Quick, if you’re a settler-dominated government uninterested in sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinian people, what’s a good way to telegraph your position without raising a ruckus?
Well, one good way would be to turn over a sizable portion of Judaism’s holiest site to the management of a maximalist settler group — which is precisely what Israel’s government is about to do.
Haaretz reported on Monday that settlement organization Elad—City of David Foundation stands to be granted the management of the Western Wall’s southern section — not the section most people visit, but the part to the south of the rampart up to the Temple Mount itself, where the Jerusalem Archaeological Park/Davidson Center are located.
Elad is best known, perhaps, for its management of the City of David (Ir David) archeological excavations, which it has turned into a right-wing propaganda center, eliding Palestinian history in the city, ignoring findings that don’t support a Jewish-only narrative, and in the process of expanding its work, damaging (or simply claiming) the property of Palestinians living in the surrounding neighborhood, Silwan.
“Do you kids have a permit to hang up all of these posters around the city?” the policeman asked. “Permit?” my friend and I questioned in response. “We are trying to raise public awareness about baseless hatred, and destructive conflict, and you’re asking us for a permit?” Yet, after several hours in the sweltering heat of a downtown Jerusalem police station, we reconsidered the idea of advertising the 9th of Av as a day warning against baseless hatred along religious and political divides.
Twenty years later, Jews and Jewish communities are still very much conflicted and divided. Now, with a few more friends, and as the director of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution, I find myself once again attempting to promote a Jewish day of constructive conflict — only this time it’s not on the 9th of Av, but on the 9th of Adar.
You may be wondering, “The 9th of Adar? What exactly happened on that day?” If so, you’re not alone. I had never heard about the 9th of Adar until a year and half ago,when I came upon it by chance one Friday night at shul. What I would later discover was that on the 9th of Adar, approximately 2,000 years ago, the initially peaceful and constructive conflict or machloket l’shem shamayim (dispute for the sake of Heaven) between the two great Jewish schools of thought, Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai, erupted into a violent and destructive conflict over 18 legal matters — many of which had to do with how open or closed to be towards non-Jews.
Settler youth bear signs reading “Girls of Israel for the nation of Israel,” “A king’s daughter doesn’t date a non-Jew,” and “No more assimilation!” / Elisheva Goldberg
Last night in Jerusalem, Arabs and Jews (well, mostly Jews) got together at an event called “Pashut Sharim” or “Just Singing,” a four-year-old initiative funded primarily by Hillel and the Pratt Foundation that brings Arabs and Jews together in song. In practice, given that the event took place in the heart of West Jerusalem’s hippie-cum-hipster Nachlaot neighborhood, there were very few Arabs present. But that didn’t seem to matter to the settler youth who came out to protest the Arab-Jewish mingling. Nor did it stop the liberal-lefty students from counter-protesting. Sure, last night’s protest bears witness to the intense power of political ideology that can cleave a nation in two. But the fight is also…really fun.
The subject of the protest was Jewish assimilation, the supposition being that Arab men, if allowed to inhabit the same space as Jewish women, would either tempt them into intermarriage or simply seize them without a second thought. It was organized by the ultra-right organization LEAVA, whose acronym stands for “Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land.” It’s a group run by Benzi Gopstein, an outspoken Kahanist and elder statesmen of the Hilltop Youth. He founded the organization with the explicit belief that the purpose of Israel — indeed, Zionism itself — is to keep Jewish people Jewish. His activities to ensure such a state of affairs are as intrusive as they are varied.
Last year, he wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg beseeching him not marry to his long-time non-Jewish girlfriend. One of LEAVA’s fantastical promotional videos shows a Jewish girl being wooed by an Arab man only to find herself caged, beaten, and wearing a naqab (face-veil), though she is eventually emancipated by a smiling Gopstein who leads her back the Kotel. Most recently, he made an appearance on Israeli talk shows where he advised Netanyahu on how to convince his son to break up with the Norwegian woman he’s dating.
