Forward Thinking

Israeli Teacher May Lose Job Over 'Leftist' Views

By Mairav Zonszein

A schoolgirl listens to language class on November 4, 2002 in Jerusalem. / Getty Images

An Israeli high school teacher faces dismissal after a student complained that he expressed radical “leftist” views in the classroom. In a letter to Education Minister Shay Piron, 12th-grade student Sapir Sabah accused Adam Verete — who teaches philosophy in the small northern Israeli town of Kiryat Tivon — of saying the IDF is “unusually brutal” and uses rhetoric in class that disparages the state.

Since news broke, Verete has received threats to his life and other forms of slander and incitement, for which he has filed a complaint with the police. It didn’t help that former MK Michael Ben Ari — a right-wing Kahanist notorious for his Jewish supremacist and incendiary views — posted Sabah’s letter on his Facebook page, immediately turning the issue into a public left-right political battle. Sabah herself has in the past argued in class that all Arabs should be thrown into the sea and also called Verete a traitor, adding that treasonous citizens like him are punished by death. No one from the school has condemned her hate speech or her incitement against Verete, instead chalking it up to “her opinion.”

In what can only be described as a modern-day Israeli McCarthy-style tribunal, administrators from ORT — the non-profit network of state-subsidized schools that employs Verete — held a hearing last week with him to discuss the allegations. Portions of the audio recording of the hearing released on news sites reveal a hostile group of administrators uninterested in getting to the bottom of the issue, or in discussing the boundaries of democracy and critical thinking in school.

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Scarlett Johansson Stars in 'SodaStream'

By Eli Valley

Hollywood starlet Scarlett Johansson is taking heat for her decision to represent SodaStream, an Israeli home beverage company that operates in the occupied West Bank. Cartoonist Eli Valley offers his own unique graphic take on the controversy.

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Europe Still Needs Holocaust Remembrance Day

By Anna Momigliano

Milan — Today, many European countries — including Germany, Italy and the UK — are observing the annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day. What makes this particular Holocaust Remembrance Day peculiar in Italy is the fact that quite a few public intellectuals, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have called for its abolition. Well, that and the fact that three pig heads have just been sent to three major Jewish sites in Rome, in an apparent mafia-style attempt at intimidation.

Among the public figures explicitly calling for the abolition of Holocaust Remembrance Day are Elena Loewenthal, a renowned Jewish writer who just published the pamphlet Contro il Giorno Della Memoria (Against the Day of Memory), and Giuliano Ferrara, a devoutly Catholic conservative pundit who wrote a much discussed editorial on the topic last month.

The utility and raison d’être of Holocaust Remembrance Day have often been questioned since it was established in the early 2000s. Allow me to sum up the main arguments most commonly presented against this day, in an effort to better explain why, no matter how flawed it may be, I’m still convinced that Europe needs Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: anti-Semitism, Nazi, Italy, Israel, Europe, Holocaust

Bill De Blasio Takes Well-Worn Pro-Israel Path

By Daniel Treiman

Bill De Blasio and his family celebrate inauguration as New York mayor. Like predecessors at Gracie Mansion, liberal and conservative alike, Hizzoner is hewing a pro-Israel line.

(JTA) — New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, drew some attention last week with his remarks at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee event. “Part of my job description is to be a defender of Israel,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio isn’t the first New York City mayor to see the job this way.

New York City mayors have been outspoken defenders of Israel since its establishment — and of the Zionist cause even before that.

They have visited Israel, called for American aid, opposed arms sales to Israel’s enemies, snubbed visiting foreign leaders who were hostile to Israel, and criticized U.S. presidents on Israel-related issues.

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Do Jewish Voices Count More on Israel and Iran?

