Saree Makdisi

UCLA Professor: What’s wrong with Jews being a minority in Israel?

Finally, after about an hour of partisan arguments from both sides, I heard something that got my attention.

I was attending an event sponsored by the UCLA Debate Union, billed as “A Spirited Debate on BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions).” It featured, on one side, Professor Judea Pearl and students Philippe Assouline and Joseph Kahn, and, on the other, Professor Saree Makdisi and students Ahmad Azzawi and Wali Kamal.

In front of a diverse audience of about 100 people, the Judea Pearl side argued the motion that “BDS is not moral.”

Nothing surprised me too much in the back and forth. The Pearl side reiterated the well-known arguments against BDS — namely, that it is out to undermine the Jewish state rather than search for peace –while the Makdisi side framed BDS as fighting the Israeli occupation with the best non-violent tool available.

While we’ve heard many of the arguments before, it was helpful to hear them all in one place and in a civil manner, with no yelling and insults. You could feel some underlying tension throughout the debate, but the panelists made a genuine effort to conduct themselves with civility.

Professor Makdisi based many of his arguments on universal values such as fairness, equality, justice, and so on. Focusing on those values helped him finesse the Achilles Heel of the BDS movement– the fact that they don’t recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Promoting the “right of return” of millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel, for example, means the effective end of the Jewish state, what a panelist on the Pearl side called “national suicide.”

Makdisi took that word — suicide — and ran with it, almost ridiculing it as an example of needless hysterics from the Zionist side. You could see where he was going. What kind of just society would treat the arrival of Palestinians as a national suicide? Sure, there may be a huge number of Palestinians who would enter the Jewish state, but what’s wrong with Arabs and Jews living side by side, in full equality, in the same state and under the same government?

Then, he really got the audience’s attention when he blurted out these words:

“What’s wrong with Jews being a minority?”

There was a gasp among pro-Israel supporters. Professor Pearl made a grimace, commenting that minorities are not treated very well in the Middle East.

I have a feeling Makdisi himself regretted his words as soon as he said them.

Why? Because he’s no fool. He’s a knowledgeable professor, and he surely knows what’s wrong with Jews being a minority in a country of the Middle East.

He knows that, for centuries, Jews in Arab and Muslim countries were treated as second-class citizens, or Dhimmis. He knows that many of those Jews were persecuted and expelled after the birth of Israel in 1948.

He knows that there are 50 Muslim countries in the world, but only one Jewish state.

He knows that in many of those 50 countries, minorities are routinely persecuted and oppressed.

And he knows that in the Jewish-majority country of Israel, the Arab minority has more civil rights, freedom, legal protections and economic opportunities than Arabs have virtually anywhere else in the Middle East.

He knows all of that.

So, when he said, so innocently, “What’s wrong with Jews being a minority?” he probably forgot who was in the audience. Maybe he thought he was talking to a Students for Justice in Palestine crowd, for whom a Jewish minority in the Jewish state would be like manna from heaven.

But he wasn’t. There were some proud Zionists in the audience, and I was one of them.

I’m a Jew who was born in an Arab country, where my ancestors were a minority for centuries. The stories I heard were not of human rights and equality. They were stories about surviving by behaving — by keeping our heads down and never forgetting our second-class status. My grandparents in Morocco never got to fight for their rights, as Arabs do in Israel. They weren’t allowed.

That’s why for 1900 years Jews from all over the world yearned to return home to Zion and Jerusalem. That’s why the Zionist movement fought so hard for the rebirth of the Jewish state. Because the Jewish experience of being a vulnerable minority in a hostile land is certainly not one we want to relive.

When Professor Makdisi suggested that Jews should become dhimmis again in their own country, he told us what the BDS movement is really about– and it wasn’t very moral.

A Mideast bonfire of the hypocrites

The day after more than 80 of his Arab brethren perished in a horrific gas attack in Syria, King Abdullah II of Jordan stood at a White House press conference and repeated the biggest lie of the past half-century: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict … is essentially the core conflict in our region.”

For decades, this great lie has been a lifeblood for Arab leaders looking to change the subject from the vicious conflicts of the region and the oppression of their own people. Their countries may be in total meltdown, but if they pivot to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they know the international community and the media will lap it up.

Arab dictators are simply getting a good return on their investment in Jew-hatred. Thanks to their brilliant job of promulgating this hatred for so long throughout their societies, whenever things start to heat up, they can just serve up the perfect scapegoat: “It’s all about the conflict with the Jewish state!”

That is how we ended up with the sorry spectacle of an Arab king telling the world with a straight face that the conflict with the Jews is the key problem in the region.

Never mind that when Foreign Policy (FP) magazine announced its “Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2017,” the top three came from King Abdullah’s very own region, and, needless to say, none of the 10 mentioned Israel or the Palestinians.

The first was Syria and Iraq, where after nearly six years of fighting, an estimated 500,000 people have been killed and some 12 million uprooted.

The second was Turkey, which, as FP reports, “is facing worsening spillover from the wars in Syria and Iraq and a spiraling conflict with the PKK. Politically polarized, under economic strain, and with weak alliances, Turkey is poised for greater upheaval.”

The third was Yemen, where the war has created “another humanitarian catastrophe, wrecking a country that was already the poorest in the Arab world. With millions of people now on the brink of famine, the need for a comprehensive cease-fire and political settlement is ever more urgent.”

You can go down the list and find conflicts throughout the region that make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict look like a therapy session. From rampant Islamic extremism and political turnover to economic stagnation and age-old sectarian hatreds, the region is bursting with volcanoes that have absolutely nothing to do with Israel or the Palestinians.

I’m sure you remember the famous Arab Spring protests of 2011, when tens of millions of Arabs exploded onto Mideast streets because they couldn’t take it anymore. The funny thing is, none of the protestors was screaming about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Instead, they were screaming for basic stuff like human rights, civil rights, freedom, economic opportunities and so on.

In other words, they wanted what their Arab brothers and sisters already have in Israel, where Arab judges have made it all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court. How’s that for dark irony?

That might explain why Arab leaders are so intent on making Israel the biggest problem of the region. They know the truth is the exact opposite — that Israel is not the problem but the solution to the Middle East.

As much as it pains them to admit it, they know their countries would be a lot better off if they were more like Israel. They see how constant innovation in Israel keeps improving the quality of life; how Israel’s open society has created a vibrant and progressive culture; how Israeli Arabs have more freedoms and economic opportunities in the Jewish state than in any country of the region.

If you’re an Arab leader raised on Jew-hatred, how humiliating must that be?

But there’s something else these hypocrites know well — they know the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won’t be solved anytime soon, certainly not with the region in violent turmoil and the prospect that the West Bank would turn into another terror state if Israel left. This is great news for leaders petrified of losing their power. It means their trusted Jewish scapegoat is alive and kicking.

These insecure dictators, who couldn’t care less about the welfare of the Palestinians or of their own people, know that as long as a solution to their favorite conflict remains far, far away, they can keep milking the Big Lie and live to see another day.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

A new vision for the secular left: How do we need to change ourselves in order to change reality in

I am a human rights professional, peace and anti-occupation activist and have been committed to these values for as long as I can remember. All these years, my colleagues and I have been working to change the reality in Israel by removing the blindfolds of Israeli society, exposing the wrongdoings and violations of the occupation, the discrimination against those who are marginalized in society (such as Palestinian citizens of Israel, African asylum seekers and migrant workers), and the implications of the dire social and economic gaps between the center and the periphery.

But there is a blindfold we are ignoring: the one covering our own eyes.

Our blindfold is made up of two layers. The first is the inability to see what is looking at us in the mirror: most of us are Jewish, white, Ashkenazi, secular. We are the privileged elite: Israel was built in our image and our image only, in culture, narrative, politics, history and traditions.

The second layer is a result of the first: our blindness to the validity of points of views that are different from ours, points of view that are deeply rooted in worlds of justification that are sometimes the opposite of ours — not liberal, not leftist, not secular. Our expectation to change everything around us is flawed so long as it insists on avoiding the need to change ourselves, to remove these layers of blindness.

My vision includes a first step: to remove my blindfold before or at least concurrently to the process in which I ask other Israelis to remove theirs.

I have to face the mirror, acknowledging the many privileges that come with my white skin and blue eyes, and understanding that these privileges mean power, even though in the complex reality of contemporary Israel, we, the left, feel most of the time powerless. We must also admit to our own orthodoxies, the kind that in other groups, we tend to condescendingly disrespect. We have our own kashrut (being vegetarian/vegan, not buying products made or grown in the settlements); we have our own practices (going to the annual/weekly protest against the occupation); we have all sorts of rules of behavior and politically correct language, and we so easily judge anyone who does not comply with them. Just like any other group.

We must also proactively work to see and hear the voices and justifications of those who are not like us: Mizrachim, Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, right wing, Arabs, Ethiopian Jews, Russian-speaking Jews. We must listen, without trying to persuade or convert, yet without compromising our values and ideology. I have learned that listening opens up so many windows of understanding and empathy.

To make this change, we, the secular left, must also proactively release the power that comes with our privileges: to engage in social change from a humbler approach, not to be the sole leaders, and to be able to join the causes identified and framed by others who may be different than us. Once we release power, a space is made for the articulation of other visions that stem from very different worlds of justification. In this process, we must not be intimidated by the fact that for some, honor and dignity come before equality, and tradition and family are more important values than universalism and secularism. Despite these differences, we can still collaborate, finding shared values and common good to achieve the changes needed to make this a better place.

And so I begin with myself and my professional context. As co-director of the Department for Shared Society at Sikkuy, I am working to promote education for shared society with a focus on Jewish-Arab relationships. In Israel’s sectoralized educational system, to even talk about shared society and Arabs in the religious and ultra-Orthodox streams is a challenge. In order to succeed at this task, I needed to understand that we, as outsiders of those communities, can’t dictate to them what education for shared society means, and how it should be done in their communities. 

Instead, we need to release power: to enable leading educators from within these communities to articulate the problems and proposed solutions, emerging from their own sense of urgency, in dialogue with my colleagues and me. For this purpose, Sikkuy has convened, with the help of Shaharit, a group of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox educators who have expressed their concerns with the way their education system raises children to treat Arabs, and have engaged in a conversation with them as to how they view the problem, and what could help create a solution. 

In this group, I have a voice, but it is not my voice that dictates the conversation: The dialogue is one of listening and sometimes arguing, but at the end of the process, they will decide what the outcome will look like in their community. 

Releasing power is not an easy task. It does not mean giving up on my identity; on the contrary, it can provide a strong base for my identity to dwell securely and even proudly alongside other identities. But it does mean giving up on my power to decide how to frame the struggle, my power to choose the actions and partners, the strategies and stakeholders. Once this process is in place, we can then reconvene, a diverse group comprising many voices, identities and powers, and begin the task of addressing Israel’s most aching issues, in conversation, together.

Gili Re’i has nearly two decades of work experience in non-profit organizations in the fields of education, social change and human rights. Formerly the Deputy Director of The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), since 2015 she has been working at Sikkuy – The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, as co-director of the department for shared society.  While at ACRI, Gili was a member of the steering committee of a dialogue group between human rights professionals and Sephardic Ultra-orthodox rabbis and educators, facilitated by Shaharit.  Gili resides in Jerusalem with her family and also serves as the co-chair of the Parents Committee at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem, where both her children are students.   

This is the third in a series of essays by writers connected to Shaharit (, an Israeli nonprofit that brings together activists to re-imagine local and national politics. Shaharit’s leaders come from across the religious, political and ethnic spectrum of Israeli society, and work together to create policy and strategy built on open hearts, forward thinking and shared vision: a politics of the common good.

Netanyahu opens school year with visit to Arab town

More than two million Israeli children headed to school for the 2016-2017 school year.

Thursday was the first day of school for most Israeli children from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed students to their first day of school at Tamra Haemek public elementary school in Tamra, an Israeli Arab town in northern Israel.

