Forward Thinking

No, Kerry, 'Apartheid' Isn't On Israel's Agenda

By Jonathan Tobin

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.


If It Quacks Like Apartheid

By Maysoon Zayid

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.

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Eretz Niagara Falls

By Martyna Starosta

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.




Counting the Omer and Nigeria's Kidnapped Girls

By Naomi Ackerman

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.

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Celebrating the Beauty of Israel in Film

By Todd Zeff

On Yom Haatzmaut morning, bright and early at 8:30 am, my four-year-old son Asher broke a crystal vase. It was an accident, but it could have been avoided. He could have chosen to play in a different place, and we as parents could have guided him better in his morning shenanigans. Horrified, Asher asked if he would still be allowed to go to the Yom Haatzmaut BBQ.

While we need to teach our son to be responsible, we also need to teach him that we have reasonable expectations and do not expect him to be perfect. We ask him to learn and grow as he matures out of toddlerhood. So yes, he got to join the family — and all of Israel — at the Yom Haatzmaut BBQ and festivities in Jerusalem.

Yom Haatzmaut is a day of joy for Israelis and Jews throughout the world — a celebration of the establishment of a home state for the Jewish people. But Yom Haatzmaut is more than a BBQ and a day to relax: It is the day we celebrate the right of Jews to live freely, as a nation, in our homeland, the Land of Israel.

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When Israelis Teach Their Kids To Hate

By Michael Kaplan

A boy plays with a rifle during a weapons display in Efrat, Independence Day 2014 / Getty Images

Little kids throw mock grenades and pretend to shoot big guns; a boy crawls militant-style as gun-wielding adults cheer him on; a girl wearing a pink dress carries a rocket launcher twice her size.

These are some of the disturbing photos that flooded out of the West Bank earlier this week on Israel’s Independence Day, or what Palestinians call the Nakba (Catastrophe).

I can imagine that despair and hopelessness probably rattled the Jewish community. How could there ever be peace when kids are trained to aspire toward violence and militancy?

At my old Jewish day school, there was probably a lot of chatter about how this was further proof that only military force could work to quell violence. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) was probably all over the story. Palestinian Media Watch, too.

But instead, when I turned on my computer this morning, I couldn’t find a thing on any of the sites that track hate in the Middle East. None of my newsy friends even dedicated a Facebook status. No one seemed to really care. And for one reason: the people in question weren’t Palestinians, but right-wing Jewish settlers.

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Supreme Court Got Politics of Prayer All Wrong

By Dan Friedman

Prayer outside the U.S. Supreme Court / Getty Images

“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful, amen.”

For ten years I attended a Church of England school and, for every set meal during that time, a version of this grace was said. Although there was a notable minority of Jewish boys and a growing population of Muslims at my school (founded in 1552, just after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries and establishment of the Anglican Church), there was no real doubt as to who the “Lord” was, no matter which one of the teachers was saying grace.

God bless Mr. Lomas who spelled it out: “… For Christ’s sake, amen.”

And that’s why this week’s ruling of the Supreme Court recognizing the right of American Town Meetings to “solemnize” their opening with prayer is so deeply disappointing. Instead of moving to undo the 1983 Marsh v. Chambers ruling that allowed prayer at government meetings it’s a step towards establishment of religion and an intrusion of majority beliefs into a supposedly independent sphere that honors minorities equally.

I believe that we should solemnize the eating of food. The fact that we can eat stuff that just grows from the ground still seems miraculous to me — whether a miracle of science or of divinity. And the fact that our political and economic system has seen fit to distribute enough food for me and my friends, colleagues and family to eat is also worthy of stock taking. But that still leaves us with a choice of how we do so and how we stuff that choice down each other’s throats.

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Why the iNakba App Is a Brilliant Idea

By Emily L. Hauser

Views of the iNakba app / Zochrot

What would be a reasonable response to this week’s release of the interactive iNakba app, designed to help users “locate the Palestinian localities destroyed in the Nakba since 1948 and to learn about them”?

Given the depth of ignorance surrounding the topic, you could greet iNakba as an essential corrective; given the ongoing pain within the Palestinian community, you could consider how it might serve as a conduit for healing. You could even – reasonably – raise questions about the limits inherent to crowdsourcing as a tool in the study of history.

