Moroccan-Israeli singer Neta Elkayam / Courtesy of Neta Elkayam
Call it a confirmation bias. Everywhere I turned this year, I saw a new expression of Arab Jewish identity. The revival seems to be happening across all fields — literature, food, music — yet somehow nobody’s talking about it.
As an Arab Jewish writer (my family hails from Morocco, India and Iraq), I couldn’t be happier about this flurry of cultural expression. I’m often dismayed by how “Ashkenazi” becomes a stand-in for “Jewish,” while Sephardic and Mizrachi voices fall by the wayside.
Imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered Eduardo Halfon’s new novel, “Monastery,” in which the conflicted, tragicomic protagonist denies his Arab identity when talking to certain Jews, and his Jewish identity when talking to certain Arabs.
I also geeked out over two academic books this year: Lital Levy’s “Poetic Trespass” and Liora Halperin’s “Babel in Zion” argue that Arabic is every bit as Jewish as Hebrew is. Early Zionists may have tried to separate Palestinians and Jews by marking Arabic as “their” language and Hebrew as “ours,” but that doesn’t erase the fact that families like mine spoke, studied and sang in Arabic for centuries.
Neta Elkayam sings “Ta’ali” / YouTube
Young Jewish musicians are reclaiming Arabic as they explore their roots. Some of them focus on preserving rare video and audio clips. Regine Basha, for example, collects Iraqi Jewish music in her archival project, “Tuning Baghdad.” Others, like Moroccan-Israeli singer Neta Elkayam, remix their grandparents’ musical traditions and bring them into the 21st century. Elkayam speaks perfect Hebrew, but she chooses to sing in Marocayit, the Arabic dialect of her grandparents (and mine).
Young Jews argue with pro-Palestinian supporters beside a banner calling for a Palestinian state
The prospect of a U.N. Security Council vote on parameters and a timeline for Israel-Palestinian negotiations, coming as it does in the lead-up to Israeli elections, is eliciting this tricky argument: “We can’t pressure Israel when Israelis are going to the polls, because it will only help the Right.”
That argument fits neatly into the list of memes that time and time again have been used to justify U.S. inaction in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Memes like: “We can’t press for peace with the region in upheaval.” “We can’t ask any Israeli prime minister to take action that could destabilize his government.” “This is a losing issue that will cost any president and his party dearly.”
All of these memes are grounded in two self-congratulatory, self-serving premises: that we really, truly are committed to achieving peace and a two-state solution; and that we really, truly would take consequential action to achieve these goals, but circumstances beyond our control prevent it.
These memes have the quality of “truthiness,” making intuitive sense to Americans who are sick of Middle East wars and foreign interventions. But truthiness is not the same as truth.
Obama is caricatured as Che Guevara, an iconic symbol of Cuba’s revolution, on the cover of Brazilian magazine Veja / Getty Images
As a life-long Democrat, I was deeply disturbed by the Obama Administration’s decision to act unilaterally on the Cuban question. The policy option may have been a valid one, but the process invoked raises major concerns.
Realizing that his presidency would be without a Democratic majority in either the Senate or House for the remainder of his term, did Obama decide that his Administration would conduct the business of foreign policy outside of the traditional policy framework of bipartisanship?
The embargo on Cuba was set into place 54 years ago, in 1960. We need to remind ourselves that both Republicans and Democrats embraced the actions taken at that time by the Eisenhower Administration.
Obama’s arbitrary action, taken without any public input or Congressional oversight, raises a set of challenging questions. Do each of the president’s recent pronouncements, including his executive order on immigration and the Iran nuclear agreement, suggest a different framework for decision-making by this White House? Will we continue to see a series of new political pronouncements without the engagement of the Congress or the input of public opinion?
I introduce these questions in the context of my particular concern for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Could such a proactive decision-making pattern have some potential linkage to a change in America’s special and historic relationship with Israel? Could the Administration’s frustration with the Netanyahu government produce a similar outcome, namely a shift in its balance of support?