The lawmakers were welcomed during an opening ceremony  by the school’s approximately 200 pupils in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Netanyahu told the students to listen to their teachers and to listen to their parents.

“I want you to learn – learn to write, learn to read, learn Hebrew, Arabic and English. I want you to learn mathematics. I want you to learn science. I want you to learn history – history of the Jewish People, the history of your public. I want you to learn the truth, and the truth says that we were destined to live together,” Netanyahu told the students according to his office.

“I want you to be doctors, scientists and writers, and be whatever you want to – and are able to – be. I want you to be loyal citizens, integrated into the State of Israel; this is your state,” he said.

Of the 2.2 million Israeli students who started school on Thursday, some 159,000 are entering first grade and 123,000 are entering their last year of high school.

There are some 180,000 educators working in the Israeli school system, including 9,000 who are teaching this year for the first time.

Young Arabs see Islamic State as biggest regional challenge

Young Arabs view Islamic State as the biggest challenge facing their region and some blame poor job opportunities for the rise of the militant group, according to a survey published on Tuesday.

Islamic State has declared a “caliphate” over swathes of Iraq and Syria it occupies, has established branches in conflict-ridden Libya and Yemen and has also carried out a series of deadly attacks in western Europe and Arab Gulf states.

The annual survey of people in the 18-24 age bracket across 16 Arab countries showed half of the respondents saw Islamic State as the biggest challenge for the region, up from 37 percent in the 2015 poll and well above other issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and lack of democracy.

Asked if they could imagine supporting Islamic State – also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh – if it used less violence, 78 percent of respondents said they could not, while 13 percent said they could and nine percent said they did not know.

Almost a quarter of respondents blamed high unemployment among young Arabs for Islamic State's success. The Arab world has long been blighted by corruption, wars and political stagnation and has struggled to create jobs for its fast-growing younger population.

Hassan Hassan, an analyst cited in the survey, said the region's economic malaise had clearly helped Islamic State.

“Many people in the region may reject Daesh due to its extreme tactics, but the issue remains that the group exploits existing problems,” he said.

“It did not simply invent the problems the responders identified as factors. Daesh, put another way, is a symptom of a growing disease that needs to be tackled, and not just the disease itself.”

Respondents also cited as reasons for Islamic State's advances the group's belief that its interpretation of Islam is superior to others as well as the confrontation between the Sunni and Shi'ite traditions. Islamic State adheres to a hardline version of Sunni Islam and regards Shi'ites and other Muslims who reject its stance as apostates deserving death.

The survey was based on 3,500 face-to-face interviews carried out by Dubai-based public relations firm ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller in countries ranging from Morocco and Egypt to Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

From left to right, Israelis sour on ‘opportunist’ Donald Trump

He’s crude. He’s blunt. He’s inauthentic. He is not a man of peace.

Left and right, religious and secular, Arab and Jew, Israelis don’t have many kind words for Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner.

In interviews this week, several prominent Israelis described Trump as an opportunist and a demagogue whose political convictions are hard to make out.

“As Israelis, we look at him and laugh a little,” said Ronen Shoval, founder of the hard-line, right-wing Zionist organization Im Tirtzu. “He looks inauthentic. Men in Israel don’t color their hair like that. He looks like he’s had plastic surgery.”

Trump, who was due to speak Monday night at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C., has upset many in the pro-Israel community with his promise to be “neutral” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his questioning of Israel’s commitment to peace.

In response, Trump has pointed to his role as grand marshal of New York’s 2004 Salute to Israel Parade and his Orthodox Jewish daughter and grandchildren as evidence of his pro-Israel bona fides.

According to a poll in February by the Israel Democracy Institute, three-fifths of Israeli Jews said a Trump administration would be friendly to Israel. A survey by the Israeli news website Walla found that Israelis preferred Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton to Trump by a margin of 38 to 23 percent. Clinton challenger Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, received 7 percent support, while Republicans Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio received 5 and 4 percent, respectively. Twenty-three percent did not choose a candidate.

Like many Americans concerned by Trump’s apparent encouragement of violence at his rallies and his support among white supremacists, Israelis who spoke to JTA focused more on the candidate’s character than his specific policies.

Some Israelis praised Trump’s willingness to speak bluntly, no matter the consequences. Shoval said Trump reminds him of former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, another plain-talking politician who has drawn accusations of racism for his call to have Israeli Arabs live in a Palestinian state under a future peace deal.

But others worried that Trump’s seemingly off-the-cuff convictions could change once he’s in office.

“There’s a feeling of finally, enough with political correctness, enough with the establishment,” prominent religious Zionist Rabbi Yuval Cherlow told JTA.

“The problem is that there isn’t a feeling you can trust him,” Cherlow said. “You can’t know if he’s going to do what he says. He’s not obligated to anything.”

On the left, Israelis are just as mistrustful — and less enamored by his frankness. Columnist Nahum Barnea has written that Trump is a threat to America’s democratic values and compared him to Oren Hazan, a scandal-plagued Likud lawmaker accused of bringing clients prostitutes and drugs when he managed a casino in Bulgaria.

Speaking to JTA, Barnea said Trump could be dangerous to the U.S.-Israel relationship because he’s less of a known quantity than Clinton and has weaker ties to America’s pro-Israel community.

“I think Trump is unpredictable and unobligated,” Barnea told JTA. “Hillary Clinton is predictable and obligated. The prime minister of Israel will feel comfortable with a president whose actions he can expect.”

According to Shoval, Israelis look for consistency in their ideologues and suggested that Likud voters would prefer Ted Cruz, the arch-conservative Texas senator and Trump’s closest competitor for the Republican nomination.

“Israeli society is very ideological, and Trump is viewed in Israel as an opportunist and not ideological,” Shoval said.

Israeli Arabs appear to be less engaged with the Trump phenomenon than their Jewish neighbors. Nearly half told the Israel Democracy Institute they “didn’t know” whether Trump would be friendly to Israel. Among the some 100 Israeli Arabs polled by Walla in March, a mere 7 percent supported Trump.

“From the perspective of Palestinian citizens who live in Israel, he’ll just make the situation more extreme,” said journalist Ghada Zoabi, who runs the Arab-Israeli news website Bokra. “He won’t take a positive role in leading to peace. He’s not a man of peace. He wants to celebrate the existing conflict.”

Yisrael Friedman, editor of Yated Neeman, a leading haredi Orthodox publication, said haredi Israelis have mostly been ignoring the Trump campaign out of a belief that God — not the president — controls matters of state.

“America seems to have gone crazy,” Friedman said, adding that Trump’s popularity deserves psychiatric examination. But he said only God knows which candidate would be best for the Jews.

“God will play with him like a marionette if he’s elected,” Friedman said. “At this point I’m praying for whatever’s best for the Jewish people. What’s right and good, I don’t know.”

What’s really important to take away from the new Pew study

The Pew report on Israel’s Religiously Divided Society should be a source of alarm to both Israelis and world Jewish leaders. It was of particular interest to us at. Hiddush–Freedom of Religion for Israel, which is a trans-denominational Israel-Diaspora partnership that places much attention on polling public opinion regarding religion and state in Israel, focusing on  findings regarding the Jewish population.

I fear that few will fully study this vast report. Most will instead rely on the media, which primarily focused on the alarming data regarding widely held anti-Arab sentiments among Israeli Jews. The report, though, raises a number of issues of religious import that have received predictable reactions. As expected, the Orthodox media triumphantly declared that the report validates the religious/traditional character of Israeli Jews, pointing to the low rates of Reform and Conservative affiliation in Israel. The findings that I mentioned present only a partial picture of the Israeli reality, offering only a narrow perspective on what should occupy a much greater place in Israel’s public and political discourses and among responsible world Jewish leadership. Unfortunately, some people have lost sight of the broad scope of the study and have instead focused on these narrow issues. Two key general alarming areas demand to be addressed. : The real threat to democracy on the religion-state and the Jewish-Arab fronts, and the painful correlation between these threats and the religion-secular divide.  

While the study shows that a majority of Israeli Jews believe Israel’s Jewish and democratic characters are compatible, the truer picture is quite different. Pew shows that a majority of Israel’s religious Jewish population supports halacha becoming the binding law of the state for Jews; but the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews support religious freedom and oppose the government’s coercive policies on religious affairs. Nevertheless, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox politicians continue to maneuver toward realizing this theocratic vision, as it works to strengthen the powers of the fundamentalist state rabbinate.

Addressing the issue of marriage freedom, the report regrettably does not explore Israelis’ support for civil marriages, but rather focuses on support for Reform and Conservative weddings. If civil marriage had been included, it would have demonstrated, as Hiddush’s extensive polling does, that a clear majority supports marriage freedom and an end to the Orthodox monopoly over marriage and divorce. Israel is the only Western democracy that denies its citizens the right to marry. Hundreds of thousands cannot legally marry in Israel, and this would apply to the majority of children growing up in the American Jewish community, if they wished to reside in Israel.

Fortunately, there has been a recent, unprecedented awakening among mainstream Jewish leadership on this issue: The seminal JPPI study of Diaspora Jewish leadership views on Israel as Jewish and democratic, the JFNA’s new iRep project aimed at promoting freedom of marriage in Israel, and AJC’s J-REC coalition to advance religious pluralism, marriage freedom, and Jewish status issues in Israel.

Such initiatives have been influential in promoting liberal approaches to religious issues. Diaspora Jewish pressure led a majority of the ministers in Netanyahu’s government to vote for the recent historic Western Wall agreement. However, Religious Services Minister Azoulay (Shas), following his rabbi’s instructions, has announced that he will not sign the regulations required for its implementation. Now Netanyahu and his Cabinet are trying to appease the ultra-Orthodox political and rabbinical leadership while trying to save face with the non-Orthodox Diaspora movements.

Similarly, following the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing access to public (State funded) ritual baths for non-Orthodox conversions, the chair of the Knesset finance committee, Rabbi Gafni (UTJ), assaulted the Supreme Court, stating that it has declared war against Judaism and will not rest until it sees Judaism fully destroyed in Israel. He submitted a bill to undo it, and received full support from haredi parties and some of the Orthodox Jewish Home party. Health Minister Rabbi Litzman (UTJ) announced that the Charedi parties will topple the government if his bill is not passed, and that Netanyahu has to choose: either the Reform in America or the Charedi in Israel.

These two events are but very recent examples of the Orthodox attempt to suppress the non-Orthodox streams. Still, both non-Orthodox movements have grown considerably in Israel. It should be noted that several credible studies, done recently, indicate higher percentages of Israelis who identify as Reform and Conservative, than reported by Pew.

The Pew study’s categories do not do justice to Israel’s Jewish identity mosaic. It is unfortunate that Pew chose to maintain the older religious categories of Jewish identity, including only one “masorti” label. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics had previously made two designations:  “masorti leaning towards religious” and “masorti not so religious.” This distinction is of great importance because traditional practices are prevalent among Israeli Jews, including the hiloni. Those classified as “masorti not so religious” (approximately 25 percent of Israeli Jews) are far closer to the hiloni (secular) population on positions of religion and state than to those held by the religious population.

The Pew study also reflects on the Jewish-Arab conflict, but the pollsters chose a rather sensational question: support for the expulsion and transfer of Arabs. The results indicate a clear divide between the majority of religious Jews who support this and the majority of the hiloni and masorti that oppose it. Oddly, majorities in all subgroups of Jews in Israel support Pew’s question on “preferential treatment of Jews in Israel.”  This may depend on wording, and I would direct your attention to the better (IMHO) framing of the IDI Democracy Index of 2014: “Do you agree or disagree that Jewish citizens of Israel should have greater rights than non-Jewish citizens?” The division along religious identity lines is once again evident in the responses to this question: the majority of Orthodox agreed, while the majority of non-Orthodox disagreed.

