Pullout Seen Really as West Bank Issue


The Gaza withdrawal in itself plays only a small part in the current face-off between settlers and the Israeli government. Three other and more basic issues are at stake, and they go to the core of what the Jewish state will become, according to Arie Nadler.

Nadler, a professor of social psychology at Tel Aviv University, is a noted authority on conflict resolution, as well as on the impact of massive social trauma on individuals and groups. He meets frequently with both Palestinian and settler leaders, and will lead a weekend seminar in Irvine Aug. 19-21. he will discuss the Gaza disengagament from the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives and its likely aftermath.

The crux of the present confrontation is not Gaza, but whether Israel will eventually abandon the West Bank and, in essence, return to the pre-1967 borders, Nadler said in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv.

“The settlers are trying to make the Gaza withdrawal so traumatic that no future Israeli government will even consider evacuating [the settlement of] Ariel on the West Bank,” he said.

On a second, deeper level, the confrontation is about “the meaning of democracy in Israeli society,” whether its members are willing to accept majority decisions and play by the same political rules.

The most fundamental and important aspect of the Gaza disengagement goes to the seemingly intractable secular vs. religious divide in Israel.

“We face the question as to the ultimate source of authority in the state,” Nadler said. “Is it democratic rule or Torah?”

From his discussions with settler leaders, Nadler is cautiously optimistic that the evacuation of Gaza will proceed without large-scale violence.

“The political leadership of the religious Zionist settlers has an intuitive sense of the fragility of the ties that bind us as a people,” Nadler observed. “Just as in the Sinai Peninsula withdrawal in 1982, the majority of settlers will approach the red line, but they will not cross it.”

This relatively hopeful scenario could change instantly if Palestinians decide to use the changeover to launch large-scale terrorist attacks, he warned.

Nadler, who describes himself as a political centrist, showed considerable sympathy for the emotional pain of the Gaza settlers.

“In a way, the settlers were the pampered children of both the Likud [right-wing] and Labor [left-wing] parties,” he said. “They were told that they were the true Zionist pioneers. They saw themselves on a higher moral plane, and suddenly they are told to go away.”

To help heal the settlers’ trauma, it is vital for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to assign some deeper meaning, such as the welfare and survival of Israel, to the painful disengagement, Nadler believes.

In the aftermath of the withdrawal, the relocated Gaza settlers will go in two different directions, Nadler thinks.

“A minority will disengage itself from Israeli society and secular democracy,” he said. “The majority, after overcoming a psychological crisis, will perhaps re-examine its assumptions and tactics, and ultimately move closer to the political center.”

Nadler will be the scholar-in-residence at the seminar sponsored by Ameinu, formerly the Labor Zionist Alliance, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Irvine. Also on the program will be political scientist Raphael Sonnenshein, will who speak on “California in Ferment.”

For seminar reservations until Aug. 16 call (323) 655-2842, or e-mail LZinLA@aol.com.

 

We Must Renew Presbyterian Dialogues


Late last month, the 493 delegates to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PC-U.S.A.) adopted a series of deeply troubling “overtures” (their term for policy statements).

The General Assembly defeated an attempt to cut off funding for “messianic” congregations, which target Jews for proselytization and conversion. It condemned the Israeli security fence and, in an overture supporting the Geneva peace accords, called for divestment from companies doing business in Israel.

One of the rabbis I spoke to observed that, when taken together, the refusal to suspend funding for proselytization of Jews and the statement opposing the security barrier suggest that PC-U.S.A. believes that “Jewish souls are worth saving, but not Jewish lives.”

These statements reveal a significant chasm separating the Jewish community and PC-U.S.A. But however tempting it may be to entrench ourselves behind defensive and divisive rhetoric, for the sake of Israel, our long-standing friendship with the Presbyterians and our common values and concerns, we must strive to mend bridges rather than burn them.

Sadly, with one very important exception, none of these gestures is really new. PC-U.S.A., like many of the mainline Protestant denominations, claims to be “even-handed” in its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, by equating terrorist acts committed against innocent civilians with legitimate Israeli military actions, they ignore the very security on which Israel depends. One can be a critic of particular policies of the Israeli government or of specific terror-fighting tactics without falling into the trap of moral equivalency.

What is new, and therefore most troubling, is the call for divestment. PC-U.S.A. has set a double standard by singling out Israel for economic and political sanctions.

Where is the PC-U.S.A. overture on holding accountable the Palestinian Authority officials who facilitate terrorism through the misuse of Palestinian and international funds? Where is the overture demanding true political reform in the Palestinian Authority? And where are the overtures divesting from countries with far, far greater human rights abuses than the democratic country of Israel: Myanmar, North Korea, China, Iran?

