All photos by Ryan Rodrick Beiler
After four years covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a photojournalist, I’m not used to covering good news. Even before my recent relocation to Norway, land of the Peace Prize and Oslo Accords, it’s been easy to be cynical about institutionalized efforts to promote coexistence.
But a recent grassroots effort by Norwegian Muslims surprised me. Not because they were Muslim, but because their relatively simple gesture — surrounding an Oslo synagogue with a “Ring of Peace” — achieved the kind of international attention typically reserved for, well, terrorist attacks.
“We thought that we as Muslims needed to show by action that the majority of us, and especially the youth, take a strong stand against anti-Semitism,” said Mudassar Muddi Mehmood, one of the event’s organizers. “We stand 100% with our Jewish brothers and sisters in the battle against hatred and extremism. If anyone wants to commit violence in the name of Islam, you have to go through us Muslims first.”
The response to their invitation amazed locals as well. The Times of Israel reported earlier in the week that Ervin Kohn, a leader of Norway’s Jewish community, had said that if fewer than 30 people would show up, he didn’t want to have the vigil. Saturday night, more than 1,000 supporters of all faiths flooded Bergstien Street in front of Oslo Synagogue in an overwhelming show of support — their number nearly equaling that of the entire Jewish population of Norway.
Waqas Sarwar, who also attended the vigil, noted another motivation for the show of solidarity: “The terrorist attack in Norway [by Anders Breivik on July 22, 2011] is still fresh in mind, and we as Muslims are also witnessing rising Islamophobia, which makes it easier for us to sympathize. No one should be killed or hurt solely based on their religious or political affiliations.”
“We hope that the event will strengthen our continuing good relations between our Jewish community and the Norwegian Muslim community,” said Marty Bashevkin, vice president of the Jewish Community of Oslo, who was “especially impressed by the fact that it has been arranged by Muslim young people, and with such a positive response.”
“Imagine,” added Bashevkin, “if events like this could be repeated around the world.”
This sentiment was echoed by Ikrame Chriqui, a Kurdish Norwegian in attendance: “I’m glad this is happening and I hope it happens in other countries too. I want to show people that not all Muslims hate Jews. We are all brothers and sisters, whether you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist or an atheist.”
Ryan Rodrick Beiler is a freelance photojournalist living in Oslo, Norway.
When I was in high school, I stopped wearing my kippah.
I felt myself drifting away from the ultra-Orthodox community of my childhood and the Modern Orthodoxy my parents tried to model for me at home. I stopped wearing my kippah because I wanted to disaffiliate from the Orthodox Jews that filled New York City — I wanted to be anonymous. Faced with the sudden realization that I didn’t want to be Orthodox, I made the decision to ensure that, unless I was in school or with my family, I would try and pass as not Jewish — or, at the very least, as not Orthodox. I did not want to be associated with the people who made fun of my cousins at my bar mitzvah for not wearing kippot, who made fun of me for attending a coeducational high school, or who looked down upon other Jews as lesser.
Thus began my first experience with the Non-Orthodox Inferiority Complex: the connection that I, and so many other Jews, make between traditional observance and the negatives in Orthodoxy. For many non-Orthodox Jews, to be observant is to be Orthodox, so observance also carries with it the negative associations that people have with Orthodoxy.
Officials in the Montreal borough of Outremont — which includes a sizeable Orthodox Jewish population — are defending a last-minute decision this weekend to nix a reception hosted by a Muslim organization at a city-owned community center.
According to the Montreal Gazette, borough mayor Marie Cinq-Mars told reporters the event was presented as a graduation ceremony for a language school.
But Quebec’s French-language TVA News reported on Friday that Minnesota-based Mishkah University — aka the North American Sharia Academy — was behind the event, and that “two imams with fundamentalist views, Salah Assawy and Omar Shahin, would host.” Imam Assawy, an Egyptian, is secretary-general of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America, “an organization known for its radical religious views,” according to TVA.
In a statement to media, Mayor Cinq-Mars said she asked borough managers to cancel the reservation because the presence of the “controversial leaders” was “unacceptable” and could lead to conflicts, the Gazette said. Mishkah’s name did not appear on the booking, she said; regardless of the type of group, the borough “shouldn’t ever rent out space for religious or political events,” Cinq-Mars told the paper.
Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to speak before the U.S. Congress about Iran has ignited a rancorous debate within the American Jewish community. Some argue that the speech will alienate Democrats and undermine bipartisan support for Israel. Others say that a potential U.S. deal with Iran leaving the mullahs’ nuclear capacity intact so threatens Israel’s security that it justifies the risk of alienating President Obama.
But no matter what side of the debate American Jewish protagonists come down on, they have a clear appreciation for what’s at stake. They know that many American Jews feel caught in between support for Israel’s right to advocate its position on Iran to the world and deference to the president’s prerogative to define American foreign policy. They are well aware that American Jewish support for Israel can be complicated by Israel’s conduct, real and perceived, toward American political leaders.
Most Israelis, by contrast, have little awareness of the complexity of American Jewish support for Israel, according to a poll of Israeli attitudes recently commissioned by our foundation. Such lack of awareness can have severe consequences for Israel’s relationship with the U.S. and, by extension, Israel’s security.
Courtesy of Jerusalem Gay Student Association, photo by Leshem Brosh
“Did you see the drag show?” I asked a friend at last night’s Winter Noise Festival. “Yeah,” he responded, “did you see the racist a**holes?”
Last night, in the hippest corner of Jerusalem’s city center, young Jerusalemites made history. They held the city’s first-ever public and municipally sponsored drag show.
For four years running, the Winter Noise Festival has held public events every Monday night in February, pushing the city’s religious-conservative limits. Last night’s drag show took place amidst well-quaffed street musicians (including a klezmer marching band) and cave-bar dance parties (heavy on beards and vintage outfits), and was advertised discreetly as the “Shushan Run.” The only descriptor of the event on the municipality-sponsored website referred slyly to “the wildest race in the city” — a “race in heels” — for Jerusalem’s queens.
And what fun that “race in heels” was! One queen I interviewed was wearing a miniskirt, fishnets and six-inch platform heels in the chilly Jerusalem night. Imagine running a race in those! Her makeup was caked to her face and I had the thought that gobs of her mascara might soon begin falling from her eyelashes by the sheer force of gravity. Her yellow jacket made her look like a six-foot-six queen bee. Her name was “Mama Off” and she told me that the best thing about the drag show was the protest happening next door.
Mama Off was referring to the angry noises of Benzion Gopstein and his Kahanist cronies in LEAVA, a racist, xenophobic, violent organization just outside the event grounds. Last year I wrote about LEAVA’s protest against another Winter Noise Festival event in which Jews and Arabs joined together in song; their activities have only gotten more angry and violent since then.
But Mama Off was happy about the demonstration. Why? Because “it demonstrates that we’re doing something right — and it shows that racism and homophobia are the same thing.”
Copenhagen’s slain synagogue guard, Dan Uzan / Facebook
As I struggle to wrap my mind around the horrible attacks that terrorized my city, Copenhagen, this weekend, all I can see is a memory from a few years ago.
I was attending Tuesday night practice at the local Jewish soccer club, Hakoah Copenhagen. Thinking myself rather skilled with the ball, I tried to pass our big goalkeeper, eight years older than me and a lot more experienced. I ended up on the grass, as Dan neatly tackled me and took possession of the ball. Being a hothead sometimes on the pitch, I shouted out something about a free kick and tried to make everybody understand what a grave injustice had just been done to me. The game went on, and Dan just picked me up and smiled at me and said, “You’ll get there someday.”
That smiling man, Dan Uzan, was the volunteer guard who was killed outside the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen.
Blissfully unaware of his death, I was having dinner at a restaurant with my girlfriend on Saturday night. I’d been feeling a bit under the weather, so I went to bed early. I had of course read and heard about the horrible events that had transpired at a debate meeting earlier in the day, when shots were fired, ending the life of an innocent spectator. It happened pretty close to where my mother lives, but I thought that it would blow over. Honestly, at the time I did not imagine that anything bad could happen to the Jewish community.
When I woke up early on Sunday morning, my phone showed a message from the assistant coach of the soccer team. It said the game on Sunday had been cancelled due to the horrible events that had happened during the night at the Great Synagogue. I was a bit confused, since I hadn’t heard anything about an incident there. Immediately, I scoured the internet (as one does) and found out that a Jewish security guard had been shot in the head outside the synagogue, where the local community centre is also situated.
