Forward Thinking

Barack's a Hit With Israeli Audience

By Nathan Jeffay

Barack Obama had young Israelis eating out of his hand, during his speech in Jerusalem, ticking all the boxes that the audience hoped, and throwing in a few good laughs.

He reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security, spoke of the importance of the missile defense systems in the south to ensure that children can “sleep at night,” gave reassurances on Iran, with “all options” on the table and asserting that it’s “no wonder” that Israelis view it as an existential threat. He echoed Jerusalem’s desire to see Hezbollah labeled internationally as a terrorist organization.

But the unique element of this speech was his raising of the themes he hasn’t discussed at length in front of Netanyahu and Peres. He asked the young Israelis to put themselves in the shoes of Palestinians, and spoke of the difficulties faced by Palestinians, with implied criticism for Israeli policy in the West Bank. He asserted that Israel does have partners for peace at the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. “There’s an opportunity, there is a window,” he said. And most significant of all, he called on the young to be an agent for change, and push their leaders to move forward on the cause of peace. And with this plea, he lived up the expectation that he would, in at least one area, circumvent Israel’s leadership and try over its head to communicate his vision to normal Israelis.

He did it with conviction and grace, even dealing with a heckling situation with wit, and employed Hebrew to tell the audience “atem lo lovad” or you are not alone (real meaning: “don’t listen to all of your government’s panicking as the U.S. won’t let anything happen to Israel).

Obama’s humor was a real hit with the crowd, especially his well-researched gag that reports of discord between him and Netanyahu have been a ploy to generate material for Israel’s most popular satire show, Eretz Nehederet.


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Meeting Obama: Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon

By Nathan Jeffay

Moshe Ya’alon was one of the first ministers that Obama met for more than a handshake and a brief chat, as he was part of the small party that accompanied him to the Iron Dome.

Moments before they viewed the installation, Obama said: “We stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land,” which for him means the two-state solution. “Even as we are clear eyed about the difficulties, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbors.”

Well, actually, Ya’alon is pretty clear that he’s lost sight of the kind of vision for peace Obama refers to. He is a left-winger who has taken a sharp turn. As the Forward reported last week, he thinks that the two-state option is a lost cause, and has said that anybody who sees a solution on the horizon is engaging in “self-deception” and promoting a “golden calf.”

And Ya’alon, while often portrayed as restrained on the issue of Iran, has been rather cutting about where Obama stands on the issue in the past. Early last year he claimed that his administration was too cautious over imposing sanctions on Iran because of “election year considerations.” Britain and France, he said, were being very firm on sanctions, but not so America.

“In the United States, the Senate passed a resolution, by a majority of 100-to-one, to impose these sanctions, and in the U.S. administration there is hesitation for fear of oil prices rising this year, out of election-year considerations,” he said. “In that regard, this is certainly a disappointment, for now.”

Ya’alon’s predecessor Ehud Barak signed off settlement building plans, as is required of his office, but wasn’t pro-active in this area, delayed a lot of applications, and evacuated some illegal settler homes. Ya’alon by contrast is enthusiastic about settlements, and sees them growing.

When the last Israeli government, Washington often communicated with Barak out of preference to with Netanyahu, finding his positions, in some respects, close to those of Washington. Obama’s encounter with Ya’alon will have directed his attention on just how different the atmosphere between Washington and this government office is likely to become over the coming months.


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Hamas's Not-Too-Subtle Reminder to Obama

By Nathan Jeffay

Israelis awoke this morning to hear that four Palestinian rockets were launched towards Israel from Gaza and two had slammed in to the town of Sderot, without causing injuries. After months of quiet on the border following Israel’s Gaza operation in November, the Gaza militants who launched the rockets clearly intended to send a strong message to Obama.

It goes something like this. You may arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, talk at length with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the American-Israeli security partnership, and inspect the Iron Dome missile defense system that you have funded. But it can’t completely seal the Israeli south from attacks – you can’t ignore us.

There’s more. The second part of the message refers to internal Palestinian politics, and goes like this. You’re going to Ramallah today to talk to the Palestinian Authority. Don’t imagine that you can reach an agreement with the PA and ignore us and our opposition – we’re here, and ready and willing to unleash violence.

