May 22, 2019

L.A. Celebrates Israel’s 71st Independence Day

Photos by Melissa Simon

Despite showers and gray skies, close to 15,000 people showed up at Cheviot Hills Park and Recreation Center in Rancho Park on May 19 to take part in the Israeli-American Council (IAC)’s eighth annual Celebrate Israel Festival.

From the little kids screaming on the dragon roller coaster to the tweens flying around in circles on the amusement swing ride, and from the elders enthusiastically spinning and clapping as they replicated the moves of an Israeli folk dancing teacher to the parents participating in the mega challah bake, everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves.

Luna Kaduri, the leader of the challah bake, began her step-by-step bread-braiding tutorial by giving a speech about the need for more compassion in today’s society. “The best missile that we can give to all the ones who hate us is unconditional love,” she said.

Celebrating this year’s theme, “The Israeli Spirit,” many people were dressed in blue and white, wearing Israeli flag headbands and scarves, tattooing their faces with blue Stars of David, and proudly waving both Israeli and American flags. 

“My favorite thing about Israel is its birthday because it’s really fun and I get to be with Israeli people,” 9-year-old Mia, wearing a headband with the Israeli flag, told the Journal.

Two young girls attended the festival to show their love for Israel by dressing up in blue and white colors and decorating their faces with Israeli flag tattoos.

There were long lines at the falafel and shawarma stands, and the Tel Aviv Gordon Beach replica was packed with small children playing in the sand and tossing oversized beach balls back and forth. Middle schoolers and teenagers painted ceramic tiles at the art booth, while others sang along to the loud live music performances on the main stage. 

“My favorite part about the festival was the overall sense of community in the crowd while the artists were performing,” UCLA student Nicole Tishbi said. “Although I didn’t know everyone in the crowd, I felt like we were all one big family having an amazing time cheering for Israel together.”

The Celebrate Israel Festival helps “to strengthen the Jewish American community and the relationship between the people of Israel and the people of the United States,” IAC Chairman Emeritus Shawn Evenhaim told the Journal at the festival.  

“Despite everyone’s busy schedules and obligations, there were so many people there for all the same reason — to support Israel,” UCLA student Shanna Gilardi said. “It’s important to me to attend the festival because I want to show that the younger generation supports Israel.”

Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern. 

Dems: Debate Israel Out in the Open

When California Democrats gather for their state party convention in San Francisco on May 31, they will hear from congressional and legislative leaders, from Gov. Gavin Newsom and every other statewide constitutional officer, and a battalion of presidential candidates. They will hear about issues that unify and inspire their party, about abortion rights and marriage equality, about universal health care and climate change, about gun control and immigrant rights. 

But one thing they will almost certainly not hear about — not from Newsom or Speaker Nancy Pelosi, not from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or any of the other presidential contenders — is Israel.

These conventions are designed to bring together a party. Israel is tearing apart the Democratic Party. So if an attendee wants to hear about Middle East geopolitics or the domestic political manifestations of that debate, those discussions won’t take place on the podium but in the backrooms and hallways of the Moscone Center. That’s where delegates will be arguing over a passel of resolutions put forth by anti-Zionist hardliners, who call for unilateral Israeli concessions in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights and ignore ongoing security threats to residents of the Jewish state. Meanwhile, pro-Israel Democrats are fighting back with resolutions of their own that would properly define the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. And party leaders will do everything in their power to keep these arguments out of public view.

But suppressing this fight would be a mistake. Battling over the party’s principles behind closed doors simply provides an advantage to a smaller but well-organized anti-Zionist movement. Better to debate these issues in public, where a pro-Israel majority can be clearly heard. And even better to put the question to every elected official and candidate who attends the convention: Ask Newsom and Pelosi and Harris and the rest to take a public position on each of these resolutions and to make it clear that they stand with Israel.

“Better to debate these issues in public, where a pro-Israel majority can be clearly heard.”

The overwhelming majority of elected Democrats would take that position, a small but vocal minority would not. But the short-term discord would be a small price to pay to expose the shallowness and narrowness of the anti-Israel sentiment. Burying the disagreement, on the other hand, simply allows the ideological outliers to organize outside of public view and to come back stronger every year until they have become an even more formidable political force.

I was a Republican for most of my adult life, before switching to No Party Preference status several years ago when the GOP’s rightward march made it clear I no longer belonged in that party. Some readers of this column will therefore dismiss my counsel as a diabolical plot from a nonbeliever whose true goal is to harm rather than help the efforts of pro-Israel Democrats. 

But I once watched my former party be taken over by rebel forces, too. I watched as the party establishment tried to pretend that the voices of intolerance from the far right didn’t exist and ignored the growing populist anger until it was too late.

Former President George W. Bush and the late Sen. John McCain and their generational colleagues believed that the anti-immigrant forces in their party could be isolated and hidden and ultimately defeated. But their strategy of forcing those debates to take place in the shadows ultimately backfired, and by the time the fight became public, the extremists’ numbers had grown to the point where they could no longer be held back. 

As a result, anti-immigrant sentiment now not only dominates but defines the Republican Party. While that de-evolution may bring some happiness to dedicated partisans on the other side of the aisle, the end result should serve as a warning to principled Democrats who think that obscuring arguments about Israel will work any better.

It’s far too easy to underestimate insurgencies, especially on such a volatile political and societal landscape. Fanaticism left unexposed has now despoiled one of our two major political parties. Let’s not allow the same thing to happen to the other, especially not on an issue as important as the safety and security of the Jewish homeland. Exposing haters — on either the far right or the far left — to public scrutiny is ultimately the best way to prevail.

Dan Schnur is a professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and Pepperdine University. 

Jewish Agenda for 2020: Dump Trump to Eliminate Anti-Semitism

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at Akron-Canton airport in Canton, Ohio, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

I guess it’s time to talk once again about the Jews and American politics. 2020 is not far off and presidential politics are on everyone’s minds — pollsters and organizations included. The Jewish Electorate Institute published its findings on how the Jewish electorate views the 2020 elections. These results are based on an online survey among 1,000 Jewish voters nationally. The margin of error is +/-3.2 percentage points. 

So, what do we learn from this survey?

1. American Jews feel threatened. “Nearly three-quarters (73%) say Jews in the United States are less secure compared to two years ago.” 

This number is quite dramatic. Whether the political response of most Jews to this sentiment is the proper response is a different matter: “The largest bloc (43%) say they are looking to elect a candidate who shares their values, and 39% say they want to work to defeat President [Donald] Trump in 2020.” 

So, the Jews feel threatened, and believe that defeating Trump is the way to improve their situation. Only time will tell if their assessment of the situation and their proposed remedy make sense. 

 2. Jewish activists and leaders ought to note that only few Jews consider intensified Jewish activity to be the best response to anti-Semitism. Only 4% believe that becoming more active in a synagogue is one of the best ways to “improve the security of Jews,” only 12% prescribe “Jewish social action.” In other words, their response to anti-Semitism is political, not communal. 

3. Combative Israelis ought to note that only 12% of US Jews believe that adding “armed security” is going to improve their security. If you need more proof that Israeli Jews and American Jews live on different planets, there is it.

4. When a Jew feel threatened and believes that the president is the main cause of the threat, it is no wonder that he does not approve of the job the president is doing. Indeed, President Trump’s job approval rating among Jews is low. 

But now, look at how similar the following numbers seem: 73% of Jews feel more threatened; 71% disapprove of Trump’s handling of his job; 71% disapprove of Trump’s handling of anti-Semitism; 67% intend not to vote for Trump in 2020; 65% are Democrats. Is this a response to anti-Semitism or merely politics-as-usual with a new and possibly effective narrative to be used against the president? 

Similarly: The number of Jews that say they are Republicans: 25%. The number of Jews intending to vote for Trump: 25%. The number of Jews concerned about “Democrats tolerating anti-Semitism in their own ranks:” 27%.  

The mixing of anti-Semitism concerns and charges and political tendencies continues.

 5. Here is one hint as you search for answers: While Orthodox Jews are exposed to anti-Semitism no less, and possibly more than other Jews (because they are easier to identify in a crowd), their political response to the new circumstances is very different. The most visible manifestation of this is the fact that most Orthodox Jews (57%) approve of President Trump. (by the way, the sample for this survey included a relatively small number of Orthodox Jews: 7%).

6. The new report says, “Domestic issues dominate the policy priorities of the Jewish community as they determine which candidate to support in 2020.”That is to say, Jews are like most other Americans. It’s not about “the Benjamins,” nor about the “allegiance” with Israel. It’s about America’s future, and the future of Jews in America. 

Still, it is not easy for an Israeli to accept that “a candidate’s stance on Israel is of relatively low importance to Jewish voters as they determine which candidate to support in the 2020 election.” And one has to wonder: Is Israel so low on the agenda because it no longer matters to Jewish Americans? Or maybe it is low because the Jews in some unconscious way caved to the intimidation of “dual loyalty” smear perpetrators. That is, they prefer not to tell pollsters that Israel does matter.

7. Of the two options — Israel doesn’t matter, or intimidation works —I’m not even sure which is worse. 

8. On the other hand, consider these facts. Sixty-five percent of Jews say that “whether the candidate supports Israel” is “one of the most important” or “very important” for them as they decide “for whom you will vote.” That’s two thirds of all Jews. And if we add those who say “somewhat important” we get to 92%. So, it’s not as if the Jews stopped saying Israel is important. The only thing that happened is that they also say, in even greater numbers, that other issues matter to them.  

Looking at the overall number makes one wonder about the methodology of the question. The Jews deem important protecting Medicare and Social Security (97%); combating anti-Semitism (96%); making quality affordable healthcare available to every American (95%);  enacting gun safety laws (93%); combating the influence of white supremacists and the far right (92%); combating terrorism (97%); and the list goes on and on proving that Jewish voters want everything. They want jobs and security, they want fair taxes and public education, and they also want support for Israel. That supporting Israel gets a slightly lesser ranking than gun control could signal something, but could also be an insignificant result. 

I recommend that next year the Institute make the question one of priorities: force the interviewees to choose “support” or “guns;” to say what they want more, “support” or “fair taxes.” Only then will we have a clear picture of Israel’s importance to the voters.

9. In the same vein, the only issue where majority of US Jews approve of the president’s job is in US-Israel relations (55%). This signals appreciation. This signals that Jewish voters attribute importance to this item.  

UN Official Praises Hezbollah Deputy After Meeting

Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah display Hezbollah and Iranian flags as they listen to him via a screen during a rally marking the 11th anniversary of the end of Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel, in the southern village of Khiam, Lebanon August 13, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

A United Nations official praised a senior Hezbollah leader May 20 after the two held a meeting.

U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis tweeted, “Grateful for an open and substantive discussion on a broad range of topics with Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem of Hizbullah. On top I received a copy of his book – a necessary reading.”

According to the Times of Israel, Qassem “is on the record threatening Israel with annihilation” and is the top lieutenant of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who said in 2002, If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer tweeted to Kubis, “You just praised the leader of a terrorist group that commits genocide in Syria and murders civilians worldwide. I am calling on Secretary-General @antonioguterres to remove you immediately from your post as United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon.”

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nashon tweeted,We are shocked and disappointed by this meeting with a designated terror organization’s leader, threatening Israel, Lebanon and the whole region.”

An Office of the U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon spokesperson told the Times of Israel that they work with Hezbollah as one of the “political forces” involved in Lebanon.

Nearly 400 members of Congress wrote in a May 20 letter to President Donald Trump that “Hezbollah has aimed more than 100,000 rockets and missiles at Israel that are increasingly more precise and of longer-range, giving the terrorist group the capability to strike anywhere in Israel.” Israel has also destroyed several Hezbollah terror tunnels in December; the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon concluded April 25 that at least three of these tunnels violated a 2006 ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.

Al Jazeera Suspends Journalists Over Holocaust Video

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Al Jazeera announced on May 19 that they are suspending two journalists due to a since-deleted video posted to the network’s Arabic Twitter account stating that “Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust.”