This seemed unreal. I tried desperately to find out who had been shot. Could it have been someone I knew? It turned out that the tall guy I had known my whole life, the one who went seven grades above me in the Jewish School and who loved sports like me, had been killed. Dan was no more among us.
An Israeli journalist who walked around Paris for hours while wearing a kippah to test attitudes to Jews documented multiple threats and insults hurled at his direction.
Zvika Klein, a reporter for the news site nrg.co.il and the Makor Rishon daily, on Sunday released the footage from his excursion last week around Paris and its suburbs. He was inspired by a video released last year that shows Shoshana Roberts being sexually harassed repeatedly while walking in New York. Since it was published on YouTube, her video has registered more than 39 million views.
Many anti-Semitic incidents occurred in the heavily Muslim suburb of Sarcelles, Klein told JTA last week, while Paris’ center was considerably calmer by comparison.
In one scene, a person wearing a black knit cap says “Jew” and walks alongside Klein, who was being filmed secretly by a colleague. In two separate incidents, one involving a man and one a woman, passers-by look in Klein’s direction as he walks past them.
Photo from “Crazy Jewish Mom” on Instagram
I have a Jewish mom. You have a Jewish mom. Heck, I am a Jewish mom. And I might be crazy. But it’s not because I’m Jewish.
Last November, Kate Siegel decided to create an Instagram account called “Crazy Jewish Mom” in order to share private iMessages from her mother. She’d been sharing them with her friends, who found them funny, so she decided to take them to the internet. Now she has more than 370,000 followers.
“Happy birthday Spawn. Welcome to the wrong side of 25. The expiration date on your eggs is officially in sight. Tick tock.”
“Kate I sat next to the nicest young man at Starbucks today. Yale. Lawyer. I showed him your Facebook picture and gave him your number.”
“I’m at bloomingdales and am buying you a gorgeous black Theory dress. I don’t know if a size two will fit you right now (maybe not based on the most recent pic you sent me) but thats (sic) the size i’m buying for you.”
Kate’s mom sends dozens of messages, sometimes that many in a single day, to her daughter — and sites all over the world have been commenting on it. In almost every case, these articles regard the outrageous texts as nothing more than humorous banter.
But something about this just doesn’t sit right with me. And I can’t keep quiet about it any longer.
Je Suis Copenhagen meme via Twitter
The worst part of this weekend’s horrifying terrorist attack in Copenhagen is, of course, that it happened at all, and resulted in the deaths of a young man guarding a synagogue and a film director attending a free-speech event.
The second-worst part is that there is no reason it won’t happen again.
While, as of this writing, Danish police have not conclusively established motive, it is fair to suppose that it is a copycat of the Charlie Hebdo murders and their bloody postscript at a kosher market in Paris. If true, the new pattern has been established: you can get murdered for drawing a cartoon, or for being Jewish.
These new attacks, as well as the whole, hideous trend of anti-Jewish violence in Europe, complicate the distinctions we usually make between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
On the one hand, there are clearly anti-Zionist and anti-Israel motives at play. Islamists see themselves as being at war with America and Israel, and these acts are part of that jihad. In this form of Islamic extremism, there is no clear distinction between the political and the religious.
On the other hand, these are also anti-Semitic attacks, carried out against Jewish civilians in Jewish spaces. All Jews, simply by the condition of being Jewish, are held culpable for the acts of (or existence of) the Jewish state. Even without the presence of additional anti-Semitic stereotypes, this collective guilt is, itself, enough.
With its audience shrinking and losses mounting, a Canadian TV news network known for its pro-Israel views – and right-of-center politics – has pulled the plug after four years.
Sun News Network, whose firebrand stances on hot-button issues earned it the sobriquet “Fox News North,” went dark this morning. The channel liked to claim it offered counterpoints to the “lefty bias” in Canadian media.
The channel was also home to controversial personalities like Ezra Levant, who lost a 2012 libel case after calling a describing a Muslim law student as “a serial liar, a bigot and a Jew-hating ‘illiberal Islamic fascist’” in a blog post, according to the National Post.
