At the center, battling left and right extremism


It’s not going to end. 

I’m talking about the increasing demonization of Israel by progressive organizations and individuals. This month it was Black Lives Matter’s platform, and the vulgar cold shoulder given the Israeli Olympic athletes by some Lebanese and Egyptian athletes. 

Next month it will be the BDSers waiting to greet your college kids back to a new school year with mock Israeli checkpoints, divestment drives and protests against Israeli speakers.  

More and more progressive voices are falling prey to the simpleminded and extreme formulations of the radical anti-Israel crowd. These are not people who want a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — they see Israel’s existence itself as unjust. 

The Black Lives Matter platform is the perfect example. It took legitimate concerns over the amount of United States aid to Israel and turned it into hate speech. The platform accused Israel of “genocide” against the Palestinian people — something that should come as a shock to the 4.1 million more Palestinians alive today in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza than in 1948, when Israel came into being. 

Black lives do matter. But when it comes to Israel, so do facts. The only genocide in the Middle East is being perpetrated by Syrians against Syrians. On that, the BLM platform is unconscionably silent.

But BLM’s seemingly out-of-the-blue illogical attack on Israel should come as no surprise to people watching what’s happening everywhere from college campuses to the Bernie Sanders campaign — pro-Israel progressive voices are playing defense. 

“So-called intersectionality and identity politics,” Omer Benjakob writes in Haaretz, have been “conflating progressivism with blind support for BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions], creating an impossible dilemma for liberal Jews who want to be supportive of Israel.”

The fringes have bought the arguments of the Israel haters, and the extremes are eating toward the center.

And who are their greatest enablers? The extremists on the other side. 

In their persistent defense of the occupation, their cynical attempt to paint every act of Palestinian resistance as a stalking horse for Islamic fundamentalism, and their constant support for — or silence in the face of — the settlement project and its attendant injustices, the pro-Israel extremes continue to undermine the strategic and ethical standing of the Jewish state. 

These are the people who keep telling us that Israel is nothing but a victim, that the problem is only anti-Semitism, that if Israel could just do a better job of telling its story, of teaching our children to defend its actions, then the world would understand. 

What they don’t get is you can’t change the narrative without changing the reality. You can’t fix the image without fixing the facts. And the fact is that a democracy cannot deprive millions of people of their democratic rights and remain viable, much less popular. 

Occupation and the settlement project behind it undermine Israel’s security, its morality, its very existence. That’s why the strongest voices against the occupation have always been pro-Israel and pro-security. That’s why people who put Israel’s security first, like Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin, stood up to their extremists. 

Whether you are Israeli or Palestinian, Jew or Arab, the center is an increasingly lonely place these days. In the center are those of us who understand that the occupation does not justify anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism does not justify the occupation. 

In the center are those who choose to fight BDS as if there is no occupation, and fight occupation as if there is no BDS. In the center are those who believe neither Israel nor the Palestinians need to justify their existence to anyone. In the center are those who believe the happiness and security of both peoples are inextricably linked to one another. 

The center might not be dead, but it is shrinking. From the left and the right, extremism shows no sign of ending. And if that continues, none of this is going to end well.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

History Behind What Makes Hamas Tick


Hamas, which will form the next Palestinian Authority government, has an ideology that is based on the destruction of Israel through jihad, or Muslim “holy war.” The group’s 1988 charter states that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

It adds that the territory of Israel is “Islamic Wakf” — part of the Muslim religious trust that cannot be given to non-Muslims — and that “the law governing the land of Palestine is the Islamic Sharia,” or Muslim law.

The group presents itself as having separate social and military branches, a formula that seeks to insulate the group from charges that it is a terrorist organization. However, few serious observers believe the branches are truly separate.

Hamas has its origins in the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Muslim group founded in Egypt in the first half of the 20th century. The brotherhood inspired Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin’s notion that Israel is Islamic land whose ownership is not negotiable.

Yassin founded the Islamic Center in the Gaza Strip in the 1970s, turning it into a major religious organization and laying the groundwork for a network of social and welfare institutions that increased the movement’s popularity.

He continued to absorb the violent and nationalist ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood and gradually shifted the group’s focus from welfare to violence. That paved the way for the founding of Hamas — which means “zeal” in Arabic and is an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement — after the first intifada began in 1987.

As early as the first intifada, Hamas also targeted suspected Palestinian collaborators and rivals in the Fatah movement.

Hamas began using suicide bombers as a weapon in 1994 and since has carried out at least 60 such attacks. Many more have been stopped by Israeli security forces. The group began launching rockets at Israeli targets in 2001, using crude Kassam rockets to shell Israeli towns in the Negev, notably Sderot.

The group’s attacks have killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in the past five years alone, prompting Israeli legal and military responses. The United States and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

An Israeli court sentenced Yassin in 1984 to 13 years in jail, but he was released a year later in a prisoner exchange deal. He was imprisoned again in the 1990s for incitement to violence but was released in 1997 in another prisoner exchange.

