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.

A Ben-Gurion Documentary Reveals the Man Behind the Legend

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.

Daniel Kupfert Heller

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

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?




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.

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

How we should teach about Israel

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.”

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

Why more Israelis are moving to the US

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.”

Gretchen Rachel Hammond first reported that three Jewish women carrying rainbow flags emblazoned with Jewish stars were kicked out of the June 24 march. Photo courtesy of Hammond

Chicago Dyke March article cost me my job, reporter tweets

The journalist who first reported the ejection of three Jewish women from Chicago’s Dyke March tweeted that she was removed from her reporting job because of that article.

In a tweet Monday, Gretchen Rachel Hammond wrote to Dyke March’s Twitter account that “You attacked, humiliated and robbed me of a job.” Hammond confirmed to JTA on the same day that she wrote the tweet.

Hammond said she could not elaborate on her tweet, citing an agreement with her employer, the Windy City Times.

Hammond, formerly an award-winning reporter for the Chicago LGBT newspaper, was transferred to its sales department after being the first to report that three Jewish women carrying rainbow flags emblazoned with Jewish stars were kicked out of the June 24 march. The women, as well as Jewish organizations, have accused the Dyke March of anti-Semitism.

March organizers said the women were ejected because they were carrying flags reminiscent of the Israeli flag at an anti-Zionist event and had “repeatedly expressed support for Zionism during conversations” with other marchers.

On June 28, an organizer of the march told Hammond in an interview that she and the newspaper had “failed in its journalistic mission.”

The Dyke March was founded over 20 years ago as a left-wing, women-centered alternative to Chicago’s annual Pride Parade, which the Dyke March’s website calls “corporate, white male dominated.” The march bills itself as anti-racist, anti-violent and anti-Zionist. This year’s march drew some 1,500 people.

Hammond, who is Jewish, told JTA that in the wake of her article, she received dozens of threatening anonymous phone calls. She said one caller called her a “kike,” while others told her she should lose her job or said she “betrayed” the LGBT community.

“One of them said, ‘I’m going to get your bitch ass fired,'” Hammond told JTA of calls and text messages she received. “It was vicious. It wasn’t even a request for dialogue. It was, ‘You f**ked with us. We’re going to f**k with you.’ They pretty much blamed me for the whole thing blowing up at them.”

The Dyke March itself has fielded criticism for using an anti-Semitic slur, tweeting on July 13 that “Zio tears replenish my electrolytes.” White supremacists, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, have used the term “Zio,” derived from Zionist, as a slur for Jews.

On July 14, the Dyke March deleted the tweet and apologized, saying it “didn’t know the violent history of the term.”

Hammond was transferred to the sales department on July 10, and told JTA that she was looking for a reporting position elsewhere.

Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim confirmed last week that Hammond had been moved, but would not elaborate. Regarding the newspaper’s coverage of the Dyke March, Baim said the editors “stand by our reporting by Gretchen and our other reporters on that story.”

Laurel Grauer, one of the women ejected from the march, works for A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel LGBT organization. She said she has brought the flag to the march for years in order to celebrate her LGBT Jewish identity.

But in a June 27 statement, march organizers said the women were ejected “for expressing Zionist views that go directly against the march’s anti-racist core values.” The statement claimed that the women were “disrupting chants,” which Grauer denies. It called Zionism “an inherently white-supremacist ideology.”

Both Grauer and Hammond told JTA that they have attended the march in past years without incident. Hammond said this year’s march felt more vitriolic.

“There was something different this year, for this to happen, for the kind of hatred and bile that’s coming out of them,” Hammond said. “They have chosen to exercise their anger against Israel, but do it in an anti-Semitic way.”

The Six-Day war. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin, Gen. Rehavam Zeevi (R) And Gen. Narkis in the old city of Jerusalem.

The Seventh Day: The Fighting Continues

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, I’ve been dismayed, though not surprised, by the divisiveness of the dialogue. I was only two when the Six Day War broke out, but I was raised with feeling tremendous pride over the breathtaking victory. I was not from a religious family and we were only reluctantly Jewish identified. Support of Israel was the thin reed on which our Jewish identity hung. That tiny, beleaguered Israel was able to nearly quadruple its size, regain access to its holy sites and do it all in six days against staggering odds was miraculous. Not only that, but a loss would have been unthinkable, undoubtedly bringing another Holocaust — the stated intent of Israel’s Arab neighbors. I firmly believe that in the narrative arc of Jewish history the Six Day War merits pride and jubilation. It was a turning point in the battle for Jewish safety and self-determination in a world that seemed to care not a whit about either.

Many of us can agree on that much. But the week marking the war’s anniversary proved that we can agree on little else. Indeed, what may otherwise have been a communal celebration of victory became, as all things Israel often do, a source of deep division.

It’s not hard to understand why.

As early as the day after the war ended, the fate of the over 650,000 Palestinians already living in the West Bank was unclear. In the fevered glory over the success of the military campaign, not many people were discussing that. Now the number has grown to over 2.5 million Palestinians, and the military occupation continues with no apparent end in sight. To the contrary, the current Israeli government, with the support of the United States, seems to be operating under this vain hope that the issue will simply go away—that the status quo is somehow perpetually sustainable.

There are those on the far right, who are actually seeking to annex significant portions of the West Bank, sounding the death knell for the two-state solution. And even many of those who recognize the untenability of a permanent military occupation, blame the problem solely or primarily on Palestinian intransigence and the historic Palestinian proclivity towards terrorism.

At the same time, no one can dispute that living in a state of apparent perpetual occupation with limited self-determination and limited guarantees of the basic civil liberties that we take for granted is simply not right. It’s not Jewish. It’s not moral. And it is most certainly, not conducive to peace. Therefore, for those of us who want Israel to remain Jewish and democratic and secure, it’s impossible to disregard the challenges that came with the historic victory.

At the same time, for me, the troubling aspect is not that I may disagree with others about what direction Israel should go—that’s healthy. What disturbs me is that the discussion is often binary. Even among liberal American Jews it seems that either you blindly celebrate the success of the Six Day War or you view it solely through the prism of the occupation. And these extreme positions inevitably devolve into name calling. If you point out the human rights disaster that is the occupation, you are anti-Zionist and probably anti-Semitic. If you celebrate the Six Day War, you are anti-Palestinian and a willing conspirator to a human rights disaster. Both positions are incomplete. However, and more to the point, neither position serves the interest of either side.

Jews have always had the ability to hold, in harmony, two conflicting ideas. We see the good and the bad in things. We debate. We yell. We hate. We love. Yet, when it comes to Israel, a nuanced understanding seems to be more of the exception than the rule.

Mostly for serendipitous reasons, rather than Zionistic reasons, my first time in Israel was during my junior year of college over 30 years ago. I then became a proud Zionist and started to learn what it means to be a Jew. Since that time, I have loved that nation, have taken pride in its ability to take in Jewish refugees from around the world, have marveled at its technological, medical and agricultural innovation, and, yes, have been grateful for the strength of its military. At the same time, as a Jew, I can also see, indeed I must see, the tremendously adverse consequences that the 50-year occupation is having on both the occupied and the occupier. So while we can and should celebrate the miracle that was the Six Day War, it is incumbent upon us to also see the tragedy that unfolded as a result and how that jeopardizes the Israel that we so deeply love. Indeed, having those honest, nuanced conversations and searching for solutions is precisely the best way to manifest one’s love and concern for Israel.

Adam F. Wergeles is a Los Angeles technology lawyer and a co-founder of IKAR.

Saree Makdisi

UCLA Professor: What’s wrong with Jews being a minority in Israel?

Finally, after about an hour of partisan arguments from both sides, I heard something that got my attention.

I was attending an event sponsored by the UCLA Debate Union, billed as “A Spirited Debate on BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).” It featured, on one side, professor Judea Pearl, who was born in Tel Aviv, and students Philippe Assouline and Joseph Kahn, and, on the other, professor Saree Makdisi, who is of Palestinian descent, and students Ahmad Azzawi and Wali Kamal.

In front of a diverse audience of about 100 people, Pearl’s side argued the motion that “BDS is not moral.”

Nothing surprised me too much in the back and forth. The Pearl side reiterated the well-known arguments against BDS — namely, that it is out to undermine the Jewish state rather than search for peace — while the Makdisi side framed BDS as fighting the Israeli occupation with the best nonviolent tool available.

While we’ve heard many of the arguments before, it was helpful to hear them all in one place and in a polite manner, with no yelling or insults. You could feel some underlying tension throughout the debate, but the panelists made a genuine effort to conduct themselves with civility.

Makdisi based many of his arguments on universal values such as fairness, equality, justice and so on. Focusing on those values helped him finesse the Achilles’ heel of the BDS movement — the fact that it doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Promoting the “right of return” of millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel, for example, means the effective end of the Jewish state, what a panelist on the Pearl side called “national suicide.”

Makdisi took that word — suicide — and ran with it, almost ridiculing it as an example of needless hysterics from the Zionist side. You could see where he was going. What kind of just society would treat the arrival of Palestinians as a national suicide? Sure, there may be a huge number of Palestinians who would enter the Jewish state, but what’s wrong with Arabs and Jews living side by side, in full equality, in the same state and under the same government?

My grandparents in Morocco never got to fight for their rights, as Arabs do in Israel. They weren’t allowed.

Then, he really got the audience’s attention when he blurted out these words: “What’s wrong with Jews being a minority?”

There was a gasp among pro-Israel supporters. Pearl made a grimace, commenting that minorities are not treated very well in the Middle East.

I have a feeling Makdisi himself regretted his words as soon as he said them.

Why? Because he’s no fool. He’s a knowledgeable professor, and he surely knows what’s wrong with Jews being a minority in a country in the Middle East.

He knows that, for centuries, Jews in Arab and Muslim countries were treated as second-class citizens, or dhimmis. He knows that many of those Jews were persecuted and expelled after the birth of Israel in 1948.

He knows that there are 50 Muslim countries in the world, but only one Jewish state.

He knows that in many of those 50 countries, minorities are routinely persecuted and oppressed.

And he knows that in the Jewish-majority country of Israel, the Arab minority has more civil rights, freedom, legal protections and economic opportunities than Arabs have virtually anywhere else in the Middle East.

He knows all of that.

So, when he said, so innocently, “What’s wrong with Jews being a minority?” he probably forgot who was in the audience. Maybe he thought he was talking to a Students for Justice in Palestine crowd, for whom a Jewish minority in the Jewish state would be like manna from heaven.

But he wasn’t. There were some proud Zionists in the audience, and I was one of them.

I’m a Jew who was born in an Arab country, where my ancestors were a minority for centuries. The stories I heard were not of human rights and equality. They were stories about surviving by behaving — by keeping our heads down and never forgetting our second-class status. My grandparents in Morocco never got to fight for their rights, as Arabs do in Israel. They weren’t allowed.

That’s why, for 1,900 years, Jews from all over the world yearned to return home to Zion and Jerusalem. That’s why the Zionist movement fought so hard for the rebirth of the Jewish state — because the Jewish experience of being a vulnerable minority in a hostile land is not one we want to relive.

