An ultra-Orthodox Jew watches the bombardment of Gaza from southern Israel / Getty Images
(JTA) — Most Israelis blame the war in Gaza squarely on Hamas, though there are plenty who fault the Israeli government for not pursuing peace more aggressively.
In the haredi Orthodox community, however, where practically everything is ascribed to the omnipresent hand of God in one form or another, the true cause of Israel’s troubles is seen as something else: sin, with the troubles Israel’s punishment.
Which sin? Take your pick.
Palestinians carry a boy following an Israeli military strike on the Gaza beach / Getty Images
In the current outburst of violence, perhaps the only pliable and docile actor is Israel’s center-left. Politically speaking, opposition leader Isaac Herzog might as well be cowering in a shelter. He toes Prime Minister Netanyahu’s line, supporting both the airstrikes and the ground invasion. True, he popped up to demand an exit strategy from the government, but he did so just as Hamas was rejecting a cease-fire — rendering his quibbles about an exit strategy weak and irrelevant. Centrist Minister of Finance Yair Lapid is even more accommodating, loosening the purse-strings for an indefinite war.
The trouble is that acquiescing to periodic escalations in Gaza makes mincemeat of the mainstream left’s supposed stance on the conflict. It’s a strategic disaster.
L.A. native Max Steinberg, killed in combat during fighting with Gaza / Courtesy of Steinberg Family
I’ve gone on the record about my ambivalence about Birthright, having argued that it actually discouraged a connection to Israel for Jews like me due to the clear bias of its agenda. Should I have been offered a more complex portrait of the country, I might have better understood what is really at stake and why I should care. Instead, like so many other Jews of my generation, I decided to let it be someone else’s problem.
Birthright is hardly perfect. It is absolutely one-sided and all too easy to see through for the more critically-minded, or maybe just less drunk, people on the bus. But let’s get one thing straight: it is not a cult.
In her Slate story on Los Angeles native Max Steinberg, who moved to Israel, joined the IDF and then sadly passed away in combat this past week at the age of 24, Allison Benedikt implies as much, suggesting that Birthright should take part of the blame for Steinberg’s death.
Benedikt says that joining the IDF “seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission” and suspects that Steinberg fell into this trap. (As Haviv Rettig Gur points out at the Times of Israel, this hypothesis doesn’t hold water when we look at the actual numbers.) She recounts how Steinberg had initially resisted going on the trip, but ended up feeling deeply moved once he got to the country and experienced his life-changing epiphany that he wanted to make aliyah at the gravesite of an American soldier who died fighting for the country. Does this make him brainwashed? Benedikt seems to think so.
Palestinians celebrate after Hamas’ armed wing said it had captured an Israeli soldier / Getty Images
Immediately after a Hamas military spokesperson announced the capture of an Israeli soldier this Sunday, the streets of Gaza, Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem erupted in fireworks and celebration. Israel confirmed this week that the body of, Oron Shaul, a soldier presumably killed when an armored vehicle was hit by an anti-tank missile, went missing.
If Hamas has the body they are likely to demand the release of prisoners in exchange for the body. In 2008, Israel released five Lebanese prisoners, including notorious murderer Samir Kuntar, for the corpses of two Israeli soldiers.
But rewarding terrorists by releasing prisoners in exchange for the body will only embolden Hamas and incentivize more kidnapping attempts and lead to more terrorism.
Thane Rosenbaum / Getty Images
So. Can we talk about Thane Rosenbaum?
You probably already know that Thane Rosenbaum — who likes to talk about being a human rights professor — wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing that the Gazan noncombatants are fair game in this war, because “they” voted for Hamas and “invite [Hamas members] to dinner with blood on their hands.”
Setting aside the fact that Hamas (being awful) hasn’t held elections since 2006 — and also setting aside the fact that Gaza’s overwhelmingly young population includes hundreds of thousands of people who couldn’t have voted for Hamas had they wanted to — there are of course numerous problems with this analysis, starting with the Geneva Conventions.
It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune.
