Forward Thinking

L.A.'s Eric Garcetti Dons Kippah for Instagram

By Noah Smith

Getty Images

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.

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Is Gaza Fight Israel's 'War of Choice’?

By Brant Rosen

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.”

He concludes:

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.

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Israel's 'Moral Army'?

By Michael Mitchell

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.

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Why Jews Everywhere Bear Brunt of Israel Actions

By John Lloyd

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.

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Why Killing Kids on Gaza Beach Is Bad Hasbara

By Ben Sales

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.

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Did Danny Danon Go Too Far?

By Uriel Heilman

Getty Images

(JTA) — Apparently, Danny Danon went too far.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Danon, a hawkish Likudnik who had been deputy defense minister, from his post after Danon slammed the Israeli Cabinet decision to endorse a proposed cease-fire with Hamas.

Danon had called the decision a “slap in the face to all the residents of Israel.”

Netanyahu issued this statement about Danon’s firing:

At a time when the Government of Israel and the IDF are in the midst of a military campaign against the terrorist organizations and is taking determined action to maintain the security of Israel’s citizens, it cannot be that the Deputy Defense Minister will sharply attack the leadership of the country regarding the campaign… In light of his remarks, which express a lack of confidence in the government and in the prime minister personally, it was expected that the Deputy Defense Minister would take responsibility for his actions and resign. Since he has not done so, I have decided… to dismiss him from his post.

There are two ways to interpret Danon’s dismissal (he remains a Knesset member from Likud, Netanyahu’s party). One is that Netanyahu had had enough of Danon’s right-wing agitation, considered him out of line with the values of the Israeli Cabinet and wanted to enforce the rule of maintaining unity during wartime.

The other is that Netanyahu views Danon as a threat on his right flank, and took advantage of this opportunity to oust him from the Cabinet.

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The Cheesiest Terror Push on Facebook

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Facebook

It’s no surprise that in 2014, the war between Hamas and Israel is being fought on the Internet and social media front, as well as from the air (and possibly soon on the ground, as well). Both sides of the conflict are trying to get the world to understand and support their case for being embroiled in these hostilities.

The two sides are also trying to speak to —or rather, intimidate — one another. What is going on here is no joke. But some attempts by Hamas to scare Israelis that have resulted in far more laughter than panic.

First, there is the Hebrew language website of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. Somehow, I can’t imagine that many – if any—Hebrew-speaking Israelis are interested in propagandistic updates on happenings in what the terror organization refers to as “Occupied Palestine” (ie. the entire State of Israel, not just the West Bank).

Maybe if the very basic Hebrew-language site were as rich as the original Arabic site, Israelis would pay more attention. Israelis are too busy running to bomb shelters to bother clicking on links that don’t work.

Then, there is this propaganda video titled, “Shake Israel’s Security,” showing fatigue wearing, masked Hamas fighters building, transporting and shooting rockets at Israel. http://youtu.be/HiUWgWjL24U

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Where's Jewish Fury Over Tariq Abu Khdeir Beating?

By Emily L. Hauser

Tariq Abu Khdeir is hugged by his mother following his beating in East Jerusalem / Getty Images

I have no idea what Tariq Khdeir was doing on the day he was savagely beaten.

I have no idea if — like the American high school student in my own home – Tariq woke up late and lazy, because that’s what vacation’s like. Maybe he slipped on headphones as he reached for his cell, checking his texts or the World Cup stats. Maybe he jumped straight out of bed. Maybe he lay quietly under the covers, trying desperately not to remember his cousin Muhammad’s voice, not to envision his grisly murder, not to hear the sobbing of his family.

Maybe Tariq Khdeir woke up filled with sorrow and helplessness. Maybe he woke up filled with rage. All those years in American schools, walking American streets, hearing about what life was like for his cousins in East Jerusalem, and then there he was, right in the house, with wailing family and shattered hearts. Maybe Tariq wanted to at least see Palestinians fighting back in his cousin’s name, just to see the rocks thrown, just to see the anger and maybe some fear on the other side.