This clearly does not reflect the position of all those who identify as “religious.” Some of the leading champions for human equality come from the Orthodox community. Yet, disturbingly, repeated statistical data indicates an alarming level of correlation between religious education with anti-democratic and anti-gentile views.

The Pew study should act as an urgent reminder that Israel must return to the inspiring and healing spirit that permeates through its Declaration of Independence, prescribing its Jewish and democratic characters as guided by the prophetic “precepts of liberty, justice and peace,” and ensuring “full social and political equality for all regardless of religion, gender, or race.” It is my sincerest hope that Pew findings will help open the eyes of policymakers and public opinion molders throughout the Jewish world to understand the dire need to address such threatening trends, and re-commit to fully realize Israel’s founding vision.

Rabbi Uri Regev heads Hiddush — Freedom of Religion for Israel, Inc. — a transdenominational Israel/Diaspora partnership for religious freedom and equality in Israel.

Israeli Arab List Chairman Ayman Odeh: We want to be part of the process

It is nearly 9 pm in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament; its cafeteria abuzz and Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List – the block of four Arab parties – is preparing to enjoy a much needed bowl of hot soup. He’s surrounded by a diverse cast of fellow parliamentarians including former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, Tzippi Livni, Ethiopian Avraham Neguise, and Tzachi Hanegbi.

His youthful looks are deceiving as he sits down with The Media Line to offer his  take on the day’s dramatic events, including the suspension of three of his lawmakers for allegedly meeting to console the families of those killed while assaulting – and in some cases killing – Israeli citizens in random acts of street violence, many by stabbing. Odeh forcefully asserts that the trio went to aid in negotiations for the bodies of those killed as they carried out violent acts that at the time were being held by Israel.

Often described as “pragmatic,” Mr. Odeh, who prefers to be known as “a principled man”, is also known for what he calls his “vision” — that Arabs and Jews must work together.  He’s widely quoted for his references to Jews from Arab and Islamic lands. He was interviewed for The Media Line at the Knesset by Felice Friedson.

TML: How do you respond to the Knesset Ethics Committee’s decision to suspend three Arab lawmakers who met with the families of the terrorists who perpetrated attacks against Israeli citizens? The Israelis charge they consoled the killers of Israelis while the Palestinians explain they were participating in efforts to have the bodies of those killed by Israeli security forces returned to their families?

Ayman Odeh: What they did in east Jerusalem is very natural to release the bodies. The Greek woman, Antigone, defied the orders of the king in order to bury her brother, because it is a human right from the first degree. The Israeli decision is part of a chain of decision to prosecute the Arabs. Netanyahu personally is leading the campaign against the Arabs.

TML: Three members of the Joint List called the attackers who killed Israelis “martyrs,” and on the Facebook page of MK Basel Ghattas, there is picture of the Palestinian flag. If these people were elected to represent Israel, how do you think Israel should respond?

Ayman Odeh:  The murder of any citizen is wrong. Regarding the Palestinian flag, everyone needs to understand that out situation is complicated. On the one hand, nationally we belong to the Palestinian people. On the other hand, from a political stand point, we are citizens in Israel. We feel a sense of belonging to the Palestinian people, and its symbol, just like any other nation in the world that feels a sense of belonging to its nationality and symbols. This is not against the law.

TML: That doesn’t answer the question. No nation — like the United States, for example — is going to allow their own citizens to go out and to do things against their country. What should Israel do when it has people sitting in the Knesset calling those who assaulted and killed its citizens, “martyrs,” and representing the Palestinian state?

Ayman Odeh: The Knesset members — Jews and Arabs — don’t represent the state of Israel. The government is the one that represents the state of Israel officially. The members of Knesset have a transparent election process, and based on that are elected to the Knesset. Part of our agenda is to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state. We always said that nationally we belong to the Palestinian nation, but in the same time we are citizens of the state of Israel. 

TML: That’s not the same thing as defending people who kill in cold blood.

Ayman Odeh: I am convinced that no one should defend the murder of any person in any way. We refuse to defend these actions. Hurting a Jew because he is a Jew is not acceptable, and it has a bad influence on the moral values of the Palestinian people, as well as their political ones. We support a just Palestinian struggle to end the occupation, but not with killing of civilians in any way or form.

TML: will you go out of the box and condemn fellow members for the way they are handling it?

Ayman Odeh: That the core of their action was to return the bodies is right. Israel is in the wrong here because it is still holding the bodies. The issue at hand here is not the members of Knesset trying to mediate the return the bodies to the families, but the racist incitement against the members of Knesset and their suspension, this is the main issue that needs to be condemned. 

TML:  Israelis want to know why your colleagues from the Arab parties won’t condemn violence against innocent civilians.  First of all, is that true?  Has there been any condemnation of the recent spate of killings?

Ayman Odeh:  We have a strong, hard stance against harming innocent people.  The struggle of the Palestinian people is one of the more just struggles all over the world.  A just struggle has to have just means.  The main part of the Palestinian struggle is a just struggle with just means.  It occurs at the fringes that Palestinians harm innocent people.  This is something we are completely against and we condemn it.  We need to take all citizens — Palestinians and Israelis — out of the cycle of violence and harm.  To be honest, more Palestinian civilians are harmed by the way the occupation uses institutional terror. 

TML:  Why is the Palestinian Authority and its leaders not condemning the attacks of these young people going out with knives?

Ayman Odeh:  I don’t want to speak on the PA’s behalf. 

TML:  Would you advise them?  Could you advise them?

Ayman Odeh:  The occupation harmed Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] so greatly.  Abu Mazen is a very responsible man.  He is a very honest person.  What he says behind closed doors is also said to the media.  For about a decade now he is ruling and maintaining control over the West Bank even given the circumstances of occupation. People believed it would not be possible to rule in this manner.  However, the Israeli government is so against peace and refuses to put their hands out to it, so in the meantime, the PA has its own calculations on the matter.  I certainly support the PA leading a peaceful, non-violent struggle and to condemn attacks against civilians. 

TML:  You are saying that, but they haven’t done it.

Ayman Odeh:  I already said that I will not go into speaking about their position on the matter.

TML: What are Jewish Israelis getting wrong about their Arab neighbors?

Ayman Odeh: I think there is a founding idea in the Jewish and Zionist consciousness from before the establishment of the state of Israel. They behave as part of Europe in the Orient rather than part of the Orient. There is a sense of superiority over the people of the Orient based on prejudices. “The wise island needs to know how to live with the sea.”

F: How do you differentiate between an Arab Israeli and a Palestinian?

Ayman Odeh: The Arab in Israel is also a Palestinian; the distinction from a Palestinian is having Israeli citizenship. We, the ones who support the two-state solution, want to hang on to our Arabic-Palestinian identity, and also struggle for equality in Israel.

F: Do Arabs in Israel view themselves as Israelis?

Ayman Odeh: The Arabs in Israel want two things: the Palestinian identity, and also full rights as citizens of Israel. The constant incitement of Israel against the Arab citizens creates a disruption in the issue of citizenship. The question is, “What is Israel? The occupation of the West Bank, or the constant incitement of Netanyahu against us?” Of course we won’t feel a sense of belonging. However, during the term of Rabin, when he worked towards peace and equality, it was very clear that the citizenship matter for the Arabs became very important.

TML: Beyond violence and security, is there a dual standard for Israeli Jews and Arabs?

Ayman Odeh: Israel was established for the Jews, not for all citizens. Until today, Israel has not managed yet to go past this initial idea.

TML: What needs to change?

Ayman Odeh: Israel must understand that there is a Jewish majority and an Arab minority.  There needs to be respect for both the Jewish identity and the Arab identity. There has to be equality between all citizens and between the two nationalities. This matter is obvious in any democratic state. That’s the core of our struggle here in the parliament and also in the nation.

Blitzer asks Sanders if being Jewish complicates relationship with Muslim world

CNN host Wolf Blitzer suggested on Wednesday that Bernie Sanders becoming the first elected Jewish president may complicate the U.S. relationship with Muslim and Arab leaders in the world. 

“You, of course, are Jewish. Do you think that potentially could be a problem, working with the Muslim world out there and trying to get help – for example – in the war against ISIS?” Blitzer asked Sanders during a live interview on CNN. 

“No, I don’t,” Sanders responded. 

Blitzer’s question was a follow-up question after Sanders commented on President Barack Obama’s speech earlier in the day at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first visit to a Mosque since taking office. 

Meanwhile, CNN reported that starting Wednesday Sanders will be receiving Secret Service protection. The campaign requested a Secret Service detail last week, according to the report. 

Sanders is the fourth presidential candidate to receive Secret Service protection this campaign cycle. Donald Trump and Ben Carson requested it last fall. Hillary Clinton has lifelong Secret Service protection as a former First Lady of the United States.

Paris attacker shouting ‘God is great’ in Arabic shot and killed

One year after a wave of attacks by Islamists killed 17 in Paris, including four at a kosher supermarket, police in the French capital shot and killed a knife-wielding man shouting “God is great” in Arabic.

Police opened fire on the man, who tried to enter a northern Paris police station on Thursday, because of his shouted declaration and he had wires protruding from his body, police officials told Reuters. The assailant was wearing what was discovered to be a fake suicide bomb belt and carrying an emblem of the Islamic State group, according to reports.

The thwarted attack came on the one-year anniversary of the terrorist shootings at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, which killed 12. The siege of the Hyper Cacher market came two days later.

Shortly before the thwarted attack, French President Francois Hollande finished speaking at a memorial event at police headquarters in central Paris honoring officers killed in the January 2015 attacks, as well as those last November on several sites around Paris for which the Islamic State took credit. Some 130 people were killed in the coordinated November attacks.

The Islamic State said the 18th district, where the police station is located, had been on its hit list for the Nov. 13, 2015 attacks.

“Terrorism has not stopped posing a threat to our country,” Hollande said in his speech.

One father loves Israel, the other hates it. Guess which one is Arab?

I was struck by the contrasting reactions of the fathers of two accused terrorists, both Israelis. One son shot up a Tel Aviv pub, murdering two and wounding seven, while the other firebombed a house killing an infant boy and his parents and severely injuring his 4-year-old brother. Both sons have records for hate crimes.

One father quickly alerted police when he suspected his son's involvement, and publicly expressed deep regrets over the incident, offering condolences to the victims and their families.  He declared his “loyalty” and “love” for Israel.

The other father insisted his son was innocent and that his confession was tortured out of him.  He denounced the State of Israel and declared his hatred for it.  He called the country's president “the fuhrer.”

The father who called on his son to surrender is an Israeli Arab who has been a volunteer with the Israeli police for more than 30 years. 

The other father, who called Israel the “most anti-Semitic country in the world,” is the ultra-Orthodox rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Karmel Zur.     

The Arab suspect in the shooting on Dizengoff Street, Nishat Milhem, 31, is still at large as of this writing. Early Tuesday, his father, who has called on his son to surrender, and five other relatives and family friends were arrested as possible accessories, but some reports suggest they were being used as bait to get Nishat to turn himself in. 

The Jew, Amiram Ben-Uliel, 21, was indicted last week for the July 31 fatal firebombing of the Dawabsha family home in the village of Duma while they slept. 

A third father sought to take political advantage of the tragedies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, noting that his sons were about the same age as the pub shooting victims, tried to spread the blame over all Israeli Arabs and exploit the tragedy for political gain.  

Six months earlier he condemned the Duma arson as “Jewish terrorism” but dismissed the killers as “extreme and marginal, and [they] certainly don't represent religious Zionism.” 

But on Dizengoff Street this weekend the Israeli leader played his customary race card with a verbal assault on Israel's Arab citizens. 

He blamed the killings on “wild incitement of radical Islam,” and lectured one fifth of the nation's population about its responsibilities as citizens. He demanded all Arab Knesset members, “without exception…condemn the murder clearly and unequivocally.” There was no such demand of Jewish MK's after the Duma murders.

