Forward Thinking

Can 'New Israel' in Texas Solve Mideast Crisis?

By Anthony Weiss

Cowboy boots with Star of David / Congressional candidate Allan Levene

(JTA) — With the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations floundering, it may, perhaps, be time to consider an entirely different kind of two-state solution. One that involves the State of Texas.

Congressional candidate Allan Levene is proposing to cut the Gordian Knot of Middle East peace by creating a second State of Israel on the eastern coast of Texas, which he would call New Israel. The idea, briefly, is to take (through eminent domain) roughly 8,000 square miles of sparsely populated land bordering the Gulf of Mexico and give it to Israel as a second, non-contiguous part of the State of Israel. Israel would get the land only if it agrees to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders.

Israel wins because it would gain a new, peaceful territory far from the strife of the Middle East, in a place where, as Levene suggests, “the climate is similar,” and Israel could “have access to the Gulf of Mexico for international trade.” The U.S. wins because it would no longer need to send Israel billions of dollars a year in foreign aid. Texas wins because of all the construction jobs from building an entirely new state within its borders. The Palestinians win because they get the West Bank, and because now Israel, too, gets to see just how fun it is to have a non-contiguous state. Everybody wins!

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News Quiz: Seth Meyers and Franz Kafka in One Quiz

By Lenore Skenazy

Seth Meyers, Alicia Silverstone and Franz Kafka all in one bizarre, confounding quiz? It’s like something out of…oh, never mind.

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Ugly Truth Behind Donald Sterling's Racist Rant

By Eliyahu Fink

L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling watches team play in NBA game / Haaretz

(Haaretz) — I am doubly embarrassed by Donald Sterling’s contemptible, racist comments that surfaced this week. Once as an Angeleno and a second time as a Jew. Indeed, the world’s most racist basketball franchise owner is one of our own. Worse, in the course of his rantings, Sterling attempts to justify his racism by invoking his people and our homeland.

DS: It’s the world! You go to Israel, the blacks are just treated like dogs.

V: So do you have to treat them like that too?

DS: The white Jews, there’s white Jews and black Jews, do you understand?

V: And are the black Jews less than the white Jews?

DS: A hundred percent, fifty, a hundred percent.

V: And is that right?

DS: It isn’t a question - we don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong, we live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.

My initial reaction was outrage and disgust. How dare this despicable human being lie about his fellow Jews and Israeli culture to hoodwink his girlfriend into believing that it is acceptable to mistreat black people? I was outraged. After all, black Jews are obviously not treated like dogs. White Jews do not really think that black Jews are less than white Jews. Preposterous! The nerve of that man!

Then I realized that, while Sterling’s choice of words was inelegant and imprecise, he wasn’t lying. Too often, white Jews do treat black Jews poorly. We do have a bit of a race problem in our communities.

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We Still Don't Know How To Teach the Holocaust

By Leah Bieler

A Jewish boy wears a yellow star like those forced on Jews during the Holocaust / Getty Images

“So, children, tell me how you came to Theresienstadt.”

Thus began my seventh grade intro to Shoah education. Not that we hadn’t been learning about the Holocaust for most of our day school careers. There was the yearly replica of Yad Vashem, where each grade was responsible for a booth, countless Holocaust-themed books and reports, and the rite of passage that we liked to call, “create a board game based on the book Night by Elie Wiesel.”

All this was by way of introduction to a week-long role play where the teacher had us pretend to be children in the famous Czech camp. The chain link fence around the tennis court was a visual approximation of barbed wire. Those years of investigation into all things Nazi had given us ample material for creating our “in the camps” personas. Every one of us had spent hours pondering how we would have fared had we been in Germany during Kristallnacht, or Warsaw in the ghetto. Or Auschwitz. We had imagined how we would react if our fathers disappeared. We wondered if we would have been brave enough to fight with the partisans. If our instinct for self-preservation would have allowed us to look out for ourselves at the expense of others.

