Shiite Muslim fighters take part in a last combat training before joining the government forces to fight Islamic State jihadists / Getty Images
And so another beheading of another American journalist — this time “one of us,” as today’s Forward editorial has reminded us. “One of us” meaning an American Jew, and one whose family is active in their South Florida community, and one who took Israeli citizenship.
But also one of us, a journalist — as my friend Ilene Prusher, one of Steven Sotloff’s former editors, shared in Haaretz today.
Sotloff’s execution is a triple crime. Of course, it is first and foremost a crime against Sotloff himself, brutally executed in what experts have said is likely a gruesome and excruciating way to die.
Second, it is an act of war against the United States, meant either to scare us or, perhaps, goad us into an all-out war in Iraq and Syria. “I’m back, Obama,” the executioner announces.
Third, it is a crime against everything we in the West hold dear: the safety of journalists and other non-combatants, the rules of war, and nothing less than civilization in general.
So, what now? Everyone, including the Forward, is demanding “a plan to deal with ISIS,” as if such a plan can be devised. But everyone knowledgeable about the situation (again, including the Forward editors) knows that this is a complex morass, partly of our own making, that cannot be cleanly addressed. Limited air strikes, of course — those have already prevented a genocide. Tactical support here and there. But what, more broadly, can be done?
John Beattie / Youtube
Will voters in a small Canadian town overlook the hate-filled past of a town-council candidate?
John Beattie is betting on it.
Beattie, the 73-year-old founder of the Canadian Nazi Party, has thrown his hat in the ring for elected office in Minden, an Ontario hamlet of 5,600 better known for tidy country cottages than political controversy.
Despite the fact that Beattie now disavows his white-supremacist leanings — “it’s a hobby,” he told the Toronto Sun — he’s left a long and toxic trail through Canada’s most populous province.
Fifty years ago, Beattie “was infamous for leading Nazi rallies in Toronto that descended into violence,” according to the Toronto Star. In 1966, “hundreds of police officers had to guard the 24-year-old at [arena] Allan Gardens as he shouted anti-Semitic slogans at a mob of 1,500 protesters.”
And after founding the Canadian Nazi Party in 1965, Beattie “was jailed for six months for placing swastikas on the lawns of prominent Jewish residents,” the Star reported. A turncoat after that, he spied on right-wing groups for Canada’s intelligence service in 1972.
A journalist films as rescue workers remove the body of a Palestinian man from the rubble of his home in Gaza / Getty Images
The American media covers Israel more than almost any other pressing geopolitical concern. The disproportionate coverage was continually pointed out (as it had been in the past) as reporters crawled in and out of Gaza, writing far more lines on the subject than nearly any other. Some have claimed that the coverage of the most recent conflict was too pro-Palestinian, some that it’s too pro-Israel. Explanations for the newsroom’s Israel-Palestine obsession have been given by both sides, ranging from the practical to the vaguely conspiratorial.
Still, to my mind, the primary reason for the enthusiastic coverage, is, as is so often the case, explained by capitalism. Americans see Israel-Palestine and the conflict that rages therein as a place of religious fantasy, racial tensions, and the repository of American time, money and resources. In other words, Israel sells.
A few months ago I was traveling back to Israel from the United States, and around three o’clock in the morning I found myself in a minivan to Jerusalem seated next to a CNN producer for Wolf Blitzer. Somewhere between a demonstration of her Tinder profile and stories about the Queen of Jordan, she explained to me that being a producer involves making the news appealing and digestible for a mass audience. The aim is single-minded: to take home the top ratings, ultimately winning more money for owners, stockholders and advertisers. Thus, American news broadcasters, especially when it comes to cable news, are out to make a buck. This is a longstanding problem, and it has massive implications for how international conflicts are covered. So why does Israel get covered more? It’s a sure-fire moneymaker.
Barbra Streisand, Elvis Presley and Harry Houdini. It’s no illusion; they are all bound together in this week’s quiz. Good luck getting out of this one!
Still shows Israeli woman with a sign that reads “We left for Berlin.” / Shmemel
“Berlin” is a very catchy tune, half-way between pop and hip-hop, performed by Israeli band Shmemel — and anyone who sees Israel as the Jewish homeland and/or can hum “Jerusalem of Gold” should probably give it a good hard listen.
The video features Israeli after Israeli in various international locales singing and dancing with signs in their hands:
“I left for Amsterdam.”
“I left for New York.”
“I left for Tokyo.”
“I left for Berlin.”
