Arab and Jew – activist friends in Israel


Zouheir Bahloul, an Israeli-Arab (and well-known sports announcer and recently, Knesset member) and Moshe Chertoff (a technical writer, and long-ago immigrant from Los Angeles) are friends and almost neighbors. Zouheir lives in the city of Akko, on the Israeli coast in the northern Galilee, and Moshe, in a small kibbutz a few miles north of there.

Zouheir calls them “bridge builders,” and both work hard in many ways, trying to create better relations between Jews and Arabs. They often meet and support each other, and sometimes even create joint activities.

The last few months have been tough times in Israel, with violence and casualties on both sides – and the tensions between Jews and Arabs have skyrocketed, with Israeli politicians getting more and more shrill and rigid. During these times, Zouheir and Moshe have both been outspoken against the dominant views of the situation, and have drawn on their friendship to face the many challenges they've come up against.


Harvey Stein is an Israeli-American filmmaker and video journalist living in Jerusalem. His feature documentary “A Third Way – Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors” began screenings in Western Europe and the United States, in February, 2016. You can find out more about his work at: www.jerusalemny.com/athirdway

Amid the violence in Israel, Arab-Israeli newscaster Lucy Aharish keeps on smiling


Lucy Aharish never wanted to be a political symbol. The 34-year-old Arab-Israeli news presenter and television host didn’t even want to be a journalist. When she graduated from high school in the hard-knock southern Israeli town of Dimona, her plan was to be an actress.

But her father insisted she earn a degree in something practical, she told The Times of Israel in April. So she paired theater studies with a political science degree at Hebrew University, and then put in an additional two years studying journalism at the Koteret school in Tel Aviv.

She has now been on the Israeli news for eight years, and her face and accent-free Hebrew are familiar to Israelis. But what exactly she symbolizes is hotly contested – as became clear last week when she went on a tirade against Arab-Israeli leadership and culture on air amid a surge in Palestinian violence and an Israeli crackdown.“Arab leaders … are adding fire to the environment and instead of understanding that once it will calm down, we will be the ones to pay the price,” she said on Channel 2. “The second intifada took such a heavy price from Israeli-Arabs and the Palestinians. We are not learning from the mistakes.”

Aharish got her start in 2007 on Israel’s Channel 10, making history as the nation’s first Arab news presenter before putting in serious time in the West Bank as the channel’s Palestinian affairs reporter. Today she hosts the daily English edition of i24news and a Hebrew-language morning show on Channel 2. She remains one of the few Arab-Israelis on the news.

Known among Jewish-Israelis as a rare moderate Arab voice, Aharish takes pride in the Jewish state and has been willing to openly criticize her fellow Arab-Israelis.

“The problem with the Arab minority is that it sees itself as a victim,” she told the Washington Post in April, shortly before she made history by joining 13 other Israelis to light a torch at the nation’s pomp-and-circumstance-heavy Independence Day ceremony. “Yes, there is racism against Arabs in Israel; yes, the Arabs do not get their entire rights. But I am not a victim of Israel; I am a human being and a citizen.”

Last week, as Israel was just starting to reel from the still-cresting wave of stabbings that has pushed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to a gruesomely intimate new level, Aharish went on her now-famous tirade. Defenders of Israel quickly shared the video all over social media; it was viewed more than a million times.

“Even if the status quo on the Temple Mount has been broken, does that allow someone to go and murder someone else because of a sacred place?” she said. “What God are they speaking of? That allows for children to go out and murder innocent people? What woman puts on a hijab and prays to God, takes a knife out and tries to stab innocent people? I don’t understand it and I don’t justify it in any way.”

Huge numbers of Jewish-Israelis hailed Aharish as a clear voice of reason amid a din of blindness and bigotry. But others, on the Jewish and Arab left, called her a traitor to her people, accused her of a Stockholm syndrome-like relationship with her oppressors and mocked the mainstream Israeli response.

Haaretz’s Jack Khoury called hers “the smiling face of the Israeli mainstream’s pet broadcaster.”

The story leaped beyond Israel, too: Dozens of news outlets reported on Aharish’s remarks, and within hours she had been booked for a one-on-one interview on air with CNN about her views.

Aharish, who speaks fluent English, has since stopped doing interviews. She originally agreed to speak to JTA for this story, and then changed her mind. But she has explained where she’s coming from in the past.

“Today, when people ask me ‘What are you?,’ I say that I am Israeli,” she told The Times of Israel in the April interview. “I’m not ashamed of my Israeliness. Then I’m a woman, and then I’m an Arab Muslim. That’s the order: Israeli, woman, Arab Muslim.”

During a previous violent peak 10 months earlier, she was even more eager to shrug off labels and draw a circle around her Israeli identity. It was the height of Israel’s 2014 war in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army was pummeling Palestinians in Rafah and Gaza City, and Palestinian rocket fire was sending Israelis racing to bomb shelters in Ashdod and Tel Aviv.

Aharish took to Facebook and declared: “I am neither an Arab nor a Jew. I am neither Christian, nor Muslim nor Druze nor Buddhist nor Circassian. I am neither left nor right. I am neither religious nor secular. I don’t want to see children kidnapped and murdered; I don’t want to see children burnt to death. I don’t want to hear sirens or see missiles launched … I do want us to open our eyes to the rage and hatred that are eating us alive.”

As the current violence starkly shows, Aharish’s vision of an inclusive Israeliness is not winning out. She acknowledged as much in her interview last week with CNN.

“This time it’s different,” she said. “People are afraid in the streets of Israel … we are killing one another. We are killing ourselves. When you have a vacuum you have terror, and you are giving the stage to extremists from both sides.”

Aharish has signaled that she may not remain the face of Israeli coexistence forever. Despite her earlier dreams of an acting career and her current success at the TV desk, Aharish told The Times of Israel that she imagines her future abroad.

“I see myself managing a small cafe in Tuscany, which I will live next door to,” she said. “The camera never interested me as my life’s mission. Giving lectures, consulting, sure. But I’m more interested in what goes on behind the scenes. The camera is just a bonus.”

Arab local councils set to strike beginning of school year


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Salim Sleibi, the mayor of the Israeli Arab town of Majd al-Krum, should be getting ready for the opening of the school year on September 1. Instead, he is preparing for a strike that will keep the 5000 students in his town home for another two days.

“In my town 25 percent of the students study in mobile homes that are not meant to be classrooms,” he told The Media Line. “I have 1000 junior high school students in a school with just four toilets. Classes are overcrowded. The yard for recess is just 400 yards. It is impossible to study like this.”

Arab educational achievements are far behind those of Jews in Israel. More than one-third of all Arab citizens of Israel do not finish high school, compared to 16 percent of Jewish citizens. Only 17 percent of Arab citizens complete higher education, compared with 40 percent of Jewish citizens.

There are a series of reasons for the gaps in educational achievement, say Arab activists. One reason is language. While Arab citizens of Israel all learn Hebrew from first grade, their primary language is Arabic. They often find it difficult to pass university entrance exams in Hebrew. Another reason is widespread poverty in the Arab community. Violence is also rampant Farah says, with the murder rate among Arabs much higher than that among Jews.

