Forward Thinking

Why Two Chief Rabbis Is Better Than One

By Nathan Jeffay

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Blau speaks at a Jewish school in Berlin. / Getty Images

When you package it right, even a plot against pluralism can be made to seem progressive.

In Israel, government ministers spanning from left to right have advanced legislation that will end the country’s dual Chief Rabbinate, under which there are two religious figureheads, one Sephardi and one Ashkenazi. Instead, if the Knesset approves the bill, there will be one.

“In a state where there is only one President, one Supreme Court president, one Prime Minister and one chief of general staff, there is no way to justify the doubling of the position of chief rabbi,” reasoned Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

Smooth talking, but this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The President, Supreme Court president, Prime Minister and army chief have set political, judicial and defense jobs. Religious leaders are an entirely different matter — they are meant to lead, inspire, and uplift. And to do that in a country where people come from a broad range of religious traditions, giving at least a nod to this by having more than one Chief Rabbi makes perfect sense. It means that at least the two main ethic groupings have a figure on the top level of the state rabbinate.

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Tattoos Try — and Fail — To Reclaim the Swastika

By Teri Zucker

A Swedish punk rocker with a swastika tattoo. / Getty Images

I’ve always wanted to visit Nashville, Tenn. On my recent trip there, I had every bit as much fun as I suspected I would. But I also saw something that made me gasp out loud.

Downtown, I stumbled upon a tattoo shop. Being a person with tattoos (controversially, a Jew with tattoos), I decided to stop in and do some pricing. Perusing the flash art wall, I saw the typical assortment of symbols, animals, sayings, suggestive cartoons, etc. Then a particular design caught my eye: an eagle’s head with a swastika inside it.

I wondered how I could actually be seeing this. I had been enjoying my trip so much, and this was casting a cloud over it. Do people actually come into the shop to get that terrible symbol inked on them? I wanted to go and say something to the shop staff members, who seemed extremely friendly, but since I was more or less a stranger in a strange land I decided it was best to keep mum.

Back home I told several people about my experience, and they were all appalled. After all, even though bigotry and hatred can happen anywhere, they definitely should not be catered to. I “liked” the company’s page on Facebook so that I could post on it to let staff and patrons know how I felt. My feeling — and hope — was that the design was due to ignorance, since the Jewish population in Nashville is not at all like New York City’s.

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Canadian Envy on Martin Luther King Day

By Mira Sucharov

Rabbi Joachim Prinz (center) confers with Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington in 1963. / Getty Images

As a Canadian Jew, I often feel a twinge of envy on Martin Luther King Day. I’m envious of larger-than-life heroes who succeed in uniting a nation around issues that are so blatantly about justice versus bigotry that almost no one can today publicly disagree. I’m envious for symbols like Rosa Parks, and for American rabbis, like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who were able to join these freedom seekers while “praying with their feet,” as Heschel famously described his act of solidarity when he marched in Selma.

Today, it seems, the issues worth fighting for when you’re a Canadian Jew who expresses her political Jewish identity largely in terms of attachment to Israel are not nearly as simple. This can make the idea of praying with one’s feet a lonely exercise. As I write this, Israel is hosting an official visit by my prime minister, the Jewish State’s best friend among a sea of leaders who are increasingly critical of Netanyahu’s policies.

Will Prime Minister Stephen Harper mention anything to Bibi, today, on Martin Luther King Day, about the hundreds of Africans whom Israel is holding in open-air prisons, in contravention of the international refugee convention to which Israel is a signatory?

Many would of course argue that separate water fountains, Jim Crow, voter suppression, and back-of-the-bus laws in pre-civil rights America have nothing to do with the current asylum-seeker quagmire in Israel. But many others would say that there lies but a short road from one to the other.

I also wonder whether Prime Minister Harper will suggest to Bibi, today, on Martin Luther King Day, that the many laws that still exist in Israel — laws that effectively discriminate between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel — should be changed.

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'Zoopla' Joins Gibberish Feud Over 'Quenelle'

By Eddy Portnoy

The latest in the Nicolas Anelka-Deuidonné-quenelle affair is that another apparently nonsense word has been inserted into the fray.

“Zoopla,” the English real estate website and jersey sponsor of West Bromwich Albion has decided to end their sponsorship of the Midlands soccer team due to the failure of management to act on the matter of player Nicholas Anelka having performed a neo-fascist quenelle salute in their December 28th game against West Ham United.

