As the Islamic State releases video after video, each more appalling than the next, in what is surely the YouTube channel from hell - the world seems to have divided into those of us who choose to watch the atrocities and those of us who don’t.
Members of the first group are making a choice to view appalling images that can’t ever be unseen and inevitably haunt one long afterwards - heads being hacked off of bodies of American, British and Japanese journalists and aid workers, Syrian men being tossed off tall buildings and splattered below for the crime of being suspected homosexuals and now, the inhuman spectacle of Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kasaesbeh being burnt alive inside a cage.
What is really compelling about the decision whether or not to click “play” on these gory scenes is that convincing arguments can be mustered for either choice. Let’s explore them.
Why we should watch
No problem has ever been fixed in this world as a result of people looking away from it. Certainly, in order to confront horror and brutality on a large scale, it must be seen - to the extent it can be seen. Now, in the normal course of things in modern history, organized and clever evil-doers did their best to conceal their actions so they could get away with them for as long as possible. The Nazis kept their extermination camps as secret as they possibly could, succeeding to a remarkable extent, allowing them to carry out a horrifically substantial portion of their “Final Solution.” After the war, so many Europeans who directly or indirectly assisted the Third Reich, defended themselves after the full extent of their crimes were unveiled with the cry, “We didn’t know!”
The excuse of not knowing has run rampant in our time, as atrocities tend to be concealed as much as possible. In the former Soviet Union, enemies of the state were shipped off to Siberia. Military juntas like in Argentina in the 1970’s were responsible for making thousands simply “disappear.” Today, the vast majority of torture and executions perpetrated by governments take place invisibly behind prison walls.
As the end of the year approaches, I feel it’s time to disclose some of the sweet perks I enjoyed as the Forward’s video reporter. Just to confess and get clean for 2015.
The best thing about being a video reporter is that you can’t do your interviews over the phone. You have to go out into the world. That’s how I escape my sun-deprived office desk on a regular basis.
For “Cracow Crescendo” I traveled to Poland to capture the voices of a new choir at the local JCC. Listen closely. Between song lines, you can hear the cautious hope for a Jewish revival.
For “Nomadic Love” I walked the gritty streets of Berlin with artist Liad Hussein Kantorowicz, who told me how the German capital has become a magnet for soul-searchers from Israel.
And for “Scars in the Garden” I stepped deep into the mud of East Detroit to learn about a community farm where African-Americans and Jews come together to harvest a new era of trust.
Apparently, those are Naftali Bennett’s two least favorite words.
In a campaign video posted online today, Israel’s far-right Minister of the Economy and leader of the Jewish Home party poses as a hipster equipped with full-on flannel, glasses, beard and a cute little sweater-clad pug. He bumbles around Tel Aviv, apologizing profusely every time somebody wrongs him.
A waitress spills coffee on him? He’s sorry! A driver crashes into his car? He’s sorry! A woman steals the bike he’s about to ride off on? He’s sorry!
Oh, and when Haaretz reprints a New York Times editorial headlined “Israel needs to apologize,” he reads it and says: “They’re right!”
When at last the hipster pulls off his disguise, the newly revealed Bennett looks straight into the camera and proclaims, “Starting today, we stop apologizing. Join the Jewish Home party today.”
Confused about Gaza? You’re not alone.
Le Monde has created an animated map to help people who can’t tell Gaza from the West Bank navigate the facts.
Say what you will about supposed French bias against Israel, the map is fairly informative, easy to follow and essentially lays out the bare bones of a very long and complex conflict — a good tool for someone who hasn’t been following the situation too closely.
Watch for yourself:
A new anti-discrimination video campaign by Israel’s Ministry of Justice sends an important social message and packs a powerful emotional punch. But that doesn’t mean it’s enough to do the enormous job of eradicating racism in the Jewish State. Still, it’s a start.
Discrimination on the grounds of race, religion or religious group, nationality, country of origin, sex, sexual orientation, political views, party membership, personal status or parenthood is a violation of a law passed by the Knesset in 2000.
