November 16, 2018

Letters to the Editor: Gun Violence Debate, Phil Rosenthal and More

Gun Violence Debate

The underlying argument of gun law reform: Public safety will be achieved through legislature (“When Will It End?” Feb. 23). In light of the Florida school shooting, this argument is shaping the modern U.S. political and sociocultural landscape. However, the dialogue on gun control has diverted the public from the underlying cause of shootings: pathology.

In Europe, multiple acts of terror have taken place through the use of cars. By driving through crowds of people, terrorist attacks have killed people in masses. Even in the absence of legal gun purchases, assuming black market sales are somehow nonexistent, pathological individuals can find means to fulfill their destructive motivations.

While empathizing with the victims of this tragedy, this conversation lacks this simple empirical observation: Pathology is a problem of being; it is not a problem of legislature.

Mahmut Alp Yuksel, Los Angeles

Former President Barack Obama and the left are partly responsible for the Parkland, Fla., shooting. Obama’s Promise Program lowered Parkland’s juvenile arrest numbers from 3,000 to 600. Then it lowered the number of children disciplined and expelled; it reduced the treatment of problem children; it lowered the number of children arrested. So when the killer attacked, the police did nothing because they were part of the Promise Program.

Robin Rosenblatt, Sebastopol

What a great column by Danielle Berrin (“In America, Life Should Come Before Total Liberty,” Feb.  23)! Thank you so much for bringing up the essence of the prophetic words of Isaiah Berlin. Having lived for 33 years in a society that believed in the absolute ideal of socialism, I experienced firsthand the truthfulness of his words: Everything is justified by the goal of attaining an ideal society. I would add only this: The more noble the ideal is, the more paranoid and fanatic the society becomes. Total liberty is possible only if a single person lives on an isolated island. If two or more people are to live together as a family, society, etc., then total liberty must be replaced by other values that put life at the center of everything.

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angles

It seems to me that Ben Shapiro is a tad defensive about his hardline interpretation of the Second Amendment (“The Parkland Dilemma,” March 2). He harshly criticizes the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) for becoming strong advocates for gun safety. How dare they criticize Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for his support of lax gun safety measures? In the very next sentence, he comes to the defense of NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, arguing that she cares “deeply about their (students’) safety.”

These MSD students experienced a horrific massacre. If some of them spoke in hyperbole, it is understandable. What is Loesch’s excuse for her screed at CPAC? She accused those of us who support strong gun safety laws of being ill-informed, ignorant of the Constitution and anti-American. Yet, Shapiro does not chastise her for these comments.

Andrew C. Sigal, Valley Village

In his opposition to gun regulations, Ben Shapiro says he refuses to give up his guns to “browbeating gun control advocates.” We’re not asking him to give up his guns if he feels that they truly give him a sense of security. What we are asking is for improved background checks, introduction of “smart” guns to reduce the likelihood of accidental shootings, and restrictions on assault weapons. If people like Shapiro would listen and consider such reasonable proposals, then we wouldn’t have to shout at one another.

John Beckmann, Sherman Oaks

The “tribalism” David Suissa describes arises from a failure to develop “team skills” (Trapped Inside of Our Tribes,” March 2).

The deepening political divisions and increase in violence, such as the murder of schoolchildren in Florida, have cultural and interpersonal roots. As our culture has become increasingly technological, individuals have become focused on their smartphones and video games at a young age rather than being encouraged to develop relationships with others. Developing and maintaining relationships with others is a skill that is becoming increasingly difficult for some growing children and increasingly difficult for many adults. Violence and primitive tribalism are the consequence of deep personal isolation.

William E. Baumzweiger, Studio City


Phil Rosenthal’s Modesty

Phil Rosenthal significantly understated the level of his and Monica’s generous philanthropy to Jewish and Israel-based causes (“Phil Rosenthal’s 3 Desires,” March 2).

Just a sampling: They supported the production of the award-winning 2008 documentary about the life and death of Hannah Senesh; Monica received the JNF’s Tree of Life Award; and the couple made a significant gift to underwrite the Department of Religious Services, in memory of Phil’s uncle, Rev. A. Asher Hirsch, at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Paul Jeser via email

There is at least a third trait that “Italians and Jews share”: We talk with our hands. Hence the Yiddish joke: “How do you keep a Jew from talking? Tie his hands behind his back.”

