Screenshot from Twitter

L’Oreal to Feature Anti-Israel Model in Campaign for Newest Product


L’Oreal made headlines by announcing that a hijab-wearing model and beauty blogger would be one of the faces for their newest product, however the move has been criticized due to the model’s prior anti-Israel tweets.

Amena Khan announced on Instagram that she would be a part of L’Oreal Paris UK’s Elvive World of Care Campaign:

Khan told Vogue UK, “How many brands are doing things like this? Not many. They’re literally putting a girl in a headscarf—whose hair you can’t see—in a hair campaign. Because what they’re really valuing through the campaign is the voices that we have.”

L’Oreal Paris UK’s general manager, Adrien Koskas, said, “L’Oréal Paris UK are both proud and excited to be launching such a unique and disruptive campaign for the haircare market, a category which in previous years has been perceived as the cliché of beauty advertising.”

Media outlets like Glamour and the Huffington Post were ecstatic about the move and gushed over the fact that Khan was going to be the first hijab-wearing female Muslim to be a featured in a major hair product advertisement. However, others took notice of Khan’s hyperbolic criticisms of Israel on Twitter, which included:

·Calling Israel “an illegal state” and “a sinister state” that harms “innocent children.”

·Tweeting that “Israel = Pharaoh” because “both are child murderers.”

·Writing that “the brutal murder of Palestinians had been occurring MANY years before the formation of Hamas. Israel’s excuses are blatant lies.”

·Claiming that Israel couldn’t be acting in self-defense against the Palestinians because they would only be “defending itself against unarmed babies and civilians.”

Khan has since deleted those tweets.

Interestingly, there were claims from the early 2000’s claimed that L’Oreal’s founder was “an anti-Semitic fascist” and that the company profited off of land that was confiscated from Jews during the Holocaust. In 2012, Jean Victor-Meyers, whose grandfather was a rabbi murdered in Auschwitz took over the company; in 2014, L’Oreal faced a boycott for sending a care package of Garnier products to Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers during the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Talking With the Godfather of Israel Branding


Since leaving his diplomatic post in Los Angeles in 1998, Ido Aharoni has become arguably the foremost expert in branding for the Jewish state — except he no longer uses that term.

“I don’t really feel comfortable with the word ‘branding’ anymore,” Aharoni said during a recent visit to the Jewish Journal office.

Instead, he prefers the word “positioning,” which lacks the negative stigma of “branding.” Although he was careful about the words he picked to describe his life’s work, Aharoni returned to Los Angeles free of the constraints of officially representing the Israeli government. In 2016, he retired from a 25-year diplomatic career that included stints as Israel’s longest-serving consul general in New York and its first head of brand management.

“We should never view Israel as a perfect nation.”

Now a consultant and professor at New York University, he was more keen to inform than to persuade, and the conversation quickly evolved into a master class on positioning the brand of the Jewish state. Here are four branding basics Aharoni laid out in his Jan. 10 interview with the Journal.

1. It’s not branding — it’s positioning.

What exactly is the difference? Aharoni said that “positioning” takes into account the organic nature of Israel’s approach.

“Many people see many things in Israel at the same time, but there’s only one positioning, and that is the positioning of the story,” he said. “The story that Israel is telling is the story of its creative people, the story of people that created something out of nothing. I call it the story of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things.”

2. Focus on creativity

Plenty of places are creative, Aharoni said, but no place is quite like Israel.

“L.A. is creative,” he said. “Barcelona is creative. Berlin is creative. But Israeli creativity is different. In what way? Israeli creativity, first of all, stems from our Jewish roots, from the permission we’re given to argue, to challenge authority, and to refuse to accept limitations. So the positioning of Israel is Israel’s creative spirit. This is the DNA of the place. It goes way beyond ‘Startup Nation.’ ”

3. Israel is not perfect

“We should never view Israel as a perfect nation,” Aharoni said.

Rather than explaining and apologizing, Aharoni said, Israel advocates should recognize Israel’s flaws and sympathize with the Palestinian struggle without seeking to directly take on detractors. In a digital world saturated with information, debating critics one by one is a futile effort, he said.

“Even if you win the debate, today, because of these devices,” he said, lifting up his cellphone, “you still stand to lose. Because it’s not about winning debates anymore.”

4. Ethnocentrism is the central challenge to Israeli diplomacy

“The fact is that Israel is a very self-centered, self-absorbed, parochial, ethnocentric society, and there are historical reasons for it,” Aharoni said. “I happen to think that this very ethnocentrism is the biggest threat to Israel, more than the Iranians.”

He laid the blame on ethnocentrism for what he called Israel’s “colossal, dramatic failure” in presenting itself to the world, which he said resulted in low tourism numbers. Specifically, he said, ethnocentrism is responsible for a failing approach to branding — namely, a focus on conflict.

“We thought that because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is on the top of our agenda, that it should be also on the top of your agenda,” he said.

Here again, Aharoni returned to the language of marketing and branding to make his point.

“Israel became defined by its problems,” he said. “The last thing a brand wants is to be known for its problems, and that’s the reason why Israel is underperforming.”

Jerusalem: What Comes Next?


There were many things that President Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem was not. It was not the start of the apocalypse. It was not the start of a successful political peace strategy. Nor was it earth-shattering in terms of its actual practical effects.

So, what was it? It was an international humiliation for a Palestinian community that believed in negotiations. It was an abdication of the role of sole arbitration by the United States. And it was a reality check for everyone concerned.

The United States, at least for the next three years, will not be able to singlehandedly bring the parties back to the table. Of course, even before this, the reality was that even if negotiations had — by some miracle — restarted, few were confident that the societies or their respective leaders were ready for a credible process.

If the Jerusalem announcement has stopped the fake horizon of talks, what replaces it? What credibly fills the vacuum?

There are many who would like to use this moment to push a pressured or coercive approach — the idea that with more force the decision-making calculation will change and a different outcome will result. Given the extreme violence of the Second Intifada and the structural violence that the occupation brings daily, the evidence does not indicate that what we need is more force. If there were a coercive solution to this problem, it would have happened already.

Coercion is seductive, as it puts all the pressure on the party on the other side of the equation. Supporters of both Israel and Palestine can point to the pressure points they feel are most effective and motivate others to apply pressure there while ignoring the significant challenges within their own communities.

Ignoring the power of coercion within decision-making is a mistake, but so is fetishizing it. If this isn’t the moment for pressure, what is it the time for?

To confront the generational challenge, we need a long-term strategy.

Israeli and Palestinian young people truly mistrust one another. With limited or no interaction with one another, they rely on their media and leadership to inform them about their counterparts. The result has been anything but positive. Annual polls of Israelis and Palestinians show that large majorities believe that the opposing community harbors extreme exclusionist or genocidal views.

To confront the generational challenge that the conflict presents, we need a generational long-term strategy to re-engage the communities — something broader than traditional people-to-people programs. We need an agenda that considers how to create community resilience against violence and develop leaders to create constituencies for peace when a credible political process eventually occurs.

As the executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, I have been pushing for the creation of a multilateral international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace that can help answer the question, “What are we doing to make sure that the next generation does not hate one another?” The need has never been higher.

Beyond the fund, however, we need to move beyond the politics of demographics. For the past few years, more and more voices in the center and left of both Israel and the Jewish Diaspora have been pushing the politics of separation to make their case for peace now. The American-Jewish community funds shared-society programing in Israel while also paying for billboards that bemoan the demographic threat posed by the Arab community. That needs to stop.

This is not a moment for coercion but for laying a solid foundation.

One could make the spurious argument that you can use racism to motivate voters if you believe that peace is just a vote away. It is not. If we are in a generational struggle, then we need to tackle the educational challenges created through ethnic conflict, not exacerbate the worst fears of the populations.

The uncertainty of the moment should lead all of us to return to the basic values and principles that motivate and guide us. There are hundreds of opportunities to invest in values we can all stand behind, whether by investing in the bilingual communities of the Hand in Hand school network, working with youth across Jerusalem’s faith communities with Kids4Peace or supporting agricultural cooperatives with the Near East Foundation.

This is not a moment for coercion but for laying a solid foundation. We should support young people as they build communities that demonstrate that a different future is possible, one of collective humanity and mutual dependence. This is a generational struggle, but one that depends on people themselves rather than the geopolitical currents that are buffeting our global society.


Joel Braunold is executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace.

President Donald Trump leaves a note at the Western Wall in Jerusalem last May 22. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

THE TRUMP GAP: One Year in, Why Israelis Like the President So Much More Than American Jews Do


How do you measure a year?

It has been exactly 12 months since Donald Trump was sworn in as the new and surprising president of the United States. But from an Israeli viewpoint, Trump’s first year actually began on Dec. 24, 2016. That was the day after the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2334 by a vote of 14-0, with one country — the U.S. — abstaining, yet refraining from using its veto power.

In the eyes of most Israelis, it was the last, vengeful act of Barack Obama’s administration, a stunning departure from U.S. policy of many years. Obama decided to let the Security Council pass the measure, which demanded an immediate halt to all Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There was no policy-based argument for the action. It was an ego-driven move, a last act of frustration.

Israel’s response was telling. It marked the beginning of the counting of a new year: “Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, “and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”

The resolution was indeed absurd. And Trump — bolstered by his feisty U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley — was quick to note that, going forward, the United States wouldn’t tolerate such resolutions.

Almost a year to the day after the Obama-backed, anti-Israel resolution came a U.S.-vetoed, anti-Trump resolution. In December, the U.N. condemned Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

While much of the world came to view Trump with (often justified) horror, many Israelis grew to like him.

Between these two unfortunate votes was a year filled with nervousness (when Trump was elected), glee (when Obama departed), adjustment (when Trump seemed to get along with Israel’s leaders) and hospitality (when the president visited Israel in May).

Yes, there was also some embarrassment. Can Israelis really get along with such a leader? Is this man going to be our friend? With time and while much of the world came to view Trump with (often justified) horror, many Israelis grew to like him. Foul language aside, U.S. domestic hurdles aside, kooky tweets aside, in his speeches — although not always consistent — Trump identified many sentiments and themes compatible with their own.

In Poland last July, he spoke about working “together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”

Is that a worldview? It is not always clear that Trump has something coherent enough to be called a worldview. But he surely has sentiments. And these sentiments, his desire to guard “bonds of culture, faith and tradition,” make Israelis — not all Israelis, but more than a few — feel comfortable with him.

When Trump entered office last January, 69 percent of Jewish Israelis expected his attitude toward Israel to be friendly. According to Israel Democracy Institute’s Peace Index poll, “this belief stretched across all political camps” and included Jews and Arabs. A year later, the same pollsters found that “a large majority of the Jewish public (65 percent) think President Trump’s public declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel was in Israel’s best interest.”

Consider this: 77 percent of American Jews disapprove of Trump, according to the annual survey of American Jewish opinion by the American Jewish Committee. An almost mirror image is found among Jews in Israel, where, as the Pew Research Center documented, 64 percent have confidence in Trump’s “ability to lead.” A December Jerusalem Post poll found that 77 percent of Jewish Israelis call the Trump administration “more pro-Israel” than pro-Palestinian.

Of course, Israelis are not a monolithic group. They have many worldviews. Many Israelis dislike Trump and his policies. They believe he is dangerous to the United States and the world. The leader of the leftist Meretz party, Zehava Galon, once described him as the “sex offender, homophobe, Islamophobe in the White House.”

Still, many Israelis aren’t apologetic about their fondness for the president. It is their habit to like an American president if he likes them back. Thus, Israelis voiced high approval of Democrat Bill Clinton, of Republican George W. Bush and now many have positive views of Trump. They might recognize that his reported insult of Haiti and African countries is problematic, they might see that his persona and manner are hardly presidential and that some of his habits are highly disturbing, but as outsiders, Israelis first consider their own interests. If Trump is on Israel’s side, a majority of Israelis will be on his side.