Netanyahu cemented his position as Israel's inciter-in-chief with his wholesale indictment of Israel's Arabs and dismissal of Jewish terrorists as an almost irrelevant fringe group.

In terror attacks when he was out of power, Netanyahu was quick to blame the sitting prime minister for lax security. But now that Bibi's in charge, it's always someone else's fault.

Netanyahu has that Trumpian penchant for taking credit for what works and blaming others for what goes wrong.  

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said the PM smeared all Israeli Arabs because of his own inability to provide security.  

Report: Israel asks PA for help in capturing Tel Aviv shooter

Israel reportedly has turned to the Palestinian Authority for help in capturing the Arab-Israeli gunman who allegedly shot up a bar in central Tel Aviv, killing two, and later killed a cab driver.

Israeli officials, who suspect that Nashat Melhem, 31, of Arara, a village in Wadi Ara in northern Israel, has fled to the West Bank, have asked the PA to share intelligence that could lead to his capture, the Times of Israel reported Monday.

The search for the shooter, in its fourth day, remains centered on Tel Aviv, however.

On Friday, Melhem allegedly opened fire on a pub next to the popular Dizengoff Center Mall in an area full of people enjoying what is a weekend afternoon in Israel.

His father, a volunteer policeman, called police after seeing security camera footage of the attack on television and recognizing his son. Melhem’s brother, Jaudat, was arrested the same day on suspicion of being an accessory to the crime, according to reports.

It is believed that Nashat Melhem later hailed a cab in north Tel Aviv and killed the driver, Amin Shaaban, a father of 11 from Lod, whose body was found about an hour after the bar shooting.

On Monday in Tel Aviv, about 80 percent of schoolchildren attended classes, up from about 50 percent the previous day.

Israel says Arab who served in its army joined Islamic State

An Israeli army veteran from the country's Arab minority has joined Islamic State insurgents in Syria, an Israeli security official said on Sunday, confirming a local media report.

Israel says dozens of Muslim Arab citizens have illegally traveled to Islamic State's Syrian or Iraqi fiefdoms, raising concerns they might return radicalized and trained to carry out armed attacks at home.

Arabs make up 20 percent of Israel's population and are generally exempted from military service while most Jewish citizens are drafted. A few Israeli Arabs volunteer for the army or paramilitary police, however.

Walla News said one of the Islamic State recruits previously served in Israel's Givati infantry brigade, a unit that has often operated in Gaza.

Walla did not name the man or provide details on when he left for Syria, saying only that he was a Muslim from a village in northern Israel, was estranged from his family and would have been discharged from the army in January 2014.

Asked about the report, an Israeli security official told Reuters: “We are familiar with this case.” The official did not elaborate.

Israel has been cracking down on suspected Islamic State sympathizers in its Arab communities and among Palestinians in the West Bank. The ultra-violent jihadi group also has a presence in the neighboring Gaza Strip and Egyptian Sinai.

Israeli concerns were raised in October after two videos surfaced in which militants identifying themselves as Islamic State members and speaking Arabic-accented Hebrew threatened to attack the country.

Egypt frees Israeli held for spying in prisoner swap

Egypt has freed an Israeli-Arab held in its jails for 15 years on espionage charges in exchange for the release of two Egyptians held in Israel, Egyptian and Israeli officials said on Thursday.

Uda Tarrabin, originally from a tribe in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, on the border with Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, had been convicted of spying for Israel and had completed his term, Egyptian security sources and state television said.

The Israeli government said Tarrabin was already back in Israel.

“At the same time, Israel released two Egyptian prisoners who were held in Israel and had finished serving their sentences,” it said in a statement.

Neither Israeli nor Egyptian officials would comment on the identity of the Egyptian prisoners.

A plea for Syrian refugees: ‘never again’

Having spent a career helping women and civil society activists in the most challenging places on Earth, we thought we had seen the worst man could do. Helping society rebound in the killing fields in Cambodia; documenting Saddam’s genocide in northern Iraq; helping resolve conflicts during the violent transition from apartheid to majority rule in South Africa; working to empower moderate women and activists in the face of extremism in Gaza; and secretly supporting women’s rights under the draconian Taliban in Afghanistan — none of this prepared us for the scale of the horror that reigns in Syria today.

[RELATED: Fighting to defend the defenseless]

The Democracy Council has been working in Syria for more than 10 years: We know who the good guys are and who the terrorists are. Our friends and colleagues risk their lives every day to fight terror and extremism. Walking through a makeshift hospital for Syrians run by a German group Uossm (pronounced “awesome”) in Reyhanli, Turkey, a few months ago, we saw hundreds of amputees, mostly children. We decided immediately that it was not only our moral, humane duty to help relieve the suffering, but it was also in America’s national interest to help save a generation and not give in to terror.

We thought raising some money to cover the salaries of teachers of internationally recognized curriculums, and doctors to provide basic medical services to women and families that we know in refugee camps inside Syria and Turkey would never be viewed as anything other than positive, charitable work. The issue is simple: Syria has a devastated population that faces a choice of living under a violent dictatorship and religious fanaticism or fleeing. A few quick phone calls elicited a host committee comprising a panoply of our local community: Republican and Democratic members of Congress, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis, a Methodist pastor, women’s rights leaders, Syrian Americans, Jewish Americans, etc. Never did we anticipate any negative reaction from any American.

Boy, were we wrong.

Some of the feedback opposing a benefit to support the refugees referenced the individual’s opposition to helping “Arabs.” Some claimed that such efforts helped facilitate the Paris bombings. Many contained threats with an attempt to correlate support to the refugees as support for ISIS. Unable to fully contain myself, I found myself asking how teaching a 6-year-old how to read or providing prenatal care to expectant mothers who fled their homes to get away from extremists was supporting those very same extremists? The question generated the typical, ‘You don’t know what you are doing’ conversation-killer being repeated by many from the far right.

The number of dead, displaced and mutilated since 2011 is well known. As a state-sponsor of terror, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s dictatorship is rivaled only by the horrific atrocities perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The mass devastation was brought home to my organization in the past few weeks, even before the Paris bombings woke up the general public. In the last three weeks alone, two colleagues reporting on ISIS terror were beheaded in Turkey. A friend working to train Syrian independent journalists was found hanged in the Istanbul airport. This does not even take into account the ever-growing list of activists killed in Syria every day fighting for the basic rights and freedoms that we take for granted.

Roughly one in four Syrians has been forcibly displaced by the violence and extremism of Assad and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This includes every sector of the population — women, children, the elderly, Christians and Muslims. There is a whole generation of Syrians ages 5 to 16 that is not receiving basic health care or primary education. They are not terrorists. They are children who, without support, will grow up without hope, education or any ability to ever provide for themselves. They are not migrants, but refugees, defined by the United Nations High Commissioner as “persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution. These are people for whom the denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences.” History unequivocally shows us that the fires of extremism are fed with ignorance and hopelessness. This underscores the fact that in addition to our human duty to provide basic services to those in need, it is in America’s national security interest to support stable, educated, healthy communities that will not succumb to the hateful propaganda of ISIS out of sheer desperation.

Thoughtful people may disagree over the process by which the United States admits refugees. (Although, being intimately familiar with the interagency vetting and interviewing process and the two-year wait time, we are unsure how the screening process could be improved.) But this is another conversation that should not impact the ability to provide emergency relief and basic services to those desperately in need. To do otherwise as a response to overly partisan domestic politics is to give the terrorists what they want — irrational fear — and diminish who we are as Americans and our promise of “never again.”

James Prince is president of the Democracy Council and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University. Jonathan Tamayo is a graduate student at Pepperdine.

This is not my America. Is it yours?

Two scary tweets fell into my feed yesterday. In the first, Linda Sarsour, a Brooklyn mom and activist shared, “When ur kids sends u a text w/ a link to a mayor invoking Japanese internment camps. ‘You think they would do that?’ OMG. My heart.”
In a reply, Suroor Raziuddin, a local mom (and self professed “Valley Girl” by way of Jersey) shared, “My kids ask me “Will they make us leave?” used 2 think telling them we were born here was enough. Now? I'm not so confident.”

They should be confident. I'm confident.
 Her rights are my rights.
Her children's rights are my children's rights.
If you are an American, these rights are your rights too.

The language in response to an immigration “crisis” that is being run up the flagpoles of so many politicians is not merely the instigation and amplification of knee-jerk xenophobia. Worse, it is malicious fear mongering, a conscious attempt at stoking anti-immigrant and Islamophobic feelings into rage, inciting action of a specific voter base while raising support for isolationist policies. This is the politics of fear, plain and simple. I denounce the engendering of fear in the hearts and minds of the American people during this political cycle. This is not my America. Is it yours?

I want my leaders to inspire greatness in every American, and celebrate that our nation has always been a society of immigrants. My America is a welcoming social experiment. A success where all new Americans, born here or naturalized, are granted the same rights to freedom of speech, religious tolerance, and pursuit of happiness.

Thursday’s bill passed by the House of Representatives is a blustery piling on that does not address a real threat. “Not a single refugee has been convicted of an act of terror on U.S. soil… of the one million plus we’ve let in post 9/11,” Maya Berry of the Arab American Institute said on KCRW’s “To The Point” on Nov. 18.

Callbacks to the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s in reference to a current onslaught of xenophobia and bigotry facing Syrian refugees by Mayor David Bowers of Roanoke, Va. gives me great pause. The Jewish diaspora and anti-Semitism are not, in and of themselves, unique. Jews were turned away at borders in times of great need. Jews have been rounded up into ghettos, forced into labor and starvation, and marched along our own trail of tears.

Have you ever wondered what the biggest indicator of Islamophobic sentiment is? It is the holding of anti-Semitic beliefs. “In fact, contempt for Jews makes a person “about 32 times as likely to report the same level of prejudice toward Muslims,” James Carroll wrote in The Daily Beast in an article titled, “How to Spot an Islamophobe,” in 2010, quoting a 2010 Gallop World Religion Survey.

Publicly protecting the rights of all Americans, native born, naturalized, and the refugee that we welcome is our duty as Americans, and as Jews. By protecting everyone, we forcefully protect ourselves from once again falling victim to a society’s nationalist zeal. This is Tikkun Olam. This is a way to make our world a better place for all people, and set an example for all societies in our shared global community.

When we are triggered, it is our responsibility to acknowledge and move past our knee-jerk feelings of fear, and then repair the world with the gift of our love, acceptance and work towards a pluralistic society.

Linda, Suroor, you are my fellow Americans, and I welcome your contributions to our great nation. Your children and mine share the same liberté, égalité, and fraternité that all of us hold so dear. We will not allow fear to destroy the ongoing pursuit of social justice.

Dear reader, will you?

Howard Seth Cohen is a local actor, artist, and activist. He created “72 Virgins” a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that fights xenophobia one mocktail at a time. @HSCactor

Heads of the Hydra

This time it’s Paris. It was already Paris earlier this year. It was also Madrid, London, New York and suburban Washington D.C., and it was the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999, and the infamous Moscow theater disaster in 2002. In each case, terrible violence was committed against masses of innocent people, not to mention the exponentially greater destruction that is ongoing in much of the Middle East and North Africa. What’s it really all about?

Let’s be clear about one thing: This terrible violence is not about Islam. That accusation is a canard. It’s an excuse, a pitiful substitute for careful analysis and consideration. Islam certainly contains within it textual and intellectual support for both the potential and the actual employment of violence. You’ve seen the violent Quran verses and the hateful statements from the Hadith, and you’ve seen Muslim calls for universal jihad against infidels. But if you have any Jewish education, you’ve also seen equivalently violent verses from the Torah and hateful verses from the Talmud. Christian religious literature likewise contains vitriol spewed against opponents of the early Jesus movement and the established Church. And we know of the grisly Crusader massacres, directed not only against Arabs in the Middle East, but also against northern Europeans in the Northern Crusade, and French Cathars and their Catholic supporters in the Albigensian Crusade, both of which resulted in mass murders of tens of thousands of innocents.