When Makdisi suggested that Jews should become dhimmis again in their own country, he confessed what the BDS movement is really about — and it isn’t very moral.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Guess what? The world needs Israel

Since its inception, Israel has been a country under siege. When it’s not attacked by terrorist forces, it’s attacked by diplomatic ones. Over the past few decades, it has been condemned mainly for its failure to make peace with the Palestinians. This conflict has dominated global consciousness like no other. Throughout the Middle East, it has been used by dictators to divert attention away from the oppression of their people.

President Donald Trump’s eagerness to make the “ultimate deal,” which he reiterated during his visit to Israel, only continues the obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether we like it or not, it is the conflict, as much as anything, that has shaped Israel’s narrative throughout much of the world.

And yet, despite all that, something is changing. New winds are blowing. Slowly, quietly, a parallel narrative about Israel is beginning to emerge. And since the conflict with the Palestinians is so intractable, my sense is that this new narrative will play an increasingly greater role in shaping Israel’s future.

In essence, more and more countries are looking at Israel and saying: “Politics or no politics, these guys can help us. They’re doing things no one else is doing. They seem to have a pulse on this crazy and fast-changing new world we’re in.”

If your country, for example, has a problem with cybersecurity that can endanger your infrastructure, and you hear that Israel has unique technology that can fix the problem, are you going to pass on that solution because the Palestinian conflict is unresolved?

Similarly, if your people are running out of drinking water and you need Israel’s cutting-edge desalination technology, or if your country is under threat from Islamic terrorists and you know that Israelis have the most expertise in that area, will you let the Palestinian conflict get in the way of your core interests?

Giant nations like India and China, as well as emerging nations on the African continent, are not waiting for a peace breakthrough before engaging with Israel. Why should they? Doing business with Israel is in their interest. It boosts their economies. It strengthens their countries.

The same thing has been happening in Israel’s own backyard. In a 2012 report titled, “The Badly Kept Secret of Israel’s Trade Throughout the Muslim World,” Haaretz detailed Israel’s low-key but growing engagement with its Arab and Muslim neighbors, including the export of medical, agricultural and water technologies to the Gulf states.

In terms of security, Sunni-dominated countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states need Israel’s military might to fend off their sworn enemy, the predatory Iranian Shia regime. There’s a reason the Gulf states compiled a proposal to take “unprecedented steps toward normalization with Israel,” as reported last week in the Wall Street Journal.

They need Israel.

Sure, they had to throw in the obligatory statements about Israel making gestures to the Palestinians. But don’t kid yourself– these requests have softened with the years. They’re a sign of the shifting tides. These Arab countries are feeling vulnerable and they need help, even from Israel. Drumming up hatred for the Jewish state because of the Palestinian problem is not as good for business as it used to be.

None of this means that Israel shouldn’t make every effort to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians, regardless of the odds. A solution is strongly in Israel’s interest. And in global diplomacy, optics matter and effort counts, even if it ends in failure.

Drumming up hatred for the Jewish state because of the Palestinian problem is not as good for business as it used to be.

To its credit, though, Israel has never let the failure of peace and the presence of war demoralize the nation. While much of the world condemned the country, and hostile neighbors launched attacks, Israel kept right on innovating to meet the challenges of the modern world. Instead of being paralyzed by a siege mentality, the little Jewish state pushed relentlessly to build a thriving nation, with all of its flaws and imperfections.

And now, suddenly it seems, this tiny nation is in big demand. From medical breakthroughs to green technology to cybersecurity to digital innovation to water conservation to food security, Israel is at the forefront of creating solutions for the new century.

This is not Start-Up Nation as a tool for better hasbara, or positive propaganda. This is Start-Up Nation as a tool to better the world.

It must make Palestinian leaders sick to see the hated Zionist state start to thrive on a global scale. Maybe they were hoping that by refusing all peace offers, glorifying terror and attacking Israel’s legitimacy, they would make Israel implode. The opposite happened.

We can only hope that, one day, they too will realize that building hatred for the Jewish state is bad for peace and bad for business.


Author Dorit Rabinyan

In Israel, a love considered ‘treason’

Israel’s Education Ministry gave Dorit Rabinyan a gift in late 2015 by banning her book “Gader Haya” from the list of required reading for high school literature classes.

The ministry reasoned that the book threatened “the identity and the heritage of students in every sector,” because it portrayed a love story between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim. Those identities, the ministry insisted, are best kept “separate.”

“Young people of adolescent age don’t have the systemic view that includes considerations involving maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the people and the significance of miscegenation,” the ministry said in a statement.

What foolishness.

Telling young people what they can’t do only makes them want to do it more. The Israeli public responded voraciously by buying the book. It topped best-seller lists, sold out within days and made international headlines.

Although the book is a work of fiction, it is based on the author’s sad, true love story, which most certainly broke her heart but barely dented her Zionism.

“I really gained so much of my Zionist patriotic identity due to getting close with my partners on the other side,” Rabinyan told me during her American book tour last week. Her novel recently was published in English under the title “All the Rivers.”

“My choice to believe in the future of harmony and coexistence comes from a reconfirmation of my position as a believer that this piece of earth between the ’67 line and the shore of the Mediterranean should be Jewish,” she said. “A Jewish democratic state with a neighboring Palestinian democratic state. Never had this loyalty been validated with such truthful discussion and debate than when I was looking [at the conflict] through the eyes of the one I aspired to live in harmony with.”

Before she fell in love with real-life Hassan (in the book, “Hilmi”), Rabinyan said her peace activism “was all sterile, paper, slogans, shouting out in the same demonstrations for 30 years.”

It wasn’t until the ultimate confrontation with The Other — in the bedroom — that her political position, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” was “tested to its core.”

“[I had] to acknowledge how much we have in common, how similar we are,” she said. “There’s a saying from [comedian] Sarah Silverman that I love: She says, ‘What’s the difference between Israelis and Palestinians? They’re all brown and noisy.’ ”

It’s a quaint idea, but it shows the limits of humor. According to Uri Ram, one of Israel’s leading sociologists and the president of the Israeli Sociological Association, an Israeli-Palestinian love affair represents a transgression of the highest order.

“This is the major taboo,” Ram wrote to me in an email.

It’s so taboo, it almost never happens. So few statistics exist regarding this rare phenomenon, the lack of any established pattern or trend makes it an irrelevant field of study.

“The type of relationship described in the book is not only difficult to imagine and a cultural taboo, it is also physically impossible to maintain,” another Israeli sociologist — this one asked not to be named, citing trepidation in discussing this subject — wrote in an  email. “Palestinians from the territories are not permitted entry into Israel and Israelis cannot visit the Palestinian Authority, either, so there’s an actual physical and legal barrier there.”

An Israeli-Palestinian romance “could only happen in an ‘extra-terrestrial’ setting like New York,” — as is the case in Rabinyan’s life and work — “where both sides can disconnect themselves from the norms and social mores of both their societies,” the sociologist added.

Perhaps that’s why Israeli-Palestinian romance has captivated the artistic imagination, flourishing in art and literature — including A.B. Yehoshua’s 1977 book, “The Lover.” The theme is particularly prevalent in Israeli theater. According to the Palestine-Israel Journal, this type of art is perhaps “a metaphor for the desire for conciliation; for there is nothing like a ‘love story’ to represent a yearned-for peace.”

In reality, this love is seen as nothing but betrayal.

“Israel is not a liberal democracy, but an ‘ethnocracy,’ ” Ram explained. “[It] bases its dominant Jewish nationalism on an ethnic model of citizenship based on blood, compared with the model of territorial citizenship. Intermarriages [or inter-relationships] are not considered as a private deviation from norms, but rather as a transgression of the boundaries of the national community.

“They are considered a treason of Zionism.”

Imam Abdullah Antepli, the founding director of Duke University’s Center for Muslim Life and a senior fellow of Jewish-Muslim relations at the Shalom Hartman Institute, agreed that interfaith relationships pose a threat to traditional tribal orders. But there is a special place in hell for those that occur within an ongoing and violent political conflict.

“Interfaith marriages of all kinds undermine the basic human desire for continuity and survival of a tradition,” Antepli told me, “but especially if that fear is in the context of a political war.”

As a proponent of interfaith dialogue between Jews and Muslims, Antepli frequently experiences condemnation by members of the pro-Palestinian community.

“My ‘sin’ is that I engage and talk to Zionist Jews, [and that] I’d like to create a space where pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli Jews can have a conversation,” he said. “Imagine going beyond this action and falling in love with that Zionist. Imagine trying to raise children.”

Falling in love with your ‘enemy’ is the ultimate treachery. “One of the ways you can betray your own people the worst is [to] fall in love with the people who hurt your people.”

Beyond the political stalemate, intermarriage is forbidden in Jewish religious law, and civil marriage does not exist in Israel, making intermarriage legally impossible. But within Islamic law, Antepli told me, there is flexibility — even encouragement — regarding intermarriage between Muslims and members of the other Abrahamic, monotheistic faiths.

Historically, Muslims harbored less cultural anxiety over intermarriage than Jews, because they often were a powerful majority in the regions where they lived. Jews, on the other hand, were minorities who often experienced intense hostility from their host cultures and depended on in-group marriage to survive.

American Muslims, however, find themselves in a different position today. As a minority in the U.S., the community is beginning to grapple with cultural anxieties about assimilation.

“The day after the Pew study came out about American Jews, [showing the high] rate of intermarriage among non-Orthodox Jewish communities, there were nine voice messages at my office from Muslims around the country, telling me, ‘Imam Abdullah, you seem to know something about Jews and Judaism — tell us how we will not end up like the Jews!’”

Sometimes, cultural norms and religious law can diverge. According to the Quran, it is “kosher” for a Muslim man to marry a Jewish woman, just as Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, did.

“He used romance, family ties and tribal relationships in a very sophisticated and successful way,” Antepli said. “But only after violent conflict ended.

“With the existing bleeding wound of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and no viable solution on the horizon, I think it’s very difficult to bring our communities there. [Intermarriage is] way too far for even the most progressive, inclusive, peace-loving Muslims and Jews.”

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

Hebrew Word of the Week: tsiyyonut

39 word

Ahad Ha'am, c.1913

Would Ahad Ha’am be denied entry to Israel today?

While reading an interview in the Forward with the 87-year-old literary critic and polymath George Steiner, I couldn’t help but think about the string of troubling bills that have been passed by the Knesset over the past few years.

The most recent bill, from March 6, denies entry to any non-Israeli who “has knowingly issued a public call to impose a boycott on the State of Israel.” It should be added that the bill includes those who call for a boycott of products produced in the settlements, which is a very different matter than calling for an academic, cultural or economic boycott of the State of Israel. A good number of prominent Israeli and Diaspora Jews support a settlement boycott, while a much more marginal group supports a boycott against Israel.

To the best of my knowledge, George Steiner has not called for a boycott of Israel. That said, he defines himself as “fundamentally anti-Zionist” in that he believes that Jews are called upon to be “the guest(s) of other men and women.” Given how things are going, I couldn’t help but wonder if the day might arrive soon when Jews deemed ideologically unacceptable — for example, self-declared anti-Zionists such as George Steiner — might be denied entry to Israel.