The rockets followed demonstrations against the visit in Gaza, which involved the burning of photographs of Obama and American flags. “We are out here today to say enough to the ongoing pressure on the Palestinian people and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority seeking to impose a unilateral settlement, and US preconditions forcing the PA to make more concessions,” declared Khalid al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader. Hamas voiced similar views.

With news of the rocket attack, Obama began the second day of his trip. After a day yesterday of back patting and banter with Bibi, and competition with his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres to see which president could be more complimentary to the other, he ventured in to stormy Palestinian politics. (First he visited the Israel Museum INSERT LINK). The demonstrations that awaited him yesterday in Jerusalem were relatively sedate affairs calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard, who is in a US prison as punishment for spying for Israel. But in the West Bank, more than 100 Palestinians dug in their heels at a camp in E1, a 4.6-square-mile piece of the West Bank just outside Jerusalem where Netanyahu wants to build, protesting the occupation and Israeli policies.

There was also anger in Hebron, where around two-dozen minors were arrested by the Israeli military. Palestinians alleged that some were under the minimum age for detention, 12, and said that the arrests were unjustified. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said in a statement that the arrests were unjustified. However, Israeli military spokesman Eytan Buchman told the Forward: “There was rioting in the area and they were involved in rioting.”

In central Ramallah, as Obama arrived, around 250 people protested against his visit and push towards peace with Israel. Some held shoes, a sign that they wanted him to leave Palestinian territory. Slogans included the claim that the U.S. “voted for occupation” when it opposed the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations in November.

Even as Obama was meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after being greeted by a Palestinian guard of honor, Hamas was trying to grab the Palestinian headlines. Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza, declared: “We believe American policies perpetuate the Israeli occupation and settlements in Palestine under a slogan of peace,” adding: “The PA must realize that they have to abide by national principles and reconciliation.”


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Trying to Put Detainees on Obama's Agenda

By Nathan Jeffay

Obama went to Ramallah and held a summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today. The comments that the two men made afterwards were predictable enough – harsh criticism of Israeli settlement by Abbas along with Obama’s reiteration of his opposition to settlements; affirmation by Obama that he wants a Palestinian state along with warnings from Abbas that some Palestinians are losing hope in the two-state solution.

A slightly more interesting aspect of the summit was the fact that Ramallah’s Prisoners’ Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqe was included. This reflects the ever-growing frustration of Palestinians over the issue of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The issue is always an important one to Palestinians, but takes on even greater significance at the moment, following the death of 30-year-old Palestinian Arafat Jaradat in Israeli detention last month, and in the light of hunger strikes, including a large-scale strike that ended in June.

There is another factor that most likely led to Qaraqe’s inclusion in the talks. In internal Palestinian politics, his kudos needs boosting, and meeting with Obama certainly improves his credentials. Why is this important? Because his office, which is meant to be the key address for prisoner-related matters, was badly humiliated by the fact that Hamas managed to do more for prisoners in 2011 than it did for years. It secured the release of 1,027 prisoners in the deal to free Gilad Shalit.

Qaraqe gave Obama a letter saying: “More than half a million Palestinian citizens were detained since 1967, and about 4,900 are being held now including men, women, children, lawmakers, elderly people, disabled people, civil servants, militants, former minister and politicians. They are living in inhuman condition and subjected to abusive procedures under military regulations which breach international law and human rights conventions.”

In terms of Qaraqe’s opinions, he believes strongly that the international community should intervene on the issue of Palestinian prisoners. “The entire world, as well as the United Nations, are responsible for protecting Palestinian prisoners … deprived of their basic rights as stated in international law,” he said last year. He takes the view that the United States should be demanding prisoner releases, and insisting on improved rights for detainees.

Of course, these are matters that Obama is reluctant to get dragged in to, avoiding the subject of Palestinian prisoners about as assiduously as he’s avoiding the Jonathan Pollard issue on the Israeli side. He will have listened politely to Qaraqe’s requests, but tried to move on. But in all likelihood, Qaraqe will have left him with a very simple argument: Securing the release of 1,027 prisoners buoyed Hamas, so just imagine the boost to the Palestinian Authority and confidence in the US could come from a release following today’s meetings. And perhaps a parting thought from Qaraqe to Obama: Jaradat’s death didn’t result in the kind of widespread violence that some Israeli observers feared, but if tensions do boil over in the West Bank any time soon, the chances are high that the trigger could be prisoner-related.


