The 4 cups of wine
There are few countries in the world – perhaps a few Islamic countries, India, Ireland – that define themselves for the world as being inextricably identified with their majority religion as Israel. Israel is the “Jewish” state. It wants to be seen as the Jewish state. In certain arenas – say in negotiations with Palestinian entities – it demands to be acknowledged as the Jewish state. I make no judgments about that.
But if you’re going to identify as Jewish, seriously Jewish, there’s no way you can separate that identity from the Torah. It’s the primary source of our learning, the blueprint for how Jews are supposed to live as a community, the foundation of the Jewish people. And what more basic element could there be in the Torah than “The Ten Commandments,” mentioned twice in the Torah: Exodus 20:2, and repeated in Deuteronomy 5:6, and of which “Thou shalt not steal” is number eight (acknowledging that this can vary with interpretations – just as there are a number of interpretations of what “steal” exactly means). “Steal” might mean steal another person – kidnapping. It might mean taking what doesn’t belong to you. It might mean a lot of things, but there is so much in our teachings, including about a dozen mitzvoth regarding respecting private properties and just due process, not to mention the Tenth Commandment regarding coveting the possession of others, that we all pretty much get the picture.
So if the Ten Commandments and other mitzvot are at least one of the cornerstones of the Torah, and the Torah is the foundation of Judaism, and Israel is the Jewish state, then someone who decides to draw a political cartoon using the Ten Commandments to criticize Israeli policy would appear to be on pretty solid ground. That’s what a UCLA contributing cartoonist, Felipe Bris Abejón did when he published a cartoon in the “Daily Bruin” newspaper, a cartoon now notorious for having been criticized as anti-Semitic and withdrawn by the paper with apologies. The cartoon in question, shows Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, standing in front of two commandments, one (listed as #6) with a word crossed off: “Though shalt not steal” and another (listed as #7) “Thou shalt not kill.” The caption says, “Israel passes law seizing any Palestinian land,” and Netanyahu is saying, “#7 is next.”
The caption, of course, refers to the Netanyahu controlled Knesset recently passing a law retroactively legalizing both housing and makeshift “outposts,” at the time illegally built on Palestinian land and bringing them under Israeli sovereignty. Some are recent; some go back decades. Palestinian landowners would have to accept either “alternate plots” or financial compensation. Clearly the “Regularization Law,” doesn’t mean “any Palestinian land.” On the other hand, it does look a lot like theft of the weaker party by the stronger – never a good marketing image. You can say it’s not theft because compensation is involved, but if someone 6’ 8” and 275 pounds, with a gun, stopped you on the street, took your watch, and offered you fifty bucks for it, take it or leave it, you’d probably still want to call a cop. The law has been vigorously opposed by the opposition in Israel and will be appealed to its Supreme Court.
Netanyahu’s threat to do the same thing with number seven – killing – is more problematic. That commandment is usually meant to mean, thou shalt not murder, and once again, there are is a raft of commentary on this commandment. To attribute to the Prime Minister the intention to implement as law, a policy to murder or in some way kill (the implication being Palestinians) is going pretty far, although there are those – and not just bizarre outliers – who would argue that this has been de facto policy for some time.
The cartoon was strongly protested and condemned by various groups – some calling it anti-Semitic – including the anti-Defamation League, campus organizations, and even state legislators. The ADL called it “deeply offensive….and impugning core Jewish beliefs.” Many were outraged that the cartoon “mixed politics with religion.” Danny Siegel, president of UCLA’s Undergraduate Student Association Council, declared in a statement: “As a Jewish student at UCLA, I am disgusted by the anti-Semitic claim in my school newspaper that the Israeli government is purposefully using my Jewish faith to justify policy matter.”
But is that what it was doing, and is the cartoon anti-Semitic? To me the cartoon isn’t using Jewish faith to justify policy – quite the opposite. It’s pointing out that policy is violating tenets of Jewish faith. It doesn’t say that Judaism calls for theft and murder; it cries out that Judaism abhors theft and murder at a fundamental level, and any attempt to legitimize it through acts of law are extremely troubling and should be scrutinized in the cold, harsh sunshine of First Amendment exposure.
As for anti-Semitic, does the cartoon call for the destruction of the Jewish people – the spurious argument by those who label the BDS movement (which I categorically reject as wrong and wrong-headed) anti-Semitic? No, it does not? Does it equate Netanyahu with all Jewish people or even all Israelis? No, it does not? Does it equate Judaism with the abandonment of it’s mitzvot? No, it does not. Rather it accuses the Prime Minister of having somehow lost his way as the head of the state he so aggressively insists is Jewish, an accusation made in a variety of arguments by the opposition in his own country.