Our fantasies had a color – black and white like the newsreels we saw, little bits of brown from flashes of the mini-series Holocaust, which aired when we were six or seven, and still our parents let us watch. And so it was that when the teacher announced we would be pretending to be in Terezin for the next few days, it was startlingly easy to make the shift. Even the classroom and our colorful early eighties outfits seemed to fade to a dull gray. Our ever-present nightmares were becoming reality, and it was almost a relief, at last, to know it was finally happening.

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5 Reasons Israel Was Smart — Not Right — To Kill Peace Talks

By Sigal Samuel

Getty Images

For Benjamin Netanyahu, timing is a beautiful thing.

When Mahmoud Abbas announced the formation of a Fatah-Hamas unity government on Wednesday, Bibi knew he had it made. He pulled out of the peace talks on Thursday, doing the smartest possible thing at the smartest possible moment. Not the wise thing, not the morally right thing — but, strategically speaking, the smart thing. Here’s why.

1. Abbas gave Israel the perfect out, at the perfect moment

The deadline for U.S.-brokered peace talks — April 29 — was looming, and it really looked as if John Kerry’s endeavor was going to come to an end with a whimper. If that were to happen, Israel would come out looking pretty bad, what with the ongoing settlement building and merciless mocking of Kerry that have characterized its participation in the process.

But then, all of a sudden, Abbas announced something nobody was expecting: a unity accord with — Hamas! Hamas, the internationally recognized terrorist group! What could be easier to condemn? Could anyone have imagined a better excuse to call it quits? It was almost too good to be true.

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Obama's Peace 'Pause' Spells Victory for Bibi

By Emily L. Hauser

Getty Images

There’s a lot of talk about what Barack Obama and John Kerry should, or can, or might, or won’t do in support of the two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace that has been a stated American policy goal for many, many years, following the collapse of talks. On Friday morning, we learned that Obama has suggested a “pause” in negotiations, to give the parties a chance to consider their futures without an agreement.

If history is any guide, though, we know exactly what the U.S. will do at this juncture: Nothing.

Or, more precisely, if history is any guide, the U.S. will continue to do more of the same. The U.S. will more than likely continue to put more pressure on the Palestinians (who have less to give and less autonomy with which to give it) and almost none on Israel (which is the side with a state-of-the-art military and a whole lot of bulldozers). If history is any guide, the U.S. will continue to allow Israel to undermine American interests in the region with its continued rejectionist policies and actions, and while it’s true that the U.S. may make noises that get Israel’s political class wound up, bottom line, history tells us that there will be no consequences for Israel’s building on Palestinian land or killing of Palestinian civilians. None.

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Is Israel Playing Into Hands of Hamas?

By Nathan Jeffay

Palestinians celebrate new Fatah-Hamas unity // Getty Images.

A few days ago, Israel was engaged in a bitter blame game with the Palestinians, with each side accusing the other of being responsible for sabotaging peace talks. Now, Israel is competing for recognition as the party that brought the flagging talks to an end.

The Palestinians aren’t prepared to extend talks beyond their deadline on Tuesday unless Israel fulfils certain criteria which the right-wing government is Jerusalem is set against, including a release of the Palestinian prisoners who were scheduled to be freed in late March and a building freeze.

But Jerusalem is apparently not content that the talks would come to an end because of Palestinian refusal to renew them, and announced yesterday that it is walking away. Israel declared that it is suspending talks, due to its fury about the reconciliation accord which the Palestinian Authority and its rival, Hamas, have just signed.

The declaration is strange. Israel is taking a principled stance not to take part in peace talks that aren’t happening. And on the grounds that rival Palestinian factions have signed a reconciliation pact, which they have done before only to fail to implement it.

And of the reconciliation does pan out, would silence not have served Israel better? By taking peace talks off the table in a scenario of real Palestinian unity, Israel has lifted from Hamas any real pressure to make tough decisions if it does make it in to a coalition within the Palestinian Authority. Is won’t need to respond to pressure from moderate Palestinians to be prepared to talk, because Israel will have closed the venue of talks.

