Forward Thinking

Israeli Rabbinate Should Learn From Shavuot Heroine

By Pesach Sommer

Russian immigrants to Israel / Courtesy of Alona Sibuk

Her story is well known. She came from a foreign land where she lived like a princess. Despite a very questionable connection to Judaism, she chose to follow her mother-in-law to Israel. There, she lived in abject poverty, getting by only by taking charity. Even when she found a kind stranger to help her, there were those who continued to doubt whether she belonged in Israel, and tried to prevent her from getting married.

Her name is Irina, Svetlana or Marissa, and you don’t have to read the Book of Ruth — as Jews around the world will do this week for Shavuot — to know her story and feel for her, her family, and the literally hundreds of thousands of other Russians of Jewish descent who are living in limbo in Israel.

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Why Is Avigdor Mad at Bibi?

By Nathan Jeffay

Getty Images

Since Israel’s last general election a year and a half ago, the country’s two most powerful party leaders have exhibited surprisingly good relations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman united their parties, Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, before the election and have surprised observers by keeping them together and getting along relatively well. Netanyahu loyally kept the Foreign Minister post open for him until his legal troubles ended in November.

But all is no longer rosy in paradise. Netanyahu has angered Liberman by backing Likud’s Reuven Rivlin for president. Netanyahu made the move reluctantly, after failing to recruit a candidate he deemed more suitable. His coolness towards Rivlin even prompted him to take the highly unusual step of trying to bring a president from New York, namely Elie Wiesel.

While Rivlin is a staunch rightist, both Netanyahu and Liberman dislike him for various reasons, including his refusal to back certain measures aimed against Israel’s Arab minority. But Netanyahu gave in to pressures from within is party, while Liberman remains opposed — and is left angry at Netanyahu for breaking what he said was an agreement not to back Rivlin.

Under the surface of the Netanyahu-Liberman relationship, they are two men jostling for prominence and fighting for the title of king of the Israeli right. And if Liberman can get ahead by generating a crisis based on Netanyahu’s presidential choices, capitalizing on an accusation that he acted in bad faith, Israel may be in for some political turbulence.

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I'm No One's 'Heretic'

By Emily L. Hauser

Rabbi Yaakov Perlow speaks at the Agudath Isael annual gala / YouTube

On Wednesday we learned that, while speaking at a fundraising gala for the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, head of that organization, slandered virtually every Jew on the planet, down to and including a bunch of plain-old-Orthodox folks. We were told that attendees of the event were “stunned.”

“The Torah must be guarded from the secular forces that seek to corrupt its values and the lives of [Jews], from intruders who sometimes in the name of Judaism completely subvert and destroy the eternal values of our people,” Perlow said. And also: “[The Reform and Conservative Movements] have disintegrated themselves, become oblivious, fallen into an abyss of intermarriage and assimilation. They have no future, they almost have no present.” And furthermore, the Open Orthodoxy movement is “steeped in apikorsos [heresy].”

It was quite the little speech. But stunned? Really? Attendees were stunned? Do they not get out much?

Perlow heads an organization that is, by definition, extremist. They believe themselves to be upholding the strictest, and thus most correct, interpretation of God’s own Divine law; they believe that the existence of the Jewish people, the coming of Messiah, and quite possibly the world itself depends on the painstaking observance of that interpretation — which is not, in their understanding, an interpretation at all, but simply Jewish law, halakhah.

Of course he thinks you’re a bad Jew — no, I’m sorry, not a “bad Jew.” He thinks that you’re a literal danger to Judaism itself. You have come — yes, you! — to “subvert and destroy the eternal values” of the Jewish people. You! (Unless you happen to be Haredi, and Perlow’s kind of Haredi at that, in which case, welcome to Forward Thinking, we try to be a very welcoming blog).