The full, annotated translation below is meant to hep English speakers appreciate all the nationalistic references being subverted in the lyrics. I went more for accuracy than for poetry — it sounds better, of course, in Hebrew.
Full disclosure: My Jerusalemite husband and I left for Chicago in 1998.
Settlements haven’t been in the news of late — and not simply because war pushed them off the media’s radar. They haven’t been in the news because since the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli yeshiva students back in June, there hasn’t been much settlement news to report.
True, already-approved settlement construction continued unabated (and there’s plenty of it). And settlers established several new illegal outposts. And tenders were awarded for new construction in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. So clearly we’re not in the midst of a full-fledged settlement freeze. However, with respect to both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, there is undoubtedly a semi-freeze: no major new settlement plans promoted through planning committees, very few new approvals granted and then for only a tiny number of units, and no new tenders issued.
This is nothing like the 10-month “moratorium” Netanyahu grudgingly negotiated with then-U.S. envoy George Mitchell, during which all sorts of new settlement planning and approvals continued apace, and previously-approved construction went ahead without restraint. And it’s nothing like the settlement “restraint” that Netanyahu disingenuously promised Secretary of State John Kerry in the context of the last U.S.-backed peace effort, which translated to a huge spike in settlement approvals and announcements.
To be clear, a lull in new settlement approvals and announcements under Netanyahu isn’t unprecedented. However, coming on the heels of the collapse of even the pretense of peace talks and Israel’s condemnation of Abbas for forming a reconciliation government approved by Hamas, one would have expected Netanyahu to open the floodgates. Instead, he adopted a policy that, if adopted months earlier, could have given peace talks a chance to survive and even succeed. Why? The most likely explanation is that Netanyahu calculated that at a time when he wanted the world to see the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the most black-and-white terms possible — a peace-seeking democratic nation fighting an irredeemably evil terrorist enemy — he was better off keeping settlements out of the news. And so he did.
In his press conference yesterday on the Gaza operation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was open and honest about at least one thing: the outcome. He noted that it was “too early” to tell if long-term quiet had been achieved. This was inevitable, given the vague nature of “quiet” as a goal for a military campaign. Indeed, it is too early to tell for sure what long-term effects the war will have on Israel, on Hamas, on the Palestinian Authority, and on the prospects for peace talks.
But four things stand out for the immediate future. First, it is clear that Israel has won the war. Much of Hamas’s military capabilities have been degraded or used up, its regional allies are few and far between (and themselves bereft of much regional influence), and none of its efforts to achieve a tactical victory over Israel succeeded. In addition, the United States and many European governments are now talking about demilitarizing Gaza (essentially, disarming Hamas and the smaller jihadist groups) as part of a longer-term process to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All of these tilt the balance of power in Israel’s favor.
Second, there is no military solution to the “Hamas problem” or, for that matter, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more broadly. But there will be a return to the status quo ante if a political framework is not established as part of the talks that follow from the ceasefire. In this sense, the seeds for Hamas’s rejuvenation have been planted alongside the seeds of its taming. If Israel can work constructively with the Palestinian Authority and the international community, it can bring the PA/Fatah to Gaza to improve the lives of Palestinians there while also tying Hamas down by not letting it rebuild its military capacity or its authority. However, for this work, Israel will have to accept that Hamas isn’t only here to stay, but must be accepted as a political actor — one that has a role to play in the political process.
“The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood at first,” explained Chava Karen Knox, an African-American woman who converted to Judaism a couple of years ago.
Knox is referring to the Jewish volunteers who work on a weekly basis in Eden Gardens, a community-run urban farming project in East Detroit.
The project is a collaboration between the local African-American neighborhood association and the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.
Jews journey from their homes in suburbs or more affluent parts of the city to weed rows of leafy collard greens and stake tomato plants. Some say they get far more back than they give in sweat.
“Working in the garden is a place where I often feel the most Jewish. Let my sweat pants be my tefillin,” said Noah Purcell who coordinates the volunteers on part of the synagogue.
Eden Gardens has two ambitious goals: The garden provides much needed nutrition to a low-income neighborhood, where healthy food options are absent. But the project also aims to build a bridge between two estranged communities: Jews who grew up in Michigan’s affluent suburbs after their families joined the ‘white flight’ in the 1950s and African-Americans who live in the city of Detroit, which has been struggling for decades with record numbers of unemployment and foreclosure.
The vegetables in Eden Gardens are soon ready to be harvested. But the trust between Jews and African-Americans is growing at a much slower pace.
“Trust is being built by us showing up every week,” Purcell said. “As we continue to show that we’re not here for a quick photo and a pat on the back. It will continue time to build trust.”