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Ancient and Modern Lessons for Obama

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images

Barack Obama’s first engagement today was a visit to the Israel Museum with an agenda that was, as the Forward’s Nathan Guttman has noted, laden with significance. So what did he actually see?

He started in the Shrine of the Book, where he seemed genuinely fascinated by the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many of the documents relate to the particular belief of the strict separatist sect that authored them, but a good number also contain Biblical texts. It is these that Israel was keen for Obama to see, as these ancient manuscripts underscore the connection of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel.

The highlight of the Shrine of the Book visit appeared to be the viewing of the Isaiah Scroll, which was discovered in 1947. Dated to 125 BCE, it is believed to be the oldest manuscript of the Book of Isaiah in existence. The 54 columns contain all 66 chapters of the book, and the Hebrew text mostly matches the one in use today.

Aptly, for Obama’s visit to a troubled region, the manuscript is the oldest rendering of the famous prophecy: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war.”

After viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls, a nod to Ancient Israel, he moved on to an exhibition assembled in his honor of seven blue-and-white technological inventions, a hat tip to modern Israel.

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Back to Future for Obama at Ben Gurion Airport

By Nathan Jeffay

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President Barack Obama

It was like a return from the dead today at Ben Gurion Airport’s Terminal 1. Ever since it was replaced by a newer terminal a decade ago, it has been a graveyard of abandoned conveyor belts, gaps where vending machines used to be, and check-in desks for a couple of budget airlines that can’t afford the main passenger-check facilities. But this morning it leaped back in to life as the HQ for the first part of Barack Obama’s Israel visit.

Press and security officials started arriving at 6am Israel time, ahead of his landing at 12.25 p.m. All 1,000 of them passed through Terminal 1 for repeated security checks, ready to board buses to an especially constructed outdoor stadium next to the landing spot for Air Force One.

In the stadium, as soon as they saw the sun shining staff pulled the rainproof plastic wrapping off the newly laid red carpet. But it’s going to take more than good weather to make this trip a success, given the troubled background between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Obama and Bibi have met nine times in the past, and it’s never particularly easy, given the very different ideological orientations of the two, personal discord, and deep divisions on the issue of settlements. But this time is even more complicated, given the fact that only on Monday, Bibi inaugurated his new government which is a far from Obamaphile line-up.

As the visit progresses, here at Forward.com we’ll be taking a look at where some members of the new ministerial team stand on the issues that are important to Obama, the first being Israel’s new Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon, who will be accompanying him to see an Iron Dome battery shortly after he lands.


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'Shvartze' and Why We Should Know Better

By Arthur Waskow

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Rabbi Arthur Waskow writes about how important it is for Jews to avoid insulting others with racial epithets like ‘shvartze.’ After all, we were once the target of such abuse and discrimination in the Old Country.

One day, as I was writing at my desk, the phone rang. From Washington, it was the leader of a Muslim civil-rights organization on the line.

“Rabbi, one of the big airlines just threw a number of imams off the plane because some passengers thought they looked suspicious,” he told me. “We would like to do a ‘pray-in’ at their airport gates here at National Airport in Washington. Can you come?”

Groan. I’m busy. Way behind. Long trip to Washington and back. I open my mouth to say “No.”

But before I can speak, a memory rushes into my head.

I was about seven years old, in 1940 or thereabouts. My grandmother, who had been born in Poland and had come to the United States in 1906 after Cossacks came marauding into her home town and her parents insisted she leave for America, came back from the kosher butcher a few blocks away.

She was half crying but shining through her tears.

“I was in line at the butcher shop, and some of the other women started talking contemptuously about the ‘shvartzes,’” or black people, she related. She told that she interrupted the fellow shoppers: “That’s the way they talked about us in Europe. This is America, and we must not talk like that!”

My grandmother was right, I thought. This is America, and we must not act like that.

I turned back to the Muslim leader on the telephone.

