Writing in Tablet Magazine, Liel Liebovitz — or perhaps Tablet’s headline writer — recently asked the apparently rhetorical question “Why Talk About Israel With People Who Want It To Disappear?”
Here are five answers.
1. Because many of them and their supporters are Jews.
Hillel, the Jewish Museum, Ramaz and other organizations that have lately banned anyone who supports BDS or is otherwise insufficiently pro-Israel all have missions that involve outreach to Jews. Are some Jews simply beyond the pale? Do we give up on Jewish peoplehood when Jewish people aren’t supportive enough of Israel? Perhaps instead of swearing fealty to an ideological position, organizations that do outreach to Jews should do outreach to Jews.
2. Because talking with people who disagree with us is good.
I’m not really clear why this has to be stated, but since Liebovitz argues forcefully that it’s better not to talk to some people, I guess it does. Encountering people we disagree with is part of the process of becoming a grown-up. Thoughtful people listen to people we disagree with, and dialogue with them to see where we disagree and why. This process may not persuade anyone, but that’s not the point; the point is to be thoughtful, reasonable, and well-informed. At Hillel, in particular, this should be an obvious value, since it works in a university context. Should students not read disagreeable philosophers? Should they boycott their disagreeable peers down the dorm room hall? Oh, and saying “you can go hear this anti-Israel speaker somewhere else” is not a reply. What that says is there’s a place for the free exchange of ideas, and then there’s a little Jewish ghetto where we don’t talk of such things.
Palestinian Orthodox Christians at the 2013 Palm Sunday procession in Gaza City / Getty Images
Last week the Knesset voted to force yet another division onto the Palestinian people.
The Palestinians are already divided in a myriad of ways: There are those who live in the Diaspora and are divided there, from America’s well-fed middle class to Syria’s hungry refugee camps; there are those who live in the West Bank, and those in Gaza, each under a different kind of military occupation; there are Palestinians who live in Israel’s capital city but aren’t given Israeli citizenship, and those who live elsewhere in Israel and do have citizenship (if often of a second-class variety); there are Bedouin Palestinians who have citizenship and are even drafted to the army, but if anything, are treated even less equally than their non-nomadic Palestinian brethren; and long ago, Israel decided that those living within Israel’s borders aren’t even Palestinian: They’re Arabs. Israeli Arabs.
Last Monday, by a vote of 31-6 (out of a total 120 Members of Knesset, so one has to wonder where everyone else was), Israel’s legislative body passed a law the ultimate goal of which is, according to its sponsor, “to distinguish between Muslim and Christian Arab citizens and to heighten involvement of Christians in Israeli society.”
Ultra-Orthodox lawmaker Meir Porush at a Jerusalem polling station in 2008. / Getty Images
A boycott of West Bank settlements is a favorite subject for discussion among Palestinian activists and Western liberals alike. Surprisingly, it’s getting some ultra-Orthodox Israelis talking too.
In fact, a Haredi lawmaker has revealed that he’s coming under “tremendous pressure” to initiate a boycott of settlement enterprises. Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism is “preventing it” for the moment but said that he doesn’t know if he can keep a lid on it. “I do not know if this matter will remain under control,” he said.
Porush made the comments on the religious Kol Berama radio station and they were reported by the pro-settler news service Arutz Sheva.
So what’s the rationale behind this Haredi boycott mindset?
As the Israeli government prepares to present the Knesset with its bill to draft yeshiva students into the army, the Haredi community is seething. But even as it kicks into reactionary mode, you’ve got to wonder whether, paradoxically, this could present an opportunity for some limited advancement among Haredi women.
The Haredi media in Israel is abuzz with talk of a possible “march of the million” against the plans to get currently-exempt Haredi men into uniform and criminalize those who ignore draft orders.
The Haredi leaders who are talking about a march saw the “march of the million” during the social protests of 2011 (which was big but didn’t quite reach a million). They believe that if their community can replicate that kind of mass activism, Israeli society and the government will need to take notice.
But there’s an obvious problem. In secular society, if you have a million people, you have a million potential demonstrators. In Haredi society, a million people gives you just 500,000 potential demonstrators.
Quick, if you’re a settler-dominated government uninterested in sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinian people, what’s a good way to telegraph your position without raising a ruckus?
Well, one good way would be to turn over a sizable portion of Judaism’s holiest site to the management of a maximalist settler group — which is precisely what Israel’s government is about to do.
Haaretz reported on Monday that settlement organization Elad—City of David Foundation stands to be granted the management of the Western Wall’s southern section — not the section most people visit, but the part to the south of the rampart up to the Temple Mount itself, where the Jerusalem Archaeological Park/Davidson Center are located.