This is certainly reflected in the language of Netanyahu, who has said that “Israel has no greater friend than Donald Trump.” Compare that to the convoluted phraseologies he employed when he was forced to commend Obama for his friendship. “The president of the United States — including President Obama — every one of the U.S. presidents represents and acts on the tremendous innate friendship of the American people and Israel,” was one way he put it. That is to say: The friend is not Obama, but the American people. “They’re all friends of Israel, equally representing the friendship of America,” Netanyahu said of U.S. presidents in a 2011 interview with NBC’s David Gregory.

It is Israelis’ habit to like an American president if he likes them back.

To be sure, Israelis’ fondness for Trump puts them at odds with people in many other countries — and with many Americans. So, there is risk involved: The more Israel is branded as Trump-friendly, the more it becomes an outlier in the eyes of those who instinctively feel that what Trump is for, they must be against.

This was evident when Trump decided to acknowledge the obvious fact that Jerusalem is, and will remain, Israel’s capital. Leaders of U.S. Reform Judaism opted to respond to this decision by condemning its timing. “[The] White House should not undermine [peace] efforts by making unilateral decisions that exacerbate the conflict,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky tagged this negative response “terrible.” He easily identified the sentiment behind it: “Everything that comes out of Trump is bad, from their perspective.”

President Donald Trump signs a proclamation at the White House on Dec. 6 that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Donald Trump signs a proclamation at the White House on Dec. 6 that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Donald Trump signs a proclamation at the White House on Dec. 6 that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Donald Trump signs a proclamation at the White House on Dec. 6 that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Indeed, it is — a reason to worry about the future of Israel-Diaspora Jewish relations. Of course, this is hardly the first time that Israeli and American Jews have been at odds over important political issues. Over the past two decades, that has been the norm. American Jews did not support the Bush administration and the initiation of the Iraq War, while Israelis did. Most American Jews never abandoned the Obama administration, not even when Israel argued that it failed to defend Israel and didn’t act like a friend.

But with Trump, every phenomenon seems to be on steroids. Most American Jews view the president with unparalleled horror, while Israelis are content with him. “Like him or not, Trump’s first year in office has been good for Israel,” concluded former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens.

Good, relatively speaking. Good, as in better than the previous eight years. The Trump administration has not seemed inclined to manipulate Israel into something it doesn’t want. It has not engaged in speaking in public and in private against Israel’s leaders and their policies. It has not attempted to create “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, as Obama famously said he would. It did not pull any surprises on Israel — well, not more than Trump surprised the rest of the world on Twitter. It was clear and unapologetic in showing its affinity for Israel.

So yes, relatively speaking, the Trump administration is an improvement when it comes to the U.S. relations with Israel.

But “good” might be too strong a term. Besides the kind words, the warm relations and the better atmosphere, there are also actions to be considered. And when it comes to actions, the Trump administration has in many ways continued Obama’s hands-off approach. One thing that’s “good for Israel” is a U.S. that takes the role of leader in the Middle East, but it is not clear that Trump is invested in having such role.

He left Syria to the Russians, reasonably arguing that it was too late in the game for him to have real impact. He has not yet formulated a clear path on Iran. His gut sentiment was there, but not the policy to match it.

That is true even after the president recently clarified that the U.S. is ready to abandon the Iran nuclear agreement unless it is changed in the coming months. Such a development could present Israel with a dramatic dilemma if Iran responds to the U.S. pullout by reigniting its nuclear program. That’s why a joint simulation by the Rand Corp. and Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies concluded that renegotiating the Iran deal is not a realistic goal and that the Trump administration has no “clear plan” as to how Iran can be forced to improve it.

It’s no wonder that Israel’s intelligence agencies believe that the probability of war is higher today than it was a year ago. Of course, that is not exactly Trump’s fault, but it is worth noting that his year in office has not contributed much to preventing war. Russian forces have pulled out of Syria while Iranian forces have gone in. Israel has reportedly attacked Syrian targets on a regular basis to send the message that it will not tolerate Iran at its border. Hezbollah is freer to consider other targets than it was during the height of the Syrian war. Hamas is relying on Iranian support. Amid all these developments — and then some — the U.S. seems inactive, even numb.

President Donald Trump at a welcoming ceremony in Tel Aviv on May 22, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Last week, Trump evidently was reluctant when he opted to extend Iran’s relief from economic sanctions, keeping intact this part of the Obama-era agreement. Trump was a fierce opponent of the deal. He hinted repeatedly that he had no intention of keeping it. Trump ran for office as the anti-Obama. It clearly pains him to have to reaffirm any Obama policy.

When it comes to actions, the Trump administration has in many ways continued Obama’s hands-off approach.

That is true for Iran and also helped lead to the Jerusalem statement — Trump’s most notable departure from traditional U.S. foreign policy and bluntest demonstration of his willingness to change the rules of the Middle East game.

Many analysts wondered about the real motivation behind Trump’s decision suddenly to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and thus put his potential peace initiative at risk. Some questioned to what extent Israel pressured the administration to make the declaration. Some pundits saw the hand of Vice President Mike Pence, while others blamed more sinister forces, such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who they said drove Trump to what they viewed as an irrational act.

The truth is simpler: Trump hated the idea of having to sign the waiver delaying the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem. He hated it because he had made a promise to move the embassy, and Trump wants to be able to boast that he keeps his campaign promises. He hated it and hated the fact that his advisers — including the secretary of state and the national security adviser — advised him to sign the waiver, anyway.

The result was a compromise: The president signed the waiver but made a declaration that diminished the symbolic meaning of the waiver and turned the signing into a purely technical act. The waiver delays the actual moving of the embassy but the U.S. policy is clear: It considers Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

True, this is merely a symbolic statement, as many observers were quick to point out. But that misses the point. A capital is a symbol. Jerusalem is a powerful symbol. A symbolic statement was all that was needed. It is of little importance whether the building in which a few officials push papers is in this or that town.

The Palestinians seem to understand this. So they reacted with the fury they always demonstrate when they discover that — contrary to what their Western supporters led them to believe — time is not necessarily on their side. For now, the Palestinians’ ties with the Trump administration are strained — even more so after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas lashed out at Trump and the U.S. in a lengthy speech earlier this week. Still, at some point, the Palestinians will have to factor in this president’s temper. If they insist on rejecting his overtures, if they insist of denying him the wonderful peace process he vowed to advance, the price could be significant.

Not that Trump has much chance for making peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He doesn’t. Not that Israel would want him to focus on the peace front. It doesn’t. What Israel wants from Trump is to keep the relationship intimate and close. That, it has a fair chance of getting. What Israel wants is for Trump to get more involved in halting the advance of Iran in the region. That, it may not get.

What Israel wants from Trump is another good year — good, not just better than previous years. If the first year was the good year of forgetting Obama, maybe the second year can be good in and of itself.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the "Conversation with Women of America" meeting event at the White House in Washington D.C., U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Trump Admin Cuts Funding to UNRWA


The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that they’re going to cut $65 million from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

In a letter to the agency, the administration told the UNRWA they would continue to provide $60 million to the UNRWA, but they would be withholding the remaining $65 million until further notice. The administration also called for the agency to undergo a series of changes. The $60 million to the agency is a drastic reduction from the $355 million that the U.S. provided the UNRWA in 2017.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl denounced the move in a statement, claiming that it put the lives of Palestinians at risk.

“At stake is the access of 525,000 boys and girls in 700 UNRWA schools, and their future,” said Krähenbühl. “At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At stake is the access of refugees to primary health care, including pre-natal care and other life-saving services. At stake are the rights and dignity of an entire community.”

Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon praised the move in a statement.

“Just over the last year alone, UNRWA officials were elected to the leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA schools denied the existence of Israel, and terror tunnels were dug under UNRWA facilities,” said Danon. “It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed towards their intended purpose — the welfare of refugees.”

The move comes after President Trump threatened to withhold money from the Palestinians if they refused to engage in peace talks. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas declared in a weekend speech to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that they would not consider any deal forged by the United States and even. Abbas also cursed at Trump, exclaiming, “May your house be demolished!”

According to the Jerusalem Post, there was some debate within the Trump administration how the president should follow through on his threat. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley advocated for Trump to zero out funding to the UNRWA altogether, but ultimately the president sided with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to partially fund the agency. The Israeli government also wanted Trump to partially fund the agency.

Richard Goldberg, senior adviser to the Foundation of Defense Democracies, argued in a New York Post op-ed that the UNRWA only serves “to keep Palestinians as perpetual refugees.”

“In truth, it’s not a refugee agency but a welfare agency, which keeps millions of people in a permanent state of dependency and poverty — all while feeding Palestinians an empty promise that one day they’ll settle in Israel,” wrote Goldberg.

Additionally, U.N. Watch has reported on how UNRWA teachers have a penchant for making anti-Semitic Facebook posts, including “Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler.”

Screenshot from Twitter.

Rabbi Killed in West Bank Shooting


An Israeli rabbi was murdered in a drive-by shooting on nearby the Havat Gilat outpost.

The victim, 35-year-old Rabbi Raziel Shevach, was driving along Route 60 close to his home in the outpost when gunmen fired 22 bullets at his car as they drove by. Shevach was stricken multiple times in his neck and chest, and eventually succumbed to his injuries at Kfar Saba Meir Medical Center.

A friend of Shevach’s, Rabbi Yehoshua Gelbard, told Haaretz, “Rabbi Raziel was a rare combination of a smart student and devoted to God, who was kind to everyone who surrounded him.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the shooting.

“I am expressing my deep sorrow and sending condolences to the family of Raziel Shevach, who was murdered tonight by a despicable terrorist,” said Netanyahu. “Security forces will do everything possible to reach the contemptible murderer and the State of Israel will bring him to justice.”

Indeed, Israeli forces shut down Route 60 and have been searching for the terrorists that murdered Shevach.

Yesha Council chairman Hananel Dorani blamed the Palestinian Authority for the terror attack due to their policy of paying terrorists. Hamas had nothing but kind words for Shevach’s murderers.

“We bless the heroic Nablus operation which comes as a result of the Zionist occupation’s violations and crimes at the expense of our people in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” the terror organization said in a statement.

Islamic Jihad praised the attack as well.

Shevach leaves behind his wife and six children. His oldest child is 11 years old and his youngest child is eight months old.

Natalie Silverlieb

An Israeli at the Ends of the Earth


When Natalie Silverlieb told her mother that she was moving to Vanuatu, her mother’s first response was “Vanu-what?” followed by, “Why?”

Silverlieb’s family and friends — as well as her husband, who did not join her on the 10-month trip — were puzzled as to why the New Jersey native would uproot her life in Tel Aviv to live in a remote island nation in the South Pacific. (On her recent return home to Tel Aviv, she had to travel for three days through five countries, covering 10,000 miles.)

Fewer than a dozen Israelis live in Vanuatu, but Silverlieb moved there a year ago to become a local director for the humanitarian aid agency IsraAID. She now oversees a large-scale water infrastructure development project funded by the World Bank.

In the time she’s been stationed in Vanuatu, Silverlieb has had to adjust to living in a developing nation, as well as its volcanic rumblings and cyclones.

Her mother, a world away in Montville, N.J., worries about her, but that’s nothing new. Her mother worried when Silverlieb made aliyah to Israel in 2012, when she spent time at a Jewish camp on a small Turkish island in the middle of the Bosphorus, and when she volunteered for six months in an Indian orphanage.

The ultimate adventurer, Silverlieb has always been audacious and relentless in following her passions. She was an actress for most of her life, pursuing her dream all the way to the Great White Way. After more auditions than she could count, she made it to Broadway as the female lead understudy for Disney’s “Tarzan.”

“I literally thought I’d die an old lady backstage in my dressing room,” Silverlieb said of her commitment to being a professional actress.

But in 2007, after “Tarzan” closed, Silverlieb’s brother, Sam, persuaded her to go on a Birthright Israel trip, which proved transformative. When she returned to New York and got back on the audition trail, her life didn’t make much sense anymore. It was time for a new dream.

Trusting her intuition and her heart, Silverlieb moved to Israel, where she quickly began to understand some of the reasons why she was drawn to the Jewish state. For her, tikkun olam (repairing the world) was a flag to rally behind. She sought a way to combine her performance background with her budding commitment to social justice.

Silverlieb has had to adjust to living in a developing nation, as well as its volcanic rumblings and cyclones.