“But the Jews don’t do those things!” For the most part, this has been true.

But that’s because historically we haven’t had the power to do these things. First, we lost the war against the Romans (which we started). That decimated our population and shut down our political independence and ability to raise an army. Then we lost the culture war against our brothers and sisters who believed that Jesus fulfilled the Jewish messianic expectations at the time.

By losing the culture war, we lost the possibility of overcoming the Romans peaceably. The empire was teetering religiously as masses of Roman citizens had lost interest in their traditional pagan religion and were seeking a religious expression that would better fulfill their spiritual needs. Many became Judaic “God-fearers,” or went all the way and became Jews. But more went over to the Christians, whose large and growing numbers convinced Constantine to legalize and then privilege Christianity. Eventually, Christianity became the only legal religion.

I’ve often wondered what the world would be like if the Roman Empire had gone over to the Jewish option. Of course, there is no way of knowing, but having the great military legions of Rome at a religion’s disposal is a sure way to ensure a militarization of religion. As Shimon Peres once put it, if you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

So let us Jews be a bit more humble and realistic as we look at the violence and horror that have become the No. 1 domestic product and export from the Middle East and North Africa. Islam is not the problem. Panic and scolding and blame will not solve our troubles.

Religion has proven itself time and again to be a very effective way to mobilize large numbers of people to engage in extraordinary behaviors. Sometimes it is to heal and restore. Sometimes it is to hurt and tear down. Good and bad people throughout the ages have managed to use religion for political purposes, sometimes to bring reconciliation between suffering people in conflict, other times to release violence against innocents in order to deflect criticism and vent frustration and rage.

Those who have a firm grasp on the core texts and interpretive traditions of the three scriptural monotheisms know that all our religions contain vectors of thought and action that tend toward violence against detractors and foes, and counter vectors that tend toward peaceful modes of conflict management or resolution. Different situations trigger one or another of these vectors, which then becomes dominant for a period of time. As situations evolve, so do religious responses to them.

Last month I attended a U.N.-sponsored conference at Rutgers University called “Youth and the Allure of Terrorism.” The organizers brought in people working on the ground in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Libya, Nigeria, Niger, the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Turkey and Syria, as well as experts in law enforcement in the United States and Europe. One such expert, who served in the Los Angeles Police Department before joining the FBI, noted that the profile of a young person in North America who tries to join ISIS is quite similar to the profile of at-risk youth of any or no religion who join other terrorist groups, violent gangs or who engage in mass shootings. They tend to feel vulnerable and see themselves as victims. They lack opportunity. They exhibit low-level mental health problems. They feel like outsiders, ostracized, disconnected from community and family. They have anger issues and have no effective opportunities to manage their growing rage. They engage in a lot of media viewing, especially violent videos.

Why is the trend toward violence among our youth increasing? He tallied recent changes, all remarkably related to this list of motivators: a marked reduction in mental health support across the board, increased xenophobia and more social dislocation. People are moving into new places without viable social networks and community support. And without support, young people are relying more on the Internet and social media for personal sustenance.

Similar analyses came from those working with youth in the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Youth there often feel alone and unprotected and alienated from their communities. Government corruption, bureaucratic oppression and lack of economic and social opportunity smite large numbers of at-risk youth like a plague. As they suffer, they observe seemingly happy people enjoying wealth — often exorbitant wealth — in movies, videos and other media, that they feel they have no chance of obtaining for themselves. These can be strong motivators for youth to lash out in various ways, which can include joining violent, extremist organizations.

It goes without saying that we can and must defend ourselves against all who murder innocents and work to destroy the societies in which we live. The U.S. took out Osama bin Laden in 2011. Last week, we learned that a U.S. Predator missile killed “Jihadi John” (Mohammad Emwazi). But without fixing what lies underneath the monster of this violence, we are cutting off only a few of the Hydra’s heads. More simply spring up and continue their venomous terror. We can militarily defeat ISIS, al-Qaida and their spawns. I am confident of that, certainly. But if we fail to address the social, economic and political issues that drive people to radicalism, the Hydra will continue to raise her head and we will all continue to feel the pain.

Rabbi Reuven Firestone is Regenstein Professor in Medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College and the author of “Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam.”

Hebron and the potential for Israeli-Arab coexistence

I am currently in Israel with my wife, and a friend of ours who lives here called to ask if we would like to join the thousands of pilgrims who visit Hebron for Shabbat Chayei Sarah. It is not strictly an “anniversary” weekend, but seeing as this parsha (Torah portion) describes how Abraham purchased the Hebron burial plot for his wife, Sarah, the Chayei Sarah weekend has become a semi-official annual date for Jews to celebrate our 3,500-year history in the city.

[ZAKI: The city of the patriarchs has become the cradle of occupation]

Although we are not going to take up our friend’s invitation, I do feel it is appropriate for me to share some thoughts about Hebron, particularly because the Jewish community of Hebron is often falsely portrayed as an incendiary enclave of die-hard Arab-hating Jews living in stolen Arab buildings and guarded by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers who outnumber them 5-to-1.

To say that this is a distortion is an understatement. In 1998, international negotiators toiled for months to come up with a solution that would enable Jews and Arabs to cohabit in Hebron. The discussions resulted in an agreement called the Wye River Memorandum, which was ratified by the United Nations and remains in force. This agreement means that the Jews of Hebron don’t live in an “illegal settlement” and are not “occupiers.” They are the legal residents of a Jewish neighborhood in Hebron, recognized as such by the U.N., and — officially, at least — the Palestinian Authority. It is, in fact, the only place where such arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians have been finalized.

So, why are the Jews in Hebron portrayed as a provocation? The answer is simple. Because despite signing the agreement, Palestinian leaders have never accepted the reality it created, knowing if they do that, they will be forced to accept similar final-status compromises all over the country, resulting in Jews being allowed to remain in Palestinian areas, an outcome they deem unacceptable. Arab hostility to the Jews in Hebron is therefore constantly incited by political and religious leaders, in the hope that the world will ultimately force Israel to remove all Jews from among the Palestinians, and even from Hebron.

More level-headed Arabs at the grass roots have very different ideas. Some months ago, I read about Sheikh Farid Al-Jabari. He is the patriarch of one of the largest Arab clans in Hebron and is very friendly with the head of the Hebron Jewish community, Noam Arnon. Sheikh Al-Jabari passionately believes that Jews and Arabs will eventually live in harmony, not just in Hebron, but all over the land of Israel. He is not interested in a “peace process” or in political or religious movements that champion the Arab cause. He thinks they are an utter waste of time. Instead, he is interested in creating facts on the ground that enable Jews to live with Arabs, and he will talk to anyone who will help make this happen.

Which brings me to the heavy IDF presence in Hebron. First, the facts. The number of soldiers in Hebron is nowhere near the exaggerated numbers reported in the media. For most of the year, there are around 600 IDF soldiers stationed there, to protect the 700 Jewish residents of Hebron and the 7,500 residents of nearby Kiryat Arba. If I have my math right, local residents outnumber soldiers by more than 13-to-1, which is not soldiers outnumbering residents by 5-to-1. And let me say this: I completely agree with those who say that the military presence in Hebron is awful. They are absolutely right. There should be no need for soldiers in Hebron, or anywhere on the streets in Israel — which would, of course, be possible if there was no danger of Arab attacks against Jews. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if we could beat our swords into ploughshares?

Unfortunately, Jews who live in Hebron are in constant danger, and not just from stabbings. On many occasions in the past, Arabs have used high-caliber rifles to shoot into the Jewish neighborhood, resulting in injuries and fatalities. There have been bombings as well. Where are the human rights organizations when Jews are getting attacked and killed? Why do they protest when Arabs suffer and say nothing about the Arabs who cause suffering to the legal Jewish residents of Hebron? Surely, Jews should also be allowed to conduct their lives free of any military presence, or the inconveniences of restriction of movement? Shouldn’t the U.N., instead of criticizing Israel for its military presence in Hebron, be working with people such as Sheikh Al-Jabari and Noam Arnon to find ways of reducing local tensions by increasing harmony between Arab and Jewish residents? After all, isn’t that what they are about?

In any event, the image of Hebron Jews as fanatics is a complete misrepresentation. A few years ago, I went on the Shabbat Chayei Sarah Hebron pilgrimage and stayed in the local yeshiva, Yeshiva Shavei Hevron. This fantastic institute of Torah study has a student body of 250 and is a model of respectful and respectable religious Zionism. It is housed in the Romano Building, an Ottoman-era structure that was built for the Jewish community in 1876 by the Turkish philanthropist Avraham Haim Romano — in other words, not a stolen Arab building. The yeshiva is committed to a moderate worldview that demands complete adherence to the laws of the state. It is a shining example of the kind of sensible approach that defies the “fanatic” label in every possible way.

Particularly now, as the repellant “knife intifada” continues to unfold, we should highlight the situation in Hebron. Those people who claim to be seeking solutions should be reminded of this ancient city, and be informed that the solutions they claim to be seeking are already enshrined in an agreement recognized by the international community — an agreement that has been consistently ignored by the Palestinian leadership. Whatever happens, Jews must never leave Hebron again.

Jordanian sheik clarifies: It’s ‘mandatory’ to kill Jews

A Jordanian sheik who said it is forbidden to kill Jews except in a time of war clarified his statements, saying that jihad against the Jews is a “mandatory duty.”

In a video distributed Tuesday, Ali Al-Halabi said the Jews should be killed, but the Palestinians and the Arab world are not strong enough to do so yet. The video was translated into English by MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Halabi, the director of the Imam Albani Center for religious and methodological studies in Jordan, had said in a videotaped statement made last year but distributed recently on social media that it is permitted to kill Jews during a declared war or clashes with Jewish soldiers, but that at other times it is a betrayal.

In the new video, he said, “Unfortunately tens of thousands of Palestinians work with the Jews, they get money from the Jews. They need the Jews. Sadly this is the reality of an occupied people.

“I am not saying this as some people mistakenly understood it, as praise for the Jews, who deserve nothing but more and more curses. I am talking about the reality,” Halabi said, acknowledging that the Muslim community would lose an “asymmetrical war” against Israel and the Jews.

“Jihad against the Jews, fighting them and liberating the land from them, is a binding and mandatory duty, incumbent upon the Islamic countries and upon the Muslim individuals, but it depends on capabilities, because everybody knows that America has Israel’s back,” he said.

Israel says citizen, likely Arab, used paraglider to enter Syria

Israel said on Sunday that one of its citizens, probably a member of the country's Muslim Arab minority, had illegally flown to rebellion-wracked Syria by using a paraglider to cross the Golan Heights frontier.

Israeli media gave the man's age as 23 and quoted investigators as speculating that he sought to join Islamic State or other insurgents trying to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The penetration, which took place on Saturday evening, prompted intensive searches. Witnesses on the fortified Golan reported that Israeli aircraft were circling and dropping illumination flares. 

The military issued a brief statement on Sunday saying that its investigation “indicates that the civilian that entered (Syria) is a resident of Jaljulia,” a largely Muslim Arab town in central Israel. 

A Syrian rebel whose group operates in the area said the paraglider had come down either in Quneitra province or western Deraa. Local rebel groups include the Southern Front alliance affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, and a group called the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, which other rebels believe is affiliated with Islamic State.

Israel's Army Radio said the man flew eastward against the prevailing wind, an indication he went deliberately and was not blown into Syria by accident. 

Arabs, most of them Muslim, make up 20 percent of Israel's population. Though often sympathetic to the Palestinians, they seldom take up arms against the Jewish-majority state.

Israel is publicly neutral on the Syria's four-year-old civil war but bans travel there by its citizens. In recent years it has stepped up scrutiny of those suspected of trying to reach the country through intermediary states like Turkey. 