Elad is best known, perhaps, for its management of the City of David (Ir David) archeological excavations, which it has turned into a right-wing propaganda center, eliding Palestinian history in the city, ignoring findings that don’t support a Jewish-only narrative, and in the process of expanding its work, damaging (or simply claiming) the property of Palestinians living in the surrounding neighborhood, Silwan.
Benjamin Netanyahu casts Hitler mustache on Angela Merkel / Marc Israel Sellem
Ah, the hazards of light and shadow.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at a press conference today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he didn’t mean to point his finger in a way that would cast upon her face a distinctly Hitler-mustache-like shadow. But point he did — and Jerusalem Post photographer Marc Israel Sellem captured the moment in a photo that’s now gone viral.
The image has unleashed a tidal wave of laughter, praise and puns. BuzzFeed ran it under the tongue-in-cheek headline “There Is Nothing Strange About This Photo of Angela Merkel — And You’re Crazy If You Think Otherwise.” Gawker’s headline joked that “Angela Merkel Did Nazi This One Coming,” engendering a slew of comments like “Something’s not Reich here” and “Heil get you every time.” Inhabitants of the Twittersphere have been busy nominating it for “Picture of the Year,” while the photographer’s personal Facebook page has been inundated with back-slapping comments from friends (“Congratulations!” “Bravo!”).
But the photographer himself, and his employer, seem to be taking an altogether more bashful approach. Sellem initially uploaded the photo to his Facebook page, but then deleted it, according to BuzzFeed. The Jerusalem Post has said that it will not use the photo, with reporter Lahav Harkov taking care to clarify that the image did not (despite appearances) get posted to the Jerusalem Post’s Facebook page, and tweeting in quick succession:
Just want to clarify that none of the higher-ups at JPost are pushing that picture. It's not on our site and won't be in the newspaper.ampmdash; Lahav Harkov (@LahavHarkov) February 25, 2014
There’s a whiff of embarrassment and defensiveness about these remarks — and that’s probably just as it should be. Looking at this photo, you can’t help but laugh. But you also, well, kind of cringe.
Young British Jews who support the Sign on the Green Line Campaign. / YouTube
Throughout our history, young Jewish voices have played a vital role in shaping the Jewish story. Young people lead and teach other young people and take on significant leadership roles. Youth empowerment is highly valued, and it was with this feeling of empowerment that a group of 16 young British Jews — of which we are a part — stood up and asked British Jewish communal organizations to “Sign on the Green Line.”
Education is a core Jewish value, and we are simply asking for a fair and balanced education in regards to Israel. We, the members of the Sign on the Green Line Campaign, are asking for Jewish schools, synagogues, youth movements and Jewish communal organizations to only use maps that show the 1949 armistice lines. Why? Because we believe that our community is presenting us with inaccurate maps of Israel, which are ill-informing us as to the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Jewish community often worries about young Jews and their lack of Israel involvement. But how can we possibly expect young people to get involved with a country about which we do not properly teach them?
Yesterday in these pages Mira Sucharov explored the concept of qualified Diaspora Jewish citizenship in Israel. She was responding to Naftali Bennett’s floating of the idea (he called it “semi-citizenship”), but she seems open to the notion. However vague, both Bennett and Sucharov meant more than just the ability of ex-pats to vote in “homeland” elections.
Talk about dual loyalty. I cannot think of a worse idea for either Israel or Diaspora Jewish communities.
We Diaspora Jews like to think our connection with Israel is special, outside the normal bounds of host-kin country relationships that mark all other ethno-national communities. (Israeli Jews hardly think of the connection at all.) Our bond, we contend, is of an ancient people committed to a particular piece of territory by history and religion. Jews revived their old sovereignty by dint of blood, sweat and tears — including the blood, sweat and tears of Diaspora Jews who went to Mandatory Palestine and early Israel to volunteer in agricultural work, industry and war. Though the specific nature of our activities vis-à-vis Israel have changed over the years, we still see ourselves as intimately connected to the land and to its (Jewish) people.
But we aren’t special in this regard. Diaspora Armenians, Palestinians and Greeks — to name only a few — feel a similar connection to their mythological-historical homelands and kin networks. If every Diasporic community — most of which, like the Jewish Diaspora, were born in “foreign” lands — is allowed to claim citizenship and participate in the homeland’s politics, there would be no need for separate states. And again, Jews aren’t so special that only they would be considered for such status.