Condemnation of the cartoon decried the fact that Abejón dragged religion into his commentary, but how can mixing politics with religion be out of bounds when discussing Israeli settlement policy, when the entire settlement history is inextricably entwined, from day one, with religious fervor and aspiration. Somehow, the very use of religion, despite the fact that Israel identifies its very existence as religiously-based, is a taboo crossing into forbidden territory. No one chose to defend the cornerstone of American democracy – free speech.
Yes, Jewish history is unique. Yes, we have been persecuted since the days of Sinai, and yes, in particular for our religion. But that doesn’t not inoculate either Israel or Judaism from pointed and aggressive argument, and it does not allow for increasingly self-serving definitions of anti-Semitism. The effort to steadily and relentless expand the definition of anti-Semitic, in confrontation with free speech, does not do us credit, just as the equally steady and relentless effort to equate criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism does Jews equal harm. The “I know it when I see it” argument was dubious when used to define pornography; it is not improved when a certain segment of our demographic is allowed to define anti-Semitism for everyone, particularly public educational institutions – where the marketplace of ideas should most energetically flourish.
The “Daily Bruin” quickly apologized and more. “This was a mistake that should have been caught at any point in the process, and it didn’t get caught,” said editor-in-chief, Tanya Walters. Was it? Apparently no one thought so as it went to press. I’m assuming a lot of people saw it. I’m sure what they thought they saw was edgy, provocative commentary, not beyond-the-pale anti-Semitism. Criticism that reminds us of our roots, our heritage, our connection to God may be uncomfortable – perhaps should be uncomfortable. But it’s not illegal, not anti-Semitic, and should not be suppressed.
Mitch Paradise is a writer, producer and teacher living in Los Angeles.
I disagree with my assemblyman Richard Bloom’s depiction of UCLA’s Daily Bruin cartoon as anti-Semitic (“Bruin Cartoon Assailed as Anti-Semitic,” Feb. 17). The cartoon is not mocking the Jewish faith but mocking the prime minister of Israel for disgracing the foundational values of Judaism and other religions in his support for a law retroactively legalizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
As a newly elected California Democratic Party delegate in Bloom’s 50th Assembly District, I find public intimidation of the student journalists unsettling, particularly at a time when the far right of Israel is looking for cover to annex the entire West Bank and President Donald Trump is viciously attacking journalists.
In light of the most recent bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers, it behooves us all to focus on real anti-Semitism and not confuse the public or detract from ascendant hate speech and actions that threaten Jews, Muslims and people of color.
Marcy Winograd, Santa Monica
With the current “kapo” controversy, I feel compelled to provide a clarification (“The Case Against David Friedman,” Feb. 17). It is understandable that Rob Eshman’s or David Friedman’s generation obviously had no exposure to actual kapos and only had diminished understanding of the actual facts.
As a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau-Buchenwald, I would like to make this correction: In Auschwitz-Birkenau, and most other concentration camps, kapos were German nationals. Almost all were German criminals serving life sentences. They were transferred from German prisons to the camps to empty many prisons in Germany. The vacancies were utilized for minor criminals with short-term sentences. Also other “undesirables” the Nazis could not afford to put into concentration camps because they could reveal the truth once they were released.
Jews were rarely trusted to execute the Germans’ commands, primarily because they did not speak or understand German. They also possibly were suspected to be too lenient.
Henry Oste via email
With the utmost respect, I beg to differ with Rob Eshman’s analysis of the case of David Friedman as our prospective United States Ambassador to Israel. Maybe we need another bulldog like Donald Trump in the guise of a hard-liner named David Friedman to be the solution.
I hope the readers of the Jewish Journal will continue to send in letters to the editor representing all spectrums of our diverse Jewish and non-Jewish community, and continue to donate to our great newspaper that glues us together instead of dividing us.
Richard Bernstein, Los Angeles
I am both distressed and saddened by the report in the Jewish Journal that The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has decided to remain quiet with regard to current immigration issues (“Federation Stays Neutral on Trump Order, Despite Pressure,” Feb. 17).
To run away from taking a position because of “politics” is absurd. For us, it should not be a political issue; rather, it is an issue of decency in a Jewish context.
Does our holy Torah not say 36 times to help the stranger? That’s more, incidentally, than any other single reference made as we read and study it each year.
Does our tradition also not say “silence is agreement”?
And so, with 65 million immigrants in the world, we cannot spare even a word of objection to the issue?
I know we can do much better because in past generations, we have.
Irving Cramer, Venice, Calif.
A political cartoon published in Monday’s edition of UCLA’s daily student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, that comments on settlement expansion in the West Bank has been condemned as anti-Semitic by organizations on and off campus — and has even been denounced by a pro-Palestine student group.