Inaction appears to be the order of the day, as the English Football Association (FA) was should have already made a decision regarding Nicholas Anelka’s performance of the quenelle, allegedly an inverted sieg heil salute created by the French player’s friend, anti-Semitic comedian and political provocateur, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. While the FA tends to take its sweet time in adjudicating allegations of racism - it took them two months to determine that Chelsea captain John Terry had called Queen’s Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand a “black c**t.”

The sport’s anti-racist watchdog, Kick It Out, has also complained about the sluggishness of the FA’s response and Zoopla, one of whose owners is Jewish, has tried to force the issue by first saying that Anelka should not be allowed to wear a Zoopla-branded jersey, and later announced they would not be renewing their contract with West Brom.

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News Quiz: Zach Braff's New Movie and Downton Abbey

By Lenore Skenazy

From Zach Braff to Downton Abbey to rye bread and herring. It’s not as big a leap as you might think!

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11 Reasons To Love — or Hate — SodaStream

By Elisheva Goldberg

REASONS TO LOVE:

1 — It’s delicious. What Jew doesn’t like seltzer?

2 — It’s eco-friendly, saving massive amounts of otherwise virtually indestructible plastic waste.

3 — It could feasibly pay for itself.

4 — According to MSNBC, it’s the largest job provider for local Palestinian workers.

5 — It comes in invigorating Energy Drink, tipsy Happy Hour Cocktail and relaxing Diet Tea flavors.

REASONS TO HATE:

6 — SodaStream’s factory is located in the settlement Mishor Adumim, in a strategic bloc of settlements that — if completed — would make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

7 — It has fraudulently used the “made in Israel” label on its products when, in fact, they were made in the occupied Palestinian territories.

8 — It is also arguable that it doesn’t pay for itself unless you “regularly buy name brand can soda and pay full cost for it.”

9 — According to WhoProfits, it was guilty of worker exploitation until the workers’ rights organization Kav LaOved got involved. It also takes advantage of Israeli policies that make it cheaper for it to be across the Green Line, in occupied Palestinian territory.

10 — SodaStream is located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under complete civil and military control of the IDF. That means Palestinian entrepreneurs, business owners, and industries face significant barriers that force them to turn to the settlements for employment.

11 — It also comes in Kool-Aid. And they want you to drink it.


British Jews Angry Over Unpunished 'Quenelle'

By Liam Hoare

Nicolas Anelka, center, celebrates a goal before flashing the anti-Semitic ‘quenelle.’ / Getty Images

It has been almost three weeks since West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka celebrated scoring two goals against West Ham United by doing the quenelle, the reverse Nazi salute popularized in France by comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.

Yet Anelka remains unpunished. He continues to play, in fact. Albion’s then-head coach Keith Downing refrained from condemning him immediately after the soccer match, and in the days that followed the club itself held back as well. Albion instead released a clumsy statement, which acknowledged that the quenelle “has caused offense in some quarters.” Albion “asked Nicolas not to perform the gesture again.”

But for the Jewish community — including the owner of the club’s shirt sponsor Zoopla — in the United Kingdom, it is the lack of response from the Football Association (FA) and anti-racism campaign organizations like Kick It Out that has disappointed and caused upset.

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ADL's One-State Double Standard

By Sigal Samuel

Chile’s El Palestino soccer club recently raised the ire of pro-Israel groups when it decided to redesign its team jerseys, replacing the numeral one with a one-state map of Palestine. Because they show the entire map of Israel as Palestine, these jerseys effectively erase Israel, making it seem like the state doesn’t exist.

In a blog post last week, I asked how the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Anti-Defamation League can condemn these jerseys for using a one-state map, while staying mum about the fact that the Jewish National Fund does the exact same thing on its charity collection boxes. The ADL hadn’t gotten back to me by the time the post went up, but they’ve since emailed me this response so that I can update Forward readers on their stance. Here goes:

There is no comparison between the JNF blue box and the team jerseys worn by Chile’s “El Palestino” soccer club. The Chilean team’s shirts are a highly politicized form of incitement which negates Israel’s existence, while the JNF boxes have a representation of the internationally recognized country of Israel.

Huh. It’s hard to know how this explanation is supposed to defuse the idea that there’s a double standard at work in certain pro-Israel groups when it comes to one-state maps. As far as I can tell, though, three claims are being made here. Let me try to unpack them.

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Alan Webber Wants To Be Governor of New Mexico

By Michael Kaminer

In 1996, Alan Webber launched Fast Company magazine as a hybrid of “Rolling Stone and The Wall Street Journal.” The same energy hovers around his recently announced run for Governor of New Mexico. A Tweet kicked off the campaign; a few days later, Webber confirmed the run with a simple “Yeah” in a Santa Fe newspaper. But Webber’s laid-back style is grounded in heavyweight credentials. Along with his leadership roles at the Harvard Business Review and Fast Company, Webber’s authored four bestselling business books, and he’s been vocal about public policy on opinion pages. His own government experience includes multiple roles in Portland’s city government in the 1970s, and he served under the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Neil Goldschmidt later that decade. A Boston transplant who settled in New Mexico in 2003, Webber caught up with the Forward from Santa Fe about his campaign.