Warren Scheinin, Redondo Beach


The Truth of Deir Yassin

The deceitful and perverse Deir Yassin “massacre” fraud was a deliberate, manipulative propaganda effort by Palestinian leadership (“The Truth of Deir Yassin,” March 2).

Perhaps anticipating the sacrosanct status of the Palestinian narrative, Jonathan Swift wrote that “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.” This would explain why professor Eliezer Tauber is still looking for an American publisher among those affiliated with the apparently now moribund “marketplace of ideas.”

Julia Lutch via emaill


What Protests Mean

Thank you, David Suissa, for writing “Obama and #IranianWomenToo,” Feb. 16).

Most of us are not brave enough to do what these women (and men) did, openly protesting an evil power —a real one, not from a movie or a novel.

I know this because I used to live in the evil empire, and I knew what an open protest would lead to. We did listen to Voice of America and Free Europe and knew of protests going on in front of the Soviet embassy, United Nations, etc. These people fought for our rights to leave, and for “refusniks” it meant a lot.

In light of this, the pretentious marches, resist movements, demands to remove old statues, and other political demonstrations seem meaningless compared with real issues of liberty (including women’s rights) that some societies face. It is very easy to participate in some march, feel good about it, then go home, knowing that there will be no consequences.

Andy Grinberg via email


A Rabbi’s Spiritual Journey

Thank you, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, for poetically sharing your experience integrating yogic and Buddhist meditation practices with Judaism (“My Sabbatical Journey: Feeling the Drumbeat of Life,” March 2). In addition to spotlighting the enormous need for tikkun olam, meditation helps me to discern how best to use my God-given gifts to serve our world. None of us is expected to do it all, but each one of us is expected, even commanded, to do what we can. Whatever comes easily and naturally to us is exactly how to help, so go ahead, pick the low hanging fruit! What comes easily for you is difficult for others. Paralyzing guilt has no function in Jewish life.

Cathy Okrent via email


Listen and Learn

I strongly recommend to your readers a recent edition of “Two Nice Jewish Boys,” a Journal-associated podcast. It features Einat Wilf, a former Labor Party MK, who grew up supporting the two-state solution, but has since changed her mind.

It wasn’t just the failure of the Oslo Accords, the atrocities of the Second Intifada, ceaseless terrorism and repeated Palestinian rejection of good-faith offers that prompted her to “get real,” but her conversations with Palestinians themselves. She now believes, sadly, the Palestinian mindset makes a peaceful solution impossible.

Rueben Gordon, Encino


Inclusion at Sundance

Very glad to read about the Shabbat Tent at Sundance (“Sharing Some Light,” Feb. 2). I attended Sundance for 10 years — from 1998 to 2007— first as a programmer for another festival, and then as a filmmaker with a short that played Sundance in 2004. The only year I ever managed to participate in anything remotely Jewish was the year that “Trembling Before God” was an official documentary selection at the festival (in 2001). Very glad to hear that now there’s so much more, and that it is so welcoming and accessible.

Paul Gutrecht via email


The Power of Poetry

Thank you, Hannah Arin, for providing the lovely poetic parameters for wishing upon a star.

Charles Berdiansky, Culver City


New-Look Journal

Your new design format for stories is more conducive to reading all the material than the old design of presenting a starting story and continuing it on the back pages. Thank you for the change.

Ruth Merritt via email

The Truth of Deir Yassin

Eliezer Tauber is an Israeli academic who specializes in the modern history of the Middle East. In the past decade, he dedicated a lot of time to writing a book about the so-called “massacre of Deir Yassin.” The result was a book arguing that there was no massacre in Deir Yassin. A detailed account of a fateful day, minute by minute, hour by hour. A convincing account. I’d be surprised to find any scholar whose familiarity with this event is more intimate. Tauber knows the names of everybody, he knows the time and the place where everybody was fighting, or hiding, or wounded, or killed.

What happened in Deir Yassin in April 9, 1948, became a seminal event of Israel’s War of Independence. This Palestinian village was located to the west of Jerusalem, and was attacked by Jewish fighters of the Irgun, one of Israel’s pre-state underground forces (the main force, Haganah, was the established force; Irgun was an opposition force, under the leadership of Menachem Begin).