During the second intifada, the Israel Defense Forces began targeting Hamas leaders for assassination. Yassin was killed in March 2004 by Israeli helicopter fire. Abdel Aziz Rantissi, who was appointed Hamas head in Yassin’s place, was assassinated a month later.

After that, Hamas stopped announcing the names of its leaders, though they are believed to be Mahmoud al-Zahar and Ismail Haniya, No. 1 and No. 2 on Hamas’ party list in the recent election.

The group’s popularity in the territories is partly based on its social service work. Hamas funds educational, medical and welfare programs, though the group is accused of using the educational program to spread anti-Israel and extremist Islamic propaganda to children.

Hamas attempted to take credit for Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

The group has a few senior leaders in Syria, Lebanon and the Persian Gulf states. Hamas receives some funding from Iran but relies primarily on donations from Palestinians around the world and private benefactors in Arab states.

Some of Hamas’ fundraising and propaganda activity takes place in Western Europe and North America. In 2004, the United States convicted the Texas Holy Land Foundation on charges that included money laundering for Hamas.

Israeli intelligence in the past has pointed at possible links between Hamas and Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, but nothing has been proven.

 

Rudolph Linked to Anti-Jewish Ideology


Eric Rudolph, the U.S. white supremacist arrested over the weekend for four bombings, including an attack at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, was apparently motivated by an anti-Semitic ideology known as Christian Identity.

Rudolph, 36, also wrote a paper espousing Holocaust denial while in high school.

Although it is unknown whether Rudolph considers himself a formal follower of the group, in 1984 his family spent four months at a Christian Identity camp in Missouri and the family was friendly with Christian Identity preachers.

In addition, his belief system seems to coincide with what Identity followers espouse, according to experts on U.S. hate groups. Christian Identity has its origins in Great Britain in the 1800s. During that time, an ideology known as British Israelism developed: Its followers believed that the British were descended from the ancient Israelites. But only when Christian Identity migrated to North America at the end of the 19th and the early 20th centuries — where it found a home in New England, the Midwest and West — did the ideology take on anti-Semitic and racist overtones.

Adherents to Christian Identity on this continent believe that non- Jewish "white Europeans and their descendants elsewhere are descended from the lost tribes of Israel. Therefore, they’re God’s chosen people," said Mark Pitcavage, director of fact-finding for the Anti-Defamation League.

Others, including Jews, Asians and blacks, therefore, were inferior and sinister.

There are an estimated 25,000-50,000 Christian Identity followers in North America, according to Pitcavage. Among these are members of the Aryan Nations, whose leader, Richard Butler, ran a 20-acre compound in Idaho until it was taken away from the group following a 1998 incident in which a teenager and his mother were beaten there.

Buford Furrow Jr., who is serving a life sentence in jail for killing a Filipino American postman and wounding five people at a North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills in a 1999 shooting spree in Los Angeles, was a member of the Aryan Nations.

Some of the more theologically inclined Christian Identity followers believe that Jews are descended from a union between Eve and the biblical serpent that they say created Cain — and that Jews are descended from Cain, Pitcavage said. They also believe in more than one biblical creation and that blacks and Asians — whom they call "mud people" — were created during "practice" creations.

But for all Christian Identity followers, anti-Semitism "is absolutely critical. Everything about Christian Identity is that Jews are Satanic and need to be eradicated," said Heidi Beirich, a spokeswoman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a watchdog group.

Rudolph was arrested Saturday in western North Carolina after a five-year search by investigators. In total, he is believed to be responsible for four bombings, in which two people were killed and 150 people injured. This week, he agreed to be transferred to Alabama to face charges in one of the attacks, a 1998 bombing at an abortion clinic in Birmingham in which an off-duty police officer was killed.

He also allegedly bombed a gay nightclub and an office building housing another abortion clinic.

But Jews came in for particular hatred, said his former sister-in-law.

"[Rudolph] hated Jews more than probably any other race," Deborah Rudolph, who is divorced from Rudolph’s brother, Joel, told ABC’s "Good Morning America."

He "felt that, you know, they’ve been run out of every country they’ve ever been in. They’ve destroyed every country they’ve ever been in. They have too much control in our country," she said.

He considered the TV "The Electronic Jew," she said in an interview a few years ago.

"You could be watching a 30-minute sitcom and the credits would roll and there’d be Jewish names and, excuse my expression, but he would say, ‘You f——- Yids.’ Any little thing and he would start," she said.

Rudolph’s formal introduction into white supremacism seems to have started in 1981, after his father died in South Florida from cancer. Rudolph’s mother was upset that laetrile, a drug sometimes used to treat cancer, was made illegal. Her anger helped transform her and her family into staunch anti- government ideologues — often a pathway into white supremacism. With the help of Tom Branham, a sawmill owner arrested in 1984 for possessing illegal explosives, Pat Rudolph moved the family to western North Carolina.