“Yes, of course,” I told him. “When and where do you want me?”

Rabbi Arthur Waskow founded and directs The Shalom Center.


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Obvious Flaw of Times 'Third Intifada' Story

By Jane Eisner

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Ali Gharib’s rather long tirade against my recent blog post in the Forward on Ben Ehrenreich’s New York Times magazine story deserves a brief response.

The story about Nabi Saleh was framed in the context of a Palestinian village testing “the limits of unarmed resistance.” Those were the words Times’ editors placed on the cover of the Sunday magazine (yeah, I’m old-fashioned, and still read in print) and it was the concept that undergirded Ehrenreich’s story. I questioned that because, to me, regularly throwing stones at other people is not unarmed resistance. Stone-throwers may be at a disadvantage when faced with guns and tanks, but they can still inflict harm and still commit acts of violence.

If the villagers of Nabi Saleh were able to stand up to the Israeli occupation without arms, and if Palestinians across the West Bank were to do the same, I believe that they would change the conversation entirely, and shame both Israeli and Palestinian leaders into a real negotiated settlement. But that’s not what is happening.

Evidently what really galled Gharib, though, was the way I questioned Ehrenreich’s credibility because of a strongly anti-Zionist opinion piece he published a few years ago. Gharib said I should say why. I thought that was obvious.

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Yeshiva Rabbi and the Jewish N-Word

By Erika Davis

courtesy of Erika Davis
Erika Davis, right, counts herself lucky not to have heard the N-word as a child, even in the Deep South.

I am lucky to have never heard the word nigger used towards me. As a black woman in the United States this is rare, even rarer since I spent the majority of my childhood summers in rural North Carolina with my mother’s family.

I have vivid memories of riding in the back of my uncle’s pickup truck, red dirt kicking up in clouds behind us. I also remember my cousins telling us to get down in areas where the Klan was known to harass black people. Having no real context for what this meant I followed suit and made my body small and flat against on the floor of the truck’s bed. This happened a few times in my summers in the south, but still I had no experience with the word other than in books.

The first time I heard the N-word used in anger was on a New York subway coming out of the mouth of an Asian teenager a few months ago. He and his mother boarded the crowded train at Canal Street just as an older black man pushed his way onto the train and into the seat the mother was about to take. I was equally annoyed that this man rudely took the seat of an elderly passenger. But I quickly noticed by his erratic gestures that he was mentally ill.

Boiling with anger, the teenager called the man a “dog” and a “nigger.” The man became visibly aggravated and began rocking himself as the teen continued to spew racial insults. The train grew silent and all of the fellow passengers — many of us black and a few Jews in kippahs — looked on in disbelief. None of us said a word. It was their problem not ours.

I’m not sure what I could’ve done to calm the angry teenager down on the subway, but I often wonder if he would’ve stopped his insults if I’d said something. It is for this reason of “saying something” that I often write about the intersections of race and racism that I hear, read about and experience within the Jewish community. It is my hope that raising awareness will lead to change.

That’s why I have written about the word “shvartze.

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New Israeli Defense Chief: Tough-talking Hardliner

By J.J. Goldberg

Ynet.co.il, the news site associated with Yediot Ahronot, has a profile of incoming Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (known since his youth by the nickname “Boogy”). It’s important reading, so I’ve translated it below.

Here’s the background that’s not in the profile: Born Moshe Smilansky in 1950, raised in suburban Haifa, he was active in the Noar Oved ve-Lomed youth movement and was in a garin (settlement group) named Garin Yaalon (from which he took his name), which joined with a sister garin from American Habonim to rebuild Kibbutz Grofit near Eilat. He returned to the army after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and rose through the ranks. Commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, became chief of Military Intelligence in 1995 and chief of Central Command, in charge of the West Bank, in 1998. During this period he underwent a famous conversion from left- to right-wing, claiming publicly that he now realized the Palestinians had no intention of making peace. In 2002 he became chief of staff, serving three years after Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz denied him the customary fourth-year extension due to his outspoken opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan. It’s worth noting that of the 18 living ex-chiefs of the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet, he is the only one who opposes a two-state solution. - JJG

Political Hawk and Loose Tongue

Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon called his General Staff colleagues “snakes” and the organizations on the left “a virus.” He believes that evacuating settlements is “perverse” and that the IDF can attack any nuclear installation in Iran. Over the years Yaalon’s statements have reflected a determined, activist security philosophy. In his gunsights: leftists, Turks and of course Ehud Barak.