After completing her master’s degree in international community development at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Silverlieb started to focus on international development. She supported Jewish communities in such places as Bulgaria, Greece and India through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and started working in the field with IsraAID after the 2016 Canadian wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

“I feel like I got really lucky,” she said. “I’ve always admired IsraAID’s work.”

A few months later, with two suitcases in hand, she was on her way to Vanuatu.

Silverlieb said she is inspired and humbled to “put my values into action through a Jewish and Israeli lens.”

She may be an international development professional by trade, but by nature she’s a true diplomat, proud to be an “ambassador” representing Israel and Jews in one of the most remote locales on the planet.

The people of Vanuatu put Israel on a pedestal, she said. “They’ve studied the Bible. They know it’s the Holy Land.”

For now, Silverlieb has signed on to continue her work in Vanuatu, despite being homesick for Israel every day — “the food, the culture, the little Hebrew I can speak, the holidays — you know, it’s just your home.”

In February, when she returns to Vanuatu, her husband will join her.

Then, maybe, her mother might worry a little bit less.

Photo courtesy of U.N. Watch

UN Watch Leader Faces a World of Challenges While Defending Israel


Hillel Neuer considers it a badge of honor that he is a “feared and dreaded” figure at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), as the European newspaper Tribune de Genève once described him.

“There are people who cross the street in Geneva to avoid me,” Neuer said. As executive director of UN Watch, a nonprofit that monitors United Nations activities, Neuer is both watchdog and whistleblower, holding world powers to account when it comes to their human rights records. A lawyer, activist and humanitarian, Neuer spoke with the Journal from Geneva, where he lives and works.

Jewish Journal: As head of UN Watch, you define yourself as “the voice of conscience at the United Nations.” What’s it like to be the guy defending democratic ideals in a room full of non-democratic countries?

Hillel Neuer: It often feels surreal. You ask yourself how bizarre is it that you need to state basic truths in an arena that is often Orwellian, where the worst criminals are often the prosecutors and the judges.

JJ: The U.N. Human Rights Council notoriously singles out Israel for violations even as far worse offenders go unchallenged. Where is this discrimination most evident?

HN: During a given meeting, you’ll have resolutions — maybe one on Iran, one on Myanmar, one on North Korea and then five on Israel. And it’s not just the numbers: When there is a resolution criticizing a country, the practice at the U.N. is to recognize and acknowledge various positive things [a country has done], whether they are justified or not. But when it comes to Israel, even though Israel has done many positive things, none of this ever appears in the resolutions. This is part of an attempt to portray Israel as so evil, nothing good can be said of it.

“I’m the most hated man at the United Nations. I get looks of death from a vast array of people.”

JJ: What is the motive for a non-Arab, non-Islamic country with no history of anti-Semitism to vote against Israel?

HN: The U.N. is a political body and many resolutions and elections are decided by vote trading. ‘You vote for me, I vote for you.’ So the Islamic states number 56 and they will go to some island state and say, ‘We will give you 56 votes for your issues and all you have to do is vote for our resolutions against Israel.’ … It’s realpolitik.

JJ: It sounds like the Arab and Islamic states have outsized power at the U.N.

HN: Since the 1973 war [when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, better known as OPEC] imposed an oil embargo, the Arab world has been clear that if you don’t do things they like, your country won’t have oil. Sovereign wealth funds from countries like Qatar have tens of billions of dollars they could invest in your country if you vote the way they want you to. There is also fear of terrorism. Some countries perceive that if they are too friendly to Israel, they will risk making themselves into a target for terrorist groups.

JJ: U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley has won many fans in the Jewish world for standing up for Israel at the U.N. What difference has she made?

HN: There’s been a moral clarity. She’s been forthright in calling out what she sees as plain bigotry and things that make no sense. Seeing her hand raised to veto [the recent Jerusalem resolution] was a very powerful moment. An iconic picture, I would say.

JJ: Is your credibility ever challenged because you’re Jewish?

HN: I’m the most hated man at the United Nations. I get looks of death from a vast array of people — dictatorships like China, Russia and Cuba because we bring their victims [to testify] very effectively and ambush them. But at the end of day, I don’t walk through life worrying what my handicaps are. We all have them.

JJ: As a human rights organization sworn to defend Israel, how do you address Israel’s offenses against the Palestinians?

HN: Even if I’m aware Israel has blots on its record, I’m going to speak out against human rights abuses in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Venezuela. That’s our role. We’re there to deal with the subjects not being dealt with. Israel has dozens of NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] that hold the [government and] IDF [Israel Defense Forces] to account. We fill the void in Geneva.

JJ: What could Israel do to help your work combatting the prejudice against it?

HN: On the day of [Israeli] elections a few years ago, I had given a speech telling the world to look at Israeli democracy in action, explaining that more Arabs than ever had been elected to the Knesset, etc. … And then [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu made that xenophobic statement, ‘Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves,’ which was unhelpful to me. And I told his government that immediately.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a press statement with French President (unseen) after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Mori/Pool

How Much Did the PA Pay Terrorists Last Year? Here Are the Numbers.


It has long been known that the Palestinian Authority (PA) funnels money to terrorists and their families as a financial incentive for terrorism, and now the exact figures for 2017 are known thanks to a report from Israel’s Defense Ministry.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Defense Ministry found that the PA paid terrorists and their families over $347 million in 2017. The minimum they provide is $580 per month for a terrorist sentenced to 3-5 years in prison. That number increases to $2,900 if a terrorist is sentenced to 20-35 years in prison. A terrorist earns extra money if they are married with children and if they reside in Israel.

By comparison, the average Israeli citizen earns $2,700 per month and the average Palestinian earns $580 per months, thereby showing that the PA is dangling money to entice Palestinians into committing acts of terror against Jews.

“The minute the amount of the payment is decided according to the severity of the crime and the length of the sentence – in other words, whoever murders and is sentenced to life in prison gets much more – that is funding terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “There is nothing that better illustrates the PA’s support for terrorism. We must stop this.”

To combat the PA’s funding of terrorism, Israel’s Defense Ministry is proposing a bill that would allow ministers to deduct tax revenue Israel provides to the PA based on how much the PA paid terrorists.

Read the full report here.

The official figures provided by the Defense Ministry isn’t too far off from The Algemeiner’s estimation that the PA paid $355 million to terrorists in 2017.

In December, the House of Representatives passed the Taylor Force Act, which states that the U.S. will cease funding the PA so long as they continue to provide funding to terrorists. The bill is expected to pass the Senate and President Trump will likely sign it if it reaches his desk.

Fatah Central Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmed recently declared that the PA would continue to fund terrorists and their families in spite of the threat of the U.S. threats of ending funding to the PA.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Report: UNICEF to Blacklist IDF Based On Info from Anti-Israel Groups


A new report is stating that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will be blacklisting the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) based on information fed to them from various anti-Israel organizations.

According to Fox News, UNICEF is funneling anti-Israel propaganda to the U.N. secretary-general in an attempt to put the IDF on a list of organizations that includes al-Qaeda and ISIS that violate the rights of children, a move that could result in sanctions.

The Fox News report highlighted writings from NGO Monitor stating that UNICEF provides “legitimacy to false and distorted claims made by the NGOs, which are fed through a UNICEF database to a variety of U.N. publications.”

“These publications do not note that the accusations originate with unqualified and partial activists, some from groups with alleged ties to terror organizations, or that they were not verified by credible independent bodies,” wrote NGO Monitor.

NGO Monitor pointed to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is designated as a terror organization by the State Department, and the Defense for Children-International Palestine, as examples of radically anti-Israel organizations that UNICEF receives its information from.

UNICEF disputed the notion that they were being given slanted information.

“The monitoring and reporting process is led by a working group, which brings together U.N. agencies and international, Israeli and Palestinian NGOs,” UNICEF’s spokesperson told Fox News. “These organizations are selected based on their ability to regularly provide accurate, reliable, impartial and objective data on children affected by armed conflict.”

Read the full report here.

According to U.N. Watch, UNICEF was one of 16 signatory U.N. agencies on a document stating that the U.N. would provide the Palestinians with at least $18 million for “legal recourse” against Israel.

Emanuel Goldberg in his workshop. Photo: Technische Sammlungen Dresden/Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst/Weltformat, Nachlass Emanuel Goldberg - Schenkung Familie Gichon, Israel

Saxony’s Lost Genius: Found


“I got accepted to the Leipzig University,” Eshchar Gichon, 25, enthusiastically announced at the start of the interview at a Berlin café.

His acceptance into Leipzig University—in this case its veterinary school—is particularly significant for Gichon. It’s part of the closing of a family circle that has just begun.

Leipzig University is the alma mater of Gichon’s great-grandfather, Emanuel Goldberg, who was one of the city’s most prominent professors, a pioneer in the field of optics, photography and information technology as head of the photographic department of the Royal Academy of Graphic Arts and Bookcraft (Leipzig Academy of Fine Arts). But after the war, his legacy was written out of Saxon history, in Leipzig and later in Dresden, where he served as the founding director of Zeiss-Ikon, a leading camera manufacturer under his leadership. Had he stayed, he might have become the “Steve Jobs” or “Bill Gates” of Germany.

“We grew up on stories on him being the director of Zeiss Ikon and all the regular facts about how he was basically a genius,” Gichon said. Gichon moved to Berlin two years ago to study, redeeming benefits of German citizenship due him by virtue of his German lineage. He didn’t expect to be involved in a renaissance of his great-grandfather’s legacy.

Goldberg’s ideas, gadgets, equipment, and inventions were recently on display at “Emanuel Goldberg: The Architect of Knowledge,” an exhibition that opened last March at the Technische Sammlungen Dresden, the site of the former Zeiss-Ikon headquarters. His inventions include a “search engine” (his “statistical machine”–a Google forerunner), and a portable video camera (his “Kinamo”–a FlipCam forerunner).

The process of rediscovery was triggered by Emanuel Goldberg and His Knowledge Machine, a 2006 biography written by Berkeley professor, Michael Buckland.

“It’s hard now to explain how thoroughly Goldberg had disappeared,” Buckland said via e-mail. “From being internationally famous to being almost totally erased outside of Israel. I found doing detective work on Goldberg fascinating in many different ways: he had a most interesting and adventurous life; he did clever things; there is much human interest in his story. Not only was the accepted history of information retrieval seriously incomplete without him, but there was an ethical consideration. He deserved to be remembered, not forgotten.”

Goldberg’s was the classic success-story of a self-made man. Born in Czarist Russia in 1881, Jewish quotas at Russian universities prompted him to leave and study and eventually teach in Leipzig. In 1917, he moved to Dresden, the camera capital of Germany, to eventually found Zeiss Ikon.

In 1933, Nazi stormtroopers marched into the Zeiss Ikon offices armed with pistols and abducted him. Zeiss Ikon negotiated his release and demoted him to the company’s Paris branch. In 1936, the company “bought him out” by having him sign a “non-competition” agreement barring him from competitive activity. His successor was a Nazi, and Zeiss Ikon gradually declined since.

Goldberg rejected an offer to work in the United States alongside Kenneth Mees, the respected founder of the famous Kodak Research Laboratory, to instead move to Palestine in 1937, applying his R&D skills to developing military tools—like compasses and binoculars–to assist the British against the Nazis and later, the Haganah. Goldberg died in Israel in 1970, an Israel Prize Laureate recognized for his contributions in founding ElOp, the optics branch of Elbit, Israel’s publicly traded electronics defense company.

It was only until the 250th anniversary celebrations of Leipzig’s Academy of Fine Arts that Goldberg’s story got retold in the city. As part of a school contest, students were challenged to do research projects on the school’s past professors. Student René Patzwaldt chose Goldberg and contacted his progeny in Israel.

“He did this by sending my grandmother a message on Facebook,” Gichon recalled. “My grandmother had a Facebook account, and he sent a message. We saw the message three months after he sent it. My cousin checked the account and saw the message, and that’s when everything started. We invited him to Israel, he interviewed my grandmother, my grandmother showed him some artifacts of Emanuel Goldberg, and he wrote the project. His project won the competition.”