Steiner belongs to a long tradition of modern thinkers who have defined Jewishness as the quest for intellectual, cultural or ethical excellence, rather than as the aim to attain political sovereignty. Some of these thinkers have even been Zionists. Figures such as Martin Buber, Akiva Ernst Simon and Judah L. Magnes, founding chancellor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, made aliyah based on the belief that Judaism would reach its greatest fulfillment in the Land of Israel. They also held to the view that Zionism should not aspire to the formation of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, but rather should share power with the Arab population in a binational state.

One wonders how welcome such figures would be in the Israel of today. The Knesset has been chiseling away at the edifice of Israeli democracy through a raft of laws. In July 2016, it scaled back the principle of parliamentary immunity by making it easier to expel Arab parliamentarians. In the same month, it passed a law that called for new scrutiny of organizations that support a range of progressive causes in the country. Just last month, the “Entry Bill” turned the focus on individuals who, because of their political views, would be denied entry to the country.

Of course, many countries have used ideological beliefs as a criterion to deny entry to prospective visitors. The United States has done so itself, particularly in periods of heightened xenophobic and anti-immigrant fervor, such as the 1920s and 1950s. It is not something to be proud of. More recently, the U.S. Congress limited the practice of ideologically based exclusion through the Immigration Law of 1990 that prohibits entry only to those whose “proposed activities within the United States would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences.”

The Knesset’s new limitations on speech both erode Israel’s democratic foundations and do damage to its reputation in the international community.

That is a pretty high bar. It is hard to see how a single person expressing her views, even in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, would cause “serious adverse foreign policy consequences” for Israel. It is especially hard to see how Israel gains by denying entry to someone who expresses opposition to the occupation via a ban on settlement products, which he may believe to be essential in order to preserve Israeli democracy! Indeed, as a general matter, the Knesset’s new limitations on speech both erode Israel’s democratic foundations and do damage to its reputation in the international community.

What also is unsettling about the law is that it cuts against the tradition of sharp dissent that has been a constant feature of both Jewish and Zionist thought. The Zionist movement was born in contentious and productive disagreement, from the very first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. It was at Basel that Theodor Herzl gave definitive public expression to the idea of a state for the Jews. It also was at Basel that another prominent Zionist, Ahad Ha’am, declared that he felt like “a mourner at a wedding feast.” Ahad Ha’am believed that Herzl’s emphasis on achieving sovereignty did not address the key problem of the day, which was the atrophying of Jewish and especially Hebrew culture. His solution was to promote a spiritual and cultural center in the land of Israel that would radiate out rays of vitality to the Diaspora. Ahad Ha’am was a central Zionist figure whose focus was on Jewish culture rather than power.

In retrospect, it seems clear that the divergence of views in various Zionist camps — Socialist, Religious, Revisionist, among others — was a source of strength, not weakness. This diversity allowed for different groups of supporters to enter the Zionist fold through various portals, as well as for a robust competition that fortified each ideological strain.

What has changed since that formative period? Simply put, Zionism has succeeded in placing a Jewish state on the map — and not merely a state, but a powerful, technologically advanced state without peer in the Middle East. It is strange to consider the prospect that this powerful state might no longer be open to the likes of Ahad Ha’am.

David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA.

Linda Sarsour speaking onstage during the Women’s March on Washington in Washington, D.C, Jan. 21, 2017. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Rasmea Odeh, Linda Sarsour slam ‘Zionists’ at Jewish Voice for Peace summit

A Palestinian woman who is being forced to leave the United States for not telling immigration authorities that she was imprisoned in Israel for two terror attacks told a U.S. Jewish group that they must stop the “Zionists” from their “land grab.”

Rasmea Odeh was the keynote speaker on Sunday in Chicago at a summit of the Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that backs the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Odeh, 69, accepted a plea bargain last month that forces her to leave the country and strips her U.S. citizenship. She had been fighting in the courts for years.

Also speaking at the conference was the Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, who raised hackles among liberal American Jews recently by saying that those who identify as Zionist cannot be feminist because they are ignoring the rights of Palestinian women.

Meanwhile, during Odeh’s address, the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs held a memorial ceremony at the same hotel for Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner, the two men killed in the 1969 bombing in Jerusalem for which Odeh was convicted by an Israeli military court. The group had been denied a request to rent a conference room at the insistence of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Odeh spoke about having to leave the United States.

“I thought when I came to the U.S., and made it my second home, it would be the last station in a journey of struggle that I shared with my Palestinian people in response to the Nakba [catastrophe]  and the occupation of 1967,” she told the audience of about 1,000, referring to the Palestinians’ perception of Israel’s founding, including their forced and voluntary displacement to neighboring countries.

She added: “Now I face a similar Nakba, forced to leave the country and the life that I built for myself over 23 years in the U.S., but I will continue my struggle for justice for my people wherever I land.”

Odeh, a leader of the grassroots International Women’s Strike, reminded the audience that Americans are “in the streets” resisting President Donald Trump every day.

She continued: “Of course, Zionists aren’t going to stop their land grab in Palestine either. The Palestinians there and the Palestinians and our supporters here have to stop them with our resistance and our organization.”

In 1970, Odeh was sentenced to life in prison for two bombing attacks on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and spent 10 years in prison before being released in a prisoner exchange in 1980.

In 2015, she was sentenced in the U.S. to 18 months in prison for covering up her conviction and imprisonment in Israel when she entered the country in 1995 and applied for citizenship in 2004, but the conviction was later vacated to allow Odeh to show that she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder over her alleged mistreatment while in prison.

Sarsour, an organizer of the Women’s March on Washington who recently raised thousands of dollars to repair anti-Semitic vandalism at three U.S. Jewish cemeteries, told the crowd: “If what is being asked of me by those who pronounce themselves and call themselves Zionist is that I, as a Palestinian American, have to somehow leave out a part of my identity so you can be welcomed in a space to work on justice, then that’s not going to be the right space for you.”

“We, as Palestinian Americans, as Arab Americans, as Muslim Americans, we will not change who we are to make anybody feel comfortable. If you ain’t all in, then this ain’t the movement for you,” she said.

StandWithUs rented a regular hotel room and held its memorial there.

In a statement, the Joffe family described Jewish Voice for Peace as “another deeply misguided so-called ‘Jewish’ organization.”

“She will soon be forgotten by her supporters who have so misguidedly championed her,” the statement said, “but the memory of Edward and Leon will live on forever.”

Linda Sarsour speaking onstage during the Women’s March on Washington in Washington, D.C, Jan. 21, 2017. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Why should we care what Linda Sarsour says?

The internet treated us to quite a debate last week. The issue: Are Zionism and feminism, two of the most successful social revolutions of the 20th century, compatible?

In a New York Times op-ed, Jewish American Emily Shire wondered if her identity as a Zionist would alienate her from a resurgent feminist movement aligned with the Palestinian cause. “I am troubled by the portion of the International Women’s Strike platform that calls for a ‘decolonization of Palestine’ as part of ‘the beating heart of this new feminist movement,’ ” she wrote. “Why should criticism of Israel be key to feminism in 2017?”

She was answered by Linda Sarsour, a Muslim-American activist and one of the organizers behind the Women’s March on Washington. In an interview with The Nation, Sarsour responded bluntly: “It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, ‘Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?’ There can’t be in feminism. You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none. There’s just no way around it.”

On one point, Sarsour is right: To believe in the rights of women is to believe in the rights of all women — including those in Sudan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. A feminism that lacks inclusion is a flawed feminism. There’s just no way around it.

But many in our community only heard Sarsour say: “criticize Israel.” And so the debate descended into something vicious and misguided, helped in large part by The Nation’s deeply irresponsible headline — “Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No” — and a reporter who was even more irresponsible. She offered Sarsour an unrestricted soapbox on which to air her views, without ever thinking to ask if she supports the same Jewish right to self-determination that Sarsour is seeking for the Palestinians.

I spent a few days thinking about why this little tempest matters, and you know what I concluded? It doesn’t.

“Basically, this is a conversation about theory,” Anat Hoffman, perhaps Israel’s most famous feminist, said when I reached her by phone. “The practical, immediate repercussions of this are zero.”

Talking is not especially useful to Hoffman, who is one of Israel’s leading activists. She is a founding member of the Women of the Wall movement, which seeks prayer equality for women at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, a legal advocacy arm pursuing gender equality, social justice and religious pluralism. Hoffman spends most of her time bringing lawsuits against the State of Israel, demonstrating that arguments about the definition of political movements are far less consequential than policy change.

If people like Sarsour count no Jewish Zionists among their friends or colleagues, it is virtually guaranteed they will never modify their views.

For women who work in the trenches of Israel’s justice movement, the tension between Zionism and feminism is nothing new. The Orthodox establishment within Israel’s government has precluded women from realizing their full rights since the country’s founding.

“What about the 50,000 women who cannot get divorced because there is no civil marriage or civil divorce in Israel? What about the gaps in salaries? What about domestic violence?” Hoffman said. “To the Jewish woman who says that for the first time she feels a tug between her Zionism and her feminism, I say: ‘Good morning, sister!’ ”

How one Muslim-American woman defines feminism, or Zionism, is irrelevant. Any thoughtful person can define his or her personal politics and has the right to set their own political priorities. What matters is that we stop instantly vilifying anyone and everyone with whom we don’t agree — whether within our own communities or outside of them.

“Zionism needs a good kick in the ass,” Hoffman said, “as long as there’s one condition: that you love Israel, that you are committed to the existence of Israel, and to the right of the Jewish people to have a sovereign state and self-determination. Then you can criticize Israel as much as you want.”

But what about people like Sarsour, who might not love Israel? Should we, as a community, even bother talking to her? Where do we draw the line?

“If you believe terrorizing innocent civilians is the way to achieve liberation, then that crosses my line,” Hoffman said. “Someone who believes the only way to go is to explode buses in Israel — he is my enemy.”

A shared premise of nonviolence is a reasonable rule of engagement. Better to engage — even our foes — than walk away from the table altogether, right? At least if we’re talking, there is hope our views will prevail over time, or that we’ll reach a compromise. After all, if people like Sarsour count no Jewish Zionists among their friends or colleagues, it is virtually guaranteed they will never modify their views.

Sarsour says she is committed to non-violence, but other aspects of her record are troubling. She fights on behalf of the oppressed but seems to have little regard for Jewish history. Nowhere is there a record of her support for the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, and she has tweeted that Zionism is “creepy” and akin to racism. Is it worth talking to her if she doesn’t support Israel’s right to exist? If she’s really an anti-Zionist activist disguised in social justice clothing?

“I believe in Sarsour’s right to self-determination and an independent state of her own,” Hoffman said. “And I would like you to find out if she believes in my right to [the same]. Because I have no other choice: Hebrew is my language and Jerusalem is my home. I have nowhere else to go.”

That’s a Zionist feminist talking.

Is Zionism a bad word?

With characteristic poise, Rabbi David Wolpe turned to the three panelists onstage at Sinai Temple on a recent Wednesday evening, in front of a sellout crowd of some 250 people.

“I’m going to start with a quick yes-or-no question,” he began. “Do you believe that people under 35 are less attached to the State of Israel than they were 30 years ago?”