Participants in the Open Hillel Conference at Harvard University / Gili Getz
For my entire life, I have been deeply connected to the institutional American Jewish community. From day school to summer camp, youth group to a gap year in Israel, the Jewish community has been my home. As a result, I have a strong connection to Israel.
Since coming to college, I have made it my goal to understand as many narratives as possible around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I spent my entire junior year abroad: a semester in Amman, a semester in Haifa, and this past summer teaching English at two different Arab schools in the north of Israel.
When I returned to the United States, I had a lot of conflicting feelings and information to process. I went to the synagogue in which I had been actively involved since birth, hoping to discuss the conflict in Gaza with my home community. Yet, I was disappointed to encounter a one-sided echo chamber that had little interest in hearing other opinions.
I quickly realized I needed a different Jewish community, one where I didn’t feel a need to justify my complex, conflicting and ever-changing views. A Jewish community that understood the importance of intellectually rigorous debate and that would explore the most difficult and even taboo Israel issues with me.
So I joined the Open Hillel campaign, a movement of students and young alumni, working to promote inclusivity, diversity and open conversations in Jewish spaces on college campuses. To be honest, it’s one of the most splintered Jewish groups I’ve ever worked with. We are left-wingers, centrists and right-wingers, united around one principle: the Jewish tent must be “open.” That’s where our consensus ends — there is no agreement on exactly what that term means.
Apparently, those are Naftali Bennett’s two least favorite words.
In a campaign video posted online today, Israel’s far-right Minister of the Economy and leader of the Jewish Home party poses as a hipster equipped with full-on flannel, glasses, beard and a cute little sweater-clad pug. He bumbles around Tel Aviv, apologizing profusely every time somebody wrongs him.
A waitress spills coffee on him? He’s sorry! A driver crashes into his car? He’s sorry! A woman steals the bike he’s about to ride off on? He’s sorry!
Oh, and when Haaretz reprints a New York Times editorial headlined “Israel needs to apologize,” he reads it and says: “They’re right!”
When at last the hipster pulls off his disguise, the newly revealed Bennett looks straight into the camera and proclaims, “Starting today, we stop apologizing. Join the Jewish Home party today.”
A Tunisian Jewish family on the island of Djerba / Getty Images
The Tunisian Ambassador to the United Kingdom recently came to the Chabad here in Oxford to give a Shabbat dinner talk. Needless to say, this event was not an ordinary Shabbat dinner by any means. After a meal of traditional Tunisian foods, the ambassador spoke about the need for co-existence, the importance of listening to other narratives, and — most interestingly for me — the status of Tunisian Jewry today. Though only about 1,500-strong today, the community leads a vibrant life — and many of the 80,000 Tunisian Jews across France, Canada and Israel regularly return to Tunisia for visits, even buying property there.
The ambassador painted a very inspiring picture. Yet one lady present was not quite in favor of this interpretation: She continuously interrupted him to claim that Jews were either struggling for survival after being forced to leave Tunisia, complete victims, or that the Israeli side of the story was being completely ignored. What’s more, she implied that Jews would only buy property in Tunisia if it were cheap — that there was nothing to see and the country was “dirty” and “barren.” As for one Tunisian Jewish community’s endorsement of the Islamist Ennahda party, she was completely dismissive.
The ambassador responded eloquently to her claims and kept the discussion from being derailed. And another Moroccan gentleman pointed out the ex-Vichy French and Israeli state roles in the deportation of Jews to Israel. But this lady’s outburst made me think: How might the Tunisian Jewish experience shake up some of our (Ashkenazi) assumptions about Mizrahim and Israel?
On December 10, UAW 2865, the union representing 13,000 University of California graduate student workers, announced that a resolution to align with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel had passed a membership vote. This is the first American union to join the BDS movement, and the outcome is deeply upsetting to many Jews, Israelis, and non-partisan opponents of one-sided boycott and divestment tactics.
