actually think that Friedlander’s “kidnapping” statement misses the mark. It implies that Zionism started out as a perfectly sound concept but was, unfortunately, hijacked and problematized by right-wingers later on. But Zionism’s problems started long before the late sixties; they go back, I would argue, to the very beginning.
In fact, I agree that Zionism was “kidnapped,” but only if we’re talking in the Talmudic sense — that is, if we look at the movement through the lens of the Jewish legal category known as tinok shenishba — literally, a captured or kidnapped infant.
A Jewish settler boy sticks his tongue out at peace activists protesting in Hebron / Getty Images
This weekend, renowned Holocaust scholar Shaul Friedlander gave sharp expression to a feeling shared broadly by many Jews, in Israel and the Diaspora. “Zionism has been taken, kidnapped even, by the far right,” Friedlander said in an interview with Haaretz. And all around the world, these Jews shook their heads, and sighed. Yes, they thought, it has been.
I have enormous respect for Prof. Friedlander, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. Zionism wasn’t kidnapped, or even merely “taken,” by the far right. It was handed over, with barely a peep, by the vast middle.
Our Ze’ev Jabotinskys, Geula Cohens, and Meir Kahanes have always had a central role in Jewish nationalist thought, but the 21st century has seen their like rise to new prominence. Centrists, hard-core peaceniks, and leftists have watched grimly as Israel has drifted ever rightward since the second intifada. Every step toward peace seemed doomed from the outset, and Israel’s leadership took care to tell us that there just wasn’t anyone to talk to. More and more settlements were built, but again, Israel’s leadership always kindly clarified that these don’t stand in the way of peace, and really, what’s another road, another red roof?
From farfel to Foxman, salami to Streisand, hummus to Howard Stern, we’ve got a lot going on in this week’s News Quiz.
Palestinian students perform in a play against Israel’s separation barrier at the Arab American University in the West Bank.
What’s all the fuss about? Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken the truth. He did so, first, in warning about apartheid. It does not exist at present: Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is a tyranny, and that’s serious — but there is none of the planned institutionalized racism, which is what “apartheid” means. However, if the occupation continues, or if Israel annexes areas of the West Bank, and if Palestinians remain as “second-class citizens” (as Kerry rightly puts it), then the apartheid label will be relevant.
In responding to the criticisms flung against him, Kerry said that Israel today is not apartheid. Again, he is correct. Within Israel proper, inside the Green Line, Arab citizens enjoy full citizenship rights; they do suffer discrimination — but it is nothing remotely like South African apartheid. Anyone who claims otherwise is either ignorant or dishonest.
If Kerry speaks such truth, why is he so condemned and told to apologize to Israel, and even to resign? Some of it no doubt comes from those who fear that his peace initiative might actually, against the odds, result in the creation of an independent Palestinian state, and they are desperate to cut him down. Other detractors are in denial: They cannot face the fact that Israel could slide into apartheid; they deceive themselves into believing that settlement expansion and the oppression of Palestinians can go on forever without any price to pay. The danger of Israel becoming an apartheid state is real and must be confronted. Instead of abusing Kerry, better to thank him for caring and for sounding the alarm.
Benjamin Pogrund is a South African-born journalist who lives in Jerusalem. His latest book, “Drawing Fire: Investigating the Accusations of Apartheid in Israel,” is being published by Rowman & Littlefield in July.
As a child growing up in apartheid South Africa, I clearly remember the myriad daily humiliation and discrimination imposed upon black South Africans. I went to a privileged white school where no black pupils were allowed. Instead, black children were forced to attend atrocious township schools, where they received an inferior education. I visited sick friends and family in the Johannesburg General Hospital, where “whites only” were treated with affordable and excellent medical care. No black patients were allowed. Instead, they were sent to overcrowded hospitals with low-level facilities and given low-level care. I remember clearly park benches and public toilets reserved for white people, and traveling to university on white-only buses. Black people had to carry passes to enter so-called white areas. The discrimination was institutionalized, pervasive in every part of our daily lives. Transgressors were penalized and often jailed.