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice march in New York / JFREJ
Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality. My Shabbat was, as it was for many other Jews, a time of reflection and restoration, a time to remember (zakhor) and a time to observe (shamor).
I remembered the innocents whose lives were snatched away for the crime of being people of color in the United States. I remembered my obligation as a Jewish person to see myself as someone who came out of Egypt, who knows the suffering of someone made to feel a stranger in a strange land, and who lives by the creed that all people are made b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God.
I observed this Shabbat as a time of reflection, contemplation, and community. Rabbi Scott Perlo of the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue argued that social justice has a place in Shabbat, that “[Shabbat] is about seeing. It is about understanding. It is about contemplating. It is about generating compassion. It is about seeing our small place in the big picture. It is about recognizing how we fit, before we fix.”
As I marched, I listened to the people who are daily, directly affected by discriminatory and abusive policing. I dug down into myself for compassion and empathy and at the same time reflected on how radically different our situations are. I marched as part of a Jewish community who thinks this difference is fundamentally wrong, who abhors that people in this country are treated as criminals because of their identity rather than their actions.
Overweight rabbis, 100-year-old sex therapists and Nazi spaghetti. Oh – and Amy Winehouse. Time for you to dive into this week’s Jewish News Quiz!
Henk Zanoli is second from right in this 1942 family photo / Yad Vashem
It was at the insistence of Rivka Ben-Pazi that Henk Zanoli was deemed a “righteous gentile” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s state Holocaust museum. Ben-Pazi wrote a book about the Jewish boy that Zanoli saved, Elchanan Hameiri, and eventually got the museum to honor the Dutchman for hiding 11-year-old Hameiri from the Nazis.
Ben-Pazi, Hameiri’s niece, said she strongly disagrees with Zanoli’s decision to return the medal after six members of Zanoli’s extended family, the Ziadahs, were killed in Gaza last month. Now, she has written a letter to Zanoli explaining why she thinks he was wrong. She shared it with the Forward:
Dear Mr. Henk Zanoli,
It was with great sorrow that I heard about the tragedy that befell your relatives in Gaza. I would like to express my sincere condolences to you and your family.
You, your mother, and your brothers saved my uncle, Elchanan Pinto, from the hands of the Nazis. You hid him in your home at a risk to your own lives and cared for him with devotion and love. My family and I are forever grateful to you and your entire family. The Zanoli family is a symbol and an example of charitable, moral people who are guided by their faith without fear, despite danger to themselves.
I was informed that as a result of the tragedy that befell your family in Gaza, you have chosen to return the Righteous Among the Nations medal that you received from Yad Vashem in 2011 in recognition of the courageous and humane actions of your mother, your brothers and yourself during the Holocaust.
I can understand the anguish you must be feeling which led you to reject the award that you received from the State of Israel, yet I would like to tell you our story, the story of the Jewish nation living in the State of Israel, as it has unfolded over the past several weeks.
Americans have endured endless hours of Gaza media coverage in the past month, from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer crawling through Hamas tunnels to live reports of rocket launches and airstrikes.
In between, spokespersons for both sides flooded the airways, each trying to formulate an argument able of convincing American viewers, already overwhelmed by news from the Middle East, to support his or her side.
But what message really works with the American audience?
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Meagan Buren, both experts in public opinion and formerly with The Israel Project, set out to find a real-time answer to this question.
As war raged in Gaza, they gathered focus groups representing different swaths of the American public. The participants, gathered in a conference room on a weekday evening, went through several hours of hearing almost every possible message about the conflict. Then, in discussions and by using a tiny dial that collected their responses, members of the focus groups rated the level of empathy they felt toward messages conveyed by Israeli, Palestinian and American officials in TV interviews. Taken together, the input from these handheld dials produced a graph depicting exactly which message worked well and which fell flat. When the line climbed beyond the halfway marker, it was a sign that the message was working well; when it dipped below, it was clearly time to abandon this line of argument.
As an Israeli who lives in New York, I know that I can sometimes be unfair. On the one hand, I often get defensive when people criticize Israel. On the other, I can also get upset when people seem to blindly support Israel. Criticizing Israel is allowed, and even important for Israel’s wellbeing, but there are productive and unproductive ways to do it. In that spirit, here are eight ground rules that I believe can help improve the Israel debate.
Many conversations about Israel deteriorate into fights over whether or not the country even has the right to exist. This is not a productive question. Everyone has the right to exist all over the world, and that should never be doubted. The real question is whether Israel has the right to continue pursuing some of its policies.