The Al Jazeera AT + Arabic account reportedly tweeted out the video with the caption, “Gas ovens killed millions of Jews, that’s how the novel says. What is the truth of the #holocaust and how did the Zionist movement benefit from it?” The video, translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, features host Muna Hawwa stating, “The narrative that six million Jews were killed by the Nazi movement was adopted by the Zionist movement, and it is being reiterated every year on the so-called ‘Holocaust Memorial Day.’”

She goes on to state that Jews weren’t the only victims of the Holocaust, but the focus is on the Jewish victims because “Jewish groups had financial resources, media institutions, research centers, and academic voices that managed to put a special spotlight on the Jewish victims of the Nazis. Nevertheless, the number of victims of the Holocaust remains one of the most prominent historical debates to this day.”

Hawwa then says that there are some “who accuse the Zionist movement of blowing [the Holocaust] out of proportion in the service of the plan to establish what would later be known as the ‘State of Israel.’” She concludes the video by saying that “Israel is the biggest winner from the Holocaust, and it uses the same Nazi justifications as a launching pad for the racial cleansing and annihilation of the Palestinians.”

According to The Wrap, Al Jazeera issued a press release May 19 stating two of their journalists had been suspended over the video and that the video was published due to a lack of “oversight”; the journalists were not identified and the duration of the suspensions was not specified.

“Al Jazeera completely disowns the offensive content in question,” Dr. Yaser Bishr, executive director of Al Jazeera’s digital division, said in a statement.

Mehdi Hasan, a presenter for Al Jazeera’s English network, tweeted, “As someone who has spent my life slamming antisemitic Holocaust denialism, esp in Muslim communities, glad to see Al Jazeera bosses taking disciplinary action against 2 of their journos for a ridiculously offensive and dumb video – and disowning it, too.”

However, others, such as writer Ariel Sobel, tweeted that “Al Jazeera has always been anti-Semitic.”

Seth Frantzman, the Jerusalem Post’s Op-ed editor, wrote in a May 20 piece that Twitter has disabled the video from all accounts that shared it, “claiming it infringes Al Jazeera’s copyright.”

Naty Saidoff: Celebrate Israel Chairman on the ‘Woodstock’ of Yom Ha’atzmaut in L.A.

Naty Saidoff

Israeli-born real estate investor and philanthropist Naty Saidoff supports many causes, yet the one that may be closest to his pro-Israel heart is the Israeli American Council’s (IAC) Celebrate Israel Festival.

The annual Yom Ha’atzmaut festival marking Israel’s independence transforms the Cheviot Hills Park and Recreation Center in Rancho Park into an Israel-loving playground, where thousands gather to celebrate.   

As chairman of the festival, Saidoff, together with his wife, Debbie, pay for the majority of the $750,000 extravaganza that features live Israeli music, art installations, kosher food, a solidarity walk, carnival rides, community booths and more. 

Ahead of this weekend’s festival celebrating Israel’s 71st anniversary, Saidoff spoke with the Journal about why he supports the event, what people can expect from this year’s headliner, the economics of organizing the “Woodstock” of Yom Ha’atzmaut gatherings and how the festival is the ultimate expression of the Israeli-American and Jewish-American spirit. 

Jewish Journal: What does it mean to you that thousands of people turn out to Celebrate Israel every year? 

Naty Saidoff: We think that despite all the bad press [about Israel], the U.S. is more philo-Semitic than anti-Semitic. This country’s human fiber has Jewish DNA all over it. When we bring Israeli Americans and Jewish Americans to the park and many Christians who support Israel, we reinforce the truth about the relationship between the Jewish Diaspora and the U.S. with this tiny strip of land called Israel. We celebrate that relationship. We revel in it. The U.S. and Israel get so much from this cooperation and coexistence and it’s time we focus on the positive.

JJ: Why do you and your wife, Debbie, support the festival each year? 

NS: We contribute money to the IAC — the vast majority of the money that is required for this event— and it was our brainchild, but everything we do is in the name of the organization. As a result, we are able to do this festival and we subsidize each ticket, depending on how many people show up. Each ticket will be subsidized to the tune of $50 per person. It does not cost $30 [per person, the cost of tickets at the door] to put on this event; it costs a heck of a lot more. It is our gift to the community, and we’re doing it out of a sense of responsibility toward Israel and our country of residence, the U.S.

JJ: Previous headliners at Celebrate Israel have included Rita and Idan Raichel. What will Sephardic singer Lior Narkis bring to this year’s festival experience?

NS: He really brings the good time with him. He really gets the crowd going. He is attractive equally to the Sephardic and to the Ashkenazi community. He is an amazing entertainer. He’s not as well-known as some others, but he is probably as good as anybody right now in Israel.

JJ: What has been your most memorable Celebrate Israel moment since the IAC launched the festival in 2012? 

NS: A couple of years ago, a week before the festival there was a forecast for rain. The day of, we came in and very few people showed up at the park. We sold very few tickets online. There were dark clouds over the horizon. And we prayed against all hope [it wasn’t] going to rain, and then it did not rain. People started showing up despite the dark clouds and we had a beautiful festival. Then at 5 o’clock, [headliner] Dudu Aharon showed up onstage and as he started to sing, we heard a cloudburst and lightning, and it started to rain, and our worst fears materialized. I’ve never seen rain like that and the more it rained the louder he sang. The more it rained, the more excited [the audience] got. They kept dancing and started jumping and singing. It was the most amazing sight we have ever seen. It was reminiscent of Woodstock.

JJ: Have you been to Israel recently?

NS: Are you kidding? Sure. I was in Israel in January and am about to go back to Israel in three weeks. I have a business in Israel and also I’m part of the board of the Shalom Hartman Institute and my wife is the head of Project Interchange [an American Jewish Committee program], which brings many dignitaries to Israel for seminars.

We just found out the mayor [Eric Garcetti] is going to be at the [festival], and he is going to be leading a trip to Israel (which started on May 11). That is our doing. That is Project Interchange, and he is going to lead a group of five mayors.

We love Israel. We are very involved with many different nonprofit organizations [supporting Israel]; it’s part of what we do. We got to go to Israel in order to reinforce the bond we have with the country.

Whoever cannot afford to go to Israel, for $30, we bring Israel to you [at the festival]. And if you rush, you can do it for $15.

The Celebrate Israel Festival takes place on May 19. For tickets and additional information about the event, click here.

Celebrate Israel With a Festive Windsock

In the spirit of this weekend’s Celebrate Israel Festival, here’s a project that will keep you commemorating Israel’s independence throughout the spring and summer. This windsock made from an empty oatmeal container adds a colorful touch to your outdoor décor as it dances in the breezes. And it’s a great excuse to eat more oatmeal.

What you’ll need:
Empty oatmeal container
Decorative paper


1. Cut out the bottom of an empty oatmeal container with scissors. It’s easiest to punch a hole in the center first, and then cut around in a spiral until you get to the edges.


2. Cover the outside of the container with decorative paper, securing it with tape. I used wrapping paper I found at the Container Store, but you can use any paper that is primarily blue.


3. Cut various lengths of ribbon and glue them to the bottom of the container. Position them on the inside of the windsock so the ends remain hidden. They act like the tails of a kite. 


4. Poke two holes opposite each other at the top of the windsock. Thread a piece of string through the holes to make a hanging loop.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Primer Gets You in the ‘Know’ About Middle East Peace

Dear Jared,

I know your father-in-law is not much of a reader. But he entrusted you with a historic peace mission that has defeated countless other men and women for nearly a century, and that’s why I think you would find it useful to pick up a copy of “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford University Press). 

You might be tempted to think of it as “Middle East Peace Negotiations for Dummies.”

That’s not to diminish the author’s credentials or achievements. Dov Waxman is professor of political science, international affairs and Israel studies at Northeastern University and director of the school’s Middle East program. His previous books include “Israel’s Palestinians” and “Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over Israel,” which I reviewed here when it was published in 2016.

Waxman’s new book — like all the titles in Oxford’s “What Everyone Needs to Know” series — are what journalists call an “explainer.” Waxman draws on his command of history, diplomacy and politics to untangle what is surely the most challenging quandary in the Middle East since the Gordian knot, and he dispenses his solid expertise in short bursts of clear and highly illuminating prose. 

Each section is titled with a pointed and highly pertinent question: “Who is the conflict between?” “Who was there first?” “Why did many Palestinians become refugees in 1948? Who is to blame?” “What role has the United States played in the peace process?” “Why are the West Bank and Gaza Strip considered ‘occupied territories’?” “Is a two-state solution possible?” “Is a one-state solution possible?” 

Waxman is not an advocate for one or another of the contending points of view that make peace in the Middle East such a vexing problem, and he does not create a sense of panic. Indeed, he takes a measured if sober view of the subject.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the world’s deadliest conflict, nor is it the most destabilizing — the war in Syria has killed vastly more people and wreaked more havoc in a just a few years than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has in decades,” the author observes. “But the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is one of the longest-running conflicts in the world and possibly the most intractable.”

“Dov Waxman bemoans the fact that so many people are willing to reach and hold an opinion on the conflicts in the Middle East with only a shallow understanding of the facts.”

He also bemoans the fact that so many people are willing to reach and hold an opinion on the conflicts in the Middle East with only a shallow understanding of the facts. One reason is that “we all inevitably bring our own personal backgrounds, beliefs, and prejudices to the subject,” as Waxman writes. Then, too, he thinks we rely too much on the media: “The problem with this is not that the media is biased, although it might be, but that it is generally superficial and focused on contemporary events.” 

The whole point of his book, in other words, is to drill deeply into the facts so the reader is equipped to reach a conclusion of his or her own. “[This] book is a primer, not a polemic,” he insists, and he refuses to play “the blame game.” His frame of reference does not exclude the religious texts of Judaism and Islam, but it is not restricted to these scriptures: “Both nationalisms are motivated by secular political aspirations (above all, national self-determination), not theological ones.” His moral stance is inspired by the word of the late Israeli novelist Amos Oz: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tragedy; it is a clash between right and right.”

Jared, that’s exactly why you will soon find out for yourself how hard it is to find a solution that will be acceptable to both sides. To put it another way, a $65 billion gift will not be enough to buy a lasting peace. “The simplest way to explain the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis (more precisely Israeli Jews) is that they both lay claim to the same piece of land,” Waxman writes. “Both sides insist that this land belongs to them, and both claim the right to exercise sovereignty over it.”

Waxman seeks to avoid the shutting down of minds that seems to take place when we start to talk about peace in the Middle East, and he sends signals of his impartiality to readers on both sides. He refers to “the West Bank” rather than “Judea and Samaria,” for example, and yet he also puts “the occupied territories” between quotation marks. Even on this contentious point, however, he insists on confronting his readers with the historical facts. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the use of the word “occupation” as “nonsense,” but his predecessor Ariel Sharon declared, “Yes, it is occupation; you might not like the word, but what is happening is occupation.”

The single most important passage in “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” poses the ultimate question: “If neither [a one-state nor a two-state] solution is possible, then how can the conflict be resolved or at least reduced?” Here we find a rare glimmer of hope in what is usually and gloomily described with a fatalistic shrug as an unsolvable problem. Waxman envisions a European Union-style confederation between Israel and Palestine, each one with a “shared capital” in Jerusalem, dual citizenship for Jews who want to live in Palestine and Palestinians who wish to live in Israel, and an open border between the two countries. 

Waxman is a tough-minded observer with his eyes wide open, and he concedes that his ideas are deeply problematic. “While I am convinced that this is all possible, I am not optimistic about any of it occurring in the near future,” he writes. “Sadly, conflict, occupation, and violence look likely to continue, and peace seems a distant, if not disappearing prospect.” Another book in its entirety could be devoted to the peace plan he briefly describes, and I hope he writes it.

Unless you already know the answers to the questions you will find in Waxman’s important book, Jared, don’t leave home without it! 