On either side of me were Rabbi Sarah Bassin, 34, of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, and Sam Yebri, 35, a lawyer, accomplished leaders in their respective Jewish communities, progressive and Persian. Each answered immediately in the affirmative. And then there was me — the only millennial on the panel, feeling intellectually outmatched, my headset pressing uncomfortably into the back of my skull.

“Yes,” I answered quickly.

And yet, in my mind, I was already hedging, picking at the very premise of the question. I scribbled the phrase “less attached” on the legal pad perched on my knee and frowned at it. Of course my generation is less attached to Israel. Is a parent less attached to an 18-year-old child than to a defenseless toddler taking its first steps into the world?

That’s the difference the past 30 years have wrought for Israel: from a state struggling out of its uncertain beginnings to a proud and mighty nation. Over the generations, the meaning of the word “Israel” has changed, and consequently, inevitably, so has the meaning of the word “Zionism.”

“No one in the Jewish community supported a Palestinian state — I mean, no one, post-1967,” Wolpe said at the March 15 panel about young Zionists, sponsored by Hadassah and the Jewish Journal. “Then, a Palestinian state became orthodoxy. Everybody in the Jewish community supported a Palestinian state. Now, it’s becoming unorthodox again.”

The pendulum has swung wildly and often. What began in Europe as a movement of socialists and atheists to re-establish a Jewish homeland these days often feels monopolized by the religious right.

“Instead of creating bridges, we are contributing to the conflict between East and West by our stupid desire to have more.”
—A.B. Yehoshua, Israeli author

Each generation defines and redefines Zionism to suit its needs and circumstances. It’s a task that becomes more and more difficult, as each passing year is another separating today’s youth from the movement’s inception.

By the time I enrolled at UCLA, Zionism was read in many circles as a type of extremism. “Really?” an editor at the UCLA Daily Bruin once said to me after I professed to being a Zionist. “I didn’t expect that.” I read his meaning well enough: How could a person who seems to be reasonable also be a Zionist?

It used to be that the definition was a simpler and easier one, dictated by ironclad concerns of Jewish continuance and survival. Such was the case, for instance, in the Galician shtetl where my paternal grandfather was born, where Zionism meant young people training together in preparation to cultivate the land that would shortly become their only refuge.

In 1939, my great uncle, Mordechai Arom, was one such youth, preparing to join his brother, my grandfather Shmuel, in Mandatory Palestine, when their mother took ill. Mordechai was ready to stay in Poland to care for his dying mother, but she called him to her bedside and commanded him to go. With her dying act, she became the matriarch of a Zionist tradition that still holds. The first day Mordechai arrived in Palestine, he received a telegram that she’d died. His first week in the Holy Land was spent sitting shivah for his mother.

For my grandfather Shmuel, in the years after the war, Zionism meant building an observant congregation in Rishon LeZion even while questioning the God that sent his relatives to be slaughtered en masse. He died in 1964, struck by a car while collecting alms for the temple, later named Neve Shmuel in his honor.

Zionism intruded on my mother at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, on June 10, 1967, when news came over the radio in Mr. Cameron’s 12th-grade history class that Israeli troops had taken the Western Wall plaza. My mother was visibly emotional, so the teacher dismissed her to the library, where she wept.

After college, she got on an airplane — for the first time ever — and flew to Jerusalem, not knowing a soul in Israel, not a cousin, not a second cousin, nobody. She stayed for two years. “As soon as I knew there was a State of Israel, I knew I had to go,” she said.

Those years marked an inflection point for Zionism. It had started almost a century earlier as a whisper, an outlandish notion popularized by Theodor Herzl, a peripatetic journalist and self-identified atheist. It began, if you will, as a bad word, denounced by much of the Jewish establishment as a Messianic affectation. In 1880, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder of Hebrew Union College, wrote, “We want no Jewish princes, and no Jewish country or government.”

“Zionism demands a publicly recognized and legally secured homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people. This platform is unchangeable.”
—Theodor Herzl, father of modern Zionism

Of course, the attainment of such a country in 1948 changed everything. My mother was born three years later, and the first 16 years of her life were marked by an aspirational Zionism, with Israel as the David to an Arab Goliath.

That Zionism reached its high point in 1967, with Israel’s astonishing victory in the Six-Day War. Then, Israel enjoyed the world’s admiration. Today, pro-Palestinian activists, including thousands of Jews, see 1967 as the beginning of the occupation — the moment the Jewish people went from oppressed to oppressor.

That unlikely triumph has come back to haunt the conscience of American Jewish youth, who have never known any Zionism other than one of victory and strength.

Meanwhile, the 80-year history of flight, toil and fear of death that my parents and grandparents experienced as Zionism is regularly obliterated by the reductionist slogans of pro-Palestinian groups and their allies, for whom a Zionist is an occupier, Jews are the White Man and oppression in Palestine is no different from oppression in Ferguson, Mo.

Nearly half a century after my mother graduated from UCLA, African-American activist Amy Hunter was invited by Students for Justice in Palestine to speak at UCLA’s campus as part of Palestine Awareness Week.

“We will not be free here in the United States if they are not free in Palestine,” she told a small but diverse audience, their fingers snapping in agreement. “I’m clear about that.”

It’s not as if the “Zionism-is-racism” equivalence is news. My mom remembers campus leftists asserting as much in the early 1970s. In response, she and her Hillel buddies walked around with pins that read, “I am a Zionist.”

Those pins still might be a good idea today. In 2017, campus Zionists face a movement that bills itself as a global liberation struggle. In the parlance of that struggle, “Zionist” is a slur, and the connections and political opinions it suggests have become so toxic as to discourage its use, even among many who ostensibly support Jewish statehood. Imagine if people who don’t eat meat balked at calling themselves vegetarians.

Among the reasons for my invitation to speak at Sinai Temple are the many conversations I have in the course of my reporting with members of the Jewish far left, including the group IfNotNow, a diffuse network of young Jews openly challenging the Jewish establishment for its support of the status quo in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

It’s neither the largest nor the most influential pro-Palestinian Jewish group, but it’s the newest and, because of its confrontational approach, perhaps the most worrisome for mainstream Jewish organizations. Lately, I’ve taken to asking members of IfNotNow if they consider themselves to be Zionists.

Unanimously, they decline to be quoted by name and then give variations of the same answer: I’ve moved past the term. It doesn’t apply. It’s beside the point. I don’t identify either way.

These young people are neither Zionist nor anti-Zionist — they’re post-Zionist.

In fact, IfNotNow and its constituency seem to be in the minority of young people in that they care about Israel at all. A Pew Research Cemter poll in 2013 found that among Jews 18 to 29 years old, 32 percent said caring about Israel is essential to being Jewish, compared with 53 percent of Jews age 65 and older.

Within that slice of young Jews, there is, of course, a considerable range of opinion. Among such groups as IfNotNow and J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace, caring means advocating a Palestinian state for the sake of maintaining a Jewish one.

But on the other hand, when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convenes its annual policy conference later this month in Washington, D.C., you can bet there will be plenty of Jewish youth in attendance for whom caring about Israel means something very different. Just ask Ron Krudo, executive director of campus affairs for the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, which is active on high school and college campuses across the country. Notwithstanding anti-Israel sentiment, students “are excited to share their stories of being a proud Zionist, and what Zionism means to them.”

“Even on some of these tougher campuses, you can always find a student who’s inspired to take action and be a voice,” said Krudo, 26.

Yet the fact remains that most young Jews can’t be bothered to care, or at least don’t feel their Judaism compels them to. For many, the question of Zionism is so fraught with contradiction that it’s much easier just to swear it off entirely.

I’m not immune to my generation’s ambivalence on the matter of Jewish nationalism. In the vocabulary of my education on a liberal campus, the word “nationalist” is likely to follow the word “white” or “militant” or “ultra.” In other words, mine is a Zionism that’s not without reservations.

“Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with patriotism. Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent.”
— Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis

But to say that I’m post-Zionist would be tantamount to saying that I’m post-Jewish — which is simple and easy but altogether untrue. The struggle for Jewish nationhood was written into my biography long before I was born.

After all, if it weren’t for the itinerant Zionism that motivated my grandfather Shmuel to drag his wife, the daughter of a cultured and well-to-do German-Jewish family, to hardscrabble Palestine, where they slept in tents and toiled without end, it might very well have been somebody else’s byline on this story; I may well have never been born. Israel is the center of gravity for world Jewry. You may object to its pull, but you simply can’t free yourself from its orbit.

To be sure, mine is not the blustering, self-assured Zionism of my parents. Even having this conversation with my mother sets her singing an interminable series of Israeli folk songs. Recently, standing in her kitchen, I pressed her on whether she truly believes that God gave us all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. “Listen,” she replied, “I don’t know who gave it to us, but it’s ours.”

I’m not so sure about that. But that doesn’t mean we’re not part of the same movement, she and I, the same multigenerational struggle for identity and soil. The panel at Sinai Temple landed repeatedly on the idea of “big-tent Zionism.” The tent has to be big enough for my parents and me.

Sometimes, that prospect feels doubtful. But nothing could be more necessary for the continuance of the movement. If Zionism is little more than a narrow political creed, it can be shouted down or reasoned away. What ultimately will win over the next generation of Zionists is what Yebri called “the beautiful aspect and miraculous magical aspect of Zionism.”

The miracle, in short, is that in 80 years, we have moved from total disempowerment to a position of such security and strength that we can argue bitterly among ourselves about what to do with it. It’s a compelling narrative, if we can capitalize on it.

“One of the strongest indicators of having a strong Jewish identity, beyond campus and education and peer trips to Israel, is a Jewish grandparent that identifies strongly with his or her Judaism, and I would submit that follows for Zionism,” Yebri told the crowd at Sinai Temple. “So if you’re a parent or a grandparent in this room who feels strongly about Israel … don’t delegate it to school or a book or Birthright, because by that point it’s too late.”

I suspect that many of the Jewish youth who have distanced themselves from Zionism aren’t as familiar with the Zionist narrative of their forebears as they are with today’s more politically charged definitions. If they were, they might be more likely to adopt it, baggage and all. It is, after all, an enthralling story, with no small share of heroes and martyrs.

A decade after sitting shivah for his mother, Mordechai, my great uncle, closed out his own life by sacrificing it to the Zionist cause — cut down while defending his village in Gush Etzion during the War of Independence. This, before Green Lines and settlement blocs and two-state solutions.

If the next Jewish generation wants to be part of a global struggle for liberation, then it may as well be our own. 

Young Judaea is experiencing a resurgence on the West Coast. Photo courtesy of WikiCommons.

Young Judaea sees resurgence in L.A.

Young Judaea, a peer-led Zionist youth movement that saw the closure of
its West Coast summer camp in 2009, is starting to see a resurgence in
Los Angeles.

A case in point was the election of El Camino Real Charter High School junior Maccabee Raileanu to Young Judaea’s national teen board on Feb. 18, during the organization’s national midwinter convention in Atlanta. Raileanu’s peers elected him mazkir (president) of the Young Judaea teen board. He will serve for one year.