“One out of every two Arab children lives below the poverty line,” Jafar Farah, the director of Mossawa, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel told The Media Line. “We want the government to take responsibility for the future of Arab citizens of Israel because we pay taxes like everyone else.”

Arab citizens of Israel represent just over 20 percent of Israel’s citizens. But they are under-represented in almost all spheres of Israeli life, from universities to high-tech companies, to PhD programs. It all starts with education, activists here say.

There has been a shortage of classrooms in Arab cities and towns for years, Farah and Sleibi say. At the end of 2011, the Arab sector needed more than 4500 classrooms and the situation has only worsened. Farah says the Mossawa Center, along with Arab local councils put together a plan to increase the budget for Arab municipalities by $1.6 billion dollars over the next several years to deal with education, transportation, housing, culture and tourism.

However, given growing security and economic demands in the Jewish sector it seems unlikely that Arab municipalities will get an increase anywhere near that figure.

In the current Knesset, the Joint Arab List has 12 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. In the past, there have been there separate Arab parties which did not always coordinate their efforts. Now, for the first time, they are able to advocate for the Arab community together.

In Majd al-Krum, one of the poorer localities in Israel, mayor Sleibi is not sure how he will open the school year. Most of the nursery schools are in rented buildings that are not suitable for classes. In many of his high school classes there are 43 or 44 students. Sometimes, the teacher can’t even fit a desk inside the room.

Islamic State says it’s holding ‘Israeli spy’ in Syria


Islamic State said on Thursday it was holding an Israeli Arab who had posed as a foreign fighter in order to spy for Mossad, an account denied by Israel and by the man's family, who said he had been kidnapped.

In an interview published by Islamic State's online English-language magazine Dabiq, Muhammad Musallam, 19, said he had joined the insurgent group in Syria so as to report to the Israelis on its weapons caches, bases and Palestinian recruits.

After his conduct aroused the suspicion of Islamic State commanders, Musallam was quoted as saying, he broke cover by phoning his father in East Jerusalem, leading to his capture.

“I say to all those who want to spy on the Islamic State, don't think that you're so smart and that you can deceive the Islamic State. You won't succeed at all,” he said, according to Dabiq.

“Stay away from this path. Stay away from helping the Jews and the murtaddin (apostates). Follow the right path.”

Musallam's father, Said, denied his son was a spy, saying he went missing after traveling as a tourist to Turkey. Muhammad then phoned home, saying he had been abducted to neighboring Syria but could buy his way out, his father said.

“He said, 'Dad, I need $200 or $300 so they will let me go,'” Said Musallam told Reuters. Before he could send the money, he said, another man phoned to inform him Muhammad had escaped his captors but had been seized by Islamic State.

An Israeli security official said Musallam traveled to Turkey on Oct. 24 in order to fight for Islamic State in Syria.

“He went on his own initiative, without his family's knowledge,” the official told Reuters. Asked whether his statement constituted a denial that Musallam was an Israeli spy, the official said: “You can understand it that way, yes.”

POROUS BORDER

Worried that members of its 20-percent Arab minority might travel to Syria or Iraq to join Islamist insurgent groups and then return radicalized and battle-ready, Israel has stepped up monitoring and prosecution of suspected would-be volunteers.

Turkey draws many Israeli Arab holidaymakers. It is also a major conduit for foreigners who slip across the border to help insurgents trying to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Muhammad Musallam worked as an Israeli firefighter, his family said. A friend of his who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said Musallam had posted pro-Islamic State messages on social media. Reuters could find no social media accounts under Musallam's name.

In the first conviction of its kind, Israel in November jailed Ahmed Shurbaji, an Arab citizen who returned voluntarily after spending three months with Islamic State in Syria.

He received a relatively light term of 22 months in return for cooperation with security services that would likely “help the State of Israel defend itself against this organization in various ways,” the court said, in a possible allusion to information he provided about Islamic State.

A source in the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, said Israeli Arabs returning from Syria were routinely questioned for intelligence on jihadi groups.

Shurbaji had phoned an Israeli security official from Syria to broker a deal. The Shin Bet source said such communications with Israeli Arabs who wanted to return from Syria had sometimes been handled by Ayoob Kara, an Israeli Druse politician and former army officer close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Contacted by Reuters, Kara said he was aware of Musallam's case and did not believe he was a Mossad spy.

While declining to discuss Musallam in detail, Kara said he knew of several young Israeli Arabs who had gone to Syria to aid refugees or for the thrill of available women or booty, only to be kidnapped and exploited by insurgents like Islamic State.

Israeli boy, soldiers injured during Land Day protests


An Israeli boy and several Israeli soldiers were injured during Israeli-Arab and Palestinian protests marking Land Day.

The protests Saturday mark the deaths of six Galilee Arabs during 1976 riots over government land confiscations in northern Israel, dubbed Land Day.

Thousands gathered in the Israeli-Arab village of Sakhnin in northern Israel, where the deaths occurred 37 years ago, for the main Land Day demonstration. Protesters chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Two Israeli soldiers were injured from rocks thrown by Palestinians gathered near Kalkilya.

An Israeli boy, 4, was wounded by stones thrown at the car in which he was riding near Efrat. Four Israeli soldiers were injured when their jeep overturned while searching for the rock throwers.

Gaza Palestinians protesting near Rafah claimed that they were injured by tear gas and live gunfire by Israeli soldiers on their side of the border.

Six Jewish teens charged in beating of Israeli Arab


Six Jewish teens were charged with causing serious bodily harm in an attack on an Arab resident of eastern Jerusalem.

The teens appeared Wednesday in Jerusalem District Juvenile Court. Four of them admitted to attacking Ibrahim Abu Taha, 28, last weekend in Jerusalem, Haaretz reported, citing the charge sheet. Two other teens were charged with theft for allegedly stealing Taha's wallet.

Taha allegedly was attacked outside the apartment of a Jewish female co-worker from a Jerusalem hotel. He suffered a broken ankle in the attack.

The arrested teens, three of whom are 16 years old, said they attacked Taha because they thought he was “taking advantage” of a Jewish woman. A male Jewish co-worker was not attacked. The Arab man and his two Jewish co-workers had gone out after work to a bar in Jerusalem's Talpiot neighborhood. The female reportedly was intoxicated and being escorted home by her co-workers.

The teens reportedly asked Taha if he was Arab before they beat him.

The incident comes less than a month after a group of Jewish teens allegedly beat a 17-year-old Israeli Arab in Jerusalem and left him in critical condition. Israeli police described the assault as a lynching. Police arrested five in the attack, including a 13-year-old.

Earlier in August, Jewish teens were indicted for allegedly firebombing a Palestinian taxi near Gush Etzion, wounding six people, including two children.

Opinion: Jerusalem bullies need a dose of respect


Jerusalem’s Zion Square, located in the city center, where rallies mobilize, concerts convene, street fairs assemble and pedestrians abound, caught the attention of local media and became the topic of weekend table talk when it was learned that on Aug. 16, 17-year-old Jamal Julani, an Israeli Arab from east Jerusalem who went to meet a friend who was working at a local restaurant nearby, nearly died from a savage beating unleashed by a gang of Jewish “tough teens,” who were out cruising the streets, apparently looking for a victim. The first responders from the United Hatzalah emergency response organization who answered the call, told us that Jamal wasn’t breathing when they arrived. It would be 24 hours before he would regain consciousness, but even then he couldn’t remember what had happened the night before. 