Part of the network’s challenge might have been a cultural disconnect in Canada, where viewers seemed less receptive to Sun News Networks’ take-no-prisoners attitude. But Sue-Ann Levy – like Levant, a columnist for the Sun newspaper in Toronto, the network’s sister property – told the Forward that the channel faced more fundamental problems.
Journalist Bob Simon, who died last night in a car accident, had a brush with death almost 25 years earlier.
As a prisoner of the Iraqis, during the first Persian Gulf War, he worried “his Jewishness might cost him his life,” JTA reported in this 1991 article:
CBS News correspondent Bob Simon was worried that his Jewishness might cost him his life during the six weeks he and three colleagues were prisoners of the Iraqis while the Persian Gulf war raged.
“I thought my number was up when they started accusing me of being a member of Mossad,” the Israeli intelligence service, said Simon, who is normally based in Tel Aviv.
He said his captors “kept shouting ‘Yehudi, Yehudi’ at me.
“I was more worried about my Jewishness than my Tel Aviv posting,” the American newsman told reporters at the Humana Wellington Hospital in northwest London, where he was admitted for medical checkups and treatment.
Simon and three members of his television crew were captured by an Iraqi patrol on the Saudi-Kuwaiti border four days after the Gulf war started Jan. 17. They were released Saturday.
Simon said that after their capture, the four men were taken to the southern Iraqi city of Basra, where they were brutally beaten, and then to an army prison camp for eight days, where discipline was severe but some kindness was shown. Afterward they were put in solitary confinement and interrogated for 24 days.
Simon also described his ordeal Sunday night on the CBS television show “60 Minutes”:
“An army guy, a captain — he had two stars, which is a captain in the Iraqi army — he grabbed me by the face, forced my mouth open and said, ‘Yehudi, Yehudi,’ which means Jewish, and then spit at me and slapped me. This sixth instinct that every anti-Semite has ever had — ‘Jew, dirty Jew.’
“I didn’t think he would shoot me. I could have killed him. I would have killed him if I could have. I would have killed him, and I would have had no more remorse than I had every morning when I got up and killed a cockroach in my room.”
(JTA) — By now, anyone interested enough to have read about the issue knows the basic facts: Longtime NBC anchor Brian Williams lied about having been on a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq in 2003. In truth, he was on a different helicopter that landed unimpeded about a half hour after the other chopper was forced down by hostile fire.
The apology Williams offered last week when the truth of the matter became impossible to ignore (thanks to a reporter from Stars and Stripes) was deemed insufficient by the commentariat and, eventually, by NBC. Williams essentially said it was an honest mistake – “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” was how he put it. But critics said it was an outright lie and that his failure to own up compounded the original lie with a dishonest apology.
Now NBC has suspended Williams without pay for six months and is undertaking its own internal investigation to determine what else Williams has said doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
There are a couple of things that are confounding to me about this whole turn of events.
The first is the most obvious: that a man this likable, this good-looking, this … tall could have peddled this untruth for so long. Who could ever have imagined he was lying through those picture-perfect white teeth? (Except for the ignored military veterans who have been grumbling about Williams’ dishonesty for years, of course.) Shame on you, Williams, for ruining what had been up till now a happy relationship.
Not that I watch “NBC Nightly News,” of course. Though I grew up on Tom Brokaw and still find his South Dakota lilt and peculiar staccato the ultimate authoritative voice in news, as an adult I don’t think I ever sat down to watch the early evening TV news, and now I don’t even own a TV. But I did like Williams’ cameos on “30 Rock,” stints on “Saturday Night Live” and guest appearances on the “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart (whose just-announced retirement from the show is a real tragedy, if we’re already bemoaning the loss of a news anchor).
What really confounds me about the Williams affair is this ill-conceived punishment.
Jon Stewart and Bassem Youssef on “The Daily Show” / Youtube
Jon Stewart quitting “The Daily Show” is bad for the Jews. It’s bad for the Muslims. It’s bad for the entire Middle East.
If you want to know why, just watch this clip of the real Jon Stewart joking around with “Egypt’s Jon Stewart,” Bassem Youssef. It aired shortly before Jon announced his decision to leave the show, and it revolves around a simple question: What can America do to fix the Middle East?