I guess on the whole Israel thing, I used to be kind of pareve. Not so much on the country’s scenic landscape or its culture, which I loved and deeply appreciated: its vibrancy and sheer chutzpah; its gorgeous men who looked nothing like the pimply boys in my hometown of Flatbush, whether they were in uniform or not; its falafel. But on the whole ardent Zionist devotion to the Jewish homeland that characterized the majority of my Israeli relatives, both sabras and American olim, I hesitated to commit similarly.
I admit that this was largely due to my rebellious nature, which had me instinctively buck any familial trend. I relished my role as the token liberal in an almost-uniformly Republican family. I liked looking beyond my immediate circle and empathizing with people who weren’t necessarily Jewish, white, or upper-middle class. And when I made friends at age 16 with a left-leaning socialist who saw clearly the persecution of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel, I only grew more daring in my critiques of the Jewish state. The discussions with my father grew more heated.
“Tova, one of these days you’re going to grow up and realize that Israel is all the Jews have,” he said to me, banging the table for emphasis. I sneered at his naiveté. This was America, for God’s sake. It was 2004. Being a Jew was more than acceptable: It was cool. And I continued to routinely call Israel’s policies into question, because I was a good little liberal.
But, alarmingly, my father seems to have been right. Everywhere I look, there’s news of anti-Israel demonstrations that regularly devolve into openly anti-Jewish sentiment, weakening the position — which I once held — that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are separate entities. The line between the two is growing blurrier, and fast. When angry protesters shout “Death to the Jews!” at “anti-Israel” rallies in Antwerp, Berlin and London, and Jews are trapped in a Paris synagogue and firebombed by an angry mob, how can you honestly posit that anti-Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism?
A Palestinian gestures as flames rise from the site of an Israeli air strike in Gaza / Getty Images
I’m done apologizing for Israel.
It’s tiring to apologize over and over. Instead, I’ve decided to come clean: I am a progressive American rabbi who leans left pretty hard. I’ve been engaged, as a US faith leader, in work to reform gun laws, extend LGBT rights around the world, grant refuge to illegal immigrants, protect women’s reproductive choice, and more. Paint me blue.
So, when it comes to Israel, many of those with whom I engage in social reform expect me to react to Israel’s military actions in Gaza with scorn and criticism. To be fair, there are times when I do. My Zionism demands I speak out on behalf of the Israel that remains, in my world-view, the most ambitious project-in-process of the Jewish People. Whereas Israel’s 66 short years have witnessed strength and resilience that have redefined Jewish identity in profound ways, the global Jewish family remains interwoven with Israel. If you question this, scan the last week’s news for anti-Israel rallies in Antwerp, Los Angeles, Paris, Boston, and elsewhere that featured widespread anti-Semitic chants and violence against Jews.
So I’m a progressive US faith leader. I’m a Zionist in Berkeley, CA. I’m a Jew in the world, worried for my family. So here is my response to those criticizing Israel this week.
When some of us hear “Gaza,” we picture bombs or rockets or rubble.
What if, instead, we pictured an adorable little girl in a pink hat? Or a grandfather playing with his grandchild? Or young men handing out ice cream cones?
A new short film by Palestinian filmmaker Hadeel Assali is an ingenious exercise in juxtaposition. The audio: a journalist’s call for help in the embattled Gaza neighborhood of Shejaia last weekend. The visuals: footage of smiling and laughing Palestinians in Gaza last summer.
Instead of stirring us to voyeurism by showing dead brown bodies in the streets, this video stirs us to empathy by showing us the bodies of people who live and laugh and love. It’s a refreshing departure from the ceaseless televised carnage — which, by the way, has a disturbing race element to it: Can you imagine how people would react if dozens of dead white kids were shown on screen that way? And if those dead white kids were then used as the punchline for, say, an Onion article?
Rather than dehumanizing Palestinian bodies, this video shows their basic humanity, reminding us what’s at stake in Gaza.
John Kerry, Henry Kissinger and Natlie Portman? It must be this week’s Jewish News Quiz! Or perhaps it’s the hummus talking.