How different is the situation in Israel? During my frequent visits to that country, I have visited my sister-in-law in Hadassah Hospital in a ward with Jewish and Arab women. I have fetched friends’ children from school and seen the diverse make-up, with Jewish and Arab children laughing together as they left the building. I have seen integrated buses, parks, universities, restaurants and workplaces, and engaged with senior Arab leaders in the political arena and in civil administration.
It is difficult for me to understand how a comparison can be made between a model of discrimination manifesting in every facet of South African life under apartheid and a country with entrenched equality — politically, legally and in every sphere of life. Discrimination, mandatory in South Africa, is illegal in Israel.
Yes, Israel has its problems and challenges, but to label it as an apartheid state shows a lack of understanding of — and indeed has the effect of belittling — the true evil of apartheid that we remember too well in South Africa.
Wendy Kahn is the national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
“A nice girl came to me and expressed interest in renting my apartment. She also informed me that she was in a relationship with a woman. Given her relationship status, is there a Jewish law preventing me from renting the apartment to her?”
When this question was recently posted to one of Israel’s popular religious internet forums, Ramat Gan’s chief municipal rabbi Yaakov Ariel had this to say:
“If the two women want to rent the apartment together, don’t rent it to them. If just one of them wants to rent it, you can let her — but only if you have no better option.”
There you have it: proof that housing discrimination is alive and well in Israel, the country that likes to bill itself as a haven for the LGBT community.
It’s an incredibly disappointing response, of course. Disappointing to think that prominent rabbis are going around saying, as Rabbi Ariel did in a follow-up interview, that lesbian relationships are “unnatural” and that property owners don’t need to make themselves party to such “strange things.”
Disappointing to think they’re inculcating in Jews the belief that “Jewish law doesn’t look kindly on couples like that,” without bothering to add any sort of nuance, like the fact that lesbian relationships don’t really become an issue in Judaism until Maimonides gets around to them in the 12th century.
Disappointing to think that if my girlfriend and I were to try and rent an apartment in Israel, daring to be as honest and forthcoming as the would-be tenant mentioned above apparently was, we could easily be discriminated against.
Disappointing — but not at all surprising. Because this rabbi’s don’t-rent-to-lesbians policy is just the latest in a series of similar rabbinic responses coming out of Israel over the past few years. Remember the don’t-rent-to-Arabs policy? Or how about the don’t-rent-to-Ethiopians policy?
Chabad Lubavitchers bring religious Jewish life to Laos in 2008.
If you saw the Anti-Defamation League’s scary new report on global anti-Semitism, you might have been intrigued to learn that the least anti-Semitic country in the word is…Laos.
Laos? Yes, Laos.
But why Laos, you ask? Good question. Maybe the landlocked Southeast Asian country has an amazingly tolerant and morally evolved population? Perhaps it’s been impressed by the wit of the Talmud, the humor of Seinfeld, the literary prowess of the Jewish Nobel winners, the breakthrough research of Israeli scientists? Do they just really like knishes over there?
Probably not. A more likely answer can be found in the Wikipedia page devoted to “History of the Jews in Laos” — yes, there is such a page, and here it is in its entirety:
Laos has no established Jewish presence, but as this communist country gradually opens up to foreign tourism, Chabad has secured permission to establish a permanent presence in Luang Prabang in 2006, where the young Rabbi Avraham Leitner provides meals and shelter to Jewish travelers. In all, there are only four permanent Jewish residents in the country, who serve the Israeli backpackers, tourists, and diplomats visiting Laos.
Wait a minute. Four Jewish residents?
Has the ADL considered that the low incidence of anti-Semitism in Laos may be due to nothing more than the tiny size of its Semitic community?
And why is the community so tiny?
It should be said that if there’s a lack of Jewish life in Laos, it’s not for lack of effort. Chabad Jews have been very keen to bring Yiddishkeit to the country — which, being communist, doesn’t look too kindly on religious activity. That hasn’t stopped this guy from trying.
Apparently, there was some drama in Laos back in 2008, when local police expelled Chabadniks from the country after they organized a Rosh Hashana celebration for 200 backpacking Israelis. The Chabadniks were arrested and interrogated, then put on a plane (along with their Torah scroll) to Bangkok, where they landed just one hour before the start of Yom Kippur.