Have you ever tried Google Mapping the directions from Jerusalem to Damascus? I have, and the site’s recommendations came as a bit of a shock.
I decided to look up the travel route after reading Mairav Zonszein’s blog post about how the recent snowstorm in Israel reminded her of that country’s geographical connectedness to the wider Middle East. Specifically, she writes, “there were once open roads and railways that connected Damascus to Jerusalem.” She’s right — though you’d never know it from Googling.
Once upon a time, life was pretty calm along Israel’s northern borders. Until the late 1970s, Israeli farmers from the town of Metula would toil their agricultural lands in the Ayoun Valley inside Lebanon.
And going even further back, open roads used to connect the now war-engulfed city of Damascus to cities that are today in Israel.
Things, however, have changed. Today, Israel’s northern borders with Lebanon and Syria are highly fortified and overseen by United Nations peacekeeping forces. The Good Fence (as it was called until 2000) separated Israel from Lebanon. It’s now legally referred to as the Blue Line and demarcates the highly secured, U.N.-mandated border.
There is no single place in Jerusalem as politically sensitive as the site that Jews call the Temple Mount, and Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif, or noble sanctuary.
In the past couple of decades, there have been riots and violent confrontations there. The Second Intifada erupted in 2000 after Ariel Sharon, then leader of Israel’s right-wing opposition, visited the Temple Mount.
While Israel annexed the Temple Mount and all of East Jerusalem after their capture in the 1967 Six Day War, the Muslim group known as the Waqf manages the site. Freedom of access to the area is enshrined in Israeli law. However, for security reasons, Israeli police enforces a ban on Jewish and other non-Muslim prayer there.
Recently, right-wing religious Zionists have been pushing to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. They want the Israeli government to assert its sovereignty over what Jews revere as the site of the first and second holy temples. These activists have gained support from elements within the current government, especially members of the Jewish nationalist Habayit Hayehudi party.
While the Waqf is in favor of tourists of all kinds visiting the area, it is wary of Jewish religious fanatics who might want to damage or destroy the Dome of the Rock and other Muslim sites. Some ultra-religious Jews believe it’s their responsibility to do so in order to clear the path for construction of a third temple.
Yehudah Glick, an American immigrant to Israel, professional tour guide and Temple Mount activist, was arrested on October 10 and barred by the Israeli police from the site. He began a hunger strike in protest, ending last Thursday after 12 days, when his permission to ascend to the Temple Mount was reinstated.
The Forward asked Glick about his being barred from the Temple Mount, his hunger strike, and why he believes Jews should have full access to the site.
During a recent visit to the Forward’s newsroom, Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, was brimming with enthusiasm for the upcoming annual gathering of local Jewish charity federations nationwide, known as the General Assembly, which will take place this year not in the United States, but in Jerusalem.
The GA’s 2013 program, he stressed, will emphasize the group’s openness to “dialogue” and “questions,” particularly from young Jews, with no holds barred.
“We need new thinking, new minds around the table,” emphasized Silverman, a former senior executive with the Stride Rite Corp. and Levi Strauss & Co.
But asked if the confab — one of the most important on the Jewish calendar — would include any discussion of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Silverman vigorously shook his head. His body language told a story of its own as he held his hands out in front of him as if pushing something away.
“I don’t use the word ‘occupation,’” he said. “We as an organization don’t get into the political arena.”
Yet on its website devoted exclusively to the GA, JFNA boasts that the gathering “tackles the most critical issues of the day” and brings together Jews “from North America and Israelis from across the political spectrum to discuss issues facing Israel.”
One such session advertised on the GA website promises to address one of Israel’s most sensitive political issues: the question, as JFNA puts it, of the Israeli rabbinate’s “absolute control over marriage and divorce in Israel.”
