September 24, 2018

Sarsour: American Muslims Shouldn’t ‘Humanize’ Israelis

Screenshot from Twitter.

Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour said over the weekend that Muslims shouldn’t be humanizing Israelis, referring to Israel as the “oppressor.”

As reported by The Investigative Project for Terrorism and the Algemeiner, during the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)’s conference, Sarsour declared that American Muslims “are complicit in the occupation of Palestinians, in the murder of Palestinian protesters” if they’re not actively promoting the Palestinian cause.

“If you’re on the side of the oppressor, or you’re defending the oppressor, or you’re actually trying to humanize the oppressor, then that’s a problem,” Sarsour said.

Sarsour added that Muslims who didn’t speak out were not patriotic:

“When I stand up here and I’m fighting for your rights and the rights of all people in these United States of America, I am a true patriot. And those of you who have fear in your hearts and don’t have the courage to stand up for your deen (religion), for your communities, for your religious institutions, for your children, that is not just a question of your patriotism. It is a question of your iman (faith).”

Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper told the Journal in a phone interview that Sarsour’s comments about humanizing the oppressor are what “you would associate… with Hamas.”

“You wouldn’t automatically associate such language on the part of someone who is touted as an elite spokesperson for women’s rights, equal rights in the United States,” Cooper said.

Cooper added that Sarsour’s comments likely stem from “desperation” due to recent global developments of Gulf Arabs having “unprecedented normal contact” with Israelis.

“This has nothing to do with making America a more inclusive and welcoming society,” Cooper said. “This is about recasting the values of our nation to fit her mindset and we can only hope that there will be more and more voices within the progressive leadership that denounce her.”

Sarsour has previously called Zionism “creepy” and that someone cannot be both a Zionist and a feminist, telling The Nation, “You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none.” She also doesn’t believe in a two-state solution, as Sarsour is an advocate for a single Palestinian state.

Sarsour also made headlines recently for being arrested for disrupting Supreme Court nominee’s Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

Former Chief Rabbi of Britain Calls Out Corbyn on ‘Anti-Semitic’ Remarks

Photo from Flickr.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Britain, spoke out against Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s recently unearthed comments on Zionists not understanding “English irony” as “the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism” in an interview with the New Statesman.

In the interview published on Tuesday, Sacks decried Corbyn’s comments as “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.”

“It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien,” Sacks said.

Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech involved then-Defense Minister Powell railing against massive immigration into Britain.

Sacks added that Corbyn “has given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove from Israel from the map.”

“When he implies that, however long they have lived here, Jews are not fully British, he is using the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism,” Sacks said. “When challenged with such facts, the evidence for which is before our eyes, first he denies, then he equivocates, then he obfuscates. This is low, dishonest and dangerous. He has legitimized the public expression of hate, and where he leads, others will follow.”

The Labour Party is claiming that Corbyn was only talking about “a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists,” but Corbyn’s remarks seem to have been a breaking point for some British Jews. The London Times’ Josh Glancy wrote in a Monday New York Times op-ed:

The video was a watershed for many. Daniel Finkelstein, a Tory peer and columnist for The Times of London, called the revelation “qualitatively different from anything that has come before.” Ben Judah, a Labour-voting author, said that “the nasty comment from Mr. Corbyn on ‘Zionists’ not getting ‘English irony’ has finally snapped the benefit of the doubt extended by many Jewish progressives.” 

A writer for The Guardian, Simon Hattenstone, who has repeatedly defended Jeremy Corbyn against charges of anti-Semitism, called his speech “unquestionably anti-Semitic.” And it wasn’t just the Jews. George Monbiot, a giant of the British left, described the comments as “anti-Semitic and unacceptable.”

And from Mr. Corbyn’s most vehement defenders, such as the Guardian columnist Owen Jones or the Novara Media columnist Ash Sarkar? Crickets.

“This was classic anti-Semitism,” Glancy wrote. “Here were a group of Jews with whom Mr. Corbyn has a political disagreement. And he smeared them not on the basis of that disagreement but on the basis of their ethnicity. He accused them of failing to assimilate English values, of not fitting in, of still being a bit foreign. Had they been Christian Zionists, he could not have insulted them in this way.”

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, a British watchdog group, has called on Corbyn to step down from the Labour Party.

“We had hoped that the Labour Party might at some point rise to the defense of British Jews by removing Jeremy Corbyn or by demanding his resignation, but the institutions of the once proudly anti-racist Labour Party are now corrupted and will not act,” the watchdog organization said. “Instead, they merely persecute those members who stand up to anti-Semitism.”

UCLA Unsure About Hosting Anti-Zionist Conference in November

Photo from Public Domain Pictures.

National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) announced on their website that UCLA’s SJP chapter will be hosting the national SJP conference in November. However, when the Jewish Journal contacted UCLA, they had not yet confirmed that the conference would be happening on campus.

Algemeiner first reported that UCLA would be hosting the conference, linking to National SJP’s announcement, which states: “Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA will be hosting the 8th annual National Students for Justice in Palestine Conference on November 16-18, 2018 in Los Angeles, CA.”

 But Ricardo Vazquez, UCLA’s associate director of media relations, told the Journal in an email that UCLA had first learned about the conference in a Facebook post on August 21.

“We [are] working to verify the information in the Facebook post,” Vazquez wrote. “SJP is a student group, and most students are still away from campus until we start the fall quarter in late September. To clarify again: This would be an SJP-sponsored event that the organization plans to host on campus.”

UCLA’s SJP and National SJP decried Zionism in the announcement as “perverse in all aspects of Palestinian life and aims to destroy Palestinian existence and culture.”

“With the Nakba and the Naksa, relentless attacks on Gaza, cementing apartheid into law, and the everyday oppression of Palestinians at all levels of life, it may seem at times like all hope of seeing a free Palestine has been diminished,” SJP UCLA and National SJP wrote on the National SJP website. “And yet, Palestinians have persevered through the generations by means of their resistance and resilience.”

They also referred to Zionism as “ethnic cleansing, destruction, mass expulsion, apartheid, and death” and that it “can be destroyed” and said that they would discuss divestment campaigns as one of the ways they can be active on college campuses.

UCLA’s Students Supporting Israel (SSI) chapter called on UCLA to deny SJP from being allowed to host their conference on campus in light of the May 17 disruption of an SSI event.

“SJP clearly aimed for the destruction of our event, the denial of our free speech, and the negation of the academic freedoms which our university stands for, a similar pattern of action used by them on US campuses time after time,” UCLA SSI wrote on Facebook. “While for some the events of May 17th are well in the past or act as merely a reminder of the growing prevalence of anti-Semitism Zionophobia across university campuses, for us, SJP across the country serves as an organization that denies freedom of speech and uses violent methods to silence their opponents, methods that lead to bullying and violence.”

They added that the SJP conference aims “to further subject our university to their racist, hateful, and Zionophobic tactics and messages.”

“Zionism is the national movement of the Jewish people that called for Jewish sovereignty and led to the establishment of the state of Israel,” UCLA’s SSI wrote. “Zionists believe in the return of an ancient and indigenous people into their homeland after a millennia, and the right of the Jewish people to finally become masters of their own destiny. Today, decades after the Jewish people have returned to their homeland to established a Jewish, indigenous, and democratic state, those who support the existence of Israel face anti-Semitism and Zionophobic attacks and disruptions against them on college campuses, and those efforts are greatly led by SJP.”

The post concluded with the call for the UCLA administration to “take the appropriate actions in not allowing a well-known hate group like SJP to host their national conference on our campus.”

“In doing so, the administration will set a national example that denial of free speech, disruption, intimidation of students, and violence will not be tolerated in the academic community,” UCLA’s SSI wrote.

UCLA professor Judea Pearl had a similar reaction.

“My students and colleagues at UCLA express revulsion and indignation at the idea that our campus will be hosting a racist Zionophobic conference aimed at the destruction of the Jewish homeland,” Pearl said in a statement sent to the Journal. “Israel is a cherished symbol of identity to thousands of students on this campus, and sponsoring a blunt Zionophobic conference at their face is telling them they are not welcome at the University of California. Zionophobic racism is still racism.”

“We plead with the Chancellor to react to this proposed conference the same way he would react to any racist conference, be it Islamophobic or white-supremacist.”

When asked about how UCLA would address concerns of pro-Israel students about the SJP conference, Vazquez responded:

UCLA is bound by the First Amendment, which protects everyone’s right to express their ideas, even those that are controversial or unpopular. UCLA officials condemned the disruption of the ‘Indigenous Peoples Unite’ event on May 17, activating UCLA’s student conduct process and forwarding complaints filed by students to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, which is now reviewing the matter. UCLA remains committed to protecting all of our students, regardless of their religious or ethnic identities or political beliefs. We will hold everyone to the same standards and continue to work to foster an environment where everyone’s rights are protected. Today we are proud that UCLA has many intellectual and cultural links to Jewish and Israeli institutions. Many UCLA schools, departments, and institutes have active student and faculty exchange programs with Israel and we have study abroad programs at the Hebrew University, the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Technion.”

As of publication time, neither UCLA’s SJP nor National SJP had responded to the Journal’s request for comment.

University of Arizona Hires Hezbollah Supporter to Teach Course on Politics

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

New documents obtained by Judicial Watch reveal that the University of Arizona is paying Noam Chomsky, a long-time critic of Israel who has praised Hezbollah, at least $62,500 a year to teach a political course for the university.

According to Judicial Watch, Chomsky was initially brought on as a guest lecturer, and then became a part-time “consultant” for the university, where he was paid $10,000 per lecture and was only required to show up for six lectures. The university then signed Chomsky to a three-year deal from 2017-2020 with annual salary of $250,000; the average yearly salary for a full-time engineering professor at UA is $80,000. The university disputes the $250,000 figure, claiming that Chomsky will only receive 25 percent ($62,500) of that salary.

Chomsky is teaching a general education course at the university called “What Is Politics?”, a general education course that discusses “political analysis” and “how governments differ” as well as giving seminars on linguistics.

Chomsky has long been a critic of Israel. In 2014, he told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman in 2014, “In the Occupied Territories, what Israel is doing is much worse than apartheid. To call it apartheid is a gift to Israel.” Chomsky also said that interview that he is “strongly supportive” of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

His criticism for Israel goes as far as expressing support for the Hezbollah terror group; in 2006, Chomsky said that “Hezbollah’s insistence on keeping its arms is justified” after he met with the terror group in Lebanon.

“I think [Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan] Nasrallah has a reasoned argument and [a] persuasive argument that they [the arms] should be in the hands of Hezbollah as a deterrent to potential aggression, and there is plenty of background reasons for that,” Chomsky said.

As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) points out, shortly after Chomsky’s comments Hezbollah launched “an unprovoked attack on Israel.”

Additionally, UK Media Watch’s Adam Levick noted in an Algemeiner column that Chomsky recently told the UK Independent, “Israeli intervention in US elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done.” Levick also cited past statements from Chomsky in which he claimed that anti-Semitism is only an issue because “Jews in the US are the most privileged and influential part of the population” and that “Hitler’s conceptions have struck a responsive chord in current Zionist commentary.”

Chris Sigurdson, The UA’s vice president of communications, has defended the decision to have Chomsky teach a class by arguing that the campus has frequently hosted conservative speakers, such as filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza.

Stanford Student Who Threatened to ‘Physically Fight’ Zionists Steps Down from RA Position

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Hamzeh Daoud, the third-year Stanford student who threatened to “physically fight” Zionists in a Facebook post, announced that he would be stepping down from his position as Resident Assistant (RA) to a Stanford dormitory in the fall.

In an August 3 op-ed in The Stanford Daily, Daoud described himself as “a third-generation Palestinian refugee” and called his Facebook post “an emotion filled moment” in response to the recently passed nation-state law.

“After spending a few hours away from Facebook, I read over my post again and realized how infused it was with the same hatred that has caused my own family so much suffering,” Daoud wrote. “It was the antithesis of why I chose this path in life. A sloppy comment made during an emotion-filled reaction to yet another layer of trauma, the comment did not convey my values, who I am currently, or who I hope to become.”

Daoud went onto explain that he later revised his post to read “intellectually fight Zionists on campuses” while acknowledging that he had originally written “physically fight” because he didn’t want to “be misrepresented and misunderstand.”

“Although I was accused of horrible things and began to receive graphic death threats and messages filled with Islamophobia and xenophobia, I acknowledge the language in my first post had a strong negative effect on many in our Stanford community,” Daoud wrote. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart to everyone who was triggered by it. I recognize that I was projecting my own trauma onto others in a way that is never acceptable.”

Daoud added that he would begin undergoing “trauma-based therapy” at the university so he cann better manage his emotions.

“I am hopeful that I can continue to grow and become a person I can be proud of; someone whose actions aligns with their values,” Daoud wrote. “I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped me through this, including the Stanford administration.”

He then concluded his op-ed by announcing his resignation as a Stanford RA so he “can focus on my studies and on processing the repercussions of my post.”

In an August 3 statement, Stanford University said on their website that they determined that Daoud “does not pose a physical threat to other members of the community.”

“At the time of the original Facebook posting, the author rapidly amended it to make clear that he does not support physical violence, and he apologized for the original post in a letter to members of the Jewish community at Stanford,” the statement read. “In addition, in a new statement he has made, the student acknowledges the adverse effects this episode has had in our community. His decision to step down as an RA puts the interests of the broader community first.”

However, some Jewish groups think that Stanford needs to do more to address the issue.

“It is important that Stanford rightly recognizes that ‘threats of physical violence have absolutely no place in the Stanford community’ and commits to meeting with affected students to find ways to address issues of intolerance and create a safe learning environment for all,” Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific Regional Director Seth Brysk said in a statement. “This incident requires proactive measures by the Stanford administration to enforce established community norms and expectations as enumerated in the university’s Fundamental Standard. Jewish students must feel safe on campus, and threats of physical violence against Jews, or anyone, cannot be tolerated.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement sent to the Journal that even though Daoud has stepped down from his RA positions, “the issue for the Jewish community is not closed.”