Maybe Tariq Khdeir wrapped his head in a red-and-white checked keffiyeh because he’d been warned not to go out, and he didn’t want to get busted. Maybe he wrapped his head because he didn’t want to be recognized by police. Maybe he got out there and, like many angry young men before him, felt the power of rage surging through the streets and his own veins and picked up a rock. Maybe Tariq Khdeir threw some rocks — he says he didn’t, but for the sake of argument, let’s imagine he did. Grief and fury can muddle the minds of even straight-A students.

I don’t know what Tariq Khdeir did that day, or how he felt, or what he was thinking, but here’s what I do know: He went out to the streets. He was at a protest that had shaded into riot, and his head was wrapped in a keffiyeh. And two Israeli police officers, broad of chest and fully armed, grabbed him – a slight 15-year-old boy — and dragged him to where they believed they would not be seen, and they beat the ever-loving daylights out of him. They held him down. They kicked him. They hit him. They took turns. They broke his nose. They blackened and bloodied his eyes. They held him down and beat him.

Tariq didn’t have a weapon in his hand or on his person. He’d been separated from whoever he’d been with. Whatever he may or may not have done in the moments before the now infamous video of fists and feet raining down on his body, Tariq Khdeir was not any threat, of any kind, to those who pushed him to the ground and raised their boots.

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Trace Kidnap-Murders Back to Israeli Settlements

By Adam Bronfman

Palestinian families leave their houses following Israeli air strikes in Gaza City / Getty Images

When I was 14 years old, I remember my father, Edgar M. Bronfman, publicly calling for the end of Israeli settlement building. It was 1977, the very beginning of the implementation of the Drobles Plan, and only a few thousand settlers lived in what we now call the Occupied Territories. At the time, I was only a boy, and I did not understand the urgency with which my father spoke against the construction of settlements.

“Israel is to be a light unto the nations,” he would say to me. “Israel must behave according to a higher moral and ethical code.”

“Why?” I would ask. With the look and a tone that only my father could muster, he would reply, “Otherwise, what’s the point?”

My father’s words became more and more strident as the decades passed. But today, as we grapple with the wrenching pain of the murder of Jewish and Muslim youth, they have never rung so true. Why do I hear my father’s words about settlements at this time? Simply put, the settlements are the greatest impediment to enduring peace in Israel, and the deaths of four innocent children last week should cause us to examine our own beliefs and actions.

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In Tel Aviv, Keep Calm and Mind the Rockets

By Ben Sales

Israeli family seeks shelter in parking garage as rocket sirens blare. / Getty Images

(JTA) — “In Tel Aviv, we expect the skies clear with a temperature of 32 degrees,” our pilot said upon taking off from Milan’s airport Wednesday, with no discernible hint of irony.

The thermometer in Tel Aviv did fill up — 32 degrees Celsius, 90 Fahrenheit — but the skies have, sadly, been far from clear. As the Israel Defense Forces’ Operation Protective Edge in Gaza finishes its second day, Israel’s coastal metropolis has experienced an unprecedented rain of rocket fire.

Enduring rocket attacks used to be the province of Israel’s north and south; Tel Aviv, by contrast, has derisively been called “the bubble,” a central-Israeli city of relaxed beach-goers removed from security threats to Israel.

Hamas aimed its first few rockets at Tel Aviv during its last conflict with Israel in 2012. On Tuesday, Tel Aviv endured several more volleys — all shot down by Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense shield.

On the morning of our flight, two rockets headed for Ben-Gurion Airport, also intercepted by Iron Dome. When we descended onto Israel, our plane swooped in a semicircle north of Tel Aviv rather than flying directly over the city, a flight path altered to avoid potential rockets. When we entered the airport, just after the sign bidding us “Welcome to Israel,” another one pointed us to a bomb shelter.

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A Blood Libel Against All Palestinians

By Lara Friedman

The family of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir / Haaretz

On July 1, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu eulogized the three Israeli yeshiva students murdered in the West Bank. “A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies,” he said. “They sanctify death while we sanctify life…”

When 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and murdered in East Jerusalem a few days later, Netanyahu’s words — and words like them — framed the story. Indeed, an unbiased consumer of media reports about Abu Khdeir’s killing would likely conclude that while the perpetrators turned out to be Jewish Israelis, they might just as likely, or more likely, have been Palestinians.