The JFNA summary of the session asks: “Should the Orthodox establishment continue to have exclusive authority over marriage and divorce in the Jewish State?” and details a panel consisting of feminists, civil libertarians, business people and a representative of the Reform Judaism movement — but no representative of Israel’s Orthodox establishment.
Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat, widely credited with shoring up Jerusalem’s secular credentials, has won another five-year term in the local election.
Like other cities across Israel, Jerusalem held local elections yesterday. But while in most other locales the races were mostly about schooling and clean streets, in Jerusalem the race became about deeper issues of identity and religion.
In the last elections, five years ago, the ultra-Orthodox mayor Uri Lupolianski lost power. Haredim felt that they had lost their ability to shape the public space in Jerusalem. In this race, Barkat’s main challenger Moshe Lion was expected to return some of this influence to Haredim if elected.
For example, it was predicted that he would to give the all-important planning portfolio on the council to the Haredi Shas party, which would have meant a spike in provision for synagogues, yeshivot and housing for the Haredi sector.
Barkat won with 51.1% of the vote, while Lion got 45.3%. The Jerusalem result, in part, points to a process of secular and other non-Haredi Jerusalemites reclaiming their city. They see changes that Barkat has made, such as the establishment of a recreation venue that is open on Shabbat, and like his approach. However, there is also another factor that contributed to Barkat’s win.
News of the death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a towering religious and political figure in Israel, plunged millions into mourning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Yosef “was imbued with love for Torah and his people.” President Shimon Peres cut short a meeting with Czech Prime Minister upon hearing of Rav Ovadia’s death. Ordinary people fainted with emotion and grief.
Even amid this outpouring, we should not forget Yosef’s true colors: He was a racist and inflammatory bigot.
It is true that Yosef was an instrumental and often lenient religious arbitrator throughout his decades-long career. He famously ruled that widows of Isreali soldiers who went missing in the 1973 Yom Kippur War should be allowed to remarry. When large number of Soviet Jews arrived in Israel in the 1970’s and it was unclear if they were really Jewish by traditional, rabbinic standards, Yosef found a way to ensure that they would be accepted as legitimate members of the Jewish community.
At the same time, we should not be blinded by his political or religious importance to his shameful discriminatory language. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Yosef said black Americans brought the disaster on themselves.
“There are terrible natural disasters because there isn’t enough Torah study,” he said. “Black people reside there (in New Orleans) Blacks will study the Torah? (God said), ‘let’s bring a tsunami and drown them.”
The rabbi’s offensive talk was not limited to the African American community. In 2007, Yosef explained that some Israeli soldiers are killed in battle because they are not observant enough.
(JTA) — I didn’t need to ask directions.
Stepping out of the Central Bus Station, I saw them, men in hats and coats walking together slowly, a steady stream moving east along one of Jerusalem’s central thoroughfares to the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. At 5 p.m., an hour before the funeral, the streets were already closed to cars – the capital’s rush-hour rigmarole giving way to foot traffic that was softer but no less intense.
From a distance it looked homogenous –aerial photographs would later show a sea of black choking the broad avenues of haredi Orthodox northern Jerusalem. But as the group coalesced, men in polo shirts mixed with boys in sweatshirts and soldiers in full uniform – some still holding their guns. Knit kippot bobbed in the crowd with black hats, Sephardi haredim in wide fedoras walked with Ashkenazi hasids in bowlers. A man in a black coat made conversation with another in short sleeves. Women, almost all with modest dress and vastly outnumbered, mostly stood to the side.
The men talked, they shook hands. A few took out their cellphones, perhaps not ready to begin the public mourning of a public leader who, to many, still felt so close. Everyone in Israel knew Ovadia Yosef’s name, but in public his followers would hardly use it, opting instead to call him Maran, our master.
On the sidewalk, a half-dozen men stood at a long table offering a sugary orange drink. Behind them, a speaker blared a recording on loop, quoting a common blessing:
“’To give life to every living soul!’ Come say a blessing over a cold drink to benefit the soul of Maran, may his holy righteous memory be blessed!”