By Raphael Magarik

Sanctions bill sponsor Sen. Robert Menendez addresses AIPAC annual policy conference, Washington Convention Center, March 5, 2013. / Getty Images

In American politics, do Jewish voices count more on Israel than others? Should they? And who’s counting? UCLA professor Mark Kleiman, for one, who called on his Washington Monthly blog for readers to lobby their senator against a new Iran sanctions bill especially “if you’re Jewish, or have a Jewish-sounding name.” The anti-Zionist writer Phil Weiss responded that Kleiman’s appeal proves that, on this issue, “we [Jews] are 5/3 of a man, to reverse the old voting fraction of black people.”

Weiss has picked an obnoxious analogy. Even those who talk about Israel as an “apartheid state” rarely have the chutzpah to include Washington D.C. in the supposed ethnocracy. But Weiss is also wrong in a more interesting way. Talk of how much Jews count is hopelessly naïve, because in fact, American foreign policy — in many areas — responds far less to mass demographics than to small, committed ideological elites.

Why is that? First of all, American Jews don’t care much politically about Israel. Most feel emotionally attached to Israel, but in 2012, only four percent considered it their most important political issue, classing it with sleepers like the environment and immigration. Nor is our apathy atypical: Americans just don’t care much about foreign policy. Less than ten percent of us vote primarily on foreign policy. When asked what is the most important issue facing the country, we show no interest in other countries (well, a little when people leave them to come here). Government, policy, and media elites love to talk about an increasingly globalized world, but most Americans think of foreign affairs as politically remote and irrelevant.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: American Jewish Committee, AIPAC, Anti-Defamation League, Iran, Israel

Why Two Chief Rabbis Is Better Than One

By Nathan Jeffay

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Blau speaks at a Jewish school in Berlin. / Getty Images

When you package it right, even a plot against pluralism can be made to seem progressive.

In Israel, government ministers spanning from left to right have advanced legislation that will end the country’s dual Chief Rabbinate, under which there are two religious figureheads, one Sephardi and one Ashkenazi. Instead, if the Knesset approves the bill, there will be one.

“In a state where there is only one President, one Supreme Court president, one Prime Minister and one chief of general staff, there is no way to justify the doubling of the position of chief rabbi,” reasoned Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

Smooth talking, but this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The President, Supreme Court president, Prime Minister and army chief have set political, judicial and defense jobs. Religious leaders are an entirely different matter — they are meant to lead, inspire, and uplift. And to do that in a country where people come from a broad range of religious traditions, giving at least a nod to this by having more than one Chief Rabbi makes perfect sense. It means that at least the two main ethic groupings have a figure on the top level of the state rabbinate.

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Canadian Envy on Martin Luther King Day

By Mira Sucharov

Rabbi Joachim Prinz (center) confers with Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington in 1963. / Getty Images

As a Canadian Jew, I often feel a twinge of envy on Martin Luther King Day. I’m envious of larger-than-life heroes who succeed in uniting a nation around issues that are so blatantly about justice versus bigotry that almost no one can today publicly disagree. I’m envious for symbols like Rosa Parks, and for American rabbis, like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who were able to join these freedom seekers while “praying with their feet,” as Heschel famously described his act of solidarity when he marched in Selma.

Today, it seems, the issues worth fighting for when you’re a Canadian Jew who expresses her political Jewish identity largely in terms of attachment to Israel are not nearly as simple. This can make the idea of praying with one’s feet a lonely exercise. As I write this, Israel is hosting an official visit by my prime minister, the Jewish State’s best friend among a sea of leaders who are increasingly critical of Netanyahu’s policies.

Will Prime Minister Stephen Harper mention anything to Bibi, today, on Martin Luther King Day, about the hundreds of Africans whom Israel is holding in open-air prisons, in contravention of the international refugee convention to which Israel is a signatory?

Many would of course argue that separate water fountains, Jim Crow, voter suppression, and back-of-the-bus laws in pre-civil rights America have nothing to do with the current asylum-seeker quagmire in Israel. But many others would say that there lies but a short road from one to the other.