After a year on the job, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, 43, has enjoyed mostly positive reviews from Angelenos and from observers of City Hall, who have credited his low-key governance style with helping reform the daily operations of the city’s government as well as with moving his “back to basics” initiatives forward in sectors such as job creation, traffic and public safety.
Though critics say that Garcetti has not been bold enough in creating and pursuing his agenda, the mayor can point to victories in securing lowered salaries and benefits for union workers of the Department of Water and Power, as well as to gaining the support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for his ambitious $1 billion proposal to redevelop the L.A. River and its surrounding areas.
The city’s first elected Jewish mayor, Garcetti has also been actively involved with creating more cooperation between L.A. and Israel, most recently in the form of the Los Angeles/Eilat Innovation and Cooperation Task Force, which aims to help Israeli and Southern California-based businesses, universities and not-for-profits work together to solve issues related to water resources, solar energy and other environmental technologies.
In an interview held at his office in Downtown Los Angeles Garcetti and the Forward’s Noah Smith discussed issues related to the Jewish and Israeli communities.
Noah Smith: In light of recent proposals to boycott and/or divest from Israel, on University of California campuses and throughout the country, what are some of the specific ways in which the City of Los Angeles benefits from its cooperation with the State of Israel and its businesses and universities?
Eric Garcetti: Because we have similar land and similar challenges of drought, of energy independence, of economic development, I think we feel a real natural affinity with Israel. With the coast line and mountains, you go to Israel and you feel like you’re in California and vice versa, which I think is why so many Israelis probably settle here so comfortably and there are such close ties. This is not only an important Jewish city, it has now become an important Israeli-American city, I think one of the great cities of Israeli expats in the world.
Israeli armored personnel carrier rolls at army deployment near Israel’s border with Gaza / Getty Images
In his piece “Israel’s Moral Army?” in these pages, Michael Mitchell impressively deconstructs the Israel Defense Force’s conduct during its current military operation in Gaza. Using a variety of pedagogical criteria (international law, Jewish tradition, ethical theory) he ultimately challenges Israel’s claim to being a “moral army” — or, to use a title often wielded by its politicians and supporters, “the most moral army in the world.”
Mitchell notes that while there is “evidence that Israel is taking significant measures to minimize civilian deaths,” it is also “quite possible that innocent people have been killed by IDF decisions to strike a target when it knew that doing so could put civilians at risk.”
If the IDF aspires to be a “moral army,” especially one that affirms both the universal dignity of each human life and the respect for the human embodiment of the divine image particular to the Jewish ethical tradition, it is in these instances that its conduct falls from regrettable to wrong.
Given the overwhelming support for “Operation Protective Edge” throughout Israel, the American political world and the American Jewish establishment, it is courageous for Mitchell, a Tel Aviv resident, to openly label the IDF’s actions in Gaza as “ethically wrong.” But beyond his relatively narrow analysis of the ethics of warfare, there are larger issues he leaves crucially unexamined.
Most notably, while Mitchell invokes the principles of self-defense in wartime, he ignores the broader question of whether or not this war itself is, as Israel claims, an actual war of self-defense. While Israeli and American politicians — and Israel-supporters the world over — have been defending Israel’s actions in Gaza by invoking Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas rocket fire, the timeline of events leading up to Israel’s military assault on Gaza suggests otherwise.
The French Quarter in New Orleans.
We spent the last night of our road trip through the Jewish South in New Orleans — not really part of the South at all. The Big Easy is more like the northern extension of the Caribbean. And its Jewish life reflects that.
The pattern we saw here differed from the patterns noted on our previous stops. The first Jews arrived earlier, when Louisiana was still a French colony. These were Sephardis, often crypto-Jews, escaping religious persecution in Europe and looking to do business in the New World. But even here, they didn’t advertise their religion: intermarriage and assimilation were the norm.