Or you could scoff. That’s the route that Tablet writer Liel Leibovitz chose:

It’s easy to dismiss the app as a gimmick — the name itself begs it. It’s easier still to argue, correctly, that reducing any cataclysmic event to dots on a map is trivializing, and that an app, for all of its cool factor, is hardly the most suitable canvas on which to paint a historical picture that is infinitely complex.

Having dismissed the mapping of all-but-lost Palestinian history as a gimmick, Leibovitz then takes off on a flight of fancy, philosophizing about “what land means” and how iNakba is

all about roots and branches, however virtual. It is not interested in sweeping themes and movements of armies and causes and consequences; its focus are the homes and the yards and the smell of the grass of individual places long gone.

I would firstly submit that only someone who hasn’t had their own home taken can regard its mapping as a gimmick; furthermore, only someone whose side has already won has the psychic luxury of waxing philosophical about land as “first and foremost, an idea” in the minds of the pioneers.

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Newsquiz: Sarah Palin Meets Iran in this Week's Quiz

By Lenore Skenazy

Sarah Palin’s dog makes a surprise appearance in this week’s quiz, as do millions of bees, Pres. Obama’s cousin, and Santa. That’s enough, right?

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'Privileged' Princeton Student’s Tale of Jewish Woe

By Michael Kaplan

Princeton student Tal Fortgang / Fox News

By now, you’ve probably heard about Tal Fortgang, the white male Princeton freshman who’s taken the phrase “check your privilege” to the next level. He’s actually claimed to have checked his, and in an article that’s now gone viral, he admits that he has privilege but insists it’s nothing to apologize for.

His family’s story, he writes, is one of triumph against all odds: His grandparents, survivors of the Holocaust, came here as penniless immigrants and had to work their way up the socio-economic ladder. They passed on their hard-earned privileges to the next generation, who passed them on to Fortgang. So the privileges he now enjoys are to be celebrated: If anything, his family’s tale proves that the American dream is attainable. “It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character,” he says.

Fortgang and I are similar in a lot of ways. I grew up in the Jewish day school system, I attend an expensive university and my ancestors arrived here in the United States as penniless immigrants, albeit a long time before his. I grew up thinking that it was to their hard work that I owed my privilege.

But, inspired by Fortgang, I’ve decided to check my privilege as well — and sorry Fortgang, but you’ve cut your inquiry short. Our Jewish families’ climb to success had everything to do with race.

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Haredi Editorial Unifies Israel on Memorial Day

By Nathan Jeffay

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis stand for the Yom Hazikaron siren / Vimeo

Israeli unity made a big leap forward today, on the national memorial day for fallen soldiers.

Normally, Yom Hazikaron, one of the most emotionally-charged days in the calendar, gives rise to anger from the general population towards the ultra-Orthodox community, which is considered disrespectful toward the day.

A siren sounds nationally twice on memorial day, and activities grind to a halt. However, each year Haredim are spotted and caught on camera ignoring the siren, believing that as their community doesn’t serve in the army they don’t need to observe it.

Normally, the media is dominated today by images of Haredim disrespecting the siren. But not this year. The national Haredi newspaper Hamodia, which has a panel of influential rabbis determining policy, ran an editorial urging readers to observe the siren. The piece (not available online) urged Haredim to “honor and perpetuate” the memory of the fallen.

It addressed the perennial comeback: Yes to commemoration, but observing a siren is a “gentile way” and therefore against Jewish law. Hamodia didn’t buy in to this argument, but did say that those who do should stay at home while ignoring it, so they don’t cause offense to others.

And so Yom Hazikaron was a less divisive day this year than normal. The images that made the rounds weren’t the usual ones of Haredim ignoring the siren, but rather images like the one above, of them respecting it.


7 Things Missing from Israel’s Facebook Movie

By Sigal Samuel

If Israel had a Facebook account, what would it look like?

The answer can be found in a Facebook “look back” movie promoted ahead of Israeli Independence Day and made by Todd Zeff of Jerusalem U, an institution that uses film to strengthen young Jews’ connection to Israel.

Or, I should say, an answer. If only that answer weren’t so incomplete.