I also wonder whether Prime Minister Harper will suggest to Bibi, today, on Martin Luther King Day, that the many laws that still exist in Israel — laws that effectively discriminate between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel — should be changed.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Stephen Harper, Martin Luther King, Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Canada

11 Reasons To Love — or Hate — SodaStream

By Elisheva Goldberg

REASONS TO LOVE:

1 — It’s delicious. What Jew doesn’t like seltzer?

2 — It’s eco-friendly, saving massive amounts of otherwise virtually indestructible plastic waste.

3 — It could feasibly pay for itself.

4 — According to MSNBC, it’s the largest job provider for local Palestinian workers.

5 — It comes in invigorating Energy Drink, tipsy Happy Hour Cocktail and relaxing Diet Tea flavors.

REASONS TO HATE:

6 — SodaStream’s factory is located in the settlement Mishor Adumim, in a strategic bloc of settlements that — if completed — would make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

7 — It has fraudulently used the “made in Israel” label on its products when, in fact, they were made in the occupied Palestinian territories.

8 — It is also arguable that it doesn’t pay for itself unless you “regularly buy name brand can soda and pay full cost for it.”

9 — According to WhoProfits, it was guilty of worker exploitation until the workers’ rights organization Kav LaOved got involved. It also takes advantage of Israeli policies that make it cheaper for it to be across the Green Line, in occupied Palestinian territory.

10 — SodaStream is located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under complete civil and military control of the IDF. That means Palestinian entrepreneurs, business owners, and industries face significant barriers that force them to turn to the settlements for employment.

11 — It also comes in Kool-Aid. And they want you to drink it.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: West Bank, Super Bowl, SodaStream, Scarlett Johansson, Palestinians, Israel

ADL's One-State Double Standard

By Sigal Samuel

Chile’s El Palestino soccer club recently raised the ire of pro-Israel groups when it decided to redesign its team jerseys, replacing the numeral one with a one-state map of Palestine. Because they show the entire map of Israel as Palestine, these jerseys effectively erase Israel, making it seem like the state doesn’t exist.

In a blog post last week, I asked how the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Anti-Defamation League can condemn these jerseys for using a one-state map, while staying mum about the fact that the Jewish National Fund does the exact same thing on its charity collection boxes. The ADL hadn’t gotten back to me by the time the post went up, but they’ve since emailed me this response so that I can update Forward readers on their stance. Here goes:

There is no comparison between the JNF blue box and the team jerseys worn by Chile’s “El Palestino” soccer club. The Chilean team’s shirts are a highly politicized form of incitement which negates Israel’s existence, while the JNF boxes have a representation of the internationally recognized country of Israel.

Huh. It’s hard to know how this explanation is supposed to defuse the idea that there’s a double standard at work in certain pro-Israel groups when it comes to one-state maps. As far as I can tell, though, three claims are being made here. Let me try to unpack them.

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In Jewish Italy, ‘Diaspora’ Is a Dirty Word

By Anna Momigliano

The former Jewish ghetto on the banks of the Tiber in central Rome. / Getty Images

Should Jews living in the Diaspora feel ashamed of being, well, Jews living in the Diaspora? A growing number of European Jews, it seems, believe the answer is yes. But when did we start buying into this narrative?

I’ve been asking myself this question lately because of a debate that’s going on here in Italy. It has to do with the opportunity to build a Holocaust museum. A very well known conservative pundit, Giuliano Ferrara, recently criticized the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Renzo Gattegna, who dared to protest the fact that Italy doesn’t have such a museum. Ferrara suggested Jews worry less about “the anti-Semitism of the past” and focus on more urgent issues, such as stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

What struck me most was the reaction I saw in the Italian Jewish press and online forums. A number of people sided with the right-wing commentator, claiming that building a memorial for the Holocaust would actually be inappropriate. Why? Because it would promote a Diasporic idea of Judaism!