So, establishing Jewish life is a tricky endeavor in Laos; there’s almost no permanent Jewish presence there; there’s also almost no anti-Semitism there. Should we be scoring that in the victory column?
At first sight, the ADL’s stats seem to tell a clear story. But they leave us with some murky questions. Laos is one of them.
Hillel President Eric Fingerhut chats with a student / Flickr: Hillel News and Views
As members of Open Hillel’s steering committee, my fellow organizers and I commend Hillel International’s recent announcement to create the “Hillel International Israel Strategy Committee,” which will review the organization’s current approach to dialogue on Israel and Palestine and make recommendations for improvement. According to a letter written by CEO Eric Fingerhut on Hillel’s website, this committee “will include a diverse group of students from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences.”
This announcement, along with other potentially hopeful ones made by Fingerhut, proves that Hillel International is starting to listen to students’ concerns. Open Hillel’s campaign to change Hillel International’s policies is working. Three college campuses have already declared their Hillels to be “Open,” and several more have issued petitions to change their current policies. Plus, there’s evidence that these Open Hillels have experienced increased attendance at their events because more students now feel welcome.
An ultra-Orthodox bride at her Jerusalem wedding in 2014. / Getty Images
This past Sunday, I spoke about sexuality and modesty in front of a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis. Both professionally and personally, it was a profound moment for me, a formerly ultra-Orthodox woman, to sit there and name experiences that the ultra-Orthodox community hasn’t wanted to hear. To say aloud: I was raped, to say aloud: modesty can breed vulnerability to sexual assault, to say aloud: all girls deserve sex education. And to have these rabbis — some of whom were surprisingly open to these ideas — carefully listen to me articulate these silenced realities.
At this event, five former ultra-Orthodox Jews met with four ultra-Orthodox rabbis and one Orthodox woman in an optimistic but perhaps quixotic attempt to build bridges of communication between these two communities.
Tensions have risen between the two, as former ultra-Orthodox Jews have grown to be a bold voice for justice around issues of sex abuse, negligence in education, forced marriages, oppression of personal choice, removal of children from deviating parents and abusive treatment of deviating teens, in their communities of origin.
Former ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t speak with a unified voice, but our diverse perspectives are perceptive and essential — and troubling for the ultra-Orthodox world, which has often viewed them as an affront to their way of life. There is little constructive conversation between the two groups, for a number of reasons, including — as I, a former ultra-Orthodox Jew, have experienced — a tendency for the ultra-Orthodox community to attack the veracity and mental health of any former ultra-Orthodox Jew who publicly tells their story.
An extremist Jew is arrested at a 2012 rally for ‘price tag’ attacker comrades / Getty Images
Over at Tablet, Liel Leibovitz is unhappy that Israeli author Amos Oz is going around calling violent Israeli settlers “Hebrew neo-Nazis.” He claims Oz’s statement suffers from “a logical flaw,” one that has “more to do with philosophy than with politics.” And yet, for all that Leibovitz likes to namedrop Kant, it’s his argument that doesn’t stand up to logical scrutiny.
In case you missed it, here’s what Oz had to say on Friday:
“‘Price tag’ and ‘hilltop youth’ are sweet, sugary nicknames, and the time has come to call this monster by its name. We wanted to be like all other nations, we longed for there to be a Hebrew thief and a Hebrew prostitute — and there are Hebrew neo-Nazi groups.”
And here’s the follow-up explanation Oz offered on Sunday:
“I object to comparisons to the Nazis. The comparison I made on Friday wasn’t to the Nazis but to the Neo-Nazis. Nazis erect ovens and gas chambers; Neo-Nazis desecrate places of worship, desecrate cemeteries, beat up innocent people, and scribble racist slogans. That is what they do in Europe, and that is what they do here.”
Leibovitz isn’t satisfied with this explanation, because he doesn’t like what he takes to be Oz’s tacit assumption: that “an action is an action, intents and purposes be damned.” Surely, he argues, it matters that in the case of the “rowdy” Israeli settlers “whose particular form of teenaged ennui sometimes involves defacing mosques with hurtful graffiti, torching cars, and other acts of baboonery,” we’re dealing with an intent that is vastly different from that of the neo-Nazis, whose purpose is “the reinstatement of a regime responsible for the systematic murder of millions of human beings based on no other reason save for their religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or political views.”