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

Avoiding a Falafel Fiasco

I don’t know why it surprised me. I should have expected it when I wrote a story some months back headlined “Hummus Is the Peacemaker.” I was swiftly barraged with accusations of culturally appropriating an Arab food. One tweet even rebuked me by saying, “Go back to Poland and stop stealing people’s cuisine!” The fact that I’m not Polish didn’t matter much to the tweeter; only the sentiment behind the comment was important: Jews who came from Eastern Europe had better skedaddle on back there and stop trying to take credit for the cuisine of the “indigenous population.” 

Clearly the idea that Jews are indigenous to the Middle East and that Judea is named after us triggers some folks, but that pesky detail is the least of my concerns. What about the fact that so many of Israel’s national foods are modern mashups of a plethora of dishes from ancient cultures far and wide?

Consider falafel, Israel’s most popular fast food — as culturally synonymous with the country as burgers and fries are with the United States. Just as hamburgers are not technically an American invention (origin: Hamburg, Germany), falafel, deep-fried balls of fava beans or chickpeas, can be traced to India, where frying fritters made of chana dal was a common cooking practice, thought to have been brought west by Turkish or Arab traders. 

Another theory about the origins of falafel is that it was invented by Egyptians using fava beans, a vegetarian alternative to meat for Egypt’s Christian population to eat during Lent. Food historians speculate that when the dish migrated toward the Levant, the fava beans were replaced by the more common chickpea, which lends credence to the notion that falafel made of chickpeas may have roots in Jewish Yemenite cuisine. 

“So many of Israel’s national foods are modern mashups of a plethora of dishes from ancient cultures far and wide.”

But what is not theory is that the modern falafel sandwich, eaten standing up and on the go with plenty of napkins on hand to catch spills, is as Israeli as “Hatikvah,” its national anthem. The messy hand-held pita stuffed with seasoned, deep-fried chickpea balls, tomato and cucumber salad, hummus, pickled vegetables and usually accompanied by some version of fried eggplant and potato, tahini and hot sauce, has all the elements of today’s multicultural Israeli society and the very essence and spirit of a diverse Jewish Diaspora. With additions as varied as Iraqi fried eggplant slivers and amba (a pickled mango condiment), German sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, beets and turnips or the Yeminite schug (a garlic, pepper chili sauce), falafel is eaten by everyone in Israel — rich, poor, Arab, Sephardic or Ashkenazic Jew, Ethiopian, vegetarian or carnivore, resident or tourist. When folks are hungry for a cheap, quick, filling and delicious meal in Israel, they often choose falafel. 

My reply to the tweeter about my hummus story was this: “Hummus is my food and your food, and a lot of other people’s food. Food is for everyone.” But what I really wanted to say is this: Politics doesn’t belong in the kitchen. Discussions about food are always an opportunity to bond over a shared experience. What we eat not only tells a story about who we are and where we’ve been but it is, by definition, a reminder of our commonalities. Food is a primal need that illuminates our identity, but it doesn’t define us.  

Just as it’s a universally regarded cultural taboo while dining with clients to discuss business before the meal commences, fighting over the origin of a food is a zero-sum game. People have been traveling and migrating since the beginning of time, and so has food. Although you can borrow a recipe, you can never truly own it — not even if you are the one who invented it. Great food is meant to be shared, not possessed. And if you can’t find it in your heart to do so willingly, food has a way of finding its rightful place.


1 pound dried chickpeas (uncooked, rinsed well and soaked overnight in cold water)
1 medium yellow or red onion (about 1 cup), finely chopped or grated
5 garlic cloves, squeezed through a garlic press
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated
1 pinch ground cardamom
1 pinch ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons chickpea flour (chickpea flour is gluten free but all-purpose flour can be used)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 cups vegetable oil (canola, grapeseed,  corn) for deep frying

Soak dried chickpeas in double their volume of cold water overnight. The next day rinse and drain well.

Place chickpeas and rest of ingredients except cilantro, parsley and oil, in food processor and pulse until a coarse mixture forms. Scrape down sides of food processor between pulses to ensure the chickpeas are evenly ground. The optimal result has a bit of texture but no large pieces of chickpeas. It’s important not to create a paste but mixture shouldn’t have chunks.

When mixture is homogenous, transfer from food processor into a bowl and, using a fork, mix in chopped parsley and cilantro. Leave in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or even overnight. This is a crucial step to give the flavors time to mingle but also so that the balls hold together better.

When ready to fry, heat oil in heavy-bottomed pan until hot (350 degrees F.)

Wet hands and form balls using two tablespoons of the mixture, or about the size of a walnut. Fry one test ball.

When balls are golden brown on one side after about 2 minutes, rotate and continue to fry another 2 minutes. Taste to adjust salt and pepper. If balls are falling apart, the chickpeas might not have been ground enough. If this happens, add 1 egg to the mixture and repeat with a test ball to see if it holds together. 

Fry remaining balls 6 at a time, making sure to leave enough space so they fry evenly and aren’t overcrowded. When golden brown on all sides, drain balls on paper towels and put on a wire rack to stay crisp. 

Serve in a pita with hummus, salads, pickles, tomatoes, cucumber, tahini and chili sauce for drizzling on the side.

Makes 35 balls.

Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

From California Dreaming to Jerusalem’s Israel Festival

Eyal Sher

Saying that Eyal Sher lives and breathes Jerusalem is like saying the Western Wall is old. Sher’s matrilineal line to the holy city stretches back 18 generations. It seems only natural then, that five years ago the 61-year-old screenwriter, producer and director was selected as the director of the Israel Festival, a seminal spring event on the Jerusalem calendar that celebrates multidisciplinary arts from all over the world. 

At least half of the festival’s audience comes from outside Jerusalem, and one of Sher’s challenges is to spread the appeal closer to home. No small feat for a city that is consistently ranked as Israel’s poorest. 

Yet while all of the festival’s events are heavily subsidized, a large chunk of Jerusalem’s population — the Charedi and Arab sectors in particular — shows little interest in the event. In the past, Sher has fought this head on, having Arab artists collaborate with their Jewish counterparts. “For the first time, they actually get to know ‘the other,’ ” Sher said. “And it’s no longer Israelis and Arabs. It’s ‘I’m the director, you’re the actor, you’re the cameraman’ and so on.” 

The festival also strives to include a range of public performances so that passersby can catch some of the action. This year, a van that opens into a stage will travel around the city’s poorer neighborhoods and showcase hip-hop, spoken word and other performances. 

“The complexity of Jerusalem is what makes it interesting,” Sher said, adding that the art coming out of the city is almost always groundbreaking.

“The complexity of Jerusalem is what makes it interesting.”

Yet despite his family’s roots in the Israeli capital, Sher spent much of his childhood overseas. The son of an Israeli diplomat, he celebrated his bar mitzvah in the West African nation of Togo, and spent a total of two decades in Los Angeles. He first arrived in L.A. on a basketball scholarship to study film and TV at UCLA. After graduation, he took an eight-month internship with producer Howard Rosenman, who, Sher said, became his mentor. Sher fondly recalls Rosenman’s caustic wisecracks. “He’d ask me, ‘Are you rich? Do you have family here? So what the f— do you want to be in Hollywood for?’ ” 

Six months into his internship, Rosenman hired him as director of development. Even though he wasn’t earning much, Sher credits his time in Hollywood as a “very wonderful, creative period. I’m a born dreamer,” he said  “And in L.A., you could dream. You may not reach your dream but you’ll have a very fun time.” 

Sher went on to write critically acclaimed Israeli movies including “Under the Domim Tree” (1994) and “The Dybbuk of the Holy Apple Field” (1997). 

But the city of his birth beckoned again. “I’m always coming back to Jerusalem,” Sher said. “When you deal with the arts in Jerusalem, you always touch on things beyond: economy, education, tourism, coexistence, politics.” 

And when it comes to politics, the festival has been the target of cultural boycotts from the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. According to Sher, the movement’s efforts have largely failed, with only two artists pulling out in four years of his stewardship. He tells potential participants that the festival’s role is to foster dialogue and build bridges.

“The whole idea of inviting them,” Sher said, is [to enable them] to present things that explore, that investigate and that show [things] in a different light.” n

Syrian Opposition Leader Pushes for Normalization with Israel

Fahad Almasri

Though most Syrians oppose normalizing relations with Israel and reject efforts toward establishing diplomatic ties, Syrian opposition leader Fahad Almasri has not stopped seeking an opportunity to open communication channels with Israel. 

Almasri, founder and leader of the National Salvation Front in Syria (NSF), said he would like the Syrian and Israeli people to live side by side in peace and to become business partners. He describes himself as a staunch opponent of Syrian President Bashar Assad and an alternative leader to Assad’s rule. 

Almasri, who has lived in France for 24 years, said he is not afraid to talk openly about relations with Israel in a post-Assad Syria. 

“We have the courage and the open political vision. The reason is the … change that has occurred in Syrian society. [This change] led to the reevaluation of all concepts and values — and the fall of slogans,” Almasri said. 

Syria and Israel technically have been in a state of war since 1948, and the two countries never established diplomatic relations. Following Israel’s War of Independence, the two have faced off in two additional wars, the first in 1967 and the second in 1973.

Almasri believes the time has come for this to change.

“We must recognize that Israel is an important regional state, a fact that exists whether recognized by regional and Arab parties or not,” he said. “Israel is an internationally recognized state and is supported by all the nations of the world.” 

Syria has always championed the Palestinian cause and Damascus has consistently tied the Golan Heights, an area internationally recognized as occupied by Israel, with resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But Almasri said a lot has changed since the eruption of the conflict in Syria in 2011.

“After all the destruction that happened in Syria, is the problem of the Syrian people the Palestinian issue, especially since the Palestinians themselves have entered into negotiations with the Israeli state? The Palestinian problem is at another turning point,” he said. “Consequently, the Syrian people paid more than 80 years of their livelihood, security, stability and political life, which was absent as a result of slogans and trafficking in the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

A Palestinian official who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter said the Palestinian leadership has a good relationship with Damascus and doesn’t want to spoil it. But he was critical of Almasri.

“These are groups created by Israel and the United States that have a relationship with them,” the Palestinian official said. “These groups, which call themselves the opposition, are part of a project hostile to Arab causes and have reached the level of agents for the occupation. The Palestinians want a strong and united Syria, and Syria will emerge from its crisis as soon as possible.”

“We must recognize that Israel is an important regional state, a fact that exists whether recognized by regional and Arab parties or not.” — Fahad Almasri

In April, Almasri’s group launched the national initiative “Hope,” calling on the Israeli government to ease travel restrictions on the Syrian Druze in the Golan Heights to allow them to visit relatives in Syria as part of a more comprehensive plan.

“In the first phase … the people of the Golan have to come to Syria. In the second stage of the initiative, the Jewish Syrians, whether they live in Israel and hold Israeli identity or live in the Diaspora, have the right to visit their country and take care of their property and their cultural, historical and humanitarian heritage in Syria,” Almasri said. “The ball is now in the Israeli court.”

The Syrian opposition figure said he is in touch with Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel. 

Tarif said he’s a religious man and doesn’t “interfere” in Syria’s internal politics, but he did support the initiative put forth by the NSF.

“These are humanitarian requests to help the Syrians in the Golan Heights contact their families in Syria just like it was before the war. We are fully behind it,” Tarif said.

Almasri claims that his group has been in direct communication with Israeli officials. In fact, he said an NSF delegation was in Israel during the first week of May, meeting with Israelis. 

“We sent a message to the Israeli government and to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” he said. “We hope that this initiative will receive the attention of Mr. Netanyahu because it will be an initial humanitarian initiative toward the rapprochement between Syria and Israel.”

Almasri said he also met with Yisrael Katz, Israeli minister of transportation, minister of intelligence and acting foreign minister, with the goal of establishing close relations with the Israeli government.

“We want to search for the strategic interests of the Syrian people, and the strategic interests of the Syrian people require [us] to enter into understandings with the Israeli state for the benefit of the Syrian people,” Almasri said. “The Syrian people want peace, they want to live in safety, they want a broad horizon for development, they want to rebuild Syria.” 