Emanuele Segre Amar, a Jewish leader who serves as deputy chair of the Jewish community of Turin, went so far as to claim that Holocaust memorials “promote the stereotype of the Jew as victim, docile, weak, assimilated and Diasporic.”

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Rose Fostanes, Israeli X-Factor's Unlikely Winner

By Nathan Jeffay

It was one of the most moving moments I can remember in Israeli television. Last night, Israel’s most popular human export crowned the country’s most adored import.

Supermodel Bar Refaeli, whose career took off in foreign fashion centers, delivered the best imaginable news to a woman who unexpectedly found fame far from home, in Israel.

Hosting the first series of Israeli X-Factor, Refaeli informed Rose Fostanes, 47, that she had been voted the winner. Fostanes arrived in Israel four years ago to work as a caregiver and cleaner for the elderly, but found herself in a much more high-profile role as soon as she auditioned for X-Factor and captured the hearts of the nation.

If viewers were asked before the first show to describe what they thought the winner would be like, they would have never described someone like Fostanes. Not only is she non-Jewish and non-Israeli. She also hardly speaks Hebrew, is far older than the average contestant, has a far curvier figure than many women in music, and is a lesbian in a long-term relationship. It was poignant that her winning performance was “My Way,” the song popularized by Frank Sinatra.

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What York University Can Learn From Israel

By Mira Sucharov

Aerial photo of York University, Toronto, in 2010. / City of Toronto

The ongoing dilemma of accommodating religious beliefs in a liberal and multicultural society is again glaringly apparent. News reports reveal that at York University, a large, publicly-funded post-secondary institution in Toronto, a student in a sociology course requested that he be exempt from required group work. His religion forbids him from “mingling with women,” he explained.

Over the ensuing days, the dean granted the request, the professor flouted the decision (insisting that doing otherwise would make him an “accessory to sexism”), the student complied with the professor’s ruling, and the dean’s decision has since been pilloried by politicians and public commentators. In a rare show of solidarity and non-partisanship, representatives of all three of Canada’s major political parties expressed dismay over the student’s request and the university’s decision to grant it, citing Canadian values of gender equality.

The media has not disclosed the student’s name or his religion. But as an observer and analyst of Jewish affairs both in North America and in Israel, I can’t help but reflect on current challenges in the ultra-Orthodox community in North America and especially in Israel. In that light, it soon becomes apparent that amid the debates over this particular Canadian case, at least one important point is being omitted.

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Scarlett Johansson: 'No Guilt' About SodaStream

By Elisheva Goldberg

Scarlett Johansson poses for photographers on November 10, 2013, in Rome. / Getty Images

Scarlett Johansson signed on this week as the new “global ambassador” for the West Bank-based Israeli company SodaStream and will be featured in the company’s 2014 Super Bowl advertisement. For SodaStream, this deal makes sense: Johansson is remarkably sexy, eco-friendly, loves the product, and happens to be Jewish. It makes particular sense since the company’s stock recently took a hit and its image has been tarnished by the fact that its factory is located in the Mishor Adumim industrial park in Israel’s occupied territories.

But for Johansson, who last October mentioned to Harper’s Bazaar that she might be interested in a political career, this deal makes a lot less sense. In fact, it may have forced her into her first public stance on foreign policy — one that is way outside the official American consensus.

This 29-year-old actress is no stranger to politics. Johansson campaigned for Kerry in 2004 and more heavily for Obama in 2008 and 2012. She spent time boosting the youth vote in Iowa in 2008, did a short campus speaking tour, and co-hosted a fundraiser featuring pro-Obama clothing and accessories. She even appeared in the Will.I.Am song “Yes We Can” inspired by Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire primary speech. In her unpretentious 2012 DNC speech, she said that she was there to “use whatever attention” she was “fortunate enough to receive to shed the spotlight on what’s at stake for all of us.” But with SodaStream, her considerable attention-getting powers are being used for something far less admirable: to advertise for a company located in a place President Obama and Secretary Kerry and Secretary Clinton have called “illegitimate” and “an obstacle to peace” and a “cause for concern.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: West Bank, Super Bowl, SodaStream, Scarlett Johansson, Israel

What If Ariel Sharon Had Died 8 Years Ago?