The Academy of Fine Arts joined forces with Berlin’s Technical University to assemble the exhibition with the Technische Sammlungen Dresden. According to the museum’s director, Roland Schwarz, the exhibition constituted the first time that Zeiss contributed financially to the museum. The exhibition marks a major turning point for Dresden. In 1995, when Buckland first visited the museum for research, the senior staff hadn’t even heard of him.

“If he would’ve continued, we would’ve said the inventor of the computer was Emanuel Goldberg,” said Schwarz from the exhibition grounds.

The exhibition closed in late September, and Schwarz is not sure if it will travel in the near future. Israeli museums he contacted did not express interest. Goldberg’s children (including Gichon’s grandmother, Chava) passed away less than two years before the exhibition opening.

Eshchar Gichon, Emanuel Goldberg’s great grandson

“Luckily, the family decided to transfer the estate of Emanual Goldberg to the museum collection,” Schwarz said. These include his beloved metal lathe that he took to Paris and later to his workshop in Tel Aviv. The 5th floor of the museum will be named after Goldberg, and a section about him will be included in the permanent exhibition.

From the exhibition floor, the house Goldberg designed and built could be seen from the window, near the city’s cable car, and the human story of success and tragedy interests Gichon more than his intellectual achievements. He visited the house on the invitation of its owner and together they are working to install a “stolper steiner” commemorating him.

“We always said, if he would’ve stayed, he probably would’ve been world-famous,” Gichon said. “He would’ve risen high up in the company, and my uncles always said he would’ve won a Nobel Prize.”

This article was originally published in German in the Juedische Rundschau. Orit Arfa is an American-Israeli journalist based in Berlin. Her latest novel, Underskin, is a modern German-Israeli love story whose male protagonist is from Dresden. www.oritarfa.net

Photo from Pixabay.

The App That BDS Fears


Pro-Israel advocates who are fed up with the rhetoric from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement now have a tool they can use to fight BDS: the Act.IL app.

The app, a joint project by the Israeli-American Council (IAC), Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) and Maccabee Task Force, notifies users when Israel is being criticized online and provides them with the opportunity to fight back against it. For instance, the app notified the pro-Israel community of an image posted in a pro-BDS Facebook group that compared Zionists to insects that Facebook initially refused to remove when someone reported it.

“Within a few hours, hundreds of people sent this report to Facebook and by the morning, they said this post was removed,” IAC CEO Shoham Nicolet told the Journal. “This is an example where you have an individual trying to act, the power of individual is very limited. When you have crowds and audiences walking together, a community suddenly becomes a lot more effective.”

Another example of the app’s usage was when it suggested that people criticize a business that wouldn’t serve Israelis on Facebook, causing the business’s rating to decline from a 4.6 star rating to a 1.4 rating out of 5.

“The cutting edge idea is really to have a connected community that is all across the U.S. and in Israel that is fighting for Israel,” said Nicolet.

The app has already made enough waves to cause BDS to mention in a recent fundraising post on Facebook how the app’s “Situation Room” disrupted a pro-BDS webinar.

“This ‘Situation Room’ was funded by right-wing mogul and avid Trump supporter Sheldon Adelson, a man who has pledged $50 million to fight BDS on US campuses alone,” the post read. “Paid trolls littered our accounts with vile racism, racial incitement, Islamophobic and baseless anti-Palestinian propaganda.”

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan also gave the app a shout-out back in February.

“I am initiating an international effort to unite Israel’s supporters around the globe and provide them with a platform that strengthens their activities, with tools that will help all of us fight hatred together, and with resources to spread the truth,” said Erdan. “As part of the campaign, we will provide Israel’s supporters with videos, graphics, articles and content. Along with civil society initiatives such as the Act.il application developed by Israeli-American Council (IAC) and IDC students, we believe that this will be a game-changer in defending Israel online and around the world.”

The current version of the app has a 4.5 out of 5 star rating in iTunes.

Nicolet credited the app’s success to the fact there is such a robust, organic grassroots activism in Israel and the U.S. dedicated to defending the Jewish state.

“This is exactly where online technologies can really build bridges and really close the gap between Israel and the U.S. and the Jewish people in both sides of the ocean,” said Nicolet.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Israel Bans 20 BDS Groups from the Country


Israel is fighting back against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement by banning 20 groups that are involved with the movement.

Among the groups that are banned include Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Code Pink and Friends of al-Aqsa (FOA). The full list can be seen below:

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan declared in a statement that the move reflected how Israel has “moved from defense to attack” and called out the BDS movement for spreading “false propaganda.”

“No country would allow visitors who arrive to harm the country to enter it and certainly not when their goal is to wipe out Israel as a Jewish country,” said Erdan.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri denounced BDS for “trying to exploit the law and our hospitality in order to act against Israel and to defame the country.”

“I will act against this in every way,” said Deri.

The groups that are banned from the country are not pleased about it.

“By waging an all-out intelligence, propaganda and legal war on the peaceful BDS movement for Palestinian rights and by now banning international human rights organizations and advocates from entry, Israel’s desperate and brutal attempts to weaken support for BDS are already backfiring,” Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of BDS, told the Washington Post.

“Clearly, the Israeli government is very aware that increasing numbers of Jews and all people worldwide support the BDS movement, and are seeking to intimidate and coerce us into silence,” JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson wrote in a Haaretz op-ed. “It will not work. JVP members have no doubt about the justice of fighting for equality and freedom for all people in Israel/Palestine, and the legitimacy and efficacy of BDS to bring that day closer.”

The irony of such complaints from pro-BDS groups was not lost on some:

Judith Butler Plans a Stealth MLA Presidency


The Modern Language Association (MLA), the largest academic discipline-based faculty organization in the US has been debating resolutions to boycott Israel or its universities since 2007. I have been involved in fighting this movement both then and since. In 2017 this all came to a head, with competing boycott and anti-boycott resolutions up for debate. The resolution recommending boycotting Israeli universities was defeated in January, and a resolution prohibiting future boycott resolutions was overwhelmingly endorsed by the organization’s members in June 2017. But the diehard opponents of a Jewish state have continued to press their cause, hoping to influence students and faculty members throughout the humanities. Two of the long-term faculty supporters of the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment) movement in the humanities are Judith Butler (Berkeley) and David Palumbo-Liu (Stanford). Butler, sadly, is herself Jewish. She achieved international fame for her innovative work on gender. Her hostility to Israel is more recent but is both fierce and unusual, and she is perhaps the most influential  BDS supporter in the US. This essay reports on the effort to resuscitate the BDS movement at the annual MLA meeting this January, focusing on a group planning and strategy meeting falsely promoted as an academic discussion of the issues involved.

“This is not the kind of MLA I want. I want an MLA that will support a boycott resolution, and now I just don’t know if I will get that MLA,” so declared a graduate student attending a widely publicized January 5 event held at New York University during the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting. Headlined “MLA Vote for Justice in Palestine” with MLA in large block letters imitating an official logo, the meeting notice listed several “MLA Co-sponsors,” including Arabic Languages, Literature, and Culture; Race and Ethnicity Forum; and West Asia Languages, Literatures and Cultures. Set to run from 7:30 to 9pm, it billed itself as “free and open to the public. Nonmembers and members of MLA are welcome. No registration required.”

Expecting a series of presentations from the front of the room, with an audience in rows, I decided to attend. My taxi was late, after struggling in the snow for 45 minutes, so I arrived as things were already under way. I walked into a group of 35 to 40 people in a layered circle. As I entered, people looked up, and Judith Butler declared, “Cary, did you make a mistake and come to the wrong place?” I replied “No, I intended to come, perhaps irrationally.” “Well, it’s still a free country, isn’t it?” she remarked. I allowed as how the US president didn’t seem to want it to remain one, foolishly hoping to lighten the atmosphere. She offered me a seat next to her, announcing “Do you really want to sit here?” to the group. I said it was fine.

Those of us who had arrived late were asked to continue the process of introducing ourselves and explaining why we had come. I said that I supported a two-state solution, but opposed BDS because I believed boycotts of Israel would not promote peace, but I was interested in getting a better understanding of how others felt. Immediately a hostile speaker from across the room challenged me with “So you’re interested in our feelings, but not our ideas?” I said I was interested in both. The idea that I was simply to be part of an audience now seemed a distant misreading.

Someone said “You should leave’ and Butler immediately proposed a vote to make that a group decision. Several others quickly supported her and repeated the demand for me to leave. Butler continued: “Will you honor a vote to tell you to leave?” Not answering her directly, I said it was supposed to be an open public meeting. People said that didn’t matter. They were young and vulnerable and I might take down their names and institutions and retaliate against them. After all, I was a person of power. Exactly what power no one volunteered to say. I pointed out I had defended grad students and contingent faculty for decades and had never criticized one by name. I assured people I was interested in hearing ideas. Butler then concluded I was refusing to honor a vote demanding I leave, so they would just have to proceed as best they could. Honest discussion would be impossible with a Zionist in the room.

I hadn’t realized she would be running the meeting, not simply headlining it. She declared that she had several ideas she had wanted to share about how to move the BDS agenda forward in the MLA, but felt it was not safe to do so with me in the room. She clearly understood she would need a neutral persona while serving as MLA president in two years but wanted to strategize with her BDS cohort behind the scenes. She would be posturing as principled in office while quietly working to scuttle the 2017 MLA resolution against academic boycotts. She urged people to contact her after the meeting and told them there would likely be funds to bring some of them out to Berkeley to consult with her.

Although half the hour was spent challenging and berating me, the core strategy Butler and the other senior member there, David Palumbo-Lio of Stanford, were using was nonetheless clear. After more than a decade of debating anti-Israel resolutions, MLA members had their fill. In June 2017 they voted by a 2-1 margin to bar further academic boycott resolutions. MLA’s Executive Director Rosemary Feal immediately pointed out that nothing prevented a vote on a resolution to overturn the 2017 vote, but the BDSers preferred to ignore this option, as it was clear they would lose such a contest. Unwilling to see themselves as a radical fringe group indulging in sour grapes complaints, they were left with one way to explain their loss: as they asserted repeatedly this evening, they were cheated.

“All we wanted was a level playing field,” Palumbo-Liu declared, “but we didn’t get one.” Incredibly, he revived his 2014 accusation that MLA Members for Scholar’s Rights had obtained outside Zionist funding to copy the email addresses of 20,000 MLA members. He was well aware of my public reply at the time because he responded to it: I had paid a student $650 to gather the emails. I didn’t need to contact Baron Rothschild for funds through a seance. But now he lied and complained I never answered him, even though he answered my reply, just as he lied recently in claiming he had run for the MLA Executive Council on an explicit BDS platform. In fact he had run on a stealth platform claiming he was seeking to help grad students and never mentioned Israel.

Members had only received pro-boycott materials, and we wanted them to hear our case. The MLA refused to distribute our anti-boycott dossier. We used the same emails once more in 2017. Palumbo-Liu and Butler both insisted this was unethical, despite MLA assuring members we had followed the rules. Butler incredibly added that the 2017 resolution violated the US Constitution by supposedly restricting speech. Of course speech in 800 MLA sessions was unrestricted, as was anything else anyone wanted to say from sea to shining sea. Members had democratically voted to stop squabbling about Israel and instead focus on humanities disciplines in crisis and exploited academic labor. But for a BDS disciple like Palumbo-Liu that was a cowardly distraction. Seeing it as the only hope for a newspaper headline he resigned from MLA’s Executive Council in January, absurdly protesting that his academic freedom had been violated.

What Butler and Palumbo-Liu managed to do this evening was to convince a group of young faculty and students that only a corrupt conspiracy could have defeated them in their effort to demonize the Jewish state. Their opponents were unethical and unscrupulous. At the end, Butler turned and pointed to me to conclude: “We need to overcome those who are dedicated to making the fight unfair.”


Cary Nelson is Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an Affiliated Faculty member at the University of Haifa. His most recent book is Dreams Deferred: A Concise Guide to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Movement to Boycott Israel.

Trip to Israel Gives Television Star Insight Into Middle East’s Complex Politics


Actress Michaela Watkins — whose resume includes Hulu’s “Casual,” ABC’s “Trophy Wife,” Amazon’s “Transparent” and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” — recently returned from a tour of Israel to news of a wildfire threatening her home in Ojai. After the winds shifted and her house was spared, Watkins, 46, spoke to the Journal about the fire, the trip — run by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project — and about how she’s hoping to make an impact in today’s world.