Israel’s hardball response to Palestinian unity may play straight in to Hamas’ hands.


News Quiz: The Happiest American and a New Israeli Game Show

By Lenore Skenazy

Game shows, Hawaiians and the IDF’s new “Guardia. Is this really a Jewish news quiz? Answer the questions and find out!

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My Advice for Birthright? More Palestinians

By Michael Kaplan

Taglit-Birthright Israel

Birthright’s worried. Registrations are dwindling and young Jews are growing disinterested in the free 10-day trip to Israel.

Over a period of three years, applications have dropped more than 17%. To compensate for the downturn, the group has started to ease its “Jewish” definition and dig into its years-old wait lists. It’s also hired a marketing firm to help with outreach.

As one of those former Jewish day school students who opted against taking the trip, I can probably help Birthright save a lot of money by offering a little friendly advice — no marketing firm needed.

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Israel Hires Psychic Uri Geller To Fight Rockets

By Emily L. Hauser

Israeli psychic Uri Geller poses with a spoon that he bent in 2008 / Haaretz

Really, can you blame them? Faced with ongoing rocket fire on the citizens it’s meant to protect, Israel’s military has done the only truly reasonable thing it could do: It hired a spoon-bending mentalist named Uri Geller.

More than two decades after the first time the PLO agreed to recognize Israel in exchange for peace; a decade and a half since the PLO reaffirmed that decision three times in the space of a few months; 11 years since Israel and the PLO signed on to the U.S.-backed Roadmap to Peace; nine years since Israel pulled up stakes in Gaza and locked the door; eight years since the mini-war on Gaza (launched in a failed attempt to free Gilad Shalit) that no one remembers; five and a half years since Operation Cast Lead, launched to end rocket attacks; a year and a half since Operation Pillar of Defense, launched toward the same end — Israel has neither achieved peace nor pounded the Palestinians of Gaza into submission.

And so the rockets continue. And, of course, the Israeli military remains charged with protecting the civilian population, a thing that is genuinely very hard in the face of this particular threat, because the rockets fall sporadically, are ill-aimed, and arrive within seconds of being fired. All the military can really do, via its Home Front Command, is try to educate people how best to protect themselves.

Cue Uri Geller.

Celebrity psychic Uri Geller is the beaming new face of Israeli disaster-readiness, starring in army-sponsored TV and Internet advertisements on how to take shelter from missile attacks or earthquakes.

…[The campaign] aims to keep Israelis vigilant, though public fears of any imminent war with Iran, Syria or Lebanese and Palestinian guerrillas have receded.

…In the ads, Israelis are invited to submit their location at the military’s Home Front Command website, where pre-recordings of Geller will “telepathically” inform them where and how quickly to seek cover if air-raid sirens sound.

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Anat Hoffman’s Daughter Puts Women of the Wall to Film

By Sigal Samuel

Tanya Hoffman is the daughter of Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman. / Haaretz

“How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.”

That’s the title of an upcoming film by Tanya Hoffman, the 26-year-old daughter of firebrand feminist and Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman. The summer release is already arousing a certain amount of interest in Israel — but will it be worth seeing? That depends on how well the filmmaker can use her personal story to shed light on a larger question — the question of why many young people, and not just her, are less than enchanted with Women of the Wall these days.

The documentary is as much about Tanya’s conflict-laden relationship with her mother as it is about Anat’s liberal prayer group, which pushes for equal ritual rights for women at the Western Wall. In a Haaretz interview, Tanya explained that she couldn’t be more different from her super opinionated “bulldozer” of a mom, and that no one else in the family ever understood what Anat was after. “None of us ever joined her at the Women of the Wall services. None of us really got it. We were, like, why are you doing this?”