The faithful heeded the call, crowding around a spigot, holding cheap plastic cups that formed a growing pile on the ground once the commandment was fulfilled.
Behind them, on the street, men and boys stood with oversize tins collecting charity. Paper printouts taped to the cans promised that Maran approved of the collection.
A group of people partakes in violence to prevent a rival group from praying in a site that is deemed holy to both. The authorities in charge of the area restrict access to this revered spot and forbid the second group to enter because of fears of upcoming violent disturbances.
At first glance, one would harshly condemn the police decision as violence should not be rewarded and used as a tool of intimidation. However, this scene is quite ordinary in on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where Palestinian rioters throw stones and other objects at Israeli police and at Jewish worshipers below at the Western Wall.
The current status quo on the Temple Mount must change with both Jews and Muslims allowed to worship freely at this holy area for both religions.
“We reject these religious visits. Our duty is to warn,” said Sheik Ekrima Sabri, who oversees Muslim affairs in Jerusalem, using the Arabic name for the Temple Mount. “If they want to make peace in the region, they should stay away from Al-Aqsa.”
It is true that the Dome of the Rock is considered the world’s third holiest site to Muslims after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. However, this is not a justification to prevent other worshippers from different religions to pray at this same spot. Jews consider this land their holiest area as they believe that the first and second temples were built here in addition to other important events in their collective history.
Ahmed Tibi, an influential Arab Member of Knesset announced that Palestinians would see an increase in Jews visiting the Temple Mount as a “declaration of war.” Tibi continued saying, “The occupation is temporary and the government in East Jerusalem is temporary. The crusaders passed, the British passed, and so will the Israelis.”
Such a sentiment is an insult to Jews worldwide. The Jewish attachment to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount spans thousands of years with significant archeological evidence demonstrating the Jews’ strong ties.
Starting Wednesday night, we can all look forward to a week of eating (and in some cases, sleeping) outside.
Sukkahs come in all shapes and sizes. Some people will cobble something in their backyard, others will use the handy space provided by an outdoor balcony, and still more may see it as a chance to show off their creative streak.
From Manhattan’s Union Square to the dark alleys of Venice, here are some pretty striking symbols of one of Judaism’s most festive holidays.
Two years after the Tel Aviv social protest movement was born out of anger at high property prices, Israelis have been told that they’ve misunderstood the problem all along. It is, the new Housing Minister insists, that there’s too little settlement activity.
“The key to immediately stopping the rise in home prices is massive building in Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria,” Uri Ariel, who represents the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party, claimed in a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee yesterday.
In his view, measures that are underway to ease the housing crisis will yield results in one to two years, “whereas in Judea and Samaria, we can immediately market tens of thousands of housing units.”
There’s a pie-in-the-sky optimism in his suggestion that current measures will yield results within a couple of years — even if they are far weaker than anything that the protest movement had in mind. But more importantly, his mixing up of Israel’s deep social problems with jingoistic policy statements relating to the West Bank raises important questions about the direction of the Housing Ministry.
Firstly, there’s the matter of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Having a Housing Minister with such zeal to build the West Bank obviously increases tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and her international allies. If he manages to realize his plans the reaction would be strong — but even if he doesn’t the statements reverberate around the Arab and international media.
But secondly there are the less obvious internal ramifications for Israel. With Ariel so set on a West Bank agenda, the main and most challenging task of the Housing Minister, namely easing the housing crisis within Israel’s 1967 borders, where the vast majority of the population lives, could play second fiddle, and suffer as a result.
In the long term, if Ariel succeeds in settling settlement building as a solution to the housing crisis, it could prove an expensive exercise. After all, if the homes are one day evacuated in a peace deal, it’ll be the state that foots the bill.
Today, Haredi activists headed en masse to the women’s section of the Western Wall before the interdenominational feminist group Women of the Wall (WOW) were due to assemble for their monthly prayer service. Citing concern for the women’s’ “personal safety” police said that the high concentration of Haredi opponents to the group assembled by the Kotel meant that WOW had to be kept away, and conduct their prayer service further than normal from the Wall.