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‘Go to Hell, Leftist’ and Other Jerusalem Day Slogans

By Leanne Gale

The crowd enters Jerusalem’s Old City singing racist chants / A. Daniel Roth Photography

As I made my way out of the Muslim Quarter, the dark alleyways suddenly seemed too quiet. Just moments before, crowds of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants had marched through this same space shouting “Death to Arabs.” Children had banged against shuttered Palestinian homes with wooden sticks and Israeli police had stood by as teenagers chanted “Muhammad is dead.” Now, all that remained were eerie remnants of their presence: “Kahane Tzadak” (Kahane was right) stickers plastered over closed Palestinian shops and the ground littered with anti-Muslim flyers. As Israeli police and soldiers began to unblock closures, Palestinian residents of the Muslim Quarter cautiously ventured outside. This is the only time I cried.

Jerusalem Day marks the anniversary of the Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967. The March of Flags has become an annual tradition in which thousands of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants parade through the city waving Israeli flags. It culminates in a dramatic march through the Muslim Quarter, generally accompanied by racist slogans and incitement to violence. Israeli police arrive in the area earlier in the day, sealing off entry to Palestinian residents “for their own safety.” Those Palestinians who live in the Muslim Quarter are encouraged to close their shops and stay indoors, while any Palestinian counter-protest is quickly dispersed.

Growing up at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Long Island, I have fond memories of Jerusalem Day. We celebrated every year with school-wide assemblies and dances, singing “Sisu et Yerushalayim” (Rejoice in Jerusalem) and “Jerusalem of Gold” with pride. Even in high school, I never knew the political significance of the day or imagined that my joy might be at someone else’s expense. Today, I know better.

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Trying To Prove a Palestinian Died? Good Luck.

By Jordan Kutzik

Paul Hansen’s 2013 World Press Photo winning picture “Gaza Burial”

In college I had a Palestinian friend who, due to her ethnically ambiguous appearance, was often asked about her heritage. She would sometimes answer the invasive question by stating “I’m 95% Palestinian and I think about 5% squirrel or perhaps raccoon.” After hearing that line three or four times I decided to ask her why she kept using it. She responded: “Because, being Palestinian, I know that many people will never consider me fully human.”

I thought her line, albeit clever and poetic, was pure hyperbole. I didn’t fully grasp the extent to which Palestinians, not just as a people but as individual human beings, have been dehumanized by much of the Jewish community — until this past week when I began looking into the “Pallywood” meme.

“Pallywood,” a portmanteau of “Palestine” and “Hollywood,” is the belief among some Israelis and their American Jewish supporters that most footage of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israelis is faked. The meme came back to the forefront last week when many questioned the veracity of security-cam footage of the May 15 deaths of Palestinian teenagers Nadim Nawarah and Muhammad Salameh during a demonstration in the West Bank town of Bitunya. In a previous post, I examined the claim of Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen, the director of the religious pro-peace organization, the Vine and Fig Tree Project, that the way the boys fell on camera was “inconsistent” with their having been shot. Explaining that from my own experience watching films of wartime executions I know this claim to be false, I concluded that such statements are an attempt to control the narrative surrounding controversial events before a proper investigation can be conducted.

Since then, the Pallywood meme has continued in both social media and on one of America’s most prestigious TV news networks. Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen on May 27 tweeted an article alleging that Paul Hansen’s 2013 World Press Photo winning picture “Gaza Burial,” which captures the funeral procession of two Palestinian brothers killed in a 2012 Israeli airstrike, was faked. As you can see in Rabbi Cohen’s tweet itself, this allegation was swiftly debunked by the very media outlets that initially reported it.

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Brandeis Shouldn’t Cut Ties to Palestinian University

By Michael Ratner

Sari Nusseibeh in his office at Al-Quds university / Haaretz

Open Letter to Brandeis President

Dear President Lawrence:

By this letter I am resigning from the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis. While I appreciate that you were willing to reappoint me for another term, I do not feel my service on that board is compatible with your suspension of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the President of Al-Quds University, from that board. In addition, in light of your suspension of Dr. Nusseibeh and of Brandeis’ relationship with Al-Quds, I will not be making further donations to Brandeis. My reasons, which I am making public, are set forth below.