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Israel's Bid For Visa Waiver Falls Short

By Ali Gharib

Getty Images

Israel is making another push to join the U.S. visa waiver program, which would allow Israelis to enter the U.S. for 90 days without a visa. Last year, another effort to enlist Israel in the program stalled amid criticisms of Israel’s discrimination against Americans of Arab and Muslim origins at its border.

In the latest push, which was reported today in Haaretz, Israeli officials said they planned on ending discrimination against Palestinian-Americans entering Israel through Ben Gurion Airport, the country’s main international hub. But this pledge falls short in several ways.

Though discrimination against Palestinian-Americans is particularly acute — and, because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly fraught — it does not constitute the totality of Israel’s discrimination against American citizens. The U.S. State Department, after all, warns that “U.S. citizens whom Israeli authorities suspect of being of Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin” face difficulties entering.

Indeed, confronted with a specific question today on Americans of Middle Eastern and Muslim extraction, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki acknowledged that narrowly easing discrimination against only Palestinian-Americans would not be enough to satisfy the reciprocity requirements for consideration in the visa waiver program. So while Israel seeks piecemeal fixes to the problem, the U.S. — correctly — won’t readily compromise the equal rights of any of its citizens.

What’s more, Ben Gurion Airport isn’t the only point of entry to Israeli-controlled areas where these demographic groups may encounter discrimination. Last year, my colleague George Hale and I reported on the case of Nour Joudah, an American of Palestinian descent teaching in the Palestinian territories who was denied entry to Israel twice — in the first instance at the Allenby Bridge, a crossing between the Israeli-controlled West Bank and Jordan where Israeli officials now claim Palestinian-Americans were supposed to enter in the first place.

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What Jews Can Learn From Rwandans

By Randy Kafka

A woman consoles a fellow Rwandan at a genocide commemoration ceremony / Getty Images

I am no Shmuley Boteach, God knows. But I have recently learned from the Forward that Boteach and I have one thing in common – we are both rabbis who have visited Rwanda.

This February, on the eve of Rwanda’s commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Tutsi genocide, I joined a 10-day “witnessing” tour hosted by the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding. We heard stories of horror, and stories of heroism, rescue, reconciliation and – unimaginably, miraculously – stories of forgiveness.

While I am delighted to hear that the governments and entrepreneurs of Rwanda and Israel are now interested in one another, I find myself dreaming of a different sort of connection: What if the people of Israel and Palestine could learn from the Rwandan people how to do the difficult and necessary work of trauma healing and reconciliation?

The blossoming of Rwanda today defies facile explanation, just as it defies facile criticism. I went on this journey with the intention of not-knowing, of bearing witness without judgment. Throughout the ten days, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s expression “radical amazement” kept coming to mind – a theologian’s way of saying “mind-blowing.” How to process, for example, the experience of meeting 60+ convicted genocide perpetrators in matching blue outfits, dancing and singing joyfully to welcome you as they take a break from their community service work building homes for survivors?

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2 Women Put a Darfuri Survivor Through College

By Maya Paley

Guy Adam

In the fall of 2010, I had recently arrived in Tel Aviv and had started my New Israel Fund Fellowship at ASSAF, a humanitarian aid organization helping asylum seekers and refugees in Israel. I met Guy around then at the ASSAF offices. He spoke English, so I explained to him that I was researching the refugee community. He quickly agreed to advise me, help me meet community leaders and translate interviews.

One evening we walked around south Tel Aviv together, discussing his future goals and desire to go to college and help his people. We entered an ad-hoc shelter where at least 100 Sudanese men slept each night. The shelter was the basement of a building that the Sudanese community had rented out. Guy and I sat there for hours, conducting a group interview with around 10 men. Guy translated for me with astounding patience and care. From the beginning, it was obvious to me that he was dedicated to helping his people.