Israel's Shin Bet security service, which is investigating the paraglider penetration, says that more than 40 Arab citizens and Palestinians from Israeli-held East Jerusalem have tried to join Islamic State in its Syrian or Iraqi fiefdoms.

Terror in Jerusalem: The merry-go-round

It was in the middle of Sukkot, that loveliest of holidays in Israel, set aside for family time, when even the most devout and serious yeshiva men can be seen with their entire families visiting the zoo or traipsing through nature trails in Galilee. We had woken up that Friday morning to the shocking news that, the night before, young parents had been slain in their car on their way home from a festive reunion, shot in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists as their four terrified little boys sat watching from the back seat. 

It is hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t live in Israel and travel these roads every day what such news brings: grief, fury, fear and a fierce desire for a response that will deter the next such heinous and inhuman act.

Along with everyone else in Israel, I grieved. But then I heard their names: Eitam and Naama Henkin.

Henkin, I thought, flooded by a sudden, terrible shock that was like a blow to my stomach.

Oh, no!

I remembered that lunch not so long ago with Rabbanit Chana Henkin, founder and dean of Nishmat, a revolutionary advanced Torah study program. We sat in one of those comfortable little coffee houses that line German Colony, two Orthodox women who had come to Israel from America, discussing how Nishmat was changing the face of Orthodoxy by offering the first study program approved by the Orthodox rabbinical establishment to qualify women to become halachic advisers in the area of intimate women’s issues — issues that many religious women would be embarrassed to discuss with a male rabbi.

I remember leaving that meeting feeling I had been granted a rare privilege. This petite, passionate woman in her head-covering and modest clothes was, in her own quiet, courageous way, making history improving the lives of countless Jewish women. 

Eitam and Naama were Chana Henkin’s son and daughter-in-law.

That her grandchildren had been spared was nothing less than a miracle. For a moment, my heart wanted to believe that even Palestinian killers and terrorists had some shred of decency and compassion. That they were, after all, descendants Abraham. 

A few days later, when the suspects were caught in a spectacular demonstration of amazing skill by the Israel Defense Forces, the truth was brutal. The suspects had been on their way to kill the children when one of them accidentally shot the other, forcing them to abandon their plans and rush to a hospital, where the injured suspect was picked up days later by an elite Israeli unit.

It made me feel much better that they had been so quickly apprehended. But before I could feel any real relief, terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, Raanana and elsewhere followed at a rapid clip, thrusting me back into the terrible memories of an earlier homicidal rampage to strike Israel, when I experienced terrorism firsthand as I sat with my family on seder night in the Park Hotel in Netanya. 

Oddly, when I remembered those days of suicide bombers blowing up hotels, bar mitzvah ceremonies and buses, the current spate of stabbings and savage hit-and-runs seemed less threatening. After all, a bomb you couldn’t see coming, and you couldn’t defend yourself. With a knife attack, you had a chance to run, or, if you had a gun, to shoot. As devastating as these attacks were, they were small potatoes compared to the bad old days of Oslo, where there was no security fence to keep killers and their bombs out of the country. 

The bus attack in Armon Hanatziv was another matter altogether. Two passengers stood and started stabbing and shooting. It wasn’t a bomb, but it was close. But worst of all was the news that the suspects were Israeli Arabs, residents of East Jerusalem, citizens of Israel.

I have lived in Jerusalem for 45 years. This is something new. There is a delicate fabric of life in our city, interwoven threads of Arab and Jew that exist side by side. We shop in the same malls and supermarkets, sit together on the grass in our parks, watch our children playing in the same playgrounds. Palestinian Arabs have delivered my groceries, built and renovated my homes, and been my doctors and nurses in Hadassah Hospital.

One terrorist, who plowed his car into a crowd in the center of ultra-Orthodox Malchei Israel Street in Geula, then got out of the vehicle holding a meat cleaver and started cutting the injured, had worked for the Israeli phone company Bezeq for 20 years.

I wondered if our building cleaner, an Israeli Arab, would show up for work, and if the workers putting the finishing touches on my neighbor’s apartment would show up. And I wondered how I would feel about it.

When I encountered them in the following days, the answer became clear: Stronger than any propaganda, any isolated terror attack was the routine flow of normal life. I was not really surprised that I nodded hello to our maintenance man as he mopped the lobby floor, and that he nodded and smiled. Nor was I really surprised that the noises from the sixth-floor renovation were going on as usual, the Arabs congregating in front of the building. But what had changed was how we looked at each other, warily, searching each other’s faces for confirmation that all was well, and we would be exempt from the madness. Or not.

What did surprise me was my own reaction. With little or no fear, I took a public bus into the center of Jerusalem, walked calmly down Ben Yehuda Street and turned into the nearest army surplus store.

“We are all out of tear gas,” the owner said before I opened my mouth.

“That’s OK,” I answered. “I want a knife.”

He showed me a few. I tested the blade gingerly against my palm. “Something bigger,” I told him. “Something sharper.”

I walked out with it in my purse, feeling better. As ready as I was to smile at innocent workmen, I was also ready to defend myself and my loved ones from those whose religious fervor sent them out to kill people like me and my family. I thought of every thrust: One for the Jews killed in the Holocaust. One for the Jews killed in every terror attack. And one very personal one for me and the Park Hotel.

That Shabbat, sans knife, we took our usual walk along the path built over the old Turkish railroad. Ordinarily crowded with kids on bikes and skateboards, and with families pushing baby strollers, it was practically deserted, except for a group of French tourists. One of them wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Proud of Israel.”

I was disappointed. Surely, Jerusalemites were not that easily spooked? We felt better when we reached the First Station, a lively collection of stores, cafes and play areas for children. It was slightly less crowded than usual, but still bustling with young families. Would the same be true of Liberty Bell Park, which every Saturday throbbed with Arab families and their laughing children from East Jerusalem, whose picnics of barbecuing lamb scented the air for blocks?

Unlike the First Station, it was absolutely deserted, as was the Lion’s Fountain across the street, which normally on such a warm day, would be packed with Arab families watching their kids jump in and out of the water.

We walked back to the First Station and took a bench across from the newly imported merry-go-round. Its painted horses and lively music filled the air, mingling with the laughter of children. When we got up to go, a young woman pushing a double baby carriage approached us. 

“Did you see how empty Liberty Bell Park is? Good! Why should they take over the park every Saturday? Let them be afraid to come here. This is our country. Let them stay home. They teach their children to be murderers and then they cry when they get shot trying to murder our children! They have no business here!”

An old Arab walking nearby carrying a large bundle turned around, staring daggers at her.

“Let him stare!” she said loudly. “This is my country. Mine. I’m not going anywhere!”

As I walked away, I looked over my shoulder. The merry-go-round was still turning. It went around and around and around.

Naomi Ragen is the author of nine international best-sellers. Her latest book, “The Devil in Jerusalem” (St. Martin’s Press, 2015), is based on the true story of a kabbalah cult in Jerusalem that took over the lives of innocent American olim with horrific consequences. She has lived in Jerusalem since 1971.

Viral video puts Israelis and Palestinians at sharp odds

To Palestinians, the video shows a 13-year-old boy being left to die in the street as Israelis shout abuse at him. To Israelis, it shows a teenage knife attacker bleeding as police keep angry locals back and wait for an ambulance.

The two minutes of amateur footage has become one of the most divisive videos to emerge from a wave of violence sweeping Jerusalem, where clips of attacks are being shared at high speed on social media in what has been dubbed a smartphone intifada.

The problem, as with so much in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is about interpretation.

Palestinians watch the shaky video, with voices in Hebrew shouting “Die, son of a bitch,” and draw one set of conclusions that fuel anger and alarm. Israelis watch the same – and subsequent police CCTV footage showing the two Palestinian teenagers running through the streets with knives and attacking an Israeli boy – and come to totally different conclusions.


Posted by د . ناصر اللحام on Monday, October 12, 2015


“Both sides are living in different dimensions,” said Daniel Nisman, an intelligence and security analyst who runs the Levantine Group. “You can have an incident happen and it's interpreted in two completely different ways instantly.”

And it is also immediately shared with tens of thousands of people on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook, where each community's outrage is reinforced in an echo chamber, driving an ever-deeper wedge between the two sides.

The video in question shows 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra, a Palestinian from Beit Hanina in northern Jerusalem, lying on the street in Pisgat Zeev, a nearby Jewish settlement, with his legs twisted behind him and blood coming from his head after being hit by a car.

It was taken on Monday, minutes after two Israelis, including a boy on a bicycle, were stabbed outside a nearby shop. Israeli police have accused Manasra and his 15-year-old cousin of carrying out the attacks. The family has denied they did it.

The footage shows police keeping passersby back while abuse is shouted. After a minute or so, an ambulance arrives, although it is not immediately clear if Manasra is treated. At one point he sits up, but the police tell him to lie back down and they can be seen checking him for explosives. No knife is visible.


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders quickly expressed outrage, referring to the boy and his cousin as having been “executed” by Israel “in cold blood.”

Ahmed's uncle told Reuters the boys had done nothing wrong, were not carrying knives and had gone to the area to rent video games. The boy was killed senselessly, he said.

In fact, Ahmed Manasra is still alive and is being treated in an Israeli hospital. His cousin was shot and killed by police at the scene. The Israeli boy stabbed remains in serious condition, while the second victim was lightly wounded.

Israel on Thursday released photographs showing Manasra sitting up in Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital, wearing green medical overalls and bandages around his head. In several of the pictures he is looking straight at the camera.

On Wednesday, two days after the first video emerged, Israeli police circulated closed-circuit TV footage showing the build up to the attack and the incident itself.

Two boys, one wearing the same t-shirt as Ahmed Manasra, can be seen chasing after a man with knives drawn. The man runs away and the boys turn towards some nearby shops. Another camera then captures them running along the street with knives drawn.

A third camera angle shows the moment they appear to stab the boy on the bicycle, and a fourth angle shows one of the stabbers running across the street before being shot by police.


All the evidence presented by Israeli authorities pointing to the fact the teenage cousins carried out the stabbings has done little to quell Palestinian anger – the first video is still being watched much more than the CCTV footage.

Akram Attallah, a Palestinian political analyst who spoke before the CCTV images emerged, described the video of Manasra lying wounded as akin to the photograph of the Syrian boy lying dead on a beach in Greece.

“It was provoking to the national dignity of every Palestinian and therefore an immediate response was inevitable,” he said, suggesting it may have spurred other attacks.

From Israel's point of view, the way the videos of attacks are being distributed rapidly on social media, often whipping up a frenzy of anger, is a difficult phenomenon to counteract. Seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians, including 10 attackers, have been killed in a two-week surge in violence.

“The Israeli side that has the CCTV footage showing the actual attack had to wait two days before putting it out because of internal investigations,” said Nisman. “By then, the damage had already been done. It's too late.”

Abbas has not responded since the images of the boy alive in hospital were released. In online postings, many Palestinians have said they believe he is dead and a “martyr”. Asked for comment on Thursday, one Palestinian official said he now believed Ahmed was alive, but was still not convinced he and his cousin carried out the stabbings.

Israel under the knife

“The streets are empty, even the main pedestrian walkways are empty,” my friend Selwyn Gerber told me on the phone from Jerusalem. Gerber, who lives in Los Angeles and is a frequent visitor to Israel, said he’s “never seen Jerusalem like this.” Evidently, the fear of being stabbed by terrorists has spooked the Jewish pedestrians of the holy city.

“It’s all around us,” author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi emailed me from Jerusalem after I asked him how he was holding up. “We hear sirens, tear gas all the time.”