By Nathan Jeffay

If today has proven one thing, it is that time can be a healer here in Israel.

Imagine that Ariel Sharon had died the day after his stroke in 2006, instead of clinging on to life, unable to communicate. On the personal level, it would have probably been far easier for his family. But on the national level, his death would have most likely been a highly divisive affair.

The year before Sharon’s stroke, he had delivered a harsh sentence to the very same settlement that he built — he evacuated the Gaza settlements, and some in the West Bank. For settlers, this was an act of betrayal so great that some later composed hymns of mourning for recital on the Fast of Av, along with those commemorating the destruction of the Jerusalem Temples and the Holocaust.

Anger about the disengagement hasn’t subsided. In a roundabout way the fact that it happened makes the settlement movement more aggressive, more on-its-guard, and parts of it more violent (the disengagement prompted the “price tag” ethos), every year. But it isn’t synonymous with Sharon in the same way as it was in 2005/6. Years of silence on Sharon’s part have allowed even his strongest critics from the Israeli right to find something to celebrate from his life.

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Israel's Got No Business Banning Nazi Symbols

By Brent E. Sasley

A swastika symbol painted on the wall of a synagogue in Petah Tikva, Israel. / Getty Images

Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted for a bill yesterday that, if it passes three readings in the Knesset, would impose penalties on those who use the term “Nazi” as a comparison, employ Nazi symbols, or call in some way for the work the Nazis began (killing the Jews) to be finished. Those who break the law could face a 100,000 shekel fine and six months in prison. But while Nazi comparisons are abhorrent, the law itself is dangerous and anti-democratic.

The bill — a second effort after a similar bill was proposed in 2012 — has broad backing for now. It was sponsored by Likud-Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, and Hatnua, while some members in Labor have in the past expressed support. And we can easily discern worthy motives behind it. Settlers fighting forced evacuation by the state have used Nazi symbols to claim the government is as evil as Hitler. In 2011, to protest the Haredi draft, several Orthodox demonstrators dressed in uniforms that resembled concentration camp clothing, complete with yellow star. Civil dialogue is difficult under these conditions, to say nothing of the deadly atmosphere that can be created when these accusations are carried too far — for example, the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.

And yes, comparing people you disagree with to Nazis is ridiculous and immoral. There simply hasn’t been any group or regime like the Nazis, who didn’t just torture and murder millions of people, but created the most efficient systems and organizations for doing so. The Holocaust isn’t the only case of mass killing in human history, but it is unique.

Moreover, because the term is associated with such horrific and sadistic acts of violence, calling your enemies or opponents “Nazis” obscures the real issues at stake, because of the emotional reactions and overly-sensationalist assumptions the name evokes. This, in turn, makes it that much harder to construct policies to resolve the problem or conflict at hand.

But Nazi comparisons are not for the Israeli state to forbid. Doing so only serves as a restriction on what citizens can say about their country and opens the door to further limitations on their freedom of expression.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: anti-Semitism, Nazi, Knesset, Jewish, Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu

A Portrait of Ariel Sharon

By Eli Valley

This week, all of Israel and not a few world leaders gathered to mark the passing of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Cartoonist Eli Valley offers his own unique graphic take on the much-memorialized man.

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Fiction and Farce: Democracy at the MLA

By Rachel S. Harris

Thinkstock

I would love to say that powerful argument won the day. I’d like to claim that intellect and facts persuaded the members, and whether the resolution was won or lost, its decisive outcome was a result of profound and significant reflection.

The first resolution before the Modern Language Association’s Delegate Assembly served to censure the Israeli government for preventing the free and open travel of American academics to Palestine passed, despite little but anecdotal evidence.