By Roy Mandel, Ynet 3/18/13

In April 2012 Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon absorbed criticism at home when he dared to declare that he was Benjamin Netanyahu’s heir and would one day run for the leadership of the Likud and the country. The prime minister, as we learned from the negotiations with Yair Lapid, does not like politicians who openly declare that the house on Balfour Street is the object of their dreams. But ever so quietly, under the radar and almost without opposition, the former chief of staff has found himself in an excellent launching pad for the fulfillment of his vision, now that he has been named defense minister in Israel’s 33rd government. The man who declared on the day he was demobilized from the IDF that he was careful to keep his boots on at General Staff headquarters because of all the snakes will soon enter much taller shoes and march in them to his new office, which is located in the same General Staff compound, the Kiryah.

Moshe Yaalon, ID no. 2057989, is a kibbutznik who returned to active duty after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a retired chief of staff, the commander of the IDF during the second half of the second intifada and a person who ended his military service in grating tones when his tenure was not extended on the eve of the Gaza disengagement. Now, after a term as minister for strategic affairs, he is returning to run the entire system.

The man who led a hawkish line at the General Staff and in the government, who believed that Yasser Arafat had never deviated from his goal of destroying the state of Israel, who insisted that the paradigm of two states for two peoples was unworkable—will now navigate the security establishment, effectively oversee millions of Palestinians and deal with Israel’s security and strategic challenges. Many on the dovish side of the political and military map fear that his line will drag Israel into diplomatic and security complications.

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Real Non-Violence Doesn't Look Like This

By Jane Eisner

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My husband has long argued that if the Palestinians really wanted a state side-by-side with Israel, all they would have to do is adopt a nationwide, non-violent strategy. Peaceful demonstrations up and down the West Bank, continuously, steadfastly, would prick the world’s consciousness and give Israeli and Palestinian leaders no choice but to negotiate and do what they needed to do to end the occupation and secure Israel’s democratic future.

My husband may be engaging in wishful thinking, but it’s a powerful and attractive idea. The same thought may have occurred to whoever commissioned, edited and published Ben Ehrenreich’s cover story in the Sunday New York Times, lauding the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh and what the Times called its “path of unarmed resistance.”

Just a couple of problems. Ehrenreich is hardly a disinterested observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And Nabi Saleh’s protests are hardly non-violent.

We have Chemi Shalev, based in New York for Haaretz, to credit for pointing out Ehrenreich’s recent troubling opinions about Israel. As Shalev wrote in his Sunday column:

“In 2009, Ehrenreich published a direct attack on Zionism in the Los Angeles Times entitled ‘Zionism is the Problem’. In the article, Ehrenreich castigates not only the ‘deplorable conditions in which Palestinians live and die in Gaza and the West Bank’ but ‘the Zionist tenets on which the state was founded’ as well.”

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The Messages in Obama's Israel Itinerary

By Nathan Guttman

President Obama’s itinerary for his upcoming visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank contains messages both direct and subtle. And one of the subtler messages seems to be embedded in his decision to visit the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit in Jerusalem.

In case the intended message passes you by: When President Obama spoke to the Arab world in his June 2009 Cairo speech, Jewish leaders watched warily, and then issued their complaints. Most had to do with the fact that Obama chose to give his first major international speech in Egypt and did not make a stop in Jerusalem while in the region. Others took issue with the President’s strong language against Israel’s settlement activity, and some were bothered by what they saw as Obama’s attempt to ignore Jewish historical ties to the Holy Land.

This argument was based on Obama’s reference, in his speech, to U.S.-Israel ties being cultural and historical in nature and on Obama’s recognition “that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”

By invoking the Holocaust as the root rationale for Israel’s creation, argued Obama’s critics, the president ignored the claims of the Jewish people to the land as something going back to the time of Abraham. Some even claimed that by not mentioning this historical tie, Obama was, in fact, supporting the anti-Zionist narrative, which views the Jews as outsiders who came to Palestine after being chased out of Europe only to make the Palestinians pay for the crimes of the Nazis.