You sold Fast Company magazine for a record sum in 2000. Why shake things up now with a very demanding run for Governor?

We’re all called upon to make a contribution in our lives. New Mexico has so many riches and possibilities. We are one of the most culturally diverse states in America. We have the oldest state capitol in America. We have some of the most talented artists and craftspeople in America. Our land is spectacular, our climate is unsurpassed, our natural resources are bountiful. But without leadership, we’re not making life better for our people. I can’t stand idly by and watch New Mexico’s way of life be destroyed by Susana Martinez. I believe that we all should do what we can to make the world a better place. And there’s no better place to start than here at home.

You’re running as a self-proclaimed progressive Democrat. New Mexico’s wavered between Democrats and Republicans in recent years. How do you think a progressive platform will play?

Being a progressive means that I believe that everyone should get a fair chance, everyone should get an equal opportunity, everyone should play by the same rules, and everyone should have a place at the table. When people hear that those are my core values, then more often than not, they say that they share those same views. The values are more important than any label.

What kind of Jewish upbringing did you have?

My father was raised in a Conservative-Orthodox home and my mother came from a Reform home. They compromised and my brother and I were raised in a Reform home. I went to religious school in St. Louis at a Reform synagogue where the emphasis was more on Jewish history, values, and traditions than on learning Hebrew. At home we observed the Sabbath, and my father, in particular, imparted the lessons of the Torah through family discussions and regular attendance at the synagogue.

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In Jewish Italy, ‘Diaspora’ Is a Dirty Word

By Anna Momigliano

The former Jewish ghetto on the banks of the Tiber in central Rome. / Getty Images

Should Jews living in the Diaspora feel ashamed of being, well, Jews living in the Diaspora? A growing number of European Jews, it seems, believe the answer is yes. But when did we start buying into this narrative?

I’ve been asking myself this question lately because of a debate that’s going on here in Italy. It has to do with the opportunity to build a Holocaust museum. A very well known conservative pundit, Giuliano Ferrara, recently criticized the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Renzo Gattegna, who dared to protest the fact that Italy doesn’t have such a museum. Ferrara suggested Jews worry less about “the anti-Semitism of the past” and focus on more urgent issues, such as stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

What struck me most was the reaction I saw in the Italian Jewish press and online forums. A number of people sided with the right-wing commentator, claiming that building a memorial for the Holocaust would actually be inappropriate. Why? Because it would promote a Diasporic idea of Judaism!

Emanuele Segre Amar, a Jewish leader who serves as deputy chair of the Jewish community of Turin, went so far as to claim that Holocaust memorials “promote the stereotype of the Jew as victim, docile, weak, assimilated and Diasporic.”

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Rose Fostanes, Israeli X-Factor's Unlikely Winner

By Nathan Jeffay

It was one of the most moving moments I can remember in Israeli television. Last night, Israel’s most popular human export crowned the country’s most adored import.

Supermodel Bar Refaeli, whose career took off in foreign fashion centers, delivered the best imaginable news to a woman who unexpectedly found fame far from home, in Israel.

Hosting the first series of Israeli X-Factor, Refaeli informed Rose Fostanes, 47, that she had been voted the winner. Fostanes arrived in Israel four years ago to work as a caregiver and cleaner for the elderly, but found herself in a much more high-profile role as soon as she auditioned for X-Factor and captured the hearts of the nation.

If viewers were asked before the first show to describe what they thought the winner would be like, they would have never described someone like Fostanes. Not only is she non-Jewish and non-Israeli. She also hardly speaks Hebrew, is far older than the average contestant, has a far curvier figure than many women in music, and is a lesbian in a long-term relationship. It was poignant that her winning performance was “My Way,” the song popularized by Frank Sinatra.

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What York University Can Learn From Israel

By Mira Sucharov

Aerial photo of York University, Toronto, in 2010. / City of Toronto

The ongoing dilemma of accommodating religious beliefs in a liberal and multicultural society is again glaringly apparent. News reports reveal that at York University, a large, publicly-funded post-secondary institution in Toronto, a student in a sociology course requested that he be exempt from required group work. His religion forbids him from “mingling with women,” he explained.