The first recognized synagogue in New Orleans, Shangarai Chasset (Gates of Mercy), was founded in 1827, after the Louisiana Purchase. As in the rest of the South, organized Jewish communal life developed towards the 1840s, with the arrival of German Jewish merchants. This meant fewer concessions to assimilated Jews as Ashkenazi rituals supplanted Sephardi customs; by 1841, intermarried men were barred from Shangarai Chasset membership.
As two Sephardis, we went on a quest to find the original home of Shangarai Chasset. We arrived at the corner of St. Louis and North Rampart Street. It was Friday evening, and had the shul still been there we would have been just in time for Shabbat services. Unfortunately, only a plaque now marks the spot. A Catholic church with voodoo ties looms across the street, as does New Orleans’ oldest cemetery, nicknamed the “City of the Dead.”
“Shalom!” – “Salaam!” – “Peace!”
So started the evening, “Fasting together, Praying for Peace” at Temple Sinai in Roslyn, New York, this past Tuesday evening. Jews, Muslims and Christian neighbors gathered together to talk, learn, pray and break the fast together. The Jewish minor fast day of the 17th of Tammuz coincided with the eighteenth day of the fast of Ramadan. The groups came together, under the auspices of the Long Island Board of Rabbis and the Islamic Center of Long Island, partnering with the Long Island Council of Churches, the Long Island Muslim Society, the Sid Jacobson JCC and the American Muslims and Jews in Dialogue. It was a long list of those who wanted contact and the beginnings of healing.
The idea of a day of fasting together, or in the language of civil protest, “a hunger strike for peace” was first proposed by Eliaz Cohen, an Israeli poet. Cohen wrote of his aspirations for the day.
For both traditions – this is a day designated for soul-searching, an opportunity for people to take responsibility, for self repair and for self and communal purification and for repentance. This is an attempt to direct the consciousness of both peoples to this day as a peak day in which each man and woman in their home and in their communities will be invited to take part, to fast in solidarity with the suffering, violence and pain of self and others, to ask how to end the cycle of bloodshed and draw a horizon of hope and vision. Afternoon gatherings and classes will be held between the two communities – sharing stories, studying and praying together, and by the appearance of the stars the people gathered will share an “iftar” – breaking the fast with a delicious meal.
When I arrived at the program with my husband, I only recognized one other individual. And although I felt alone in certain ways, I also felt part of something much larger. Both Jews and Muslims had responded to Cohen’s call and similar groups were meeting in Israel, in Philadelphia, in Oakland, California and in Palo Alto. People met in Texas and in London and in Kuwait.
Graham Spanier, the Jewish president of Penn State ousted during the school’s sexual abuse scandal, opened up about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his immigrant father in a new profile in the New York Times Magazine by Mike Sokolove.
Spanier, whose 16-year tenure at Penn State ended abruptly in November 2011, is awaiting trial on charges he covered up the crimes of Jerry Sandusky, the disgraced Penn State football coach convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing boys.
Spanier has denied any criminal wrongdoing and is fighting to have the charges dismissed.
In his interview with the Times, Spanier described in detail the childhood beatings administered by his father, a Jewish escapee of Nazi-era Germany.
Spanier said that his father sometimes hit him with his hands or fists, “but 90 percent of the time, it was what’s called a strapping. He would undo his belt, double it up and would strap you with it. You’d be cowering in the corner, and he would continue doing that until I assume he got tired. He just couldn’t do it anymore […] Back in the ‘50s, someone like my father would be described as a strict disciplinarian. Nowadays, you’d be in jail for what he did.”
Spanier’s childhood experience, the Times’ Sokolove wrote, “so weirdly evokes the troubles that have found him later in life. He is a victim of child abuse who is charged with tolerating and abetting the same.”
Palestinians rush wounded boy to safety after Israeli mortar killed four boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach. Getty Images
(Haaretz) — You probably know Israel’s army as the Israel Defense Forces, but the IDF has a more controversial name for itself: the “moral army.” For those unused to this rhetoric, hearing it at a time when Israel is engaged in cross-border fighting can spark everything from confusion to outrage – especially in the midst of horrifying reports of civilian casualties in Gaza from Operation Protective Edge.