“So-called ‘activists’ like him act with impunity against Jewish students and other supporters of Israel at many major universities,” Cooper said. “The reaction of the Administrations are tepid or non-existent.  People like Hamzeh Daoud and the groups they are involved must be held fully culpable for such bullying, hate and intimidation. We will continue to pursue this goal with Stanford and other schools as well as push for the passage of the Anti-Semitism Act in Congress that would pave the way for the US Department of education to protect Jewish students from such campaigns.”

Lawfare Project Executive Director Brooke Goldstein said in a statement sent to the Journal:

“We  are  proud  of  how  the  Jewish community  came  together  to  make  clear  that  these blatant threats are  absolutely  unacceptable.  When  we  are  united,  we  can  stop  discrimination.

“There  is  no  world  in  which  a  student  who threatens other students should  be  in  position  of  authority  on  campus.  Even though the student at issue  resigned  from  his  position,  Stanford  is still in a position to take disciplinary action.  Further, we hope the DA’s office will look into whether there was a violation of the California criminal code which specifically outlaws the making of willful threats to harm another. This is a necessary step to prevent this kind of behavior from being repeated.

“For  too  long,  Jewish  students  have  faced  bigotry  and  discrimination  under  the  guise  of  anti-Zionism.  There  is  no  excuse  for  this.  Our  community  must  continue  to  work  together  to  ensure  that  pro-Israel  and  Jewish  students  are  not  victimized  on  college  campuses.”

More Expletive-Laden Anti-Zionist Social Media Posts Emerge from Stanford Student Who Threatened Violence Against Zionists

Photo from Flickr.

Stanford student Hamzeh Daoud has been under fire for a recent Facebook post threatening physical violence against Zionists. More social media posts of his have been unearthed that reveal similar invectives.

In a July 31 letter sent to Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, attorney Jerome M. Marcus, who is representing an anonymous student at Stanford, highlights the following posts from Daoud:

· “f*ck your liberal Zionist ass. f*ck your jewish state. and f*ck the notion that makes you believe that the resilience [sic] and beauty that embodies judaism, jewish people, and the jewish religion is Israel. Israel is a state that needs to be dismantled. Any other opinion is complicity.”

· “For those that don’t speak arabic; this translate [sic] to God curse Israel. God curse the sh*t out of Israel :)! <3”

· “Salam! Your daily dose of f*ck Israel and have a nice day!”

Daoud has deleted his various social media accounts, but the aforementioned posts were captured in screenshots.

Marcus noted in the letter that “Zionism is an important element of the Jewish faith.”

“Jews pray three times a day for the return of the Jewish people to Zion and Jerusalem; they pray so every time they say grace after meals, and whenever they comfort a Jewish mourner, among many, many other times,” Marcus wrote. “These religious commitments are shared by many Jewish people around the world.”

Marcus added that the aforementioned posts from Daoud shows that he has “uncontrollable contempt and rage for this part of the Jewish faith,” meaning that he cannot uphold his duties “to create an inclusive, supportive, and stimulating residence community” as a Resident Assistant at a Stanford dormitory, a job that Daoud is slated to start in the fall.

“Stanford is now clearly on notice that Daoud has threatened violence in the very recent past and that he has displayed gross intemperance as well as intolerance of views other than his own on issues that are important to him and to other students,” Marcus wrote. “Stanford cannot responsibly continue to employ such a person without, at a minimum, completing a full investigation of all of his statements, as they all provide a valuable window into how he is likely to speak and conduct himself in the future.”

Marcus then pointed out that Stanford has previously intervened with student speech that deemed as harmful to campus climate, highlighting the following instances:

· Cutting funding from the Stanford Anscombe Society for planning to “discuss traditional values and marriage” in a press conference.

· Suspending housing for the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity after some of its members made degrading jokes toward women.

· Students that put posters deriding those who are opposed to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were required to attend a meeting with the Associate Dean of Students where they had to give a rationale for why they put up the posters because other students took offense to them.

“There seems no room for doubt that if a Stanford student had made statements like those made by Daoud, but directed at black students, or gay students, or women students, or Muslim students, he would not be afforded the opportunity to change his physical threats into a statement of a plan to demolish their ‘asses intellectually,’” Marcus wrote. “And even if that change were made, there can be no doubt that Stanford would not be indifferent to the resulting threat to ‘abolish’ a black student’s or a gay student’s or a woman student’s, or a Muslim student’s ‘ass’ intellectually, whatever that means. Neither would it be tolerated if a Stanford student publicly tweeted ‘f*ck’ any such group or category of people.”

Marcus told the Journal that he hasn’t heard back from Stanford yet. Stanford has also not responded to the Journal’s request for comment.

S.F. Schools Under Fire Over Anti-Zionist Course

The Jewish community is pushing back against the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) after it provided a contract to an anti-Zionist organization to hold workshops on “cultural empowerment.”

SFUSD’s board voted 6-1 on May 22 to provide the contract to the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC). The contract allows the organization to offer workshops once a week at five San Francisco high schools.

Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) spokesman Jeremy Russell told the Jewish News of Northern California after the May 22 vote that it would “be very difficult for the district to enforce its nondiscrimination policies on an organization that fundraises on an anti-Zionist platform.”

AROC has a long history of anti-Zionism, including a 2014 tweet from the organization stating, “Help us kick Zionism out of the Bay Area.” Its website also refers to Israel as “racist” and “exclusionary.” AROC Executive Director Lara Kiswani said in November 2014, “Bringing down Israel really will benefit everyone in the world and everyone in society.”

In 2015, Kiswani told Al Jazeera, “No Arab is going to be OK with the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, so inherently we must take a position of solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

AROC also led the 2014 Block the Boat campaign to prevent a cargo ship partly owned by an Israeli company from reaching the Port of Oakland.

Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific Regional Director Seth Brysk said in a statement to the Journal, “ADL has deep and continuing concerns about the Board of Education’s selection of [AROC] to conduct trainings for SFUSD. AROC has a long history up to the present of consistently engaging in strident and extreme anti-Israel activism and trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes in keeping with their biased views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Kiswani] has proclaimed as much in multiple instances evoking long-standing, offensive and hurtful anti-Jewish stereotypes of money, power and nefarious motives.”

Brysk added, “SFUSD should only partner with providers that are inclusive and will reinforce the district’s goals of creating respectful schools and communities.”

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) also denounced the contract in a letter to SFUSD. “Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination surely have no place in your schools, either,” ZOA wrote.

After the May 22 vote, AROC posted on its Facebook page, “After 3 years of not being allowed to work with OUR community in SF public schools, 3 years of attacks from Zionist organizations, and 3 years of pressuring the Board of Education, AROC’s MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) is finally reinstated! We can now continue to support Arab youth in the Bay Area!”

Responding to Anti-Semitism: Revisiting Old Assumptions, Understanding the New Threats

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A renewed assault on Jews is now underway. The incidents of anti-Semitism are again on the increase. The forces that today are driving hatred in America, and more directly, contemporary anti-Semitism and racism appear to be fundamentally different and the responses will likewise need to incorporate alternative approaches if we are to effectively succeed in minimizing religious bigotry and ethnic and racial prejudice.

There exists a growing consensus that the political landscape in America is poisoned by the deep fissures found within the political culture. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2043, white Americans will cease to comprise this nation’s majority. This factor, among others, is contributing to a backlash among certain sectors of this nation that are fearful of a fundamentally different type of society. In response to these demographic shifts and changing economic conditions, there has been a significant growth in hate-based organizations, conspiracy-driven websites and media personalities expressing hostile views toward such ideas as pluralism, multiculturalism and globalism. This renewed focus on nationalism and race has given license to attacks on religious constituencies, ethnic groups and immigrant communities. The rise of factionalism and the politics of blame represent today the new political mindset requiring a Jewish response.

Indeed, the data revealing the growth in anti-Semitism must be seen as disturbing. The 2017 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Audit on Anti-Semitism identifies a 57 percent increase, representing the largest single jump on record. The 1,986 incidents comprise cases of harassment (1,015 cases), vandalism (221) and assaults (36). These figures account only for specific actions but do not reflect the hostile messages delivered on social media. Yet, just a few weeks ago, the ADL released a study identifying some 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets that have been posted this year.

Jonathan Weisman in his new book, “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump,” suggests that the 2016 campaign would bring to the surface the alt-right with its conspiracy theories and hate messaging. But the assault is evident as well on the left, as we observed leaders associated with the Women’s March and the Chicago Gay Pride Parade making statements and taking actions that must be seen as unwelcoming to Jews and hostile toward Israel. Case in point, Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the Women’s March, who suggested that one cannot be a Zionist and a feminist.

The initial question we should be asking when it comes to anti-Semitism, “Why now, and why here?”

To be certain anti-Semitism is not pervasive, but there are most certainly changes occurring within the fabric of American culture and intergroup relations. While we are reminded by opinion surveys that most Americans hold favorable attitudes toward Jews and Israel, the tenor of social interaction has become far more challenging and uncertain. Elsewhere, I have written about the toxic political climate as a contributing factor to religious and racial hatred. “As factionalism and the politics of blame have increased in this country, some Americans are fearful of the future, triggering their fury and anger against the current state of this society.”

The Cycle of Hate: Historian Jonathan Sarna reminds us that in fact this nation has experienced various periods of social unrest, when anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudicial behaviors were present. Sarna noted in particular that with the election of Warren G. Harding in 1920, the country would experience a period of heightened anti-immigrant responses and a spike in anti-Semitism. Social and political conditions promote the repetition of prior forms of racial and religious expressions of hate.

Responding to Anti-Semitism: For more than 100 years, the American-Jewish community has been managing its response against anti-Semitism by employing a set of accepted community relations tactics. In examining some of the core assumptions that defined the community’s understanding of anti-Semitic behavior and its “treatment,” is it possible that these strategies may no longer be effective?

The policy of “isolation” that defined Jewish practice for much of the 20th century no longer works. Historically, Jewish institutions opted to embrace this strategy of systematically “isolating” bigots and anti-Semites. Today, with the presence of social media and other vehicles of open communication, it is no longer possible to contain such voices of hate.

The motivation for minority political organizing was based on the collective proposition that these groups endured a shared sense of powerlessness. In this current environment, these “traditional” minority communities are no longer necessarily seen as marginalized or without power. As Jews, for example, became “white folks” or were seen by some to be part of the established order, their case for victimhood was diminished, just as certain enemies of our community now define American Jews as operating outside the boundaries of an oppressed peoples. Indeed, some have described the contemporary position of Jews in America as the new “WASPS” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). The current rhetoric critiques Jews as power brokers who are seen as part of the existing political elite class. By adopting this new definition, it is then possible to assign blame to the Jews for the problems that confront our society. If, in the past, Jews were defined by their enemies as the subversive outsider, today we are described as the “oppressive insider.”

In modern times, anti-Semitism has metastasized to encompass anti-Israelism and other manifestations of political and religious hate. Rather than containing anti-Judaism as a religious expression, the community has experienced an increase in the different forms and varieties of anti-Jewish sentiment. In the past, the national defense agencies have treated all varieties of anti-Semitism through the same lens; this proposition no longer has merit.

If anti-Semitism was at one time seen as either being generated by the “right” or from the “left,” today there is a simultaneous assault on Jewish interests by groups on both edges of the political spectrum, creating new challenges to our community.

One of the propositions adopted by the Jewish community relations enterprise contended that history must be seen as linear, implying that past injustices and prejudices will give way over time to a more enlightened understanding of the human condition. Under this notion, anti-Semitic behavior and other forms of social hatred will dissipate as individuals are exposed to the shared story of all peoples. Education would free folks from their prejudicial past, empowering them to better manage ethnic and racial differences. This supposition has not proven to be correct.

If, in the past, Jews were defined by their enemies as the subversive outsider, today we are described as the “oppressive insider.”

The promise of 20th century nationalism and the founding of the Zionist movement held out the mistaken assumption that creating a “nation state” for the Jewish people would forever end anti-Semitism. If Jews had their own national identity, they would be seen and treated “like other peoples,” removing the seeds of anti-Jewish rhetoric and behavior.

At one point, Israel was seen as vulnerable, making its case more appealing to potential allies. Today, Israel has become the lynchpin for the new anti-Semitism. The enemies of the Jewish state, for example, have craftily employed Nazi symbols and terms, applying these images to Israel’s conduct. The Jewish community viewed the Nazi experience as unique to a particular ideology and political culture. Jews would contend that any cross-reference to Nazism is inappropriate and has no comparative basis. Many of Israel’s enemies reject this argument, as they move forward to impose Nazi labels on the Jewish state and introduce their Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) proposals. Today, anti-Israel sentiment is one of the major challenges in our fight to push back against anti-Semitism. Clearly, we need to separate out those who express particular criticism of Israel in connection with specific policy matters from the opponents of the Jewish state who seek to challenge its very existence.

Anti-Semitism is driven by the un-educated and uninformed. For the past 100 years, the community relations establishment held to the position that in order to “defeat” anti-Semitism, educational initiatives would need to be employed to offset misunderstandings, ignorance and prejudicial judgments about Jews and Judaism. Indeed, for decades our national agencies launched a series of informational programs designed to dispel myths that were fostered about Jews. Today, however, the new reality suggests that well-educated individuals know very well their case against Jews and Israel is designed to influence public opinion and to seed doubt about the role of Jews in our society. Today, we face a highly sophisticated strategy directed against Judaism and the Jewish community.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the model of Jewish organizing was constructed around the proposition that other like-minded communities will want to coalesce with Jewish organizations and leaders in opposing hate-based activities. This assumption was based on the common plight of prejudice endured by minority constituencies. Today, there are significantly different and individualized approaches employed by groups in responding to hate-directed attacks. There appears to be no longer a shared strategy for opposing prejudice and racial hatred, nor are some communities necessarily interested in being identified with the Jewish community.

Social elites were seen as the essential civic glue necessary to build public support in opposition to anti-Semitism. For decades, the Jewish “defense” strategy was directed toward mobilizing these elites as a wedge in condemning anti-Semitic rhetoric and behavior. As societies have radically changed, these leadership elites in such disciplines as government, business, the arts and religion no longer carry the same credibility or leverage that they once held, minimizing their impact on social behaviors.