I visited Jamal in Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem 36 hours after the brutal attack. Upon entering his room in the familiar facility, I was met with thoughts of so many Israeli victims of bus bombings we visited there during the height of the intifada. But this time it was different.

Jamal couldn’t remember the 50 or so youth who either partook in the beating or stood idly by doing absolutely nothing to intervene. His father, Subha, stood over him saying that his memory of the day was gone. His wife, Nariman, was grateful that Jamal was alive at all and soon to be released thanks to the Israeli medics who reached the scene on time.

The underlying question, though, was what motivated these gang-like hoodlums —colloquially, arsim — to attack an innocent youth?

Reaction on the street went from, “How awful!”; “What do you expect from kids on drugs and booze?”; “Why can’t Arabs walk the streets of Jerusalem without fear?”; and “Why didn’t anyone do anything to help?” to “Where are the parents?”; “Where were the police?”; and “Where is the mayor?”

It’s not difficult to reason that when youth set out to stir up violence and chant “Death to Arabs,” no good can come of it.       

If the five Israeli teens — Jewish kids from 13 to 19 years old — who were indicted Aug. 28 in Jerusalem District Court, turn out to be the ones responsible for the incident, it is only the quick response and skill of the medics that stand between them and manslaughter or even murder charges.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told the Media Line that this wasn’t the first incident of its kind and said he couldn’t point to other incidents in reverse, cases of Arabs beating up on Jews.

In 2009, I wrote an Op-Ed that was printed on the same day in both The Jerusalem Post and Al-Quds about the Acre riots signaling a tipping point exacerbating the need to redefine the Jewish versus Arab rift. The trigger point then was rioting that followed an errant trip through a Jewish neighborhood by an Arab driver on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, when even many secular Jewish Israelis avoid riding in cars.

Seeking solutions, I turned to legendary folksinger and humanitarian Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, and Charlotte Frank of McGraw-Hill publishers, who together fashioned an educational foundation that teaches students not to bully those not like themselves out of the song “Don’t Laugh at Me.” Yarrow’s Operation Respect curriculum is now taught in more than 22,000 schools in America alone, and in many other educational systems throughout the world.

After the piece ran, the American embassy in Tel Aviv contacted me to learn more about the program and to connect with Yarrow. As a result, the “Don’t Laugh at Me” curriculum is being taught in 30 Israeli schools — Jewish and Muslim — and will be introduced in schools in Jerusalem and Bethlehem this year as the total number of schools in Israel and the Palestinian Authority reaches 50.

Resolving differences between Jewish and Arab Israelis begins with youth education in schools and at home. At the heart of the Aug. 16 near-fatal tragedy is not so much nationalistic fervor as it is simple bullying — the pack mentality of brutality in numbers not to preach politics, but to experience the perverse rush of hurting someone. It’s not a stretch to project Operation Respect as an antidote for the disease underlying the attack on Jamal Julani.

Nor is it a stretch to believe that a schoolchild exposed to programs such as Operation Respect from early grades will not be cruising Zion Square — or Acre or Jenin — with a bloodlust 10 years hence.

I asked Subha whether this horrific incident changed his feelings toward Israelis. He said he works with an Israeli, many of his friends are Israeli, and he has Israeli citizenship because his wife is from Jerusalem.

It might not be a bad thing that Jamal doesn’t recall the attack. But he said he won’t be walking Yaffa Road alone any time soon.


Felice Friedson is president and CEO of The Media Line news agency; founder of The Mideast Press Club; and Women in Mideast Media. She can be reached at Felice_friedson@yahoo.com.

Beit T’Shuvah, Jewish/Arab day schools, Charlton Heston


Beit T’Shuvah

I would like to thank you for printing “Rescuing Jewish Addicts — A Day in the Life at Beit T’Shuvah” by Roberto Loiederman (April 25).

The article is so well written, and it’s so important that our community knows that an agency of our Federation is serving those who need help with addiction struggles.

In addition to services mentioned, Beit T’Shuvah (BTS) also serves the community with a Partners in Prevention program that goes into day schools, camps and synagogues. This outreach program teaches Judaism as a path to promote self-acceptance, self-worth, spiritual values and family harmony.

The residents and alumni of BTS have also joined together in creating an insightful musical performance event called. “Freedom Song,” which communicates their common experiences with addiction and the growth they’ve experienced with the life-giving support of BTS. The group has performed the show locally and throughout the United States, receiving overwhelming support, interest and rave reviews.

As a BTS board member, I’m so proud of the wonderful staff and volunteers and the progress of the residents, and am so grateful that you’ve brought attention to BTS’s efforts toward the healing of Jewish souls.

Annette Shapiro
Los Angeles

Drug Law

Punishing victimless drug crimes exceeds the standard for retributive punishment established in the Scriptures (“Addiction Debate: Legalization, Medication or Therapy?” April 25).

Exodus 21:23, “life for life”; 24, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot”; 25, “burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

Punishing the victimless crime of drug use violates the law of God by inflicting injury where there was no injury to another. Drug use murders no one, blinds no one, no teeth have been knocked out and no maiming has occurred, so where’s the godly authorization for enforcing drug prohibition.

Nowhere in God’s word is there any commandment to ban drug use. Victimless drug convictions often bring more prison time than for armed robbery, beating someone to death in a fight, detonating a bomb in an aircraft or providing weapons to support a foreign terrorist organization. The maximum sentence for all those crimes together is less than the mandatory minimum under sentencing rules for many victimless drug crimes. Drug war punishments clearly violate the eye-for-an-eye principle stated in the law of God.

Upholding a drug crusade that violates God’s ordinances is doomed to failure.

Ralph Givens
Daly City

I commend you on a well-written and well-thought out piece. What few people realize is that the drug laws were lunacy from the very beginning. Modern people assume that the drug laws were passed for a good reason. They weren’t.

Opium smoking was originally outlawed because of the fear that Chinese men were luring white women to have sex in opium dens.

Cocaine was outlawed because of the fear that superhuman Negro cocaine fiends would go on a violent rampage and rape white women and shoot white men.
Caffeine was almost outlawed at the same time for the same reasons. The only reason caffeine escaped prohibition is because it is found in so many common foods.

In the past 100 years, there have been numerous major government commissions around the world that have studied the drug laws and made recommendations for changes. They all concluded that the drug laws were based on ignorance and nonsense and cause more harm than good.

The full text of these reports can be found at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer under Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy.

Clifford Schaffer
Director
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy

Jewish/Arab Day Schools

I would like to encourage Rabbi Daniel Gordis to keep an open mind when it comes to educating Israeli Arab and Jewish children together (“Debra Winger Explores Jewish/Arab Day Schools,” April 25).

Each of our four award-winning schools is a community of humanitarians dedicated to laying a foundation for a real and lasting peace in Israel.

Our teachers respect and celebrate each child’s heritage, and our Jewish students, who because they interact daily with the “other,” are forced to develop an even stronger sense of their own identity. Our parents are gratified because they are raising the next generation of leaders who might just be able to do what government officials have been unable to do thus far: find a peaceful way to coexist in Israel.