The battle was bloody and many Arabs were killed, including women and children. It was followed by a propaganda campaign, claiming that what happened in Deir Yassin was a massacre. This campaign was very much responsible for the decision by many thousands of Arabs to flee their homes. Their decedents are today’s Palestinian “refugees.”

What really happened in Deir Yassin? Tauber is not the first scholar to argue that the large-scale massacre story is a myth. Professor Yoav Gelber, in “Palestine 1948: War, Escape and the Emergence of the Palestinian Refugee Problem,” makes a similar claim. Still, Tauber was more thorough than all of his predecessors in looking into this specific day of carnage. The result is a gripping narrative.

Was the massacre a myth? That depends on one’s definition of massacre.

Deir Yassin in Tauber’s account doesn’t depict a day of poorly organized battle, with confusion playing a role in making a bad day even worse. He counts one clear case of unjustified shooting. An Arab family evacuated a house in surrender. An Irgun fighter opened fire while his commander was shouting at him, “What are you doing? Stop it!” This incident, Tauber believes, gave credence to later overblown stories of larger-scale massacre, rape, mutilation and barbarity.

But the myth was perpetrated not because of confusion. It was a deliberate attempt by the Palestinian leadership to force the Arab militaries of surrounding countries to intervene in the battle over Palestine. The leaders of the Palestinians sowed a wind and reaped a whirlwind. More than convincing the Arab states to intervene (they eventually did), they convinced their fellow Palestinians to flee.

Why am I telling you this story? Because there is no other way for you — Americans — to know about it. Professor Tauber believed that his story would be of great interest to American publishers. He contacted university presses in the United States, and their response left him stunned. A representative of an elite university wrote back: “While everyone agreed on the book’s many strengths, in the end the consensus was that the book would only inflame a debate where positions have hardened.” Another one wrote: “We could sell well to the right-wing community here but we would end up with a terrible reputation.” Apparently, a book questioning the Palestinian narrative is not a book that American universities feel comfortable publishing.

One American media outlet found Tauber’s account worthy of a review: the online Mosaic magazine. The review rightly included the sober conclusion: “It’s hard to believe that Tauber’s book will put an end to the use of Deir Yassin for propaganda and political purposes. Myths take on a life of their own and historical facts are but background sets for them.” If you need any proof of that, just look at what an American publisher had to say about that review: “Of course Mosaic loved it, they tend to be to the right of Attila …”

Maybe.

Maybe Mosaic is to the “right of Attila.” Maybe Tauber is a right-wing hack. But what about his argument — the facts, the research? Is this a worthy contribution to the debate that will never end about Deir Yassin? As a reader of Tauber, and of all the many responses to his book and of many other books describing this event, I have no doubt that it is. Was the massacre a myth? That depends on one’s definition of massacre, and on having all the facts set straight. The facts that no one provides with as much detail as does Tauber (and yes, he is still looking for an American publisher).


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

Films present dark side of Israeli policies

“West of the Jordan River”

In 2013, two Israeli films — “5 Broken Cameras” and “The Gatekeepers” — were nominated for an Academy Award for feature-length documentary. It was a great kavod to the Jewish state, no doubt.

Except that supporters of Israel had mixed feelings about these films. “How can we defend Israel,” they moaned, “when Israelis themselves produce such damning films?”

And, as we learned earlier this month at the Jerusalem Film Festival, which screened “West of the Jordan River” and “Born in Deir Yassin,” that was just the beginning of the cinematic self-criticism. 

In 2013, it was clear that both Israeli Oscar contenders were not the products of the Israeli Foreign Ministry or of any pro-Israeli advocacy group, for that matter. “5 Broken Cameras” details the travails of the Palestinian village Bil’in with the defense barrier, the Israel Defense Forces and the neighboring settlers. In “The Gatekeepers,” five former heads of Israel’s Shin Bet secret service reflect candidly on their years of chasing Palestinian terrorists and Jewish extremists. There is a consensus among these five experienced men: Occupation corrupts Israeli society, and it is in the best interest of Israel to make peace with the Palestinians.