There are a number of reasons to be wary of the title of “moral army” (it normalizes violence and discourages accountability, for example), but the most important issue is whether the IDF’s conduct upholds its commitments.
The IDF claims that it aspires to respect secular and Jewish ethics in its operations, but especially when evaluated under the principle of “pikuakh nefesh” - the Biblical insistence that we prioritize the preservation of human life above all else - the IDF doesn’t seem to be meeting the Jewish ethical standard for a “moral army.”
In Gaza today, the ethical question the “moral army” must answer is this: When the IDF has good reason to believe there are civilians in a targeted area – or can even see them – should it strike anyway?
In the scope of this month’s fighting, the crux of how we evaluate the IDF’s claim to be a “moral army” lies in what its behavior reveals about its approach to this dilemma. From the information that’s publicly available, the verdict seems less horrifying than Israel’s staunchest opponents would have it, but far more damning than Israel’s rhetoric – or its ostensible moral aspirations – admits.
German demonstrators join Europe-wide round of protests against Israel’s attack on Gaza. Unlike other groups, Jews are blamed for the actions of Israel — and are coming under attack worldwide. Getty Images.
(Reuters) — As the death toll in Gaza rises, so does anger against Israel - and sometimes, by extension, Jews - in Europe and elsewhere.
We should mark how unique this is. There’s a very large, and often very rich, Russian community in London – and there are no attacks on Russians or their mansions, restaurants or churches because of the Russian seizure of Crimea and sponsorship of uprisings in eastern Ukraine.
People from Sri Lanka didn’t live in fear when their government was pounding the Tamil Tigers into submission, with thousands of deaths. Chinese visitors are undisturbed by reaction to their government’s suppression of dissent in Tibet and its jailing of dissidents. And quite right, too. Who knows what Russians, Sri Lankans or Chinese abroad think about their governments’ actions?
Jews, by contrast, are held responsible by large numbers of non-Jews in Western democratic countries for Israeli actions. That’s all Jews, whatever their views on the Israeli response to the rockets fired on Israel from Gaza. Sometimes, the reaction goes much further than disapproval.
Over this past weekend, a synagogue in Paris was firebombed, and there were a couple of small demonstrations featuring signs saying “Death to Jews.” The attack further inflamed tensions that were already running high since before the latest violence in Gaza. In May, four people died when a gunman opened fire in a Jewish museum in Brussels. Many of those interviewed said they were not surprised, given the rise in the level of verbal and some physical violence against Belgian Jews in the past decade.
France, home to half a million Jewish citizens, has seen rising rates of emigration to Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom. So pronounced has this become that two senior French ministers, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, authored an article contending that violence and incidents against Jews in France had been falling – and that, while recent incidents were wholly unacceptable, the fear that prompts the uprooting of families and businesses was unwarranted. Tensions, they wrote, especially emanating from immigrants and new citizens from North Africa, rose after the financial crisis of 2008 but were being actively combatted.
The indictment today of three suspects for the revenge killing of the Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir has put this crime, knocked off the news agenda by the Hamas-Israel violence, back in people’s minds.
As I have watched the reaction over the last 12 days to the news that Khdeir does appear to have lost his life because of Jewish extremism, I am reminded again and again of the day I spent in the West Bank Palestinian village of Yasuf back in 2009.
I remember the charred smell inside the mosque, the signs if damage, the bewilderment of villagers. This was the first “price tag” attack on a place of worship. It shocked and mobilized Jewish Israelis, and the expressions of outrage - while nobody died of sustained injuries - have echoes in the expressions heard after the announcement last Sunday that the suspects in Khdeir ’s murder are Jewish.
There was never another Yasuf. There were attacks on places of worship, but the reaction the first time if happened was never replicated.
Perhaps the shock was a one-off feeling, and while the sadness each time is the same we are more ready to deal with it. But I can’t help thinking that we have become, to a degree, desensitised to attacks on places of worship.