Almasri also said he met in Paris with Yuval Rabin, chairman of the Israeli Peace Initiative and son of assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He said these meetings are just an example of many he regularly holds with Israeli officials, discussing numerous topics, among them Iran, the Palestinians and terrorism.

Normalization between Arab states and Israel is a touchy subject. Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab states that have peace treaties and diplomatic ties with Israel, and Almasri knows his attempts at forging relations with a state that many Arabs still view as an enemy will not sit well with them. 

“We do not care about the criticism of others; we are concerned about the strategic interest of the Syrian people,” he said. “The Syrian people have been left to kill and slaughter [each other] for more than eight years, and the Arab countries are all watching and investing in Syrian blood, and have contributed to the continuation of this tragedy and turned it into a war of attrition.”

The Media Line reached out to the Israeli prime minister’s office and the country’s Foreign Ministry for a response. Both declined to speak on the matter, saying instead in a text message: “We are not making any comments on the issue to the media.” 

Almasri said he won’t stop until he meets with the Israeli prime minister, and he has a message for him. 

“We say to Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu that we congratulate you on your [election] victory once again with the confidence of the Israeli people. With the beginning of your mandate, we hope for your new government to have a new, courageous and constructive regional vision toward Syria and the Syrian people,” Almasri said.

Still, he admitted he doesn’t speak for all Syrians and that the idea of having contact with Israel is controversial for many. But Almasri has a vision for a future Syria. In order for that vision to become a reality, he said, the eight-year conflict must end and reconciliation needs to take place.

Mayor Garcetti Travels to Israel with AJC for Week-Long Seminar 

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. Courtesy of the L.A. Mayor's Office

Mayor Eric Garcetti is joining a bipartisan delegation of U.S. mayors in Israel along with American Jewish Committee (AJC) to participate in a week-long educational seminar.

The seminar organized by AJC Project Interchange, is designed to further enhance U.S.-Israel relations. This delegation is chaired by Mayor Garcetti and marks the first delegation under the support of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the U.S. Conference of Mayors and AJC, the highlight of which is an annual mayors’ delegation to Israel.

“Los Angeles and Israel share so much – vibrant cultures, beautiful landscapes, diverse communities, ties of family and friends, our experiences as dreamers, and our common belief in democracy,” Mayor Garcetti said in a statement to the Journal. “Our delegation is showing how cities lead on the world stage, how mayors get things done, and how urban centers can tackle everything from innovation and climate change to immigration and economic growth.”

Other mayors attending this trip are Kathy Sheehan from Albany NY, Rick Kriseman from St. Petersburg FL, Michelle de la Isla from Topeka, KS, and Shane Bemis from Gresham, OR. Laura Waxman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Melanie Pell, AJC’s Managing Director of Regional Offices and Garcetti’s Chief of Staff Ana Guerrero are also in attendance.

The seminar is intended to provide these policymakers with a first-hand understanding of Israel. The delegation will learn about Israel’s democracy, society and regional challenges. They will also be visiting Tel Aviv, Haifa, the Lebanese border and Jerusalem including the Old City.

The delegation will have the opportunity to meet with influential figures across the political and social spectrum, including Israel President Reuven Rivlin and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. They will also travel to the West Bank and meet with Palestinian civic and business leaders in the Palestinian Authority.

Importantly, the mayors will meet with their Israeli counterparts to discuss the best ways for helping their home communities on smart city development, economic growth technology start-ups, urban revitalization and city administration.

“From water management to immigrant absorption and technological innovation, Los Angeles and Israel have much to learn from one another,” Siamak Kordestani, AJC Los Angeles Assistant Director for Policy and Communications, said in a statement. “We are pleased that our Mayor, Eric Garcetti, is leading this important delegation to explore Israel and its challenges and opportunities. American and Israeli cities stand to benefit through expanded economic, academic, and cultural ties.”

NYU President Calls Tel Aviv Boycott Vote ‘Regrettable’

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

New York University (NYU) President Andrew Hamilton and Board of Trustees chair William Berkley called the university’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis (SCA) vote to boycott the Tel Aviv study abroad program “regrettable” in a letter obtained by the Journal.

The SCA passed a resolution May 2 calling for “non-cooperation” with the program until Israel ends its “longstanding practice of barring entry to persons of Palestinian descent.”

The May 8 letter, which was first reported by the Jewish Week, begins by acknowledging the SCA’s right to voice their opinions on the Israel-Palestinian conflicts, their vote is “at odds both with a key tenet of academic freedom – the free exchange of ideas” and that the university is “fully committed” to the Tel Aviv program.

“The ‘pledge of non-cooperation’ by SCA – in essence, a boycott – is in conflict with all of this, and, as such, is deplorable,” Hamilton and Berkley wrote. “It seeks to exclude, rather than include. It commits to disengagement, rather than engagement. It targets colleagues because they work in a particular country, in this case, Israel. By ostracizing those associated with NYU Tel Aviv, it not only undermines the principle of the free exchange of ideas, so vital and fundamental to our academic enterprise, it also seems sure to have a chilling effect on the spirit of open inquiry we expect faculty to foster in the classroom. Followed to its conclusion, this kind of ostracism could cause wholesale disruption of our academic community — the free exchange of ideas will mean little if groups refuse to engage one another.”

They concluded the letter by asking the department “to reconsider this regrettable vote.”

Adela Cojab, the student leading a legal complaint against NYU over giving an award to NYU Students for Justice in Palestine, told the Journal in a Facebook post, “It’s great to see the NYU Administrators and Trustees stand so strongly against SCA’s boycott and especially appreciate their recognition of the effect it has the classroom— perhaps the first time NYU formally acknowledges depleted student experience at the hands of anti-normalcy.”

Judea Pearl, chancellor professor of computer science at UCLA, National Academy of Sciences member, Daniel Pearl Foundation president and NYU alumnus, tweeted:

American Contributions to Israeli Independence Depicted in ‘Eyewitness 1948’

Eyewitness Logo from Website.

Coinciding with Jewish American Heritage Month and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), the Ruderman Family Foundation announced May 8 they are releasing never-before-seen archival footage that shares the stories of the American Jews who helped establish the State of Israel.

Partnering with Toldot Yisrael, they are making the material publicly accessible and user-friendly for the first time.

“Eyewitness 1948: The American Contribution” — a film series produced in partnership with Toldot Yisrael — focuses on the efforts of Americans in the period leading up to the modern State of Israel’s establishment. The film shares insight on World War II veterans who fought in Israel’s war of independence; volunteers who smuggled weapons, machine parts, and uniforms overseas; businessmen who raised funds to help bring Holocaust refugees to British Palestine; and doctors, nurses, journalists, students, and others who were eyewitnesses to Israel’s establishment.

“The individual stories of these American Jews combine to make an unparalleled collective impact,” Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said in a statement. “The ‘Eyewitness 1948’ film brings to life inspirational stories of solidarity, peoplehood and shared destiny that deserves a broad audience in the American Jewish, Israeli, and other communities.”

The Ruderman Family Foundation — which works to educate Israelis about the American Jewish community and its relationship with Israel — is releasing these films during the annual Jewish American Heritage Month in order to showcase a little-known aspect of 20th century Jewish history that links the U.S. and Israel together.

“We want to convey the message that the State of Israel is a collective enterprise of Jews around the world,” Eric Halivni, Director of Toldot Yisrael, said in a statement. “These short films will help educate Israelis about the unique contribution that American Jews made to Israel’s founding and give American Jews a sense of pride that this is their story, too.”

For more information on “Eyewitness 1948” click here

Emory Investigation Concludes Mock Eviction Notices Weren’t Anti-Semitic

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Emory University’s Senate Standing Committee on Open Expression concluded in an April 15 report that Emory Students for Justice in Palestine’s (ESJP) mock eviction notices were not anti-Semitic.

The notices, which found in Emory residence halls April 2, told residents that their suites were “scheduled for demolition in three days.” They went onto say that these types of notices “are routinely given to Palestinian families living under Israeli occupation for no other reason than their ethnicity.”

As Scholars for Middle East executive director Asaf Romirowsky and board members Lauri Regan noted in a May 3 Jerusalem Post Op-ed, the committee’s report stated, “We do not know whether the motives of those who wrote or distributed the flyers were anti-Semitic; clearly, different readers’ perceptions differ on this point. In any event, it is the objective content of the flyers that matters, not the speakers’ or distributors’ subjective motives.”

While the notices claimed that Israel is attempting to “ethnically cleanse the region of its Arab inhabitants,” the committee believed that this was simply “an expression of disagreement with the actions of a government.” The committee went onto say that the flyers do not fall under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism because “it is not clear that the flyer uses such double standards” against Israel, adding that “in any event, we cannot police these sorts of factors.”

Additionally, while the committee determined that the notices violated university policy for being posted on residents’ doors, freedom of speech protects the notices themselves. Therefore, ESJP should not be disciplined, the committee concluded.

“Those who disrupt the pro-Israel activities seek to justify their actions with claims that Zionism is racism or ‘settler colonialism.’ The organizers of the pro-Israel activities, for their part, often view these acts as grounded in anti-Semitic motivations,” the committee’s report stated. “But our [university] policy protects both sides in this debate. The content-neutrality that allows ESJP to sharply criticize Israeli government policy is the same content-neutrality that allows Emory’s pro-Israel organizations to sharply criticize the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.”

The committee also stated that there was no evidence to suggest that ESJP targeted Jewish students with the notices.

Romirowsky and Regan criticized the committee’s conclusions.

“Consider Emory’s reaction if a group of Jewish students posted faux flyers from the Islamic Republic of Iran with threats to throw gay students off roofs, something that actually has been done in that and other Islamic nations,” they wrote. “Those students would have been labeled Islamophobes and faced consequences because both homosexual and Muslim students are considered protected groups on campuses. Jews? Not so much, at least apparently not from Emory’s perspective.”

They added that the committee’s verdict that the notices weren’t anti-Semitic in “an emboldened SJP chapter, anti-Semitic flyers approved for posting, and an administration more interested in protecting hate-speech than Jewish students” at Emory.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement to the Journal, “Emory is willfully deaf, dumb, and blind to the fears of Jewish students.  Those ‘eviction notices’ were of course meant to denigrate and intimidate.  Had Emory bothered to ask the Israeli consul general in Atlanta they could have learned that the mock notices presented falsehoods as fact. Palestinians facing eviction often connected to terrorist activity all have and often use the rights to challenge in Israeli courts. And how convenient they didn’t (have to) refer to the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, they wouldn’t have had the chutzpah to decide for Jews what is anti-Semitic and what isn’t. Further proof we need legislation so that the US Department of Education can protect Jewish students from harassment. Clearly Emory won’t.”

Rena Nasar, managing director of Campus Affairs at StandWithUs, similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “SJP’s flyers were antisemitic in their slanderous and dehumanizing portrayal of the Jewish state. Furthermore, the flyers attempt to smear Jews as racist simply for exercising their inalienable rights to self-determination. The Emory committee failed to address these problems at all and as such, their judgement about what is or is not antisemitic has no credibility.”

A university spokesperson did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

A Time for Mourning, Reflection, Celebration, and Gratitude

The following was adapted from a speech given at Aish San Diego at a service following the end of Yom Hazikaron

We are at the beginning of a most unusual transition – that to my knowledge is the only one of its kind in the world – a national and intentional move from sorrow to jubilation – due to the pairing of Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) with Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).

Israel has two major memorial days: Yom Hazikaron (the Remembrance Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism) and Yom HaShoah Vehagevurah (Israel’s Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Day). Yom Hazikaron is a reminder of the cost we pay, and sadly continue to pay, in order to have a Jewish State; while Yom HaShoah is a reminder of the cost of not having a Jewish State.

One of the most unique features of Yom HaShoah and Yom Hazikaron is the siren that sounds across the entire State of Israel at 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. (respectively); bringing the entire country to a complete halt. If you haven’t been in Israel to witness the sounding of these sirens, I highly recommend you make travel plans to do so. It is one of the most moving things you can experience.