There is no mistaking what statement the video is making. Filmed in an edgy, ominous style and with a soundtrack that wails a heavy metal-style acoustic version of Hatikvah, it shows various instances of the discrimination against minorities that happens on a daily basis. Children on a basketball court tell an immigrant boy to go home to Russia. A white mother stops her preschool-age son from playing with a black boy on the playground. A Jewish woman prevents a Muslim woman and her daughter from sitting next to her on a bus. A bouncer won’t allow a black young woman to enter a nightclub with the cool kids.
The text accompanying the images warns that one kind of discrimination can lead to another, often worse, kind. A refusal to play with a boy could lead later on to preventing him from going to school, or refusing to give him a job. Not making room on a bus for a girl could lead to eventually refusing to rent her an apartment.
These scenarios have not been pulled from thin air. These kinds of things really do happen daily in Israeli society. It’s rather astounding — not to mention maddening — to think that Jews, who suffered not so long ago from the Nazis’ Nuremberg Laws, would need reminding as to where discriminatory behaviors can lead.
What do Hasidic hats, the Borscht Belt, the king of competitive dreidel-ing and a tiny row house shul have in common? They all played starring roles in the Forward best videos of 2013 — along with a poignant portrait of the Jewish mother who lost her son in the Newtown school massacre.
This year saw a major transition in our video department: Nate Lavey, who had laid the groundwork for stunning video journalism at the Forward moved to the New Yorker. Since the fall, I have the privilege to continue our practice of ambitious visual storytelling. Here are them most delicious highlights from this year.
We used the camera for time travelling. Borscht Belt takes us on a trip to Upstate New York to re-discover the history of Jewish summer resorts. Little Row House Shul depicts how a tiny synagogue in southeast Philadelphia is struggling to survive after a century of service. And Men of Many Hats investigates the changes in two Hasidic neighborhoods in Brooklyn through the prism of hat fashions. This beautiful report won Lavey the first award of the national Press Photographers Association.
It’s always yummy to combine film and food. In Debating the Deli David Sax and Josh Ozersky go head to head-to-head on “new school” versus “old school” delis. We also had the pleasure to chat with the famous chef duo Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi who share insights on The 8 Flavors of Jerusalem.
One of my favorite challenges is to produce “vox pops”, which confronts a diverse set of people with the same question. In response to the Pew survey “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” we created quick video portraits of Jews from different backgrounds. The question: What does “Jewish” mean to you? The answer: It’s Complicated. The video A Fine Balance features the voices of participants of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance Conference (JOFA). It’s intriguing to witness how Orthodox feminists are trying to balance the desire for inclusion with the aim to preserve traditional gender roles.
There’s a new weapon in the anti-BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) arsenal. It’s a viral video by Cleveland-based Orthodox hip-hop artist Ari Lesser, and, based on the more than 18,000 hits it’s gotten since Monday, it’s proving to be pretty powerful.
Lesser raps “Boycott Israel,” a catchy reggae number pointing out the hypocrisy of boycotting Israel when countries all over the world are committing human rights violations—many of them far worse than anything Israel is doing to the Palestinians. Lesser points out specific offences and atrocities committed globally—from North Korea to Syria to Russia to Ecuador, and every point in between.
The song’s refrain pretty much sums up Lesser’s point:
Boycott Israel if you think that’s just, But unless you have a double standard you must Also boycott the rest of the nations, Where there are human rights allegations. We’re not perfect, but if you think we’re the worst, First take a look at the rest of the Earth. Don’t pick and choose, to pick on the Jews, Pick up the paper and read the news.
The musician was commissioned by Here Is Israel, a new pro-Israel campus advocacy group, to write and perform the song.
“It’s not to say that Israel is always right — I definitely criticize when I disagree — but I don’t think a boycott of the whole country is honest,” Lesser told The Times of Israel. “Really, you see if you’re not willing to boycott every major country — and minor country — in the world, then BDS is anti-Semitism, or anti-Israelism, or whatever.”