In the video, we see Israel “join” Facebook in 1948, followed by “first moments” that anachronistically include young pioneers farming the land (1938) and a Hagana Ship bringing immigrants to British Mandatory Palestine (1942).

We’re then treated to Israel’s “most liked posts,” ranging from Herzl’s “If you will it, it is no dream” to David Ben-Gurion’s “We extend the hand of peace and good-neighborliness to all the states around us.”

Israel’s photos include a lot of grainy black-and-white nostalgia shots. Then, in color, we see an Ethiopian kid with Israeli flags and a family of smiling white Jewish immigrants fresh off an El-Al plane.

But what don’t we see in this video?

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Why Ruth Messinger's Granddaughter Is Also Her Roommate

By Ruth Messinger and Francesca Sternfeld

Francesca Sternfeld and Ruth Messinger / Courtesy of the authors

So, imagine sharing a large apartment with someone else who loves life, enjoys good food, cooks well, reads intensively and extensively [but not always the same material] and is not always but often willing to hear about your day or your life and offer wise advice. Those of us who throw ourselves into our work and our studies as we do need just such a person to share with, to collapse with and to consult at the end of what are often very long days.

Well, here we are, eight months in and planning on an ongoing shared living relationship over the next year or two. We each cherish the benefits and find few challenges and no obstacles. The fact that we are grand-daughter and grandmother is an added plus, but a very big one; it brings us together at a point in our lives when we might otherwise not be so connected — something which happens all too often and is a sad consequence of our modern lives.

New York, of course, is the key. Ruth has lived here almost all of her life, adores the West Side, travels a lot for work, but relishes coming home. And Francesca grew up elsewhere [Salt Lake City and Miami], had a few college years near the City, knew what it offered in terms of people, culture and food and decided on a visit a year ago that this was where her body and soul needed to be. And it is a city that a 28 year old student can live in with only part time work but to be sure not easily, and not on the West Side absent a large slew of roommates.

Ruth: I have a crazy travel and work schedule, and a husband who works in Connecticut during the week. I love, love, love having a smart, thoughtful, passionate, caring housemate — the fact that she is my granddaughter is the icing on the cake. I love knowing something about her life and sharing good food, wise discussion, the New York Times and shopping suggestions. I am glad she puts up with my penchant for old movies and bad TV [better than my husband I might add]. I love having a restaurant, movie, theater companion who nudges me to neighborhoods and experiences I might otherwise miss. I love being reminded what a serious exercise regimen looks like, understanding that Francesca benefits from meditation which I still need to learn to do, seeing her build a spectacular wardrobe out of the best of two local thrift shops and learning from her about parts of the world she knows intimately that I do not — including Egypt and Italy. Together we make the world’s best granola.

And I consider it a special privilege of this particular granddaughter and our relationship that I know some things I might otherwise never know [but also not too much] about her love life. And I adore her friends who often stop by for an evening, an exercise class she teaches, a week in New York City which would otherwise not be available to them. I treasure her spectacular “listening ear” [she will make a great social worker], her capacity to draw others out, her wonderful witticisms and sense of humor and the way she has been there for me over a few tough issues.

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Now Even Winnipeg Disinvites Speakers Over Israel Politics

By Brent Sasley

Getty Images

The struggle over Israel in the Jewish community is heating up in Winnipeg, Canada. David Barnard, the President of the University of Manitoba — the city’s largest university — has been publicly un-invited to speak at one of the larger shuls in the city, Shaarey Zedek. The president was to have spoken at an interfaith service during Yom HaShoah.

He was uninvited, according to Ian Staniloff, the synagogue’s executive director, because he had allowed Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) to go ahead on the university campus. “Our board and congregation and community leaders felt it completely inappropriate that he take part,” said Staniloff, “because it’s visceral and personal and such a solemn occasion for us. We were more concerned in the perception that by having him here we’re basically endorsing him as an individual who would be representative of the community in speaking about this.” What an extremely disappointing decision.

As is often the case with these things, politics and legal maneuverings preceded IAW. It appears that the Student Union removed an organization promoting IAW, Students Against Israeli Apartheid, from official university status. Barnard did not override that decision, but he allowed an outside group to host IAW events on campus because, we are told, a legal opinion noted that preventing IAW from taking place would violate Manitoba’s human rights code.