Okay. So. Two problems here.
First, Leibovitz grossly mischaracterizes Israel’s “hilltop youth” — by describing them in exactly the same “sweet, sugary” terms that Oz was trying to warn against. He talks about them like they’re naughty teenagers, guilty of nothing more than a bit of vandalism — childish maybe, hurtful maybe, worthy of a slap on the wrist maybe, but nothing requiring that we “really be worried.” What he ignores is that these settlers are increasingly engaging in what can only truly be called terrorism.
Rahm Emanuel and Sarah Silverman are an ITEM? Sort of… in that they are both items in this week’s quiz. They are joined by Godzilla, Santa and Tony the Tiger. And Portnoy!
Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest plans to enlist them in the Israeli army / Getty Images
When it comes to off-the-cuff remarks, we all know that stuff happens. Jokes are made that blur the boundaries of decency, people get offended, and apologies are (sometimes) made. And when it comes to broadcast media dependent on audience share, the situation is even starker: shock talk can be seen as a ratings booster. But looking at the broader context around last week’s Israeli Army Radio gaffe, there’s something’s rotten in the state of Israeli discourse.
Not far off from Yom Haatzmaut, an Israeli comedian riffed on controlling Israeli population through cannibalism. There was a catch, though, he said. The population he’d like to cull first is the ultra-Orthodox, but he didn’t think Haredim would taste good (“too bland”). Knee-slap banter about flavor and matzo balls ensued, and the station eventually issued an apology.
As a rip-off of Jonathan Swift, the joke was already suspect in quality. But the reason that Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is funny whereas the Army Radio bit was decidedly not, is, of course, irony. Swift was mocking shameful societal attitudes — in that case, as reflected in policies towards the poor. The Army Radio segment, on the other hand, sadly serves to prop up the very attitudes that Israelis should be addressing head on.
Hatred of the Haredim in Israel is pervasively and casually disseminated. Consider Ari Shavit’s widely lauded book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, where he mentions the various populations comprising Jerusalem’s schoolchildren. There, he decries the fact that not enough are nice, secular Jewish kids. Too many Jerusalem pupils, in his opinion, are either ultra-Orthodox or Arab.
Israeli soldiers support a comrade punished for pointing a gun at a Palestinian teenager. / Facebook
We should all be with David the Nahlawi.
Yes, I am talking about the 19-year-old Israeli soldier who pointed a gun and cursed at Palestinian youths in Hebron. Yes, I know that the brass knuckles one of his antagonists was supposedly holding turn out to have been Muslim prayer beads. And yes, David (“Nahlawi” refers to his army brigade, Nahal—his real name’s “Adamov”) has attracted some unsavory friends. The Facebook group supporting him, which has more than 130,000 likes, posts militaristic photos in which soldiers, shackled by the army’s code of engagement, are hapless victims of Palestinian violence. And while, horrible to say, that sometimes happens, the reality is soldiers in Hebron are occupiers. They are there to protect a small cluster of ideologically hardened settlers, even when that involves, say, indefinitely closing the main Palestinian thoroughfare.
But pillorying a teenage soldier only deflects outrage from the real villains. Don’t get mad at David the Nahlawi. Get mad at the cynical old men, army commanders and politicians, who send 19-year-olds into the West Bank with machine guns and ethics rulebooks to control a hostile population. Then, when the guns are pointed at kids and the rulebooks discarded, all of a sudden, they’re shocked, shocked. Adamov’s actions, a military spokesman said, “did not seem to fall in line with what we expect from our soldiers, as far as conduct is concerned.” Sure.
Violence against Palestinians isn’t an aberration caused by one angry young man. It’s the predictable, expected result of a long-term military occupation. For every one incident that makes the news, hundreds don’t.
Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of former soldiers, published a 93-page book of soldiers testifying about serving in Hebron between 2008 and 2010. On page eight, we hear about the “front command, the company commander” who “were always talking about how they would beat up Palestinians for fun, the whole time.”
Nor is it just talk. Go read the gory details there, or read about how soldiers regularly break up non-violent demonstrations, seal off un-permitted Palestinian houses, and detain kids as young as sixth graders. These aren’t rotten eggs, bugs in an otherwise smooth occupation; forcibly controlling an enemy population is the point.