Jewish Journal: What’s next for Ojai after the fire?

Michaela Watkins: The town is preserved, but there’s a lot of damage. We need to figure out how to show gratitude to every single cop and firefighter. I feel more connected to Ojai than I did before. We’re there for the long haul.

JJ: Did you have any hesitations about the trip to Israel before you went?

MW: I’m not aligned with [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, so I wondered, how do I go and support this country? My husband was brilliant: [He said,] “You need to go because a lot of people feel the same as you, and you need to go and look people in the eye.” If we’re ever going to get anywhere, we have to continue to travel and look in the eyes of other people and remember that we all want peace and to love and be loved.

“The trip was like an Israel sampler; I have to come back and order off the main menu.”

JJ: What were your impressions of Israel?

MW: There’s tension, beauty and so much history. … What they’re doing on a technology level is so innovative, and it’s so archaic and untouched and preserved. The elegance of those worlds leaning against each other, the way that they’re woven together, is splendid and not like any country I’ve ever visited.

The trip was like an Israel sampler; I have to come back and order off the main menu. I have to come back and do Yad Vashem again, to sit and commune with nightmares. I was very moved by it and fascinated by reflections of what was going on then duplicated in our current state of affairs. … I need to go back to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem more — experience more of the food situation, which is bananas good.

JJ: How has your trip enriched your understanding of Middle East politics?

MW: There’s such a complexity to Israel. You go to Yad Vashem and you think, “Give Jews whatever they need because what befell the Jews in Europe was so horrific that, of course, they should have a place for them to be in charge of themselves.” At the same time, I feel that if we learn nothing else from the Holocaust, we learn that oppression is wrong. [But] near the Lebanon border, [where] doctors feel they have one job — to save life no matter whose life it is — that raises the moral vibration and I hope everyone else gets on board. At the same time, I understand that there are people who don’t think they have a right to even exist. You have to defend your life, and it’s hard to hold all of those things.

JJ: In this news whiplash society, what issues are you most concerned about?

MW: Promoting women’s voices, especially women of color and LGBTQ. And after this last week, I think, how can we have a government that’s so dumb about climate change? This is the [biggest] fire in California history. The focus of everything should be clean air and water and food …

We need women in power positions. I think Harvey Weinstein could get by with horrible behavior because there’s not any agency in all of L.A. where half of the board members or shareholders are women. We need to change the landscape of power. If we don’t change male toxicity, take away assumed privilege and entitlement, then the environment is not going to change.

JJ: You put a note in the Western Wall, wishing for world peace. If you had two more notes, what would you wish for?

MW: That chocolate is the panacea for everlasting youth. And that my husband and I have a long, happy, healthy, romantic relationship together, forever and forever.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Oh, Lorde


It’s a good thing Jews don’t celebrate Christmas, because this last one would have been thoroughly spoiled.

’Twas the night before said holiday when 21-year-old New Zealand-born pop star Lorde, a Grammy-winning artist, succumbed to pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and canceled her Tel Aviv concert planned for later this year.

“I pride myself on being an informed young citizen, and I had done a lot of reading and sought a lot of opinions before deciding to book a show in Tel Aviv, but I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one,” the singer said in a statement.

Lorde’s acquiescence to the forceful politics of BDS was a blow to Jewish and Israeli morale, prompting defenders of Israel to respond with rebuke.

Instead of lobbing attacks and insults, what if defenders of Israel encouraged Lorde to perform for her fans to
promote reconciliation and peace?

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev offered a slyly mocking appeal to the young musician, urging her to reverse her decision. “I’m hoping you can be a ‘pure heroine,’ like the title of your first album,” Regev said in a statement. “[B]e a heroine of pure culture, free from any foreign — and ridiculous — political considerations.”

But asking an artist to be free of political considerations when it comes to the most loaded conflict in the world is naïve and shortsighted. The current generation of young people is the most interconnected in human history, and as a result, deeply socially conscious. Many of them are eager to integrate their values into the decisions they make. Besides, how can you insist a celebrity with a worldwide following divest herself of what happens in the world?

You can’t.

Regev’s statement isn’t the worst offense committed by a lover of Israel in defending the Jewish state. That accolade belongs to The World Values Network, led by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who on New Year’s Day took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post shaming and defaming Lorde for bowing to BDS pressure.

The ad states, “21 is young to become a bigot.” At the center of the ad is Lorde, superimposed on a split-screen background that features two contrasting images: In one, men clutch babies to their chests as they run from a scene of total destruction. In the other, beautiful buildings of Jerusalem stone stand tall and proud, topped by Israeli flags. “Lorde and New Zealand ignore Syria to attack Israel,” the ad declares.

Lorde certainly doesn’t deserve any credit for heroism. As the ad suggests, she schmeissed Israel while proceeding to perform in countries with far worse records. If her aim is to take a stand against countries with stained human rights histories, she’d best cancel other stops on her tour, starting with Russia. President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea was a strutting display of anti-democratic expansionism and his autocratic tactics at home are equally treacherous. According to Human Rights Watch, “Today, Russia is more repressive than it has ever been in the post-Soviet era.”

Because she is young and inexperienced, Lorde is not worthy of our scorn.

But if Boteach and others think politicized assaults on a global superstar are the way to “win” against BDS, they’re mistaken. The language of Boteach’s ad is mean-spirited and offensive, and will only further alienate the pop star and her millions of fans. How does that serve Israel?

Instead of lobbing attacks and insults, what if defenders of Israel encouraged Lorde to perform for her fans, and perhaps use her platform, to promote reconciliation and peace? What if Regev had offered to help facilitate an additional concert in the West Bank for Palestinian fans? What if the message was inviting and encouraging instead of angry and denigrating?

BDS has failed to intimidate musicians into not performing in Israel far more than it has succeeded. Fighting the nasty fight only makes Israel — and us — look foolish, spiteful and, worst of all, guilty.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Lorde in a pose that will NOT be captured in Israel. Credit: Liliane Callegari - Flickr: Lorde @ Lollapalooza 2014

Seriously, Lorde?!


2017 was the springtime for international concerts in Israel. With artists like Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Aerosmith, Daddy Yankee and Radiohead making Tel-Aviv one of their tour stops, it seemed as if the world has finally and officially dismissed the BDS movement and the pillars of lies it stands upon.

 

But then came the announcement that Lorde has backed down from her Tel-Aviv concert scheduled to take place in June, and ruined everything…

 

According to the official announcement, the music star said that “the right decision at this time” was to cancel her concert, scheduled earlier this month for June in Tel Aviv. “I pride myself on being an informed young citizen, and I had done a lot of reading and sought a lot of opinions before deciding to book a show in Tel Aviv.” But after having “lots of discussions” about the matter, “I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one” in first scheduling the concert.

 

And then, just like that, she took us back a few years, to the darkest of times in our international cultural relationships, when the BDS movement was at its prime.

 

Is this about who screams the loudest? Because if so, then we definitely don’t stand a chance in this battle. BDS has the loudest voice, but it’s also because they shout catchy slogans and avoid the truth. Speaking about the complicated reality we live in takes a softer voice, and requires a lot of patience. But being the “instant generation” we are, we prefer the issues of the world being presented to us in short, simple sentences.

 

This makes “Israel is an Apartheid state” easier to follow than “we live in a conflicted area, where one side has declared independence 70 years ago but the other side insists on owning the exact same territory. The Palestinians live under the Palestinian Authority governance and Israeli Arabs enjoy equal rights in Israel. However, the Palestinian demand for the Israeli territories lead to terrorism and violence, which requires Israel to stiffen border checks from Palestinian Territories into Israel, and sometimes, when missiles are being fired from Gaza to Israel – to fight back.”

 

Even this paragraph doesn’t cover the tip of the iceberg, but it’s long enough for people to move along to a simpler messaging.

 

The responses to Lorde’s cancellation were definitely heard. People tried, in more or less polite ways, to explain to her just how ridiculous her decision is, and how ignorant it is to cancel a concert based on something she heard and didn’t like. But sadly, it’s easier to fall into gorey rhetoric and definite statements about murder and apartheid than it is to do some reading.

Hebrew meme saying (from top right): “Thanks. for not. listening. to lies. NOT YOU. and came. to perform. in Israel)
By: Bar Elmaliach

Honestly, there’s nothing more frustrating than knowing the truth and seeing someone falling for lies. Hey, Lorde! Think there might be an apartheid regime here? Come and see for yourself. Or ask any of your musician friends who were here in recent years (like Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Rihanna or Elton John.)

 

Want to take action in promoting peace in the region? Perform and have ads posted in Arabic as well as in Hebrew, like Robbie Williams did.

 

Besides, isn’t music about bringing people together, not deepening conflicts? Isn’t music about people, not countries? After all, you did chose to maintain your concerts in Russia, where the anti-LGBT “Gay Propaganda Law” has recently been denounced.

 

I believe Creative Community for Peace put it best in saying: “Artists should never become beholden to the political views of a small but loud minority. … Lorde became the target of that wrath, and we’re deeply disappointed that rather than rebuff the boycott movement and follow in the footsteps of Radiohead, Nick Cave, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, and many other artists who have chosen to build #BridgesNotBoycotts, she canceled her show.”

 

So Lorde, if you’re reading this, know that instead of taking us forward, you took our entire society a mile backwards. And yes, even though I believe you naively fell for deception and lies, shame IS on you.

Photo from Flickr/nrkbeta.

CNN Anchor Hammers U.N. for Anti-Israel Bias


CNN anchor Jake Tapper criticized the United Nations for being biased against Israel in a segment on Thursday, as he blasted various countries for criticizing Israel despite having “questionable records.”

Tapper began his segment by summarizing the U.N.’s vote to condemn the Trump administration’s Jerusalem move by a margin of 128 votes in favor of the condemnation, nine against and 35 abstentions. The anchor proceeded to review the records of some of the countries who voted to condemn the move, starting with Venezuela.

“The U.S. imperils global peace, says the representative of Venezuela, a country in a humanitarian disaster,” said Tapper, “with violence in the streets, an economy in complete collapse, citizens malnourished, dying children being turned away from hospitals, starving families joining street gangs to scrounge for food.”

“On what moral platform does the government of Venezuela stand today?” asked Tapper.

Tapper also noted the irony of Syria and Yemen condemning the U.S. despite the fact that their citizens have been ravished by the civil wars plaguing each country, as well as other countries like Myanmar, North Korea and China condemning the move despite their heinous human rights abuses.

The anchor proceeded to highlight some statistics from U.N. Watch reflecting the U.N.’s bias against Israel.

“The United Nations General Assembly from 2012-2015 has adopted 97 resolutions specifically criticizing an individual country, and of those 97, 83 of them have focused on Israel,” said Tapper. “That is 86%.”

Tapper added, “Certainly Israel is not above criticism, but considering the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the lack of basic human rights in North Korea, the children starving in the streets of Venezuela, the citizens of Syria targeted for murder by their own leader using the most grotesque and painful weapons, you have to ask, is Israel is deserving of 86% of the world’s condemnation?”

“Or possibly is something else afoot at the United Nations? Something that allows the representative of the Assad government lecture the United States for moving its embassy.”

The full segment can be seen below:

Tova and Akiva Dworkin were married in Jerusalem in 2016. Photo by Sara Fefer.

Couples Say ‘I Do’ — in Israel


In 1986, Nomie Azoff stood under the chuppah in the Laromme Hotel in Jerusalem. Nearly 500 friends and family members were there to witness her union with Alan Azoff.

The hotel, which overlooks the Western Wall, is in the center of town, and the scene was breathtaking.

“We were in the heart of everything in Jerusalem, where the modern and the biblical meet. We were surrounded by at least 5,000 years of history. It was magic. You can’t find that anywhere else,” said Nomie, a native of Morocco who met her husband, a Californian, in Israel, where her family moved when she was 8.