It was almost a moving moment. A Palestinian child, only 6 years old, goes up to a Jewish child of Israeli settlers and offers him a handshake.
The Palestinian boy isn’t even supposed to be there. The Israel Defense Forces closed off this area of the restive West Bank a few months ago to avoid having to deal with confrontations provoked by the settlers, who often try to drive Palestinian farmers away.
The two lock hands and the Palestinian child quickly turns and walks away. His family cheers for him for the gutsy little gesture. A small aberration from the norm of occupation.
But then the Jewish child picks up a rock. Effortlessly and naturally, he throws it in the direction of the Palestinian kid; and then another one.
It’s not even like he seems concerned with actually hitting him. It’s a reflex, almost as if he was programmed to do so, he just picks up and throws. It doesn’t matter what happened just a moment earlier, or what will happen afterwards.
What if Martin Luther King, Jr., Anne Frank, Matthew Shepard and Yitzhak Rabin were still alive today?
A new video from the Anti-Defamation League depicts the contributions they could have made to society and asks viewers to envision a world without hate. Produced for the ADL’s 100th anniversary and set to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” the video has gone viral with over 350,000 views on YouTube.
Now that the serious stuff is out of the way, let’s list the best (or worst) Jewish viral videos of the 2012 election cycle.
Silverman on Adelson
Comedian Sarah Silverman offered sexual favors to billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson in this video from the group behind 2008’s Great Schlep. Silverman’s deal: Donate to Democrats instead and, well… watch the video. Turns out she didn’t have to worry so much - nearly all of the candidates Adelson backed were defeated last night.
“Tank you Mister Obama!”
Unlike the Jewish Democrats, Jewish Republicans didn’t have a dedicated super PAC churning out Jewish-themed viral videos aimed at making Jewish Democrats look ridiculous online. That’s okay, because the Jewish Democrats did a fine job making themselves look ridiculous online on their own.
A startling video posted online Thursday night shows California Rep. Brad Sherman violently grabbing his bitter rival Rep. Howard Berman during a debate.
The confrontation between the two Jewish Democrats fighting for their political lives was shot at a Thursday night debate at Pierce College, according to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News.
Sherman put his right arm around Berman and shook him slightly as the two argued over a federal immigration bill, the paper wrote. Berman looked to the audience, shocked. Sherman let go, then stuck his face in Berman’s as a sheriff’s deputy approached.
“You want to get in my face?” Sherman shouted.
Palm Beach County Republican chair Sid Dinerstein hopes Mitt Romney sticks by the secretly recorded remarks that have shaken the political world this week.
Dinerstein attended the now-infamous May fundraising event in Boca Raton but was not included in the exclusive $50,000-a-plate dinner at which Romney made controversial comments about the Middle East peace process and the nearly half of all Americans who do not pay federal income tax.
The GOP leader encouraged Romney to turn lemons into lemonade by using the controversy to refocus the general election debate.
“I’ll tell him not to back off these statements, but to turn them into real arguments for the country to have,” Dinerstein said.
Dinerstein recalled that Romney also spoke at the somewhat larger gathering for smaller donors earlier in the evening. That speech was not recorded, and Dinerstein didn’t remember much of what he said. Afterwards, Dinerstein spoke privately with the candidate for roughly two minutes.
“I remember talking to him about how happy I was that he was staying on point — at that time the point being jobs,” Dinerstein recalled.
While I was researching my Forward story about circumcision and pain, I realized that I didn’t know what a circumcision actually looks like. I’ve only attended one bris — apart from my own — and there I didn’t have a good line of sight to the baby.
I was particularly interested to know more about the circumcision procedure because one of the more interesting aspects of the reporting for this week’s story was that circumcision opponents are not the only people who describe the process as cruel.
Many Orthodox mohels perceive medicalized circumcision — a longer, more involved procedure than traditional circumcision — as particularly uncomfortable for babies. Even injecting anesthetic into infants is seen as painful.