What else could explain why, from Day 1, almost every report on the murder treated seriously the possibility that it was part of an intra-Palestinian “blood feud” or an anti-gay “honor killing”? Any fair-minded consumer of news would naturally assume that deaths owing to these two causes are common among Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Why else, in an atmosphere of raging anti-Arab hate and calls for revenge, would they be given such credence? Why else would Israeli authorities and alleged experts voice such damning speculations, and credible news media faithfully report them?

Others have written about the “pinkwashing” of Abu Khdeir’s murder; about the climate of incitement that preceded it; about the violence that followed it, including the brutal beating of Abu Khdeir’s cousin. But nobody has noted a simple fact: neither the “blood feud” nor the “honor killing” theory ever made sense — and their manufacture and dissemination constituted a blood libel against all Palestinians.

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ZOA's Double Standard

By Anthony Weiss

Mort Klein / Courtesy of ZOA

(JTA) — American Jewish groups from across the ideological and religious spectrum have issued strongly worded condemnations of the murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdier, apparently a revenge killing committed by Jews.

One exception to this chorus of denunciation was the Zionist Organization of America, a hawkish Israel advocacy group, which issued no statement.

Reached by phone on Tuesday morning, the ZOA’s national president, Morton Klein, said that he had been on vacation and away from the news over the weekend, the window during which the Israeli police announced the arrest of six suspects in the murder.

However, he quickly added that the ZOA would not have commented in any case because it does not consider the motives for the killing, or the identity of the perpetrators, to be clearly established.

“As long as there is no clarity as to whether this was an ordinary criminal act as opposed to an act of vengeance, ZOA feels it is not appropriate to make a public comment,” Klein told JTA, adding that the ZOA does not comment on ordinary criminal acts.

Israeli officials have stated that they believe the killing was motivated by a desire to avenge the murders of three kidnapped Israeli teens. But Klein said that was an insufficient basis for a statement.

“Even arrests, you don’t know whether these arrests make it clear that this was a murder of revenge,” Klein said.

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Our Hope Is Not Yet Lost

By Eli Valley

The revenge killing of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khudair has shaken up even those who normally have little reason to question their preconceived notions about the Israel-Palestinian dispute.

Eli Valley takes an insightful graphic look at one (fictional) American Jew’s crisis of confidence.

SCROLL DOWN TO ENLARGE.


Eli Valley is finishing his first novel. His website is www.evcomics.com, and he tweets @elivalley

Eli Valley
CLICK TO SEE FULL CARTOON

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Why Jewish Revenge Murder Should Shake Us Up

By Jane Eisner

Relatives of Mohammed Abu Khdeir carry his body during his funeral / Getty Images

Already, the details emerging about the gruesome death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian teen burned alive in a revenge attack, are causing soul-searching among Israelis who would not or could not acknowledge that this unforgivable act was perpetrated by some of their own.

We American Jews must do the same.

It is far past time for those of us who love and support the State of Israel not only to acknowledge the suffering of Palestinians under more than four decades of occupation, but to recognize what that occupation also has done to us.

Too many of us have become blind to the Palestinian Other. We rarely encounter them on our trips to Israel. We don’t listen to their lives. Every act of violence against Israelis — and there have been far too many — serve as confirmation of our ingrained prejudices, without any opportunity for another side of their story. And so we absorb a sense of moral superiority that underlies the message beamed our way from decades of Israeli governments, more so now: We don’t act like that. We are better. Israel is different.

I thought about this when hearing yesterday that some American Jews had convinced themselves that Hamas was to blame for Abu Khdeir’s murder, or that it was an “honor killing” in his family. Anything to deflect the horrible truth: That some Jews are capable of grabbing a 16-year-old boy waiting for prayers at a mosque and burning him alive — all supposedly for the sake of Israel.

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Who Won in Bibi-Liberman Divorce?

By Nathan Jeffay

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman / Getty Images

Who was the winner in the Liberman-Netanyahu divorce?

The ruling party in Israel has just split, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman pulling his Yisrael Beytenu party out of its year-and-a-half-old alliance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Liberman said he was leaving Bibi because the latter is too soft on Hamas in Gaza. Despite the fact that the new Gaza campaign began shortly afterwards, Liberman hasn’t changed his mind.

Liberman, in status and in the size of the party he heads, was the junior partner in the relationship. Yet he seems to have gained the most from it — and decided to take his gains and run.