In addition, I’d ask Gordis to read our groundbreaking curriculum, which is sensitive to educating children from varying religious and ethnic backgrounds. Our curriculum is so successful that it is now in demand from other countries around the world as an innovative model on how to teach conflict resolution to children.

I appreciate Gordis’ view that perhaps we should wait until high school or college to teach “competing national narratives,” but until there is another viable plan for peace, I — and many others — believe as Gandhi did: “If we are to teach real peace in the world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”

Julie I. Bram
Board Member
American Friends of Hand in Hand

Charlton Heston

What is Tom Tugend’s basis for stating that Charlton Heston was “reviled by most American Jews” as an arch conservative (“Charlton Heston, Oscar Winner and Advocate, Dies at 84,” April 11)?

Even if it is true that most American Jews revile the NRA’s policies, to assume that we would also revile the man doesn’t give us much credit. I would hope and think that most American Jews, like most other Americans, are fair-minded people who can disagree with someone on an issue, even strongly, and still respect them.

Ben Schwartz
Calabasas

Hydrogen Fuel

The C.En hydrogen-based transportation invention appears to be little more than another fuel-cell battery (“

Egypt-Israel love fatwa highlights split on peace


An Israeli Arab woman sent an e-mail some weeks ago to Sheikh Farahat Al-Mongy, an Islamic scholar from Egypt, complaining that her Egyptian husband, who
used to live with her in Israel, had decided to break up their marriage and leave Israel for good.

News of the broken marriage thrilled Al-Mongy. To him, this meant that his latest fatwa, or religious edict, about the “sinfulness” of Egyptians getting married to Israelis, which he issued a month and a half ago, was having an effect.

“Egyptians who get married to Israelis and live in Israel turn into spies for the Zionist state when they come back,” Al-Mongy said in his edict, published in local newspapers in Egypt. “That is why Islam considers this knot unholy.”

When Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin shook hands with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979 after signing a peace treaty in the United States, both men might have thought that they were setting their countries on a normal course of relations. But 28 years after reaching peace, the situation on the ground proves their hopes far-fetched. In Egypt, Israel is still viewed as an enemy.

And little symbolizes the rockiness of this relationship better than the fatwa against Egyptian-Israeli love.

The peace between Egypt and Israel is proving to be a mere government to government affair. Egypt’s media has never balked at portraying Israel as a warmongering state since the peace agreement was signed.

Demonstrations, either on university campuses or on the streets demanding the dismissal of the Israeli ambassador from Egypt, are a frequent occurrence here, uncovering the total disconnect between official and public attitudes.

Al-Mongy’s dictum produced a groundswell of acclaim in this country of 80 million people with a Sunni Muslim majority in a way the sheikh himself never expected to happen. It became fodder for talk shows and made headlines in local newspapers. A weekly newspaper, Sawt al-Ummah, called the edict “beautiful” and even pressed al-Azhar, the strongest religious institution in the Islamic world, to adopt it.

Recently, a group of three members of the People’s Assembly (the lower house of Egypt’s Parliament) embraced Al-Mongy’s edict by presenting a draft law that would strip Egyptians married to Israelis — whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian — of their Egyptian citizenship and deny them entry into Egypt.

The draft, if made into a law, would instruct the courts to consider marriage between Egyptians and Israelis illegal.

One of the members of Parliament who presented the draft law is Mohssen Radi, who is a member of Egypt’s largest Islamic organization, the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Israel is a country that should be wiped off the map,” Radi said in an interview two weeks ago, repeating pronouncements Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made about Israel two years ago.

To Radi, for an Egyptian to get married to an Israeli would usher in a new generation of “traitors” who would be “corrosive” to Egypt’s national security.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1928 to explain religious texts to Egyptians, emerged as a formidable power on Egypt’s political scene in 2005, when its candidates, who ran as independents in the legislative elections, managed to win 88 seats in the 445-seat legislature.

Now, having given birth to groups like Hamas in the Palestinian territories and boasting branches everywhere in the world, the Muslim Brotherhood is a headache for the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for the last 26 years.

The Brotherhood had already prepared a political platform it would present to Egypt’s Political Parties Committee, a government body that licenses political parties, to start a new party. Egypt’s constitution does not allow the creation of political parties on religious backgrounds.

Many in Egypt and outside it cower at the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt. The group is generally known to be inimical to peace with Israel.

“If we come to office, we will hold a referendum on the peace agreement with Israel,” said Mohamed Mehdi Akef, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, in an interview last month. “Then we will abide by the desire of our people.”

Arabs branded Sadat a traitor for his 1977 visit to Israel and boycotted Egypt when, in 1979, it signed the first peace treaty between an Arab country and the Jewish state.

Peace with Israel was said to be Sadat’s biggest political gamble and his death sentence. It was Muslim militant soldiers who assassinated him in 1981, while he was watching a military parade that was held to celebrate the Egyptians’ October victory over the Israelis in 1973.

One reason why Al-Mongy calls the marriage between a Muslim and an Israeli “graceless” is that this marriage might result in disputes over properties in Egypt when the Egyptian father dies.

“Similar disputes happened in Palestine, and that was how the Palestinians lost a big part of their lands to Israel,” Al-Mongy, 70, said, repeating a general misperception in Egypt about how Israel came into existence. “At the same time, Israelis, both men and women, are conscripted into the army, and a Muslim should not get married to a member of an enemy army.”

In 2000, the Egyptian Ministry of Social Affairs put the number of Egyptians married to Arab women with an Israeli passport at 17,000, but other officials claim that number is far too high.

But what is unquestioned is the growing presence of Egyptians in Israel proper. According to a recent article in al-Ahram newspaper, 6,000-7,000 Egyptians are legal residents of Israel, while an additional 5,000-6,000 reside there illegally. The Israeli Ministry of Interior’s Population Administration told al-Ahram that 5,463 Egyptians living in Israel hold an expired visa, while 643 hold a valid one. The ministry could not say how many Egyptians hold citizenship and permanent or temporary residency cards.

Part of the antipathy toward accepting these marriages is the widespread misconception that Israel is a state without a large non-Jewish minority. Many Egyptians assume a marriage to an Israeli is a marriage to a Jew.

New Israel Fund renews local presence after four-year hiatus


“People in Israel are so overloaded by big problems, mainly security but also corruption, that it’s easy to disconnect from dealing with social inequities,” said Ronit Heyd, a young Israeli activist.

Heyd, joined by Ilana Litvak, who came to Israel from the former Soviet Union, and Nidal Abed El Gafer, a Palestinian lawyer, were in Los Angeles last week as three “connected” Israelis, working to empower their country’s underprivileged and raise the level of civic involvement.

Their presence at a roundtable was sponsored by the New Israel Fund (NIF), which has just raised its Los Angeles profile by reestablishing a local office, after a four-year hiatus.

Its director is Ellen Barrie Aaronson, long active in the Jewish community and the entertainment industry, most recently as vice president for development at Johnenelly Production, is in the process of setting up the office.