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish volunteer to the Israeli Army’s Nahal Haredi brigade. / Getty Images
Plans to draft ultra-Orthodox men to Israel’s army are moving ahead — complete with a surprise.
There has been lots of tough talk regarding the need for universal service, but there was a widespread expectation that the government would stop short of criminalizing yeshiva students who refuse to serve. However, yesterday a committee formatting the draft law decided that draft refusers could face jail.
This has proved intensely controversial — and not only with Haredim, who are determined that they won’t be forced into the army. That’s because it raises a question mark about how realistic it really is to get Haredim into uniform.
Supporters of Naftali Bennett celebrate in Tel Aviv in 2013. / Getty Images
When I heard that the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency were spearheading a three-day “Online Brainstorming Marathon to Plan the Future of the Jewish People,” the international crowdsourcing initiative instantly grabbed my attention.
Partly, it was because I’d heard that Israel’s Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs minister Naftali Bennett has been working with the Jewish Agency to launch a global dialogue that will, I believe, promote a healthy shift: from viewing Diaspora Jews simply as bankrollers of Israel, to seeing how Israel and the Diaspora can help each other in securing their respective and mutual identities. The “Government of Israel and World Jewry Joint Initiative,” which kicked off last November, will see the Israeli government earmark 1.4 billion towards this goal. More recently, Bennett even went so far as to float the idea of granting Diaspora Jews “semi-citizenship.”
The other reason I wanted to join the Jews around the world who have been participating in this online forum for the past three days had to do with something I’d written years ago. In a column about attending a Tel Aviv peace rally, I had puzzled over the question of whether or not participating in such protest marches was my right as a non-citizen. I suggested that perhaps we Diaspora Jews can consider ourselves quasi-citizens of Israel as we engage and wrestle with the Jewish state and its policies.
So I went sleuthing online, where I eventually found the Securing the Jewish Future discussion board. After signing in with my name and photo, I was invited to watch several minute-long, upbeat videos on topics including Israel and peoplehood, Israel on campus, Jewish engagement, experiencing life in Israel, immersive experience, and serving the global good.
Pro-Palestinians activists demonstrate in 2010 in Paris, France. / Getty Images
No. It’s not.
The Prime Minister of Israel and the Grand Poobah of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and Marching Band can say it as much and as loudly as they want. But the BDS movement is not, as Grand Poobah Malcolm Hoenlein put it yesterday, the “21st century form of 20th century anti-Semitism.” And despite what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday, when “people on the soil of Europe [talk] about the boycott of Jews,” they are not “classical anti-Semites in modern garb.”
No. Stop it.
Though I boycott the settlements, I don’t personally support BDS, for reasons that Bernard Avishai once expressed perfectly in The Nation, and I do not doubt that some members of that movement are unrepentant anti-Semites — just as some members of the Greater Israel movement are unrepentant racists and Islamophobes. Yesh ve’yesh, as we say in Hebrew. There are all kinds.
But there is simply nothing inherent to a call to boycott/divest from/sanction the modern nation state of Israel that is — inherently — an expression of (and here I quote the dictionary) “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.”
Israeli Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett / Getty Images
The Israeli minister with the Diaspora portfolio believes that “what used to work as the Israel-Diaspora relationship doesn’t work,” he told the Forward.
Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett said that Israelis need to start deferring to Diaspora Jews regarding their needs, and the needs of the Israeli-Diaspora relationship. “I live in Israel, I don’t understand the Diaspora perfectly; the Diaspora understands itself much better,” he said.
Israel has traditionally looked at the Diaspora largely as a source of funds and immigrants, but the relationship needs to be more reciprocal, he said. Bennett made his comments ahead of a global online consultation process taking place this week, in which all Jews are being invited to voice their opinions about what provision should be made for the “Jewish future.”
One of the main questions on the table will be how the Israeli government should spend a new $140 million annual budget which it is investing in programming for Diaspora communities, in addition to its existing investment in Birthright trips.
Bennett said that the objective of the funding is to deepen Jewish identity and attachment to Israel in the Diaspora, but “we don’t know how” in Israel. “The process of building a plan is going to be a collaborative process,” he said, going on to add: “The lesson is that we [Israelis] are not the smartest people in the world and we don’t have all the answers here.”
John Kerry with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni at the State Department in Washington / Getty Images
What is J Street going to say if, after urging American Jews to support the Kerry peace mission, that mission wins the support of the right-wing Netanyahu government — but not that of the Palestinians, who view it as the terms of their surrender? And what will J Street say if Western liberal opinion, and even much of Israeli liberal opinion, decides that the Palestinians are right?