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The Pinkwashing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir

By Sigal Samuel

An undated family handout picture of Mohammed Abu Khdeir.

Now that Israeli police have arrested six Jewish suspects for the kidnap-murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir, it’s safe to say that the teen was not killed by his own family for being gay.

Of course, Mohammed’s family has been saying that all along. They’ve been saying it ever since the burned-alive teen’s body was found in the Jerusalem Forest on July 2. “Our family is not involved in any disputes and he was a good boy,” one cousin told Haaretz. “This is not a family problem. This was a kidnapping and everyone has to know that.” So why did Israeli media outlets insist on floating the “honor killing” theory?

It’s not clear who started the rumor that Khdeir’s family murdered him for being gay. Many believe that it was the Israeli police who first fed this line to journalists — primarily in off-the-record briefings, and primarily to right-leaning outlets who would be willing to quote them as unnamed sources.

Whether or not that’s true, the media’s willingness to play along, combined with the police’s insistence on keeping the true details of the investigation under strict gag orders, allowed a baseless theory to spread far and wide among a credulous public. It was particularly popular with those Israel supporters who would rather believe this grisly murder was the work of Palestinians (“see, they even kill their own family members!”) than of fellow Jews.

What’s the upshot? Well, let me put it this way. The next time a pinkwashing conference rolls into town, I can pretty well guarantee that there will be a panel discussion with the name “Mohammed Abu Khdeir” in the title.

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Bulldoze Homes of Jewish Terrorists, Too

By Daniel Landes

Israel regularly destroys homes of Palestinian terror suspects, calling it a deterrent. But it never uses the same tactic against Jewish extremists. / Getty Images

(Haaretz) — There is only one sane and truly halakhic way to tackle our current situation: Take the well-known members of the Orthodox Price Tag gang and lock ‘em up, for a long time and in an inaccessible prison. Don’t let them go home for chagim and deny them visitors. Do the best to break and separate them. Freeze monies that go to their families.

And when and if we have proven guilty perpetrators, bulldoze their parents’ homes. The last will stop them.

Am I overreaching? Might not Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Arab teen murdered and his body desecrated, have been the victim of a different Jewish group or of some criminal group, perhaps Arab? Maybe, although I doubt it.

But what is not doubtful is that the PTG – the Price Tag Gang – is headed in the direction of creating real havoc with us and with our Arab citizens and with neighboring populations. Since the PTG could care less about Western values, let us refer them to Jewish Law and values and utilize some rules from that body of wisdom.

The PTG is an imminent sakanat nefashot, a danger to life. They are a fire burning on the Sabbath that will destroy not only property, but the lives of soldiers, police and civilians. Indeed, the PTG seemingly wants to cause tension and havoc, leading possibly to war. In their apocalyptic vision, they are confident that Israel will finally “do what it has always needed to do” and act with outstanding force to destroy not only Hamas but the PA and probably all other Muslims.

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Why Israeli Thirst for Revenge Is Profoundly Un-Jewish

By Hody Nemes

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in East Jerusalem after an Arab teen was killed / Getty Images

The Torah sternly commands us to pursue justice (“Justice, justice, shall you pursue”) — but it leaves revenge to God.

That thought should resonate in our ears like a thunderclap after the discovery of a body in the Jerusalem forest. Israeli authorities fear that a Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khudair, was kidnapped and murdered in a suspected revenge killing for the murders of three Israeli boys, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gilad Shaar. If their fears are confirmed, this horrifying murder should provide a wake-up call to Israeli society and to all of us feeling anger over the murders of the Jewish teens.

As soon as the boys’ deaths were announced, calls for vengeance rang out in Israel. In just 24 hours, a new Israeli Facebook page, “The Nation of Israel Wants Revenge,” gained over 35,000 likes.

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Teens' Funeral Changed Israeli Youth Forever

By Elana Sztokman

Funeral ceremony for the three Israeli teenagers / Getty Images

When the city of Modi’in was built in 1993, I don’t think the planners envisioned the scene that took place here today. Tens of thousands of Israelis — nearly the equivalent of Modi’in’s entire population — descended on the modest cemetery at the outskirts of the city to bid a final farewell to the three boys murdered on their way home from school 19 days ago. The families of the three boys — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaer, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16 — were surrounded by masses of Israelis from all over the country, spilling out of the Ben Shemen forest where the cemetery sits, all having come to share their grief and provide mutual comfort.