For some, it might be tempting to argue that UC students, especially the Berkeley and UCLA students that made up the majority of the vote, are instinctively anti-Israel and that this fight was hopeless. I would advise against that defensive line of reasoning, convenient as it may be. I believe that there are three primary — and remediable — reasons we lost.
First, this was hardly a fair vote. The same union leadership first staked out its clearly partisan position in a one sided pro-BDS statement and then oversaw the voting process to support it. Nearly all materials sent out to membership strongly advocated a yes vote, and little space was given to the opposition. If you were not already a member, to vote, you had to join a union that had already made clear its vision of Israel as a “settler-colonialist” state. BDS supporters were also able to use an already mobilized base of union members and leaders to swing the vote their way. BDS opponents were fighting an uphill battle to both mobilize a new base and to convince ambivalent or uninformed union members.
As the photographer of the photo discussed in a December 12 article, “Iconic Mideast Photo Is a Fake — and a Heartbreaking One at That,” I am angered by the charge that the photo is “faked.” The article reveals a lack of understanding of the difference between a faked photo, which misrepresents reality, and a photo illustration, which uses models and props to convey a concept.
My photo is not fake, because it doesn’t pretend to document an actual time, place or personality. Rather it is a symbolic illustration of peace and coexistence, which is why it has been reproduced countless times — not just in the Middle East context, but also by Buddhists and pop musicians. It was the magazine photo editor’s choice, not mine, to create this cover illustration of generic rather than specific peace partners. It is no different from the symbolic photos illustrating all kinds of issues, which are published regularly in the media.
An example of a truly fake photo is the infamous image of the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad, supposedly a spontaneous protest by Iraqis but in fact stage-managed by American troops.
I am especially offended by the way the Forward has cast aspersions on my credibility as a photojournalist. At the time I shot this photo, I had been working for years as a contract photographer for Time magazine. The vast majority of my work over 30 years is documentary, not illustrative, and it has been published in Time, The New York Times Magazine and every other major international publication.
The most outrageous error is the insinuation that I had racist intentions in “faking” this photo. The article suggests that there is a racist aspect in dressing Zemer, the boy wearing the kefiyeh, in an outfit Palestinians might consider “degrading — akin to blackface.” The reference is totally irrelevant to this image in which the boys were photographed anonymously from the back and not engaged in any activity degrading to either Palestinians or Jews.
The fakery here seems to be the Forward’s, by inventing a supposedly racist background for a simple photo illustration.
Palestinians mark the anniversary of the 1948 Nakba or ‘Day of Catastrophe’ / Getty Images
Is Israeli society ready to reckon with 1948? On Wednesday, Zochrot, an Israeli organization devoted to raising awareness about the Nakba — when 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled by Jewish forces during Israel’s founding war — held its first public “truth commission” featuring the testimonies of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian Bedouins who lived through the events of 1948 and beyond.
The commission, held in a hotel in Beersheba, focused on the Negev from 1948 to 1960. Zochrot was specifically looking at the David Ben Gurion-ordered conquest of the area to oust Egyptian forces in 1948 and the subsequent Israeli army deportation of Negev Bedouin through the 1950s. While Zochrot has taken hours of testimony on the topic in the past, yesterday’s event was the first of its kind open to the public, and a rare opportunity to hear from what the organization described as “witnesses.”
Christian art depicting Jews being tortured in hell
Are the Jews somehow to blame for the CIA’s torture of detainees?
That’s what some want to know after yesterday’s release of the so-called “CIA Torture Report” by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The CIA is in the business of extracting secrets and then burying them deep in its bureaucratic pockets. So it was somewhat surreal yesterday when the agency was forced to publicly spill its guts in the 528-page Senate report (redacted from a still-classified 6,000-page version). Among the disturbing revelations: the tactics were both more brutal and less effective than the CIA had claimed; some interrogators were inexperienced and should have been “flagged” for violent tendencies; the program had no meaningful oversight; and the CIA systematically duped the media, Congress and even President Bush in exaggerating the tactics’ success.