Palestinian supporters of Hamas attend a rally in the West Bank / Getty Images
Employing the term “apartheid” — a word that conjures up the evils of both colonialism and racism in South Africa — to describe Israel’s future if peace with the Palestinians isn’t reached is nothing but a canard.
Within the 1967 lines, Israel is a working democracy in which minorities have equal rights. But even when applied to the West Bank, it is a complete misnomer. So long as Gaza remains an independent Palestinian state in all but name, Jews will remain the majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean for the foreseeable future. And that’s not even taking into account that the assumption that the Arab birthrate will always overwhelm that of the Jews is probably a mistake.
More to the point, the standoff over the West Bank that leaves most Arabs living under Israeli security but administered by the Palestinian Authority has nothing to do with an apartheid-style desire by a minority to rule a majority. After torpedoing the peace talks by making a deal with Hamas, Fatah has effectively turned down a fourth chance for independence to go along with its previous rejections in 2000, 2001 and 2008.
The continued Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn is a product of a political culture that still links national identity to the war on Zionism. That creates an unfortunate stalemate that isn’t satisfactory to either side.
But the notion that Israel must repeat its 2005 Gaza mistake in the West Bank in order to avoid being smeared as a new South Africa is unpersuasive. Any use of the apartheid canard to describe Israel, whether employed by Secretary of State John Kerry or by the BDS anti-Zionists, only serves to make a Palestinian decision to make peace less, rather than more, likely.
Jonathan S. Tobin is the senior online editor and chief political blogger of Commentary magazine. Follow him on Twitter, @TobinCommentary.
Palestinian protesters near Israel’s separation wall in 2013 / Getty Images
After getting verbally pistol-whipped for merely suggesting that Israel was sliding head first down the slippery slope to apartheid, Secretary of State John Kerry quickly realized that Israel can’t handle the truth. He backpedaled so fast, he broke Lance Armstrong’s record.
While Kerry took back his insinuation that Israel could end up on the dark side known as apartheid, others in the know would argue it is already there. Major players who lived through apartheid say that today’s Israel is a mirror image of South Africa back in the day. It’s not just the late Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu who have used the analogy, but also white South African politicians who served during that time. When both the oppressed and oppressors can agree, and Jimmy Carter bears witness, it is hard to deny that it is apartheid.
If there was an autonomous Jewish homeland in Grand Island, N.Y., near Niagara Falls, what would it look like?
This idea seems surreal today. But it was exactly what Mordechai Manuel Noah, one of the most influential Jews in the United States in the early 19th century, advocated. Noah named his utopian vision of Jewish autonomous state Ararat after the place where Noah’s Ark is said to have landed.
But Noah wasn’t able to galvanize any support from the Jewish community for his vision, neither in the U.S., nor abroad. His efforts to establish the colony in 1825 imploded soon after the inauguration ceremony.
What if Noah had been successful? How would a trip to Ararat feel like today? What kind of sightseeing would we embark on? And, what kind of money would we use to pay for it?
The interactive art project “Mapping Ararat: An Imaginary Jewish Homeland” by Melissa Shiff starts with these “What if? questions. Shiff and her dedicated team use digital multimedia and geo-locational software to stage a historical fiction with wit, creativity and surprising attention to detail.
Nigerian women call for the freedom of Chibok’s kidnapped girls / Getty Images
Last month, an Islamist armed group called Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria. Presumably, these girls will be killed or sold into slavery and child marriages.
Even though I sit here in Los Angeles, this crisis affects me personally, deeply and immediately. You see, I am a Jewish mother of three daughters: Zohar, Ella and Hadar. And even though I do not know the names of the 276 girls, I know who they are. I see them clearly. They are my Zohar, my Ella, my Hadar.
I know what slavery means. I grew up reciting, every year at the Passover Seder, “In each generation, each person must envision being freed from slavery in Egypt.”
If I can imagine that, how can I not imagine what the mothers (and fathers and sisters and brothers) of those girls are feeling? And how can I not act upon my feelings of sadness, fear and outrage? After all, the Torah teaches, “You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:34). Those girls and their families are not strangers to me. They are my family.