For much of Western history, Jews contended with Christian theological anti-Judaism. Over the course of the 20th century, Christian-Jewish encounters would significantly alter the negative historic patterns associated with Christian religious views on Jews and Judaism. In the Western experience, Jews never formally had to deal with Islam. This is no longer the reality. As Islam has become an integral part of Western political culture and as Muslim influence has expanded, at this point in time, Jews are bereft of a strategy in managing Jewish-Muslim connections on a broad scale.

As anti-Semitism reasserts its presence on the political stage, these new assaults present significant yet different challenges to the Jewish community relations enterprise. Traditional responses appear to be no longer appropriate. The historic practice of “containment,” as an example, does not represent a viable strategy, but neither are the existing operational principles. The Jewish communal system will require a different framework for political and religious engagement in managing these contemporary threats against Judaism, Israel and the Jewish people.


Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Studies at the Jack H. Skirball Campus, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. A version of this article appeared on eJewishphilanthropy.com. His writing can be found on his website, thewindreport.com.

Reverse Hasbara

I once broke up with someone for calling me a “Zionist pig.”

Let’s call him Nir. We met through mutual friends, exchanged phone numbers, and then met up at a bar.

We asked each other the usual first date questions (How many siblings? What kind of music do you like?) and had a few laughs. At one point, he stopped the conversation and said, “How about we rate our date on a scale of 1 to 10?” The question made me nervous, but I figured that he wouldn’t have asked me if he wasn’t having as good a time as I was. “I’d give it an 8 out of 10,” I said.  “Just eight?” he asked. “I was going to say nine, but OK. Fine. Have it your way.” I laughed. He laughed. I was sold.

The only catch was that he didn’t live in Israel. He was one of those Israelis who lives in Berlin. A documentary filmmaker, he was in Tel Aviv conducting some interviews for a film he was working on about a little-known Israeli poet. He would be in the country only for a week — and then again in a few months, and then again a few months after that.

It didn’t slow us down. We played house while he was in town and talked on the phone when he wasn’t. I was hoping he would move back to Tel Aviv but also decided to go visit him in Berlin. If I liked it there, I thought, maybe that would be something we could talk about.

In the public’s perception, Israel is an idea rather than a place. This is so even among those who love Israel.

Of course, that was not how things played out. Our Tel Aviv romance didn’t translate to Berlin. This was immediately noticeable when I arrived. There was something different about his attitude — something cold and distant — but I couldn’t yet understand what or why it was.

In any event, I was on vacation and wanted to enjoy myself. We went out to bars and clubs at night and, during the day, I wanted to sightsee. It was my sightseeing trips that first clued me as to the reason Nir had cooled on me. He was happy to go along with me to Tempelhof, but scoffed when I wanted to go to the Holocaust memorial and teased me for being a Jewish cliché. He wanted to join me when I went to see the Berlin Wall, but laughed at me when I went to the Jewish museum.

The week passed tensely. Our past intimacy and ease were gone, and I was frustrated. But the day before I was to fly back to Tel Aviv, it all came into focus when we met a group of his friends. We encountered them by chance. Until then he had not introduced me to anyone. “This is Matthew,” he said. “He’s a Zionist pig and lives in Israel.”

I stifled whatever shock I felt and put on a smile, though I was blushing. One woman, incredulous, asked me if I was really a Zionist. I laughed and my eyes widened. Zionist is one of those words that I like to define before discussing. Otherwise you wind up having two simultaneous discussions with someone about two completely separate things. “Yes?” I said. “Well … you know … it’s …”

“Like, is that why you moved to Israel?”

I laughed again. “I moved to Israel,” I said, “because I love Tel Aviv.”

This seemed to be as good an evasion as any. The conversation drifted and eventually my “friend” and I were on our own again.

“I think I’m going to take a walk,” I said. “Alone.”

And off I went.

I’ve been thinking about this incident lately, as well as what followed it, in the wake of actress Natalie Portman’s decision to sit out an Israeli awards ceremony because of “recent events” in Israel. The news was shocking to many people. How could a Jerusalem-born woman who holds dual citizenship do something that so resembles what the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement does?

For me, however, Portman’s actions were not so shocking. I recognized them right away for what they were: reverse hasbara.

Hasbara is an Israeli-ism that refers to Israel PR. It means “explanation” and is a sort of Israeli cultural directive — the idea that wherever you are, if you are a Jew or an Israeli, it is your obligation to counter anti-Israel bias and spread a pro-Israel narrative.

Less talked about is reverse hasbara, something that Israeli leftists and Israel-supporting liberals feel compelled to do when they are around non-Israeli and non-Israel-supporting people. Reverse hasbara means explaining to people that you (despite the fact that you either live in Israel, immigrated to Israel or are from Israel) are not an Arab-hating fascist. The assumption is that this is what progressives will think of you if you don’t explain otherwise. I’m not sure this assumption is true but I’ve been in a few situations where I wanted to hedge my bets.

As a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, a super-progressive liberal arts college just north of Manhattan, and also as a queer person, my liberal stance on most issues easily can be  guessed. This can lead some of my American friends to call into question my love of Israel. Why is it that, although I’m left on every other issue in the world, I’m right on Israel?

It’s a fair question. My answer would be that I’m not right on Israel, and that I don’t relate to Israel as an “issue” on which one can be right or left. I relate to Israel as a place. It is the place where I live and it is a place that has been good to me. Connected to Israel are all sorts of political issues, and on these I generally fall on the left side of the spectrum. But I see Israel as more than the sum of its headlines.

That said, many people do not. And yes, I am guilty of reverse hasbara. Last New Year’s Eve, I was at a party with friends in New York and found myself grumbling about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Not because I cared to have a political conversation at that moment, but because I wanted my friends to know that I was still the same progressive Matthew they knew from Sarah Lawrence.

I’ve often wondered about reverse hasbara and why it is that so many of us feel the need to engage in it. It’s not as if American leftists have to wander around the world apologizing for everything President Donald Trump says. There is a natural separation in people’s minds between aspects of American life: the life of its cities, its people, its government and its military.

With Israel, there is no such separation. All are lumped together.

In the public’s perception, Israel is an idea rather than a place. This is so even among those who love Israel. I’ve met several devoted American Zionists who have no sense of (or love for) Israel the place. They love the Jewish state — but do they love this Jewish state?

Similarly, among Israel’s critics, Israel is little more than an ideology that must be disavowed.

Nir, I realized, had been carefully building a life for himself in Berlin based on reverse hasbara. And then I showed up — not only an Israeli person but an Israeli by choice. When we ran into his friends, he was put on the spot — caught between selves. He had two options in that moment. And he chose the second one. He threw me under the bus.

Leaving Israel is perhaps the strongest form of reverse hasbara there is. “Yes, I’m from that place. But I left. Because of recent events.” There’s something tragic about it. No one should feel ashamed of being from a certain country, and no one should assume anyone’s politics based on their passport.

I had a few other friends living in Berlin. As I walked away from Nir and the “Zionist pig” incident, I texted one of them to ask if I could crash at his place. Nir also was messaging me to ask if I was upset. I told him we could talk about it the next day. I would be heading back to Israel in the afternoon and needed to get my things anyways before heading to the airport.

We met at Nir’s place the next morning. I packed my bag and then we strolled to Tempelhof park and sat in the grass. He apologized. I accepted his apology. We understood quietly that our week together in Berlin would be our last week together anywhere. We moved onto other subjects of conversation — like his movie. It was mostly finished and he would soon be screening it.

“I was wondering,” he said, “if I should put something at the beginning of the film. A kind of dedication that says I’m against the occupation.”

“Why would you do that?” I asked. “The movie has nothing to do with the occupation.”

“Well, it sort of does,” he said. “It’s about Israel.”

“OK,” I said. “But why do you really want to put that disclaimer there? It seems a little unnecessary if you ask me.”

“I dunno,” he said. “Just so everyone knows how I feel.”


Matthew Schultz is a writer living and working in Tel Aviv.

Amanda Berman: Can progressives also be Zionists?

Amanda Berman, founder of the Zioness movement, discusses the opposition liberal Zionists have faced within the progressive movement, and how her new movement is working to change that.

Check out this episode!

Gil Troy: Is there more than one Zionism?

Historian Gil Troy discusses his new book, The Zionist Ideas, which makes the case for Zionism as a multi-dimensional work in progress. He also weighs in on the Natalie Portman controversy.

Check out this episode!

Cal Poly Students Target Zionist Groups

Screenshot from YouTube.

A group of students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo issued a list of demands on April 13 in response to a racial incident; among the demands included a call for all non-Zionist clubs to have an increase in funding.

Cal Poly’s Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity posted photos online that featured a member donning blackface and other members posed with gang signs with the caption “She want a gangster not a pretty boy.” The university suspended the fraternity, but the fact that they did not expel the students prompted a backlash on campus.

As part of the backlash, a group of students called The Drylongso Collective, which describes itself as a group focused on ending “structural inequality” at Cal Poly, issued a letter with a litany of demands that the university undertake; the most controversial demand in the letter was the one that stated, “We want an increase in ASI [Associated Students Incorporated] funding for ALL cultural clubs, with the exception of organizations that are aligned with Zionist ideology.”

The Drylongso Collective attempted to justify this demand in a statement that was featured on the Cal Poly Multicultural Center’s Facebook page claiming that being anti-Zionist does not mean that they are anti-Semitic. The statement encouraged people to read the works of Jews Against Zionism, Noura Erakat, who happens to be the niece of a Palestinian Authority negotiator, and Angela Davis, who has past associations with the Black Panthers and Communist Party.

“Black folks and other People of Color have a long-standing history of standing in solidarity with Palestinian folks,” the statement reads. “The quotidian experiences of Palestinians include a long history of dealing with violence, colonization (particularly through land dispossession), and oppression. We cannot in good conscience advocate for our own liberation without being mindful of the current and historical liberation struggles of others locally, nationally, and globally.”

Later on, the statement added that The Drylongso Collective was focused on “anti-Black and anti-Brown racism at Cal Poly.”

“To attempt to decenter Blackness from our discussion by focusing on an accusation of anti-Semitism based on a false equivalency of Zionism and Judaism is deeply disturbing and speaks of not only the lack for anti-Semitic acts committed by non-Black/Brown students but also of the coalition work that remains to be done,” the statement reads.

Cal Poly Media Relations Director Matt Lazier told Campus Reform that the university would not consider The Drylongso Collective’s anti-Zionist demand.

“I can tell you that the specific point you reference about organizations aligned with Zionist ideology is not consistent with the university’s values and not something university administration will consider,” Lazier said.

Shiri Moshe of The Algemeiner noted The Drylongso Collective’s “demand would impact Jewish student groups including Hillel of San Luis Obispo, which has supported programming on campus related to Zionism, the movement for Jewish national-self determination in the Levant.”

“No other cultural clubs that cater to students of a particular national or ethnic background would be affected,” Moshe wrote.

The Drylongso Collective has not responded to the Journal’s request for comment.

The New Zionist Plants Vines, Not Trees

Adam Bellos.

Adam Bellos’ stated mission is as grandiose as his personality. “I’m here to reignite the Zionist movement,” he says, without an ounce of facetiousness.

Injecting new blood into Zionism was the impetus for The Israel Innovation Fund (TIIF), a nonprofit Bellos founded last year to highlight Israeli culture. He points to both demographics and the Jewish state’s evolving image when he asserts that North America has lost its crown to Israel as the center of the Jewish world.

“Israel is cool and sexy and holy and fun. It’s the creative state,” he says. “It’s not your bubbe’s Zionism. It’s about ‘Fauda,’ it’s about Gal Gadot. We are ‘Wonder Woman’ Zionism.”

TIIF, he’s quick to add, is composed of 60 percent women, and aside from its executive director, David Hazony, and newly appointed president, Ted Sokolsky, all of TIIF’s staff members are under 40.

Stopping short of naming names, Bellos takes a shot at the reigning kingpins of the Jewish world, charging them with being wholly out of touch with the drives and desires of young Jews.

“You’ve got these old guys in a New York office telling a 25-year-old in Israel what Zionism is when they have no idea,” he says. Rejuvenating Jewish identity isn’t about gala dinners and planting trees, says Bellos in a not-so-subtle jab at the Jewish National Fund.

“It’s not your bubbe’s Zionism. It’s about ‘Fauda,’ it’s about Gal Gadot. We are ‘Wonder Woman’ Zionism.” — Adam Bellos

TIIF’s millennial version of tree planting is its flagship project, Wine on the Vine. The online fundraising platform connects people to Israel by planting vines at select wineries, with the lion’s share of proceeds going to support Israeli charities. The organization also hosts revenue-positive parties, from Zionist-feminism soirees to wine tasting events in art galleries.

Not bad for a boy from Cincinnati who, by his own admission, wasn’t exactly an honor roll student. But there’s no love lost from Bellos for his hometown. “There’s a reason I left at 18 and never looked back,” he says.

Having always nurtured dreams of being a filmmaker, Bellos moved to Chicago to study film and theater. But a 2007 stint in a study-abroad program at Tel Aviv University turned out to be a life-altering experience that would put his Hollywood ambitions on the back burner.

“I fell in love with a girl and I fell in love with Zionism and I fell in love with Israel,” says Bellos, his face breaking into a million-watt smile.

Even when the romantic relationship fell through, Bellos knew without question that Israel would become his home. He returned to the United States to study Judaism and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Arizona before making aliyah and volunteering in the army. Two-and-a-half years later, Bellos left Jerusalem to accept a job in Ningbo, China, running a belly dance company.

After a year, Bellos returned, this time to Tel Aviv. He enrolled in a master’s degree program at Tel Aviv University, but he never quite found his place professionally. He dabbled in everything from volunteering with the city’s young, professional community to consulting for former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren for the 2015 election, in which Oren was elected to the Knesset. Eventually, Bellos settled on playing the stock market, a venture that proved lucrative enough for him to realize his real passion of promoting Zionism.

He’s unapologetically pragmatic about the checks and balances of his ideals.

“I gotta be the guy who makes the money,” he says. “There’s so much passion out there and all these people have these great ideas, but you need money.

“Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to launch the hottest Jewish organizations in existence.”

Why Israel?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on his own people. The government of Israel responded to that atrocity, as well as Iran’s use of Syria as a thoroughfare for weapons transfers to terrorist groups like Hamas, by bombing Syria’s T4 airbase. The media responded by castigating Israel: for example, the Associated Press headlined, “Tensions ratchet up as Israel blamed for Syria missile strike,” and accompanied that story with a photo of suffering Syrian children targeted by Assad, making it seem that Israel had targeted the children.

That media treatment was no surprise — the week before, the terrorist group Hamas used large-scale protests against Israel on the Gaza border as a cover for terrorist attacks on Israeli troops. When Israeli troops responded with force, the media falsely suggested that Israel had indiscriminately fired into the crowd. Meanwhile, reporters touted the story of a supposed photographer killed by Israeli forces; it turns out that the photographer was a known Hamas officer.

A few weeks earlier and some 2,000 miles away in France, 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll was stabbed 11 times and her body set on fire by a Muslim neighbor who knew her well, and had convictions for rape and sexual assault. In 2017, there were 92 violent anti-Semitic incidents in France, a 28 percent year-on-year increase.

Moving across the English Channel, Israel’s Labor Party finally was forced to cut ties completely with the leader of the U.K.’s Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime anti-Semite who has routinely made nice with terrorists and defended open Jew-hatred in public. And, of course, in the United States, the alt-right’s anti-Semitism continues to make public discourse more crude and the Women’s March continues to make nice with anti-Semites such as Louis Farrakhan.

In other words, there is a reason for Israel to exist.

Israel’s self-interest is good for the Jews, good for the West and good for the world.

That reason is biblical, of course: Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people and the wellspring of Jewish practice. God’s promise to the Jews is inextricably intertwined with the existence and future of the State of Israel.

But over the past few decades, too many Jews have forgotten about the practical need for the Jewish state. In the same way too many Jews ignored the Zionist movement, believing that assimilation into tolerant non-Jewish societies provided the best pathway to a decent life, too many Jews today see Israel as a remnant of a hackneyed and counterproductive ethnocentric worldview. That dislike for Israel’s very existence has led many Jews to demonstrate their “world citizen” bona fides by using every opportunity to criticize Israel.

But Israel’s existence is not about ethnocentrism. Israel is multiethnic and multicultural, of course: Judaism is a religion far more than an ethnicity, as Russian and Ethiopian Jews can attest. Israel’s existence, on a secular level, is about enshrining a state that is safe for Jews the world over — and that can defend Jews and Western values in the face of regional and international threats. When Israel stands up to Syrian atrocities, it is acting out of a Judaic commitment to prevent the degradation of human beings made in God’s image; when Israel offers a road for European Jews on the verge of extinction, it is acting not merely out of solidarity but out of decency. Israel is a decent country, because it was founded on a decent purpose — and because it was founded on the basis of a tradition of decency.

That doesn’t mean Israel’s government is mistake-free. Far from it. But Israel’s extraordinary treatment at the hands of the world community is a demonstration that Israel is an outlier — and that’s a good thing. The United Nations that condemns Israel is filled with repressive dictatorships and corrupt plutocracies; the supposed “family of nations” is more like a squabbling band of self-interested moral idiots.

When Syrian children, mostly Muslim, gasp from chlorine poisoning, it is Israeli jets that provide a possible respite. Israel doesn’t act out of the pure goodness of its heart; it acts from self-interest. But Israel’s self-interest is good for the Jews, good for the West and good for the world. Forgetting that means trusting that the better angels of others’ natures will persevere over their internal devils. Historically, that’s been a rotten bet.


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

‘ZIONIST IDEAS’: Re-examining Visions for the Jewish Homeland

Today, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, it is all too easy to forget how long the Jewish people longed for a homeland and how unattainable it seemed, even on the eve of statehood in 1948. To put it another way, the history of modern Israel is measured in decades, but the idea of Zionism is measured in millennia.

Israel was only 21 years old when Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg’s “The Zionist Idea” was first published. Now the Jewish Publication Society has published what it calls a “renewal” of Hertzberg’s classic text, that is, a new and expanded anthology of writings titled “The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland — Then, Now, Tomorrow,” ably edited by Gil Troy, a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University and the author of 12 books, including, “Why I Am a Zionist.”

Ironically, perhaps the single most significant difference between Hertzberg’s book and Troy’s book is the addition of an “s” to the title, thus making explicit the notion that Zionism must be — and is — a pluralistic enterprise rather than an article of faith.

“We need a modern book celebrating, as Professor Gil Troy notes, the Zionist ideas: the many ways to make Israel great — and the many ways individuals can find fulfillment by affiliating with the Jewish people and building the Jewish state,” writes Natan Sharansky, one of the modern heroes of the Zionist movement, in his introduction to the book. “A revived Zionist conversation, a renewed Zionist vision, can create a Jewish state that reaffirms meaning for those already committed to it while addressing the needs of Jews physically separated from their ancestral homeland, along with those who feel spiritually detached from their people.”

As Troy explained in an interview with the Jewish Journal (see page 22), “The Zionist Ideas” is something more and something different from the original text, and for more than one reason. Troy managed to reduce the length of the book while, at the same time, expanding the number of contributors (or “thinkers,” as he calls them) and the breadth of the conversation. So we hear more voices, and more varied voices, in “The Zionist Ideas” than we did in the 1959 edition.

Ironically, perhaps the single most significant difference between Hertzberg’s book and Troy’s book is the addition of an “s” to the title, thus making explicit the notion that Zionism must be — and is — a pluralistic enterprise rather than an article of faith.

It’s a project that required not only Troy’s own deep knowledge of Jewish history, politics and culture, but also a healthy dose of chutzpah. “Since 1959, ‘The Zionist Idea’ has been the English speaker’s Zionist bible, the defining text for anyone interested in studying the Jewish national movement,” Troy explains. “To some academics and activists, Hertzberg’s tome was such a foundational work that any update is like digitizing the Mona Lisa or colorizing ‘Casablanca.’ ”

But an update was urgently needed, if only because Zionist conversation has changed from the simple question of whether a Jewish homeland could be achieved — “History’s affirmative answer [is] ‘Yes!’,” writes Troy — to the far more complex question of what the Jewish homeland should aspire to be. “Israel’s 1967 Six-Day War triumph stirred questions Hertzberg never imagined, especially how Israel and the Jewish people should understand Zionism when the world perceives Israel as Goliath, not David.”

Troy helpfully divides the Zionist movement into six “schools” — Political, Labor, Revisionist, Religious, Cultural and Diaspora Zionism — and he divides the contributors into three categories: the “Pioneers” (including Herzl, Jabotinsky and Ahad Ha’am), the “Builders” (including David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Menachem Begin) and the “Torchbearers,” ranging from Peter Beinart to Leon Wieseltier, whose article on the concept of bitzu’ism (which he translates as “implementationism”) transformed my understanding of the Zionist saga history when I first read it in the New Republic in 1985: “The bitzu’ist is the builder, the irrigator, the pilot, the gunrunner, the settler.”

Troy is vividly aware — and wants his readers to be aware — that Zionism is a work in progress rather than a set of commandments carved in stone.

Of course, the very idea of Zionism has always had its nay-sayers, who once included both the Reform movement and the most observant strands of Judaism. Nowadays, Israel is a benchmark of Jewish identity in all branches of Judaism, except a few Chasidic courts. Even so, Troy is vividly aware — and wants his readers to be aware — that Zionism is a work in progress rather than a set of commandments carved in stone.

“Like Abraham’s welcoming shelter, the book’s Big Tent Zionism is open to all sides, yet defined by certain boundaries,” he writes. “Looking left, staunch critics of Israeli policies belong — but not anti-Zionists who reject the Jewish state, universalists who reject nationalism, or post-Zionists who reject Zionism. Looking right, Religious Zionists who have declared a culture war today against secular Zionists fit. However, the self-styled ‘Canaanite’ Yonatan Ratosh … who allied with Revisionist Zionists but then claimed Jews who didn’t live in Israel abandoned the Jewish people, failed Zionism’s peoplehood test.”

And so, like Tevyah, there are limits to his open-mindedness, and the exclusions say as much about the diversity of thought in the Jewish community. “Sadly, the most frequent question non-Israeli Jews have asked me about this book is, ‘Will you include anti-Zionists, too?’ ” he muses. “When feminist anthologies include sexists, LGBT anthologists include homophobes, and civil rights anthologies include racists, I will consider anti-Zionists.”

Troy points out that Abraham’s tent has always been capable of accommodating a Jewish community of remarkable diversity and vitality. Zionism has changed over time, as Troy repeatedly reminds us, starting when Herzl was repudiated by his fellow Zionists for famously proposing Uganda as the site of the Jewish homeland, and continuing without pause as Zionism wrote itself into world history. But Troy also insists that its core values include not only the land of Israel but also the democratic character of the Jewish state itself.

Significantly, one of the documents in “The Zionist Ideas” is the Jerusalem Program of the World Zionist Organization as proclaimed in 1951 and reissued in 2004. The two versions are different in many details, but one aspiration appears in both versions — “a Jewish, Zionist, democratic and secure State of Israel.”

To which Zionists, one and all, are surely able to say: Amen!


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Passover and Zionism: Three Sephardic Views

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

“This year we are here, next year in the Land of Israel. This year we are still slaves, next year may we be a free people.” This text appears in most Ashkenazi versions of the Passover haggadah.

In the Sephardic version, the second line is slightly different. It reads, “This year we are still slaves here in exile, next year may we be a free people in the Land of Israel.”

Given the emphasis on “exile vs. Israel” in the Sephardic version, how did Sephardic rabbis in post-1948 Israel understand the haggadah in light of the newly declared Jewish state?

In a pre-Passover address in April 1949, Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel, who was born in Jerusalem and served as Sephardic Chief Rabbi under Ottoman and British rule, recognized the paradox of saying we are still slaves in exile. Just 11 months earlier, on May 14, 1948, he was in “the room where it happened” when David Ben-Gurion said, “We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Yisrael, to be known as the State of Israel.”

Now as the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the first Jewish State in close to 2,000 years, Uziel said: “Throughout our lengthy exile, Passover infused us with the hope to be redeemed in our ancestral homeland. By the grace of God and the Israeli military, we are now happy to say: This year we are a free people in the Land of Israel.”

Nissim called Passover “the holiday that most deeply preserved the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.”

By mimicking the haggadah’s language to reflect the Jewish people’s new reality, Uziel seemed to infer that the change in the Jewish people’s status warranted a change in the haggadah’s text.

Uziel’s successor to the Sephardic Chief Rabbinate was Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim.

In 1958, Nissim called Passover “the holiday that most deeply preserved the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.” He proclaimed the modern State of Israel as “the beginning of our redemption,” but said that we have “yet to cross the sea into complete freedom.” Different than Uziel’s idealistic Israel of 1949, by 1958, Israel was a deeply divided society, especially along Sephardic-Ashkenazi ethnic lines. Given this reality, Nissim used the metaphor of God “tearing apart” (kara in Hebrew) the sea, saying, “we cannot declare ourselves a fully free people on Passover until we ‘tear apart’ all of these divisions in our midst.”

In 1973, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef replaced Nissim as Israel’s new Sephardic Chief Rabbi. By then a renowned scholar of halachah (Jewish law), Yosef counted among his many published books a detailed commentary to the Passover haggadah titled “Hazon Ovadia.”

Reflecting upon the stanza in the song “Dayenu” that states, “Had God given us the Torah but not brought us into the Land of Israel, that would have been enough,” Yosef writes:

“These words are directed against the secular Zionists who think you can build the Land of Israel without the Torah of Israel. The Torah precedes the Land of Israel in importance, because the Land of Israel without Torah is no better than living in the diaspora. Indeed, it is preferable to stay in the diaspora as an observant Jew rather than angering God by living a secular lifestyle in the Land of Israel.”

In a radical departure from his Sephardic predecessors, Yosef demystifies the existence of Israel and posits that the secular orientation of Zionism actually angers God. Yosef’s creative reading of “Dayenu” deems it preferable for the Jewish people to have stayed “slaves in exile” as religiously observant Jews rather than being a “free people in the Land of Israel” in a Jewish state with a decidedly secular orientation.

As we transition from Passover into Israel’s 70th anniversary, Israel’s first three Sephardic Chief Rabbis inspire a new set of “Four Questions”: Are those of us living in exile still in slavery? Does Jewish independence in Israel automatically mean Jewish emancipation? Is a polarized Israel a true expression of freedom? Can secularism and religiosity coexist in a Jewish state?

Perhaps we should have another seder on Yom HaAtzmaut to ponder those questions.


Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the director of the Sephardic Educational Center.

SF Professor Under Fire for Saying That Zionists Aren’t Welcome On Campus

Screenshot from Facebook.

San Francisco State University (SFSU) Ethnic Studies Professor Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi is in hot water for declaring that Zionists would not be welcomed on campus.

Abdulhadi’s comment stemmed from SFSU President Leslie Wong apologizing for declining to state in May that Zionists would be welcome on campus. Abdulhadi called Wong’s statement “a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians and all those who are committed to an indivisible sense of justice on and off campus.”

“I am ashamed to be affiliated with SFSU administration and demand the immediate retraction of this racist, Islamophobic and colonialist statement, and the restoration of SFSU social justice mission,” Abdulhadi wrote in a Facebook post. “At a time when we are marking 50 years since the 1968 SFSU student strike and the quest to decolonize the curriculum, it is embarrassing to have our campus leadership cater to donor pressures and the Israeli lobby.”

Her post was shared on the Facebook page for the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas’ (AMED) program, which is run through the College of Ethnic Studies, as well as on the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) Facebook page. Abdulhadi is the faculty advisor to GUPS.

Abdulhadi’s post resulted in “60 Jewish, Christian, education, and civil rights organizations” sending a letter to California State University (CSU) Chancellor Timothy White and the CSU Board of Trustees to investigate the matter.