On November 18, 2013, at your direction, Brandeis suspended its longtime partnership (since 2003) with Al-Quds, a Palestinian university located in Jerusalem, Palestine. At the same time, you suspended the President of Al-Quds, Sari Nusseibeh, from the advisory board of the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis, a board on which I also serve. I profoundly disagree with both of these actions. I believe that you have seriously harmed important exchanges that offered at least some hope for better understanding among the Brandeis and Al-Quds communities. As a result of your precipitous action, you have also besmirched the reputation of President Nusseibeh, a well-known scholar who has spent his life working for a peaceful solution between Palestine and Israel.

While I feel that your decision requires me to take these actions, I do so with some reluctance, because of my long association with Brandeis. As you are aware, I was an alumnus of Brandeis from the 1960’s and attended during the time of the civil rights movement and the beginning of the Vietnam War protests. The school began to open my eyes to liberal and progressive politics. It was a place of intense discussion and debate with professors like Herbert Marcuse and speakers such as Malcolm X, Allen Ginsberg and Paul Goodman. As I said when Brandeis gave me the 2006 Alumni Achievement Award, “Those years really changed my life. It’s clear that Brandeis is where I became an activist.” In 2006, I was also appointed to the advisory board of the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life which is involved with the Al-Quds relationship.

My understanding of the background to your actions is informed by a report requested by you and issued by three Brandeis faculty who visited Al-Quds a few days after the November 5, 2013 rally which ultimately precipitated the chain of events that led to the suspension of the relationship with Al-Quds and of President Nusseibeh from the board. I note that you suspended President Nusseibeh before you even received the report.

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Why Jerusalem Day Is One Big Lie

By Emily L. Hauser

(Haaretz) — Jerusalem Day, we’re told, celebrates the reunification of Israel’s eternal capital, symbolizing “the continued historical connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.” It’s a moment to remember that, as Prime Minister Netanyahu once said, “Israel without Jerusalem is like a body without a heart.”

So we’re told, and so the vast majority of Jews in Israel and abroad believe. Jerusalem is our heart, our soul – a small, holy spot on the map around which everything else revolves. So we’re told.

Except that it’s a lie. “Jerusalem” – as currently constituted, featured on maps, and represented by Israel’s government – is not eternal. It is not undivided. And it is certainly not holy.

The geographic location to which Jewish hearts have turned for millennia is small, corresponding roughly to today’s Old City; the holy part – the area on which the Israelites were commanded to establish a resting place for the Divine Presence – is more modest still, consisting of the Temple Mount. When we stand before the Western Wall, or orient ourselves toward it in worship, we’re weaving our prayers and longings with those of all Jews, reaching across miles and years and touching the core of that which holds us in community.

Zionism stems from that faith experience, but is not identical to it. Zionism is a modern idea, a nationalist movement which, like all nationalist movements, centers on a shared language, culture, and land. That’s why Uganda was nixed as an alternative – because the Jewish people’s shared land is anchored by our holy city.

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Arab Israelis Increasingly Recognize Jewish State

By Nathan Jeffay

Israeli Jewish youths fix a menorah in Jerusalem’s Muslim quarter / Getty Images

There’s a received wisdom that in Israel, everyone is polarizing, and that with a right-wing government and stalled peace process, Arab citizens are feeling increasingly antagonistic towards the state. But a new survey suggests that this isn’t the case.

There has been a rise in the percentage of Arabs who recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. In 2012, 47% of Arab citizens accepted this, but in 2013 — the figure just released — this rose to 53%.

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Reuven Rivlin Called Reform Judaism 'Idol Worship'

By Ben Sales

(JTA) — If Likud Knesset member Reuven Rivlin gets elected next month to succeed President Shimon Peres as Israel’s next president, don’t blame Reform Jewry for withholding its applause. While Rivlin is thought of as an elder statesman and voice of reason within the Likud party, he hasn’t had the kindest words for America’s largest Jewish denomination.