Meanwhile, more liberal Jewish mohels, most of whom are doctors, think the idea of using sugar water or grape juice as the only form of anesthetic before and after removing the foreskin, as most Orthodox mohels do, is unfair to the child. Why avoid pain medication when research shows that babies feel pain and when analgesics are so prevalent today?
Okay, we all know it’s not nice to judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, but it’s unlikely that most of us will have a daughter in the Olympics. Therefore, while judging is off-limits, we sedentary, computer-glued Americans are welcome to laugh uproariously at gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents as they watch their daughter perform in the Olympics.
In case you haven’t been watching, the Raismans got captured on live video, which has proceeded to go viral after being featured on Gawker and elsewhere.
For most of the video, Aly’s dad, Rick, seems almost to be bored. But her mother, Lynn, looks like she’s riding a mechanical bull with a cactus on the saddle. Jerking back and forth in her seat, and apparently completely unaware that a camera is trained fully on her, Lynn mutters throughout the entire performance.
“Come on Aly come on Aly, let’s go, let’s go, handstand, come on Aly, come on, come on, stick it.” Aly’s mother’s face looks like she’s undergoing a nasty medical exam, but her voice conjures up that monotonous science teacher we all had.
At the end Aly’s father Rick chimes in. “Stick it!” he shouts, then settles back in his seat and covers his eyes.
Turning toward the camera, which he seemingly just noticed, Rick laughs. “Ahhh,” he yells, in possibly the best Olympics coverage to ever reach television.
This is what the Olympics is all about, people.
Apparently oblivious to how offensive this would be to any non-messianic Jew, Atlanta pastor Eddie Long — who privately settled lawsuits with several men who had alleged he molested them as boys, and whose wife recently divorced him for the same reason — allowed himself to be wrapped in a Torah scroll by messianic ‘Jew’ Ralph Messer.
It gets both more outrageous, and more absurd. Messer, speaking “on behalf of the Jewish people, the land of Israel, and the God of Israel,” anointed Long as a “king” to the rousing cheers of the crowd. He seated Long on a “throne” (actually a comfy-looking leather chair) and draped him in a small-size tallit, the kind you find at nice conservative shuls across the country. Messer explained that the Torah scroll was 312 years old, and found at “Auschwitz-Birkendau” (that’s how he pronounced it, several times). “It was a Holocaust scroll,” he said, adding “I collect scrolls.”
There were additional details that doubtless escaped notice of casual visitors, but which get progressively more offensive the more knowledgeable one is. For example, Messer described removing the Torah’s cover as “removing the foreskin.” And at the climax of the ritual, after wrapping Long in the Torah, he placed the scroll’s gartel (belt) around Long himself, stating that Long had become the Torah, become the King. Fascinatingly, this is exactly the corporealizing ritual performed by heretical Sabbatean groups, except here with a Christianizing gloss (“the word become flesh”) that makes Long into the Messiah Himself.
One day after a New York Jewish fundraising event bought in $500,000 towards President Obama’s reelection effort, the Obama campaign has released a new video touting the president’s support for Israel, and citing praise for the president from Israeli leaders.
Titled “America and Israel: An Unbreakable Bond,” the seven-minute web video intersperses Obama’s December 2011 speech to the Union of Reform Judaism’s biennial convention with clips of Israeli leaders praising the president.
Republican presidential have painted the president’ as insufficiently supportive of Israel in recent debates. The president’s campaign has struck back in recent days, both in public remarks made at the January 19 Jewish fundraiser and in the newly released video.
Both the president’s earlier remarks and the web video emphasize American military cooperation with Israel, and to America’s commitment to sanction’s against Iran. Both also point to public praise the president has received from the Israeli political and military leadership.
Click through to see a clip of the video
We too were taken aback by Rick Perry’s new campaign video — the swagger, the Christian language, the denigration of gays, and America described as feminine with Perry posing as its shining defender.
He was, for certain, trying to appeal to evangelical voters, and perhaps he’ll be releasing the Jewish version of the ad in a few days. But until he does, let’s be thankful for Rabbi Jason Miller who has given us a taste of what it might look like:
To see the original Perry ad, it’s after the jump.