NIF was founded in 1979 to work toward “a more just, equitable and pluralistic state of Israel,” according to its mission statement. NIF helps grass-roots groups, through grants, training and coalition building, to move into the Israeli mainstream. These groups include new immigrants, especially Ethiopians, women’s rights activists, gays, Israeli Arabs and people with disabilities. Since its establishment, NIF has distributed more than $200 million in grants to 800 organizations in Israel.

Shatil (Hebrew for seedling), NIF’s action arm, mentors and trains civic groups to take their fates into their own hands and bring their needs to the attention of government, media and society at large.

In addressing some 80 people at the Beverly Hills Country Club (located in Cheviot Hills), three speakers representing Shatil illustrated their organization’s principles through concrete examples of their work.

Gafer, a graduate of the Tel Aviv University law school, has worked to prevent the demolition of “illegal” Arab homes through court appeals. In another case, he has sought to allow students from inferior Arab schools to attend better Jewish schools.

He has had some success in this “affirmative action” suit, but, he noted, Arab and Jewish students must use the common school playground at separate times.

Heyd worked in northern Israel, heavily shelled during the Lebanon War, when wealthier residents fled south, but the poor stayed behind.

“The Israel government failed to provide shelter and food for those left behind,” Heyd said. “We got grass-roots groups together to demand public hearings on why the government had fouled up.”

Litvak’s main concern is to find ways of boosting Ethiopian and Russian kids, who have great difficulties in keeping up in school.

In a conversation after the meeting, Aviva Sagalovitch Meyer, NIF’s national associate director, said that the Washington, D.C.-based organization has a $25 million annual budget and six branch offices in the United States, four in Israel, and one each in London and Toronto.

Meyer said that about 6 percent of NIF’s general support donors and revenue came from the L. A. area, and she hoped that the establishment of a local office would raise these figures.

Last month, the Ford Foundation renewed a $20 million grant to NIF.

The Los Angeles roundtable was marked by a harmonious atmosphere, in apparent contrast to a similar all-day seminar in New York.

There, according to a JTA report, an Arab speaker, whose organization is supported by NIF, regretted that his fellow Palestinians didn’t take up arms to fight the denial of their rights by “Israeli occupiers.”

Another Israeli Arab, a law professor at Hebrew University, called for a change in Israel’s flag and national anthem.

It is NIF’s support of Arab groups, such as those represented by the two speakers, that raise the hackles of critics. One opponent cited is Gerald Steinberg, director of NGO Monitor, a hawkish pro-Israel watchdog organization.

Referring to the remarks of the two speakers, Steinberg said, “This is not about making Israel a better society; it’s about denying the legitimacy of Israel to exist.”

In response, Larry Garber, NIF’s CEO, said that his organization would continue to fund Arab rights groups, even if they say or do things with which the NIF doesn’t quite agree.

Meyer, NIF’s associate director, added, “When you join a group, not everything is going to be something you like; you support the broad position. You don’t expect to agree with every position.”

Eliezer Ya’ari, who heads NIF’s operations in Israel, said that differences between NIF and its critics come down to a matter of ideology. On one side are those, in Israel and the Diaspora, who see Israel as a Middle Eastern country of all its citizens, as against those more interested in preserving the Jewish nature of the state, even at the expense of democratic principles.

“The challenge in the next 60 years,” he said, “is making Israel a part of the Middle East.”

For more information on the New Israel Fund, call (310) 566-6367. For more information on NIF, e-mail eaaronson@nif.org.

JTA associate editor Uriel Heilman contributed to this article.

Arab to deliver Hebrew TV news, new ancient neighborhood discovered in Jerusalem, Hamas still wants


Arab to deliver Hebrew TV news

Lucy Aharish, an Israeli Arab graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who also underwent broadcast training in Germany, was hired recently by Channel 10 television as a news anchor. Aharish, 25, told Ma’ariv in an interview Monday that although she has experienced racism in Israel, she believes Arabs can overcome such challenges and succeed. Having barely survived an attack on her family car when she visited Gaza as a child, she also voiced disinterest in the Palestinians.

Aharish is the fourth generation of a Muslim family from Nazareth, but spent most of her life in the southern town of Dimona, where she celebrated Jewish festivals and served in Gadna, Israel’s paramilitary youth training program. “There is no doubt that the different experiences that I underwent caused an identity crisis, which developed for years,” she said. “But the truth is that I don’t regret for a moment that my parents raised me in a Jewish environment. They gave me the privilege to stand in the middle of the road and look at the whole picture. I am grateful for this.”

Livni: Hamas smells E.U. accommodation

Israel’s foreign minister accused Hamas of seeking to weaken the European stand on the Palestinian Authority’s policies. Tzipi Livni said during a visit to Canada late Monday that the governing P.A. faction, which has rejected Western demands that it moderate its views on Israel, hopes the European Union will accommodate its intransigence.

“Hamas is looking at Europe, and they want to see this kind of hesitation,” Livni told reporters. “When they sense this smell of hesitation, why should they change in the future?”

The European Union last week called on the new coalition government being formed by Hamas and the moderate faction Fatah to set a diplomatic platform that “reflects” the international community’s preconditions that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept past rapprochement efforts. Livni said this did not signify a change in the European attitude toward Hamas.

“If somebody thinks that Hamas, while not recognizing Israel, while using terror — not to create a Palestinian state but to demolish the Jewish one — can be partners to something, they are wrong,” Livni said.

Hamas reaffirms goal to ‘liberate Palestine’

“We will not betray promises we made to God to continue the path of Jihad and resistance until the liberation of Palestine, all of Palestine,” the governing Palestinian Authority faction said in a statement Monday.

The move, which could complicate Palestinian efforts to lift a Western aid embargo on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, came in reaction to a rare criticism of Hamas by al-Qaida’s deputy commander Ayman Zawahri. In a statement Sunday, Zawahri denounced Hamas for agreeing to share power with the more moderate Palestinian faction Fatah, calling this capitulation to Israel and the West.”Zawahri’s recent statements were wrong,” the Hamas statement said. “Resistance is our strategy. How and when? This depends on the reality at the time and our corresponding view of things.”

Ancient Jewish neighborhood discovered in Jerusalem

A network of Second Temple-era streets, homes and ritual mikvah baths were found recently in Jerusalem’s Arab district of Shuafat when municipal workers laid tracks for a light railway, Ma’ariv reported Tuesday. The Antiquities Authority estimated that the finds, which currently spread over an area of some 100 acres, date to a period after the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. Evidence suggests the neighborhood was affluent and religiously observant.

“In the digs, many stone tools and caches of coins were discovered, including a rare gold coin with the image of the Emperor Trajan,” Antiquities Authority official Rahel Bar-Natan said.

Barnea to get Israel Prize

The Israel Prize Committee announced Tuesday that it would honor Yediot Achronot’s top political pundit, Nahum Barnea, for his career in journalism at this year’s Independence Day ceremonies.

“Barnea always makes sure to be close to the action, in places of social turmoil, in times of war or terror attacks, and even when his presence there puts his life at risk,” the Israel Prize judges wrote. Barnea, 63, is widely considered one of Israel’s most influential journalists.