Halevi, who made aliyah to Israel in 1982 and whose acclaimed book “Like Dreamers” came out two years ago, added: “I’m beside myself about this — the lie of Al Aqsa being in danger, the hysteria in the Muslim world, the stupidity of our own right-wing pyromaniacs, the criminal incitement of Arab Knesset members who in any other Middle Eastern country would be sitting in prison for treason, the outrageous coverage of much of the world media which treats this as one more Israeli crime. Other than that, I’m fine.”

I recall a conversation I had with Halevi a few years ago at his Shabbat table, when we were discussing Israel’s ability to cope with terror. He used a term that stayed with me: “Neurotic Zen,” he called it. It’s the ability to live in the moment and embrace life, knowing that a disaster may strike at any second.

This talent is being pushed to the limit right now with the “knife war” against the Jews of Israel.

“In every generation,” we read at Passover, “they rise up against us to destroy us.” Well, in Israel, it seems to happen even more regularly. 

For decades after Israel’s birth, its enemies tried to destroy the Jewish state with standard armies — with tanks, fighter jets and infantry. When that didn’t work, they tried terrorism, including hundreds of suicide bombers detonating themselves amid Israeli civilians.

When Israel rooted out terror cells and built a wall to keep out the terrorists, the terrorists fired thousands of rockets over that wall. When Israel shot down their rockets with the Iron Dome, the terrorists built tunnels under the wall to sneak in and attack Jews.

Finally, having failed with everything else, Israel’s enemy is down to the lowly and lethal knife. In an open country where everyone is free to walk around, how do you stop such retail terrorism?

“There is no missile defense system against stabbings. We can’t lock ourselves in a shelter all day,” Sarah Tuttle-Singer wrote last week in The Times of Israel. “Stabbings have no sirens, so we don’t know when to run.”

Tuttle-Singer is a single mother of two young children who moved to Israel from Los Angeles a few years ago. She writes:

“Stabbings can happen anywhere at any time. Stabbings can happen in a park on a quiet bench. They can happen in the market, with soldiers standing just a few steps away. They can happen in front of a school or in a synagogue or on the street.”

As a result, “Everyone is on edge right now — most of us feel that prickle of fear just below the neck or deep in our stomachs — because when these attacks are random, everyone is a potential target. Everyone.

“The young rabbi at the Western Wall. The barista with the dirty laugh. The soldier who still wears braces. They guy who sells the best pomegranates in the Ramle Shuk. The mother with two children. This mother. My children.”

It would be the height of irony if the only citizens of the Jewish state not afraid of getting stabbed in the back were the Arab citizens. They may be afraid of a policeman asking for identity papers or vengeful Jews aggressing them, but a knife in the back? Not quite.

Sitting here in America, unencumbered by the trauma of daily fear, it’s easy to look at the violent mayhem and wonder whether Israel is partly to blame. After all, it’s the Jewish thing to do, isn’t it? We take responsibility for what happens to us.

It’s also true that violence has a way of obliterating complexity. We see people being stabbed to death just because they're Jews and it's hard to stay calm and balanced. 

As much as we want to think straight about the long game, sometimes we just need to vent about the here and now, or at least show empathy for what the Israelis are going through.

The truth is, I can’t pretend to understand what it must be like to walk around never knowing when someone might stab me in the back. I don’t have enough practice in the art of Neurotic Zen.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Smartphones lend new dynamic to Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Surrounded by Israeli police, Israa Abed holds a knife in one hand and a cellphone in the other before shots ring out and she falls to the ground.

The incident, filmed by passersby on their smartphones, has been viewed thousands of times since it was posted online last Friday, one of dozens of such videos encapsulating a new dynamic in what looks like a third Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

Four Israelis and 25 Palestinians have died in 12 days of bloodshed partly fueled by Muslim agitation over high-profile Jewish visits to a contested holy site in Jerusalem.

Video clips exhorting attacks on Israelis – and often spiced up with animation, catchy tunes and the Twitter hashtags “Jerusalem Intifada” or “Intifada of the Knives” – are popular on Palestinian social media, as is whatever footage emerges of the violence when it happens.

That, in turn, can inflame resentment further, especially if Palestinians see in Israel's response a demonstration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vow to crack down on unrest that has simmered since peace talks collapsed a year ago.

“Today we're in a different era, in which a great, great many people are incited by publications on their personal smartphones and end up making individual decisions to go out and stab, to go out and blow themselves up with gas balloons,” Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Israeli Army Radio on Monday.

Police said Abed, an Arab Israeli, was being treated in hospital having been shot four times in the legs after she tried to stab a security guard at a bus station in the northern Israeli town of Afula, and ignored orders to disarm.

Many Israelis saw the police action depicted in the video as appropriate.

Some Palestinians circulated rumors she was dead rather than in hospital. According to a report by the news website Al Wattan Voice which was shared 3,500 times over Facebook, Abed, 30, was making a distress call when she was shot. “Dad, I don't want to die!” it quoted her as saying – suggesting she might have surrendered.

Individual words are drowned by the hubbub of shouts on the video's soundtrack.

Reached by Reuters, the woman's father, Zeidan Abed, said he received no call from her, declining to discuss the incident any further.


Another video, showing police shooting dead a Palestinian suspected in an Oct 4 stabbing in Jerusalem, has been cited by the minority rights group Adalah in its demand for a Justice Ministry probe.

It argues the Palestinian posed no danger and police may have been egged on by pedestrians seen chasing him.

There was a similar outcry after a Palestinian woman was accused by Israel of attempting to detonate a makeshift car bomb – potentially a major escalation – when police pulled her over on a West Bank road into Jerusalem on Sunday.

Unconscious in hospital with burns, the woman could not immediately be interrogated, police said. Her family denied the Israeli account, saying a malfunction had set off a fire in the car. Images showing minimal external damage to the vehicle circulated among Palestinians, who said it showed Israel was exaggerating the threat.

Having long relied on its advanced eavesdropping apparatus and Palestinian informants to thwart militant organizations, Israel is scrambling for a response to the latest violence, which has been made up predominantly of “lone-wolf” attacks.

Palestinian activists and the Hamas militant group complain of having Facebook and YouTube accounts being shut down as a result of requests filed with the firms by Israel's government.

Israeli security sources said they were working to expand keyword-search and other surveillance technologies in hope of being able to spot, in good time, suicide notes on social media by Palestinians who are about to carry out violence.

Their surveillance efforts may have been helped, inadvertently, by those Palestinians who take selfies at rock-throwing protests and post them online.

Jewish youth stabs 4 Arabs in southern Israel

An Israeli Jew stabbed four Arabs in an apparent revenge attack for Palestinian terrorism.

The stabbing victims in the southern Israeli town of Dimona were brought in Friday morning for treatment at Soroka Medical Center in nearby Beersheba. Two of the victims sustained minor injuries; the others were moderately injured.

The attacker, a 17-year-old, is in custody. He has a criminal record. According to Ynet, he told officers during questioning that he stabbed his victims because “all Arabs are terrorists.” The Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court on Friday extended his remand by six days and referred the suspect to a psychiatric evaluation, as requested by his lawyer, the far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, Channel 2 reported. Ben-Gvir told the court his client’s mental health “deteriorated because of the reality to which he was exposed.”

One of the victims was a Bedouin Israeli, according to Israel’s Channel 2. Three of the victims were employed as gardeners by the municipality.

The attack in Dimona, 24 miles southeast of Beersheba, occurred amid what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called “a wave of terror” by Palestinians against Jews in Israel and the West Bank.

It consisted of dozens of attacks, including the slaying last week of an Israeli couple, Na’ama and Eitam Henkin, near the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

In the most recent attacks on Friday afternoon, Palestinian assailants allegedly stabbed a youth in Jerusalem and a soldier in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba. In both cases, the victims suffered light wounds and the alleged assailants were apprehended. In Kiryat Arba, the attacker was in critical condition after a soldier shot him, Israel Radio reported.

The radio report said that a woman attempted to stab a security guard at the bus station in Afula in northern Israel. The guard, who was not wounded, shot her, and she suffered moderate injuries, the report said.

In Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, on Thursday unidentified individuals hurled three firebombs at police, causing no injury or damage. Two underage suspects are in custody in connection with the incident, Army Radio reported.

On Friday, at least three incidents of stone throwing were reported in Israel’s north, including in Nazareth Illit, a Jewish city adjacent to the Arab city of Nazareth, where unidentified individuals targeted passing cars. The incident ended without injury, and police arrested two suspects.

UN nuclear watchdog rejects plan on monitoring of Israeli sites

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s General Assembly rejected a proposal to require the monitoring of Israel’s nuclear sites.

Titled “Israeli nuclear capabilities,” the resolution was defeated Thursday in Vienna by a vote of 61-43. Egypt submitted the proposal to the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog; among those in support were Syria, Iran, Libya and Iraq. It was not the first time that Egypt has proposed the nonbinding resolution.

In addition to calling for Israel to allow IAEA inspectors to visit its nuclear facilities, including the nuclear reactor in Dimona in southern Israel, the proposal called for an international conference on making the Middle East a nuclear weapons free zone.

Israel sent diplomats to several countries to convince them to vote against the resolution.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement called the vote a “great victory for Israel in the international arena.”

“I have spoken directly with over 30 presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers,” Netanyahu said. “I explained that there was no place to hold a discussion of this kind as long as the main problem in the Middle East is Iran’s efforts to arm itself with nuclear weapons and its clear declarations regarding its intention to destroy the State of Israel.”

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it has nuclear weapons.

What it’s like to be an Iranian Jew

Time was, you could claim to be a patriotic Iranian, a supporter of Israel and a lover of the United States all at once and be believed by most Iranians. You could say you were all three things without pretense or contradiction, or the need to rank your loyalties in order of intensity, or to distinguish between your support for Israel as a nation, as opposed to any one of its governments. That’s what we thought anyway, we Jewish Iranians whose ancestors had lived in Iran for 3,000 years. 

The mullahs had always said differently — that Jews were not “real” Iranians; that our existence was a threat to the rest of the nation; that we had lain in wait for a millennium and a half for the Arabs to come and convert most Iranians to Islam, only so we could use the blood of Muslim children in the baking of matzahs. 

The mullahs said this, and the large majority of Muslim Iranians believed them. Then, somewhere between the late 1920s, when Reza Shah’s government began to protect us against the mullahs and their troops of believers, and late in 1978, when his son, Mohammad Reza Shah, was forced out of the country, Jewish Iranians were allowed to be both things at once, in equal degrees, and to be patriotic Iranians as well as supporters of Israel. 

Then the mullahs returned, and unless we actively denounced Israel and claimed support for the Palestinian cause, we all became Zionist spies, a fifth column in Iran whose only goal was to enslave and humiliate God-fearing Muslim Arabs. You could be a Jew who despised Israel, or you could be an enemy of God, Islam and Iran. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said this, and the large majority of Muslim Iranians believed him. Never mind the age-old enmity between Iranians and Arabs, Shia and Sunni; the collective Iranian memory of conquering Arab armies laying waste to any signs of civilization; the stereotype of the “insect-eating Arab” as primitive and intellectually challenged. When it came to the matter of a bunch of Jews getting the best of a sea of Muslims, just about every Iranian mullah became a human rights lawyer.

Khomeini said a lot of things that a lot of Muslim Iranians believed. So did — do — his political heirs. Many of those original believers have greatly benefited from the mullahs’ regime over the years and continue to support it today. Others have come to realize that they were duped. Whether still in Iran or living abroad, they distrust just about every claim made by the mullahs. Except, I’m afraid, what has to do with Israel and Zionism. 

My Muslim Iranian friends will take offense at this narrative or reject its veracity outright. They’ll tell you that Persian culture is among the most tolerant, accepting and enlightened in history. They’ll be right. That to be moved by the plight of the Palestinian people or outraged by the acts of the Israeli government is not the same as being anti-Semitic. That loving Iran and its people does not mean condoning the policies and practices of its current regime. That prejudice and fanaticism are not the sole domain of Muslims. They’ll be right. 