In 1989, Rivlin accompanied Israeli Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, then CEO of the Israeli Religious Action Center, to a Shabbat service at Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, N.J. Regev told JTA that Rivlin “was most friendly” during the visit.

But speaking to the press, Rivlin lambasted the synagogue, and Reform Judaism, in an interview that appeared in Yediot Aharonot, a leading Israeli paper, and then subsequently in “Erev Shabbat,” an Israeli haredi paper, on April 19, 1989.

Here’s what Rivlin had to say about his Shabbat experience at Temple Emanu-El, along with a visit to another Reform synagogue:

As a Jew who does not observe 613 commandments and perhaps not even 13 commandments, I was deeply shocked without any limit. I discovered what kind of worshiping group was in front of me, such that any connection between it and Judaism didn’t even approach reality. I felt as if I were in a church.

I was completely stunned. This is idol worship and not Judaism. Until now I thought Reform was a stream of Judaism, but after visiting two of their synagogues I am convinced that this is a completely new religion without any connection to Judaism. Total assimilation. Their prayer is like a completely Protestant ceremony.

In Haaretz today, former Union for Reform Judaism President Eric Yoffie recalled the incident, as well as a 2007 meeting he had with Rivlin in which Rivlin would not commit to calling Yoffie “rabbi.”

Regev, now CEO of Hiddush, an organization that advocates for religious pluralism in Israel, says Rivlin still has work to do when it comes to respecting non-Orthodox Jews.

“In terms of religious pluralism, he has not demonstrated empathy or understanding of world Jewry,” Regev told JTA.

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March of the Living Exploits — Like 9/11 Museum

By Adam Chanes

March of the Living participants visit Auschwitz in 2009 / Yossi Selliger

This year, I made the difficult decision not to join my high school classmates on March of the Living, an organized trip that takes students to Poland’s death camps and then on to Israel. But it wasn’t until I read Meg Bloom Glasser’s opinion piece, which laments the new 9/11 Museum’s approach to memorializing, that I fully understood why.

The word Bloom Glasser uses is “spectacle.”

“I have been reduced to a spectator in the cheap seats,” she said, convinced that the new Manhattan museum has filched from her any and all control over the memory of her husband, who died in the attacks.

“Spectacle” is just the right word for March of the Living. The most recognizable features in a March of the Living photo are the locked arms, the bright matching caps and shirts, and, most prominently, the Israeli flags — all decked out, right on the train tracks into Auschwitz.

The in-your-face, Israeli-flag-waving flashiness at the camps is disquieting because it represents Israel — in a seemingly innocent way — as a beacon of perfection in the Jewish world, and as something that is in need of everyone’s protection at all times. The hidebound nationalism is a bit much.

But Bloom Glasser captures my disillusionment through a sharper lens. “[9/11] may have been a public loss” — the Holocaust, too, is one of the most mourned public losses — “but… rather than honoring the lives lost, the museum just seems to exploit those deaths to tell a bigger story.”

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Coma Case Could Mean Leap Forward for Agunot

By Nathan Jeffay

A woman gestures at a Jerusalem demonstration to help agunot / Haaretz

We’re familiar with the stories of recalcitrant husbands who refuse to give their wives a get, a religious writ of divorce, effectively preventing them from remarrying. But less discussed is the heart-wrenching experience of women whose husbands are alive, but unable to interact with them in any way.

The Israeli city of Safed is known for its religious conservatism, but it has just come up with a massive innovation in Jewish law. While a husband’s consent is generally needed to approve a divorce, the Safed Rabbinical Court has just made an exception.

A man who has been in a coma for seven years following a motorbike accident has just been divorced from his wife, a 34-year-old mother of one, Haaretz reports. She believed that he will never regain consciousness, and wanted the opportunity to remarry.