The removal of the term ‘arbitrary’ from the original proposal in response to critical evidence proving the procedural legitimacy of Israel’s actions left a resolution which declaimed that Israel should no longer be allowed to control its own borders. With only 142 Americans denied access to Israel out of 626,000 last year, it seems ludicrous to consider a denial rate of 0.023% prejudicial and illegal. But that didn’t stop the resolution from passing 60:53.

Unfortunately, the public farce that was the Delegate Assembly made it impossible to take any of the process seriously. United in condemnation of the MLA officers who managed the room, both those who spoke for the resolution and those who spoke against it were mainly silenced by the arbitrary application of rules of governance, which frequently left the officers huddled at the back of the stage.

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First They Came For the Humanities...

By Rachel S. Harris

Thinkstock

This year’s MLA was supposed to be discussing the crisis of affairs in the Humanities. Only a lucky few of the graduate students on the market with their freshly minted PhDs will find jobs in academia — ever.

The increasing corporatization of higher education is driving the scholarly agenda, as funders begin to dictate the scope of the university’s educational mission. Students are being pushed into ever higher debt in order to get undergraduate degrees, which further drives the expectation that only high paying jobs in business, accounting, and computing, to name but a few fields are worth their time and money.

Only those who anticipate that they will be able to carry mortgage sized debt, some for the next 25 years, can embark on advanced degrees in Law, Psychology, Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary sciences, without strong financial support from family. All that is to say, we are making education for the rich, and for those who think they’ll probably be rich. We are making it for those who don’t already carry financial burdens for their families, for the families they hope to have, and the communities they’d like to one day contribute to.

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Who Will Show Up To Mourn Ariel Sharon?

By Nathan Jeffay

A life-size art installation of Ariel Sharon is displayed in 2010 in Tel Aviv. / Getty Images

Ariel Sharon, the 11th Prime Minister of Israel, has died, and arrangements are being made for his funeral. The question that looms large now is who will watch him reach his final resting place and who won’t.

Sharon’s term as prime minister ended suddenly on January 4, 2006, when he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that put him in a coma. Sharon’s reputation was at a high — months earlier he had taken what many world leaders considered a bold step, in the form of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. He was the staunch rightist who made the most significant concession of recent years, bolting Likud and setting up a new party, Kadima.

It’s almost certain that had he died back then, the world’s great and good would have flocked to Israel to pay respects to an incumbent prime minister — one of significant note.

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If 'Palestine' Jerseys Incite Hatred, What About JNF?

By Sigal Samuel

Normally, when a sports team decides to redesign its uniforms, the decision isn’t considered a major news story. But when Chile’s El Palestino soccer club began wearing jerseys that show the entire map of Israel as Palestine, it met with an intense Jewish backlash — and it’s easy to see why.

By using a one-state map of Palestine to replace the numeral one, the new jerseys effectively erase Israel, making it seem like the state doesn’t exist. Of course Israelis and Jews worldwide would take umbrage at this. And, predictably, statements condemning the jerseys poured in this week from all the usual suspects.

According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s January 6 statement, the jerseys are not only “inciting hatred among the large Arab community in Chile.” They are also “fomenting a terrorist intent.” The Anti-Defamation League added on January 8 that the one-state map constitutes “inappropriate political imagery” and a “clear delegitimization of Israel.” Both organizations called for the imposition of penalties on El Palestino soccer club.

For these groups to take issue with imagery that depicts Israeli and Palestinian land as a single state makes perfect sense. But El Palestino isn’t the only group to do so: the Jewish National Fund also favors one-state imagery. Their iconic blue donation boxes, ubiquitous in Jewish schools across the globe, feature a map depicting Israel without the Green Line. That means the JNF doesn’t distinguish Israel from the Palestinian-populated West Bank — even though the Israeli government itself officially endorsed the idea of two states in 2009.

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