Across the country, people stop what they are doing and stand at attention for the two minutes that the siren blares. Tel Aviv’s crazy traffic (think NYC traffic on steroids) stops in the streets, even on the highways; and drivers and passengers alike step out of their cars to stand at attention. As Israelis say, from Metula in north to Eilat in the south, the country stops in its tracks to mourn and honor the fallen as one.

Remarkably and exceptionally, less than 8 hours after the sounding of the Yom Hazikaron siren, the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations begin. After 24 hours of grief and remembrance, of watching heart-wrenching news story after news story, featuring the many brave soldiers who sacrificed everything, of crying for the numerous young men and women taken from our small nation way too early, Israelis celebrate their independence madly, wildly, passionately, and gratefully.

It is this thankfulness that I want to discuss today. During our Maariv service for Yom Ha’atzmaut, we will shortly be reciting prayers of Hoda’a (of gratitude). And as Jews – blessed to be alive in 2019 – we have much to be grateful for when it comes to the existence of the modern state of Israel.

Most of us have no memories of a time when Israel didn’t exist. A significant number of us also have no living memory of a time when Israel last fought (in 1973) an existential war. As a result, it is only natural that many of us take Israel as well as its existence for granted.

The existence of Israel, of a Jewish state, which we all know (in an age of growing antisemitism) is the safe haven, the proverbial “escape hatch” for all Jews worldwide, is as much a part of our reality, of our everyday lives, as the cup of coffee most of us have in the morning.

But the Yom HaShoah and Yom Hazikaron sirens, which stop everyone in their tracks in Israel are there to remind us that this reality is nothing short of a miracle, that while it may be our “normal;” in the history of the Jewish people, it is very plainly a “new normal.” A “normal,” which we should never take for granted and that we should understand is not only necessary to prevent future Shoah’s, but was also hard-earned with the blood and sacrifice of heroes.

And that is why Israel’s founders wanted to have Yom Ha’atzmaut immediately follow Yom Hazikaron. So all of us, before we turn to the joy and jubilation of celebrating having a safe haven as well as sovereignty and freedom in our indigenous, historical and religious homeland, pay homage to those who sacrificed and lost so much in order for us Jews to have our miracle of state, after nearly 2000 years of dreaming, longing, and praying for it.

As David Ben Gurion famously said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

And a miracle Israel truly is. And as our tradition, and the “Al Hanisim” prayer teaches us – we should always be thankful for miracles.

On the eve of this past Passover, Bibi Neyanyahu sent out a message via social media where he said: Citizens of Israel, Jewish brothers and sisters around the world, each year on Seder night, I am deeply moved,  … Passover touches upon the roots of our national identity. Thousands of years ago we raised the banner of freedom and liberty. We went from slavery to freedom, from subjugation to independence. We began our long journey from Egypt to our home — Zion and Jerusalem.”

The incredible story of our people has no parallel,” Bibi continued. “Even in bitter exile, under unbearable conditions, we maintained our unique identity. We did not surrender. We kept our faith. Generation after generation, we read in the Haggadah, ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’ We held on to our hope. And that hope, my friends, became reality.” Netanyahu went on to say that “Israel is systematically and persistently becoming a global power.”

After 2000 years of exile, after 2000 years of persecution, and out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the worst attempted genocide in modern history, the Jewish people have their own state. And what a state it is …

Over the last 35 years, Israel has experienced dramatic – almost miraculous – certainly unprecedented and unexpected – improvements in its economy. The inflation rate declined from 447% to 1.5%. Thanks to the growing economy, defense expenditures as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) went down from 20% to 5.8% (2016), higher than the U.S. military expenditure of 3.8%, but still a vast improvement. Exports in 1984 were $10 billion and in 2018 they exceeded $110 billion. And while per capita income in 1984 was $7000, in 2018 it was nearly $42,000, surpassing many European countries, and almost exactly the same as our former colonial master, England. Women in Israel’s labor force were 30% in 1984; that number now stands at almost 60%. And while the GDP in the U.S. (2017) grew by 2.3%, in the U.K by 1.8%, and Italy by 1.5%, Israel’s GDP growth was 3.3%; and it has grown at that pace for most of the past decade.  

And Israel is not just an economic success story. After all, money is not everything. Israel is #1 in the world in the number of museums per person. It has over 200 museums, and counting. Israel leads the world in the recycling of waste water (close to 90%) while in second place, Spain is only 20%. Israel leads the world in the number of people employed in research and development; and in a related stat, Israel is the second most educated nation in the world following Canada, above Japan. And Israel, with barely 9,000,000 citizens has 2 universities in the top 100 in the world, comparing incredibly well with countries over 10 times its size, like Germany and Japan, which each have 4 universities in the top 100. And Israelis, despite all of the trials and tribulations, and the incredibly rough neighborhood they live in, are happy. Recent surveys and studies regularly rank Israelis as the 10th happiest people in the world.   

And Israelis have reason to be happy. And proud. Again, despite the trials and tribulations, the enemies who regularly threaten and attack Israel (as we just saw this past weekend when Hamas indiscriminately fired nearly 700 rockets and missiles at Israel in under 36 hours), the British Economist survey on the best places in the world to be born and live placed Israel as 20th, ahead of countries such as the U.K., France, Italy, and Japan.  

In 2018, Bloomberg ranked Israel’s health system as the sixth best in the world, ahead of the U.S. and many European states. At 84.4, the life expectancy for Israelis is the 7th best in the world, and Israel is generally considered the 10th healthiest country in the world. And U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Israel as the overall 8th most powerful country in the world behind only the 5 UN Security Council countries, Germany and Japan. Think about that … 75 years after the Holocaust; 71 years after the nascent Jewish state with only 600,000 citizens and an army made up of many Holocaust survivors fought off 7 Arab armies in order to achieve the independence we are celebrating tonight, Israel is ranked as the 8th most powerful country in the world.

71 years since the Jewish people reconstituted our state in our indigenous homeland, Israel is already the 10th oldest uninterrupted democracy in the world. Israel is a country where army generals don’t plan coups and revolutions, but they do often run in elections as leftists and centrists. That is, in and of itself, something to be proud of and not take for granted. After all, very few of Israel’s original 600,000 citizens or early immigrants who came to the country fleeing persecution or ethnic cleansing from either Europe or Arab controlled lands, came from countries that had any experience with democratic rule.

But while all of these rankings and statistics are important and impressive, they are not what truly captures for me the miracle of Israel. The reason, those of us who have been blessed to be alive at this time, have so much to be thankful for, so much to be celebrate.

What really moves me is the everyday miracles, the extraordinary becoming the normal, the utterly impossible and amazing, becoming routine and for many, even mundane.

In 1896, when Herzl published “The Jewish State,” most people thought the very idea of Jewish state was not just improbable, but impossible. They also thought that the idea of Jewish nation-state where our people’s mother tongue would be Hebrew once again, was pure folly.

So every time I am in Israel, I am amazed by the little things, and I promise myself I will not take them for granted. Hearing a toddler speaking Hebrew; listening to commercials in Hebrew selling everything from mortgage loans to bubble gum; a Star of David on a 747 passenger jet; everyone from my taxi driver to the radio broadcasters on Friday saying “Shabbat Shalom;” or practically the entire country shutting down on Yom Kippur.   

To be amazed by, and thankful for Israel: I don’t need Israel to be a technological leader; to be the “start-up nation.” I don’t need it to have the most per-capita Nobel Prize winners in the world; I don’t need it to produce incredible TV shows like Shtisel, Fauda, or Kfulim (False Flag). Or to have one of the most amazing restaurant scenes in the world.  All of that is a bonus. 

Nevertheless, and despite all of Israel’s incredible accomplishments; despite it representing the first successful movement of an indigenous people to regain their sovereignty in their land, as we know all too well, and memorialize on Yom Hazikaron, there are still many in the world who find the existence of Israel as offensive as they previously found the existence of Jews. There are still those who continue to attack us and who seek to return us to being weak, defenseless and wandering people without a national home. A people whose plight can once again be ignored by the nations of the world, as the dictators and tyrants seek our annihilation.

And as a country surrounded by enemies, by some of the worst dictatorships and terrorist groups on the planet, it would not be far-fetched to assume that Israel and Israelis would retreat into their own shell whenever possible. To save their energies for “fighting their own battles” as it were.

But Israelis do not do that. Not even close. So, in addition to appreciating and being so thankful for the “mundane” or the “normal” of having a Jewish state after 2000 years of exile, oppression and persecution; and for the realization of 2 millennia of dreaming and praying for that state, for “next year in Jerusalem;” I am also thankful for how incredibly moral and good that state is. How charitable it is.

Israel always offers a helping hand. Whether it is in response to tragedies in Haiti, Japan, Nepal, Mexico, or the Philippines; Israelis are there, saving lives and rescuing people. Israeli charities are also all over the world. Providing clean water resources where once thought impossible. Helping farmers in 3rd world countries discover the miracle of Israeli farming and irrigation techniques that drained swamps and made the desert bloom.   

And Israel’s charity and helping hand is not limited to Israel’s friends. During the Syrian civil war, Israeli soldiers regularly brought Syrian victims to Israeli hospitals, frequently provided life-saving and life changing care to thousands of Syrians. Israel’s “Save A Child’s Heart” also often saves the lives of children from countries that not only do not have relations with Israel, but are also avowed enemies of Israel.

In the early 1700’s, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, authored what many consider to be one of the premier works on Jewish ethics, called “The Path of the Righteous,” which expounds on how – according to the Talmud – one can achieve righteousness. Per Rabbi Luzzatto, there are three main categories of charity: giving of one’s wealth, giving of oneself physically, and giving of one’s wisdom.

As we see, by sending its soldiers, doctors, and field hospitals all over the world in times of crisis, by sharing its water innovations, agricultural techniques, and solar power technology with 3rd world farmers, and by providing life-saving heart surgery to children from all over the world; and without regard for whether they come from nations that are friend or foe, Israel excels in all 3 categories of charity.

Something every Jew, every member of Am Yisrael, can and should be incredibly proud of.


Recently, Michel Bacos, the Air France pilot who stood shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish hostages at Entebbe, died. At his funeral, the Hatikva was played at his request. Thinking about his bravery and solidarity led me to re-watch Operation Thunderbolt, the movie about the incredible rescue of the Jewish hostages led by Bibi Netanyahu’s amazing brother, Yoni Netanyahu. And that got me to reading some of Yoni’s amazing letters (as documented in the book by Herman Wouk, “The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu”).

While most of Yoni’s letters are deeply inspiring, and I commend the book to all of you, one passage, which he wrote on March 17, 1969, stood out to me as I thought about this Yom Ha’atzmaut and how thankful we should be, as members of Am Yisrael at a time when the State of Israel is celebrating its 71st independence day. What Yoni wrote was:

“On me, on us rests the duty of keeping our country safe.  …we are united by something that is above and beyond political outlook. What unites us produces a feeling of brotherhood, of mutual responsibility, a recognition of the value of man and his life, a strong and sincere desire for peace, a readiness to stand in the breach, and much more. I believe in myself, my country, my family and my future. This is a special people, and it’s good to belong to it.”   

Yoni Netanyahu, like so many of the brave and incredible soldiers of the IDF, understood how special it is to be alive at a time when there is once again a Jewish state, and a Jewish army, to defend the Jewish people. To be a safe haven for us, a country that will – as it did on July 4, 1976 – send its best, brightest and bravest over 2000 miles to rescue Jews who were about to be massacred by terrorists.

Like Yoni so eloquently identified  at the tender age of 23, those of us who are blessed to live at a time that our ancestors could have only dreamt of, have a duty to be more than just thankful (though that it is certainly a start). Just like the brave Air France pilot who stood shoulder to shoulder with all of his passengers, we Jews – who have so much to be thankful for as we celebrate Israel’s independence – owe our brothers and sisters in Israel a commitment to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. To support them. As Yoni wrote, to demonstrate a “readiness to stand in the breach” for them, for Israel.

To be active in Synagogues, which like our Shul (B’H) support Israel and demonstrate Ahavat Yisrael in both word and deed. To support organizations that do the same, like StandWithUs, FIDF, and AIPAC. To never shy from stating our opinion, and by standing up for Israel and against antisemitism in the court of public opinion.