Bassem’s answer is simple, too: “How about — nothing!”
Jon plays devil’s advocate, arguing, “If the people choose the wrong government, we’ll help them get it right. Some boots on the ground, some advisers.” Which, of course, sets Bassem up to explain just what’s wrong with America’s interventionist foreign policy.
But then Bassem takes it one step further — by laughing at himself, at his own argument, at his own people. He provides that dash of self-deprecation without which comedy fails to be, you know, comedic (Israel’s totally unfunny “Hakol Shafit” is a good example of this).
“We want you to f—k off and leave us alone,” Bassem says. “But not right away. We could still use the aid money, and a few weapons, and some investments… What I’m saying is, if you could f—k gradually off, that would be better for everybody.”
This is Middle East comedy at its best: an unflinching look at the catch-22s and double standards that plague both — no, all — sides.
And who’s been providing the mechanism for this comedy for over 15 years? Jon, of course. He’s been providing it not only in the U.S., but also in places like Egypt, where he inspired Bassem to start his own wildly popular satire show that began as a Middle Eastern riff on “The Daily Show.”
Every week, Bassem took to TV to wittily eviscerate the top leaders of the Arab world, and endear himself hugely to the Arab public (40 million viewers!). But then Sisi came to power in Egypt — and, sadly, the dissenters went the way of the Pharaohs.
Tzipi Livni as depicted by Israeli satire “Hakol Shafit” / YouTube
When it comes to political satire shows, Israeli television spans the gamut. On Channel 2 there’s Israel’s version of Saturday Night Live, called “Eretz Nehederet” or “A Wonderful Land.” Israel’s Jon Stewart-esque “Gav HaUma” recently moved to Channel 10. Both of these shows have dedicated followings — “Eretz Nehederet” consistently tops charts and “Gav HaUma” grabs an elite audience.
So when a new political satire show rolled into town broadcasting on Channel 1, you might have thought it would make a splash. But that hasn’t been the case with “Hakol Shafit” (liberally translated, “It’s All Fair Game”).
In some ways, “HaKol Shafit” has everything you want from political comedy: a news desk, fake interviews, costumed sketches. But it all falls flat — it’s just not funny.
Part of the reason for this unfunniness stems from the show’s inability to laugh at itself. There’s no self-reflective humor here, no self-deprecation — in fact, no apologetics at all. It’s vulgar, and intentionally so. The last scene of the 25-minute pilot, for example, depicts Tzipi Livni as a motorcycle-and-leather, stand-up-to-pee punk, and Isaac Herzog as a fawning effete in a wedding dress. (No Hebrew skills necessary: just go to the 22:22 mark and you’ll see what I mean.)
This is not a show that laughs at itself — it’s a show that laughs at others. It’s like a cocksure bully, taking punches because it can. “HaKol Shafit” doesn’t mock the grotesque or the absurd, it is the grotesque and the absurd. And the grotesque and the absurd can’t be funny without some sort of self-reflection.
This failure to tickle has a lot to do with the show’s right-wing roots. “Hakol Shafit” was founded by right-wing journalist and Jerusalem Post deputy managing editor Caroline Glick in 2009. Back then, the show was called “Latma” (“slap” in Hebrew), and it was Glick’s way of getting her opinion pieces to broader, younger audiences and expressing her “frustration” with the liberal media. Latma was a project of the Center for Security Policy, an Islamophobic think tank run by Frank Gaffney Jr., where Glick, in her capacity as the CSP’s senior fellow for Middle East Affairs, put it together.
Rabbi Peretz Chein with his two children.
Rabbi Herschel Hartz made last year’s Most Inspiring Rabbis list for his work in the Inwood Jewish community. We asked him to write about a rabbi who inspires him. Nominate your pick for this year’s list in the form below.
A Chabad emissary wears many hats. He must be able to connect with all the different types of people who come in his path. He jumps into the shoes of every person he meets and sees things from their perspective.
Dealing with Jews means dealing with different types of people. You have to be loving, caring and understanding of all types: the intellectual type, the cool guy, the feminist, the atheist, the student who comes from a broken family, the person who hates Chabad, and the enthusiastic religious Jew.