Guy was an asylum seeker himself. During the genocide in Darfur, he fled while his village was burning down, ran for his life and left his family behind. Through a mix of luck, a friendly personality and survival skills, Guy made his way through Sudan and Egypt to Israel, where he felt he would be safe from harm. He arrived in Israel in 2008.

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Family Amulet Captures Jewish Life in India

By Sigal Samuel

A portrait of the writer’s great-great-grandmother with amulet overlaid / Sigal Samuel

When my grandmother was pregnant with my dad, she got a terrible — and somewhat mysterious — mouth infection. It kept her from eating and talking. It was so painful that it landed her flat on her back; for days, all she could do was lie in bed. Then her bedroom door creaked open to reveal my great-great-grandmother, sidling up with something clenched tight in her palm. The object passed from the older to the younger hand, accompanied by a command in Hindustani: “Put this on — and don’t take it off until you get better.”

The object looked like a necklace, but it would be a mistake to call it that. Really, it was an amulet. Extraordinarily heavy, made of solid Indian gold, its cylindrical capsule — as long as an index finger — hung from an expensive-looking chain. Opening it, my grandmother saw a shriveled black root. She suppressed a shiver of disgust and closed it up again, then placed the chain around her neck. A few days later, she was healed.

A prized heirloom, that amulet has been in my family for five generations now. It’s traveled from Bombay to London to Montreal. These days, my grandmother doesn’t really believe that the ugly black root has magical healing powers; more than anything, she finds it creepy. But my great-great-grandmother, an uneducated Calcutta-born Jew who came from a family of kabbalists, believed it had the power to ward off the evil eye.

I love this amulet for many reasons, chief among them its weirdness. The sheer superstitiousness of it makes me smile — maybe because it reminds me that Judaism and rationalism didn’t always go hand in hand, whatever the diehard Maimonideans would have us believe.

I also love the way this artifact captures the centuries-long symbiosis that Jews enjoyed in India — a country that, until recent years, was strikingly free of anti-Semitism.

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Does Israel Advocacy Belong on British Campuses?

By Liam Hoare

Young British Jews stake out a liberal stance on Israel. / YouTube

American and British Jewish communal institutions alike are presently grappling with the question of what to do with the “evil son” — he who, in the words of the Passover Haggadah, “by divorcing himself from the community…denies our very essence.”

In the United Kingdom, students are debating the place of Israel in Jewish life on campus, where political, cultural, and religious activities center around a confederation of Jewish societies (J-Socs) under the umbrella of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).

Since the last UJS conference in November, it is the clear policy of the UJS that the Union should defend Israel’s right to exist regardless of whether individual members support the Israeli government. Individual J-Socs are expected to have a conversation about Israel — not only the modern state, but Israel over 3000 years of Jewish history — and J-Socs are encouraged and advised to effectively counter the BDS movement on campus where necessary.

But Gabriel Webber — a member of Brighton & Sussex J-Soc — recently wrote in defense of a motion that failed at that conference, one that called for a wall of separation between Israel advocacy and the activities of J-Socs. While “all Jewish students want to go to a J-Soc where they can hang out with fellow Jewish students, to eat Jewish food and to be an active member of their religion or culture,” there remains a minority that don’t “want to wave flags and engage in an active campus-based fight against BDS.”

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How Uganda Helped Me Mark Passover

By Sonia Daccarett

Getty Images

Freedom is always a primary theme on Passover, but this year, after travelling in Uganda for ten days as part of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) Global Justice Fellowship, the idea is heavy with real-world implications.

The Haggadah instructs: “In every generation, everyone must think of him or herself as having personally left Egypt.” And yet, some of the people we met in Uganda remain trapped in their own Egypt: LGBT people are ostracized, threatened and assaulted for being who they are; women and girls are beaten and raped; people living with HIV and AIDS are isolated and abandoned by their families and communities.

The idea that all human beings are of infinite value and are created in God’s image — B’tselem Elohim — is a pillar of Jewish tradition. And yet, so many of the struggles we witness every day — in the United States, in Uganda, and elsewhere around the world — require that we pursue human dignity in a global context.