This is a question that J Street and all American Jewish liberals supporting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts should ask themselves now, because all indications are that within a few weeks, Kerry is going to present a “framework agreement” for a peace treaty that the Israeli government would be crazy to reject and the Palestinian Authority crazy to accept.
This week, Israel’s Channel 10 news ran a report saying “the emerging framework document is so unthreatening even to Israeli hardliners that it is unlikely to prompt any kind of coalition crisis.” At the same time, the report, citing sources close to the negotiations, said “Kerry would now face an even greater challenge to persuade the Palestinians to accept it.”
To anybody who’s been following the news of the peace talks, the story made perfect sense. Kerry reportedly has given in to Netanyahu’s demands to the point that the framework agreement is shaping up to be not only more “pro-Israel” than the 2001 Clinton parameters, but even more so than Ehud Barak’s offer to the Palestinians at the 2001 Taba talks or Ehud Olmert’s at the 2008 Annapolis talks.
A night-time scene in the historic district of Córdoba, Spain. / Josh Nathan-Kazis
It’s only been a week since Spain’s cabinet approved a law offering citizenship to Sephardic Jews, but Israelis are already tripping over each other in their race to apply. Between 700 and 800 have sent email inquiries to Maya Weiss-Tamir, an Israeli lawyer who deals with European citizenship applications, according to a report published Thursday in The New York Times. “It doesn’t stop; the response has been crazy,” Weiss-Tamir said. Apparently, Israelis just can’t wait to become Spanish.
As exciting as this news may be for individual Israelis, for Israel itself, it’s downright embarrassing. Because when you put Spain’s new law next to Israel’s current policy, the latter looks pretty bad by comparison. The Spanish law — which won’t become official until it makes it through the Parliament — is murky on a lot of points, but it clearly takes an inclusive approach to determining Jewish status. In fact, it specifies that you don’t even need to identify as Jewish to claim citizenship as a Sephardic Jew; the application in no way hinges on your “ideology, religion or beliefs.” Meanwhile, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate — which accepts or rejects the Jewish status of those who have converted abroad, and so impacts many of the state’s potential immigrants — is notoriously exclusionary.
The timing of this Spain business is particularly awkward. Earlier this winter, controversy erupted over the Chief Rabbinate’s decision to reject determinations of Jewish status made by New York’s Rabbi Avi Weiss. That decision was overturned in January, thanks in part to pushback from an outraged American Jewish community. But that didn’t stop Weiss from penning a scathing critique of the Rabbinate for the Times opinion page. And it didn’t quell Jews’ mounting frustration with the Rabbinate’s strict, intrusive and coercive dictates.
Against this backdrop, the new Sephardic citizenship law presents Israel with some supremely bad optics: It makes it look like Spain is actually more inclusive and welcoming to world Jewry than the Jewish state.
Tired from his voyage, Abba Arikha is pleased to finally find the Jewish community at his destination. “I’m from Israel; I’m a Jew,” he tells its members. They reply: “Prove it!”
He has a scribbled letter from one of his teachers, but the locals don’t trust it. He turns around, dejected.
It’s amusing to impose our modern-day reality onto antiquity. Abba Arikha was one of the greatest rabbis who ever lived — so great that the Talmud simply calls him Rav. He moved from the Land of Israel to Babylon in the third century, when Babylon was becoming the center of Torah study. Who checked his documents and verified his Jewishness?
It’s now just over a week since the Israeli Chief Rabbinate pulled away, at the last minute, from an agreement to solve the chaotic controversy over how it can determine who’s Jewish.
Palestinian and Israeli activists at a joint protest in the occupied West Bank in 2014 / Getty Images
The Jewish and Israeli press is quick to report any and all Palestinian violence against any Jew, anywhere. Which makes sense, of course. Israelis and Palestinians are at war, Jews everywhere have a dog in the fight, violence is deplorable, et cetera and so on.
But, by contrast, there’s a marked reticence to report on events that show Palestinians actively engaged in nonviolent forms of protest, like last week’s little-noted “protest village,” Ein Hijleh, established by hundreds of activists to protest Israeli annexation plans in the Jordan Valley. This reticence speaks volumes. Really inconvenient and uncomfortable volumes.
The Jewish and Israeli narratives — the way we talk about who we are and why we’re here (and though they run parallel, these narratives are not the same) — are, like any other cultural narrative, heavy on self-promotion. Jews share a deep and disturbing history of anti-Jewish violence and hate, and we often tell ourselves that this is the only part of our story that matters when we’re looking out into the world. This is the part that tells us everything we need to know.