Palestinians ready kosher produce

Palestinian farmers are reportedly preparing for a windfall from sales of produce to Israelis who observe the Jewish law that requires Jewish-owned land to lie fallow. The next Jewish year, 5768, is shmitta, meaning that it falls at the end of a seven-year cycle ordained by the Torah and in which religiously observant Israelis are formally barred from raising or harvesting fruits and vegetables. Some ultra-Orthodox groups in Israel have been in talks with Palestinian officials about obtaining produce from the Gaza Strip as an alternative, the Israeli newspaper Hatzofeh reported Monday. The meetings reportedly were facilitated by the Israeli military, which pledged to expedite the merchandise’s transport out of Gaza..”

Leo at the Wall spurs a fracas

Police tried to limit access to the Western Wall Plaza late Monday when actor Leonardo DiCaprio, on an Israel tour, paid his respects along with his Israeli girlfriend, model Bar Refaeli. Paparazzi surged forward and were rebuffed violently by DiCaprio’s bodyguards. Two of the guards were arrested for assault, police said. Earlier Monday, DiCaprio and Refaeli made an after-hours visit to Yad Vashem. The actor’s arrival in Israel has prompted a media frenzy that has been stoked by the glitzy couple’s camera shyness.

Israel fires ambassador who was found drunk and bound

Jerusalem sources said Monday that Tsuriel Raphaeli, its ambassador to El Salvador, has been recalled after El Savaldoran police a couple of weeks ago found him drunk, bound and wearing only bondage paraphernalia. Raphaeli had been expected back in Israel due to family issues, the political sources said. The Foreign Ministry had no immediate word on who would replace him.

Report: Rabin assassin expects child

Ma’ariv reported Tuesday that Yitzhak Rabin’s jailed assassin Yigal Amir, who is serving a life sentence, impregnated his wife, Larissa Trimbobler, during a recent conjugal visit. Amir was jailed for murdering the Israeli prime minister in 1995, but only last year did the Prisons Service fully recognize his marriage to Trimbobler, which was performed in a proxy ceremony. Amir’s family had no immediate comment on the Ma’ariv report.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Saudis breathe new life into diplomacy


For the first time in years, serious Israeli-Arab peace moves seem to be afoot. The key mover is Saudi Arabia, and the key document is a 2002 peace initiative that it sponsored.

The Saudis have quietly been exchanging ideas with Israeli leaders on changes in the document that would make it more palatable to Israel. They also have been closely coordinating their moves with the United States and the Arab world.

For its part, Israel is working with the U.S. on a common front. The Israelis and Americans believe that the Saudi peace plan, with changes along the lines Israel is suggesting, could become a basis for comprehensive peace talks.

For the Saudis, regional stability is the name of the game. They identify two main sources of potential unrest in the region: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iranian radicalism.

On the Palestinian front, the Saudis have made some striking moves. They’ve revived their 2002 peace plan and put it on the table for prior discussion with Israel; helped Hamas and Fatah reach a national unity agreement in Mecca; and provided the Palestinians with millions of dollars to help their struggling economy.

In other words, the Saudis have helped to create what some see as conditions for a new Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

But more than trouble with the Palestinians, the Saudis are motivated by fear that Shi’ite Iran might act to destabilize their regime and that of other Western-oriented Sunni Muslim states by launching a terrorist war against them. They also fear that Iran’s threatened attacks on American interests throughout the Middle East could destabilize the region.

The Saudis, therefore, are determined to persuade Iran to moderate its policies. That clearly jells with Israeli and American interests.

The Saudis do not oppose U.S. or, according to some reports, Israeli military action to preempt Iran’s nuclear program and curb Iranian influence, but they prefer the diplomatic route. An early March meeting between Saudi King Abdullah and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a last-ditch effort to halt the Iranians’ drive toward nuclear weapons.

But it also was an attempt to get Iran on board for the peace initiative with Israel. After the talks, the Saudis announced that Iran was ready to accept the Saudi peace plan, which entails recognition of Israel.

If true, it would have been a strong added incentive for Israel to engage. But Iran denied it had accepted the plan, which indeed would have contradicted Iran’s oft-stated aim to see Israel wiped off the map.

Nevertheless, no one disputes the rising Saudi influence.

“With the active encouragement of the White House, the Saudi king is becoming the No. 1 mediator in the Arab world, taking over the role from Egypt’s President Mubarak,” Arab affairs analyst Smadar Peri wrote in Yediot Achronot.

In her view, the Saudis have become key instruments of U.S. policy in the region. They’ve been using their economic and diplomatic muscle to prevent a sharp rise in the price of oil and to put economic pressure on Syria.

“The fear of the Iranian octopus is driving the Saudis and bringing about their growing closeness to the U.S.,” Peri wrote.

It also is creating an identity of interests between the Saudis and Israel.

The key player on the Saudi side is national security adviser Prince Bandar Bin Sultan. Bandar, who served as Saudi ambassador to Washington for 22 years, has been mediating between the U. S. and Iran. Most important, he has been leading secret contacts with Israel over the Saudi peace initiative.

Still, American input on the Israeli-Palestinian and wider Israeli-Arab tracks will be crucial. With this in mind, some Arab players are trying to convince the U. S. to lean on Israel.

On the eve of a Washington visit, Jordan’s King Abdullah II declared that the time had come for the United States to use its influence on Israel “to prove its transparency to the people of the region and that it is not biased.”

To ensure the United States stays on its side, Israel sent two of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s top aides, Yoram Turbovitch and Shalom Turjeman, to Washington to coordinate policy.

The main sticking point for Israel is the Saudi plan’s prescription for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. The 2002 formulation would give the refugees a right to return to Israel proper, which virtually all Israelis see as shorthand for the destruction of the Jewish state through a demographic onslaught.

In the secret talks with Prince Bandar, Israel has made it clear that the refugee option is totally unacceptable. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni argues that in the context of a two-state solution, it’s logical that Palestinian refugees would return to a Palestinian state, not Israel.

According to unconfirmed Israeli press reports, Saudi King Abdullah has ordered an appropriate change in the text. The plan, according to these reports, now says refugees will have a choice: either to return to the Palestinian state or stay where they are — in Jordan, Lebanon or Syria — and receive financial compensation.

The Saudis also reportedly hope to persuade Syria to drop its opposition to relinquishing the demand for a “right of return” to Israel in exchange for lifting Damascus’ international isolation.

If the Arab League adopts this position in the summit in Riyadh at the end of March, it would constitute a dramatic change in the Arab position — and, some feel, would force Israel to accept the revised plan as a basis for negotiation.

The plan offers normalization of relations with the entire Arab world, provided that Israel withdraws to its pre-1967 armistice lines and resolves its dispute with the Palestinians.

But the chairman of the Arab League, Amre Moussa, denies that there is Arab agreement on amending the Saudi plan. Moreover, even if the plan is changed, will the Palestinians agree to forego their demand for a right of return?

Hamas most certainly would not. It prefers to put off difficult final-status issues like refugees to a later date.

Attention Israelis: Please stop kvetching



Excerpt from Israeli TV show “Ktzarim”: some troubled people meet for group therapy.
In Hebrew with English subtitles.
Click on the BIG ARROW to view.