Anyone who knows Jewish history knows how special it is that after 2000 years we are no longer homeless wanderers; and that today we have a Jewish army flying a Star of David, ready to defend us, as well as a sovereign and free state in our homeland ready to welcome us as brothers and sisters.

That is something to be incredibly thankful for, and it is something worth fighting for. Chag Sameach.

Former Miss Israel’s Exhibition on Pre-Israeli State Jewish Communities

Photo by URI Karin

Before 1948, Jews lived all over the Middle East and North Africa, practicing their religion with pride but facing persecution and intermittent pogroms. Growing up in Israel, Dana Avrish, a third-generation descendant of Iranian, Lebanese and Syrian Jews, heard many stories from her family, including how Israel’s creation in 1948 spurred the expulsion of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab lands and Iran. They were granted one suitcase to carry their belongings. Their exit papers were stamped with warnings not to return. 

“Leaving Never to Return” — a nod to the exit paper stamps — is Avrich’s exhibition currently on display at Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum and dedicated to the stories of those communities. Avrish, a former Miss Israel, opened the exhibition in February and has filled it with newspaper clippings, photos, documents and other artifacts that breathe new life into a forgotten past. The exhibit describes Jewish life in places where it’s practically nonexistent today. It highlights the communities of 10 countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, LibyaEgyptYemen, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The Journal caught up with Avrish to discuss her exhaustive research efforts, reactions she’s getting from museum visitors and her plans to take the exhibit global. 

Jewish Journal: Why is this exhibition so important to you? 

Dana Avrish: Growing up, I heard a lot of stories from my father. I knew people ran away from different countries, ran for their lives, but it never occurred to me to investigate what really happened. I believe it’s a history that’s missing from the educational system throughout the world. Nobody is talking about the fact that almost 1 million Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran were tossed out of their homelands. I wanted to have justice brought into this.

Suitcases, installation; Creator: Dana Avrish Photo by Uri Karin

JJ: How did the exhibition initially take shape? 

DA: While doing my master’s degree at Tel Aviv University in diplomacy and international relations, I took a few courses about the media’s leaving this out of history. I started to investigate it. I knew I must do something and do outreach on this subject to get it out to as many people as possible and focus on telling these stories. 

JJ: How did you obtain all the artifacts for the exhibition? 

DA: It started with a lot of research by myself. I was asking for the support of the Ministry of Culture and I explained the conceptual idea. I received their support once I convinced them of the importance of the project. Then there were the different archives in Israel. I was in contact [also] with people in Paris, Tunisia and elsewhere. I started to search for objects that [would] tell a story. 

JJ: How long did your research take?

DA: It took me around three years: finding photos, testimonials and all the other objects you see.  

JJ: How did creating the exhibit connect you with your own background? 

DA: My mother is Persian and my father’s family is from Lebanon and Syria. It was an amazing experience for me. It took me inside the world of my ancestors. I got very emotional. I came to understand there were really so many stories that I need to tell people about. I started to talk more with my uncles, and they told me lots of stories in more detail. In the exhibition, I tell the story of my grandmother in Lebanon. 

Chess set, Cairo, Egypt, 1969: Wood, inlaid mother-of-pearl, carved ivory; Courtesy of Ovadia Yeroushalmy Photo by Hadar Saifan

JJ: The exhibition also has information about day-to-day persecution, pogroms and violent riots against Jewish communities. But there’s also a lot that depicts Jewry in these places as thriving and living cosmopolitan lives. Why was that duality important to you? 

DA: It was so important to show not just one side. There’s never only one side. If you want to change history, you can say everything was amazing, but for me it was important to show both sides. I wanted to give people the ability to see the whole picture. 

JJ: Many people group the Mizrahim together. Does that bother you? 

DA: When the State of Israel was born as a new nation, the idea was to make them all Sabras — Israelis. But, in many ways, that was to erase the pasts of many. People were changing names, even. The attitude toward so many of them was miserable. This is more than half of the population in Israel now. It’s a huge community, and to not recognize their origins, their rituals, their stories and their backgrounds is wrong. 

JJ: It’s cool to see the differences of each community. 

DA: It’s amazing how different they all are. The differentiation is a beautiful thing. This is my aim, to empower these communities and the people inside them. You need to be proud if you or your family are from Iraq, Algeria, Egypt or Libya. In the exhibition, I hope I’m really lighting the beauty of each community. 

JJ: You’ve had guests view the exhibition who are actually in the photos. What’s that like for you to see? 

DA: They are crying. They are so moved. They are thanking me. I have letters from them and emails. They are writing in the guest book: “Thank you so much — you don’t believe what you’re doing for us, our mother, our grandmother.” On the opening day, 700 people were there. People were hugging. It’s really unbelievable to see it. One person told me I brought a small piece of home back to their daily life. 

Kamancheh, musical instrument, Iran, 20th century; Walnut or mulberry wood coated in sheepskin, metal strings; Courtesy of Menashe Sasson; Photo by Hadar Saifan

JJ: Where is the exhibition off to next? 

DA: I’m really working on having this become a permanent exhibit here in Israel. But for sure it needs to be in Jewish museums around the world. It needs to be in Brazil, in Argentina, in the United States. It needs to be in New York, in Los Angeles, in San Francisco. It’s a chapter in history that vanished. We need to correct the historical injustice. I’m trying to do it now. I’m doing it. I hope people will hop on the train.  

 “Leaving Never to Return” is on display at Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum through July 31. 

Daring to Believe: Grilled Kebab and Laffa Recipe for Yom Ha’atzmaut

It is a supreme irony that I’m writing recipes for Israeli Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut) for American readers, safe in my house overlooking majestic Lake Victoria in Uganda, while my homeland, Israel, has been bombarded by rockets over the past weekend. Four Israelis were killed and dozens injured in attacks by militant terrorist groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which have launched more than 600 rockets and mortar shells. It was reported that 240 of these projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, but many fired from Gaza landed within Gaza, killing more than 20 Palestinians and injuring countless others. 

The government closed schools in most of Israel’s southern cities on May 5 and the situation is considered code red (emergency), with sirens blaring to warn of incoming rockets, traumatizing residents. Although most of my friends and family reside in Tel Aviv and its suburbs, Israelis in the south aren’t the only ones worried. Rockets fired in March landed only two streets from my best friend’s house. It demolished their neighbors’ villa, injuring all seven members. Although the house, a bit north of Tel Aviv, was struck by an unusually long-range missile, the event left my friend’s two young daughters traumatized and their parents shaken; a harsh reminder of the reality Israelis contend with.

While thousands of visitors enjoy Tel Aviv’s beaches in the run-up to the Eurovision Song Contest (planned for the past year), it’s a testament to the Israeli spirit that most of the revelers interviewed on Israeli television who are partying, eating in restaurants and enjoying the nightlife, feel safe. And this isn’t only because Israelis are inured to acts of terror, but because at the end of the day, they have no choice. They know what they need to do — they have a call list and a plan of action, bomb shelters in their basements and schools, and frequent drills. They’re alerted by Israeli telecoms with notifications of emergency code levels and instructions. 

It’s May 5 in Uganda as I write this and I’m in the same time zone as my family in Israel. No one knows if there will be a cease-fire in the run-up to Yom Ha’atzmaut. No one knows if there will be more rockets launched or how deep into Israel they will strike, and no one knows if the next text message they get from their son or nephew will be to tell them that their unit has been moved to the front lines of this conflict. Nor do they know if their husbands or sons will be called up for reserve duty (mandatory up to age 45 for males.) What they know, and what I know, is that the show must go on. In Israel, people don’t plan their daily movements around terror. If they did, they might find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and be tempted to keep their children home from school every day.

I’ll be celebrating the holiday with other Israelis in Uganda at an event thrown by our consulate, and I’ll be nudging the universe with positive vibes by serving these kebabs at the American Embassy where I work. But at this juncture, I don’t know if I should be writing a recipe for the Bulgarian Beef and Lamb Kebabs my family eats for the Yom Ha’atzmaut festivities or handing over a recipe for charcoal-grilled rockets, as one of my cousins suggested (morbid Israeli humor), “one part metal, one part explosives, onion, salt and pepper to taste — yummy.” 

But after talking to a few of my favorite Israelis on the phone over the past few days, I bet that every backyard, beach and restaurant in the country will be full of families enjoying a traditional “al ha esh” (BBQ) session. Blame it on that crazy Israeli confidence or audacious optimism but in order to move forward every day, I, like most Israelis, need to believe that’s a pretty safe bet.


1 3/4 pounds minced beef (20% fat, 80% meat)
1/4 pound minced lamb (you can use all beef, if you prefer)
2 slices of crustless bread, soaked in water until mushy (optional if gluten free)
1 egg
2 medium white onions, finely chopped or grated
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika (sweet or hot)
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional, but aids in caramelization)

Mix all ingredients well. The most efficient way I’ve found to do this is to put all ingredients in a Ziploc bag with all the air removed and then throw it onto a countertop a few times until they are combined.

Refrigerate overnight (or at least 1 hour.) When ready to cook, cut a corner of the plastic bag and squeeze out 2-inch-long sausage-shaped kebabs and lay on a plate or baking sheet.

Grill over charcoal for best flavor but these can be cooked in a pan or even under the broiler. Turn kebabs every few minutes until a deep, brown color on all sides and cooked through. This should take about 6 minutes per batch depending on how hot the grill is.

Serve with Israeli salad, lettuce, pickles, pita or laffa bread (recipe below) hummus and tahini.

Makes about 30 kebabs.


7 cups all-purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups warm water

Combine dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add oil and water and mix with a dough hook attachment until dough is soft, smooth and elastic, about 12 minutes.

Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and then a tea towel. Place in a warm draft-free corner or in a microwave that’s not in use. Let dough rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size. 

Divide the dough into 12 equal-sized balls and roll on counter until smooth. Place on an oiled baking tray and cover with a damp tea towel for about 20 minutes. 

Heat a flat pan or griddle on medium heat (a cast iron pan works well for this.)

On an oiled wooden cutting board, flatten dough balls with your hands (or use a rolling pin) until they are a 12-inch circle. Place on hot surface of pan. When edges look dry and bread begins expanding, turn over and cook on the other side. This usually takes about 2 minutes per side. Immediately place laffa in a basket or on a plate and cover with clean kitchen towels to keep warm. Continue with remaining dough balls.

Makes 12 laffas.

Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co. 

The Real Meaning of Yom Ha’atzmaut

Last year, I was in Atlanta on a book tour shortly before Yom Ha’atzmaut — Israel Independence Day. I challenged the audience’s hearts and heads. I urged my listeners to make Israel’s 70th anniversary memorable for their kids and grandkids by serving ice cream for breakfast that day and every Independence Day thereafter. Some donors involved with Atlanta Jewish Academy made it happen just days later, bringing the sweetness of the holiday alive with fudge pops and other goodies.

A rabbi later heard me tell this story and accused me of treating Israel superficially. I found this assertion ironic, given my central intellectual and spiritual mission since last April, which has triggered Zionist salons worldwide: I am inviting Jews to host other Jews to talk about Zionism, Israel, Jewish identity and life itself, as part of a broader project of reading Zionist texts as keys to understanding the real meaning of Israel — and Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Some authors are megalomaniacs, hoping to change the world. I set out a year ago with a more modest goal for my latest book, “The Zionist Ideas.” I said that if we can celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary throughout the year with 70 Zionist salons taking place worldwide, I would declare my book a success. So, yes, I too hoped to change the world, one conversation at a time.

I am proud to say I exceeded my goal.

Over the past year, I have run at least 140 Zionist salons in 32 cities in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Israel. I have been in elegant townhouses and grotty Hillel dining halls; in a Memphis convention hall; Los Angeles’ Museum of Tolerance; and a sukkah by the Tel Aviv beach. I have addressed groups of rabbis, community leaders, Zionist activists, Jewish chaplains, educators, students, parents and funders. I have spoken to old Jews and young Jews, left-wingers and right-wingers, religious Zionists and Zionist atheists, enthusiasts and skeptics, Diaspora Jews and Israelis. I have had intense conversations with half a dozen undergraduate activists around a table and with 1,100 Zionists in one of those temporary tents holding mega-events.