There, as a ninth-grader, he wrote the paper denying the Holocaust.

"Eric’s paper saying that the Holocaust never happened, this was Eric’s and Joel’s and the whole family’s deal," Deborah Rudolph said in the interview.

Life of a Footsoldier


Shmuel Marcus is a bit like the lucky son of an ambitious frontier storekeeper, who relies on family to staff a second storefront.

Since January, Marcus, 27, has operated Orange County’s newest Chabad from a living room alcove of the second-floor Cypress apartment he shares with his 25-year-old wife, Bluma, and two young children.

Scion of an unusual family, Marcus has joined the equally unusual society of shluchim (emissaries). They are foot soldiers for a powerful ideology of outreach by the Chabad-Lubavitch branch of Orthodox Judaism. Trailblazers like Marcus must solicit their own financial support and, with their wives, make a lifetime commitment to remain in often-remote areas, ranging from Armenia to Zaire. In not-so-remote California, 20 new sites are planned this year alone in places such as Calabasas and Monterey. The Golden State already has the largest concentration of Chabad centers outside of Israel.

Orange County is already home to 18 synagogues of various denominations and now 10 Chabad centers, including Cypress. No. 11 is to open in Santa Ana this month, manned by Rabbi Yehoshua Eliezrie, son of David Eliezrie, Yorba Linda’s Chabad rabbi.

“California is the new frontier,” Cunin said. Innovations from its centers, such as demonstration “factories” for shofars and matzah, become models used at Chabad sites in 56 countries.

“By giving so many young couples the honor of being shluchim, they are responsible for bringing the love of the Rebbe to anybody we come in contact with,” said Cunin, referring to the Lubavitch spiritual leader, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

For Chabadniks, being an emissary is a central life goal, so they open centers to satisfy this personal as well as ideological need, said David Berger, history professor of New York’s Brooklyn College and author of “The Rebbe, the Messiah and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference” (Littman Library, 2001).

Stagnating Jewish population figures suggest Chabad’s explosive growth is not reflected in a revival of Judaism. Instead, its popularity reflects heightened interest in religious beliefs and practices, said Sue L. Fishkoff, whose book, “The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch,” will be published by Schocken Books in April.

The proliferation of Chabad sites, which generally do not charge membership dues, can siphon members from existing institutions and cause friction, but also attract the unaffiliated, said Fishkoff, who cited anecdotal evidence. The rivalry, cordial in some communities and contentious in others, often prods greater adherence to Jewish practices by non-Chabad groups. “Hillel consciously adapted Chabad programs on campus because they are so vital,” she said.

Chabad’s brand of low-cost Judaism may be its initial draw, she said. “But nobody stays for that reason. Those who stay are finding something they like.”

Shmuel is the third Marcus son to become a Chabad rabbi and take the career path of the family patriarch, Yitzchok. He is the 17-year rabbi of Congregation Ahavat Yisroel in Los Alamitos. Together, he and his wife, Ita, have seven children. Another son, Zalman, is the spiritual leader of Mission Viejo’s Chabad.

“It’s a very unusual family,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Newman, dean of Huntington Beach’s Hebrew Academy, where Ita Marcus teaches. “It’s a sign of dedication. It’s not there was a flourishing community; it’s dedicating themselves to the Jewish cause.”

The youngest Marcus rabbi was deployed to a “red zone,” mapped at Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. Cypress is considered a battlefield because of its extremely high intermarriage rate. Seeing a need to cultivate relationships with a more youthful audience, his father suggested the daunting assignment.

Without a building, Marcus organizes events in people’s homes or at his father’s center. So far, he has taught five Hebrew classes for three students. His wife taught a women’s group to make kreplach, meat-filled dumplings. Fifteen children registered for holiday-crafts classes.

“Many Chabads started with one kid,” said Marcus, seemingly unfazed by the meager start.

“You can’t educate a 25-year-old,” his wife said.

“Unfortunately, you have to start when they are 4,” he added.

Marcus, who holds a second job as director of outreach and marketing at Chabad’s West Coast headquarters, wrote about his 1996 stay in the former Soviet Union as an assistant rabbi. Safire of San Francisco published “Chicken Kiev” in February. It’s based on epistolary e-mail snapshots of modern Jewish life in a spare, verse-like text. Posted at Chabad.org, it generated enough interest he figured it had book potential.

He’s not anticipating a best seller, though.

It ends on a conversation with a poet, who notes Shakespeare has been translated into Ukranian. “It would only be fair, wouldn’t it, for them to publish my work in English?”

Marcus writes: “He would be astounded to hear that in America verse writing is not a particularly lucrative profession, unlike the Ukraine where poets are respected as heroes and pillars of society.”