Over the ensuing days, the dean granted the request, the professor flouted the decision (insisting that doing otherwise would make him an “accessory to sexism”), the student complied with the professor’s ruling, and the dean’s decision has since been pilloried by politicians and public commentators. In a rare show of solidarity and non-partisanship, representatives of all three of Canada’s major political parties expressed dismay over the student’s request and the university’s decision to grant it, citing Canadian values of gender equality.

The media has not disclosed the student’s name or his religion. But as an observer and analyst of Jewish affairs both in North America and in Israel, I can’t help but reflect on current challenges in the ultra-Orthodox community in North America and especially in Israel. In that light, it soon becomes apparent that amid the debates over this particular Canadian case, at least one important point is being omitted.

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Scarlett Johansson: 'No Guilt' About SodaStream

By Elisheva Goldberg

Scarlett Johansson poses for photographers on November 10, 2013, in Rome. / Getty Images

Scarlett Johansson signed on this week as the new “global ambassador” for the West Bank-based Israeli company SodaStream and will be featured in the company’s 2014 Super Bowl advertisement. For SodaStream, this deal makes sense: Johansson is remarkably sexy, eco-friendly, loves the product, and happens to be Jewish. It makes particular sense since the company’s stock recently took a hit and its image has been tarnished by the fact that its factory is located in the Mishor Adumim industrial park in Israel’s occupied territories.

But for Johansson, who last October mentioned to Harper’s Bazaar that she might be interested in a political career, this deal makes a lot less sense. In fact, it may have forced her into her first public stance on foreign policy — one that is way outside the official American consensus.

This 29-year-old actress is no stranger to politics. Johansson campaigned for Kerry in 2004 and more heavily for Obama in 2008 and 2012. She spent time boosting the youth vote in Iowa in 2008, did a short campus speaking tour, and co-hosted a fundraiser featuring pro-Obama clothing and accessories. She even appeared in the Will.I.Am song “Yes We Can” inspired by Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire primary speech. In her unpretentious 2012 DNC speech, she said that she was there to “use whatever attention” she was “fortunate enough to receive to shed the spotlight on what’s at stake for all of us.” But with SodaStream, her considerable attention-getting powers are being used for something far less admirable: to advertise for a company located in a place President Obama and Secretary Kerry and Secretary Clinton have called “illegitimate” and “an obstacle to peace” and a “cause for concern.”

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What If Ariel Sharon Had Died 8 Years Ago?

By Nathan Jeffay

If today has proven one thing, it is that time can be a healer here in Israel.

Imagine that Ariel Sharon had died the day after his stroke in 2006, instead of clinging on to life, unable to communicate. On the personal level, it would have probably been far easier for his family. But on the national level, his death would have most likely been a highly divisive affair.

The year before Sharon’s stroke, he had delivered a harsh sentence to the very same settlement that he built — he evacuated the Gaza settlements, and some in the West Bank. For settlers, this was an act of betrayal so great that some later composed hymns of mourning for recital on the Fast of Av, along with those commemorating the destruction of the Jerusalem Temples and the Holocaust.

Anger about the disengagement hasn’t subsided. In a roundabout way the fact that it happened makes the settlement movement more aggressive, more on-its-guard, and parts of it more violent (the disengagement prompted the “price tag” ethos), every year. But it isn’t synonymous with Sharon in the same way as it was in 2005/6. Years of silence on Sharon’s part have allowed even his strongest critics from the Israeli right to find something to celebrate from his life.

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Israel's Got No Business Banning Nazi Symbols

By Brent E. Sasley

A swastika symbol painted on the wall of a synagogue in Petah Tikva, Israel. / Getty Images

Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted for a bill yesterday that, if it passes three readings in the Knesset, would impose penalties on those who use the term “Nazi” as a comparison, employ Nazi symbols, or call in some way for the work the Nazis began (killing the Jews) to be finished. Those who break the law could face a 100,000 shekel fine and six months in prison. But while Nazi comparisons are abhorrent, the law itself is dangerous and anti-democratic.

The bill — a second effort after a similar bill was proposed in 2012 — has broad backing for now. It was sponsored by Likud-Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, and Hatnua, while some members in Labor have in the past expressed support. And we can easily discern worthy motives behind it. Settlers fighting forced evacuation by the state have used Nazi symbols to claim the government is as evil as Hitler. In 2011, to protest the Haredi draft, several Orthodox demonstrators dressed in uniforms that resembled concentration camp clothing, complete with yellow star. Civil dialogue is difficult under these conditions, to say nothing of the deadly atmosphere that can be created when these accusations are carried too far — for example, the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.