The Israeli government is a coalition that is expected in some way to represent at least a majority of Israelis. That does not mean that all Israelis agree with the actions of Israel’s government. And just as there is a diversity of opinions in Israel, we should also expect and accept that Jews in the Diaspora will have a diversity of opinions.
Conversations about Israel tend to drag out when you’re simultaneously trying to prove your loyalty to, and criticize, Israel. Save yourself the trouble. Supporting Israel’s government is not the only way to show you’re a good Jew or patriotic Israeli. Criticizing can also be a form of caring.
Cultural Leadership program participants in Crown Heights, Brooklyn
(JTA) — On the evening of Aug. 12, after two consecutive nights of clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., Mikal Smith rose to address a community meeting in the neighboring city of Florissant. In front of Governor Jay Nixon, Obama administration officials and community leaders, Smith spoke off the cuff about his own experiences as a young black man — the constant need to be aware of his surroundings, for example, and the indignity of being questioned by the police for no apparent reason. At the end of his speech, Smith, an incoming freshman at Saint Louis University, received a standing ovation.
Smith, 18, is a recent alumnus of Cultural Leadership, a St. Louis-area organization that educates high school students about discrimination and social injustice through an intensive, year-long study of Jewish and African-American history and culture.
The program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, teaches high school students how to work across racial and cultural boundaries to address social inequalities. With Ferguson now a flashpoint in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, Cultural Leadership’s curriculum is being played out in the national headlines. Meanwhile its alumni are on the front lines in organizing a response.
“Our students are trained to be what we call ‘troublemakers of the very best kind,’” said Holly Ingraham, the executive director of Cultural Leadership. “They have been taking action, standing up and speaking out before, during and after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson.”
Aaron Johnson, a Cultural Leadership alumnus from its class of 2010, is organizing a training on voter registration in St. Louis Aug. 23 and will then lead a registration drive in Ferguson. Mary Blair, a member of the incoming class of 32 students, organized a walk-out and silent protest at Metro High School in St. Louis that made the local news. Other alumni, who now number in the hundreds, have acted as runners for the community dialogue portion of the meeting in Florissant.
“I don’t think I would be the person I am today had I not experienced Cultural Leadership,” said Johnson, who is an organizer for Grassroots Organizing in Columbia, Mo., and who is working toward a Masters in Public Policy at the University of Missouri. “It was fundamental for becoming a social activist in this way.”
Cultural Leadership recruits many of its students through local houses of worship, as well as through schools and youth groups. The organization has close ties with St. Louis-area rabbis, ministers and school administrators, and those leaders often identify talented students and connect them with Cultural Leadership.
The program was founded by Karen Kalish, and was modeled after a similar initiative, Operation Understanding, in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
(JTA) — With the new school year nearly upon us, Jewish educational leaders are scrambling to prepare their teachers to discuss this summer’s Gaza War. The most pressing challenge is to design age-appropriate conversations: At which grade level might classroom discussions include potentially frightening topics, such as the wounding of non-combatants, kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets? And how should teachers address the tough issues of civilian casualties in Gaza and the flagrant hostility toward Jews and Israel that has erupted in many parts of the world?
These questions are difficult enough, but are especially freighted with anxiety because they hold the potential to revive stereotypes of Israel that North American Jewish schools have been trying to counter. When Israel was forced to wage three major wars during its first quarter century, its image as an embattled enclave overshadowed everything else about its existence.
In recent decades, though, Jewish schools have endeavored to present a more rounded picture of Israeli life. Without denying the existential challenges facing the Jewish state, teachers have drawn attention to the rich tapestry of Israeli culture — its diverse inhabitants, culinary treats and eclectic music, for example — and, of course, its technological wizardry. School trips to Israel have highlighted the country’s natural beauty and its enjoyable recreational scene, even while exploring the strong connections between the land and the Jewish religion. Educators are understandably loath to resurrect the earlier imagery that simplistically portrayed Israel as a country permanently on war footing.
Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri / Getty Images
After weeks upon weeks of news reports that detail what seemed to be never-ending violence in Israel and Gaza, compounded by accounts of a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and Canada and even across the United States, it would have been so simple to sit back over this past week-and-a-half and breath a sigh of relief as the headlines began to broadcast violence outside of the Jewish community.