Through all these conversations, I have come to two contradictory conclusions worth contemplating as we celebrate Israel’s 71st birthday: There’s much more goodwill toward Israel and Zionism than the headlines suggest — but the communal and environmental obstacles to tapping into that goodwill are growing, not receding. Sadly, frustratingly, the conclusion I drew about Zionism in my first Jewish-related book, “Why I Am a Zionist,” still holds true: A century ago, Zionism brought pride back to the word “Jew”; today, Jews must bring pride back to the word “Zionist.”

So, yes, our kids, our friends and we should eat ice cream for breakfast on Yom Ha’atzmaut to experience the sweetness of Israel and make the celebration memorable. You can eat the sweets on the Gregorian calendar date of May 14, too. And this year, add a special prayer for the four new victims of Palestinian rocket attacks: Moshe Agadi, 58; Ziad al-Hamamda, 47; Moshe Feder, 67; and Pinchas Menachem Prezuazman, 21. Reach out to their loved ones or the 234 injured with cards, letters or donations. However, we also should feed our minds and fuel our souls with thoughtful texts and passionate discussions focusing on Israel’s great accomplishments and ongoing challenges to make the day meaningful.

I have come to two contradictory conclusions worth contemplating as we celebrate Israel’s 71st birthday: There’s much more goodwill toward Israel and Zionism than the headlines suggest — but the communal and environmental obstacles to tapping into that goodwill are growing, not receding.

BDS and BDS Obsessions

This approach may be doubly unfashionable because it’s not dealing with the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement or how BDS may strike some people as BDS without the “D.” From the right, it seems that all Zionist and Israel-oriented conversations lead to the big question of how to fight BDS, which some of us call “blacklist, demonization and slander.” We are supposed to be perennially defensive, woe-is-me Zionists — hurt by and obsessed with the ongoing systematic campaign to delegitimize Israel. My right-wing friends don’t realize that making every conversation about Israel be about the conflict and the crisis gives many Palestinians a propaganda victory they don’t deserve. We have spent too many years dancing to their war drum — in Israel and worldwide.

I get it. I have been defending Israel against Bash-Israel-Firsters for decades. But even if our enemies won’t stop attacking us on Yom Ha’atzmaut, I insist on ignoring them that day — and for as many days of the year as I can. Theodor Herzl understood that Zionism had to be visionary and aspirational, not merely anti-anti-Semitism. Our challenge is to defend ourselves fully but not full time, and to fight for some kind of peace as aggressively, creatively and heroically as we have fought so many wars and mini-wars, ideological and military.

Today, Zionism must be more than anti-anti-Zionism, too. It’s not just the one cliché still giving off whiffs of the Jews’ galut — exilic — mentality: The best defense is a good offense. Zionism brings alive another cliché and idea: Living well is the best revenge, and Herzl’s poetic slogan, “If you will it, it is no dream.”

Theodor Herzl understood that Zionism had to be visionary and aspirational, not merely anti-anti-Semitism.

Don’t Take Israel for Granted Day

Yom Ha’atzmaut is Don’t Take Israel for Granted Day. One personal highlight this year was addressing a group of 100 high school students from NCSY and CHAT — the Orthodox youth movement and the legendary Jewish day school in Toronto, respectively — before the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., in March. I told them about a Birthright organizers’ meeting we held at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. The dean who greeted us mentioned in passing that seven of the 25 top biotech drugs in the world had been developed there: three drugs exclusively at Weizmann and four in partnership with other Israeli universities.

I said, “Did you hear what this guy just said? Israel is a pimple on the skin of the world — that’s how small we are. We like to think it’s a beauty mark, but it’s really, really small. The Weizmann Institute is a pimple on that pimple. And it developed seven of the top 25 biotech drugs in the world! How come you heard that, nodded, and didn’t stand up and sing ‘Hatikvah’ — the Israeli national anthem? What’s wrong with us? When did we start taking all these miracles for granted?”

I reported that I forced all these grizzled tour operators and educators to stand up and sing “Hatikvah.” These wonderful students heard the story and, as one, stood up and sang “Hatikvah.”

The other BDS I can’t shake is “Bibi Derangement Syndrome,” an obsessiveness about Israel’s prime minister that has many once-patriotic Jews seeing Israel only through the prism of Bibi hatred. Echoing America’s do-or-die electoral warfare, they cannot even acknowledge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accomplishments in stabilizing the economy and more or less keeping the peace — which many of us who voted against him nevertheless recognize. And, although most Israelis dismiss Netanyahu’s cynical, transparent election-eve cry to annex the West Bank, it’s become the No. 1 conversation topic regarding Israel among many American Jews — who seem far more agitated by Netanyahu’s blustering than hundreds of rockets bombarding Israel from Gaza.

It’s this BDS mentality that produced that sick cartoon in The New York Times’ International Edition — which failed to set off editorial alarm bells against bigotry — of a big-nosed Jewish dog, “Bibi,” leading around the blind, kippah-wearing President Donald Trump (who obviously was taking a break from his usual job of being anti-Semitic). Even the Times felt forced to apologize — grudgingly, at first, then slightly more sincerely — for its “anti-Semitic tropes.”

It’s frustrating that the same American Jewish liberals who admirably won’t let Trump define America for them allow Netanyahu to color their entire perspective on Israel. The “Trump-portunity” should be teaching us all that you can love a land and hate its leader; but too many American Jews apply that lesson only to their home, not their homeland.

Just as every conversation about the United States isn’t about race or poverty, and every conversation about Canada isn’t about linguistic tensions, not every conversation about Israel should be about the Palestinians.

I don’t fear talking about Netanyahu, BDS or Palestinians or any “hot” issue, but I do resent a growing inability to address any other foundational issues regarding Israel and Zionism — and an assumption I somehow am dodging the “real” questions by not getting stuck on those topics.

From Amygdala Jews to Oxytocin Zionists

The American Jewish left and right are succumbing to parallel diseases regarding Israel. I sometimes call it the I.I.I. — the Israel Indignation Industry. A psychologist might call it anhedonia, an inability to enjoy something pleasurable — in this case, Israel or Zionism. Perhaps you are too angry about it, or too angry at those who are too angry about it. I often have walked away from synagogues, organizations and schools feeling that my most pro-Israel audiences were in trauma, emotionally flatlining over Israel, choosing sadness or frustration when there are so many other emotions to indulge.

After one such interaction, I spent the morning researching this phenomenon, learning these terms, and came across a remarkable anthropological insight. Neurologist Dr. Rick Hanson teaches that “To keep our ancestors alive, Mother Nature evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities).” Warning about this “Velcro” approach to negativity and “Teflon” approach to positivity (nothing good sticks), Hanson concludes, “This is a great way to pass on gene copies, but a lousy way to promote quality of life.”

Many American Jews need to learn from their Israeli brothers and sisters to view Israel with a lighter touch and hope in their hearts. Apply Hanson’s quotation to Diaspora Jewish history: It’s a great way to stay stuck fighting anti-Semitism, but a lousy way to promote Zionism or quality of Jewish life. Thousands of years of suffering made us amygdala Jews — with what Hanson calls “the alarm bell in your brain” constantly triggered. In Israel, they’ve become oxytocin Zionists. Oxytocin is that happy hormone that floods us with positive emotions and helps us bond. Instead of “overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities and underestimating resources,” we need a Zionism that neutralizes threats yet seizes opportunities and taps our creative resources.

Many American Jews need to learn from their Israeli brothers and sisters to view Israel with a lighter touch and hope in their hearts.

When I shared this analysis in a follow-up lecture, one of the synagogue’s stalwarts came up to me, a man in his 70s, with tears in his eyes. He said, “I have always been a proud Jew. I never before realized I am a Zionist, too, but I … am … a … Zionist.”

I was deeply moved — but more deeply depressed. This and hundreds of other interactions had suggested to me that as a Jewish community, we have not made the case effectively for profound, identity-oriented, non-advocacy-oriented, nonpartisan, ideological conversations about Israel. The growing noise from campuses, the media, within the Jewish community and from our own amygdala puts too many obstacles in our path. We start too many conversations about Israel with a hunched back, a furrowed brow and a problem. That’s not how we talk about Israel in Israel.

Four Steps to a New Zionist Conversation

Getting to the true meaning of Yom Ha’atzmaut this month and to Israel year-round requires four steps.

Step 1: Learn about what Zionism is. “The Zionist Ideas” updates Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology of the great Zionist writings, “The Zionist Idea.” Zionism is the movement of Jewish nationalism based on the notion Jews are a people, not just a religion; Jews have ties to a particular homeland, the Land of Israel, which doesn’t preclude others from having ties, as well; and Jews — like the 192 other countries represented in the United Nations today — have the right to establish a state on that land. Today, having established a state, the Zionist movement focuses not just on defending the state but perfecting it.

In 1959, when Hertzberg’s book came out, Israel was fragile; the Zionist conversation was robust. The Jewish people had just talked themselves into a movement and a state! Today, Israel is robust, but the Zionist conversation is fragile. Shame on the delegitimizers, the haters and those who would rob us of our joy. Shame on us, too, who have abdicated, surrendered and abandoned the term because it’s not as popular as the latest Jewish startup or Jewish-produced Hollywood film or Netflix series.

Learning from our African American friends, LGBTQ friends, feminist friends, we should proclaim that we are ready to take back the night, have a Jew-jitsu and turn the negatives into positives.

Step 2: Add an “s” for the 21st century, making the Zionist idea into Zionist Ideas. The “s” should evoke question marks, not exclamation points, according to the teaching of Birthright’s International Vice President of Education, Zohar Raviv. Hertzberg had 34 texts, while “The Zionist Ideas” has 168; Hertzberg ran long manifestos, but “The Zionist Ideas” runs short and punchy for today’s attention spans; Hertzberg had no women and few Mizrahim, yet “The Zionists Ideas” opens the conversation. 

To organize the texts and avoid a Zionist Tower of Babel, I divided the book into three chronological sections: Pioneers, until 1948, the visionaries, including Theodor Herzl, A.D. Gordon, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, HaRav Kook, Rachel the poetess (Rachel Bluwstein) and Henrietta Szold, who conceived of a Jewish state and talked, dreamed, argued and sang it into existence; the Builders until 2000 or so, including David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Elie Wiesel and Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, who made the state the living miracle it is. Seeking a title for the third section, I asked a friend, “Who are we today? We, our kids, our grandkids?” He said, “The Nothings.” I don’t buy it. We’re Somethings. We are the Torchbearers, heirs to an amazing tradition. As in the Olympic torch relay, after inheriting it from others, we have to tend to it. We might even turn to an alternative energy source, but we keep the movement, the initiative, the flame burning, glowing and inspiring us. We pass it to the next generation.

Step 3: Educate and embrace nationalism: A 30-something teacher of Israel and Zionism heard me speak at a conference of Israeli educators and hissed: “Every time you say the word ‘nationalism’ or talk about ‘torchbearers,’ I think of Trump, Charlottesville and Nuremburg.”

I felt this young teacher had been listening censoriously rather than generously, listening to take offense, to hear prejudices confirmed, to reinforce the walls of his fortress of self-righteousness, rather than entering into a fellow educator’s world. How do you teach about Israel, Zionism, America itself, without what’s becoming the new “N-word” — never to be spoken — “nationalism”?

When did nationalism stop being a neutral tool, able to shape Nazism and Stalinist Communism at their ugliest and Zionism and Americanism at their loveliest? No one, not from the left or the right, should own “nationalism.” Love him or hate him, Trump has no right to brand his golden “T” on the word. It’s not prime real estate to be auctioned off; it’s an international treasure all should share.