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Yeshiva Rabbi's Shades of Bigotry

By Larry Cohler-Esses

Yeshiva University

The lede, as we call it in the journalism biz, sat there silently on the computer screen, like an IED waiting to explode:

“… or as he put it, ‘a shvartze,’” it said at the end.

The phrase reported accurately the word Rabbi Hershel Schachter used to describe the reason he resisted the idea of rabbis reporting cases of child sexual abuse within the Jewish community to the police. It was not, he said, that reporting such cases — after some rabbis judge them genuine — violated Talmudic strictures against turning a Jew over to secular authorities. But even if the accused Jew is guilty, said Schachter, he could end up in jail with a black man — “a shvartze.”

Forward staff reporter Paul Berger and I knew what kind of outrage would ensue once Forward web editor Dave Goldiner pressed the button sending this story out into the Internet. And we’d already been arguing over the wording of that lede sentence for something like an hour. It was getting late. We both had to go home. But as the Forward’s news editor, I knew that in its compression of the full quotation given in the story, this lede was missing something, and I couldn’t put my finger on what.

As a college student in the early 1970’s, I had lived for a year in Mississippi working for civil rights organizations. I learned a lot about racism then. I knew it came in many different flavors, even there. While arguing with Paul, I thought about how a few years before I arrived in Jackson, there were gargantuan battles there over the integration of municipal swimming pools. This was the fear of black people as contagion.

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Bibi's Final Snub

By Nathan Jeffay

Getty Images

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu party announced Friday afternoon Israel-time that the coalition negotiations are complete, and the government will be presented to President Shimon Peres on Saturday night. Expect a swearing in on Monday (just don’t ask what Sara Netanyahu will be wearing for this swearing in).

There was a last-minute hitch last-night which saw Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett going of in a huff over Netanyahu’s refusal to make him and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid vice prime ministers. But today, Bennett backed down, and the path is clear for the new government.

The debacle over the vice prime ministers title is indicative of just how much the final phase of the negotiations turned out to be about one thing — honor — and not about policies or ideals. The vice prime ministers is basically honorific, and means very little in day-to-day political life. But it’s become a staple of the Israeli scene.

Netanyahu doesn’t seeme to have had any desire to dispense with the vice PM roles before the election. After all, why would it matter to the invincible Bibi at a time when nobody could even conceive of anyone else as PM? But after his battering at the ballot box, and loss of face in coalition negotiations faced with Yesh Atid and Jewish Home’s stubborn refusal to do as he said and sit with Haredim, he was on the look out for ways to claw back some respect and impression of control. And so, after a chaotic coalition negotiation, he got in one final snub for Bennett, and in true Bibi style ensured that he got the last word.


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Mazel Tov, Pope Francis. Or Is It John?

By David Gutterman

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Pope Francis I

I admit I was a tad nervous today walking into the Congregation Sons of Israel, in Cherry Hill, N.J. Though a warm and nurturing synagogue and community — this being a Torah reading day — I was wondering whether the gabai, the coordinator, would call me up with the formulaic “Ya’amod, haRav Francis.

You see, I made a bold, albeit an elegantly crafted and prima facie cogent, argument that the name of Pope Benedict XVI’s successor would be John.

But was I really wrong? The eponym, the inspiration for Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s new papal name, was Francis of Assisi. Francis was born circa 1181, at a time when his father, a successful textile merchant, was traveling to France for business. It was his mother, Pica, who baptized the newborn. And what name was this child given?

What was his official, authentic baptized name? Giovanni.

You don’t have to be an expert in the field of onomastics — the origins and meanings of names — to be able to deduce that Giovanni in English is John. (Both, by the way, come from the Hebrew yochanan, meaning, “G-d has been gracious.”) It was his father who, upon his return from France, nicknamed the child, Francesco.

So I ask you, fair- and open-minded readers: Was I really wrong?