“It is appalling and deeply disturbing that Professor Abdulhadi would, in her role as director of AMED, promote a statement that denigrates Jewish and non-Jewish students who identify as Zionists and state that they are unwelcome at the university,” the organizations wrote. “Even more disturbing is Abdulhadi’s highly inflammatory suggestion that the mere presence of students who identify as Zionists constitutes a ‘declaration of war’ against Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians — a statement which could be understood as incitement to violence and a direct threat to Jewish students at SFSU.”

But what the organizations found even more concerning was “that AMED, an academic unit in the College of Ethnic Studies at SFSU, would re-post such a hateful message and give it both academic and institutional legitimacy.”

“We believe that AMED’s reposting of Professor Abdulhadi’s hateful message violates Jewish students’ inalienable rights to freedom of expression and full participation in campus life, rights that are guaranteed to each and every CSU student,” they wrote.

The letter concluded by calling for “AMED and its administration” to be investigated.

Mary Kenny, SFSU’s Director of News and New Media Strategic Marketing and Communications, told the Journal in an email, “The University has asked that the post be removed from the University-affiliated Facebook page.” Kenny did not respond to the Journal’s follow-up question on if any further action would be taken against Abdulhadi. As of this writing, Abdulhadi’s post was still up on AMED’s page.

Wong did denounce Abdulhadi’s post in a statement.

“Dr. Abdulhadi’s post does not reflect the opinions, values, or policies of San Francisco State University,” Wong said. “To the contrary, SF State promotes the principles of inclusion, thoughtful intellectual discourse, and sharing of ideas that are central to our academic environment. All are welcome at SF State and a diversity of perspectives helps us grow as an institution. ”

Michael Uhlenkamp, the senior of director of Public Affairs for the CSU Chancellor’s Office, told the Journal in an email that they would be responding to the letter but any investigation would have to be taken up by SFSU.

The Journal reached out to Abdulhadi for comment and received an automatic reply about how she’s “traveling and will be going on a partial Family Medical Leave due to work conditions.”

Anti-Semitic incidents have been occurring with rising frequency recently at SFSU, prompting two Jewish students to file a lawsuit against SFSU for insufficiently responding to anti-Semitic incidents on campus. According to the Algeimeiner, the complaint states that Jewish students have been subjected to “displays and events on campus that equate them with Nazis and baby murderers; deprivations of their rights to speak, listen, and assemble; threats, harassment, intimidation, and bullying.”

Back in May, Wong was asked if Zionists would be welcomed on campus. His response at the time was, “Am I comfortable opening up the gates to everyone? Gosh, of course not. I’m not the kind of guy who gets into absolutes like that.”

In February, Wong met with the campus Hillel and relented and declared, “Zionists are welcome on our campus,” a statement that Abdulhadi apparently took umbrage with.

The Canary Mission website has documented how Abdulhadi has lavished praise on Palestinian terrorists like Rasmea Odeh, who faces a life sentence for playing a role in the bombing of a Jerusalem grocery store that killed two Hebrew University students and Leila Khaled, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) leader who took part in hijacking a couple of airliners. Abdulhadi also referred to Hamas’ 2014 kidnapping of three Israeli teens as “the disappearance of three settlers.”

The Eternal Debate on the ‘Idea’ of Israel

We are still arguing among ourselves over whether the two-state solution is dead, but here’s a question that is rarely, if ever, asked: Exactly when did the idea of peaceful co-existence between a Jewish state and an Arab state first enter the international diplomatic conversation?

The surprising answer is 1936, 12 years before the State of Israel was declared. That’s when the British government, which then ruled over all of Palestine, proposed the so-called Peel Plan, which would have carved out a Jewish state between Tel Aviv and the border with Lebanon, reserved Jerusalem and Nazareth to Great Britain, and turned over the rest to the Arab community. Even then, the plan immediately sparked a rhetorical civil war among Labor Zionists, Revisionists and religious Zionists that is all too familiar to us today.

So we learn in Michael Brenner’s “In Search of Israel: The History of an Idea” (Princeton University Press), a timely and useful survey of the differing and sometimes diametrically opposed points of view that have been asserted by men and women who all regard themselves as good Zionists. He allows us to see that the core idea of Zionism has always been situated somewhere between two poles — the aspiration toward a sovereign Jewish state “like any other” state, and the belief that the Jewish state is destined to be exceptional, a divine gift bestowed on a Chosen People and “a light unto the nations.”

“[Our heart] … lies with the heart of the Jewish people in Eretz Israel and the Diaspora in fearing the royal commission’s conclusion regarding partition of the Land of Israel, which amputates our land, cuts off entire limbs and robs us of Jerusalem,” declared one group of Hebrew writers in a public manifesto when the Peel Plan was first proposed.

Brenner, the Seymour and Lillian Abensohn Chair in Israel Studies and director of the Center for Israel Studies at American University, and a professor of Jewish History and Culture at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, points out that the debate goes all the way back to the first stirrings of political Zionism in the 19th century, when Theodor Herzl offered his own solution for the “Jewish Problem” in “The Jewish State.” Notably, Herzl did not regard the Holy Land as the only place to create one. Herzl believed that “[if] a Jew is refused a normal life in Paris or Vienna, then he or she has to create a path to normality elsewhere, and in a Jewish society — be it in Palestine or in Argentina,” Brenner explains.

The core idea of Zionism has always been situated somewhere between two poles — a sovereign Jewish state “like any other” state and one destined to be exceptional.

The tension between normality and exceptionalism, as Brenner shows us, is a thread that runs throughout the history of Zionism. Early Jewish socialists like Jakob Klatzkin believed that only by working on the land and in the factories of a Jewish state would the Jews “leave behind elitist Jewish traits and become a real people.” The Jewish state should not only include “peasants and craftsmen but also soldiers and armies,” as Brenner writes. Thus did Yosef Trumpeldor famously fall in the defense of the Jewish settlement of Tel Hai in 1920 with stirring words on his lips: “It is good to die for our country.”

Of course, the Labor Zionists were not alone in embracing secularism. Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky, Trumpeldor’s comrade-in-arms and the founder and leader of the Revisionists, “expressed his conviction that the fight for a Jewish state would not be decided through prayer or negotiation, but only through a bloody struggle,” Brenner writes. Jabotinsky, who is the founding father of the movement that now finds political expression in the Likud party, wrote a hymn that captured his vision of how the Jewish state would come into existence: “From the pit of decay and dust / With blood and sweat / Shall arise a race / Proud, generous and cruel.”

While Brenner’s book is essentially the history of an idea, it is enlivened and enriched by the fascinating details and incidents that he has retrieved from the historical record. He recalls that Herzl himself did not believe that Hebrew could become the national language of the Jewish state: “Who amongst us has a sufficient acquaintance with Hebrew to ask for a railway ticket in that language?” Herzl famously observed. Brenner points out that the name of the Jewish state that was declared in 1948 was a matter of much debate — Zion, Judah, Canaan and Eretz Yisrael were all considered and rejected in favor of State of Israel. And David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, insisted on regarding the Jews of the Diaspora as nothing more than raw material: “We have turned human dust, gathered from all over the world, into an independent, sovereign nation, occupying a respectable place in the family of nations.”

Even when the “human dust” is gathered in, however, Zionism is faced with another vexing and often heartbreaking problem: Who is a Jew? The Law of the Return, which assures citizenship to any Jew who reaches Israel, has been the occasion for a long and continuing debate. “[A] person might be considered a Jew by a rabbi even though he had converted to another religion, but the same rabbi would not consider him a Jew when he was called to the Torah in the synagogue,” explains Brenner, citing the writings of Avishai Margalit.

As Brenner explores the contradictions and contentions that make up the history of Israel, he encourages us to see the commonalities, too. Religious Zionists demanded “a state based on religious principles,” for example, while Labor Zionists embraced “the notion of a Zionist movement under entirely secular leadership and with a secular language.” Yet even Labor Zionism can be seen as “a secularized version of traditional messianism,” and “the socialists’ talk of the redemption of the soil provided the basis for claims by some in the Labor Party after the Six-Day War that the whole of the Land of Israel was sacred.”

Ben-Gurion embraced something of the same idea: “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” Brenner quotes Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, vice president of the American Jewish University, for the proposition that “Israel’s existence is a miracle.” And so, when Brenner ends his book with a series of provocative questions about the future of Israel (“Will it be a democracy with equal rights for all its citizens or an ethnocracy that favors one group over another?” “Will the society remain a dominantly secular one, or will religious groups make more inroads?”), we are left with the notion that even something as miraculous as a two-state solution is not yet entirely out of the question.


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Israel Basher Leaves UCLA After Sexual Harassment Charges

Photo from YouTube.

The once respected academic career of UCLA historian Gabriel Piterberg has come to an apparent end, not because of his unrelenting hostility toward Israel and Zionism, but due to long-standing sexual harassment charges by two women students.

While Piterberg has denied the accusations, UCLA authorities last week capped a five-year investigation by concluding that he had violated the university’s sexual harassment policy.

As a result, Piterberg agreed to leave UCLA, forego any future employment on any University of California campus and forfeit any future emeritus status, office space and other academic privileges, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday(3/13).

The charges against Piterberg dated back to 2013, when two female graduate students complained to UCLA authorities that the professor had harassed them over many years by making offensive sexual comments, pressing himself against their bodies and forcing his tongue into their mouths.

Piterberg has rejected all requests for media interviews.

Piterberg became a member of the UCLA history faculty in 1999. He soon became a controversial figure on campus, though not for his alleged sexual proclivities.

According to his own resume, Piterberg was born in Buenos Aires but grew up in Israel. He served in the Israeli army in the early 1980s and saw action against the forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in southern Lebanon.

After his army discharge, he studied and received academic degrees – all with highest honors – from Tel Aviv University in Middle East history and political science, and a Ph.D. degree from Oxford University, where his research focused on the history of the Ottoman Empire.

Subsequently he taught at England’s University of Durham and at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

After arriving at UCLA, Piterberg seemed set for a bright academic career, advancing to a full professorship in 2008 and in 2013 becoming director of the Gustav von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies.

At seminars and in specialized scholarly publications Piterberg soon earned a reputation as an unrelenting critic of the creation and existence of Israel.

Until the sexual harassment charges against Piterberg became public, his fellow history professors – like most academics – were loath to criticize a colleague for his opinions, however offensive.

An exception on the UCLA campus was Judea Pearl, a professor of computer science, director of the Cognitive Systems Laboratory and considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on artificial intelligence.

He and his wife Ruth are also co-founders of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, created in memory of their son, a journalist murdered by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002.

Judea Pearl has shown no reluctance to express his abhorrence of Piterberg’s views. He believes that Piterberg’s “scholarly” contributions can be summed up as “bash Israel as viciously as you can, someone might listen and take it seriously.”

Pearl added that “Piterberg belongs to a group of extreme left so-called ‘historians,’ who see their role as the re-interpretation of history to fit their political agenda.

“His agenda is to malign Zionism…which he sees as an organic part of ‘white settler colonialism,’ the 19th century effort by European powers to create societies in their own image by dispossessing the indigenous people…He even attributes Nazi origins and Nazi ideologies to most Zionist leaders.”

Asked what might have turned Piterberg from an Israeli soldier and brilliant student into a bitter foe of the Jewish state, Pearl answered that he was at a loss for an answer.

Meanwhile, the two women students, Kristen Glasgow and Nefertiti Takla, found the UCLA administration less than eager to pursue their case and in 2015 they filed a lawsuit against the University of California.

Although the two women were granted some monetary compensation and Piterberg was told to talk to students only with his office doors open, he continued in his teaching capacity.

But by 2016 campus opinion turned against Piterberg, with large student protests and a petition by 38 history professors complained that “students, staff and faculty must contend with the presence of a harasser in our midst.”

Finally, 10 years after Glasgow’s first humiliating encounter with Piterberg, she learned her harasser had lost his job. She described her reaction on learning the news to the Los Angeles Times as “I cried, I laughed, I screamed. It was 10 years and 10,000 pounds of weight off my shoulders.”

Columbia Professor Calls Zionists ‘Master Thieves’ in Facebook Post

Screenshot from Facebook

A professor at Columbia University railed against Zionists “infiltrating” the Women’s March on Facebook, going as far as referring to Zionists as “master thieves.”

Hamid Dabashi, who teaches Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, was irked that actress Scarlett Johansson was a featured speaker at the Women’s March since she was once the spokeswoman for SodaStream, which was based in Israel.

“Scarlet Johansson is a violent Zionist deeply committed to the systemic theft of Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homeland— she appears on commercials selling Israeli products made on the stolen and occupied Palestinians lands — her appearance on Women’s March rallies deeply compromises the moral authority of the movement,” Dabashi wrote.

Dabashi called for members of the Women’s March to “denounce this pernicious infiltration and appropriation of the movement.”

“Zionists are master thieves— they steal Palestinian land and culture, they steal Jewish history and heritage, and they steal every progressive movement to twist it to their advantage— beware!” Dabashi concluded the post.

Dabashi continued his tirade against Johansson in the comments section, where he attacked her for being a “careerist Zionist” and promoting “a product made on stolen Palestinian land and with abused Palestinians labor.”

The Columbia professor has a history of vitriolic anti-Israel statements, including calling Israel supporters “Gestapo appratchniks” and that Israelis have “a vulgarity of character,” per Discover the Networks. Dabashi is also a Hamas apologist, having once referred to the terror organization as “the poor and impoverished representative of a poor and impoverished people” and disparaged those who criticized Hamas.

“The obscenity of first demonizing Hamas and then blaming it for the vicious war crimes that Israel is perpetrating against Palestinians has now passed any measure of common decency,” Dabashi said. “Hamas is the legitimate and democratically elected representative of Palestinian people – a grassroots organization deeply embedded in and integral to the Palestinian national liberation movement.”

Hamas had a major electoral victory in the 2006 Gaza elections; the following year they cemented an iron grip on the region after a violent conflict with Fatah. Elections haven’t been held in Gaza ever since.

Dabashi also has an “awful” rating on RateMyProfessors.com.

“I learned very little in the course and he contradicted himself a lot, as if he were thinking out loud,” one former student wrote on the site. “People became more reluctant to ask questions because he always shut them down and tried to embarrass anyone asking something he did not like.”