And yes, comparing people you disagree with to Nazis is ridiculous and immoral. There simply hasn’t been any group or regime like the Nazis, who didn’t just torture and murder millions of people, but created the most efficient systems and organizations for doing so. The Holocaust isn’t the only case of mass killing in human history, but it is unique.

Moreover, because the term is associated with such horrific and sadistic acts of violence, calling your enemies or opponents “Nazis” obscures the real issues at stake, because of the emotional reactions and overly-sensationalist assumptions the name evokes. This, in turn, makes it that much harder to construct policies to resolve the problem or conflict at hand.

But Nazi comparisons are not for the Israeli state to forbid. Doing so only serves as a restriction on what citizens can say about their country and opens the door to further limitations on their freedom of expression.

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Gary Shteyngart, Tiger Mom and the Pope

By Lenore Skenazy

Welcome to probably the only place you can find the Tiger Mom, the Modern Language Association and the Pope all hanging out together.

Watch out!

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A Portrait of Ariel Sharon

By Eli Valley

This week, all of Israel and not a few world leaders gathered to mark the passing of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Cartoonist Eli Valley offers his own unique graphic take on the much-memorialized man.


Fighting Jewish Slumlords Isn't Anti-Semitic

By Elise Goldin

Menachem Stark’s death and the media’s inflammatory response to it highlight a particular kind of anti-Semitism: the kind that can emerge as a result of the religious Jewish community’s involvement in real estate and the horrible living conditions in many of those buildings.

As a tenant organizer at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, I work alongside tenants citywide to form tenant associations and improve building conditions. I was shocked by the headlines describing Stark’s murder, but not surprised, unfortunately, by the shady business practices or lack of upkeep on the large stock of rent-stabilized buildings he was connected to in Brooklyn. That’s something I see all too often.

Through my work, I do a great deal of research to try and untangle the mess of who owns what property and who’s connected to whom in the real estate industry. And it’s not easy. Take 199 Lee Avenue, an address in the religious Jewish part of Williamsburg. It’s connected to literally hundreds and hundreds of distressed buildings. Entities with an address at 199 Lee touch all sides of any real estate deal — as owners, mortgagers, brokers — and it’s nearly impossible to connect the address to an actual person.

Stark’s death, and the resulting uproar, comes at a particularly interesting time for my coworkers and me, since we’re in the midst of planning a tenant-driven rally in Borough Park, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn. The rally is targeting a group of Jewish investors who are trying to flip two horribly distressed rent-stabilized buildings in Crown Heights. Like at 199 Lee Avenue, the investors are nameless — associated only with a P.O. Box in Borough Park that is associated with many other distressed properties in Brooklyn and Queens.

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Fiction and Farce: Democracy at the MLA

By Rachel S. Harris

Thinkstock

I would love to say that powerful argument won the day. I’d like to claim that intellect and facts persuaded the members, and whether the resolution was won or lost, its decisive outcome was a result of profound and significant reflection.

The first resolution before the Modern Language Association’s Delegate Assembly served to censure the Israeli government for preventing the free and open travel of American academics to Palestine passed, despite little but anecdotal evidence.

The removal of the term ‘arbitrary’ from the original proposal in response to critical evidence proving the procedural legitimacy of Israel’s actions left a resolution which declaimed that Israel should no longer be allowed to control its own borders. With only 142 Americans denied access to Israel out of 626,000 last year, it seems ludicrous to consider a denial rate of 0.023% prejudicial and illegal. But that didn’t stop the resolution from passing 60:53.

Unfortunately, the public farce that was the Delegate Assembly made it impossible to take any of the process seriously. United in condemnation of the MLA officers who managed the room, both those who spoke for the resolution and those who spoke against it were mainly silenced by the arbitrary application of rules of governance, which frequently left the officers huddled at the back of the stage.

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First They Came For the Humanities...

By Rachel S. Harris

Thinkstock

This year’s MLA was supposed to be discussing the crisis of affairs in the Humanities. Only a lucky few of the graduate students on the market with their freshly minted PhDs will find jobs in academia — ever.

The increasing corporatization of higher education is driving the scholarly agenda, as funders begin to dictate the scope of the university’s educational mission. Students are being pushed into ever higher debt in order to get undergraduate degrees, which further drives the expectation that only high paying jobs in business, accounting, and computing, to name but a few fields are worth their time and money.

Only those who anticipate that they will be able to carry mortgage sized debt, some for the next 25 years, can embark on advanced degrees in Law, Psychology, Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary sciences, without strong financial support from family. All that is to say, we are making education for the rich, and for those who think they’ll probably be rich. We are making it for those who don’t already carry financial burdens for their families, for the families they hope to have, and the communities they’d like to one day contribute to.

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