I grew up in Winnipeg, and I watched it shift rightward in the aftermath of the Second Intifada. The image of a Palestinian rioter holding up his hands covered in the blood of two Israeli reserve soldiers whose bodies were horrifically mutilated was burned in our individual minds and our collective memory. Our community became angry, afraid, frustrated — and intolerant.

But if I thought that intolerance had diminished in the intervening years, I was wrong. To be fair, IAW is a difficult period for many. Its purpose is to demonstrate that Israel practices apartheid against Palestinians under its control, and to promote the BDS movement as a way to end these policies. As I’ve argued before, inherent to the BDS movement is the goal of ending Israel as an independent, Jewish-majority state. IAW, on this account, contributes to the delegitimization of Israel — a fully accepted member of the international system — and promotes an uncomfortable atmosphere for Jewish and non-Jewish students on campus. This is especially so at a time when anti-Semitic attacks have risen in parts of the world.

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Israeli Neighbors Fundraise for Fureidis After Attack

By Michael Kaplan

A separate but similar price tag attack in Beit Hanina in June 2013. / Haaretz

Right-wing Jewish Israelis raided Fureidis, an Arab village located just tens of miles south of Haifa, a few days ago. Under cover of night, they slashed the tires of some 20 cars and spray painted the village’s mosque with a Star of David and graffiti reading “Close mosques, not yeshivot!”

It was the second price tag attack in the area in weeks, and a sign that settler violence is increasingly spreading from the West Bank to Israel proper these days. Like so many senseless acts of violence in the region, this one is cause for deep dismay and concern.

But it also carries with it reason to feel hopeful. There’s another side to the escalation of violence, as Jews and Arabs alike push back.

A group of residents from the nearby Israeli town of Zichron Yaakov has begun to raise money for needy Arab families in response to the attack on Fureidis.

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Hawaii's Lone(ly) Jewish Republican Sam Slom

By Anthony Weiss

(JTA) — Jewish voters have long tended to skew Democratic. Which is why it’s a little surprising to note that in Hawaii’s State Senate, the Republican caucus is entirely Jewish.

In fact, there’s a lot more unanimity than that, as the LA Times noted in its highly entertaining profile of the legislative body’s minority leader, Sam Slom (pronounced to rhyme with “home”), who also happens to be its lone GOP member:

The room was filled with a dozen staffers as well as the minority leader, the GOP floor leader and the top-ranking Republican on each of 16 committees, yet in 2 ½ hours there wasn’t a whisper of dissent as Slom firmly made up his mind.

That’s because Slom holds every one of those leadership positions.

Slom’s dominance of the caucus is not the result of a reign of terror — he’s just the only Republican in the overwhelmingly Democratic state’s 25-member Senate.

(Interesting side note: When Hawaii and Alaska were admitted as states in 1959, Alaska was expected to vote Democratic, while Hawaii was thought to be solidly Republican. Times have changed.)

Jews, in fact, play a surprisingly prominent role in Hawaii politics, despite constituting less than 1% of the state’s population. One of Hawaii’s U.S. senators, Democrat Brian Schatz, is Jewish, as is a former Republican governor, Linda Lingle (who lost in her own bid for the U.S. Senate in 2012), along with three of the past five state attorney generals.

Slom leads a lonely and hectic political existence as the entirety of the Senate minority — he serves on every single one of the Senate’s committees (generally one of 5 to 7 members), and when committees meet simultaneously, Slom’s staff keeps him updated as he rushes from one meeting to another.

Slom’s colleagues sound respectful and affectionate toward him. Slom says he does get the occasional angry, drunken or even anti-Semitic phone call, but this is in large part because he publicizes his cell phone number on his Senate website.

In all, he seems to be a happy, if beleaguered, warrior. He proudly claims to hold “every indoor and outdoor NCAA record for voting no,” and when his sole Republican Senate colleague retired in 2010 and was replaced by a Democrat, Slom embraced the nickname of “The Lone Ranger,” giving a floor speech in a black cowboy hat and holding a wooden pony.

Chai Ho Silver!


Why Is Sarah Palin's Dog Named Hadassah?