Many Los Angeles couples have made the choice to get married in Israel. They do it because they have a connection to the Holy Land or because they were living there at the time. It is cheaper to hold a ceremony and party there, and for many couples, more meaningful.

Despite the language and cultural differences and the stress of dealing with the rabbinate, local couples decided that it is worth the sacrifices to have the weddings of their dreams.

Drew Alyeshmerni Leach of San Pedro married her husband Jason Leach in an event hall in Jaffa on New Year’s Eve 2015. The two wanted to have their wedding in Israel because, she said, it was a strong part of their lives and identities.

“Being able to make that unity in the land of Israel was something we are so privileged to be able to do at this time,” she said. “For thousands of years we didn’t have autonomy. To be able to go to the place where we are from and build the foundations of our future family was really special.”

Alyeshmerni Leach said she and her husband hosted nearly 200 people, ate delicious catered food and had “a fairy tale wedding on the coast of the Mediterranean,” for a third of the cost it would have been in the United States.

“I did a little bargaining,” she said. “But everything was so affordable that I didn’t really have to do much.”

Another bride, Tova Dworkin of Burbank, said she spent $25,000 — about the same amount that Alyeshmerni Leach budgeted for — and had a fancy wedding in Jerusalem on Jan. 11, 2016.

“The food, the band, the hall, the flowers and the decorations were [less expensive than in the U.S.]. It was a lot cheaper to have a kosher wedding there,” she said.

To be able to go to the place where we are from and build the foundations of our future family was really special.” — Drew Alyeshmerni Leach

She and her husband, Akiva Dworkin, hosted 350 people, including family members, friends, community members who had invited them over to sleep and eat meals, and students from their respective seminaries and yeshivas.

“It was the most special thing, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Tova said. “It made the holiest day of your life even more holy because it was in the holy city. We took pictures outside the Old City with Jerusalem stone in the background. It was a very powerful experience.”

Since the couple had some trouble with the language barrier, they found an American wedding planner in Israel to help out. “She made the process so much easier, finding us the perfect vendors, negotiating prices with them, and just generally making sure everything ran smoothly leading up to and on our wedding day,” Dworkin said.

Understanding Hebrew was not an issue for Gabriella Zigi of West Hills, who got married at the port of Tel Aviv in 2009. She had been living in Israel at the time, teaching English and finishing her undergraduate degree, when she met her Israeli husband, Haim Zigi, there.

“We did the wedding at sunset, so you could see the sun setting over the Mediterranean,” she said. “Then we went inside, and it was like a club. We danced
all night.”

Although the California native grew up going to the Conservative synagogue Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, in Israel the rabbinate oversees weddings and makes sure all the ceremonies are technically Orthodox. The couple found a more lenient Orthodox rabbi who allowed the bride to say out loud the vows she wrote. “It was very special,” she said.

Jason and Drew Alyeshmerni Leach married in Jaffa in 2015. Photo courtesy of Drew Alyeshmerni Leach

The rabbinate also posed a problem for the Azoffs, who live in Westlake Village. It wanted to know whether Alan, who met his wife while touring as an oboe player, was Jewish. (He is.) But Alan didn’t understand Hebrew, and he had to answer private questions in front of strangers to prove his Jewish identity.

“Alan just saw a bunch of bearded men speaking Hebrew,” his wife said. “It was a big deal and caused a little bit of a challenge.”

But the final result was worth it — for everyone.

Both of their families made a big effort to attend the wedding because it was in Israel. Their relatives flew in from France, Morocco, England, Spain, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Belgium.

“No other wedding before that in the family included all the brothers and sisters, let alone the husbands, wives, nephews and nieces,” Nomie said. “There was never a wedding in my family before or after that where everyone was able to come.”

The rainy season in Israel put a damper on the Leach wedding, but the couple took it all in stride. “It rained the heaviest downpour of the season that night,” Alyeshmerni Leach said. “But it ended up being a blessing. No one could leave. There was a storm brewing outside and we were safe and cozy inside. A year later, we had to go back to Israel and get dressed again and retake our wedding photos.”

Despite a few issues here and there, Alyeshmerni Leach had a great experience holding her wedding in Israel.

“It was magical,” she said. “Getting married there was a way for us to unite our families and become a couple in the land where we all began.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during the United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including Palestine, at U.N. Headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

U.N. Denounces Trump’s Jerusalem Move in Vote


The United Nations voted on a resolution to condemn President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The resolution passed by a margin of 128 in favor and 9 against, with 35 abstentions and 21 countries that didn’t vote at all. The nine countries who voted against the resolution were the United States, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Tongo, Honduras, Guatemala ans Palau. Among those voted in favor of the resolution included Britain, France, Germany and Turkey, and Canada and Mexico were among those that abstained.

Here is the full record of how each country voted:

Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the U.N., had some sharp words for the U.N.

“The United States will remember this day, in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation,” said Haley. “We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.”

Haley also pointed out that the U.S. “is by far the single largest contributor to the U.N.” and suggested that their funding to the U.N. could be reduced or withdrawn altogether in light of the vote.

“When we make generous contributions to the UN, we also have a legitimate expectation that our goodwill is recognize and respected,” said Haley. “When a nation is singled out for attack in this organization, that nation is disrespected. What’s more, that nation is asked to pay for the privilege of being disrespected. In the case of the US, we are asked to pay more than anyone else for that dubious privilege.”

Haley also criticized the U.N. as being “a hostile place for the state of Israel.”

“It’s a wrong that undermines the credibility of this institution and that, in turn, is harmful for the entire world,” said Haley.

Haley made it clear in her speech that the vote will not deter the U.S. from moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, Trump suggested that the U.S. could reduce funding to countries that voted in favor of the resolution.

“They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us,” said Trump. “Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also criticized the vote, blasting the U.N. as “the house of lies.” Netanyahu also thanked Trump, Haley and the countries that voted with Israel.

Journal columnist Ben Shapiro pointed out on Twitter that Thursday’s vote is in line with the U.N.’s record of anti-Israel bias:

 

A general view of Jerusalem's Old City shows the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in the foreground as the Dome of the Rock, located on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, is seen in the background December 10, 2017. Picture taken December 10, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

My Reform Colleagues Were Wrong on Jerusalem


We were wrong.

As Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky pointed out, “The Reform response to the recognition of Jerusalem was terrible. When … a superpower recognizes Jerusalem, first you … welcome it, then offer disagreement. Here it was the opposite.”

Sharansky was referring to the Dec. 5 statement issued by all 16 North American Reform organizations and affiliates in response to President Donald Trump’s declaration recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The operative clause reads: “While we share the President’s belief that the U.S. Embassy should, at the right time, be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we cannot support his decision to begin preparing that move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process.”

There have been several attempts to clarify this position, but not by all of the original signatories. It is still the official position of the entire North American apparatus of the Reform movement. If our movement’s affiliates have had a change of heart, all of them should say it through another statement: “We made a mistake.”

If not, and if we still stand by our original statement, I want the Jewish world to know that this position is not my position, nor does it reflect the views of multitudes of, perhaps most, Reform Jews.

We were wrong on the politics. With the exception of one small hard-left party, there is wall-to-wall agreement among the Zionist parties in the Knesset supporting the embassy move. We have alienated the very people who support and defend us in our campaign for religious pluralism and equitable funding. Sharansky himself is the most dogged and prominent supporter of the Western Wall compromise.

More important, we were wrong on the merits. We have yearned for Jerusalem for two millennia. It is the source of our strength, the place where our people were formed, where the Bible was written. Jews lived free and made pilgrimage to Jerusalem for a thousand years. Our national existence changed the world and led to the creation of two other great faiths.

The world’s superpower finally did the right thing, and we opposed it — not on the principle, but on the “timing.” The timing? Now is not the right time? Two thousand years later and it is still not the right time? As if there is a peace process that the Palestinians are committed to and pursuing with conviction.

There were critics who accused the civil rights movement of moving too quickly. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s response: “The time is always ripe to do what is right.”

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, King wrote: “For years now I have
heard the word ‘wait’ … that [our] action … is untimely. This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see that justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

King often reminded us that time is neutral, that it can be used constructively or destructively. Israel’s opponents have used time more effectively than we have. They have so distorted history that so many around the world question the
very legitimacy of Jewish ties to Zion and Jerusalem. We have neglected teaching and conveying, even to our own children, our millennia-old love affair with the Land of Israel and Jerusalem as its beating heart.

Judaism without Eretz Yisrael is not Judaism. Judaism without Jerusalem is not Judaism.

This is not to deny that others consider Jerusalem holy. It is not to deny that the Palestinians seek Jerusalem as their capital. I am in favor of two states for two peoples. For that to happen, some kind of accommodation on Jerusalem will be necessary. If and when it occurs, I will support it.

But let no one be fooled. Peace will never rise on foundations of sand. Any agreement will collapse under the weight of its own inconsistencies if constructed on a scaffolding of lies.

President Trump simply acknowledged reality. It is about time. It should have been done decades ago, in 1949, when Israel declared Jerusalem its capital. Many presidents — Democrats and Republicans — promised to move the U.S. Embassy.

The embassy will be in West Jerusalem. Who contests West Jerusalem? President Trump did not pre-empt the eventual borders of Jerusalem. He did not preclude a permanent status agreement. He simply acknowledged a fact. Where do people meet Israeli prime ministers, presidents, parliamentarians and Supreme Court
justices — in Tel Aviv? Where did Anwar Sadat speak when he wanted to
convey on behalf of the Egyptian people a message of peace to Israelis: Tel Aviv?

The embassy will be in West Jerusalem. Who contests West Jerusalem? President Trump did not pre-empt the eventual borders of Jerusalem. He did not preclude a permanent status agreement. He simply acknowledged a fact.

It is for each country to declare its own capital. What other nation declares a capital unrecognized by the nations of the world? What kind of special abuse is reserved for the Jewish nation?

At the same time, it is proper and necessary for us to remind ourselves and others that we are committed to a two-state solution that will require territorial compromises from both sides, including in Jerusalem. We should continue to urge the American government to help bring about a negotiated peace.

We also should urge the international community to disabuse the Palestinian national movement of its exaggerated expectations and its insidious efforts to undermine and erase our connection to Zion. Until that happens, peace is an illusion.


Ammiel Hirsch is senior rabbi of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York. 

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Jerusalem Move Blows Up Mideast Myths


Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump made what was, according to the media, a cataclysmic decision: He declared that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, and that the United States would move its embassy there.

This move, we heard, was unprecedented and dangerous. It was supposed to launch a massive terror campaign against Israel and the Jews worldwide. It was supposed to sink the so-called “peace process.” It was slated to blow up the Middle East.

None of these things have happened.

They haven’t happened because Trump merely recognized reality. The reality is that Jerusalem is the Jewish dream, the heart of the case of Israel as Jewish territory. If we forget Jerusalem, we forget our right hand. If Jerusalem is not linked to Israel, Israel might as well be in Montana. Jerusalem has far more to do with Israel than Tel Aviv.

Furthermore, there is no moral case for Jerusalem to be placed in non-Jewish hands. Under Jewish rule, holy sites have been preserved and access to those sites granted; while under Muslim rule, holy sites have been destroyed and defaced, and access to those sites denied. Jerusalem is mentioned hundreds of times in the Old Testament; it isn’t mentioned once in the Quran. Jerusalem is only important to anyone because it was first important to the Jews.

This means that Israel was never going to give away Jerusalem in any negotiation with the terrorist Palestinian government. Here is Yitzhak Rabin, the father of Oslo, in 1995: “Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish people and a deep source of our pride. We differ in our opinions, left and right. We disagree on the means and the objective. In Israel, we all agree on one issue: the wholeness of Jerusalem, the continuation of its existence as capital of the State of Israel.”

Nor should Israel give away Jerusalem — particularly not to the Palestinian Authority, whose charter still denies the legitimacy of the state of Israel. And Israel should never be discussing handing over any territory to Hamas, an actual terrorist group that has stated its dedication to Israel’s destruction.

“We all agree on one issue: the wholeness of Jerusalem … its existence as capital of the State of Israel.” — Yitzhak Rabin

Recognizing this truth means setting a serious groundwork for peace. No divorce can be negotiated without a common frame of negotiable items. Jerusalem is not negotiable. End of story. Trump recognized that, and in doing so, he undermined the chief rationale driving Palestinian terrorism: the delusional hope that spilling enough blood would cause the West to push Israel into surrendering its spiritual and physical capital.