H/T: Campus Reform

Aharon Appelfeld’s Path to the Hebrew Language

Photo from Wikipedia.

“From the moment I arrived in Israel, I hated the people who forced me to speak Hebrew,” wrote Aharon Appelfeld in his memoir, “The Story of a Life.” Appelfeld’s mother tongue was German. “The effort to preserve my mother tongue amid surroundings that imposed another language upon me proved futile,” he said. “My mother and her language were one and the same. Now, as that language has faded within me, it was as if my mother (killed early in World War II) were dying a second time.”

As I contemplated composing a literary tribute to the great author Aharon Appelfeld, who passed away on Jan. 4 at the age of 85 (born Feb. 2, 1932), there were many angles I could take. His traumatic experiences as a child during the Holocaust, his coming of age into a newly born Jewish state, his journey toward becoming a writer, even his deep love for Jerusalem’s cafes (to which he devoted an entire book), all could serve as captivating themes.

But what fascinates me most about Appelfeld is that he wrote in Hebrew. Every time I read an Appelfeld novel in the original, I recall that for him, Hebrew was not “the original” until his teenage years. As a “refugee from World War II” (that’s what he called “Holocaust survivors”) and as a new immigrant in the emerging State of Israel in 1946, Appelfeld struggled to learn Hebrew. He read the current modern Hebrew literature of his day. But his struggles were more than linguistic. “Every page was a hurdle for me,” he said. “And yet I read voraciously, as if trying to familiarize myself with the strange country into which I had been thrown.” As much as he tried, Appelfeld could not connect to the characters of this new Hebrew literature, “soldiers or officers or farmers in the open fields.”

Conflicts between his German mother tongue and Hebrew are best understood through Erwin, the protagonist of his novel “The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping.” Like Appelfeld, Erwin is a “refugee from World War II” who immigrates to Palestine. Once there, Erwin is inducted into the classic Zionist lifestyle, tending the land on a kibbutz and performing guard duty. In an exchange of fire with snipers, Erwin is injured. During his recovery, Erwin spends hours reconstructing his past in his mind, all the while setting out to teach himself proper Hebrew. Eventually, he decides to become a writer.

In his 43 Hebrew books, Appelfeld sent a message that Hebrew is an ancient language that cannot be divorced from its past.

Erwin’s decision to write in Hebrew — a lens on Appelfeld’s decision — represented a plot twist in Zionism’s narrative. While Zionism prided itself on reviving the Hebrew language as part of its “negation of the Diaspora,” both Erwin and Appelfeld chose Hebrew as the language through which they would spend their lives exclusively devoted to recounting their experiences in the Diaspora.

Appelfeld’s literary journey would blossom when he learned that most modern Hebrew writers were bilingual. “This was a sensational discovery for me,” he said. “It meant that the ‘here’ and the ‘there’ were not cut off from each other, as the slogans proclaimed.” Appelfeld began to read writers such as Mendele Mocher Sefarim, Bialik and Agnon, all prolific in both Hebrew and Yiddish. “Their Hebrew was connected to places with which I was familiar, to landscapes I remembered, and to forgotten melodies that came to me from my grandparents’ prayers,” he said.

In his 43 Hebrew books, Appelfeld sent a message to Zionism, to his peers, and to his readers that Hebrew is an ancient language that cannot be divorced from its past. Quite an impressive feat for someone who once hated those who forced him to speak Hebrew.


Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the director of the Sephardic Educational Center.

What Would My Father Say?

People often ask me how many years it has been since my father’s death. I never want to answer. For them, it may be counted in years or even decades — such a long time. For me, it feels like yesterday. Some might say the trauma of his death is still with me, but I would say that his presence remains so vivid in my life that talking about his death feels odd and unreal.

My father, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, has been present in my life this past year with particular strength because of the many horrors that I know would have been devastating for him to witness. He always used to reassure me that the Nazis were defeated, that the United States was safe, that what happened would never happen again. To see the KKK marching in the streets, neo-Nazis celebrating, with ugly racism coming from the White House — and so much more — I know he would again be pacing the floor, unable to sleep, as he was pacing and sleepless over the horrors of the Vietnam War.

Today the Jewish world seems horrifically engaged in a kind of internal civil war, a war that is anything but civil. For my father, life was precious, every moment. He used to say, time is life, and to “kill time” is to commit murder. He was intensely engaged at every moment. The efforts today by Jews to attack and try to destroy one another out of political disagreements would have horrified my father. Zionism was supposed to unite us, not divide us. Racism he called blasphemy, satanism, unmitigated evil. There are Jews who confuse the Code of Laws with God. Some people try to be religious the way their grandparents were religious — my father called that ‘spiritual plagiarism.’ Selfishness, indifference, a cold heart — this was the opposite of a religious person, for whom awareness of God begins with wonder.

What is a religious person? A person who is maladjusted; attuned to the agony of others; aware of God’s presence and of God’s needs; a religious person is never satisfied, but always questioning, striving for something deeper, and always refusing to accept inequalities, the status quo, the cruelty and suffering of others.

What is a religious person? A person who is maladjusted; attuned to the agony of others … never satisfied, but always questioning.

My father was grateful for allies. He always listened, and he sought bridges with those who disagreed. Yet he was also often lonely and hurt — by colleagues and academic politics, by students who complained when he rescheduled a class in order to attend a demonstration, and most of all, by the callousness he encountered.

Yet he never despaired — despair is forbidden, he used to tell me with a smile. You must have faith and hope, he would say. In his presence, I always did.

Where did my father find his faith and hope? In prayer, most of all. I loved to sit in his study while he prayed, just to be near him and feel enveloped by his prayers. I think of him, praying with tallit and tefillin, and I feel his warmth and love. More than anything, he was a person of enormous depth; you could talk to him about anything, he was so open and able to feel so deeply. His empathy was extraordinary.

God was rarely present in the Shabbat services we attended at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Instead, he would daven at the Gerer shtiebl on the Upper West Side, led by Rabbi Cywiak. During the week, his spirits would be renewed when he spoke by telephone with his brother in law, my uncle, the Kopycznitzer rebbe, one of the kindest, most gentle and loving people I have ever met. My father discussed everything with him, including the war in Vietnam, his involvement in Vatican II, his protests on behalf of Soviet Jews, his collaboration with Martin Luther King, Jr.

My father’s voice is always needed, but these days I feel most strongly that I need him for strength and hope. There are so many wise people delineating the horrors we are now facing, and we know that we have to muster our strength for a long and difficult struggle to preserve our democracy, to save our planet, and most of all to protect the many human beings whose lives are being destroyed by American militarism, racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, and cruel, inhumane economic “policies.”  The mendacity that my father saw in the United States government has increased, but so has our ability to recognize it and fight back.

My father’s yahrzeit follows the Torah portion Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26), about the death of Jacob and the blessings he gave to his sons and grandsons. Where are the daughters, I ask? My father had only one child, a daughter, but he gave me blessings the Torah gives to sons. The haftarah of Parashat Vayechi comes from I Kings 2: 1-12, about the death of King David and the blessing he gave to his son, Solomon, while on his deathbed. My father dedicated his book “Who Is Man?” to me by quoting the parallel passage in I Chronicles 28:20: “Be strong and of good courage and act. Do not be afraid or dismayed; God is with you.”

I share that blessing with all those who strive to follow in my father’s footsteps, imbued with his teachings and fortified by his faith and hope.


Susannah Heschel is the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies and chair of the Jewish Studies Program at Dartmouth College. This piece was written for The Shalom Center. (theshalomcenter.org)

A Hunger for Memory

Meme Suissa, bottom left, with her parents and siblings at a pilgrimage in Morocco, circa 1934.

Why would my mother serve an Arab kid before serving her own hungry children? I was about 6 years old, and my family was on one of those pilgrimages to visit the gravesite of a Jewish holy man on the anniversary of his death. Along with hundreds of other Moroccan Jews, we would camp out for a few days in some type of wilderness location, not far from the gravesite. For kids, it was a chance to ride on donkeys, play a little soccer and have some “camping fun.” For the grown-ups, it was a chance to pray and bask in holiness and blessings.

As my father was pitching the tent and we got settled in, I recall my mother cutting up slices of a megina, a type of omelet pie, to feed her four hungry kids. But before serving the first slice, she noticed a young Arab boy sitting off to the side, his eyes fixated on the pie. Quietly, she took the first slice and brought it to him, and then came back to serve us. She didn’t say a word about it — no “teachable moment” about caring for the stranger, etc. — and neither did anyone else. It was one of those innocuous moments that has lingered silently in my memory for decades, not dramatic enough to ever discuss, but not routine enough to ever forget.

Years later, when my Jewish journey triggered the memory of that moment, I brought it up to my mother. She had no recollection. Evidently, she had just followed her natural order of things — she felt the hunger of a kid, and she gave him some food.

It is a different type of hunger — a hunger for memory — that has triggered our cover story this week by my friend Aomar Boum, assistant professor of anthropology at UCLA. Aomar is a practicing Muslim who was born and raised in the southern province of Tata, Morocco. From what I’ve been told, my ancestors were also from the south of Morocco, and were called the “people of the Sous” (hence my last name).

Aomar and I share more than geography in common. We both love Moroccan culture. We both love holiness. And we both love memory.

Aomar’s story brings these three loves together. It’s the story of Muslims who for centuries have cared for the Jewish holy sites throughout Morocco. At our Shabbat table last Friday night, he elaborated on this unique attachment between Muslims and holy Jewish sites. But as he has written in the past, this is only one chapter in a larger, more complicated story.

By the late 1980s, about 240,000 Jews had emigrated from Morocco, many to Israel (we moved to Canada). Today, fewer than 3,000 Jews remain. In his book, “Memories of Absence,” Aomar explores how the Jewish narrative in Moroccan history has largely been suppressed. A good part of his scholarship is devoted to reviving that narrative.

He writes: “Called ‘people of the book’ (dhimmi) by Muslims, the majority of Jews lived under the protection of the Moroccan king.

My mother recalls the unique coziness of growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in a Muslim country… and the holiness of Jewish gravesites that perfumed the Moroccan air.

“The Jews had ambivalent relations with their Muslim neighbors. Although Jewish communities resembled Muslim ones in language and custom, Jews faced occupational and social restrictions, such as in farming, and were mainly artisans, peddlers, and merchants.

“Rabbis and wealthy leaders who enjoyed special ties with Muslim authorities administered the Jewish community’s internal social, legal, and religious affairs. Around 1862, the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) built schools in the coastal cities and later in the hinterland, enabling many Jews to integrate into the wider world beyond Morocco.

“Around the same time, however, political Zionism began to make inroads among the Jews of Morocco, and a century later, in 1956 after Moroccan independence, Jews were affected by the new government’s Arab-Islamic policies and a widely celebrated national Arabization program. Zionist movements began to encourage Jews to move to Israel, and many people of Jewish descent left.”

In this story of gradual physical absence, pretty much all we have left is memory.

“Moroccans are left with the memories of a Jewish life that once existed,” he writes. “The great-grandparent and grandparent generations continue to discuss nostalgically the richness of Jewish-Muslim life in the past; the younger generation demonstrates narrow and misinformed perspectives of Jews.”

My mother belongs to the grandparent generation, from the Jewish side. She may not recall an anecdote of serving an omelet slice to an Arab boy, but she recalls a lot more. She recalls the unique coziness of growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in a Muslim country, the textures of an Arab culture that infiltrated Jewish life through food, music and language and, maybe above all, the holiness of Jewish gravesites that perfumed the Moroccan air.

It’s true that memory can play tricks on us — that we have a tendency to exaggerate the past, whether in a positive or negative light. It’s also true that we hunger for memories that can nourish our present.

Maybe I’m blessed that the trauma of the Holocaust did not contaminate my childhood memories, as it did for many of my Ashkenazi friends. I’m left with a nostalgia for a past I barely knew but still remember, a past that I now see through the lens of others who tell me story after story of what life was like for the Jews of Morocco.

As my own Jewish journey has progressed, I have found myself constantly looking back to my Moroccan heritage for some kind of spiritual nourishment. I want to learn more about my ancestors, my bubbes and zaydes, and I want to hand down these things to my own children.

I especially love that it’s a Muslim friend who is helping me on this journey, just like my mother helped that Muslim kid.

USC Professor Suggests That Israeli Zionists Are Terrorists

Photo from Facebook.

A professor at the University of Southern California (USC) suggested in an October lecture that Israeli Zionists are terrorists.

International Studies Professor David Kang gave a presentation on terrorism on October 26 in front of 200 students in the International Relations 210 class. One of the slides was titled “Who are terrorists?”and listed “Israeli Zionists” along with Kim Jong-Il and Mao Zedong below it:

Another slide featured a quote from Hamas’ spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin stating, “We are not ready to move our struggle outside the occupied Palestinian land.  We are not prepared to open international fronts, however much we criticize the unfair American position.”

Another slide quoted Osama bin Laden as stating that his goal was to stop the U.S. from “occupying the lands of Islam” that terrorism stems from poverty and another suggested that U.S. foreign policy and poverty are the roots of terrorism.

One of the students who was in the class, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Journal that he was disturbed by the slides, especially since they seemed to be “legitimizing” Hamas and gave the impression that Israeli Zionists should be associated with the likes of Mao Zedong and Kim Jong Il.

“He didn’t really talk about the issue any further, which… I think is the problem here,” the student said.

The student added, “I know other people who were a little disturbed to hear that, people who had taken his class who were just confused.”

Roz Rothstein, the international director of StandWithUs, criticized Kang’s PowerPoint presentation in a written statement to the Journal.

“USC Professor David Kang dehumanized all Israelis, Jews and others who believe in Israel’s right to exist during his lecture this past October,” wrote Rothstein. “His generalization that ‘Israeli Zionists’ are terrorists is simply hate speech, which has the potential to create a hostile learning environment for Israelis and others who attend USC. It is also an abuse of his role as an educator, who is supposed to uphold academic integrity and help students think critically about the world.”

Rothstein added, “This is especially unacceptable given his position of power as a professor, given that students may risk getting lower grades by challenging him. USC should condemn Kang and adopt a policy similar to the UC Regents Principles Against Intolerance, to make clear that anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry have no place on campus. StandWithUs will continue to be there for students who experience this kind of hate from professors and others.”