Israeli journalist Igal Sarna was shocked by “5 Broken Cameras,” writing in Al-Monitor in 2012, “What I saw scared me and caused me shame, as an Israeli who loves his country, because these actions of occupation and expropriation, uprooting of olive trees and land theft — are our actions, our stupidity.” On the other hand, J.J. Surbeck, executive director of the nonprofit T.E.A.M. (Training and Education About the Middle East) called it “a manipulative pro-Palestinian movie” that contains “manipulative emotional content to better rile viewers against Israel.”

While die-hard supporters of Israel could perhaps dismiss “5 Broken Cameras” as a propaganda film colluded by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, its Palestinian and Israeli directors, “The Gatekeepers” was a tougher case to handle. As director Dror Moreh said in an interview, the criticism these security chiefs had expressed “didn’t come from the leftists, it came from the heart of the defense establishment. If they say such things, then, OK, there must be something to it.”

Yet “5 Broken Cameras” and “The Gatekeepers” were only a harbinger for more films looking critically at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The 34th Jerusalem Film Festival, which ran from July 13-23, fired another salvo of films that will undoubtedly frustrate people who hate to see any artistic questioning of Israel’s policies and conduct.

“West of the Jordan River,” a documentary directed by Amos Gitai, tells the stories of Israelis and Palestinians, who — with the absence of any political solution — struggle daily with the hardships of life in the West Bank. Gitai last dealt with this issue 35 years ago with his documentary “Field Diary,” which at the time didn’t win him many friends. Here, he makes no bones about where he stands. Talking to i24News in May, he said that “[we] are not in a good moment of history. …  I would say this is a film by Israeli citizens concerned about the direction that the country is taking. … I think I have to take my responsibility as a citizen and talk to the world.”

He did talk to the world in May at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival, where his film was screened. Variety magazine mentioned that Gitai went out of his way to grant Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Hotovely a chance to air her “relatively mystical approach to Israeli geopolitics,” but then contrasted it with his 1994 interview with the pragmatic Yitzhak Rabin. And anyway, says Variety, the film reflects “Gitai’s clear anti-government position.”

If this is bad enough news for people who believe that we shouldn’t air our dirty laundry, then they are up to an even harsher blow with “Born in Deir Yassin.” Director Neta Shoshani took on one of the most sensitive landmarks of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — the bloody conquest of the Arab village Deir Yassin on the western outskirts of Jerusalem in April 1948 by Etzel (the Irgun) and Lehi (the Stern Gang). After the death of 110 of the villagers — many of them the elderly, women and children — the Arab population panicked and started to flee Palestine, thus becoming refugees for generations.

Shoshani interviewed the people who had taken part in the operation in 1948 and again, like in “The Gatekeepers,” these are far from being leftists or liberals. Now in their early 90s and obviously still haunted by the gory scenes of the battle, these men proudly defended their brutal acts by saying — not without justice — that it was “either us or them.”

It’s not only pro-Israel advocates in the Diaspora who resent these kinds of films that seem to badmouth the beloved Jewish state. Last year, Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev proposed a bill, referred to as “Loyalty in Culture,” which conditions state funding to cultural institutions on the respect they show to Israel. And recently, she demanded that movie foundations hand over information about lectors who had discussed movie-funding proposals over the past five years and the reasons they gave for their decisions.

My advice to anyone startled by these films is to take a deep breath and relax. The Israel that survived a surprise attack on both fronts in the Yom Kippur War surely can survive these critical films. Furthermore, this is a cleansing process that shows the self-confidence and maturity of Israeli society, which is ready to confront unpleasant chapters of its history. When a reconciliation with the Palestinians finally is reached, these films will be remembered as the first positive steps.

But when will Palestinian films begin to echo some soul searching on the other side, confessing atrocities and admitting the rejection of any compromise? Probably not so fast.

And yet, this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival also included “Gaza Surf Club,” which tells the story of Palestinian youth in that Godforsaken place, who instead of joining Hamas, becoming suicide bombers or butchering a Jewish family with a knife, are poised to become world-renowned surfers. In our gloomy environment, this looked to me like a little sign of hope.

Am I daydreaming here? Maybe, but isn’t that what movies are made for? 


Uri Dromi is director general of the Jerusalem Press Club. He served as spokesman of the Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres governments from 1992 to 1996, during the Oslo peace process.