Another startling scoop from the Senate report is that CIA lawyers cited the “Israeli example” as part of their legal rationale justifying torture, referring to the 1999 Israeli Supreme Court decision that allowed interrogators to exert “moderate physical pressure” in some circumstances. This has already caused a stir among some, including the website Electronic Intifada, and is bound to embolden those who see a Zionist finger behind all the world’s evils.
Life’s good when you’re floating in the Dead Sea / Thinkstock
Avital Burg’s recent post “If America Had Laws Like Israel” imagines an American parallel to Israel’s nation-state bill, and invites the reader to deplore what would happen if this bill became law here in the U.S.
Though this probably wasn’t the writer’s intention, the post got me thinking: If only America had laws like Israel!
During the six years that I lived in the Jewish state, I came to appreciate many of the Israeli laws designed to protect the little guy. Here are some outcomes of Israel’s laws that America sorely needs:
Recent amendments to Israel’s Communications Law make it illegal for internet, cell phone and cable providers to penalize private customers for switching companies, even if they have signed on for long-term contracts. I’d love to see how AT&T and Verizon squirm in reaction to a law like this.
After several tragedies in the 1990s, Israel tightened its gun control. Today, relatively few Israelis own guns. Israel’s Firearms Law severely limits gun ownership. Even after satisfying extensive licensing procedures and background checks, licensed gun owners in Israel are only permitted to hold 50 bullets at one time. Fewer than 8% of Israelis own a gun, compared to 26% of Americans. Americans are 4.5 times more likely than Israelis to be killed by a gun.
Photographer Kitra Cahana on the hills overlooking Ramallah / Ed Ou
Editor’s Note: The Forward’s story “Iconic Mideast Photo Is a Fake — and Heartbreaking One at That” generated a lot of debate about the ethics of staging photographs. For added insight, we put a few questions to Kitra Cahana, a documentary photojournalist whose work appears frequently in National Geographic, The New York Times and other publications.
Tell us about your own experience as a photographer in the Israeli-Palestinian context.
For the past two years I’ve been working on a project about Palestinians married or in relationships with Israelis. Along with my colleague, Ed Ou, I’ve traveled across the West Bank and Israel, finding subjects who manage their relationships despite many hurdles on both sides. To prepare for this story we spent a month researching until we found subjects who were willing to let us photograph. It took time and journalistic prowess to find these genuine relationships. We could easily have hired two actors and told them to pretend to be in love, crossing back and forth between Israel and the West Bank illegally, but our audience would have learned nothing from those images. Once we had access, we spent weeks and even months with our subjects waiting for moments, natural moments, that would reveal deeper truths about the larger reality that our subjects and ultimately all Israelis and Palestinians are living in.
Have you ever been dismayed by people misappropriating your images online?
It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I don’t know a photographer who isn’t holding her breath, fearful of that day. The internet age has intensified those fears so much more — it heightens all of the potential dramas that can unfold. It makes me more cautious in my practice and in the images that I put into the world and online. There are images that I’ve taken that I don’t want published. Years ago I went to the Congo to do a story about rape as a weapon of war, but upon leaving, didn’t feel that as a journalist I understood enough about the context of the images when I took them. I have no intention of publishing those images.
So, is it unethical to stage photographs?
Each publication has its own line of ethics to follow, but by and large the industry standard in photojournalism is to document reality as you find it. There’s no doubt that our presence as journalists has an impact on the way subjects behave in front of the pen, recorder or camera, but our role is to minimize that impact. Reality, unposed, is beautiful — so rich, so full of nuance and psychological complexities, that to try to stage it ruins all the mystery of capturing something truthful.
With regards to the photograph in question, if, as the Forward reported, Ricki Rosen gave her archive to Corbis and the image was catalogued as “news” without an accompanying caption clearly indicating that it was a photo illustration, then that is an egregious error. It’s the caption that dictates how we’re supposed to read the photograph.
Debbi Cooper’s 1988 photo of an Israeli and a Palestinian actually features an Israeli and a Palestinian.
When I interviewed Ricki Rosen about her iconic — and completely staged — 1993 photo depicting a Palestinian boy and an Israeli boy, she reminded me of a similar picture taken by another Jerusalem photojournalist.