As I prepared for the trip, I studied materials about Uganda with the other Global Justice Fellows in my group, drawing upon my own experiences growing up in Colombia and travelling in many parts of the world. I read about the activists and projects in Uganda that AJWS supports and brushed up on facts. But nothing could have prepared me for the courage, ingenuity and dignity I encountered once I arrived.

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Will Chelsea Clinton Be a Jewish (Child's) Mother?

By Julie Wiener

(JTA) — Chelsea Clinton’s announcement Thursday afternoon that she and Jewish hubby Marc Mezvinsky are expecting their first child has set off a fairly predictable wave of reactions Jewish-wise, not unlike the interest their 2010 wedding generated.

Interfaithfamily.com quickly seized the pregnancy as an “opportunity to share with ALL expecting parents” its various resources for new interfaith parents, including a booklet called “To Circumcise or Not: That is the Question.”

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, The Jewish Press chose this headline: “Chelsea Clinton Pregnant With Non-Jewish Child.” Calling the former first daughter “America’s poster child for intermarriage,” the Brooklyn-based Orthodox newspaper noted that in marrying four years ago the pair was “effectively pruning away that 3,300 year old Jewish branch of the Mezinsky family.” (And apparently also pruning away the “v” from the groom’s name.)

The Jewish Press also reminded its readers of Rabbi David Stav’s apparently clairvoyant question posed to Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs at a meeting back in November about Israel’s adherence to Orthodox standards: “Do you want me to recognize Chelsea Clinton’s child as a Jew?”

Under the traditional policy of matrilineal descent, adhered to by Orthodox and Conservative Jews, the child will not be Jewish unless s/he undergoes a conversion, but Reform and Reconstructionist Jews will recognize the baby as a Jew if s/he has a Jewish upbringing.

Not surprisingly, Stormfront, the anti-Semitic website, does recognize the child as a Jew, as evidenced by its charming headline: “Chelsea Clinton pregnant with jew spawn.”

And now, bring on the months of intense speculation: If a boy, will the child have a brit milah? Will s/he be given a Jew-y name? Jewish nursery school? Hebrew school? And, of course, how will all this affect Grandma Hillary’s prospects in 2016?


When Jesus Died at Auschwitz

By Jay Michaelson

YouTube

The most tasteless YouTube video ever has just been released – by our friends at Jews for Jesus. Entitled “That Jew Died for You,” it is – I am not making any of this up – a three-minute video showing Jesus Christ among a group of Jews arriving at Auschwitz. And you thought the Easter Passion Plays were offensive.

According to Jews for Jesus, the video was made because “Jesus has often been wrongly associated with the perpetrators of the Holocaust.” The film, which includes Jesus helping a Jewish woman when she stumbles during a forced march and, later, being selected for the gas chambers by a Mengele-like Nazi, is meant to clear that up. Actually, Jesus was “just another Jew,” and suffered with the Jews in the Holocaust.

A “making-of” video available on thatjewdiedforyou.com elaborates: “The Holocaust, perhaps more than any other event or topic, has kept Jewish people from being open to considering Jesus as the Jewish messiah.” If only we didn’t blame Christians for the genocide of our people, the reasoning goes, we’d be more open to converting to Christianity.

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We Got Bupkis From White House Seder

By Nathan Guttman

White House Photo

What would you do if you’d have to choose between spending the second night of Passover with your family (and with your twins celebrating their birthday on that same day) and laboring in someone else’s kitchen for hours?

For acclaimed chef/beloved wife Vered Guttman, there wasn’t much of a dilemma. She gladly left me and the kids with a sink full of dishes from the previous night’s (first) Seder and went on to roll matzo balls for another family’s second Seder.

The fact that this Seder was hosted by Barack and Michelle Obama and that the kitchen was located in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, can perhaps make leaving your family behind a bit more understandable.

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