It has long been a linchpin of doves in Israel and their supporters around the world that the more economically and militarily robust Israel felt itself to be, the more willing it was to take risks for peace when the time came about. An Israeli economy weakened by divestment undercuts that willingness, and if shaped to include military contractors, divestment could weaken Israel’s security.

Although I know that many within PC-U.S.A. earnestly seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict, its endorsement of divestment threatens to gravely destabilize the dynamics that are indispensable to a real peace process.

In response to these unprecedented overtures, some in our community have called for ending all dialogue with Presbyterians. I believe that is exactly the wrong response. What we need is a renewed dialogue that would occur on two levels.

On the national level, we need to reach out to the leadership of PC-U.S.A. and explain to them — without rancor or disdain — that the repercussions of their actions belie their stated support for Israel and deter progress toward a lasting peace.

On the local level, synagogues across the country need to reach out to Presbyterian churches in their communities and embrace a dialogue around Israel that will be difficult and may not lead to complete agreement but is absolutely essential.

Part of that difficulty will be responding to these gestures in a firm and critical manner without resorting to exaggeration or distortion. For example, PC-U.S.A.’s overture did not, as one national Jewish organization claimed, “call Israel a racist, apartheid state….” Such distortions distract from the sincerity and effectiveness of our response.

To address the immense criticism facing their endorsement of divestment, PC-U.S.A. clarified that “the assembly’s action calls for a selective divestment and not a blanket economic boycott, keeping before us our interest in Israel’s economic and social well-being.”

While welcoming that clarification, it is now our job to explain to them that divestment in any degree threatens the very existence of Israel and the prospects for peace. And it is our job to ensure that PC-U.S.A. lives up to its promise to keep Israel’s well-being not only in their words but in their deeds. Only through honest and sustained dialogue can this be achieved.

We must have the resolve to reach out across the chasm to our Presbyterian neighbors. We must do whatever we can to assure that, where the Presbyterians have gotten it wrong, they will work with us to get it right.


Mark J. Pelavin is director of the Commission on Interreligious Affairs of Reform Judaism and associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Hostility to Jews Permeates New Iraq


Last August, when Imam Mahdi al Jumeili of the small Hudheifa Mosque in Baghdad’s Shurti neighborhood met three American officers to resolve a dispute over soldiers entering the grounds of his mosque, his first question was: "Are any of you Jews?"

When he was satisfied that none were, he allowed the meeting to proceed. Prior to the Americans’ arrival, he had voiced his views about them.

"We are sure they came here to steal the country and protect Israel," he said, adding that "Judaism and Masonism are at war with Islam."

Such views are common in Iraq, where al Yahud (the Jews) are everywhere. Purportedly serious works about the Jewish threat, including Arabic editions of the notorious czarist forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," are available in every book market.

The widespread acceptance of outlandish fantasies about Jewish infiltration and manipulation demonstrates the degree to which Iraqis, whose views were shaped by years of authoritarian control, misunderstand and fear the outside world. The anti-Semitic paranoia is one measure of how difficult the transition to liberal democracy will be.

For a journalist, not a day goes by without mention of Jews and Israel. "We are Muslims!" a taxi driver declared proudly during an evening ride to a hotel. "And Jews come to our land?"

When asked to whom he was referring, he said: "They are all Jews. The Americans are all Jews and mercenaries. We know their religion."

Another taxi driver explained that "America and the Jews are one. We know this from their interests, their relationships and America’s defense of the Jews…. America and Jews are the same because they have the same goals and the same faith."

An angry man in the market of Abu Ghraib, a town west of Baghdad, explained that "the Americans are Jews. Their work is Jewish. Nobody accepts them."

Last summer and fall, signs on the walls of the Abu Hanifa mosque warned Iraqis that Jews had come to the Ekal Hotel and planned to purchase land, just as they did in Palestine, to drive Iraqis out of their country. "Do not stab your fellow Iraqis in the heart" by selling land to the Jews, the signs exhorted. A visit to the Ekal Hotel proved that it was closed for renovations and had no guests.

In November, at the Rahman Mosque in Baghdad’s Mansour district, faithful Shiites heard Sheikh Ali al Ibrahimi condemn a decision by the Iraqi Governing Council to let certain non-Iraqis obtain Iraqi citizenship. Ibrahimi warned that "if Jews reside in Iraq, then they will become Iraqi citizens, and they will own Iraq, and we will be their guests."

The widespread Iraqi hostility toward Jews stands in contrast to a more ambivalent Muslim tradition. Although the Quran frequently condemns Jews, it mandates a modus vivendi with them, relegating them to an inferior but protected status.

Historically, the Muslim attitude toward Jews lacked the racial element of European anti-Semitism, holding that if a Jew converted, he was to be treated like any other Muslim. But the conflict over Palestine, the creation of Israel and its defeat of Arabs and occupation of their land, intensified anti-Jewish feeling. Arab and Muslim authors began to adopt European racist and anti-Semitic theories about Jewish conspiracies to explain Israel’s existence, strength and American support.