Essentially, Haredim have taken advantage of the police ethos which, last month, worked against them. A month ago WOW got to the Wall first, and police kept other women, mostly Haredi women away, as we discussed here. The Haredim learned last month that the police’s attitude to the Wall is, simply put, first come first served. So this time, they decided to get there first, and wait for the police to exclude WOW.
Now, both sides, WOW and their opponents, have taken a turn at getting there first and excluding the other. What now?
It’s not sustainable that each month there will be a race to the Wall. Will women start pitching tents the night before like kids lining up for concert tickets? The police will inevitably need to find a way of managing tensions by the Wall and allowing both groups of women to approach at the same time.
Beyond this, today’s events will reinvigorate the lobby that wants to see the Sharansky plan for an egalitarian prayer section at the Wall reinvigorated. Last month, when all was rosy with the WOW prayer, there was some speculation that the need for an egalitarian section was fading — after all liberal women had successfully held prayers by the Wall with police help. The scene today was a reminded that WOW is making headway, but its achievements are a work in progress.
As the Forward has reported, there are differences in the priorities of WOW and the Reform/Conservative mainstream Jews. WOW is an activist group that is game for a monthly battle of the wills, but most Reform and Conservative Jews just want to pray-and-go. And to progress that desire, they have the Sharansky plan.
Fifty years ago civil rights activists staged a sit-in at the lunch counter of Woolworth’s in Jackson Mississippi to protest the segregated seating which existed, mandating separate areas for black and white patrons.
Young students from nearby Tougaloo College, both black and white, sat together at the “whites only” counter, waiting futilely to be served. These brave young students were attacked by local citizens who felt that their way of life was being threatened. The mob screamed, cursed, spat on and punched the people sitting-in at the lunch counter. They poured coffee, salt, pepper, sugar, ketchup and mustard on them. They hit them with brass knuckles.
Eventually, after several hours of violence, the police moved in to break up the mob.
Hillel Halkin brands Women of the Wall ‘childish provocateurs’ who put their rights to protest ahead of other Jews’ feelings
Prior to the sit-in, Medgar Evers, then the Field Secretary for the NAACP in Jackson, wrote a letter indicating their intent. “We are determined to end all state and local government sponsored segregation in the parks, playgrounds, schools, libraries, and other public facilities. To accomplish this, we shall use all lawful means of protest,” Evers wrote.
Two weeks after the sit-in, Medgar Evers was murdered by a local KuKlux Klan member. Woolworth’s closed the lunch counter altogether to avoid serving blacks.
But the protests resounded — and humanity prevaile. A year later, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination based on race.
Reading today about this historic struggle in American history reminded me of my own experience last month on May 10 (Rosh Chodesh Sivan), when I was privileged to be a participant with the Women of the Wall in Jerusalem.
Strangely similar to the accounts of the struggle in Mississippi were the screams, the taunts, the cursing, and even the spilling of food, such as water and coffee by the Haredim, who were protesting the existence of the Women of the Wall, our prayers, our tallitot, our voices rising to the Heavens.
Like the mob in Mississippi, they were worried that their way of life would be threatened.
At Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, the use of racial profiling is so controversial that it is the subject of a legal challenge by human rights advocates. But what about a different type of profiling — religious profiling — and of all places at the Western Wall?
As we reported, the tables were turned at the Western Wall on Sunday when Women of the Wall held its communal prayers. Until a court ruling demanded otherwise on April 25, the police treated the group’s monthly gatherings as illegal.
But on Sunday police didn’t just let WOW pray — to do so they kept Haredi women away from the Wall. Police erected barriers by the women’s section of the Wall and only let worshippers who looked like they were part of the WOW gathering through.