The crowd was overwhelmingly religious and very young. Teenage girls in skirts and boys wearing knitted yarmulkes dominated the scene. I felt almost old as I searched for other adults in the crowd, a feeling reinforced by the sight of teens wearing youth-movement shirts, a reminder that in Israel, teenagers pretty much run the country. Gilad Shaer’s sister eulogized him by describing how they would plan their youth group activities together. The boys were in some ways still children, and in other ways deeply formed and complex young people.

There were some beautifully touching moments at the cemetery. Before the three processions arrived from their respective towns (Nof Ayalon, Elad and Talmon), the crowd kept breaking into spontaneous singing, like a massive standing kumsitz. As I walked along the forest road, one group of singers faded and another heightened. In between the singing, there were groups praying mincha, the sounds of “Amen” reverberating for a distance because the crowd was so quietly subdued. Young boys were walking through the crowds handing out free bottles of water, though I have no idea who paid for them, or in fact how all of the logistics of this massive event were organized so fast or by whom. And then there were people wearing t-shirts saying “Bring back our boys” and other related slogans, reminding me of how quickly everything moves, and even entire movements form, in this digital age.

As the procession of the cars of the families passed by, my heart tore apart. Images of Eyal Yifrach singing a song he wrote while strumming on his guitar at a recent wedding of a relative, images widely circulated these past few weeks, stuck a chord with me. The boy is the exact same age as my son, Effie, who also plays guitar, and who is currently serving in the army. The similarities in their build, the purity of their smiles, the beauty of the spirit shining out of their eyes, made Eyal’s death particularly piercing for me.

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Brandeis Gave Up On Al Quds. Its Students Didn't.

By Eli Philip and Catie Stewart

Yasmin Khatib and Catie Stewart of the Brandeis-Al Quds Student Dialogue Initiative

Talking about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is difficult. Seeing it firsthand is harder. Living under it is nearly impossible. We learned this while leading a trip for a group of Brandeis students to Al Quds University in the West Bank this June. The purpose of the trip, organized entirely by students, was to open up a channel of dialogue between both universities and to establish ties on a student level.

After one of our long days of touring and dialoging, we, like any other group of students, wanted to have a bit of fun. Someone plugged their phone into the speaker system on the van from Jericho to Ramallah, and an impromptu dance party was born, complete with everyone singing and dancing in the aisle. Out of nowhere, the van came to an abrupt stop. A young face covered by a green helmet peered through the window and glanced at our group of American and Palestinian students, and then promptly demanded we all disembark and hand over our IDs. Outside, a group of Israeli soldiers stood by their jeep, stopping vehicles marked by Palestinian license plates. The music was shut off, and the laughter and singing disappeared. In the heavy silence, we did as we were told, obediently filing off the bus. We were no longer treated as individuals, but rather as faceless suspects. The soldiers’ gaze did not meet our eyes.

Brandeis University is deeply connected to Israel. It is a historically Jewish university, and 50% of its students are Jewish. Israel activism on campus is vibrant and ubiquitous. Brandeis historically has also taken a stance dedicated to maintaining communication and relationships with Palestinian institutions such as Al Quds, and working towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict. We had a decade-long partnership with Al Quds University, initiated at the height of the second intifada, when starting a relationship with a Palestinian institution was difficult. The partnership was instituted as a beacon of cooperation that showed we, as Jews and Palestinians, could work together despite some deep differences in ideology. We — Brandeis and the Jewish community — were willing to try and understand the Palestinian experience. Brandeis’ message was clear: its connection to Israel necessarily meant engaging with Israel on all levels — including with the conflict and occupation.

This all changed last November, when Brandeis President Fred Lawrence suspended the partnership as a response to what he deemed intolerant acts: an Islamic Jihad-affiliated political rally on the Al Quds campus and the response from Al Quds’ then-president Dr. Sari Nusseibeh.

The suspension not only damaged longstanding relationships, it also served to keep us — Brandeis students as well as the larger Jewish community — from seeing and understanding life under occupation.

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