Debbi Cooper’s 1988 black and white picture is also of an Israeli and a Palestinian, but hers is real. In it, two young boys, one in a yarmulke and the other with a keffiyeh wrapped around his neck, smile shyly for the camera. Like Rosen’s photo, the picture has taken on a life of its own, and has been reproduced countless times, both with and without Cooper’s knowledge and permission. Today, the picture is an emotional topic for the 60-year-old photojournalist, who teared up when talking about it. “It makes me sad,” she said. “I just wish it could have brought peace.”
“We are in such dark times,” she added. “People come to me and tell me it gives them hope. But what do you do with hope?”
According to Cooper, the photograph was originally commissioned by the New Israel Fund for a full-page New York Times advertisement as the First Intifada was gaining steam. It was meant to illustrate the possibility of Jewish and Palestinian coexistence in wartime and was labeled with the caption “What’s Right With This Picture?”
Cooper had previously photographed dialogue groups in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, so it wasn’t a stretch for her to find two families who would be willing to appear in the photograph. She contacted Diane Greenberg, a longtime friend in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood who, with her husband, was active in the peace movement. Greenberg, an immigrant to Israel from Wales, arranged a meeting with a Palestinian family that they knew in Jerusalem’s Beit Safafa neighborhood. Cooper said that she spent about an hour with the families before she photographed their two sons, who had met for the first time that day.
The F-35 fighter jet is Israel’s latest big purchase / Wikipedia
The Israeli parliament has become a turbulent place in the past few weeks — even more so than usual. What with key politicians getting fired, there’s been lots of chatter about what this shake-up will mean for the Israel-U.S. relationship. But it may not mean very much at all.
It’s worth noting that while coalition disputes (supposedly) led to the dissolution of the parliament this week, the cabinet still functioned well enough to approve on Sunday a $2-billion deal to purchase stealth fighter jets from American aerospace company Lockheed Martin.
The cabinet authorized this purchase of 14 F-35As following an agreement between American and Israeli defense chiefs in October. This is just one part of a long-term deal that includes a 2010 purchase of 19 warplanes (which won’t arrive until 2016) for $2.75 billion, and maintains the option of purchasing 17 more in the future.
If the deal, which all together entails 50 jets, is completed, Lockheed Martin has agreed to purchase $6 billion worth of security equipment from Israel. It will also give Israel comfortable credit conditions.
The jet in question — the celebrated F-35 Lightning II — is a fighter aircraft designed for missions that have typically been the realm of more specialized aircrafts, like strikes and interceptions. But it is still unclear, in the Israeli context, what operational need it actually fills. No wonder then that some Israeli ministers strongly — but unsuccessfully — opposed approving this huge purchase. Somehow, this major deal barely got a mention in all the media discussion of the controversial issues over which the coalition announced failure.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrator argues with pro-Israeli demonstrator at UC Berkeley / Getty Images
On Thursday, my union as a graduate student at Berkeley, UAW 2865, is going to vote on a BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) resolution against Israel. I’m going to vote “no,” although I oppose the occupation and support selective, non-BDS branded boycotts targeting the occupation.
I vote this way ambivalently. The Israeli occupation is more than 45 years long and involves deep injustice, and it ought to be resisted. One may not oppose BDS without offering an alternative vision for ending the occupation — my vision involves selective boycotts, investment in progressive elements in Israeli society and politics, political lobbying in DC. But I cannot sign onto the BDS proposal, and I hope that other union members will also vote “no.”
Here’s why I don’t think BDS is a good path. First, I worry the boycott will be counterproductive. An academic boycott, in particular, is likely to hit hardest precisely the sector of Jewish Israeli society from which the most trenchant criticism of the occupation comes — and I find it hard to believe an effective institutional boycott will not have reverberations for individual academics, especially given the examples of cultural boycotts of Israel we’ve seen so far. Especially in the sciences, individual careers, collaborations and institutions are deeply entangled — but even in the humanities, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) boycott guidelines hit study abroad relationships, joint conference funding and so-called “normalization projects” (i.e., dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians that does not presuppose conformity to the BDS position).