Trump’s move also fostered peace by formally recognizing that Israel’s new alliances with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia against Iran are more important than any religious dispute over Jerusalem. There have been no serious protests from any of those governments — each of which attacked Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973. Those governments now recognize that Israel is an important strategic ally in the region.

The lack of blowback from Trump’s decision has left only two groups angry: Democrats and the media. Democrats are angry because they have been publicly humiliated: The Senate voted 90-0 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital not six months ago, and yet Democrats were now forced to denounce Trump for taking their words seriously. The media are angry because they have spent years building the myth that conflict in the Middle East centers on Israeli intransigence. Now it’s clear that it was Muslim intransigence all along that caused conflict, and that Muslim willingness to side with Israel against Iran supersedes religious conflict.

So, well done, President Trump. And thank you for speaking plain truth and acting bravely when most were willing to offer empty only verbiage backed by inaction and fear.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the conservative podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during an event marking "The Appreciation for the Fallen of Israel's Wars and Victims of Terrorism Day" at the Knesset, Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Netanyahu Thanks Nikki Haley for Vetoing Anti-Israel Resolution


Israeli Prime Minister Benjaim Netanyahu put forward a video thanking Nikki Haley, the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations, for vetoing an anti-Israel U.N. resolution.

The resolution, put forward by Egypt, would have rendered President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his plan to eventually move the U.S. embassy there as “null and void” and prevented “the establishment of diplomatic missions” in Jerusalem.

But Haley prevented it from going into effect by wielding the U.S.’s veto power, and Netanyahu expressed his gratitude to her.

“On Hanukkah, you spoke like a Maccabi,” Netanyahu said in a video. “You lit a candle of truth. You dispel the darkness. One defeated the many. Truth defeated lies.”

When Haley issued the veto, she declared, “The United States will not be told by any country where we can put our embassy,” adding that “it’s scandalous to say we are putting back peace efforts.”

“The fact that this veto is being done in defense of American sovereignty and in defense of America’s role in the Middle East peace process is not a source of embarrassment for us,” said Haley. “It should be an embarrassment to the remainder of the Security Council.”

Danny Danon, the Israeli U.N. ambassador, also criticized the resolution.

“While the Jewish people celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah that symbolizes the eternal connection to Jerusalem, there are people who think that they can rewrite history,” said Danon. “It’s time for all countries to recognize that Jerusalem always was and always will be the capital of the Jewish people and the capital of Israel.”

Before the U.S. used its veto power, 14 countries voted in favor of the resolution, including Britain and France.

Israeli border policemen stand away after shooting a Palestinian man with a knife and what looks like an explosive belt near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File photo

Palestinian Wearing Fake Explosive Belt Stabs IDF Soldier


A Palestinian man wearing a belt that appeared to be laced with fake explosives stabbed an Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldier on the shoulder and was shot as a result.

The man, identified as 29-year-old Mohammed Aqal, was reportedly at a riot in Ramallah that became violent to the point of IDF intervention. Aqal allegedly stabbed an IDF soldier twice in the shoulder. Law enforcement officials responded by shooting Aqual and then shooting him again when they noticed the apparent explosives on his belt.

Aqal died from his gunshot wounds. The Hadashot newspaper later reported that the belt didn’t contain actual explosives. The IDF soldier who was stabbed is currently in stable condition.

Aqal was one of four Palestinians who died in riots in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem on Friday in response to President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Another 250 were injured and a total of 2,500 Palestinians took part in the riots, a decline of “thousands” from the week prior. According to the Times of Israel, “Demonstrators burned tires and threw rocks at Israeli troops, who fired back at them with tear gas and rubber bullets.”

A 30-year-old Israeli who has yet to be identified was wounded when some Palestinians chucked rocks at his vehicle. His injuries are not believed to be serious.

Video from the riots can be seen here.

The flare-up in riots come as Vice President Mike Pence is set to visit the Middle East at the beginning of next week. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is refusing to meet with the vice president due to Trump’s Jerusalem move.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a news conference following the extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Abbas: Jews ‘Are Really Excellent In Faking and Counterfeiting History and Religion’


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claimed that Jews are spreading lies about “history and religion” in a speech to the Organization for of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Wednesday.

Abbas railed against President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, stating that Jerusalem deserves to be the capital of Palestine. During the speech, Abbas said that Jews “are really excellent in faking and counterfeiting history and religion.”

“If we read the Torah it says that the Canaanites were there before the time of our prophet Abraham and their existence continued since that time—this is in the Torah itself,” said Abbas. “But if they would like to fake this history, they are really masters in this and it is mentioned in the holy Qur’an they fabricate truth and they try to do that and they believe in that but we have been there in this location for thousands of years.”

Abbas also claimed in his speech that Jerusalem “is a Palestinian Arab Muslim Christian city” and attempted to rebut the notion that the Palestinian Authority is a terrorist entity.

“The U.S. Congress issued 27 resolutions saying we are terrorists, even when we have signed an agreement with the U.S. and 83 other states on fighting terrorism,” said Abbas. “Despite that, Congress insists we are terrorists, and we are not; it is they who invented terrorism. We have complied with all understandings between us and successive U.S. administrations, including this administration, but these illegal resolutions on Jerusalem have crossed all red lines, which will not make it possible for us to keep our commitments unilaterally.”

Additionally, Abbas declared that the Palestinians were no longer interested in having the United States as a peace broker.

Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg pointed out that Abbas’ reference to Qu’ran specifically “mentions Jews,” therefore meaning that Abbas was using a longtime anti-Semitic trope of Jews fabricating history. Rosenberg also notes that this would be in line with other anti-Semitic comments from Abbas, including him stating a blood libel in 2016 that “Israeli rabbis had called to poison Palestinian water.”

The Trump administration fired back at Abbas over his speech, claiming that his type of rhetoric “has prevented peace for years.”

“We will remain hard at work, putting together our plan, which will benefit both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples,” a White House official told the Jerusalem Post.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Hanukkah Celebrations Canceled in German City Over Safety Issues


Hanukkah celebrations in the German city of Mülheim have been canceled over safety issues.

According to German media, a Hanukkah event at Mülheim’s city hall was nixed at the Central Council of Jews because the building was not considered to be secure enough and a safer location couldn’t be found in such a short period of time.

“We feel grief, because Hanukkah is a festival of joy. We have canceled all outdoor events,” local Jewish community leader Alexander Drehmann told the Bild Zeitung newspaper. “We are going to our community hall with secured entrance checkpoint, instead of being at the municipal theater. There were warnings, even from the non-Jewish sources, which I cannot name.”

Drehmann added, “It is a bad feeling. Surely one of the lowest points in our post-war history.”

Over the weekend, protests erupted in front of the United States embassy in Berlin in response to President Trump declaring that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The protests featured Arabic chants of “Death of the Jews!” and “Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is coming again,” a reference to the tale of the Prophet Muhammad conquering the Jewish populace in the oasis of Khaybar. Israeli flags were also torched at the protests.

German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert condemned the anti-Semitic protests.

“One has to be ashamed when hatred of Jews is put on display so openly on the streets of German cities,” said Seibert.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Germany, as evident by the fact that anti-Semitic incidents tripled from 2014 (691) to 2015 (2,083). The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party won almost 13% of the vote in the country’s most recent elections, and a recent report found that anti-Semitism is rampant among the mass influx of Muslim migrants that have entered Germany.

Overall, around 16% of German adults harbor anti-Semitic views, according to a 2015 profile by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Photo from Pixabay.

City of Peace


“This sacred city,” declared President Donald Trump last week, “should call forth the best in humanity.”

It was somewhat of a Nixon-in-China moment, as Trump is not exactly known as a beacon of moral clarity. And yet it was very much a moment of essential truth. Not just that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, but that Jerusalem — Israel — can arouse the best within us.

In the days that followed, despite fervent calls for mass hysteria, mass hysteria did not ensue. Could some Arabs and Muslims actually have been inspired by Trump’s words, which were notably translated into Arabic on the White House’s website? Are they finally beginning to see that they’ve been exploited by their leaders for nearly a century?

The fact is, no one is born with hate in their soul.

Perhaps this moment of truth will ignite a new beginning for the Arab world — a time to move beyond hate, to get their own houses in order, to begin creating magnificence again.

As we know in our own politics, the loudest voices don’t necessarily represent the majority, and the extremes are rarely sane. My three closest Muslim friends — two Egyptian, one American — are more than ready to get beyond this achingly difficult place. They scoff at the left’s bigotry of low expectations: They don’t want to be seen as victims or conquerors.

In stark contrast to the fanatical statements from Turkish, Iranian and Palestinian leaders, Muslim reformer Zuhdi Jasser had this to say about Jerusalem: “The path to peace will always be through treating Arabs and Muslims as adults, without appeasing the militant Islamist hectoring veto.”

On a micro level, I have been watching this play out on the Facebook page of my book and exhibition “Passage to Israel.” Nearly one-third and sometimes one-half of the “likes” on the photos I post are from people with Arabic names. Even when I explicitly write “Jerusalem, Israel,” or “Hebron, Israel.” Even when I post photos of the Israel Defense Forces.

Beautiful imagery, of course, can bypass ideology and make a beeline for the soul. I carefully chose photos that are emotionally captivating. But my primary intent had been for Jews in the Diaspora to reconnect with Israel, for everyone to see the inherent beauty and diversity of the country that the mainstream media rarely shows.

At some point, enough Muslims will say to their leaders: “Stop treating us like children. Stop teaching us to hate.”

I have been surprised that Arab Israelis are responding so positively, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. We are all human. Just as I am moved by Islamic art and design — even after a terrorist attack — so, too, the layered beauty of Israel cannot easily be ignored, no matter how much hate you’ve ingested since birth.

We each rise and fall to the expectations of others. When you treat a group of adults like toddlers, unable to control themselves, they will act like toddlers. At some point, enough Muslims will say to their leaders: “Stop treating us like children. Stop teaching us to hate.” That will be the day the Muslim world begins to blossom again.

The night of Trump’s speech, I posted on Facebook a beautiful rendition of “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu.” A spiritual song of peace and hope, its soulful melody brilliantly tears down all defenses, clears out negativity and anger. One of my Egyptian friends was the first to “heart” it.

In my book, I wrote that Israel is a mirror to one’s soul. Despite the anti-Semitism that permeates the Arab and Muslim world, I do believe there is a familial love underneath the anger and frustration. A love that can be tapped through personal connections, shared experiences and raised expectations. A love that could flourish through rational compassion — a compassion that’s not self-denigrating.

In the Talmud it is written: “Ten measures of beauty descended upon the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem.”

Can an undivided Jerusalem — a city that’s been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times — ever be the City of Peace, as it was once called, ever be our true connector to God, one another and the best within us?

Perhaps the better question is: How can it not be?


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author. Her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

Peace Through Raising Expectations


I support the plan to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I acknowledge this is a controversial topic, and I will observe the talmudic principle of stating the primary, opposing viewpoint before my own:

“The American Embassy in Israel shouldn’t be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at this time because it will result in violence, impair the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and further destabilize a region already beset with violence and chaos.”

I disagree with this view because it expects the worst from Palestinian Arabs and Arabs in general. I believe it is racist to assume that these groups will become violent merely because something happens that displeases them.

It is true that actions by Israel and the United States have met with violence in the past. If we dig deeper, however, we find that the real obstacle to peace is a Palestinian leadership that benefits financially from the ongoing cycle of violence. One need look only at the personal fortune of Yasser Arafat at the time of his death — a stash worth more than $1 billion — to grasp the profound impact of the leadership’s corruption on the Palestinian people.

Fourteen years later, Arafat’s successors continue to hire protesters for suicide missions by offering lifetime payments of $3,000 a month to their families, distributed through the Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund. Thousands of families receive these payments, funded entirely by foreign aid. Needless to say, the politicians take a huge cut for themselves.

The real obstacle to peace is a Palestinian leadership that benefits financially from the ongoing cycle of violence.