“I was interested in the role because, ever since getting seriously involved in the movement about three years ago, I have wanted to be the most involved that I possibly could,” Raileanu, 17, said in an email.

Young Judaea National Teen Board President Maccabee Raileanu. Photo courtesy of Michael Raileanu.

Young Judaea National Teen Board President Maccabee Raileanu. Photo courtesy of Michael Raileanu.

Raileanu attended the organization’s national Camp Tel Yehudah in upstate New York from 2014 to 2016 after being awarded a fellowship that subsidized his attendance at the camp and provided training in how to return to his community to build local programming for his peers.

“I have so much love, passion and ideas for Young Judaea,” he said, “and I felt my experience of being the L.A. mazkir has trained me well to move up to the next level and lead the entire movement.”

Founded in 1909, Young Judaea operates year-round programs, an Israel-based gap-year experience for incoming college freshmen, Camp Tel Yehudah, regional camps and other activities.

Los Angeles events are regularly drawing 15 to 20 people, compared with just three people as recently as 2015, Sharon Schoenfeld, Young Judaea’s director of U.S. programs, said in a phone interview.

The organization is spreading the word about renewed local presence by increasing its relationship with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

“I keep in touch with the L.A. Federation and if they’re doing something with teens, I ask them to let us know, so we can be part of it,” Schoenfeld said. “If something’s happening in the community, it’s important our kids know what that is and be involved. … We are trying to be very thoughtful about how we’re building it and what we’re doing. It’s still in its infancy right now.”

Schoenfeld said she hopes people understand that, whatever their views about Israel, the camp is pluralistic and nonpartisan.

Zionism is “a hard word nowadays, but as a pluralistic Zionist youth movement, we don’t necessarily tell people what it means to be a Zionist, we don’t tell kids how to be a Zionist,” she said. “We try to open minds to all sorts of ways of celebrating Israel, learning it and being part of it … going there and being active for it. We don’t tell them this is the way you have to be.”

Young Judaea is currently accepting applications for the latest cohort of its fellowship. The deadline is April 1. For additional information about how to apply, email 


Calendar: March 10-16, 2017



cal-casablancaNoah Isenberg and Monika Henreid discuss Isenberg’s new book, “We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie.” Its focus is the award-winning film that was released in 1942 featuring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and a memorable supporting cast. Isenberg, a film historian, reveals the myths and realities behind “Casablanca’s” production. Through extensive research and interviews with filmmakers, film critics, family members of the cast and crew, and die-hard fans, Isenberg reveals why the film remains so revered. He also focuses on the major role that refugees from Hitler’s Europe played in the production (many cast members were immigrants). The book is filled with fresh insights into “Casablanca’s” creation, production and legacy. 3 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.



Shalom Hanoch and Moshe Levi perform their final show in the United States. 8 p.m. $100. The Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills.



cal-born-survivorsWendy Holden chronicled the stories of three young mothers who were torn from their families by the Nazis in her powerful book “Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope.” The three women were strangers, but all a few months pregnant and in need of help to keep it a secret from their Nazi captors. Despite the odds, they all defied death to give their children life. Meet one of the Holocaust survivors, Hana Berger Moran. 7:30 p.m. Free; registration required at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 556-3222.



cal-david-wolpeAs the debate over Israel rages on across college campuses and in living rooms throughout the United States, is “Zionist” still a term of support for Israel, or is it now a loaded term? How do younger Americans interpret “Zionism”? Join the Jewish Journal and Hadassah’s Defining Zionism program as we explore how tomorrow’s leaders are thinking about and engaging with the Jewish state, and how their relationship with Israel differs from that of previous generations. Moderated by Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe; Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Rabbi Sarah Bassin; 30 Years After co-founder Sam Yebri; and Jewish Journal staff writer Eitan Arom. 7 p.m. $10 in advance; $15 at the door. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.


How does our Jewish tradition understand the concept and practice of mercy and how do we live up to this ideal, which is one of the highest qualities we look for in a human being? Rabbi Steven Silver will discuss “Catholic and Jewish Concepts of Forgiveness.” After lunch, there will be a screening of “Stolen Summer,” a Project Greenlight film about a young Catholic boy who goes on a quest to help a dying Jewish friend get into heaven. 11 a.m. $14; $12 for members. The Rosenberg Cultural Center at Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444.


Harkham-GAON Academy (at the Westside Jewish Community Center) is hosting this event for high school juniors and seniors to gain insight into Jewish life opportunities at college campuses across the country. The event will include a panel of experts on Jewish life at college with the opportunity to ask questions. You will also hear about challenges Jewish college students face. 6:30 p.m. Free. Harkham-GAON Academy, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 556-0663.


In response to the recent wave of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers nationwide, and the vandalism at multiple Jewish cemeteries across the country, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will hold a town hall addressing security issues at Jewish sites. Los Angeles Police Department officials and senior representatives from the FBI will speak. 5 p.m. RSVP required at; no walk-ins. The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.



cal-FabrizioLelliFabrizio Lelli will discuss the extraordinary spiritual rebirth of contemporary Judaism by comparing it with other intellectually significant phases of Apulian Judaism in the past. Lelli studies the history of Apulian Jewish culture, concentrating on written and oral testimonies of former Jewish refugees who were in transit camps in the region of Apulia. Lelli teaches at the University of Salento in Italy. Sponsored by UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. 4 p.m. Free. Pre-registration required at or (310) 267-5327. UCLA, 314 Royce Hall, Los Angeles.

‘Anti-Zionism’ is the anti-Semitism of choice on college campuses

Hating Israel is the thing to do today on university campuses. It makes you seem “progressive.” It means you’re “woke” and socially aware. It means you’re fighting against a tyrannical regime. It is supporting the struggle of an oppressed people at the hands of white colonialist supremacy. Zionism is racism. Israel is evil, end of story

Except that’s complete nonsense.

Zionism is the support for and affirmation of the Jews’ right to self-determination in their indigenous homeland of Israel. It’s the Jewish civil rights movement. It is the struggle of a native people who have been oppressed for thousands of years, expelled from their land, killed and persecuted wherever they went in the world. It is the celebration of victory, of the return home after millennia of Diaspora, of surviving and flourishing against all odds.

Read the full column on

NADIYA AL-NOOR is a young Muslim interfaith activist with a focus on Jewish and Muslim communities. She is a graduate student at Binghamton University, studying public administration and student affairs administration.

Obama was, for better or worse, the face of liberal Zionism

During his campaign for president in 2008, I wrote a column suggesting that Barack Obama was struggling to connect with Jews because they weren’t sure that he supported Israel’s cause in his gut — that is, in his kishkes. I may have been the first to apply the term “Kishkes Factor” in relation to Obama’s politics and Israel.

Obama himself even heard a reference to the term, at least once. In an interview with the candidate that year, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg asked Obama about “the kishke question, the gut question: the idea that if Jews know that you love them, then you can say whatever you want about Israel, but if we don’t know you … then everything is suspect.”

In some ways, I’ve come to regret the framing, which suggests that had Obama only worn his support for Israel on his sleeve, or taken a few more trips to the country, he would have won over the centrist and right-wing pro-Israel groups that dogged him for all eight years of his presidency.

In fact, the tension between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — and by extension, between the president and the pro-Israel mainstream — was a matter of policy, not emotion. Simply, Obama represented a way of being pro-Israel — call it liberal Zionism — that was no more popular among the pro-Israel mainstream than it was among the Israeli majority who backed Netanyahu and his right-wing government.

Liberal Zionism supports Israel as the homeland and nation-state of the Jewish people, but asserts it cannot live up to its founding principles — or its claims to be the Middle East’s only democracy — as long as it remains in control of the millions of non-citizen Palestinians living in the West Bank. Obama and his people were consistent on this point. Here he is in 2012 speaking at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington: “And I believe that peace with the Palestinians is consistent with Israel’s founding values — because of our shared belief in self-determination, and because Israel’s place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected.”

And here is John Kerry, his secretary of state, speaking last month: “Today, there are a number – there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They have a choice. They can choose to live together in one state, or they can separate into two states. But here is a fundamental reality: If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both – and it won’t ever really be at peace.”

This conviction — that the only way to solve the Middle East conflict and preserve Israel’s democratic character was the separation of the two peoples — was behind Obama’s deep antagonism to the expansion of Jewish settlements. How could someone support a two-state solution, as Netanyahu said he did, while continuing to build on land that would be at the heart of any deal?

Coming from two such different places, Obama and Netanyahu were perhaps destined to never get along. Obama gambled — in his 2013 visit to Israel and in his appeals to American Jewish audiences — that he could bypass Netanyahu and convince the Israeli people and Jewish voters that the logic of the situation made his position unassailable. And Netanyahu pinned his hopes on the Republicans, sometimes openly colluding with GOP lawmakers and donors in casting traditions of bipartisanship aside. It’s a gamble, one can argue, that Netanyahu ultimately won, with an incoming administration and a Republican-led Congress that seem to be wholly aligned with Israel’s right.

The strained relationship between Obama and Netanyahu represents splits within the Jewish community itself, and between American Jews and Israelis. Poll after poll shows American Jews solidly behind a two-state solution and ambivalent, at best, about the expansion of settlements. Slight majorities of Israelis show at least an emotional preference for two states, but the majority feeling is that the idea is a pipe dream given the Palestinians’ recalcitrance, incitement and ineptitude. The result in Israel is a right-wing government adept at maintaining the status quo.

Most of the big American organizations are in the position of defending this status quo, accepting the judgment of Israeli voters and the government they elected. In the last eight years these organizations have committed themselves to combating what they say are the symptoms of the world’s refusal to accept Israel’s reality. This refusal takes the form of a one-sided Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that in its moderate form puts the burden of peacemaking entirely on the Israelis and in its militant version rejects the very notion of a Jewish state.

Liberal Zionists, meanwhile, also reject BDS while arguing that Israel, as the undisputed military power in the conflict and the only adult in the room, could defuse the critics and write its own future if it made bold moves toward separation. They warn that young Jews are becoming more alienated toward Israel precisely because the values of occupation and settlement no longer reflected the millennials’ belief in tolerance, democracy and human rights.

Liberal Zionists have their champions at J Street, in Peter Beinart and George Soros, and in legacy organizations like Americans for Peace Now and Ameinu. But they don’t have an Israeli majority on their side, nor an Israel government, nor even a robust opposition in Israel to validate their views.

They did, however, have an American president, who could speak emotionally about the Israel they grew up on and still believe in while offering tough-love rhetoric imploring Israel to grab the opportunity for peace before it is too late.

By the end of Obama’s second term, it began to look like time was running out. Donald Trump and his party no longer talk about a two-state solution, and Trump nominated a U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who fully supports the settlement enterprise and regards the pro-Israel left as “smug advocates of Israel’s destruction.” Although hardly representative of the average Jewish voter, Friedman — Orthodox, Republican, a firm believer in Greater Israel — nevertheless embodies a shift in power, and a coarsening of rhetoric, within American pro-Israel activism and Zionism itself.

It’s not clear what Obama could have done, from a liberal Zionist’s perspective, to buck these trends, not without a commitment from Israel, the Palestinians or their supporters to bring something new to the table. Obama could have wrapped himself in the Israeli flag and danced the hora on Independence Day — and in some ways, he did — and still would have found himself on the wrong side of the Zionist debate.