So far, one cannot help but be impressed with the new pontiff. His first words were gracious and touching. He offered a prayer for his predecessor, Benedict XVI. When he asked the assembled in the square to share a prayer and blessing for him, I thought that was an extraordinary gesture of humility. And so we wish the new pontiff well. Indeed, we share a blessing of mazel tov.

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Israel's Big Losers — Not Just Ultra-Orthodox

By Nathan Jeffay

Dizzying Fall: It’s not just the Haredim that got shafted. Kadima boss Shaul Mofaz capped a dizzying fall from grace by being left out of the cabinet.

The Forward looks today at some of the winners in Israel’s new coalition deal, but who are the losers?

Apart from the obvious answer which is the Haredi parties, who were left out in the cold, Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz is one of the biggest losers. His party has just two seats in the new Knesset, and it is difficult bit to conclude that it will disappear in the next elections — if it survives that long.

Mofaz could have negotiated a coalition spot with a half-decent ministry to salvage at least his own political prospects if not those of his party. But instead of cutting a deal with Prime Minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu he tried to align himself with Jewish Home and Yesh Atid when they were in their hard-bargaining phase. So he got snubbed by Bibi.

Also punished by Bibi was Reuven Rivlin, who has been critical of what he regards as his autocratic and pushy leadership style. Rivlin, who belongs to Likud, has questioned Bibi’s commitment to democratic principles. He has been replaced as Knesset speaker by Yuli Edelstein and left without a ministry — despite the fact that he won seventh spot in Likud’s primaries back in November.

A third loser is Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar, who had the humiliation of having his ministry, Education, given away to Yesh Atid. Though many educationalists regard him as a reactionary, he was keen to stay in the Education Ministry, where he claims he is making positive changes. He may become Interior Minister, though it is currently unclear if he will receive a ministerial appointment at all.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: ultra-orthodox, shaul mofaz, kadima, coalition, benjamin netanyahu

Danger Is Everywhere, Even the Waldorf

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

A LETTER FROM THE WALDORF-ASTORIA

josh nathan-kazis

For defenders of Israel, danger is everywhere — even in New York City, even on Park Avenue, even once they’ve passed a metal detector on the second story of the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

Such was the conceit of the organizers of the Friends of the IDF gala, who posted two additional layers of security between the cocktail room and the ballroom at their March 12 event.

The dubious security precautions didn’t end there.

As the 1,400 attendees settled down in front of their $1,000 plates of chicken and short ribs, an announcer warned that “reasons of security” precluded the taking of photos. Those reasons were not further explained.

Later, Fox News contributor and event MC Monica Crowley repeated the warning in more stark terms: “Do not even think about uploading anything, anywhere, at any time,” she threatened, as a live satellite feed from what was said to be a secure Israeli intelligence facility in Jerusalem appeared on screens throughout the ballroom. On the screen, a bald, bespectacled soldier described how his unit eavesdrops on Palestinian phone calls, though this practice was hardly a state secret.

As he spoke, a young female Arabic expert walked on-screen next to the intelligence officer. “You’re so adorable,” Crowley told her.

The black tie affair had started nearly two hours earlier with an extended cocktail hour. There were lamb chops and sushi and turkey slices and wine, and a waiter circulating with smoked salmon. Young uniformed Israeli officers worked the crowd, taking pictures with donors in suits and gowns.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: waldorf, israel defense force, gala, friends of the idf

Behind Coalition Standoff: Likud MKs Can't Face Loss

By J.J. Goldberg

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Benjamin Netanyahu

With Prime Minister Netanyahu just days away from his final deadline to install a new government or lose the option, observers on all sides have their own ways of explaining what’s holding things up. Most of them are correct, but there’s a larger truth that overshadow them all: The Likud hasn’t internalized the fact that it lost the last election, and can’t retain all the goodies in the next coalition that it enjoyed in the last one.

The other explanations are worth reviewing, as they provide the background for Bibi’s current dilemma. One theory is that Bibi stalled until the last minute—that is, until Friday, March 8—before beginning earnest negotiations, in hopes of breaking up the Yair Lapid-Naftali Bennett alliance, bypassing Lapid and bringing in his old ultra-Orthodox Shas allies into a coalition alongside Bennett and Tzipi Livni. Another theory is that Lapid and his chief negotiator, businessman and onetime Ariel Sharon aide Uri Shani, are dragging the current, bare-knuckled negotiations until a minute before midnight—that would be Thursday, March 14—in order to force Bibi to accept their demands.