Though I live about six miles from the city of Ferguson, MO, I am not kept awake at night with dread of the violence that might reach my home. I do not live under a curfew or find my days and nights punctuated by the sound of sirens. Like so many others in the world, I saw the images of Ferguson police in riot gear and individuals looting stores and throwing Molotov cocktails through a television screen, not through my front windows. While those in the rest of the country demand dialogue around race relations in America, governmental responses to violence, and allegations of police misconduct, I could choose the luxury of continuing on in my day-to-day life with no adjustments made for the tensions and fears in my own backyard.
Silence is a luxury, but it is not an option.
David Menachem Gordon / Facebook
David Menachem Gordon, the IDF soldier from Ohio who was found dead on Tuesday, left a record explaining his journey from budding American journalist to Israeli army recruit.
The 21-year-old’s personal blog, “Shields of David,” together with his writings available elsewhere online, offers a glimpse of an articulate young man who identified his worst fears and decided to fight them head-on rather than be paralyzed by them.
This was a boy who wrote publicly about “the scattered scars that sexual abuse left on his Soul” for the Huffington Post, and encouraged other survivors to come forward. “Those eight years of secrecy were horrific,” Gordon wrote. “If you are a victim of any type of abuse, wherever you are, I beg you for your own sake: Reach out! Secrets don’t get better with age so don’t keep them boiling inside any longer.”
This was a boy who unabashedly posted John Mayer songs to his personal Facebook page, along with messages like:
This was a boy who wept when, on a student trip to Poland, a group of locals outside his tour bus raised their arms in a Hitler salute.
Mayor Bloomberg, Robin Williams and Leonard Nimoy are all together in this week’s news quiz – something that probably never happened in real life. But I suppose it might have.
The Jewish media has been awash with words of admiration for Leonard Fein, who died August 14. They come from those who mourn the passing of a person who embodies his name, a lion who roars. Their tributes rightly reflect upon his fire for social justice, his eloquence and his willingness to put his passion to work by creating real, living institutions which have done no less than feed the hungry (Mazon), pursue true justice in the Middle East (Breira, New Israel Fund, American Friends of Peace Now) and stoke the minds of American Jews to think beyond boring and worn out platitudes (Moment). The tributes note his provocative pieces on the opinion page of the Forward and the decades of lectures at synagogues and on panels of symposia, conferences, and other kinds of gatherings where he chided American Jews to live up to their tradition’s prophetic faith. He is being remembered for going to the Reform movement in 1971 and reminding it that, “Reform is a Verb.”
These tributes are being written by people who knew and loved the mature Leibel whom they encountered as adults. My tribute begins long before he strode onto the national stage to shake up American Jewry and decades prior to my becoming a professor of American Jewish History at New York University. Rather it starts in 1958, when Leibel Fein charismatically led the hundred or so youngsters, myself included, who spent that summer at Midwest (now Tavor) Camp Habonim in Three Rivers, Michigan.
From the moment I got off the bus, on my first day of my first summer at that camp, I fell under his sway. I considered each day of that month to be an opportunity to listen, talk to, and learn from him; while he lead singing, sparked a discussion, or instigated some kuntz (stunt), many of which seem in retrospective fairly outrageous and inappropriate, Leibel dominated my consciousness and helped me see a different way of being a Jew, an American, and in fact a human being than I had imagined. (He as rosh, head of the camp, gave the green light to a program waking children in middle of the night, telling them to get dressed and come into the meeting hall, and informing them that Israel had been invaded and occupied by Arab armies. I imagine the program organizers wanted to know how the children would react to the news that Egyptian and Jordanian forces were marching through Tel Aviv.)
The first thing I noticed when my shared taxi dropped me off in Jerusalem earlier this month were the flags. In the Beit Hakerem neighborhood where I was staying — a mostly secular Jewish area in southwest Jerusalem — balconies were strung with large Israeli flags and rows of miniature ones. Car antennas were adorned with pennants and ribbons. Even the neighborhood light rail station was donning blue and white, with flags flapping from the lampposts. This latter show of patriotism on public property was new, my host told me, since Operation Protective Edge began.
Jewish Israelis have supported the war with Gaza in overwhelming numbers. A much-cited Israeli Democracy Institute poll from late July said that more than 90% of them believed that the war is “just.” (Since the poll, truce talks have begun, and there was a major pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv a few days ago.)
The wall-to-wall blue and white stood in sharp contrast to colorful New York City, from which I had just arrived. There, the Gaza war was hotly disputed in the streets and in the press. The American Jewish community had largely rallied around Israel, saying the country has a right to defend itself against rocket fire from Hamas. But a small and vocal minority of Jews staged high-profile events to protest Israel’s campaign and the large civilian death toll. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were roiling with the debate. The images of death and wreckage from Gaza were inescapable.