Women who wore Haredi attire weren’t allowed to approach the Wall during the time of the WOW prayers. An Orthodox woman who isn’t a member of WOW but who went to join the group’s prayers, tells me that she was stopped and questioned on where she was going. It was clear, she said, that if she hadn’t been headed to take part in WOW prayers, she would have been temporarily barred from the Wall.
This situation presents a conundrum. WOW have won their hard-earned religious freedom, and are now allowed to hold prayers at the Wall. And certain Haredi women continue to show determination to disrupt their prayers, as I reported on Sunday. It may even be the case that allowing these particular Haredi women close to WOW would cause direct confrontation. So on the one hand the measures taken on Sunday could seem justified.
We have watched the meteoric rise of Benjamin Netanyahu’s nemesis in the ruling Likud party with considerable interest. Moshe Feiglin has been battling for years to represent the party in Knesset for years, and finally in this year’s general election, he was too strong for the party establishment to stop him.
However, his fight was never just for a Knesset seat, but to institute his agenda in the party — and he seemed of recent to be making progress. This week, however, Feiglin finds himself more marginalized in his party than for years, and stripped of his position on an important Knesset committee.
Close to the top of Feiglin’s agenda is the issue of Temple Mount — he ascends monthly, and strongly argues against the site’s management by a Muslim trust and against the Israeli regulation that Jews can’t pray publicly there.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu banned Feiglin from going to the Mount, claiming that given his lawmaker credentials his visits there could prove a threat to public security. Feiglin reacted by suspending himself from the coalition. “I knew there would eventually be a crisis of confidence between me and the coalition over one diplomatic move or another, but I certainly did not think it would come so soon,” he said..
With no end in sight to his coalition rebellion, he has been replaced on the Knesset Education Committee. But there’s no sympathy from the rest of Likud, even lawmakers who are ideologically drawn to Feiglin’s position on Temple Mount.
Why? Because Netanyahu has strategically brought other right-wingers in the party close to him. For example, the keen rightist Yariv Levin, who would’ve been an obvious candidate to side with Feiglin, is now the coalition chairman whose job it is to discipline Feiglin for his boss Bibi. And Levin is also his replacement on the Education Committee.
It seems that Netanyahu has used the Temple Mount, the cause that many expected Feiglin to employ to catapult his political career forward, to rein him in.
Could Tzipi Livni be sweetening feminists before dropping a bombshell?
As discussed earlier on Forward Thinking, Justice Minister Livni has just announced that she is working on legislation to criminalize the exclusion of women from the public sphere. The timing is interesting — just as she could find herself in a very awkward position on women’s issues.
Women of the Wall, the interdenominational feminist group that prays once a month at the Western Wall, is waiting to see what will become of its newfound rights.
For the first time ever, women tried to hold public prayers at the Western Wall with he blessing of the state today. It was be the group’s first prayer meeting since a landmark court ruling that will put an end to the police’s habit of detaining its members.
Women planned to gather at the Wall, some of them wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries, with guarantees from police that they will respect the protection that the court afforded them.
Instead of the police, women found themselves facing off against thousands of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators. Police had to protect them from the Haredi mob.
Now, non-Orthodox religious leaders are demanding an investigation into the violence.
Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has just dealt the political establishment a trump card to clamp down on the women. This week he waived his right to challenge the permissive court ruling they received as he believes it accords with the current law, but in his decision he left the door wide open for the Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett to redefine the law and put a stop to their newly-won right to public prayer at the Wall.
If Bennett decides to alter the law, he will head straight to Livni’s office for her signature to do so. The pressure will be high on Livni, the junior party of the coalition, from strongman Bennett. Perhaps she’s making a big gesture to women in her announcement today so that, if and when the time comes to reel in rights at the Kotel, she can say that she’s only lost a battle but won the war.
Either way, the ball is in Tzipi’s court.
Barack Obama stepped down from the podium a couple hours ago after delivering what my gut tells me was a historic speech.