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Posing as Jewish Women — To Beat Up Arab Men

By Sigal Samuel

Still from a video produced by anti-miscegenation group Yad L’Achim

Imagine this: You’re a young guy in Israel. Scrolling through Facebook, you see the profile of an attractive Jewish girl. She seems interested in finding a date, so you send her a message. She writes back! The two of you make plans to meet up in person next week. When the big day arrives, you show up at the appointed spot, excited and nervous. You hear a sound behind you and turn around, expecting to see the beautiful girl. Instead, a bunch of guys pounce on you and punch your lights out.

The reason? You’re an Arab, not a Jewish, Israeli.

Welcome to Jews Against Miscegenation, a far-right group of male teens and 20-somethings who pose as Jewish women on Facebook to bait and lure Arab “predators” into the open and then beat them up.

These young men made headlines in the Israeli press today after they were indicted at the Jerusalem District Court. Police were able to identify and catch them, thanks to a security camera mounted at the site of one of their attacks.

It’s a relief to see these youths finally taken into custody — not just because their actions are racist (mere Arabness is enough to get you targeted) and sexist (women clearly can’t be trusted to choose for themselves), but because reports over the past few years have suggested that Israel’s police and municipal governments were actually supporting and funding these bigots.

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Pam Geller — Secret to Interfaith Healing?

By Mira Sucharov

The controversial new bus ad.

Pamela Geller is at it again. Her new set of black and white posters on Metro buses in Washington, D.C. declare: “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s In the Quran. Two Thirds of All U.S. Aid Goes to Islamic Countries. Stop Racism. End All Aid to Islamic Countries.” An accompanying photo shows Adolph Hitler meeting with Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem during the Mandate period.

Geller is known for her inflammatory ads. But I admit that this one makes me think.

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Michael Oren, Israel's Historian, Runs Afoul of History

By Ali Gharib

Getty Images

Last week, Foreign Policy CEO David Rothkopf and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren published a frank exchange about Israel’s past and future. But this was no ordinary discussion. It was between friends: Rothkopf and Oren have known each other since college.

The pair’s long letters, edited and published, were revelatory. Rothkopf’s disenchantment with Israel produced the liveliest reactions from commentators. But less remarked upon was Oren’s unflinching devotion to Israel — a devotion so stirring that Oren, a former historian, has forsaken the historian’s craft in favor of the diplomat’s. That is, his missives to Rothkopf made a case for Israel directed at American Jews. But making a case can involve glossing over facts, sometimes even distorting them.

When Oren started speaking about the relationship between American Jews and Israel, it was clear this was going to be a guilt trip. “As so many American Jews of our generation,” Oren wrote to his old college buddy, “you have this idealized image of pre-1967 Israel. But we’re adults now and adults inhabiting an illusion-less world.”

Oren noted that Rothkopf “once felt a part of” the Israeli story. The rupture, Oren wrote, didn’t happen because Israel changed (it improved!), but because Rothkopf did: “[M]uch of American Jewry has also changed — you, in terms of your Jewish identity, have changed — and acknowledging that is a prerequisite for forming your opinions about the Jewish state.” Maybe Oren’s privy to something we aren’t, but it seems to me he’s conflated Rothkopf’s “Jewish identity” with his support for Israel. There are enough worms to fish the Atlantic Ocean clean in that can.

The more shocking stretch of this guilt trip, however, arose from his defiance of American criticisms of Israel, especially from American Jews.

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Zionism Was Kidnapped, Talmudically Speaking

By Sigal Samuel

Getty Images

“Zionism has been taken, kidnapped even, by the far right.”

So says Pulitzer-winning Holocaust historian Saul Friedlander in a Haaretz interview published over the weekend. Explaining that he was “a normal Zionist until 1968,” the professor says that nowadays he can no longer call himself a Zionist — thanks to the movement’s right-wing “kidnappers.”