In a statement sent to the Journal, Kang claimed that the slide was part of an exercise.

“I was not labeling any group as terrorists, only making the point that these groups have been called terrorist organizations by others,” said Kang. “The point of the exercise was to get students to think about how and why organizations are labeled as terrorist organizations, and to foster a discussion about who does the labeling and for what purpose.”

However, the anonymous student remembers it differently.

“His class was critical thinking based but in this case he did not make that clear when presenting the slide nor gave any explanation to the historical context as to why Zionists would be a labeled a ‘terrorist’ organization,” the student wrote in a text message to the Journal, “and there were likely many impressionable students in the class who aren’t familiar with the issue who could now associate Zionism with North Korea and Al Qaeda, etc.”

Kang’s rating on RateMyProfessor is a 4.3 out of 5; various reviews on the site praised him for his lecturing skills and the depth of his knowledge. He is known for his expertise on North and South Korea.

The anonymous student described the class as “a good introductory class” overall, but those slides were “one of the only things that bothered” the student about the class.

“I thought he was so rational,” the student lamented, which made Kang’s slides all the more confusing for him.

This article has been updated.

A Ben-Gurion Documentary Reveals the Man Behind the Legend

Six hours of interviews with David Ben-Gurion were rediscovered three years ago and used for the documentary "Ben-Gurion, Epilogue." Photo courtesy of David Marks.

One year after Israel’s lightning victory in the Six-Day War, David Ben-Gurion was asked what he now thought of the country whose independence he had declared in 1948 and which he served as its first prime minister.

“We are not a state yet,” he replied. “We are only at the beginning.”

His somewhat cryptic response is but a blip in six hours of interviews, compressed into the 70-minute film “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue.” The documentary — an eye-opener, even to those who knew Ben-Gurion — will be screened Nov. 5 at the opening gala for the 31st Israel Film Festival at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills.

The film — derived from a recently rediscovered, six-hour interview conducted in 1968 — reveals the deeply introspective man behind the legend, who died in 1973 and who was given to politically incorrect statements, which often startled friend and foe alike.

One would hardly label as “peacenik” a man who led his 1-day-old nation into battle facing five Arab nations in 1948. In doing so, he defied every foreign military expert who predicted the poorly equipped, untested Israelis would be wiped out by their heavily armed foes in a matter of weeks, if not days.

Yet later, with Israel’s jubilation over its miraculous 1967 victory still ringing in his ears, Ben-Gurion somberly counseled his countrymen that if the choice were between peace and retaining all the conquered territories, he would choose peace. He amended his position later, saying Israel should retain all of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

For a man often described as brusque and at times labeled a dictator by his political foes, the aging Ben-Gurion of “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue” comes across as a modest individual, although eager to continue the filmed interview.

Among his memorable observations:

  • Alone I couldn’t have done anything. Once, when I spoke to Albert Einstein, he said that even his famous Theory of Relativity depended on experiments conducted by other scientists.
  • Big cities are not good for humanity. Why does everybody want to go to Tel Aviv? We should have a large number of small towns, each with no more than 15,000 residents.
  • I am a Jew, not just an Israeli. … I am not a Zionist, I am not a socialist. I am a Jew who lives in Israel, who wants to live in peace with the rest of the world and for people to honor each other and not exploit each other.
  • Turning to God is thinking deeply about something.
  • On the day Israel declared its independence, everybody celebrated, but my heart was heavy.
  • You can’t be afraid of making mistakes. You do something because you think it’s right.
  • Is there a danger of the military taking over the government? No, not in our state.
  • Can Israel survive as a democracy? I hope so.

The six hours of interviews — the longest in Ben-Gurion’s life — were filmed at Sde Boker, and then the videotapes mysteriously disappeared.

Three years ago, filmmakers Yariv Mozer and Yael Perlov visited the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archives in Jerusalem in search of a feature film labeled “42:6” about the life of Ben-Gurion as interpreted by a group of actors. The film came out in 1970 and was quickly forgotten.

Moser and Perlov found “42:6” and next to it noticed some 35mm reels labeled “raw material” containing the videotape from the Sde Boker shoot. The filmmakers’ joy at the discovery turned to dismay when they discovered that the tapes’ soundtracks were missing. Doggedly, Mozer embarked on a six-month global search and finally found the soundtracks — at the Ben-Gurion Archives in Sde Boker.

Mozer, 39, the film’s director and co-producer, wasn’t even born when Ben-Gurion died. “For me, growing up in Israel, Ben-Gurion was no more than a picture on the wall,” he said in an email exchange.

The interview and film offer members of younger generations a chance to discover the person behind the Israeli icon.

“I am not a Zionist, I am not a socialist. I am a Jew who lives in Israel.” – David Ben-Gurion.

“He becomes a human being with emotions and the full complexity of his personality,” Mozer said. “So, almost everything in this film was for me a new discovery. I came to understand that deeply in his vision and ideology was the connection to the higher moral values of the Bible and the prophets.”

Conducting the interview in the film is Clinton Bailey, now 80, who as a young Jew from Buffalo, N.Y., made aliyah to Israel in 1958. He became one of the foremost authorities on the lives and customs of Bedouin tribes living in the Negev and Sinai Peninsula, and met Ben-Gurion through the most unusual of circumstances.

Shortly after his arrival in the country, Bailey was walking along Keren Kayemet Street in Tel Aviv, heading for a job interview. He passed a modest house and was hailed by a woman standing outside, who instantly recognized him as an American, since he wore a necktie. Learning that the young man wanted to live in Israel and was looking for a job, she invited the stranger in for a cup of tea. Before her guest left, the woman told him that her husband was out of town but would return the next morning, and she would introduce the two at that time.

The hospitable lady was Paula Ben-Gurion, whose husband was then in his second term as prime minister. The two men hit it off, and when the documentary film project materialized, Ben-Gurion requested that Bailey be the interviewer.

Bailey, in an interview with the Journal, called Ben-Gurion “a visionary who guided his vision by pragmatism. He was totally dedicated to this vision and what had to be done to realize it. He wanted political power to realize the vision, and not for the perks of power. A modest lifestyle, without the frills of power, was sufficient for him. He was a thinking person and an avid reader.”

The description is apt, but if the film has a weakness, it is that it omits the criticisms leveled against Ben-Gurion during his public life. Many of the attacks were political hardball, which Israelis play more enthusiastically than anyone else, but some of the criticism was valid and worth examining.

Toward the end of his interview, the then 82-year-old Ben-Gurion mused about his own mortality.

“I don’t fear death,” he said. “Why should I? It won’t change anything.” Then he added, “At my funeral, I want no eulogies and no gun salutes.”

Five years later, the government carried out his wishes faithfully.

The Jabotinsky’s Children exchange, part 1: On the Polish origins of right-wing Zionism

Daniel Kupfert Heller

Daniel Kupfert Heller is assistant professor of Jewish studies at McGill University. Dr. Heller received his PhD from Stanford University and his undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto.  

Our exchange will focus on Dr. Heller’s new Book, Jabotinsky’s Children: Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism (Princeton University Press, 2017).

***

Dear Dan,

We like to start these exchanges with introductory questions that allow our guests to present their theses. In this case, we might as well start with the subtitle of the book — Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism.

Our first question: What would you like your book to teach your readers about the Polish origins of the Zionist right, and how does focusing on 1920s Warsaw change our understanding of Jabotinsky’s vision, the Betar movement and Israeli nationalism in general?

Yours,

Shmuel  

***

Dear Shmuel,

The story of the Polish roots of right-wing Zionism took me by surprise. I had initially set out to write a book about the turbulent political life of Polish Jewish youth on the eve of the Holocaust. I knew that right-wing Zionism was popular among many Jewish youths in Poland between the two world wars, but presumed that Jabotinsky’s writings contained all I ever needed to know about their worldview.

All that changed when I began rummaging through Poland’s government archives. I kept finding police reports that described right-wing Zionist activists marching in Polish patriotic parades alongside Polish scouts and soldiers, laying wreaths at Polish war memorials, and imploring their young Jewish followers to “act Polish.” Right-wing Zionist youth could even be heard singing the Polish national anthem and chanting “Long live the Sanacja!,” the name given to Poland’s authoritarian government, which came to power in 1926.

I was baffled. Why would a Zionist movement convinced that Jews were destined for a life of misery and persecution in Europe choose the Polish national anthem as their battle cry? What inspired them to include among their chants a call to support Poland’s authoritarian government? What was it about the country’s policies and practices—many of which were already the features of right-wing regimes across Europe—that could be deemed compelling and even instructive to Zionists seeking to build a Jewish state?

These questions lie at the very heart of my book. Drawing on correspondence, autobiographies, youth movement journals and police reports from archives across Poland and Israel, I discovered that Poland was more than just a reservoir of supporters for Jabotinsky. It was also an inspiration and incubator for the development of right-wing Zionist ideology. Jabotinsky’s Polish Jewish followers in the Betar youth movement found much to emulate in the policies and practices of right-wing movements in Poland and elsewhere in Europe, even as they condemned the antisemitism advocated by many of these groups. Writing in Betar’s journals in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish, many of the youth movement’s followers in Poland took pride in the fact that their militarist ethos, deep distrust of democracy and authoritarian leadership cult for Jabotinsky resembled the beliefs of Polish nationalists. By examining the writing of ordinary Betar members alongside Jabotinsky’s prose, I also realized that Polish Jewish youth were not merely the passive recipients of an ideology imposed “from above,” but played an active role in shaping the political beliefs and behaviors that transformed their lives. In the mid-1920s, for example, Polish Jewish youth helped to convince Jabotinsky to turn the celebration of militarism and rejection of socialism into core components of his program.

Recovering the voices of Jabotinsky’s followers during his lifetime also has profound implications for how we understand the life of the famed and controversial father of right-wing Zionism.

No Jewish leader’s legacy is more contested in Israel today than that of Jabotinsky. Some look to him as a liberal democrat and staunch defender of equality. Others among his supporters view him as a nationalist hawk who was prepared to use whatever means necessary to achieve and maintain a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. Only by recovering the voices of Jabotinsky’s early followers in Poland can we begin to understand why his politics have proven so seductive and elusive to those who claim to be his ideological descendants. My book not only reveals that Jabotinsky’s political musings on democracy, violence and Arab-Jewish relations were the subject of intense debate among his followers during his lifetime. It also demonstrates that Jabotinsky deliberately encouraged these disagreements by creating numerous possibilities for how to translate his political prose into practice.

From its founding, the Revisionist movement aimed to appeal to a broad constituency and collected a range of supporters with differing views. To maintain his leadership of this diverse political base, Jabotinsky maintained an ideological dexterity in his journalistic output and public appearances. He did not hesitate to offer ambiguous or contradictory messages to his followers. Even as he condemned radicals within his movement as reckless rebels, he offered them more ambivalent instructions to pursue. Even as he insisted that he was a fierce proponent of democracy and liberalism, he raised doubts, in full public view, about the ability of these political ideals to serve the national interests of an increasingly endangered Jewish population. He gave his followers in interwar Poland and Mandate Palestine ample room to interpret him as they saw fit, allowing them to amplify or diminish Zionism’s commitment to democratic values and the use of military force depending on the needs of the hour. By using his young followers to cultivate a Zionism that blurred the lines between democracy and authoritarianism, as well as defense and attack, Jabotinsky pioneered a political strategy that continues to this day to leave a decisive mark on Israeli politics.

 

 

Myers proves an ideal Jewish voice in ‘Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction’

David N. Myers, an accomplished and distinguished Jewish historian, has written a small book about a very big subject: “Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction” (Oxford).  It’s the latest title in Oxford’s “Very Short Introduction” series, which now consists of more than 500 chapbooks that span the breadth of human knowledge from “Accounting” to “Zionism.”

I am very nearly heartbroken at my obligation to acknowledge that Myers, who is a contributor to the Journal, the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA and the recently appointed president of the Center for Jewish History in New York City, is the same embattled figure who has come under an especially ugly attack by a few right-wing character assassins.

The criticism starts with the fact that Myers is affiliated with the New Israel Fund, a progressive Zionist organization that opposes the building of new settlements on the West Bank and does not rule out a boycott of some products manufactured there — a position shared by many Jews in Israel and around the world. His critics leap to the conclusion that Myers is therefore “unfit” to head the Center for Jewish History or any other Jewish organization.  But as the Journal reported, some 500 of his fellow scholars came to his defense in a letter of support.

Happily, the scholarship that informs “Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction” is the best evidence of what his colleagues have written about. Indeed, it’s not less than breathtaking to behold how Myers has managed to capture the vast sweep of Jewish history without sacrificing its substance or its nuance, all the way from the ancient Israelites we encounter in the Bible to the modern Jewish communities in which we live now.

As one of the many examples of his intellectual deftness, Myers describes how the writings that come down to us from distant antiquity only gradually “gain[ed] coherence and the veil of sanctity that envelops the Bible as sacred scripture.” But, as a deeply well-informed Zionist, he reminds us that “[t]he bookishness of the Jews became a sore point for later Zionists,” who “aimed to replace what they saw as the excessively cerebral and passive diaspora Jews with a strong and brave ‘New Hebrew’ rooted in the soil of the homeland.” And when he writes that “the association of Jews and books has been virtually unbreakable,” the words take on a certain irony when we think of the conflicts that are raging between secular Jews and religious Jews in Israel today.

The same irony rings out from his description of medieval Spain under Muslim control. “Although Muslim rule was not uniformly favorable toward Jews, it was under the reign of Islam that Jewish culture reached some of its grandest attainments —  in philosophy, science, and poetry, as well as in the more traditional Jewish pursuit of rabbinic commentary.”

Above all, Myers affirms that Judaism is a tapestry, not a monolith, and it is a fabric to which new threads are always being added. “Jewish identity, like Jewish history itself, has never been a static proposition; from their humble desert origins, Jews have continually reimagined and renamed themselves —  and been renamed by others — in response to shifting historical circumstances.” Precisely because the Jewish people were dispersed so widely and for such a long time, Myers points out, we must speak of “an evolving series of Jewish cultures (plural) rather than a single unified culture,” which he describes as “a richly marbled admixture of local customs and shared global practices.”