Those seeking to give these theories religious legitimacy have little trouble finding support in the Quran, a sprawling work with many passages that are open to interpretation. "Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews and pagans," instructs Verse 5:85, implying that Jews and pagans are of equal stature as enemies of Muslims and God.

The Quran describes Jews as disobedient and treacherous unbelievers, rejecting God and His messengers. The Jewish worship of the golden calf after God made a covenant with them (2:92-3) and their recurring violations of pacts made with the Prophet Mohammed (8:56-8) show they are not to be trusted.

According to the "cow" chapter (2:88), "God’s curse is on them for their blasphemy. Little is it they believe." Other verses imply that Jews "shall be the companions of hell fire" (4:86), describe them as bragging about killing Jesus (4:157) and call their deeds "evil" (4:79-80). Thus the basis exists, for those who choose to use it, to promote the hostility and palpable fear of Jews that confront journalists in Iraq on a daily basis.

Iraqi newspapers have helped spread the panic about a Jewish invasion. Last summer, the independent Sunni Al-Saah warned Iraqis to check Chinese-made appliances for concealed Stars of David, because the Israelis would be surreptitiously selling their products in Iraq. The independent Iraqi daily, Al-Yawm Al-Aakher, reported that "the frantic campaign to resettle the Jews [in Iraq] has aroused the annoyance of Iraqis, particularly the clerics."

On July 10, Al-Adala, a newspaper published by the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, warned that "a number of Jews are attempting to purchase factories in Baghdad." Dar Al-Salam, a newspaper owned by the Iraqi Islamic Party, reported on the same day that Mosul’s association of clerics issued an edict prohibiting the sale of land to non-Iraqis, lest it end up in the hands of Jews.

Such accounts are taken quite seriously. It seems nearly everyone in Baghdad has a friend or relative who has seen Jews buying land.

A version of this article originally appeared in Reason magainze.

All-Female Plays Fill Niche for Frum


At Chabad’s Bais Chana High School on Pico Boulevard, a number of girls are sitting around a table with director Robin Garbose, reading through a new scene of "Portraits in Faith," their upcoming original musical. In the scene, a gold-digging wife tells her hapless husband that he no longer has any claim to his fortune and that she is going to use his money to party. The husband is Jewish, the wife is not, and her non-Jewishness infuses her with a particularly nasty streak of anti-Semitic superiority. It’s a meaty scene, and though the girls are reading the lines for the first time, they are handling them with aplomb. The wife’s malicious insults become more delightfully sinister in the reading, whereas the husband becomes the lame coward who gets weaker with every word.

On a dramatic level, the musical is a multigenerational historical drama that takes place in mid-19th-century Germany, and is replete with marital discord, class conflict and religious struggles. It highlights the dissonance between the Orthodox and the Reform. On an educational level, the play is a vehicle for the girls to become more self-confident and use their talents for performing arts in an environment that remains faithful to halachah. In keeping with the laws of Kol Isha, which prohibit a woman from singing in front of men for reasons of modesty, and tznius (general modesty) the play will be performed to audiences of women only. And the play itself is not just a drama — it’s a story with a moral. At the end of it, the audience is meant to appreciate the courage and dedication of Jewish women in keeping Torah alive through the ages and feel inspired about the beauty and the holiness of the mitzvah of going to the mikvah (ritual bath).

Garbose expects that at least 1,000 women will come out to see the play when it is performed on March 3, but judging from past audiences at other all-girl productions, that estimate seems conservative. In February, Bnos Esther, a small Chasidic girls’ high school on Beverly Boulevard, put on an all-girl production called "Simply Not The Same." The theme of the play was the importance of Torah, and more than 1,000 women showed up to see it over two nights, a large number considering that Bnos Esther only has 50 girls in the entire high school. Last year Bais Yaakov High School performed their biennial "Halleli" — an all-girl song, dance and drama fest — and drew an audience of 4,000 women over two nights.

The reason for the great turnouts is clear. The plays cater to women and girls in the ultra-Orthodox community who restrict the amount of popular culture that they let into their lives, because of what they see as its irreligious and immodest content. Nevertheless, these women still want to be entertained, but they just don’t want to compromise their religious principals in doing so.

"Most of the people who come to these things do not go to outside entertainment," said Chaya Shamie, the co-curricular director at Bais Yaakov and the producer of "Halleli." "This is an opportunity for them to go to an all-women’s performance that is done in a Torah fashion, that follows all the [halachic] guidelines."

"These plays are the only shows that I would take my daughters to, because as innocent as so many things seem, there are many hidden cultural messages in the popular entertainment out there," said a mother of two girls from the Fairfax area. "I want my daughters’ culture to be a Torah culture. It’s very empowering for them because they see themselves up there in a few years."