Perhaps sensing this, Obama offered a dubious parting gift to the liberal Zionists — and a bitter pill to the other side — in the form of a U.S. abstention on a largely one-sided U.N. Security Council condemnation of the settlements. Even a few of the major liberal Zionist groups here were ambivalent about the move — either because they have learned to distrust the United Nations or because they knew it would hand the Trump administration another cudgel with which to beat up on Democrats.

The right seized on the abstention as proof of what they had been saying all along: that Obama was antagonistic to Israel and perhaps even anti-Semitic. Even his middle name, Hussein, began to reappear in news releases denouncing the move.

More likely, however, the abstention was not the last-minute confession of an anti-Zionist but the frustrated parting gesture of a liberal Zionist scorned. You can fault Obama for a rosy, idealistic and ultimately naive view of an Israel that no longer exists, and of a vision of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence that might have been buried alongside Shimon Peres. But if the president was stuck in the days of Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin, of hardy kibbutzniks and selfless socialists, he’s not alone: A plurality, if not a majority, of American Jews probably share a vision for Israel’s future rooted in a fast-fading past.

William Safire once wrote that the greatest thrill a writer can experience is “to coin a word or phrase that fills a linguistic void and becomes part of the history of the era.” Kishkes, I am afraid, is not that word. Obama wasn’t too “cool” for pro-Israel tastes. He was merely the wrong kind of pro-Israel for the times.

Bernard-Henri Lévy: A calling to see — and write about — the truth

The peripatetic philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy was en route from Iraq to his home in Paris when the Journal caught up with him by phone during a stopover in Morocco and spoke about a wide range of topics, from the election of Donald Trump to the successes of Zionism.

The author of the recently released “The Genius of Judaism” has a conversational style that is somewhat less charged-up than his prose, but he displays the same command of history, politics and literature — and the same urgent moral concern —

Jewish artists’ intertwined roots, identity on display

“You have his nose,” said a man I’ve never met before, pointing to a photo of Theodor Herzl displayed on the wall. 

There he was: Herzl, with his dark eyes, his ridged forehead and, according to the man next to me, my nose. 

Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, an Austro-Hungarian Jew who conceived the notion of a Jewish state while living in the Diaspora — and just one of many panels making up “The German Roots of Zionism” exhibition now on display at Hillel at UCLA. 

A major point of this exhibition was to reflect on the relationship between German Jewish identity and contemporary American life, so maybe — just maybe — my schnoz was one more poetic link, connecting me to Zionism’s utopian roots. 

The exhibition was one of three being celebrated on Oct. 27 when 100 intellectuals gathered for the Triple Art Opening, held at the Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel. Organized in conjunction with one another by Perla Karney, UCLA Hillel’s artistic director, they will be on display until Dec. 9. 

“The German Roots of Zionism,” located on the second floor of Hillel at UCLA, was intended to give context to the two other exhibitions: “WINGS” by Harriet Zeitlin (located, not by accident, on the staircase leading up to the third floor) and “Seek My Face” by Joshua Meyer (on view in the Spiegel and Dortort galleries, located on the third floor). According to Karney, both Zeitlin and Meyer are products of the German Jewish identity.

These three separate yet intertwined exhibits chronicle the evolution of Jewish identity, starting with its Zionist roots, ascending up the staircase with “WINGS” and eventually landing on the contemporary works of Meyer. Although Meyer and Zeitlin are, stylistically speaking, polar opposites, there’s a sense of closeness and intimacy with both of their approaches.

Zeitlin is a scavenger of sorts, recycling found objects and transforming them into art. It’s especially apparent when ascending the staircase at UCLA Hillel, where her artwork lines the walls, that one man’s trash is this woman’s treasure. Her installation “WINGS” is a series of whimsical portraits that use appropriated objects such as clogs and shoehorns on the canvas. A shoehorn becomes the head of a bird mid-flight; a quilt becomes the wingspan. Her colors are vibrant and bold, stylistically resonant of Japanese cranes.

Although she doesn’t consider her art Jewish, per se, Zeitlin, a Jewish-American of Ashkenazi ancestry, told the Journal about her installation, “This is my reaction to nature. Nature is God and God is nature.”

As Zeitlin’s work is airy and whimsical, Meyer’s work is brooding and grounded. Meyer’s oil-on-canvases aren’t crisp like a photo; rather, they are more like a photo zoomed in too many times. The result is pixelation, with viscous slabs of paint. The difficulty to discern details in his portraits makes the title of the show, “Seek My Face” (after a line extracted from Psalm 27), very relevant. It’s worth mentioning that Meyer only paints people he knows personally, so these portraits are meditations on his own personal relationships.

Artist Ruth Weisberg, former dean of fine arts at the University of Southern California, spoke on Meyer’s behalf (since the Boston-based artist was unable to make the opening). An established artist herself, she told the Journal, “Even though our work might not resemble each other’s that much, we’re passionately interested in the history of art, we have similar enthusiasm for particular artists, and we are also both very involved Jewishly.” She said that what makes their art Jewish is that “we have a strong sense of that identity, the history, and how that’s affected us. Yes, we are Jewish artists in the very large, ample definition.” 

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, who is early in his tenure as Hillel’s rabbi, made sure to mention during the opening’s public program that the room where Meyer’s work is displayed is filled with 200 to 250 UCLA students on a typical Shabbat. In fact, all gallery areas at UCLA Hillel are public spaces. 

These works being a part of such a thriving community, rather than being limited to a gallery room, proves their relevance. They are part of the conversation, the social landscape. They decorate the walls, in rooms where we dwell, pulsing with conversation.

Iran’s president blames ‘Zionist groups’ for US ruling that he says violates nuclear deal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed “Zionist pressure groups” for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling he said could undermine the Iran nuclear deal.

“The lack of compliance of the United States with the JCPOA in the last several months represents a flawed approach,” Rouhani said Thursday, addressing the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly, using the acronym for the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action, the formal name for the deal that traded sanctions relief for a rollback of nuclear development in Iran.

“The latest case in point is the United States Supreme Court ruling to seize billions of dollars of the Iranian regime’s assets,” he said. “This demonstrated that the Zionist pressure groups could go as far as having the U.S. Congress pass offensive legislation forcing the highest judicial institution to uphold peremptory violations of international law.”

In April, the high court upheld a 2012 law that allows U.S. victims of Iran-backed terrorism to claim funds from the $2 billion in Bank Markazi’s assets held in the United States. Bank Markazi is Iran’s central bank.

Litigants include families of Marines killed in the 1983 Hezbollah attack on barracks in Beirut, and the Rubin family, whose family member was injured in a 1997 double suicide bombing on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. The family is represented by the Israeli NGO Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center.

Rouhani said such rulings should be seen as a “wrongful international act” in violation of the deal.

The deal does not include the unfreezing of U.S.-held assets, although the Obama administration, in what was seen as a good-will gesture, unfroze $400 million in separate Iranian assets and delivered the money to Iran.

The Anti-Defamation League slammed what it said was Rouhani’s anti-Semitic language.

“President Rouhani’s U.N. address demonstrates clearly that there is no evidence of Iranian moderation,” Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO, said in a statement. “His espousing of noxious anti-Semitic conspiracy theories alleging ‘Zionist’ control of Congress must be condemned by the international community.”

Rouhani was otherwise bullish on the deal, saying Iran’s economy had improved – an implicit rebuke to hard-liners in his country who said the deal was not worth it.

He otherwise referred to Israel only once, unlike predecessors such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who made hostility to Israel a centerpiece of their speeches. Rouhani was more focused on Islamic State terrorists, blaming Saudi Arabia for creating the environment in which they flourished.

“The oppressed Palestinians are still afflicted by a web of apartheid and oppressive polices set by the Zionist regime,” he said in his only reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Keeping UCLA a place of thriving Jewish life and pro-Israel activism

There’s a campus where Israel is celebrated and Jews thrive. It’s a place where Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns have been defeated 15 times since 2002 and where 80 percent of the most recent student body presidents have been committed Jews. 

Every year, hundreds of students celebrate Israel on Yom HaAtzmaut by dancing and waving Israeli flags in the center of campus. More pro-Israel students attend national Zionist conferences than from any other college in the country. And it was students from this campus who piloted the idea of campus-specific trips of non-Jewish influential students to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, a program which is now being replicated on 20 other campuses.

[RELATED: UCLA’s betrayal of Milan Chatterjee]

Not to belabor the point, but 200 students regularly attend Shabbat dinners, and at the most recent Interfaith Shabbat, dozens of Muslims joined with Christians, Hindus and Buddhists to celebrate alongside their Jewish friends. Students here wear Jewish paraphernalia with pride all over campus, including Israel Defense Forces T-shirts.

The university I’m profiling is UCLA, and if you have any doubts, you can read more from UCLA students by visiting

Based on everything you’ve read so far, UCLA is exactly the kind of place you’d want to send your kids — and rightly so. UCLA has one of the most vibrant and robust Jewish communities of any college campus in the United States.

So why is it that this university has been labeled anti-Semitic and even “unsafe”? 

Well, it’s complicated. The UC system was targeted more than a decade ago by anti-Israel activists for a pernicious community-organizing effort with one goal: to delegitimize the Jewish state. 

Activists strategically built relationships that are now bearing fruit, not just at UCLA, but around the country on nearly every major campus. Hiding behind attractive concepts such as “justice” and “human rights” lurks a movement that denies Israel’s right to exist. As BDS advocate Ahmed Moor stated succinctly: “BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.”

The resulting BDS programming now attacks Israel and its supporters year after year.  The UC system is no longer unique. This is a nationwide problem.

The most recent tactic attempts to defame student leaders who take pro-Israel or even neutral positions. The case against Milan Chatterjee echoes the intimidation and questioning of former UCLA students Rachel Beyda, Lauren Rogers, Sunny Singh, Avinoam Baral and Avi Oved in recent years. Some of those cases even involved illegal email hacking and the leaking of private information. 

Despite these events, Jewish life and pro-Israel activism at UCLA is secure and thriving, and has only grown stronger as a result of Jewish students’ impassioned response. Nevertheless, the current tenor of the anti-Israel campaign on campus is absolutely unacceptable, and I’d like to share some humble suggestions for how you can help:

1. Continue to send us your most passionate, well-educated Jewish students. A strong pro-Israel community is only possible where there is a strong Jewish community to support it. And with few exceptions, the leaders of the pro-Israel community come from homes where they received a robust Jewish education and learned to love Israel.

2. Avoid hyperbolic language such as “unsafe.” It unnecessarily scares parents — and insults the truly dangerous aspects of campus life: sexual violence, drugs, alcohol and stress. We absolutely should push back hard against BDS hostility. And we can do that without invoking Hitler, fascism, Zika and terrorism.

3. Be specific. Join us in insisting that the recently passed Principles Against Intolerance, which specifically reject anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionsim, be vigorously enforced. The policy was enacted. Now it needs to be implemented.