Drawn by UCLA student Felipe Bris Abejón, the cartoon shows Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing in front of the 10 Commandments. At the top of the frame, a caption states, “Israel passes law seizing any Palestinian land.” Below that, “#6 Thou shalt not steal” appears with the word “not” crossed-out with a red “x.”
Below that, the tablets are inscribed: “#7 Thou shalt not kill.” Netanyahu is depicted with a thought bubble saying “#7 is next.”
The cartoon — for which the Daily Bruin has since issued an apology — is commenting on a Feb. 6 legislation known as the “Regulation Bill” that could retroactively legalize roughly 4,000 homes built by Israeli settlers on private Palestinian land in the West Bank. The controversial bill is likely to be challenged in Israel’s High Court.
Danny Siegel, a fourth year student at UCLA who is student body president, said he was outraged by the cartoon.
“As a Jewish student and individual who is actively involved with a variety of Jewish organizations on campus, I was disgusted to see this anti-Semitism in my school’s newspaper,” Siegel said.
“While I’ll be the first to criticize the Regulation Bill, to criticize Israeli policy — policy that was created by a democratically elected government — by using Jewish biblical law as the basis for your criticism when you are not an expert in Judaism, it’s very problematic,” he added. “And then to use the faith to allude to Jews committing genocide as the next step — it’s not political, it’s anti-Semitic.”
Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of UCLA’s chapter of Hillel, explained that the cartoon is part of a string of problematic incidents at UCLA.
“The cartoon Netanyahu’s jump to ‘killing’ smacks of the kind of ‘Israelis are hungry for blood’ statements which have come from BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] speakers here at UCLA for the past five years, including Omar Barghouti, who said that Israeli soldiers kill Palestinian babies ‘for sport.’ ”
Abejón, the artist behind the cartoon, has not responded to inquiries from the Journal. He is a former education and resources director for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) but, according to Sarah Schmitt, board member and programming director for the organization, “This year [Abejón] was denied admission to the SJP Board because he had expressed views that were incongruent with those of SJP.”
The organization distanced itself from the cartoon in a statement that denies the artist’s affiliation with the group and reads, in part, “Although SJP has repeatedly condemned the policy of the Israeli government with regards to its oppression of Palestinians, it is not and has never been our intention to demonize the Jewish community … Students for Justice in Palestine condemns the publication of this cartoon, as we condemn all efforts to perpetuate stereotypes about any racial, ethnic or religious group.”
The Daily Bruin’s editorial staff released an official statement on the matter on Monday. It stated, “As a newspaper, we take responsibility for our mistakes and apologize for them, so that’s what we’re doing here. Running this cartoon was an error that we deeply regret. It is wrong to use religion or religious tenets to criticize political policy. And it’s wrong to perpetuate harmful stereotypes — intentional or otherwise. We strive to understand the community that we cover. So as part of our ongoing education, we are reaching out to local religious leaders to help our staff understand the historical context behind these kinds of hurtful images.”
FULL STATEMENT: http://dailybruin.com/2017/02/13/editors-note-to-our-readers/
Lerner verified that the Daily Bruin specifically reached out to Hillel to conduct a workshop for its staff on anti-Semitism.
In the meantime, the cartoon made an impressions far beyond the campus borders.
California State Assembly member, Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) released a statement Monday evening criticizing the editors of the Daily Bruin for allowing the cartoon to run in a public university student paper.
“Criticizing a governmental action, in this particular case, Israeli settlement policies, is responsible journalism. However, calling into question Jewish religious tenets is reckless, immature, and blatantly discriminatory,” he stated.
Bloom suggested the cartoon blatantly disregarded for University of California policy that states, “anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”
The Anti-Defamation League offered similar sentiments in its response: “It is deeply offensive, not to mention incorrect, to suggest that the Israeli government is willfully changing the tenets of the Jewish faith to reflect a policy matter. It is one thing to criticize the recent decision regarding settlement made by the Netanyahu government (as many in Israel are doing). It is quite another to impugn core Jewish beliefs. This sort of generalization and stereotyping targets a particular religion and should not be condoned.”
Lerner said he understands that some people are unclear on the line between anti-Semitism and condemnation of Israeli policy, but he has a response at the ready.
“Some have questioned why the cartoon is anti-Semitic with a version of the following question: ‘Isn’t criticizing Israeli policy and asking Jews to live up to their own ethical standards allowed?’ I would answer that the cartoon crosses the line because it conflates a single Israeli Knesset action, which is likely to be overturned in Israel’s courts, with all Jews and our most sacred texts.”
The glass ceiling.
Andrew Lustig, a Jewish spoken word artist, wrote this piece intending it to be performed — to be spoken. It was first performed on stage at a ChaiPowered storytelling event at LimmudUK. Illustrator Lon Levin created the artwork in collaboration with Lustig.
I am 16 …
Eating breakfast with my father
each of us reading a section of The New York Times.