On a larger level, perceived world hostility to Israel drives the Israeli right; when National Home right-wing politician Naftali Bennett posts a video of him hectoring foreign journalists, it plays very well. BDS may well create the hard-right, recalcitrant Israel it imagines already exists. And knowing that people like Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman are reaching out to partners like Putin and to the Hindu nationalist government in India, we in the United States and Europe need to think strategically about how to pressure the Israeli government without pushing it into worse configurations.
Journalists and Palestinian protesters take cover from Israeli fire at a demonstration / Getty Images
(JTA) — Whatever the circumstances surrounding Matti Friedman’s departure from The Associated Press in 2011, it’s safe to say he’s not returning anytime soon.
The former reporter and editor with the international wire service’s Jerusalem bureau made waves in August with a remarkably popular Tablet essay in which he argued that the Western media had a “hostile obsession with Jews.” In a second essay, published Sunday in The Atlantic, Friedman insisted that Western journalists depict the Jews of Israel “more than any other people on earth as examples of moral failure,” and accused AP staffers of a number of questionable journalistic practices.
While the first essay prompted a slew of raves and rebuttals, including a response from former AP Jerusalem Bureau Chief Steve Gutkin, the second was apparently too much for the media giant. The AP shot back at its former employee Monday with an online statement one day after his piece went live on The Atlantic’s website.
“Over the past three months, in one media forum after another, Matti Friedman … has eagerly offered himself as an authority on international coverage of Israel and the Palestinian territories, repeatedly referencing the AP. His arguments have been filled with distortions, half-truths and inaccuracies, both about the recent Gaza war and more distant events,” the statement began.
Israel’s Parliament has passed a new law aimed at keeping African immigrants behind bars — and a controversial jail to house them open — beyond a deadline set by the country’s highest court.
The Knesset by a 43-20 vote approved an initial legislative step for a new law that mandates three months in prison for African asylum-seekers who enter Israel without documentation and a year and eight months more in the spartan Holot detention center, which Israel euphemistically refers to as an “open facility.”
If it passes two more hurdles, the new law will permit Israel to keep more than 2,000 African detainees imprisoned in Holot — and likely to jail many more.
It is the third time lawmakers have sought to amend to the nation’s so-called anti-infiltration law. Earlier amendments were twice struck down by Israel’s High Court of Justice on the grounds they were unconstitutional.
Advocates say Israel should offer a haven to the refugees, most of whom are fleeing authoritarian regimes in the Sudan (many hail from the genocide-ravaged Darfur province) and Eritrea, considered one of the world’s most repressive regimes.
Salaam-Schalom organizes a Jewish-Muslim human chain event in Neukollen / Ömer Sefa Baysal
This past summer, Armin Langer, a 24-year-old rabbinical student in Berlin, came to speak at the Sehitlik mosque in Neukoelln, a district of the German capital with a large Muslim population. Langer is the co-founder of the Salaam-Schalom Initiative, a Neukoelln-based intercultural dialogue group. His pre-scheduled presentation at the mosque, to announce Salaam-Schalom’s new campaign, took place on June 26, just as the violence between Israelis and Palestinians was escalating.
“I thought it was very courageous on his part to go on the stage and introduce himself as a Jewish person,” says Denis Mert Mercan, 26, a devout Muslim who lives in Berlin and was at Sehitlik mosque that day. “And I thought it was an amazing idea that the Jews would defend Muslims and Muslims would defend Jews in terms of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”
The campaign Langer was introducing was a series of posters against anti-Muslim prejudice, to be displayed on the streets of Neukoelln. He explained that the goal of Salaam-Schalom is for Jewish and Muslim Berliners to collaborate, battling all forms of racism at once.