But try, as I have, to explain to these same highly educated, vastly tolerant, otherwise broad-minded Muslim Iranians that the same truths apply to Jewish Iranians, their loyalties and priorities and, these days, their reasons for mainly disapproving of the Iran deal. Try to do that, and what you’ll get is the same old “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” diatribe that George W. Bush and former-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were both so fond of. 

Not that it’s of any consequence anywhere, but I happen to think that the Iran deal is a very bad idea whose time has come. By this I mean that I believe it will strengthen the Iranian regime and enable it to continue to oppress the Iranian nation and terrorize everyone else in the region and around the globe; that I do not believe, for a second, that the mullahs will stop pursuing the bomb for the next 10 years or ever; that until Islam goes through a reformation as did Christianity, there is no such thing — really — as a “moderate” mullah, or a “tolerant” regime based on any religion, or a government of the mullahs that will not use Jews and Israel as a rallying cry for its armies of believers. 

But the United States needs Iran to fight ISIS; the multinational companies and their allies within Western government are champing at the bit to tap the billions of dollars worth of trade they will be able to conduct with Iran after the sanctions are lifted; that Europe, Russia and China will most likely abandon the United States should it decide to push for a better deal; and that President Barack Obama, whose foreign policy has been nonexistent, has left himself and his government no choice but to move ahead with this deal. 

I don’t like it, but I don’t see how it can be avoided. Fortunately for me and the rest of the planet, I don’t have to vote yes or no on this one. I just get to say how I feel, which, as my friends like to say, is likely to alienate both sides of the argument.

Most Muslim Iranians I know vehemently support the deal. They say they do so because they love Iran and the Iranian people, that the only alternative to this deal is war, which they don’t want, and that it’s also a good deal for the United States. I believe they’re honest in their reasoning and their intentions. I don’t think their support of the deal makes them in any way anti-Semitic. I don’t think it factors into the equation either Israel’s interests or, alas, the harm Israel may suffer as a result of the deal. In this one case, I believe they’re pro-Iran and Israel-neutral. 

Most Jewish Iranians, on the other hand, vehemently oppose it. The reasons they offer are very similar to mine: It’s bad for Americans, for Israelis, for Jews anywhere within reach of the Iranian regime, and for Iranians anywhere who would like a real alternative to what the mullahs have had to offer. 

The fact that my Muslim friends disagree with me doesn’t bother me. I happen to think they’re indulging in some heavy doses of wishful thinking, just as so many of them did when they helped overthrow the shah and invite in the mullahs. Then again, they may be right about this one. And they’re certainly entitled to being wrong.

What is painful for me and, I dare say, many other Jewish Iranians, is the Muslims’ seemingly visceral, absolute, and unquestioning certainty that we oppose the deal because we’re any less Iranian. 

In this iteration, Jewish Iranians have always placed the interests of Israel above those of Iran and the Iranian nation. Most Jews left Iran after the revolution, they say, because they weren’t really Iranian in the first place; didn’t have much of an attachment to the place anyway; their love and loyalty is to Israel and only Israel, not even to the United States, where most of them now live; they’d easily trade the lives of millions of Americans and Iranians in a war, even a nuclear one, if it were good for Israel. 

Well, my Muslim friends, I’m here to say that on the question of Iranian Jews, you’ve been wrong in the past and are wrong now. My ancestors were loyal, ardent and productive subjects of the Persian Empire and lovers of the Persian culture long before Islam came to destroy the one and try to erase the other. They were not — as the mullahs claimed after they threw anchor in Iran — spies, guests or simply “not real Iranians.” They maintained their love for the country even as they were humiliated, oppressed, beaten and even killed by some Muslim Iranians. In 1978 and thereafter, they left Iran for the very same reasons that Muslim Iranians left — because they were afraid for their lives or loathe to be subjects of the mullahs. Their departure doesn’t prove that they didn’t, or don’t now, love the country and its people. Their being given safe harbor in America, Israel or Europe does mean that their allegiance is now first and foremost to their adopted country, its flag and its constitution. That doesn’t make them anti-Iran. Or pro-Benjamin Netanyahu. Or war mongers. It makes them good citizens of the nation that gave them safe harbor when their own people were calling for their heads. 

As for the Iran deal, the only thing Jewish Iranians’ dislike of it proves is that they have a better sense of history than most American legislators, and that they may engage in less wishful thinking than most Muslim Iranians. 

Then again, this is not simply an argument about one policy or another. For Jews still in Iran, Muslim Iranians’ opinion of how “real” the Jews are can be a matter of life and death. For the rest of us Jews — as for the Iranians who escaped persecution, the Iraqis, Egyptians, Syrians and other Arabs who were driven out by force — it’s an open wound that bleeds every time we have to “prove” that we belonged.

Gina Nahai’s new novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

The long history of Jewish violence in Israel

Last week’s terrible killing of 18-month old Ali Saad Dawabsha in Duma, together with the horrific violence at the Jerusalem gay pride parade, left many Jews stunned, repulsed and demoralized. We have inculcated in ourselves — and projected to our children — the belief that whereas they operate according to a primitive code of morality, we adhere to a standard of ethical virtue. Golda Meir gave crystal-clear expression to this sentiment when she proclaimed: “Peace will come when the Arabs start to love their children more than they hate us.”

But what happens when “we” willingly kill “their” children — when we hate their children with a purity that sanctions all acts of violence? What does that say about us? It is tempting to cast the killers, who wrote “Revenge” on the home where they threw a gasoline bomb that burned the toddler, as complete outliers from Jewish tradition and Zionist history. (In parallel fashion, it may be consoling for some to regard Muslim terrorists as renegades from Islam.)

[MORE: Fighting Jewish terrorism is the burden of Israel’s right]

This kind of thinking may offer some measure of comfort, but it cannot insulate us from the fact that the century-long history of Zionism is replete with acts of terrible violence committed by Jews against Jews and non-Jews. In fact, the Zionist movement emerged on the stage of history with a deep commitment to overcome the perception of millennia of Jewish passivity through strong action. 

Much of that action took the form of self-defense against Arab attack. But not all. Indeed, violence directed against civilians — what some might call terrorism — has hardly been exceptional in Zionism. Perhaps the first major example was the killing, most likely conducted by members of the Haganah, of Dutch Orthodox Jewish writer Jacob Israel de Haan in Jerusalem in 1924. De Haan’s anti-Zionist sensibilities and close relations with local Arabs (at political and sexual levels) were deeply discomfiting to Zionist officials. 

Nine years later, in June 1933, a leading Labor Zionist official, Haim Arlosoroff, was assassinated while walking on a Tel Aviv beach with his wife. His killing occurred in the midst of intense animosity between Labor and Revisionist Zionists in Palestine. One Revisionist-leaning group that was accused of being involved in Arlosoroff’s death was known as Brit ha-biryonim (Alliance of Thugs). The group operated in an environment in which the spilling of blood was seen not as a necessary evil, but as a vital redemptive act, as poet Uri Zvi Greenberg unabashedly declared: “Land is conquered with blood. And only when conquered in blood is it hallowed to the people by the holiness of blood.”

Under cover of such poetic expression, murder became a path of political and ethical rectitude. It prompted members of the Irgun Tseva’i Le’umi (National Military Organization) to plant bombs in markets that killed scores of innocent Arabs during the Arab General Strike in 1938. It justified the actions of the paramilitary group Lehi (also known as the Stern Gang) to plot and execute assassinations of international officials — British minister Lord Moyne in 1944 and United Nations official Count Bernadotte in 1948. And most famously, it led the Irgun to blow up the King David Hotel, where the British Mandatory government and military were headquartered in 1946, leading to 91 deaths. 

All of this activity — and sadly a much longer list could be compiled — occurred well before 1967. It was undertaken in the name of the movement for national redemption. After 1967, a new and explosive element was added to the mix. Violence conducted in the name of Judaism and Zionism was suffused with a highly charged religious, even messianic, fervor that attended the conquest and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Jews in Israel who have attacked and murdered political opponents or Arabs since then have frequently done so in the name of God, at times empowered by rabbinic warrants. The toxic and intoxicating blend of religious and national virtue has yielded a lengthy roster of victims, most notably Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish terrorist in 1995; the West Bank mayors who were maimed in 1980 by the “Jewish underground” that set its ultimate sights on blowing up the Temple Mount; Jewish activist Emil Grunzweig, who was killed by a bomb at a Peace Now rally in 1983; the 29 Muslim victims of the murderous rampage of Baruch Goldstein in 1994; the four Palestinian Israelis killed by a Jewish terrorist in 2004; Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who was brutally murdered last summer; Shira Banki, who died of her stab wounds from the assault at the Jerusalem gay pride parade; and Ali Saad Dawabsha, the Palestinian toddler who was burned by unknown terrorists. 

It would be very easy to isolate these cases and say that the perpetrators are not “ours.” But they are. They emanate from Zionist and Jewish history, from the heart of our Zionist and Jewish worlds, in which we have all tolerated for too long a language and culture of violence as redemptive. It is therefore our, not their, responsibility to look inside ourselves — into our sources, our curricula, our values, our sense of self — to remove the cancer that lurks. Rabbis, teachers and parents alike share in that task. As we enter the month of Elul, we should bring to our work of cheshbon ha-nefesh an awareness of history and an unsparing resolve to confront the terrible demon of violence within us.

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history at UCLA.

Israeli brothers jailed for Jewish-Arab school arson

An Israeli court jailed two brothers from a far-right Jewish group on Wednesday for an arson attack on a Jerusalem school that had been a rare symbol of co-existence in the riven city.

Shlomo and Nahman Twito were sentenced to 2 years and 2 and 1/2 years in prison respectively for the overnight Nov. 29 attack, in which a classroom at the Hand in Hand school was torched and “Death to Arabs” daubed on a wall in the yard.

No one was hurt in the incident.

Israeli officials identified Shlomo and Nahman Twito, aged 21 and 19 and residents of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, as members of the far-right anti-Arab group Lehava, which has disavowed the arson attack.

More than 600 children attend Hand in Hand, which runs from pre-school to high school and has an equal number of Jewish and Arab pupils. There are four other such schools in the Hand to Hand network in Israel.

Jerusalem District Court said it convicted the brothers based on their confessions. They smiled and chanted “How good God is” as they were led away after Wednesday's sentencing, Israeli media said.

Since Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled over a year ago, grassroots violence has simmered. Israel's security service have been trying to crack down on anti-Arab hate crimes.

Four teachers among six Israeli-Arabs charged for promoting Islamic State

Israel's Shin Bet undercover internal security agency and police said on Monday they had arrested and charged six Arab citizens, including four school teachers, with supporting and spreading the ideology of Islamic State.

The six, residents of the Bedouin Negev desert town of Hura in southern Israel, were charged with various offences and three were alleged to have planned joining Islamic State militants in Syria, a statement from Shin Bet said.

“The investigation uncovered that the suspects met secretly to discuss and promote Islamic State's ideology,” Shin Bet said.

“The hard core among the activists are employed at schools in the Negev. Some took advantage of their position and attempted to plead the case for ISIS among pupils and teachers on school premises,” it added.

The six appeared at Beersheba District Court and the statement said five of the six admitted the charges. Lawyers for the accused were initially unavailable.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said he had ordered the immediate dismissal of the teachers.

“Terrorists will not be teachers in Israel … I have ordered the director general of the Education Ministry to revoke the teaching licenses of all those involved and to sack them immediately,” Bennett said on Monday.

Arabs, the majority of them Muslim, make up around a fifth of Israel's population. While often sympathetic to the Palestinians and resentful of what they see as entrenched discrimination, they seldom resort to violence.

Israeli security officials say a few dozen Arab citizens have left to fight with Islamic State in Syria, usually traveling through Turkey or Jordan.

Last year, an Israeli-Arab who spent three months fighting with Islamic State in Syria before quitting the group and returning home, was sentenced to a 22 month jail term.