Rabbi Peretz Chein of Chabad at Brandeis is one of the most inspiring rabbis I know — he is able to maneuver successfully amongst all these different types of Jewish people and give each one the Jewish experience they need.
Satisfying these needs is a challenge, and one that Rabbi Chein succeeds tremendously at. From him, I have learned the importance of working with each person according to the path that is best for him or her. It may be something you would never do yourself or something that you may even sharply disagree with. But it is the greatest fulfillment of ahavat Yisrael, loving another Jew.
I started my Jewish growth at Brandeis (and hopefully continue it every day of my life) and Rabbi Chein has been there anytime I called. He has broad shoulders and the ability to look at things from a whole slew of perspectives. He is a deeply thoughtful person who adds wisdom to the most obvious of situations.
One story really sticks out for me. During my sophomore year at Brandeis, I became very interested in Jewish growth and learning. As with most people who become suddenly excited about Judaism, my desire to change overshadowed a healthy transition.
In the Chabad house, I shared my excitement over my new Jewish learning with Rabbi Chein. I also shared that I wanted to leave the Jewish fraternity that I had joined just six months before.
He immediately asked me: And what about your fraternity? How would this impact them?
I thought the guy was out of his mind. We were talking about my spiritual growth here, not theirs. I thought: Who cares?
In my complete selfishness, I could not think about them and the impact my decision would have on their feelings about Judaism or religion.
Rabbi Peretz Chein singing “One Day” by Matisyahu.
At that meeting, Rabbi Chein encouraged me to stay in the fraternity and serve as a good role model of Judaism. I didn’t listen. I couldn’t imagine staying in a place that seemed to me then the antithesis of Judaism. My zealousness drove me away.
Today, with a healthier pair of eyes, I have completely taken his lesson to heart.
Judaism is, sometimes, not about you. It is about the other.
When we make Judaism solely about ourselves, our own thoughts and our own spiritual pursuits, we are not serving God. We are serving ourselves.
Rabbi Chein has always been a phone call away, giving me a new perspective on how to approach every challenge.
When I called, literally crying about a yeshiva I was in, he gave me comfort and stability.
When I called about a new venture I was embarking on, he gave me a good dose of reality.
And he knows I am not rich. Money has never been the issue — he is legitimately interested.
I know for a fact that there are many more like me. All different perspectives, all unique people, all levels of growth and observance. And all of them, when they meet Rabbi Chein, feel like they belong to a larger Jewish family.
That is the most important part of his work: he lets every Jew he meets feel that they are part of something greater than themselves and that they matter.
What ever happened to sticking up for a fellow member of the Tribe?
National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver committed a major shande by backing boorish New York Knicks owner James Dolan as ‘the consummate New Yorker’ after the team boss lambasted a Jewish lifelong fan as a “sad mess” and an “alcoholic” for daring to criticize his stewardship of the sad-sack hoops franchise.
Silver declined to discipline Dolan for his shameless rant against Irving Bierman, a 70-year-old Knicks fan who emailed the team owner to express displeasure at the direction of the once-proud team.
“Jim got an unkind email, and responded with an unkind email,” Silver said.
(JTA) — The neighborhood in Shanghai that was home to approximately 20,000 Jewish refugees during World War II may be added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
While the Nazi-fleeing refugees who settled in Shanghai certainly fared better than the family and friends they left behind in Europe, life in the so-called “Pearl of the Orient” was nonetheless turbulent.
Things in Shanghai looked bright initially, when the first German Jewish refugees, many of them doctors and dentists, arrived soon after Hitler’s rise to power.
The local community was apparently so grateful for the professional skills these refugees brought that JTA headlined a 1934 article “German Jewish doctors cause China to be grateful to the Nazis.”
In that article, JTA reported that an American journalist working in China said approximately 100 Jewish doctors had set up practices in Shanghai: … during the short time they have lived in the city they have come to be regarded as “Hitler’s gift to the Far East” by virtue of the medical skill they have contributed to a territory which has long suffered from inadequate medical attention.
“German Jewish doctors,” said the newspaperman, “have already established themselves as being among the most expert surgeons and general practitioners of Shanghai. None of them seems to be suffering from lack of patronage, while most of them have already established themselves as commanding figures in the city’s public health service.”
Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
As a rule, I abide by a strong belief in personal liberty and freedom of expression. When it comes to vaccinations, however, I make an obvious and vocal exception.
Vaccines, after all, are not a matter of personal choice, but rather a communal responsibility. The power of herd immunity only works if we, as a society, ensure that everyone able to vaccinate does so.
This is why I am particularly appalled by the Forward’s recent editorial on the issue.
Discussing the “fear, ignorance, narcissism and privilege” that fuels the anti-vaxxer movement, the Forward makes a surprising and ignorant effort to point the finger at one segment of the Jewish community.
“An odd alliance of libertarians who reflexively rebel at any sort of government mandate and impressionable liberals who practice what Jon Stewart calls “mindful stupidity” — not to mention those ultra-Orthodox Jews who blindly follow their rabbis’ ridiculous dictates — are demonstrating how badly frayed the American civic consensus has become.”
The Forward, in essence, has taken an issue that impacts all of us, one that clearly transcends traditional social and political boundaries, and chosen to blame one group of Jews for opposing it.
Let me be clear: There is a vocal minority in the so called “ultra-Orthodox” community (though last I checked, the term “ultra” was usually used for laundry detergent rather than people) that aligns with the anti-vaxxer movement. I’ve condemned them and debated them, as have many others I know. It is a problem. And a serious one at that.
Let the finger-pointing begin.
Two weeks into the Bibi-gate (or perhaps Bohener-gate, or simply speech-gate) controversy, with no sign of Democratic anger subsiding, Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies are starting to look for excuses.
The defense Bibi has settled on can be summed up in three words: “It’s Boehner’s fault.”
Policymakers and congressional staff members have been hearing this line in closed-door meetings with Israelis for the past week. Israelis, including Netanyahu’s office and the Israeli embassy in Washington, have been arguing that they were blindsided by House Speaker John Boehner.
It was all, they say, one big misunderstanding.
According to this explanation, Netanyahu, through his ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer, had understood that Boehner would make sure that Democrats were on board with the idea of inviting the Israeli leader to address a joint meeting of Congress on the problem of Iran’s nuclear development activities. Maybe not all Democratic leadership, but at least enough to allow all sides to say with a straight face that it was a bipartisan invitation.
Furthermore, Netanyahu and Dermer did not know — at least according to people who have been in touch with Israeli officials dealing with the mess created by the invitation — that Boehner would announce the visit the morning after President Obama delivered his State of the Union speech. The timing appeared designed to rebut the president’s stand on Iran, thus infuriating the president and his fellow Democrats.
As the Islamic State releases video after video, each more appalling than the next, in what is surely the YouTube channel from hell - the world seems to have divided into those of us who choose to watch the atrocities and those of us who don’t.
Members of the first group are making a choice to view appalling images that can’t ever be unseen and inevitably haunt one long afterwards - heads being hacked off of bodies of American, British and Japanese journalists and aid workers, Syrian men being tossed off tall buildings and splattered below for the crime of being suspected homosexuals and now, the inhuman spectacle of Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kasaesbeh being burnt alive inside a cage.
What is really compelling about the decision whether or not to click “play” on these gory scenes is that convincing arguments can be mustered for either choice. Let’s explore them.
Why we should watch
No problem has ever been fixed in this world as a result of people looking away from it. Certainly, in order to confront horror and brutality on a large scale, it must be seen - to the extent it can be seen. Now, in the normal course of things in modern history, organized and clever evil-doers did their best to conceal their actions so they could get away with them for as long as possible. The Nazis kept their extermination camps as secret as they possibly could, succeeding to a remarkable extent, allowing them to carry out a horrifically substantial portion of their “Final Solution.” After the war, so many Europeans who directly or indirectly assisted the Third Reich, defended themselves after the full extent of their crimes were unveiled with the cry, “We didn’t know!”
The excuse of not knowing has run rampant in our time, as atrocities tend to be concealed as much as possible. In the former Soviet Union, enemies of the state were shipped off to Siberia. Military juntas like in Argentina in the 1970’s were responsible for making thousands simply “disappear.” Today, the vast majority of torture and executions perpetrated by governments take place invisibly behind prison walls.