For "Portraits in Faith," Garbose’s husband, Levi, adapted a novel by Marcus Lehman, a 19th-century German writer who is something of a John Grisham of the Orthodox world. His books typically are plot-driven, hard-to-put-down novels that are infused with messages of faith. For the songs of the musical, Levi wrote original lyrics to Chasidic nigunim (wordless melodies). For the set design, Garbose plans on new visual possibilities using interesting lighting and some carefully chosen set pieces that will evoke the atmosphere of a different era and country without blowing the minimal budget that Bais Chana set aside for the play. All the girls in the school are involved in the play in some way, either as actresses, prop designers, costume makers, ticket sellers or stage managers.

"Things like Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl make a very compelling argument for all-women’s productions," she said. "What happens when you have a production that is for women only is that it takes the whole sexual component out of it. It’s incredibly empowering."

"Portraits in Faith" will be performed on March 3 at the Scottish Rite Theatre, 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles at 7:30 p.m. For tickets call (310) 278-8995 ext. 405.

Arab Groups Assail Bush Appointment


Jewish and Arab leaders say President Bush’s appointment of Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes to a federal think tank — despite the objections of Arab groups and some congressional Democrats — offers a window into White House thinking on Middle East issues.

Bush’s Aug. 22 appointment of Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, to the board of directors of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) comes after Arab American and Muslim groups waged a strong battle against his Senate confirmation. They called Pipes an "Islamaphobe" who made bigoted comments against Arabs and Muslims.

The USIP was founded by Congress in 1984 to create programs and fellowships that foster peace and nonviolent conflict resolution. The organization frequently sponsors lectures in Washington on international conflicts. Its board is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Jewish groups were gearing up to back Pipes in the Senate, saying they rely on his insight and scholarship on militant Islam. In the end, however, no heavy lifting was required. Instead, Bush placed Pipes on the board through a recess appointment, allowing him to serve without confirmation until the end of the congressional term in January 2005.

Jewish leaders say the move shows the White House’s commitment to combating the threat radical Islam poses to the United States and its allies. Pipes had warned of the danger of militant Islam long before Sept. 11 and criticized many scholars in his field who he said had become apologists for Islamic militancy.

Arab leaders, however, say the appointment shows that some White House officials hold the same "right-wing" views on Middle East issues as Pipes. Specifically, they point to Elliott Abrams, a senior official on Middle East affairs at the National Security Council, who they say has a track record of public comments that put his positions in line with those of Pipes.

Pipes was nominated for the post in April, but his confirmation was postponed last month by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee after several lawmakers, including Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), voiced opposition to it.

"It certainly reached a level of attention and publicity that surprised me," Pipes said. Major newspaper editorials came out for and against the nominee. Pipes said he was told the White House decided to use a recess appointment, because of its eagerness to fill the institute’s board, not because of concerns over his ultimate confirmation.

Pipes said Kennedy and others misunderstood the writing and work he has done for more than 25 years, at times taking his comments out of context and at other times distorting them.

Arab groups claimed Pipes had said that Muslims do not follow proper hygiene, but Pipes said he was simply describing the way Europeans look at Muslims. Also, he said many of the comments he has made about radical Islam often are mistaken as accusations against the Muslim religion in general.

"I’m making a fairly complex and novel argument about the differences between religious Islam and radical Islam," he said. "It’s an important argument that needs to be made."

Pipes said he will expand on his rationale for the objections to his nomination in a column for the New York Post.

Hussein Ibish, communications director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said Pipes is prevaricating when he says that he is trying to distinguish between Islam per se and terrorist actions linked to militant Islam.

"He defaults to putting everyone in an Islamist militant category," Ibish said. "You have to basically agree with his pro-Likud stance to not be considered a militant Muslim."

Several Jewish groups quickly praised Pipes’ nomination, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The Anti-Defamation League said Pipes had an "important approach and perspective to the challenges facing the U.S. in the post-9/11 world."

The nomination of Pipes, a frequent lecturer to Jewish audiences, was being watched in the American Jewish community. Jewish officials said they would have backed Pipes vocally if a fight over his nomination had erupted on the Senate floor.

Instead, the community decided to stay silent in order not to derail a process that was moving in Pipes’ favor. Meanwhile, many Arab leaders voiced their opposition.

When word of Pipes’ impending recess appointment became public, nearly a dozen Muslim and interfaith groups spoke out against him and led a phone campaign to the White House against the appointment.

Ibish said Arab and Muslim groups consider the fact that Pipes’ nomination required a "backdoor" appointment a victory for their cause. "It’s an important political statement that the White House had to do it this way," he said.

Pipes said his writings have been more closely scrutinized in the past five months and that he has learned to be more cautious.

"I’ve learned to be careful to make sure things I say cannot be taken out of context," he said. "It is the lesson of increased attention that I hope I have profited from."