In this light, our enemies can only be unjustified in their hate; the use of violence defines them and reveals their truest selves; anything else is aberration and cannot be trusted.
(JTA) — When my simple Nokia flip-phone broke last year and could not be repaired because it was so old, I upgraded – kicking and screaming – to an iPhone.
My 14-year-old son – who is dying for a smartphone but has to make do with his iPod – handled downloading the apps, telling me he would put on all the essentials. One of the most useful ones turned out to be WhatsApp, which allows me to send free text messages throughout the world and to be part of texting groups.
The app, which has only been around a few years, recently made some headlines for being the latest piece of technology banned by haredi Jews. Der Blatt, a Yiddish-language newspaper published by members of the Satmar Hasidic group in Brooklyn, reported last month that rabbis overseeing divorces say that WhatsApp is “the No. 1 cause of destruction of Jewish homes and business,” the Forward reported this week.
In the United States, WhatsApp is gaining in popularity, particularly among niche users like teens, immigrants, people with friends and family abroad – and, apparently the fervently Orthodox — but it still lacks the wide, mainstream audience enjoyed by social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Google Chats.
Not so Israel. Here, WhatsApp is a way of life. I’m on several WhatsApp groups – including one for parents of my younger son’s Little League team, one for parents of my youngest daughter’s youth group and a family group that consists of me and my three oldest children (asking them to do chores when I am away from home became so much easier!).
“Do you kids have a permit to hang up all of these posters around the city?” the policeman asked. “Permit?” my friend and I questioned in response. “We are trying to raise public awareness about baseless hatred, and destructive conflict, and you’re asking us for a permit?” Yet, after several hours in the sweltering heat of a downtown Jerusalem police station, we reconsidered the idea of advertising the 9th of Av as a day warning against baseless hatred along religious and political divides.
Twenty years later, Jews and Jewish communities are still very much conflicted and divided. Now, with a few more friends, and as the director of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution, I find myself once again attempting to promote a Jewish day of constructive conflict — only this time it’s not on the 9th of Av, but on the 9th of Adar.
You may be wondering, “The 9th of Adar? What exactly happened on that day?” If so, you’re not alone. I had never heard about the 9th of Adar until a year and half ago,when I came upon it by chance one Friday night at shul. What I would later discover was that on the 9th of Adar, approximately 2,000 years ago, the initially peaceful and constructive conflict or machloket l’shem shamayim (dispute for the sake of Heaven) between the two great Jewish schools of thought, Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai, erupted into a violent and destructive conflict over 18 legal matters — many of which had to do with how open or closed to be towards non-Jews.
For the past two years, increasing numbers of English speakers worldwide have been turning to The Times of Israel for news and analysis on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world. Beginning this week, Arabic speakers can do the same.
The Jerusalem-based online newspaper’s founding editor David Horovitz announced on February 4 the launch of The Times of Israel Arabic. “We’re not exactly sure how The Times of Israel Arabic is going to be received in the Arab world. But we do know what its goal is: to report Israel, the region and the Jewish world accurately and engagingly for Arabic readers wherever they may be — precisely as we have been doing for two years for English readers,” he wrote in an op-ed.
“This is really important. No one else is doing this,” Horovitz told me a day later. According to the editor-in-chief, the Arabic edition of his publication surpasses other efforts by Jewish Israeli publications to gain readership in the Arab world. “Yediot [Ahronot] published in Arabic for a short time, and i24 has an Arabic site — but they’re TV news,” he noted.
Horovitz is particularly excited by the fact that The Times of Israel’s popular blogging platform and its attendant open exchange of ideas will carry over to the Arabic edition. “There’s no other [comparable] Arabic site that allows people to blog,” he said. “We are really going to encourage Arabic bloggers to contribute.”
Shimon Peres / Getty Images
Israel’s President Shimon Peres has just secured his second appearance in the Guinness Book of Records. But he missed an opportunity when setting his new record yesterday.
I was excited to watch Peres — who is already in the book as oldest head of state — teach the largest ever civics class, using videoconferencing to connect with 9,000 students from across Israel’s ethnic divides. And he started well, talking about the importance of knowledge. He said that money “comes and goes” while knowledge endures, and if we all read three times a day like we eat three times a day, we would be in a good position. Even at his age, he said, he’s still learning.
In a country where teachers all too often talk at students, this looked promising. The President was becoming a teacher for the day.
Not many people of his age would have the charm, vision and appeal to address such a huge number of youngsters, and it was moving to see him do so. But he could have done much more with the opportunity.