Perhaps the highest compliment that can be bestowed on this little book is that it amounts to a short course on a subject so rich and strange that even a library full of books cannot exhaust its complexities. Virtually any line of text from “Jewish History” will provide enough ideas and information to sustain a passionate conversation, whether in a book club, a classroom or around a Shabbat dinner table.

Still, the sound and fury that has been recently directed toward Myers must come to the reader’s mind when we come upon certain passages that were written before he came into the crosshairs. “The task ahead is to understand the different, though connected, ways in which Jews have chosen to identify themselves,” he writes. “In so doing, we can see the continuity and change that add such animating tension to Jewish history.”

Alas, the “animating tension” has come to focus on Myers himself, if perhaps only briefly. His book is the best evidence that the abuse he has suffered from some right-wing critics is not only unmerited but downright tragic. In the pages of “Jewish History,” he shows himself to be moderate, measured, deeply knowledgeable and fairly glowing with Jewish values. All we can hope is that Myers, like the Jewish people themselves, will not only survive but, more than that, go from strength to strength.


JONATHAN KIRSCH, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

How we should teach about Israel

People pray at the Western Wall on Jan. 12. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

As a Jewish educator deeply committed to religious Zionism, what keeps me up at night is the fact that Jewish American youth are both disengaged from, and ignorant about, Israel.

The numbers that tell the story of this divide are as startling as they are troubling. For one, Alex Pomson’s research shows that Jewish high school students’ connection to Israel generally is not grounded in knowledge of contemporary Israeli life. Some 57 percent of students said they had little to no confidence discussing contemporary Israeli culture, and only 18 percent of students responded that they were very confident to discuss daily life in Israel. This lack of knowledge about Israel is compounded by the fact that young American Jews are significantly less emotionally connected to Israel. A Pew Research Center Report in 2013 found  that among Jews between the ages of 18 and 29, just 32 percent said that caring about Israel is essential to their Jewish identity; whereas 53 percent of Jews over age 65 said Israel is central to their Jewish identity.

So, what can we do to ensure that our young Jewish-American students are more informed, connected and committed to Israel? How can we educate and enlighten our students to cultivate a passionate relationship with Zionism without sacrificing empathy for the other?

With the school year upon us, I want to offer three ideas on how Jewish educators can bridge this divide.    

1. Schools need to make the bold decision to spend time learning about Israel. Time is a precious commodity in Jewish day schools, yeshivot and summer camps, where educators face the daunting task of choosing what to teach. Yet, the question of Israel education is one that depends on the institution’s overall educational and religious approach.

For instance, some schools may choose to provide a Gemara-rich diet to their student body. There certainly is value in this, but the upshot to this way of thinking is that it becomes what we at Shalhevet High School call a “religious Atkins” of sorts and does not allow for students to have a well-balanced Jewish educational diet. If one’s mission statement describes the school as “religious Zionist,” it needs to mean much more than dancing on Yom HaAtzmaut. It means carving space within our busy days to teach Zionism, its history, its issues, its meaning, its implications in depth. It means learning about the richness of modern Israel and the complexities of having a modern, democratic Jewish state.

2. We also need to actively engage with Israel. This modern miracle is about so much more than the Arab-Israeli conflict, and we should stop boiling down Israel to “conflict.” Students should spend time studying the religious implications and tension points of the state. We need to develop an intimate, I-Thou relationship with Israel.

Israel education ought to be about civic engagement with the state, where our students have an authentic relationship with her songs, culture and overall society. For example, students should spend time unpacking the lyrics of “Matanot Kitanot by Rami Kleinstein and consider its relationship to Natan Alterman’s “Magash Hakesef.” They should learn about the food, the army culture and the interests of their Israeli peers. We ought to enter our students into the same conversation as Israelis so that our students can empathize with our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic.

3. We also cannot sideline the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli conflict and we must withstand the pressure to reduce this complex situation down to advocacy one-liners. Although advocacy surely has a place in the Jewish community, we need to give our students more credit than this without whitewashing our history. Schools often hear from alumni who have spent substantial time in Israel or on American college campuses that the mythologized version of Israel they were taught was a lie. A lament we often hear from alumni from various Jewish day schools is that the current norm of Israel education romanticizes Israel.

If these institutions exposed students to some of Israel’s real struggles, those students would be better equipped to engage in tough debates on campus. Students sniff out the intellectual dishonesty when we embark on a defensive project regarding every single decision made by Israel. There are multiple perspectives within Israel’s own Knesset. Let’s teach those perspectives and let’s honor our students by having the courage to not hide ideas and perspectives from them.

The time for a proper Israel education is now. We need to teach that a nuanced approach and an affection for Zionism are not mutually exclusive. We need to teach that “my” perspective on Israel is not the only one, that being united about Israel does not mean having one uniform view of Israel.

Let’s push our organizations, schools and shuls to have a mature view of Israel and to spend time learning about Israel, struggling with Israel, wrestling with Israel, and yes, loving Israel. This is what it has always meant to be part of the Jewish story.


Noam L. Weissman is the principal of Shalhevet High School and wrote his dissertation on Israel education at USC.

New group for progressive Zionists to march in Chicago SlutWalk

Calling themselves progressive and Zionist, about a dozen activists plan on marching in a Chicago demonstration against sexual violence to promote the idea thaZionism and liberal values are compatible.

Members of the Zioness initiative, which launched Tuesday, will march together on Saturday at SlutWalk Chicago, a women’s rights demonstration against sexual violence. Zioness members will be marching with banners and T-shirts featuring a design of a woman wearing a Star of David necklace.

Organizers of the SlutWalk initially said that they would ban Stars of David from the event, but later altered their policy to allow religious symbols but not national flags.

The SlutWalk policy came in the wake of a controversy over the Chicago Dyke March in June, when three Jewish participants at the LGBTQ demonstration were ejected for carrying LGBTQ Pride flags adorned with the Star of David. Dyke March organizers said the women were advocating for Israel at an anti-Zionist event.

The Dyke March incident served as “a watershed moment,” said Zioness organizer Amanda Berman.

“It was really a moment where everyone in the community said, ‘This is unacceptable, the line has been crossed, and there’s no way we can walk back from it now because no one can claim this is just opposition to a political party or a policy 10,000 miles away. It’s now about Jews,’” she told JTA.

The Dyke March incident was widely condemned by the Jewish community, and Jews who are pro-Israel have complained that they often do not feel comfortable expressing their religious identity openly at LGBTQ events and settings.

Berman, the New York-based director of legal affairs at The Lawfare Project — which calls itself the “legal arm of the pro-Israel community” — will travel to Chicago for Saturday’s march. She formed Zioness with around a dozen friends from across the country.

“When SlutWalk said, ‘We stand in solidarity with the organizers of the Chicago Dyke March,’ and said ‘We will also ban Zionist symbols, including Jewish stars,’ it became an opportunity to challenge the narrative that Jews and Zionists can’t participate in progressive movements,” she added.

Although SlutWalk Chicago said it would welcome religious symbols, on Thursday it denounced the Zioness initiative for using the march to promote a “nationalist agenda.”

“SlutWalk Chicago does not support the ‘Zioness progressives’ planning on coming to the walk Saturday. We at SlutWalk Chicago stand with Jewish people, just as we stand for Palestinian human rights. Those two ideologies can exist in the same realm, and taking a stance against anti-Semitism is not an affirmation of support for the state of Israel and its occupation of Palestine,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

“We oppose all oppressive governments whether they be the United States or Israel, as we recognize these regimes often disproportionately oppress women and femmes. We find it disgusting that any group would appropriate a day dedicated to survivors fighting rape culture in order to promote their own nationalist agenda,” SlutWalk Chicago continued.

Demonstrators at a Slutwalk march through downtown Chicago, Sept. 7, 2013. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Meanwhile, Berman said the response from the Jewish community has been positive. Though the group was presently focused on Saturday’s march, organizers also have larger aspirations, Berman said.

“We do have broader goals in terms of how to turn this into something that can empower Jewish activists in the future in every variety of social justice movement, that’s certainly the goal,” she said. “Right now we’re very focused on Saturday — that’s the way that this group came to be, to challenge this narrative on Saturday by establishing a new movement and creating the opportunity for people to come and stand in solidarity.”

Why more Israelis are moving to the US

Children waving Israeli and American flags at the Celebrate Israel parade in New York City on June 4. Photo by Perry Bindelglass

Six years ago, the Israeli government released a series of controversial ads to show its expatriates that they would never feel at home in the United States.

But last year, Israeli Cabinet members lined up to address a Washington, D.C., conference celebrating Israeli-American identity.

The ad campaign, which was pulled following a backlash from Israelis and Jews abroad, represented Israel’s traditional attitude toward citizens who left its borders. Emphasizing its image as the Jewish national homeland — and ever concerned about its Jewish-Arab demographic balance — Israel’s government has long encouraged Jews not only to move to Israel but to stay there. In 2014, then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid called Israelis who moved to Berlin “anti-Zionists.”

But the parade of Israeli ministers who spoke at the 2016 conference of the Israeli-American Council attested to a shifting reality: Whether the Israeli government likes it or not, the Israeli-American diaspora is real, growing and leaving its mark on the United States.

Here are four things to know about the Israelis who live in the United States.

No one knows how many Israelis live in the United States — but it could be a million.

There’s no real way to know how many Israelis are living in the United States. Any first-generation child of Israelis is considered an Israeli citizen, and Israel can’t force its expatriates to register with their local consulate.

Estimates of Israelis in America vary widely — from about 200,000 to as many as a million. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, some 250,000 Israelis acquired permanent residence in the United States between 1949 (when 98 Israelis left the infant state) to 2015 (which saw about 4,000 Israelis move stateside). But that number does not chart deaths or Israelis who moved back.

The 2013 Pew Research Forum study on American Jews found a similar number: About 300,000 Jews in America were either born in Israel or born to an Israeli parent. In total, Pew found that first- or second-generation Israelis account for about 5 percent of American Jews.

Even the Israeli government produces two different numbers. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reports that a little more than 500,000 Israelis in total moved abroad from 1990 to 2014 — and nearly 230,000 came back. But Israel’s U.S. Embassy told JTA that between 750,000 and 1 million Israelis live in the country. Adam Milstein, chairman of the Israeli-American Council, an umbrella group for Israelis here, told JTA that includes 400,000 children born to an Israeli parent.

In recent years, Israel has lost more people to the United States than it has gained. From 2012 to 2015, according to Homeland Security, 17,770 Israelis took up residence in the United States. During that span, fewer than 13,000 people made the move  from the United States to Israel.

They are centered in New York and Los Angeles.

Israelis tend to go where the Jews are. Milstein estimates that about 250,000 Israelis each live in the Los Angeles and New York City metro areas, which also boast the two largest Jewish communities in the United States. Smaller concentrations of Israelis (and Jews) live in South Florida, Chicago and San Francisco.

Those cities, in turn, have developed a range of services for their Israeli diasporas. Israel’s Immigrant Absorption Ministry maintains Israeli Houses in nine American cities that host cultural events and political activism. The Israeli-American Council has chapters in 15 cities. And communities boast active Facebook groups: “Israelis in New York” includes 18,000 members.

The cities also provide ample opportunities for Israeli culture. Israeli cuisine is a staple of New York’s restaurant scene, from chef Einat Admony’s mini empire of eateries, to Dizengoff, an Israeli restaurant with branches in Philadelphia and New York. Aroma, the iconic Israeli coffee chain, has branches in New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Miami.

And Israeli musicians — from Idan Raichel to Shlomo Artzi to Sarit Hadad — are never hard to find on New York’s concert scene. An adaptation of Israeli novelist David Grossman’s book “To the End of the Land” opened recently at the the annual Lincoln Center Festival.

They come for education and work.

Neither the Israeli Embassy nor the Israeli-American Council tracks why Israelis move to the U.S., but Milstein suspects it’s for professional and academic reasons. Israel’s small size means Israelis with college or advanced degrees often seek to advance their careers in places with more opportunities abroad.

Israelis “don’t have the roots [of] someone whose family lived in Italy for 20 generations, or who lived in America for the last 150 years,” Milstein said. “The Jewish people, the most valuable asset they have is their brain. They can take their brain[s] anywhere.”

Israel, conversely, has begun to worry about its “brain drain” recently. A 2013 study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies found that for every 100 Israeli scholars who stayed in Israel, 29 left for positions abroad in 2008.

The drain is happening in the tech industry, too: According to the Israeli Executives and Founders Forum, an Israeli tech association, there are nearly 150 Israeli startups in Silicon Valley.

Israel still wants them back.

Israel’s government may have recognized that it can’t bring back all the Israelis from the United States, but it’s still trying. The appeal is both emotional and economic.

The 2011 ad campaign, for example, featured a series of shorts highlighting the Israeli-American cultural divide. In one, a child of Israelis in America, video chatting with Israeli grandparents, talks about the upcoming winter holiday of Christmas, not Hanukkah. In another, an Israeli woman comes home to commemorate Memorial Day in Israel with a candle — her American boyfriend mistakes it for romantic lighting.

More recently, Israel has also laid out financial incentives to draw expatriates back, including a program set to launch later this year called “Returning at 70,” a reference to Israel’s 70th Independence Day in 2018. The Immigrant Absorption Ministry will provide returning Israelis with financial assistance for six months, and will even cover a portion of their salaries in order to ensure they can find work in their old-new home. The government is also offering free professional development courses and consulting.

Israelis who have opened businesses stateside, meanwhile, will receive about $14,000 for the costs of relocating the business. And Israelis who move to the country’s underdeveloped northern and southern regions are eligible for grants as well as loans with low interest rates.

But Milstein says that even with these programs, Israeli officials still understand that it’s better to embrace expatriates than shame them into coming home.

“By trying to raise our guilt feeling, it backfired,” he said. “The State of Israel is getting to the realization that [our] being here, they can’t do too much about it. We can help the State of Israel a lot. They understand we can be their strategic asset.”