By Julie Wiener

(JTA) — Is it good or bad news for Hadassah that the women’s Zionist organization, now shares a name with former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s dog?

With its Jerusalem hospital in financial crisis and its membership aging, the venerable Jewish women’s group could use any positive publicity (er PUPlicity?) it can get.

On the other hand, Palin, who Kveller reports has named her new black lab Hadassa, is not exactly a popular figure among American Jewish women — a demographic even more loyally Democratic than the American Jewish population as a whole. And, while many people adore their pets, comparing someone to a dog — especially a female one — can be insulting.

Then there’s the issue of Sarah, despite the final “h” in her own name, dropping the final “h” in christening her pup.

Let’s just say, it’s probably not going to give Hadassah the same boost the group got 14 years ago when Hadassah Lieberman, wife of another unsuccessful vice presidential candidate, came onto the public stage.


Presidents Conference Rejected J Street — and Me

By Rachel Cohen

The author, center, addresses the J Street conference in Washington in 2013 / Rachel Cohen

I’ve watched as millions and millions of dollars have been poured into youth leadership programs, summer camps, Taglit-Birthright trips and other “big initiatives” to foster identity amongst young Jews. And I’ve grown up listening to my parents’ and grandparents’ generations worrying that the Jewish community will collapse when my generation comes of age.

Well, when my friends and I, many of us products of such communal initiatives, watched as the Conference of Presidents voted to exclude J Street from their membership, we heard a loud and unambiguous message: the voices of thousands of young Jews are unwanted. It’s not very complicated: The fastest way to get Jews to disengage is through votes like this.

The Conference of Presidents vote was not a referendum on J Street representing thousands of American Jews. It was, however, a referendum on whether the Conference of Presidents wishes to be a relevant and representative body to American Jews.

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The IDF's First Digital Rebellion

By Gili Cohen and Amos Harel

Israeli soldiers support a comrade punished for pointing a gun at a Palestinian teen / Facebook

(Haaretz) — The almost routine clip of a violent clash between a soldier and Palestinians in Hebron that took the Internet by storm recently reveals much about the IDF’s procedure in the West Bank in the era of social networks.

On the one hand, a considerable number of incidents of the kind that weren’t documented in the past are now photographed and published. On the other, the soldiers − who hadn’t taken any part in the debate in the past − now express their opinion blatantly on the net, siding with the soldier who got into trouble.

The Jewish settlement in the heart of Hebron is the most documented place in the territories. A few years ago B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, as well as other human right and leftist organizations, distributed video cameras to Palestinian residents for documenting the soldiers’ and settlers’ violent acts. Beit Hadassah’s close, bad neighborhood with Tel Rumeida provides fertile ground for incidents worth filming − from brutal acts of violence to futile arguments over raising a Palestinian flag.

The army carefully prepares every battalion posted in the city for similar events. Soldiers are trained in simulated events, with soldiers playing Palestinians and settlers. They are even warned of the damage a hand blocking a camera lens can do to the army’s image. Yet every battalion falls into the same media pitfalls.

In this case, a Nahal Brigade soldier was video-taped fighting with a number of young Palestinians. One of the youngsters provoked the soldier and put his hand on him. The soldier told him: “You’d better not do that again.” A clash evolved and when another Palestinian approached, the soldier cocked his gun, pointed it at them and tried to kick one of them. Then he turned to the Palestinian photographer, swore at him and threatened him: “Turn off the camera, I’ll stick a bullet in your head you son of a bitch.”

In the background other Palestinians and settlers are seen, including a girl who tried to stop the camera’s action.

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How Young Is Too Young for Shoah Education?

By Nathan Jeffay

Getty Images

Israel’s Education Ministry has left Israeli parents asking how young is too young when it comes to Holocaust education.

Yesterday, on the Israeli Holocaust memorial day, Yom Hashoah, kindergartens began following a new government directive to teach the Holocaust. But is this really the right decision?

First, it’s not just that every parent has different ideas on the right age for Shoah education, but every child is different and ready for this kind of highly emotive issue at a different age. A government directive sets the start-age for Shoah education, to be conducted collectively, and sets it very young. But surely it would be better to leave it to parents to judge the right time for their child, raise it when they see fit, and then let the education system take over at an older age.

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