Salaam-Schalom’s grassroots attempt to bridge the gap between Jews and Muslims is happening at a time when Germany is experiencing a wave of anti-Semitism that’s partly rooted in Muslim communities. This summer, during the Israel-Hamas war, a Palestinian immigrant threw a petrol bomb on a synagogue in the town of Wuppertal, and hate speech against Jews appeared in Berlin demonstrations against Israel’s operation in Gaza.
“We are not soldiers standing against each other on the front. We are average people living in the same city,” said Langer, a Hungarian Jew who attended a yeshiva in Jerusalem and moved to Berlin to continue his religious studies. “Of course we all feel sorry for what’s going on there and we have relatives and friends in Gaza and in Israel and in the West Bank. But maybe we can build up something more peaceful here in Berlin.”
(JTA) Reuven Rivlin just did the one thing Israel’s president — a largely ceremonial post — doesn’t usually do: He publicly, and vehemently, opposed a specific bill endorsed by the government and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Addressing a conference in Eilat, Rivlin lambasted the controversial Nation-State Law, advanced this week by Israel’s Cabinet and which seeks to enshrine Israel’s Jewish character in law.
Supporters of the law say it merely places the two sides of Israel’s “Jewish and democratic” character on equal footing and reinforces the state’s Jewishness against its enemies. But the law’s opponents say it gives primacy to Israel’s Jewish side. They point to the absence of the word “equality” in the bill and note that the bill fails to guarantee collective rights to Israel’s minorities.
Rivlin made clear which side of the debate he’s on.
“Ladies and gentlemen, such a hierarchical approach, which places Jewishness before democracy, misses the great significance of the [Israeli] Declaration of Independence, which combined the two elements together without separating them,” he said. “This is the beating heart of the State of Israel, a state established on two solid foundations: nationhood on the one hand and democracy on the other. The removal of one will bring the whole building down.”
It’s not surprising that Rivlin opposes the bill; he’s long been a crusader for democratic and minority rights. But it is surprising that he came out against the government so publicly. The president’s job is to welcome dignitaries, represent the state at such functions as funerals, and guide the formation of a new government following elections.
The president is not a political position, per se, and he’s not supposed to get involved in legislative battles. Rivlin himself stressed that point in an interview with the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz before he was elected in June. He was responding to a question about his opposition to a Palestinian state.
“I won’t intervene in Knesset decisions,” he told Horovitz.”The president is a bridge to enable debate, to reduce tensions, to alleviate frictions.”
So why did he intervene here? A source in the president’s office, who wished to remain anonymous, said Rivlin sees this bill as not just any piece of proposed legislation but fears it will affect the core nature of Israel’s democracy.
A new proposed bill, supported by senators on both sides of the aisle, will finally define and determine the United States of America as the land of the Protestant People, the largest religious constituency in the U.S. and the group out of which America’s founding fathers and ruling leadership emerged.
The new law aims to anchor Protestant values in the laws of the land, inspired by the spirit of the American Constitution. Furthermore, the bill proceeds to state that the U.S. will continue to uphold a fundamentally democratic character. According to the new law, the United States will be fully committed to the foundations of Freedom, Justice, and Peace, in light of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At the same time, the bill suggests, the right to implement a national self-definition will be exclusively reserved for the Protestant People. According to the new bill, Protestant values will serve as inspiration to lawmakers and judges at the different levels of the United States’ legislative and judicial branches. In cases where a court of justice encounters difficulties in ruling over issues that have no readily available answers in the Law, in the Christian Canon, or in logical reasoning, it will then rule according to the principles of freedom, justice, integrity and peace stemming from the Protestant heritage.
In addition, the national emblems of the United States, such as its flag and national anthem, will be drawn directly from the tradition of the Protestant Church, and the official calendar of the U.S. will follow the Protestant liturgical year. Finally, the United States will further act to preserve and entrench the Protestant historical and cultural tradition and to cultivate it in the U.S. and abroad.
Any reader who has gotten this far would probably note that such a law could not be passed or even seriously proposed by the United States legislature. In Israel, however, it could become a fundamental law, on a level equivalent to a constitutional amendment in the United States.