:::::::::::::::::::::

Security in Israel now is about as good as it gets. Suicide bombings have become a rarity; just the threat of one is a big news story. The northern border is again quiet, and Sderot is, if not quiet, considerably quieter than it’s been. Israelis don’t think twice about getting on buses or shopping downtown. Judging by their behavior, as opposed to their words, people in this country feel safe.

Meanwhile, the economy keeps growing. The war in Lebanon last summer didn’t cause anything more than a brief downturn. True, about half the Israeli population is either poor or close to it, but that’s nothing new. For this country’s “haves,” and for the national economy overall, it’s clear sailing.

Even driving a car in Israel is becoming safer all the time, believe it or not. Last year there were fewer road deaths than there have been in 20 years.

Yet to listen to Israelis, and to listen to the news media, the whole country is falling apart. All systems are in collapse. The leaders stink. Corruption and incompetence are everywhere. Tragically, people have become alienated from the state, from the society.

Oh, do me a favor.

First of all, Israelis have no real problem with corruption. No elected Israeli politician ever lost popularity because he was corrupt, or suspected of corruption. Some, like Arye Deri, Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, even gained popularity by claiming the police were persecuting them for political reasons.

Is Arkadi Gaydamak not suspected of massive corruption? Did this stop him from becoming one of the most powerful, popular men in Israel?
I don’t know which complaint I’m hearing more — that the leaders are corrupt, or that the justice system is too hard on the leaders.

Could it be that Israelis just need to kvetch about whoever’s in the headlines?

What a terrible situation, they moan. The new chief of police is already in hot water, the one before him was forced to resign, the head of the army resigns before he can be fired, the justice minister is convicted of sexual molestation, the president is going to be indicted for rape, the prime minister may be forced out for corruption or incompetence, or both, and the defense minister may be forced to go with him.

What can I say, except — that’s entertainment. Because the point is that this country is not falling apart. Can anybody explain how Katsav’s disgrace has hurt anyone but himself? If his disgrace has hurt the institution of the presidency, does anyone give a rip? If Shimon Peres becomes the new president, will it make a difference to anybody but Shimon Peres?

This is a very interesting show we’re watching, that’s all. These resignations and firings and investigations don’t hurt Israelis’ lives, and they don’t hurt the life of the nation, either.

While I think Dan Halutz got a bum rap, is the army lost without him? Do we have any less personal security, does Israel have any less national security, now that Gabi Ashkenazi is the chief of staff? Is any 18-year-old Israeli boy going to dodge the draft, or become any less of a soldier, because of the Winograd Commission?

The same holds true for the rest of the leaders under fire, or fired already. Can Israel survive, can we Israelis survive, without Moshe Katsav as president, without Moshe Karadi (or even Ya’acov Ganot) as chief of police, without Haim Ramon as justice minister, without Amir Peretz as defense minister, without Ehud Olmert as prime minister?

I think we can survive just fine. Maybe even better.

People are saying this is a corrupt country, a dysfunctional country.

I think all these investigations show just the opposite, but even among those who think Israel is going to the dogs — are any of them leaving the country, or thinking of leaving, because of what Katsav did to “A” or what Ramon did to “H”? Is anyone holding off on having another child, or on remodeling the house, because Halutz failed to make Hezbollah disappear, or because Karadi fiddled while the mafia bought a few police officers?

In 22 years living in Israel, I’ve never been approached by a civil servant for a bribe, I don’t know any woman who’s been raped or sexually molested by a politician, I haven’t been threatened by the mafia — and I don’t know anybody who has. These things happen here, but corruption and lawlessness are not the way of life in Israel like they are in Russia, China or dozens upon dozens of other countries in the world.

Furthermore, the Israeli army is one of the world’s best armies, and if the Israeli police aren’t one of the world’s best police forces, it’s not because of corruption.

I think the reason we’re seeing Israeli leaders dropping like flies is partly because law enforcement is getting tougher and more victims are coming forward, which are good reasons
Israelis may be in a terrible mood about the country, but the country is in very good shape. There are security threats, but there always have been and always will be. The important thing is that except for the 33 days of war last summer and the intermittent rocketing over the border from Gaza, this has been a safe country to live in for the last three years, and there’s a good chance it will go on being safe for years to come.

The economy offers a Western standard of living to people with good professional skills, which is a lot of people. The Israeli middle class lives well.

The only problems in this country that I would call grievous are: 1) the extent of poverty; 2) the second-class citizenship of Israeli Arabs; and 3) the increasingly extreme attitudes of many citizens, Jewish and Arab.

You have the right to shut up


Did you hear about the local court in Israel that sentenced a newspaper editor and a reporter to a year in jail for criticizing the prime minister? Or how about the 100 menwho were arrested at a private party in Tel Aviv because they were “dancing and behaving like women”? Or the Israeli court in Haifa that ruled that the testimony of a man is worth twice that of a woman?

You probably haven’t heard, because these abuses didn’t happen in Israel.They happened in Israel’s neighborhood, in countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and as you might imagine, there are plenty more where those came from.

What does any of this have to do with a column about the Pico-Robertson neighborhood? This week I feel like going a little broader.

There’s a controversy that has bubbled up in the Jewish world today around this question: Is it good for Israel when Jews go public with harsh criticism of Israel?

One recent example is a Jewish group that has been presenting on college campuses a stinging, single-minded and, in the eyes of many, exaggerated critique of the Israeli army. Presumably, this type of collective soul-searching demonstrates the Jewish values of fairness and good faith and ought to generate some goodwill in return.

Of course, Jewish criticism against Israel or its policies is nothing new — but not all criticism is created equal. Criticism that rails against the corruption in Israel’s government, for instance, is an example of a political system trying to clean up its act to better serve its people.

But Jewish criticism that publicly undermines Israel’s morality and ability to defend itself is another matter, and it can backfire.

If we keep “confessing” to an already hostile world, for example, that we are too harsh in defending ourselves, should we be surprised if that same world concludes that we deserve to be punished — that we had all this terrorism coming?

And if this public self-criticism happens only on our side — because the other side doesn’t allow it — aren’t we creating a false reality that puts inordinate responsibility on Israel for whatever goes wrong? When we complain that Israel’s global brand image is worse than that of murderous regimes, isn’t our public self-flagellation at least partly to blame?

In short, shouldn’t supporters of Israel be more careful with what it allows its enemies to hear?

As I write these words, I feel like an 80-year-old World War II veteran who spends his days looking at his medals. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can make you more exhaustingly boring and unsophisticated today than suggesting for one second that a Jew should watch his mouth.

For the Jews who don’t think twice before criticizing Israel in public, there’s no such thing as a bad debate. Go ahead and trash the Israeli army over civilian casualties, watch the enemy exploit this weakness to create even more civilian casualties and then let’s all celebrate the beginning of a “terribly important” debate.

Jews who are careful about not helping the enemy don’t have this fetish for debate. They see their home being broken into by people about to hurt their kids. Then, as they look at the faces of their frightened children, they have a choice to make: Do they argue with their spouse — in front of the burglars — about who was supposed to call that security company to install the new alarm, or do they figure out a way to protect their children and leave the debate on the alarm for later, in private?