The challenges facing Israelis at this difficult time are many. My hope is that, in the unfortunate but not unlikely event that a similar crime to the abduction-murder takes place, it will be met with the same straight of feeling that this one evoked.
Malkie Schwartz stands in front of the Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Mississippi.
Turn off Highway I-55 N at Frontage Road in Jackson, Mississippi and you’ll come across a non-descript squat brown building. Inside is a trove of Jewish learning.
The Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) delivers rabbinic services, educational programs and cultural events to small Jewish communities spread across 13 states. Their community engagement director is Malkie Schwartz, whom New Yorkers know as the founder of Footsteps, a nonprofit organization that supports Jews seeking to transition from ultra-Orthodoxy into the mainstream. Schwartz left Crown Heights’ Chabad Lubavitch community in 2000. She moved down south five years ago.
Anne Cohen and Sigal Samuel caught up with Schwartz in Jackson, the latest stop on their road trip through the Jewish South.
Anne Cohen and Sigal Samuel: What made you decide to move to the South and work at ISJL?
Malkie Schwartz: [ISJL President and CEO] Macy Hart and I would meet frequently at events put on by mutual donors and Jewish organizations. When I said that Footsteps was getting a new executive director, Macy had this idea to help me transition — and it included coming here and helping to start the community engagement department, now five years old. The idea was that we would build a department that recognizes the Jewish legacy of social justice in the South.
Palestinians rush wounded boy to safety after Israeli mortar killed four boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach. Getty Images
(JTA) — Israel’s fight in the PR war just got that much harder.
Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge last week, journalists and commentators — Jon Stewart included — have criticized Israel for the lopsided death count in the conflict.
And an errant airstrike today next to a journalists’ hotel has led to a fresh wave of criticism against Israel. This afternoon, Israel shelled a Gaza beach, killing four children who were playing soccer there. A second shell hit as survivors were running for help.
The Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said the shells were aimed at a Hamas operative.
But because the shells hit outside a hotel housing journalists covering the conflict, pictures, video and first-person accounts have flooded the Internet, showing smoke, the dead children and a scene of chaos.
“The attack — and its heartrending aftermath –- was witnessed by NBC News,” wrote NBC reporters Ayman Mohyeldin and Paul Ziad Nassar. “Moments earlier, the boys were playing soccer with journalists on the beach.”
Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense shield — along with early-warning sirens and ubiquitous bomb shelters — has kept its fatalities down to one. Palestinians in Gaza, however, have suffered more than 200 deaths, most of them civilians. Israel has blamed Hamas for these deaths, as it fires rockets from densely populated areas and stores weapons caches under civilian buildings.
Courtesy of namesonwall.tumblr
We read names. We say names out loud, and hold their souls on our breath. We record names with ink and carve them into stone; we raise them in national squares and on city streets.
When lives are lost, those left behind do what they can to ensure that the names – at least the names – are not forgotten.
Someone in Israel has taken it upon themselves to perform this sacred duty for people very recently dead, not in stone or ink, but spray paint; the letters are Hebrew, but the names are not.
Dunya Mahdi Hamad, who was 16 when she was killed on Tuesday, July 8. Elsewhere her name has been spelled Dunia Mehdi Hamad, or Denil. There’s also Mohammed Ayman Ashour, aged 15. Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra, aged 4. Hana Malakiyeh, aged 27, and her son, Mohammed Malakiyeh, one and a half years old at the time of his death.
There are more names, and they are scrawled on the walls of the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, a place that has seen its own residents scurrying for bomb shelters, and picking through the remains of shattered homes. Beersheva is not safe from this war, and neither are Israel’s citizens. Dror Hanin was 37 years old when he was killed by flying shrapnel on Tuesday; his wife and children are left to mourn, just as surely as are the families of Gaza’s dead.
Yet whoever is roaming Beersheva’s streets with a can of black paint knows that even as Israel’s Jews will remember Hanin’s name, most will try never to know the names of the over 200 Palestinians killed so far in Israel’s most recent attack on the Gaza Strip. Just as we tried to never know their names in 2012. And 2008/2009. And 2006. And every other time in between.