4. Insist that UC administrators refrain from entertaining politically motivated attempts to intimidate students.

5. Praise the administration when it takes positive steps. I disagree with UCLA’s handling of the most recent case, but I applaud the positions Chancellor Gene Block took in an interview with the Jewish Journal last year. Positive feedback provides much more motivation than going negative.

6. Don’t fight with people with whom you mostly agree. Let’s devote our energy to combatting BDS, not fighting other Jews.

7. Finally, let’s reconsider how our reactiveness may be helping draw unwarranted attention to anti-Israel messaging. BDS groups promote divestment campaigns and create controversy to get attention. The response of the Jewish community to these events sometimes provides them exactly that — we wind up inadvertently fueling their fire.

Education, relationships and even empathy are much stronger change agents than yelling or scare tactics. And shifting our focus to the 99 percent of the students who have yet to form an opinion about Israel is a better strategy for ensuring its future than arguing with a handful of obdurate radicals.

There is even hope for those students, though it may simply be a matter of waiting. There’s a reason insurance rates go down at age 25. That’s when the prefrontal cortex, the area of our brains that governs executive function, fully develops. Or to quote one of my Muslim colleagues who is a former BDS activist: “Let me just start this conversation by telling you that I want to smack the 18-year-old version of myself.”

Is everything perfect at UCLA? Of course not. But we have a robust and secure Jewish community, and we are working really hard, and strategically, to make it even better. We need your help to make sure that Jews here continue to enjoy a safe, thriving, innovative and strong community. Your support is valued and appreciated.

Rabbi Aaron Lerner is the executive director of Hillel at UCLA.

What football can teach us about Israel education

Imagine a quarterback who had to run every play through a gaggle of coaches, agents, broadcasters, analysts, advertisers, fans and peanut vendors. Crazy, right? You don’t have to be a Vegas bookie to know that regardless of the talent on the field, this is not a winning strategy for success. Yet, across America, Jewish institutions routinely do just that with their Israel education initiatives. With more than a decade of classroom experience teaching Israel to high school students, I’m going to suggest something you might find hard to hear. The 400-pound linebacker blitzing up the middle of your child’s Israel education isn’t the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement, or Bibi, it’s you. 

There is hardly another subject area in which people outside of the classroom feel so comfortable influencing what, when, how and by whom it can be taught to our students. The result is that too many Israel educators are put in the unenviable position of the quarterback trying to scramble around a host of competing interests and hidden agendas that have less to do with Israel and more to do with internal community politics.

Outside interference in Israel education manifests itself in a variety of subtle and not so subtle ways. It may come from a donor or board member who suggests that a certain outside speaker give a presentation on Israel to the students. Or from the parent who complains to the head of school that a lesson was too political, or the other parent who constantly floods your inbox with articles and Facebook posts hinting (in ALL CAPS, of course) that these email chains become required classroom reading. Not wanting to be left out of the action is the well-intentioned colleague who suggests that you avoid entire topics because the issues are too complex or controversial for the students to comprehend.

What these examples and many more like them all have in common is that important educational decisions are being made by people outside of the classroom, all of whom lack the content knowledge and experience necessary to make sound pedagogical decisions about how to best provide students with the Israel education they deserve. Just like in sports, sharing an end-goal isn’t a license for Monday morning quarterbacking. It doesn’t work when your child is playing a team sport, and it won’t work with Israel education. As American Jewry begins to address the issue of Israel engagement among our youth, it is important to consider the negative impact of the “everyone’s an expert” approach to Israel education.

Every year, it seems, the establishment has a theme for speakers to promote. One year it is “startup nation” and the wonders of Waze, another it’s all about water innovation. Although  inviting guest speakers to pitch the latest version of “Hey kids, did you know that Israel invented …?” may make a good photo op for the school newsletter, optics must never be confused with good education. When it comes to Israel, students don’t need to be lectured from the sidelines. Authentic engagement and real learning requires students to get in the game so they can apply their knowledge, critical thinking skills and Jewish values to the important Zionist issues of their generation. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Israel educators is the growing politicization of Israel among American Jewry. Often, teachers who engage students in nuanced learning about Israel are labeled as being too political, too pro or too anti, or too right or too left, and once the label is made, the stigma is almost impossible to erase. What’s more, the charge (euphemistically termed “a concern”) can be levied by almost anyone at any time with a populist ease that would make a Salem pilgrim blush. The environment has become so charged that it has started to impact what is being discussed in the classrooms, leaving the goalposts of authentic engagement with Israel almost beyond the reach of our students. 

It is high time for us to grow out of our Zionist “Scopes Trial” phase and do away with ideological litmus tests placed on our Israel educators. It is counterproductive and needs to stop. Consciously or not, many teachers dilute lessons to avoid any hint of unacceptable inferences about political attitudes and loyalty. However, when Zionism is reduced to predictable talking points and prepackaged information, study after study confirms what teachers already know: The students aren’t buying it. 

Besides, controversy and politics are as Israeli as Bamba. If we want our kids to get an authentic taste of Israel, let them act Israeli. A classroom brimming with passionate debate about important issues may actually be evidence of solid learning. If your child’s classroom sounds like the Knesset, understand that your quarterback is moving the team closer to the end zone. Running onto the field breaks a quarterback’s confidence and kills momentum. So avoid the fan interference penalty and cheer from the sidelines. 

Zionism has always been a full-contact sport, the highs and lows are an integral part of the Israeli experience, and with the right educator at the helm, your child will come out not only more knowledgeable but connected to Israel in a more meaningful way. 

If you really take issue with a teacher’s playbook, share your perspective with your child. Such discussions are an authentically Jewish way of transmitting values and ideas to the next generation. This game plan has served us well in the past. Why change now that we finally have our own national team?

Jason Feld is dean of students at Shalhevet High School and an alumnus of the Teaching Israel Fellowship.

Does an American Jewish historian’s rejection of Zionism signal broader trend?

Hasia Diner is one of the most acclaimed American-Jewish historians in the country. A product of the Habonim Dror Zionist youth movement, she is a former Fulbright professor at the University of Haifa in Israel.

Now, she’s calling Zionism a “naïve delusion” and says she feels uncomfortable entering a synagogue that celebrates its support for Israel.

Diner’s Op-Ed piece discussing her disillusion, which appeared Aug. 1 on the website of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, immediately stirred passionate and angry responses among readers, including her fellow academics. It also raised the question whether her distancing from Israel makes her an outlier, or reflects a growing trend among American Jews, in general, and the Jewish academic elite in particular.

Diner, who directs New York University’s Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History, writes in her Op-Ed that she stopped being a Zionist in 2010, and now feels uncomfortable visiting many American Jewish institutions because of their support for Israel. She blames Zionism for the disappearance of “vast numbers of Jewish communities.” She condemns Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, as well as the growth of its Charedi and right-wing sectors.

Israel “is a place that I abhor visiting, and to which I will contribute no money, whose products I will not buy, nor will I expend my limited but still to me, meaningful, political clout to support it,” Diner writes.

“The Law of Return can no longer look to me as anything other than racism,” she writes, referring to the Israeli law that bestows automatic citizenship on immigrants with at least one Jewish grandparent.

In a later portion of the piece, co-written with Babson College history professor Marjorie Feld, the two assert that their renouncing of Zionism signals a broader trend in the American Jewish community. More and more Jews, they imply, do not support Israel.

“Though we certainly do not claim to speak for all American Jews, as scholars we know we are a part of something much larger, something that, we assert, should be shaking the foundation of American Jewish leaders,” they write. “There is a growing gap between these leaders and the people for whom they claim to speak.”

The Op-Ed has certainly shaken the foundation of one American Jewish scholar: historian Jonathan Sarna, who penned a response to it Aug. 2 in Haaretz. Both acclaimed in their field, Sarna and Diner each published histories of American Jewry in 2004. Sarna accused Diner and Feld of believing “demonic” myths about Israel and wrote that they “sacrifice truth to advance their newfound ideology.”

“Diner and Feld’s current view is at least as much a ‘naïve delusion’ as the earlier one that they rejected,” he wrote. “Sadly, instead of drawing serious, nuanced, scholarly lessons from history, they have provided us with just what they claim Israel’s supporters once gave them: propaganda.”

Diner told JTA that Zionism was once “one of the most important parts of my existence” and that her shift away from it has been “painful.” As late as 2014, she signed on as a founding member of the academic advisory council of The Third Narrative, a pro-peace initiative of Ameinu, the progressive Zionist alliance.

But she feels that speaking out is necessary, and that she speaks for a wide swath of American Jews.

“It’s the kind of thing people whisper about in metaphorical terms,” she said. “The younger one is, the more one is negative about this conflict of [being] Jewish and Israel, and the kind of politics that come out of Israel and the like. I think there is an enormous world out there of American Jews who are not at all far from this position.”

Diner and Feld aren’t the first American Jewish academics this year to publicly advocate criticism of Israel. In October, Harvard University government professor Steven Levitsky and Yale University economics and law professor Glen Weyl wrote an Op-Ed in The Washington Post supporting a boycott of Israel on the grounds that it would be the only way to meaningfully advance the peace process.

“I feel like I’m part of a silent large minority,” Weyl, 31, told JTA. “There’s a lot of Jews of my generation who are very, very unhappy with Israel, but who, on the other hand, have no trust [in] anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist extremist groups representing Palestinians or political Islam or things like that. I don’t think my position is actually so small.”

Polls show young Jews growing more critical of Israeli policy. While three-quarters of Jews older than 50 feel attached to Israel, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study of American Jewry, only 60 percent of Jews ages 18 to 29 feel attached. Among those, only 26 percent said Israel is making a sincere effort toward peace.

“There’s no question that liberal American Jews are increasingly uncomfortable with Israel,” said Steven Cohen, a Jewish social policy professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who attributed part of the distancing from Israel to a broader disaffiliation with Jewish life. “Unfortunately, people tend not to distinguish the government from the country from the ideology, and legitimate criticism of government policy often flows over to alienation from the country and disavowal of Zionism.”

Sarna said discontent with Israel among American Jews could have to do with the distrust between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“American Jews are always happier when the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel are on very good terms,” he told JTA. “When Bill Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin were on the best of terms, they were very happy. That could happen again.”

But Diner, who has written extensively about Diaspora Jewry and the American Jewish experience in particular, would prefer a more fundamental shift among American Jewry — one where Zionism is among several “icons of Jewish identity,” not the predominant one.

“There was a time when there was a much broader and bigger conversation,” she said. “That’s become less and less possible. 

Caroline Glick and me

You know you’ve made it in the Jewish world when you get to speak to 1,000 Hadassah women at their national convention. 

For its annual convention in Atlanta last week, Hadassah asked me to converse onstage with columnist and author Caroline Glick, a discussion moderated by journalist Linda Scherzer. In addition to the live audience, a video camera would livestream and archive it for web viewers. 

The women’s Zionist organization has been sponsoring conversations on the subject of Zionism: What is it? How’s it doing? Where is it going?  

“It’s not a debate,” an organizer warned me the week before. “It’s a dialogue.”

Really, a dialogue? I have been reading and virulently disagreeing with Glick’s writing for years. I’ve printed her columns — inclusion is what we do here at the Journal — but I’d never spoken to her. I imagined we’d jump down each other’s throats in about 30 seconds.