These Jews’ mouths might be shut, but their eyes are wide open. They see that when Israel tried to give its enemy what it said it wanted (example: Gaza), things got even worse. They believe in peace, but not suicide, and they believe that in times of danger, knowing when to be discrete can be just as courageous as knowing when to speak out.

This is their guiding question: Does an enemy who wants to kill my family deserve to see all my insecurities?

So clearly, despite the ingrained Jewish habit of self-criticism, there are millions of Jews today who don’t think it’s a great idea to villify the Israeli army in front of American and pro-Palestinian college students.

Instead of buying you good will, it’s more likely to buy you bad PR.

Having said all that, in our collective obsession with Israel, Jews of all political stripes have missed a major opportunity: shining a light on the rest of Israel’s neighborhood.

While the world’s press records every Israeli mistake, millions of Arabs are being silently persecuted across the Middle East — gays who are arrested for being gay, women who are humiliated for being women, reporters who are attacked for reporting, Christians who are persecuted for being religious, poets who are jailed for writing the wrong poems.

Where is the outrage? Where are the “Breaking the Silence” campus road shows? Where is the liberal support for these Arab victims of human rights abuse who don’t have a fraction of the freedoms that Arabs in Israel enjoy?

The notion of shutting Jewish mouths is a moot point — nobody can shut a Jew up. If a Jew exercises the freedom to shut up, it’s a personal choice, and it’s usually for good reason.

But for all you progressive Jews out there who believe it’s in the grand Jewish tradition to always speak out, there are 300 million Arabs who don’t live in the vicinity of Israel, and who could surely use a road show.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Ahmed Tibi Switches Sides


This week, when freshman Member of Knesset Dr. Ahmed Tibi declared his first preference for committee assignments — Defense and Foreign Affairs, which is briefed regularly by the Shin Bet and Mossad — right-wing MKs laughed it off. This would be like inviting Saddam Hussein into the Israeli Security Cabinet, they said. No Israeli Arab has ever sat on this Knesset committee — certainly no Arab with a resume such as Tibi’s.

Until a few months ago, when he declared his candidacy for Knesset, Tibi, 40, was an official adviser to Yasser Arafat. Now he is switching sides.

In the lobby of Tibi’s office on Salah a-Din Street in East Jerusalem, a little Palestinian flag sits on top of the bookcase. Taped to the wall is a 1999 Knesset campaign bumper sticker that reads (in Palestinian national colors), “Say yes to Tibi, no to Bibi” — a prophetic turnaround of the 1996 pro-Netanyahu campaign slogan, “Bibi or Tibi.”

Asked how he can profess an MK’s loyalty to Israel when he has a Palestinian national flag in his lobby, he crafts a neat comeback, or maybe pulls one out of reserve: “In East Jerusalem, the only flag that should be flying is the Palestinian flag. This is occupied land,” he says.

It was the day before Tibi’s swearing in as a new member of Knesset. The following day, when he rose from his seat in the Knesset chamber and declared, “I pledge” — as in, pledge allegiance to the State of Israel — right-wing MK Michael Kleiner called out, “You pledge allegiance to whom?”

“It’s a demonstrated fact that Tibi is loyal to the Palestinian Authority, not to the State of Israel,” said Kleiner (who favors making Israeli Arabs pass a loyalty test to keep their citizenship) in the Knesset hallway. “I have nothing against him personally, but his presence in the Knesset makes a joke of Israeli democracy.”

After being sworn in, Tibi was asked his reaction to Kleiner’s catcall. “Did he say something? I didn’t hear it,” he said.

Making his entrance to the Knesset lobby, he was swarmed by reporters. Dozens of hands reached out to shake his, to wish him, “Mabruk” — congratulations. Later, walking toward the MK’s cafeteria, his face almost glowed with satisfaction, and even a little wonder.

To the right, Tibi’s presence in the Knesset is an outrage. He is the classic “fifth column,” his detractors maintain — who knows what national secrets he’ll now be able to funnel to Arafat? Tibi, of course, dismisses such talk as “stupid,” saying Arafat knows he’s no longer a conduit of information, a go-between, an adviser, or a spin doctor, but strictly an Israeli MK.

Yet the irony of his becoming an Israeli lawmaker after years of working so closely with Arafat only enhances Tibi’s appeal as an Israeli public figure. He’s not only a politician; he’s a top-drawer media celebrity, an Israeli pop culture hero.

He shocks Jewish audiences with his brash Arab politics, giving usually better than he gets from his right-wing opponents on the talk shows, yet comes over with such smoothness and charm, in such flowing Hebrew, with such an easy laugh, and he wraps it all in such classy attire, that while Israeli Jews may be shocked by what they think of as Tibi’s radicalism, they can’t help but be intrigued by his personality. It’s a mixed reaction of alarm and fascination that, in pure “rating” terms, registers sharply as audience approval. Israelis can’t take their eyes or ears off him.

Tibi knows it, and he plays it to the hilt. Not only is he constantly being interviewed in the news, on the political talk shows, and on the variety shows that also feature “serious” guests, but he even shows up on the comedy and game shows. He was one of the celebrity guests on “Nine in the Square,” the Israeli version of “Hollywood Squares.” Another time, he was on the Israeli version of “Candid Camera.” Tibi says these appearances are part of his mission to “humanize” Arabs to the Israeli public.

Assessing his impact on Israelis, Tibi says, “I think I familiarized nearly every Israeli family with Arafat and the Palestinians, and I tried to do it in a way that Israelis like to hear, yet without compromising my beliefs. I presented a different kind of Palestinian information campaign to the Israeli public so that even if they didn’t agree with me, they had to give considerable thought to what I said.”

Hebrew University Professor Yaron Ezrahi, a noted analyst of Israeli politics and society, says Tibi’s stature in three different, often conflicting, worlds — Palestinian, Israeli Arab and Israeli Jewish — puts him in “a strategic position to discuss the nature of our existence here.”

He not only discusses, he embodies the friction and overlap between these different worlds, and is, therefore, a “tremendously intriguing figure,” Ezrahi says. Tibi keeps Israelis guessing — is he Palestinian or Israeli? He made Arafat’s case in “beautiful, almost literary Hebrew,” Ezrahi notes, presenting Israelis with a package of contradictions.

It was Tibi’s first meeting with Arafat in 1984 that ushered him into politics. The meeting was arranged by Raymonda Tawil, now Arafat’s mother-in-law and at the time a frequent interlocutor of Israeli peace activists seeking “dialogue” with Palestinians. Tibi, then a gynecologist starting out at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, recalls that the meeting took place at 2 a.m. in one of Arafat’s Tunis apartments. They talked about Israeli government attitudes toward U.N. resolution 242, seen at the time as the key to a breakthrough toward peace.

By now, Tibi says, “when Arafat makes the slightest movement with his head, I know what he’s thinking. Nobody in Israel understands him like I do.”

On the afternoon he was to be sworn in at the Knesset, Tibi walked the hallway toward the MK’s cafeteria. He was looking all around, trying to take everything in. There was a bounce in his step. One got the impression that the air smelled sweet to him.

“If I weren’t moved now, I wouldn’t be human,” he said. “I’m going to have to make a change. I used to be an adviser to the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and now I’m representing the Arab citizens of Israel in the Knesset. This is all new for me.”