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.
The Orthodox rabbi who oversees the Western Wall has vowed not to soften his confrontational approach toward Jewish women seeking to pray at the holy site in Jerusalem.
On Friday, police detained four women for wearing prayer shawls as they tried to start a prayer service. There have been numerous similar incidents in the past.
In an article that Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz sent to journalists Tuesday, but apparently written before Friday’s incident, he said that women trying to pray at the wall represent a “liberal-zealous” agenda.
Rabinowitz, who is an Israeli state employee, is the man behind the ban on female public prayer that the police enforces. He presents himself as caught “between two types of zealotry.”
He wrote: “From the side of the traditionalist zealots, I have been attacked because of my vigorous actions t bring thousands of groups of students and soldiers to the Western Wall. Many of these groups do not live a traditional Jewish lifestyle. From the liberal-zealous direction.”
The “zealotry” from the other direction is that of the Women of the Wall, the inter-denominational group that wants the right to wear prayer shawls, to pray, and to read out loud from the Torah at the Wall.
Discussing a Talmudic passage he wrote of zealotry: “With pretty words it asks for our protection – in the name of tolerance, of course. Under the protection of tolerance, it grows and flourishes, until it is impossible to prevent the disaster that it brings upon all of us.”
He went on to state “loud and clear” that “[a]s long as I have authority, placed upon me by the State of Israel, over the Western Wall, there will be no place for zealotry there. The stones of the Wall can teach us about the cost of zealotry. They still remember the heat of the flames, lit by the zealotry of the residents of Jerusalem, each man against his brother. Before these glorious stones, we are charged never to make the same mistake again.”
Has Jodi Rudoren allowed the Gray Lady to muzzle her?
The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief has steered clear of controversial topics since the paper’s brass ordered her to submit all social media posts to a special editor on the foreign desk last month.
A Forward review of her Twitter and facebook posts reveals that hard-edged comments about the Mideast conflict have been replaced by links to articles in the Times, and to personal news like Rudoren’s wedding anniversary and her parents’ visit to Israel.
Rudoren insists she is just taking a breather from making news on social media, and is not sulking after being put on so-called Tweet-watch.
“Don’t read too much into it. I’ve taken a few days off…I’m definitely planning on continuing to post substantive things related to Jerusalem/Israel/Palestinians,” Rudoren wrote to The Forward via Facebook.
Rudoren says she has no complaints about the arrangement imposed by the Times.
With brazen defiance, just a day before he is due to meet with the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went over the Green Line and defended building there.
“United Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital, we have a full right to build in it,” he declared today in Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood build on land that Israel conquered in 1967.
Netanyahu has been under strong international criticism, including from Ashton, for a plan which became public last week to build 797 new homes in GIlo.
Standing not far from the site of the new homes he said: “We have built Jerusalem, we are building Jerusalem and we will continue to build Jerusalem. This is our policy and I will continue to back building in Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu was doing what the Israeli right loves the most, namely showing that he’s a strong leader who won’t be bullied from his Zionistic credentials (which are seen as synonymous with pro-settlement credentials) by even the most powerful of world leaders. And yes, if you think it has the whiff of election posturing to it you would be right. But which elections?
Ynet reports that Atef Salem, the newly appointed ambassador of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government, has formally presented his credentials to Israel’s President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. In the words of V.P. Joe Biden, this is a big f*!@&! deal.
Worth recalling the little-noticed passage in Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September, in which he reaffirmed Egypt’s commitment to the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative promising full recognition and end of conflict with Israel in return for a mutually agreed peace pact with the Palestinians.
The speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, told Israeli reporters that the controversy over the mention of Jerusalem in the Democratic National Committee platform had “far-reaching significance” in harming the relationship between the Obama administration and Israel.
The deputy speaker of the Knesset disagrees.
In a conversation this morning in my office, Shlomo Molla, a member of the centrist Kadima party, argued that Israeli politicians should stay out of the American political fray.
“It is in the Israeli interest to be outside the American election, outside both sides’ propaganda. The president is the American people’s choice. It is not the Israeli people’s choice,” he told me.
Furthermore, he said it really doesn’t matter what American parties think about what is first and foremost a question for Israelis.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” Molla said. “We decided that. I don’t mind if Democrats or Republicans say what they will. It is our decision.”