Then we met. She is diminutive, with short auburn hair, a tightly drawn mouth and dark eyes. We shook hands and made small talk about mutual friends. I knew she had asked some of them how to score points off me, and I’d asked them the same about her.

After just a minute of fake nicey-nice chit-chat, there was an awkward pause. Glick said, “Your, um, pants.” She blushed.

I looked down at my black wool suit slacks and — the horror, the horror! About half of the toothpaste I’d spit out of my mouth that morning had ended up as a series of large white splatters covering my crotch. It was bad. It was Jackson Pollock-meets-“There’s Something About Mary” bad.  We were two minutes from showtime. 

I ran backstage, grabbed a water bottle from a tech guy, poured it on a nearby rag, gave my pants a few wipes, and, presto, Crest-free.

The lights were already dimming when I raced back into the convention hall. And when I thanked Glick, I realized I could no longer possibly see her as just a ferocious kneejerk right-winger. The lion had pulled the thorn from Androcles. I had nothing but gratitude for this woman who saved me from total embarrassment.

So when Glick launched into a long indictment of the Democratic Party as being overrun with the anti-Israel sentiments of the “left,” I pushed back firmly — but gently. If “left” means Democrat, I pointed out, the standard-bearer of that party is Hillary Clinton, who is hardly anti-Israel, nor is the party’s platform. Even their new progressive hero, Bernie Sanders, made clear his support for Israel. 

I agreed with her that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is anti-peace and a stalking horse for straight-up Israel bashing. But I did point out that the best way to deprive it of more mainstream support is to fight the status quo of the occupation. Most people cannot abide by a situation in which millions of Palestinians are deprived of their democratic rights by a democratic nation. They support Israel but cannot support Israel-as-oppressor. Simple.

The solution, I admitted, is not so simple. And that’s where things got a little heated.

Last year, Glick published a book, “The Israeli Solution,” which advocates for a so-called one-state solution to the conflict. That is, Israel would annex the West Bank and Palestinians would have the option of becoming Israeli citizens. 

After she outlined her idea, I took a deep breath. I started by praising Glick for the effort. Mainstream Jews once thought Theodor Herzl was nuts when he proposed political Zionism, and now he is seen as a Jewish savior. Who knows, I said, maybe Caroline Glick is the new Herzl. The important thing is that a moribund peace process needs new ideas, for better or worse.

But, I added, the one-state solution is the worst possible idea. My reasons? One, why would Israel want to make people whom Glick describes as born and bred Israel- and Jew-haters citizens of a Jewish state? Two, Israel is already struggling to incorporate Charedim and Arab Israelis into its economy and educational systems. How could it possibly absorb 2 or 3 million Palestinians? 

“There are way too many Arabs and Jews who are uneducated and unemployed, before even one Palestinian receives Israeli citizenship,” I said, quoting Dan Ben-David of the Shoresh Institution.

Three, experts disagree on the actual population numbers — wouldn’t it be smart to have a census we can all rely on before even arguing such an idea?

And finally, the only one-state solution I can think of in the Middle East is Syria — and that hasn’t worked out so well. If states with Shiite and Sunni Muslims implode, imagine a state of Arabs and Jews.

What was my solution? Actress Gwyneth Paltrow had just been honored at Hadassah’s gala the night before. She’d once famously described her separation from husband Chris Martin as “a conscious uncoupling.” That, I said, is what the Israelis and Palestinians need — a conscious uncoupling. 

Before I could finish, Glick interrupted me. Then I jumped in on her. I wouldn’t say it got heated, just spirited. The debate style these days is to attack not just the ideas, but the person. That didn’t happen this time. Because you never know when that person will be for one critical moment maybe not Israel’s savior, but your own.

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

Palestinian terrorism and Muslim hypocrisy: An open letter from a Muslim woman

While millions of children got out of bed on the morning of June 30 excited to be on summer vacation, one child did not. A young Israeli girl, 13-year-old Hallel Yaffe Ariel, was brutally murdered in her own bed by a 17-year-old Palestinian terrorist. He broke into her house and stabbed her to death.

Another life lost to senseless violence. Another poor soul taken too early from this world. But few Muslims in this world will be mourning her death because Hallel was an Israeli Jew.

Read more at Times of Israel.

Nadiya Al-Noor is a Muslim interfaith activist with a focus on Jewish and Muslim communities, and she actively supports peace between Israel and the Palestinians. She is a graduate student at Binghamton University in upstate New York, studying public administration. This essay originally appeared in Reprinted with permission.

Ex-London Mayor Ken Livingstone accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, but not Nazism

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone told a Parliament committee that he does not believe Zionism or the policies of the Israeli government are at all analogous to Nazism.

Livingstone also reiterated that he regretted saying Adolf Hitler supported Zionism because of the furor his remarks sparked, not because he disavows them.

“I therefore do regret raising the historical points about Nazi policy in the1930s when the specific issue of Hitler was raised by (reporter) Vanessa Feltz,” Livingstone said in a written statement filed with the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee hearing on anti-Semitism. “I regret it because there was an hysterical response from opponents of the Labour Party and of its current leadership, which will not have aided Labour’s campaign for the 5 May elections. I am horrified by the way my remarks have been interpreted and twisted. I cannot think of a worse insult than to be called a racist or an anti-Semite. And I am sorry if what I said has caused Jewish people, or anyone else, offense. That was not my intention.”

In a radio interview in April with the BBC, Livingstone had said, “Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism.”

He made the remarks in defense of Labour Party lawmaker Naz Shah, who was suspended a day earlier over a Facebook post in 2014 suggesting that Israelis should be moved en masse to the United States. Days later, Livingstone was suspended from the party for the remark.

In recent months, Labour has suspended at least 20 members, including at the senior level, for anti-Semitic or vicious anti-Israel invective that critics say party leader Jeremy Corbyn had not done enough to curb.

The inquiry into anti-Semitism was launched in April to determine whether anti-Jewish prejudice has increased in the U.K. and to assess the particular dangers facing Jews.

Livingstone objected to the fact that in its questioning, the committee dwelled on the BBC interview in which he made the Hitler remarks rather than asking him about anti-Semitism and racism because of what he called his “long track record” of fighting both.

“Instead, the overwhelming majority of questions asked of me were about my views on the history of Germany in the 1930s, Hitler, the Nazis, Israel, Zionism and the Labour Party. Committee members seemed to be obsessed with these issues,” he wrote.

Livingstone also wrote: “To avoid any other misunderstanding, I do not believe that Zionism or the policies of Israeli governments are at all analogous to Nazism. Israeli governments have never had the aim of the systematic extermination of the Palestinian people, in the way Nazism sought the annihilation of the Jews.”

He did accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing, continuing: “However Israel’s policies have included ethnic cleansing. Palestinians who had lived in that land for centuries were driven out by systematic violence and terror aimed at clearing them out of what became a large part of the Israeli state.”

Livingstone served as mayor twice, from 1981 to 1986 and from 2000 to 2008.

‘Renew our days as of old’

Israeli democracy is under threat. Incitement against human rights organizations proceeds with little trace of official censure; cabinet ministers aim to impose new ideological litmus tests in the realm of education and culture; government-sponsored bills place Jews on a higher plane than other citizens; and the state’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi declares, “Israel is first and foremost Jewish, and only then democratic.”

These acts deviate sharply from principles that were clearly and forcefully articulated before, during and after Israel’s Declaration of Independence was approved May 14, 1948. Those earlier principles, drawn from a range of diverse perspectives, reflected the mix of enlightened Jewish and Zionist ideals at a crucial moment of formation. A number of these first principles figure centrally in a series of broadsides that are on display at the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA. In observance of Israeli Independence Day, we present excerpts from them in translation below.

Sixty-eight years ago, in the face of intense pressure from inside and out, powerful voices were heard calling for the anchoring of robust democratic principles in the foundation of the new state. They figured in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which called for “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

On the same day the declaration was issued and as the nascent state was confronting the invasion of five Arab armies, the provisional government published a decree calling on all residents to prepare for struggle and sacrifice in the coming days. Concomitantly, the decree proclaimed:

“Within the confines of our State, citizens of the Arab people continue to live — for most of them this war is loathsome. Their rights as equal citizens we are duty-bound to uphold. We look to peace. Our hands are extended to them as partners in building the homeland.”

This striking call to recognize Jews and Arabs as equals was offered in the shadow of the Holocaust and in the face of an ongoing conflict understood as a war of survival. Seven months earlier, an even more soaring expression of this principle appeared in a broadside published Oct. 19, 1947 in Hebrew and Arabic by the left-oriented League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement in Jerusalem. It announced:

“JEWS AND ARABS! Let us end this Satanic dance! The Jewish and Arab masses do not want chaos and bloodshed! The Jewish and Arab masses do not want a war of one people against another! The Jewish and Arab masses want a life of peace and creativity, a life of freedom and progress! Whatever the ultimate political outcome of the question of the Land of Israel will be, it will be meaningful only to the extent that it will guarantee peace and cooperation between two peoples whose fate is linked in an unbreakable bond to the fate of the land. Only Jewish-Arab unity can create enduring facts in the Land of Israel; only Jewish-Arab unity can advance this land toward independence and true freedom, toward progress and efflorescence.”

Despite what some might assume, this sentiment was not confined to the secular left. A coalition known as the United Religious Front — comprising the religious Zionist Mizrachi party, the non-Zionist Agudat Yisrael, a range of yeshiva deans, the Chasidic rebbes of Belz and Ger and a host of municipal rabbis — published a broadside in 1951 that laid out its vision for the new state. While calling for the Torah to serve as a key pillar, the poster also insisted that the state be fully democratic and recognize the complete equality of non-Jews as a matter of nationality and religion. The following are two of the planks in its platform:

“THE DEMOCRATIC STRUCTURE OF THE STATE: BASIC RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS. Beloved is Adam (all humanity) who was created in God’s image” (Avot 3:14). We are commanded to guard with extraordinary care the sanctity of life, the freedom and the dignity of every human being. It is the task of the State of Israel to take pains to assure that the rights of the individual, and his/her freedom of speech and conscience, will not be compromised.”

“RIGHTS OF ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS MINORITIES. In the State of Israel, full equal rights shall be extended to all citizens irrespective of their religion or race. Most especially, in the wake of our suffering and torment through millennia of wandering among the nations when we were bereft of civil rights, we ought to remember the exalted morality captured in the words of our Torah: ‘A sojourner (ger), you are not to oppress: You yourselves know the feelings of the sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt’ (Exodus 23:9).”

The passage of time has not been kind to these notions. Citizens in Israel today confront stiff challenges to the values of democracy and equality. Rather than lapse into despair, they would do well to recover the range of foundational principles that were present at the birth of the state and are contained in the above texts. They represent an important antidote to the current scourge of chauvinism and a repository of some of the most exalted ideals of the Jewish and Zionist traditions.

Chaim Seidler-Feller, who recently retired after 40th year as director of UCLA Hillel, is director of the Hartman Fellowship for Campus Professionals.

David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA. Many of the posters in this article are from Seidler-Feller’s private collection.