My father reads about Nazi hunters in Argentina. I read the sports scores.
“Before you die what’s one headline you want to see on the front page of the paper?” I ask my father.
Without hesitation he answers, “Israelis and Palestinians make peace.”
“I knew you were going to answer something about Israel,” I say.
“Something, for once, not about Israel. What about something that could be on the front page of the Science and Technology section?”
And so he thinks for a second. And as he answers, he uses his hands to envision the headline in bold, black ink letters with a comma he can’t help but add before a clause he can’t help but include: “I’ve got it,” he says: “Cancer Cured: Israeli Scientists Lauded.”
I am 18 …
I have permission from my Israel trip leaders to spend the day with my Israeli family.
I’ve never met Aunt Edna but since I’ve been in Israel she’s called me every day … to remind me to wear sunscreen.
We plan to meet at a junction right outside the kibbutz my group is staying on.
Right on time a car pulls up, and out of the back seat an older woman walks out and waves goodbye to the driver.
I run to the woman and throw my arms around her. In the half biblical, half slang Hebrew I know from Torah services and teenage soldiers, I let her know that I’m wearing sunscreen … but she is stiff in my embrace. Doesn’t hug me back. Doesn’t respond to me as I tell her how good it is to finally meet her.
From the driver’s seat, Aunt Edna rolls down the window and shouts at me: “Nu? … Get in. You’re hugging the hitchhiker. She’s not related to you.”
I am 20 …
My Israeli friends “don’t get” why I’m enrolling for a year at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. I’m not sure I do either.
I sit down on the 21 bus across from a cute girl dressed in all black. Wearing Converse sneakers. A red streak in her hair. Nose ring.
She’s reading a book. And it’s in Hebrew. And I’m so excited.
To see someone who looks cool and secular like me reading a religious book. Finding meaning in Jewish text.
I’m so curious about what she’s reading. If it’s the weekly parsha or something Chasidic. It must be something mystical.
So I ask her, confidently: “Excuse me … Is that the kabbalah?”
Kabbalah? She responds. “My book? Lo. Ze … ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ ”
As she gets off at her stop, the woman next to me looks up from her book of tehillim and warns me: “In this country, everything, even the pornography, is in Hebrew.”
I am 22 …
Wandering through the alleyways of Nahlaot in Jerusalem, looking through the windows for a Kabbalat Shabbat service I’d feel comfortable in.
As I’m about to give up, I hear a faint echo of Lekhah Dodi, and I excitedly follow the sound of psalms into a heavy steel door and down a staircase into an underground shul …
disappointed to discover the prayer is separated.
Men in front.
Women tucked into a corner behind a curtain.
I decide I will leave but first I ask a group of women, sitting, talking on a couch, if there is a bathroom. They point.
“Is this men’s or women’s?” I ask, confused.
As I watch a woman walk out of one stall and a man out of the next.
“It’s both,” one of the women says, rolling her eyes. “This is Israel, you know? This shul is in a bomb shelter. There’s not so much space down here that we can just separate the bathrooms by gender.”
I am 24 …
On a bus in Tel Aviv. It’s Friday, January 3rd.
Early afternoon. Only hours before Shabbos.
The first Shabbos just after New Year’s.
The bus is crowded and slow and I’ve been sitting silently for an hour across from an old Israeli man who reminds me of my grandfather.
As my stop approaches, I want to say something, so I smile and say, “Chag sameach.”
And he responds
throwing his head back
“Ma chag? What holiday?”
“New Year’s,” I say.
“Ze lo he chag sheli. Ani Yehudi. It’s not my New Year’s,” he insists. “I am a Jew.”
Taken aback, realizing I’ve offended him, I apologize. “Slicha. Ani mitztaier. I’m sorry. Achi, my friend. Shabbat shalom.”
And as I walk off the bus, I hear him yell after me: “Ma Shabbat? Do I look religious to you?”
I am 26 …
teaching at a Jewish summer camp
standing in the back of the beit midrash as the participants listen to a lesson plan we’ve improvised …
because war has broken out.
I watch the Israelis in the room.
I wonder if they’d like me less if they knew how liberal I was.
In my head, I label the 3 murdered boys “settlers” and I feel guilty for doing it.
I am already afraid for Gaza.
In response to that thought, my father pleads, “Andrew, you’re too young to remember.” My grandfather reminds me to “never forget.” Aunt Edna dismisses me: “You don’t know what it’s really like to live here.”
I am a mistress. At my lover’s funeral. Watching from afar as the family members cry by the casket. “Who is he?” they wonder. “Why should he cry?”
As I turn to wipe away a tear, I notice a book titled “Moses: The Outsider.”
Moses. Who felt voiceless.
Almost left forever
Me anochi key A-lech.
Who am I?