I have two reasons for thinking this is true, but take these comments as a quick, first reaction.
More than any other American president who has spoken about Israel and the conflict, Obama used a thoroughly Israeli vocabulary. He described how an Israeli perceives the security situation in terms that spoke directly to Israel’s historical memory, siege mentality, and utter fatigue with high-minded talk of peace.
Here’s how he described what it means to be an Israeli:
You live in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors have rejected the right of your nation to exist, and your grandparents had to risk their lives and all that they had to make a place for themselves in this world.
Your parents lived through war after war to ensure the survival of the Jewish state. Your children grow up knowing that people they’ve never met may hate them because of who they are, in a region that is full of turmoil and changing underneath your feet.
This was the language that hit its mark, the Israeli kishkes, more than the name checks of Sharon, Ben-Gurion, and Rabin, or the tortured attempts to throw out a word in Hebrew here or there.
And it felt like a departure from past rhetoric, which spoke about the necessity for peace without acknowledging why it might be so hard for Israelis to take the concept seriously any more.
Barack Obama had young Israelis eating out of his hand, during his speech in Jerusalem, ticking all the boxes that the audience hoped, and throwing in a few good laughs.
He reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security, spoke of the importance of the missile defense systems in the south to ensure that children can “sleep at night,” gave reassurances on Iran, with “all options” on the table and asserting that it’s “no wonder” that Israelis view it as an existential threat. He echoed Jerusalem’s desire to see Hezbollah labeled internationally as a terrorist organization.
But the unique element of this speech was his raising of the themes he hasn’t discussed at length in front of Netanyahu and Peres. He asked the young Israelis to put themselves in the shoes of Palestinians, and spoke of the difficulties faced by Palestinians, with implied criticism for Israeli policy in the West Bank. He asserted that Israel does have partners for peace at the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. “There’s an opportunity, there is a window,” he said. And most significant of all, he called on the young to be an agent for change, and push their leaders to move forward on the cause of peace. And with this plea, he lived up the expectation that he would, in at least one area, circumvent Israel’s leadership and try over its head to communicate his vision to normal Israelis.
He did it with conviction and grace, even dealing with a heckling situation with wit, and employed Hebrew to tell the audience “atem lo lovad” or you are not alone (real meaning: “don’t listen to all of your government’s panicking as the U.S. won’t let anything happen to Israel).
Obama’s humor was a real hit with the crowd, especially his well-researched gag that reports of discord between him and Netanyahu have been a ploy to generate material for Israel’s most popular satire show, Eretz Nehederet.
One of Barack Obama’s hopes for his Israel visit is to address the Israeli public. Some commentators, such as Yoram Meital interviewed for a Forward article, have expressed the view that this lies at the crux of his trip, with him hoping to talk to Israelis about Iran over their Prime Minister’s head.
But anybody who knows Israel knows how complex the notion of addressing “Israelis” can be, with the country divided by so many religious, ethnic, geographical and class divisions. If fact, one of the least “typical” areas, if such a thing exists, is Jerusalem, often referred to within Israel as a kind of bubble inside the country. It is far more religious and far more Arab than most other areas, and has a mentality and culture all of its own.
All indications, however — including the leaked itinerary — are that Obama’s sole speech to the Israeli public will be in Jerusalem. This is despite a campaign by Israelis and invitation by Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai for him to talk to a huge crowd in the iconic Rabin Square, where the pro-peace rallies of the 1990s took place. Oh, and a tempting invitation to the settlement of Efrat where mayor Oded Revivi offered to help him “realize that the declaration of two states for two peoples is not realistic.”
A large Tel Aviv event — not large enough for him to be obviously talking over Netanyahu — would be a more natural choice than a small-ish event in Jerusalem of around 1,000 people, which is what is being discussed. This city would welcome him more, and most likely be more enthusiastic about his message. So why Jerusalem?
One explanation is logistical. It’s where his meetings are and the time and security operation for him to travel is unnecessary.