The bottom line, though, is that the second-tier Likud leaders on Bibi’s bench haven’t yet internalized the fact that they lost the January 22 election and can’t keep what they had in the last election. Accordingly, they’re making it impossible for Bibi to give Lapid what he earned from the voters. Unfortunately for them, Lapid isn’t ready to fold. He’s already given up too much.

Lapid’s reasoning is that he effectively leads a bloc of 33 seats in the 120-member Knesset, including his own Yesh Atid party (19 seats), Bennett’s Jewish Home (12) and Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima (2). That makes his bloc larger than Bibi’s 31-seat Likud-Beiteinu bloc (which is not a party but rather an alliance of Likud, with 20, and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, with 11). Following that logic, Lapid spent days insisting on receiving two of the four senior ministries in the new government: foreign affairs for himself and finance for Bennett. Bibi would keep the prime ministry for himself and the defense ministry for his number 2 (more on that later).

Bibi couldn’t do that, ostensibly because he had promised to keep the foreign ministry open for Lieberman, who had to resign to face trial on corruption charges but is hoping to return after an acquittal or misdemeanor conviction. In fact, keeping promises has never been Netanyahu’s signature issue, but he had two other, more compelling considerations:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ze'ev Elkin, Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, Yariv Levin, Yair Lapid, Yael German, Ultra-Orthodox, Tzipi Livni, Shas, Shaul Mofaz, Nissan Slomianski, National Religious Party, Naftali Bennett, Modern Orthodox, Miri Regev, Meir Cohen, Likud-Beiteinu, Jewish Home, Kadima, Avigdor Lieberman, Danny Danon, Bibi Netanyahu

Talking Back to Anti-Muslim Subway Ads

By Michael Kaminer

Akiva Freidlin’s maternal grandparents came from Warsaw and most of their family was killed in the Holocaust.

So when the 30-year-old non-profit staffer saw subway posters “demonizing” Muslims last December, his “historical memory” kicked in. Alongside an image of the blazing Twin Towers, the ads attributed this quote to the Koran: “Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers.”

Freidlin’s response to the controversial anti-Islam campaign from the Jewish-led American Freedom Defense Initiative: “Talk Back to Hate”, an advertising effort aimed at countering AFDI’s “craven and cynical” message.

The inaugural Talk Back to Hate ad is a stylized apple bearing the inscription, “Hatred Is Easy. It Is Love That Requires True Strength and Courage.” The line came from Dorothy Zink, a volunteer from Huntington Beach, Calif.

Entirely crowdfunded, Freidlin’s campaign has raised more than $10,000 from as far as Dubai. Much of the funding paid for the first ten “Talk Back to Hate” ads in high-traffic New York City subway stations like Times Square and Rockefeller Center (for ad locations, see here). The ads will appear throughout New York until March 24.

Freidlin’s now raising money for another flight. “Don’t let hate get the last word,” implores the Talk Back to Hate site. “If you chip in, we’ll buy our own ads — and run them in as many stations as we can.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: subway, pamela geller, american freedom defense initiative, jihad, akiva freidlin, ad

Ms. Quinn Runs for Mayor

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Christine Quinn

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced she was running for mayor Sunday, making official what had been all but acknowledged for months.

In a whistle-stop tour of the city and a new campaign video, Quinn touted her middle-class roots and a campaign agenda that emphasizes housing and education.

If she wins, Quinn would be the first female and also the first gay person to occupy Gracie Mansion.

Quinn has long been considered a frontrunners in the 2013 mayoral race. Yet she faces stiff competition from a large field of Democratic and Republican rivals, many of whom have made strong plays for Jewish votes in a field without a major Jewish candidate.

As City Council speaker, Quinn has opposed a measure that would force New York businesses to offer paid sick leave to their employees. Jewish groups backed the bill, including a long list of prominent New York City rabbis. Many of Quinn’s Democratic opponents support the paid sick leave measure.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: michael bloomberg, mayor, jewish, christine quinn, bill thompson, bill diblasio, new york



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