Friedlander’s sense that Zionism has been stolen and besotted over the past three or four decades is one that will resonate with a lot of Jews — especially young Jews, who eye Israel’s rightward ideological shift, uptick in settlement building and price tag attacks, and occupation writ large with increasing dismay.

I share that profound dismay, but I actually think that Friedlander’s “kidnapping” statement misses the mark. It implies that Zionism started out as a perfectly sound concept but was, unfortunately, hijacked and problematized by right-wingers later on. But Zionism’s problems started long before the late sixties; they go back, I would argue, to the very beginning.

In fact, I agree that Zionism was “kidnapped,” but only if we’re talking in the Talmudic sense — that is, if we look at the movement through the lens of the Jewish legal category known as tinok shenishba — literally, a captured or kidnapped infant.

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Zionism Wasn't Kidnapped. It Was Handed Over.

By Emily L. Hauser

A Jewish settler boy sticks his tongue out at peace activists protesting in Hebron / Getty Images

This weekend, renowned Holocaust scholar Shaul Friedlander gave sharp expression to a feeling shared broadly by many Jews, in Israel and the Diaspora. “Zionism has been taken, kidnapped even, by the far right,” Friedlander said in an interview with Haaretz. And all around the world, these Jews shook their heads, and sighed. Yes, they thought, it has been.

I have enormous respect for Prof. Friedlander, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. Zionism wasn’t kidnapped, or even merely “taken,” by the far right. It was handed over, with barely a peep, by the vast middle.

Our Ze’ev Jabotinskys, Geula Cohens, and Meir Kahanes have always had a central role in Jewish nationalist thought, but the 21st century has seen their like rise to new prominence. Centrists, hard-core peaceniks, and leftists have watched grimly as Israel has drifted ever rightward since the second intifada. Every step toward peace seemed doomed from the outset, and Israel’s leadership took care to tell us that there just wasn’t anyone to talk to. More and more settlements were built, but again, Israel’s leadership always kindly clarified that these don’t stand in the way of peace, and really, what’s another road, another red roof?

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When 'Apartheid' Could Be the Word

By Benjamin Pogrund

Palestinian students perform in a play against Israel’s separation barrier at the Arab American University in the West Bank.

What’s all the fuss about? Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken the truth. He did so, first, in warning about apartheid. It does not exist at present: Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is a tyranny, and that’s serious — but there is none of the planned institutionalized racism, which is what “apartheid” means. However, if the occupation continues, or if Israel annexes areas of the West Bank, and if Palestinians remain as “second-class citizens” (as Kerry rightly puts it), then the apartheid label will be relevant.

In responding to the criticisms flung against him, Kerry said that Israel today is not apartheid. Again, he is correct. Within Israel proper, inside the Green Line, Arab citizens enjoy full citizenship rights; they do suffer discrimination — but it is nothing remotely like South African apartheid. Anyone who claims otherwise is either ignorant or dishonest.

If Kerry speaks such truth, why is he so condemned and told to apologize to Israel, and even to resign? Some of it no doubt comes from those who fear that his peace initiative might actually, against the odds, result in the creation of an independent Palestinian state, and they are desperate to cut him down. Other detractors are in denial: They cannot face the fact that Israel could slide into apartheid; they deceive themselves into believing that settlement expansion and the oppression of Palestinians can go on forever without any price to pay. The danger of Israel becoming an apartheid state is real and must be confronted. Instead of abusing Kerry, better to thank him for caring and for sounding the alarm.

Benjamin Pogrund is a South African-born journalist who lives in Jerusalem. His latest book, “Drawing Fire: Investigating the Accusations of Apartheid in Israel,” is being published by Rowman & Littlefield in July.