It’s a simple cycle: incite violence against Israelis, exploit the predictable military response for publicity, receive payments from sympathetic nations and skim for personal gain.

The leaders of this operation are not motivated to imagine peace with Israel because it would take money out of their pockets. Bypassing such leaders is the key to forging the elusive peace.

In announcing the intention to move the embassy, President Donald Trump noted that 1) the modern State of Israel declared Jerusalem its capital decades ago and has thus governed itself ever since; 2) the American pretense that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital has not contributed to peace in the region; and 3) most importantly, Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

This truth has never been taught in Palestinian schools. The fact that Jerusalem is mentioned by name 622 times in the Torah and has been the focus of Jewish prayer for 2,000 years, and has never been the capital of any other nation, doesn’t matter if such facts are not communicated to the population that is being manipulated into violence.

The proposed embassy move, which carries tremendous symbolic weight, bypasses the Palestinian Authority gatekeepers and communicates to the Palestinian-Arab people that Israel and Jerusalem will never be parted. It brings us closer to peace by respecting them enough to assume that violence is neither their only form of communication nor negotiation, when presented with actual facts.

In its coverage of the embassy story, however, the Los Angeles Times noted on its front page that the president’s announcement sent “a sense of anger and apprehension coursing through the Arab world.”

This is the racism of low expectations. How can relocating the diplomatic office to reflect a historical and practical reality create apprehension for Arabs? Who is threatening them? It’s as if the L.A. Times already is justifying the violence it expects from the Arab world.

If more violence comes, and I pray it does not, it will not be because the United States respects Israel’s right to determine its own capital like every other nation. Such violence would arise from the same corrupt leadership that has always benefited from it. If we recognize these leaders and hate peddlers for what they are, we may well hasten the day when new leadership arises that seeks to build a genuine peace and more hopeful future for Palestinians.

This kind of revolution can’t happen if we don’t engage with the people directly. Let’s assume they want peace and they’re open to new ideas. Let’s raise our expectations.

Such assumptions won’t make the road to peace a smooth one,  but at least there will be a road.


Salvador Litvak shares his love of Judaism every day  at facebook.com/accidentaltalmudist.

An artist’s rendering of the Machal memorial in Jerusalem. Image courtesy Jerry Klinger

Machal Fighters Get Memorial in Jerusalem, Seven Decades After Volunteering for Israel


Nearly 70 years after volunteers from five continents left homes and jobs to fight for the newly proclaimed State of Israel, their deeds will be honored and memorialized on Dec. 17 at a historic site in Jerusalem.

The 4,922 volunteers from 59 countries were part of Machal — a Hebrew acronym for Overseas Volunteers — and 123 of them died in the line of duty. Less than a dozen elderly survivors are expected to attend the dedication of the massive memorial, located across the Ammunition Hill national memorial site.

The memorial is 10 feet long and 8 feet high, made of stone, concrete and steel, and inscribed in Hebrew with the words of Yitzhak Rabin. In a tribute to the volunteers, the late general and prime minister said, “You came to us when we needed you most, during those dark and uncertain days of our War of Independence.”

Dignitaries will include Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat; national Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant; Jeffrey Margolis, president of American Veterans for Israel Legacy Corp.; and Harold (Smoky) Simon, the World Machal chairman. The afternoon events will include a torch relay from the city center to the dedication site, honor detachments and music from the armed forces, and a Hanukkah lighting ceremony.

Before and during the War of Independence, which began in 1948, the largest contingents of volunteers came from the United States, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Canada and France. Almost all — including 168 gentiles — had fought for their home countries in World War II and brought valuable experience and skills, particularly to the Israeli air force and navy, which had to be built from scratch.

Over the decades, the contributions of the volunteers to the outcome of the war either have been ignored in Israel and their home countries, or overblown, Hollywood-style.

A blunt and only slightly exaggerated description came from California novelist Harold Livingston, who flew for the Israel Air Transport Command and who described “Ben-Gurion’s Foreign Legion. They took anyone. Misfits from America, English communists, South African Zionists, Soviet army deserters, Polish noblemen, ne’er-do-well soldiers of fortune.

“If you want excitement and adventure, come on over. … If you want to write a book. If you’re running from the police. If you want to get away from your wife. If you want to prove that Jews can fight. If you want to build a new land.”

Perhaps Machal’s most important contribution was to lift the morale of Israelis, knowing that their Diaspora brethren were with them.

The motives always were mixed. My time as an American infantryman in France and Germany during World War II had left me restless, my early exposure to Zionism in a Jewish school and youth organization in Berlin during the mid-1930s had left an imprint, and since a new Jewish state arises only every 2,000 years or so, I figured I probably wouldn’t be around for the next time.

My past military experience qualified me to serve as squad leader in an “Anglo-Saxon” anti-tank unit, composed entirely of English-speaking volunteers, who spoke the mother tongue in a variety of often-incomprehensible accents. In this unit, the men from the highly organized and supportive Jewish communities of South Africa formed the most stable element; the Americans, Canadians and Brits were somewhere in the middle, while two teenage Australians arrived fairly late in the game after a slow ship ride from Down Under.

Machalniks served in all branches of the Israel Defense Forces — army, navy, air force, Palmach shock troops and medical corps — as well as Aliyah Bet, composed of men and women who ran the British blockade in 1946-47 to bring “illegal” Jewish immigrants to pre-state Palestine.

The single largest Machal contingent came from the United States. Its given numbers have varied acceding to time and source, some running as high as 1,400. In the most current compilation, Machal world chair Simon has downsized the figure to 805. Of these, 263 served in the air force, with many hailing from the Los Angeles area.

But given the size of the American Jewish community at the time, this number lags well behind the contribution of every other English-speaking country proportionally. For example, the South African contingent was almost as large as the American, with a Jewish population one-fiftieth that of the U.S.

Americans gave freely of their money, and a few lost their citizenships for illegally sending arms and planes to Israel.

But the disparity in the number of American volunteers reflected the differences in communal attitudes and civic courage. South African Jews — and Britain’s to a slightly lesser degree — set up their own selective service systems, complete with physical and psychological testing, and rallied fully behind their young men and women heading for the battlefield. By contrast, organized American Jewry, fearful of the dreaded accusation of double loyalty, generally averted its collective eyes and prayed silently that those crazy kids going over would not prove an embarrassment.

Whatever the Machal contributions, on the ground — where ultimately wars are still won — the Israelis did most of the job themselves and paid a high price. The War of Independence claimed the lives of some 6,200 Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Perhaps Machal’s most important contribution was to lift the morale of Israelis, knowing that their Diaspora brethren were with them.

One of the key initiators and backers of the Machal memorial has been Jerry Klinger, a son of Holocaust survivors, retired first vice president of Merrill Lynch and president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.

Klinger, who lives in Boynton Beach, Fla., has made it his mission to cut red tape and to fund and affix signposts and markers across the the world to draw attention to Jewish contributions and pioneering enterprises. He was instrumental in erecting a memorial in Haifa to the fabled refugee ship Exodus,  as well as 66 historical markers throughout the West and the United States.

To Klinger, looking back on all his historical markers, the one honoring the men and women of Machal may be the most important. “If we let them be forgotten,” he said, “we are denying their tomorrows and our yesterdays.”

Photo by Efrat Lotenberg

The Bukhari Renaissance Woman


The living room in an apartment in Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood was heaving with people, young and old, most of whom had tears streaming down their cheeks from laughter. Their host, Eti-Jon Eliezerov, had just finished a skit impersonating a Bukharian Jew cooking up a storm.

According to Bukhari tradition, a woman’s worth, jokes Eliezerov in a sing-song voice, is measured by whether she can peel a potato in one go.

“The peel has to be a single coil and must remain thin,” Eliezerov emphasizes.

At the age of 13, her father fell in love with her mother after observing her chop a carrot with dazzling agility.

Eliezerov was born and raised in the house in Florentine where, today, she hosts evenings celebrating Bukharian Jewish heritage. She returned to live there in 2011 after a 32-year absence, during which she married — much to her parents’ chagrin — an Ashkenazi. Together, they had three children.

Eliezerov’s parents arrived in Palestine in 1935 from Samarkand, modern-day Uzbekistan. Along with hundreds of thousands of their Jewish brethren in Central Asia, they spoke a Jewish dialect of the Tajik-Persian language. It was a grueling, two-year trudge by foot to the Holy Land, with multiple tragedies and pitfalls along the way, including a stint in an Afghani prison and the death of Eliezerov’s older sister.

When speaking of her parents, Eliezerov’s voice oozes unbridled adulation. Her mother, a dancer, and her father, a musician, traveled the world together giving traditional Bukhari performances. But little Eti, at 6 years old, paid a steep price for their wanderlust. At a loss for what to do with her, her parents put Eliezerov in an ultra-Orthodox orphanage in the coastal town of Netanya for a year and a half while her parents took off on a tour to Paris. Later on, she was moved to another institution in the town of Bnei Barak. It was only in fourth grade that Eliezerov returned to her parents’ home in Florentine.

“My mother was devastated. She whined to me: ‘But his eyebrows aren’t even black!’ ” — Eti-Jon Eliezerov

Eliezerov said she feels no bitterness toward them. “I’m not angry. I was never angry at them. I’m not able to get angry at them.”

“My parents were the warmest, most hospitable people,” she says.

She credits her up-and-down childhood in her later choice to become a therapist, specializing in psychodrama and gestalt.

These days, though, Eliezerov says her calling is to restore the Florentine neighborhood to its heyday. Today, the neighborhood, which hugs Jaffa on one side and the fancy Neve Tzedek district on the other, is a haven for hipster millennials. The Florentine that Eliezerov remembers from her childhood, though, brimmed with a fusion of culture and Jewish tradition.

“There was a lot of love in this neighborhood, everyone’s door was always open. It was colorful,” she says.

Eliezerov already has gotten the Tel Aviv municipality on board with bringing back the long-dead tradition of a parade through the streets on Simchat Torah. She also spearheaded an initiative called “Florentine in a Pot,” creating a bridge between the neighborhood’s old and young populations in which the elderly give cooking workshops infused with storytelling to their young neighbors.

And in her own house, Eliezerov is living her dream by hosting monthly evenings celebrating Bukhari culture. She wears traditional Bukhari garb and serves her guests Bukhari food, such as Plov, a rich rice dish embellished with meats and carrots. Armed with a doyra, a Bukhari drum, Eliezerov dances and sings lyrics that hark back to bygone days in Samarkand.

Although she is a born and bred Sabra, Eliezerov said she felt “just like I’d arrived home” when she traveled to Uzbekistan as a guide on a roots trip.

It’s a wonder, then, that in her early 20s she rebelled by marrying an Ashkenazi of Polish descent.

“My mother was devastated,” she said. “She whined to me: ‘But his eyebrows aren’t even black!’”

Eyebrows, it seems, are not inconsequential in Bukhari tradition. Despite her choice of partner, Eliezerov was adamant to preserve some of the Bukhari traditions relating to marriage and as such she insisted on a Koshchinon, the traditional eyebrow grooming ritual. According to Eliezerov, Bukhari women are forbidden from touching their eyebrows – which, she points out, is often a unibrow – until they are about to get married. A few days before the wedding, and prior to immersion in the mikveh, the bride is surrounded by married friends and relatives who watch as the Koshchin – the eyebrow groomer – shapes her brows using a special blade and string. The Koshchin usually doubles as a comedienne, stage whispering in the bride’s ear crass nothings about what awaits her in matrimony. Special songs are sung at the occasion, and in keeping with Bukhari tradition, endless trays of food are served. To gasps of oohs and aahs, the mother of the bride also presents her daughter’s dowry, consisting of flowing gowns and dresses and bedsheets.

Nevertheless, after a 30-year marriage, Eliezerov divorced her husband. He was, in her words, too far from religion. Especially after her adult son became religious, she realized just how much she missed the faith of her childhood. These days, Eliezerov, who returned to being an observant Jew, feels like she finally has found her place in the world.

“I’m in my childhood home, making people laugh, making them cry, using my talents to move people,” she says.

“All my life, I’ve waited for this.”

+