When I raised Rivlin’s remarks, Molla acknowledged their differences. “Rivlin is seventh-generation Jerusalemite,” he said of the speaker. “That’s his view. That’s okay.”
When it comes to Israel, the Republican Party platform is noteworthy for being more of the same.
The key changes are in style and emphasis as the GOP (along with the Democrats) seek to woo pro-Israel voters. For example, the 2008 platform asserted Israel to be “a vigorous democracy, unique in the Middle East.” But this year’s edition goes much further, arguing that Israel and the United States “are part of the great fellowship of democracies who speak the same language of freedom and justice, and the right of every person to live in peace.”
Just as the 2008 Democratic Party platform asserted that the United States’ “special relationship with Israel [is] grounded in shared interests and shared values,” the Republicans now say they believe that “our alliance is based not only on shared interests, but also shared values.”
This evolution in the perception of the relationship between Israel and the United States has not necessarily altered Republican policy stances. In 2012 as in 2008, the GOP supports “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders”, maintaining “a qualitative edge in military technology over any potential adversaries”.
Most of the people wouldn’t have known who Mitt Romney was if wasn’t for the large entourage. But word travelled fast around the courtyard of the Western Wall that the Republican presidential candidate had arrived.
The weather in Jerusalem is scorching and the atmosphere at the wall is intense, as people recite the special Afternoon Service for the Fast of Av, with passages mourning the destruction of the ancient temple, of which the wall is the last remnant. But when Romney arrived, for a moment many worshippers switched to more contemporary concerns, and made sure they caught a glimpse of the man who may become president.
“Beat Obama,” one worshipper shouted, as others echoed his sentiment, suggesting that Romney would be better for Israel.
Shmuel Rabinovitch, rabbi of the Western Wall showed him around, and Romney followed tradition and placed a note in the cracks between the walls — as did his wife on the women’s side of the barrier that separates between the genders.
With Romney’s campaign on gaffe-alert following his stumbles in the British leg of his trip, one can speculate that the notes were carefully crafted with the help of press advisors.
Notes left at the Western Wall aren’t always entirely private petitions to God, as when Barack Obama visited on his campaign trail four years ago. His note was removed and published.
No word yet on whether Mitt asked for help in November in the swing states.
White House spokesman Jay Carney refused to reiterate the official U.S. position that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, sparking a mini-frenzy on the internet.
When questioned by reporters during a press briefing, Carney dodged a reporter’s request to clarify the policy, the Times of Israel reports.
In an exchange caught on video, Carney said: “Our position has not changed.” Pressed further to name either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, Carney responded “you know our position.” He stuck to his guns even when the reporter insisted she did not know and another reporter chimed in to urge him to respond.
The female reporter who started the line of question was identified as Audio-Video News’ Connie Lawn. Real Clear Politics identified the second reporter who chimed in as Les Kinsolving, a conservative radio talk show host.
Since its upload yesterday, the video has gained over 130,000 views on YouTube and sparked a volley of heated internet comments. The fumble comes at a time when U.S.-Israel relations are high on the political docket.
See video after jump
I agonized over this. We’re now in the nine-day mourning period approaching Tisha B’Av. Music is not appropriate. Can we observe by listening to music of the season? Well, I decided to go with it. It’s for those who haven’t thought of observing the mourning period, to get you in the mood. There are versions of Psalm 137 (“By the Rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept”) in Hebrew and English, from reggae, Israeli, medieval Italian baroque and American pop. Also several songs of yearning for Jerusalem, by Naomi Shemer, Meir Ariel and Paul Simon. Plus some numbers on homelessness and wandering, courtesy of Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie and James Taylor. Also the English (Joan Baez) and original Yiddish (Chava Alberstein) versions of “Donna, Donna” about calves who let themselves be led like, well, lambs to the slaughter.
The first number couldn’t be anything but “Al Naharot Bavel,” By the Waters of Babylon. The words are from Psalm 137 and tell of the exiles weeping after the destruction of the First Temple on the ninth of Av, 586 BCE: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea we wept when we remembered Zion.” This is the classic version many of us remember, performed by Basya Schechter.
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