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I Know an Apartheid State — And It's Not Israel

By Wendy Kahn

Getty Images

As a child growing up in apartheid South Africa, I clearly remember the myriad daily humiliation and discrimination imposed upon black South Africans. I went to a privileged white school where no black pupils were allowed. Instead, black children were forced to attend atrocious township schools, where they received an inferior education. I visited sick friends and family in the Johannesburg General Hospital, where “whites only” were treated with affordable and excellent medical care. No black patients were allowed. Instead, they were sent to overcrowded hospitals with low-level facilities and given low-level care. I remember clearly park benches and public toilets reserved for white people, and traveling to university on white-only buses. Black people had to carry passes to enter so-called white areas. The discrimination was institutionalized, pervasive in every part of our daily lives. Transgressors were penalized and often jailed.

How different is the situation in Israel? During my frequent visits to that country, I have visited my sister-in-law in Hadassah Hospital in a ward with Jewish and Arab women. I have fetched friends’ children from school and seen the diverse make-up, with Jewish and Arab children laughing together as they left the building. I have seen integrated buses, parks, universities, restaurants and workplaces, and engaged with senior Arab leaders in the political arena and in civil administration.

It is difficult for me to understand how a comparison can be made between a model of discrimination manifesting in every facet of South African life under apartheid and a country with entrenched equality — politically, legally and in every sphere of life. Discrimination, mandatory in South Africa, is illegal in Israel.

Yes, Israel has its problems and challenges, but to label it as an apartheid state shows a lack of understanding of — and indeed has the effect of belittling — the true evil of apartheid that we remember too well in South Africa.

Wendy Kahn is the national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

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Don't Rent Apartments to Lesbians, Says Rabbi

By Sigal Samuel

Getty Images

“A nice girl came to me and expressed interest in renting my apartment. She also informed me that she was in a relationship with a woman. Given her relationship status, is there a Jewish law preventing me from renting the apartment to her?”

When this question was recently posted to one of Israel’s popular religious internet forums, Ramat Gan’s chief municipal rabbi Yaakov Ariel had this to say:

“If the two women want to rent the apartment together, don’t rent it to them. If just one of them wants to rent it, you can let her — but only if you have no better option.”

There you have it: proof that housing discrimination is alive and well in Israel, the country that likes to bill itself as a haven for the LGBT community.

It’s an incredibly disappointing response, of course. Disappointing to think that prominent rabbis are going around saying, as Rabbi Ariel did in a follow-up interview, that lesbian relationships are “unnatural” and that property owners don’t need to make themselves party to such “strange things.”

Disappointing to think they’re inculcating in Jews the belief that “Jewish law doesn’t look kindly on couples like that,” without bothering to add any sort of nuance, like the fact that lesbian relationships don’t really become an issue in Judaism until Maimonides gets around to them in the 12th century.

Disappointing to think that if my girlfriend and I were to try and rent an apartment in Israel, daring to be as honest and forthcoming as the would-be tenant mentioned above apparently was, we could easily be discriminated against.

Disappointing — but not at all surprising. Because this rabbi’s don’t-rent-to-lesbians policy is just the latest in a series of similar rabbinic responses coming out of Israel over the past few years. Remember the don’t-rent-to-Arabs policy? Or how about the don’t-rent-to-Ethiopians policy?

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Did Open Hillel Just Score a Real Victory?

By Aryeh Younger

Hillel President Eric Fingerhut chats with a student / Flickr: Hillel News and Views

As members of Open Hillel’s steering committee, my fellow organizers and I commend Hillel International’s recent announcement to create the “Hillel International Israel Strategy Committee,” which will review the organization’s current approach to dialogue on Israel and Palestine and make recommendations for improvement. According to a letter written by CEO Eric Fingerhut on Hillel’s website, this committee “will include a diverse group of students from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences.”

This announcement, along with other potentially hopeful ones made by Fingerhut, proves that Hillel International is starting to listen to students’ concerns. Open Hillel’s campaign to change Hillel International’s policies is working. Three college campuses have already declared their Hillels to be “Open,” and several more have issued petitions to change their current policies. Plus, there’s evidence that these Open Hillels have experienced increased attendance at their events because more students now feel welcome.

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  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
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