Nationalism is the phenomenon that gives form and meaning to modern politics by uniting humans in large collectives capable of working together through government — ideally, self-government. Liberal nationalism forges democracy and nationalism to create those Western miracles that include the United States and Israel, forging identity bonds among groups of people who grant the consent of the governed, then try fixing the world with shared ideals. 

Nationalism organizes our world politically, providing a framework for finding meaning and taking action. Jewish nationalism, i.e., Zionism, acknowledges we are not just a religion, but a people with a shared history, consciousness, fate, network, stories and values. As a people, we are wired to experience an oxytocin rush when we bump into one another far away from home; when we bump into the Western Wall; and when we work together to build something beautiful and transcendent in our homeland or through other tribal frameworks.

It’s not a question of right or left, or right or wrong, but of rights and responsibilities in a democratic community. It’s because humans are tribal and need some levels of organization more particular and personal than a broad, all-encompassing, identity-negating “we are the world”-ism.

Being “Z-positive,” up on Zionism and Israel, thrusts us into the heart of today’s biggest, most volatile political debate: Can we resist a hyper-individualism that’s too self-indulgent; a distorted-identity politics that unfairly rejects Israel; and a hyper-nationalism that’s turned brutish? A reinvigorated Zionist conversation not only can help us feel better about Israel and Judaism, it can help offer America and the West a complex, multidimensional way out of this all-or-nothing fight between selfish lost souls at one extreme, illiberal leftists at another extreme, and illiberal nationalists at yet another extreme.

Step 4: Embrace different Zionist types. Within the three chronological sections in Step 2, I organized the material into six schools of Zionist thought per period: Political Zionism, Labor Zionism, Revisionist Zionism, Religious Zionism, Cultural Zionism, and Diaspora or Identity Zionism. Even if people disagree with my categorizations, I say, “Let’s argue it out.” It’s a good day when I get an email or someone stops me on the streets of Jerusalem to question which Zionist thinker I put where or whom I left on the cutting-room floor.

I’m not arrogant enough to call Zionism the answer for everyone; it’s our answer, offering a framework for meaning, community and caring that works for many of us.

Most relevant for us is this sixth category that not only welcomes Jews outside of Israel into the conversation but creates a common language for all modern Jews. In the 19th century, Zionism tackled “the Jewish problem” of assimilation and anti-Semitism. Today’s Jewish problem is anomie, affluenza, and the Western epidemics of loneliness, alienation and loss of meaning. I’m not arrogant enough to call Zionism the answer for everyone; it’s our answer, offering a framework for meaning, community and caring that works for many of us.

Identity Zionism goes in two different directions. It uses Jewish peoplehood and statehood as frameworks for meaning and mission. It also can result in a sense of deeper engagement in our lives and a connection to causes that transcend our stripped-down, selfish universe and may stir Jews worldwide. 

Identity Zionism encourages ideological matchmaking. Just as early pioneers took their most passionate secular commitments, such as to socialism, and fused them with Zionism, we should do the same. We should have a Feminist Zionism, an Eco-Zionism, an Entrepreneurial Startup Zionism, a Gay Zionism and a Mizrahi Zionism, among others.

This approach led to another high-and-lowlight. A Jewish Army chaplain at a seminar exclaimed, “Wow! I never connected the conversation about Zionism to my Americanism.” As flattering as that was, it meant this proud, thoughtful American and proud, thoughtful Jew had never connected the dots, or been invited to connect the dots between Zionism and his identity. In short, he, like most of us, had never really taken Zionism personally.

If Zionism and Israel are merely burdens to defend or antiques to appreciate, we all lose. If they are launching pads for personal and collective exploration and fulfillment, wherein we see who we are and who we can be, we can all win. A robust, inspiring, liberal Jewish nationalism can remind us of what nationalism is and isn’t, what it can be, and isn’t always allowed to be.

In that spirit, I am now hoping others will pick up my torch and run their own Zionist salons, following the guidelines at, which also has synagogues’ and educators’ guides, and at, which has material in Hebrew and English.

Various topics I mapped out reflect the modern Zionist agenda. “A Zionist salon for those wary of attending a Zionist salon” offers basic definitions and clears up assumptions. The second showcases key Zionist one-liners, from right to left, religious and nonreligious, inviting every participant to pull one quotation provided randomly and either agree, civilly disagree or simply learn about Zionism and life from a great Zionist. The third ponders what Zionism means in the 21st century.

“Will the real Zionist please stand up?” compares sabras born into Israel and into army service with immigrants who chose to move to Israel, framing a conversation about choice, sacrifice, commitment and belonging. “The shadow of anti-Semitism vs. the opportunity of statehood” asks whether Zionism is and should be defensive and reactive or proactive and visionary.

Beyond the general Zionist conversation, there are salons for Feminist Zionists, Religious Zionists, Identity Zionists in general and Progressive Zionists with the theme that, borrowing from Ameinu’s manifesto, “Progressive Zionism is not an oxymoron.” One salon explores Zionism’s Jewish and democratic roots, while “A Zionist salon on the Jewish people” asks, “How do we get along globally? How can we improve Israel-Diaspora relations?”

The co-stars of these conversations are dozens of amazing Zionist thinkers, dead and alive, male and female, Ashkenazic and Mizrahi, Diaspora-born and sabras, left and right, religious and nonreligious. They address deep, enduring questions about tradition and change, universalism and particularism, idealism and pragmatism, being exceptional and being normal. Reading a great Zionist text simultaneously catapults you on two flight plans: soaring into the world of Jews, Judaism and peoplehood, along with the world of people, nationhood and globalism.

But the real stars will be the Jewish people, should they choose to host one, run one or simply attend a Zionist salon to help redefine the conversation about “What Zionism means to me” and to us today.

Hertzberg’s book gathered texts demonstrating how Jews debating and arguing, often on the margins, bubbled over and created a movement and a state. I gathered enough wonderful texts to have a Zionist salon for non-Jews, as well — or for Jews and non-Jews to have a dialogue pushing beyond overlapping advocacy agendas to address shared challenges and articulate shared values.

Looking ahead, we need to translate the book into Hebrew with approximately 70 percent of the texts unchanged to build a common global Jewish conversation, and 30 percent new, reflecting the Israeli accent one needs to bring a desperately needed conversation about Zionism in the Jewish state to the Jewish state. I have run at least half a dozen such conversations in Hebrew and been struck by how thirsty young Israelis in particular are for a more idealistic, ideological and values-oriented Zionist framing that explains this wonderful but challenging country of ours. Before settling on new texts, wouldn’t it be great to host a grass-roots conference with some Zionist heavyweights — but with every member of the audience attending invited to bring a favorite Zionist text, to nominate one voice to add to the Hebrew edition?

This initiative — and the broader vision of spreading Zionist salons globally — requires an institutional partner to spread the word. I hit my 70, doubled it, and am raring to continue. As a community, can we aim for 700? Seven thousand? As with building the state itself and renewing the Jewish people, when it comes to rebuilding the Zionist conversation and renewing an identity-based discourse, Herzl was right: “If you will it, it is no dream.” But Zionism was never a solo act. I cannot do it alone. As Arik Einstein sang, “You and I can defy the skeptics. You and I can and will change the world,” and that is how to bring deeper meaning to this Yom Ha’atzmaut — and to our lives.

Gil Troy, a distinguished scholar of North American History at McGill University, is the author of “The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland — Then, Now, Tomorrow,” published by The Jewish Publication Society.

Surrendering to (the Reality of) Hamas

Israelis take cover as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets from Gaza. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

It is quite annoying to have to declare Hamas the winner in a round of violence. And yet, at least to a certain degree, Hamas is a winner. This week, Israel celebrates its 71st anniversary, and again, instead of talking about Israel’s achievements, one must talk about Gaza and Hamas.

Four Israelis were killed in the first half of this celebratory week, hit by rocket fire from Gaza last weekend. These casualties, and the more than 600 rockets and mortar shells launched from Gaza, make this brief eruption of violence the deadliest for Israel since the 2014 Protective Edge operation.

As is Israel’s habit in recent years, the response to rocket fire was bombing and destroying several locations in the Gaza Strip. But as the number of Palestinian fatalities testifies (fewer than 30), Israel was careful to harm as few civilians as possible and not too many Hamas operatives. Had it not, thousands would have been killed or maimed. Had it not, escalation would have followed, with more bloodshed.

Why does Israel act with such caution in Gaza? Why does Israel restrain itself when Hamas (or Islamic Jihad) opens fire? One reason is moral: Israel has no desire to see mass Palestinian casualties. But of course, this doesn’t fully explain the restrained response. Sometimes it’s necessary to respond harshly. To get to such a point, one of two thresholds must be crossed. The first is a threshold of violence that Israel can no longer tolerate. The second is a threshold of reasoning, namely, for Israel to have a plan that would make a harsh response more effective than a mild response. 

Repeatedly over the past five years, Israel has chosen restraint over brute force when rockets fall on Israeli towns. Time and again, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted a supposedly intolerable situation and refrained from ordering a harsh response. This comes with a certain political price: Netanyahu is criticized from the right for being too weak and is criticized from the left for having no long-term plan to improve the situation in Gaza.

“Netanyahu isn’t pleased with the recurring eruptions around Gaza. But he also doesn’t wish to make a bad situation worse — or see more people killed and gain nothing from it.”

He currently ignores such criticism. Having just won reelection, he probably believes he has enough political capital to make unpopular or difficult decisions. Thus, his goal seems to be the same at every instance of Gaza violence in recent years: to end it quickly, with as little damage as possible, knowing full well that what he gets is a temporary respite from violence. Nothing more than a timeout. 

What Netanyahu does is simple: He buys periods of quiet. Hamas is short on cash, Qatar is willing to provide it with cash, Israel is willing to trade cash for quiet. Hamas will get the cash — from Qatar — if it keeps Gaza calm. Sometimes it’s $10 million, sometimes $15 million or even $30 million. It all depends on the timing, the conditions and the ability of the parties to reach a compromise, mediated by Egypt. 


Because Netanyahu doesn’t seem to think that the thresholds were crossed beyond which the only option is war. He believes that Israel can withstand an eruption of violence from time to time, absorb it and move on. Of course, no one wants to minimize the suffering of Israelis who live under the threat of such eruptions, and yet when we look at these instances when the situation calms, it’s clear that the south is quick to recover and go back to normalcy — or what southern Israelis accept as normalcy.

The threshold of violence is the one with which the prime minister has little room to maneuver. If a rocket, rather than killing one Israeli, would kill a score of schoolchildren, the government would have no choice but to act with harsh force. Hamas — don’t mistake the group for fools — also knows this and hence, in some cases, attempts to avoid such incidents or at least create the impression that it also restrains itself. A clear testimony to that was on display on May 5, when an anti-tank missile fired by Hamas killed Moshe Feder, 68, when he was driving his car near Kibbutz Erez. After the attack, Hamas distributed a video that creates a false impression that Hamas chose to hit one car rather than a passenger train. In reality, no trains were running in the south at the time of the attack. The video is propaganda.

While the threshold of violence is in some ways a matter of calculation and in some ways a matter of chance, the threshold of reasoning is dominated by cold calculation. It is based, in essence, on the answer to a simple question: Can Israel improve its strategic situation by acting in a different fashion, whether this means more violence, or more compromise, or more creative ingenuity? Clearly, Netanyahu’s answer to this question, at least for now, is no. He doesn’t see a way for Israel to improve the situation by upping the ante, intensifying the military response, killing more people, making the rounds of violence longer. Netanyahu isn’t pleased with the recurring eruptions around Gaza. But he also doesn’t wish to make a bad situation worse — or see more people killed and gain nothing from it.

Two fundamental suspicions form the basis for Netanyahu’s calculation. He suspects that the military cannot provide him with a victory that is more beneficial than the short-term arrangements he can get by bribing the enemy with Qatari money. He is also suspicious of the notion that Israel can engineer the future of Gaza, by doing this (occupation), that (easing of security measures) or the other (handing Gaza to the Palestinian Authority). In a true conservative fashion — not neo-conservative — Netanyahu prefers the status quo over the pipe dream that Israel can liberate and democratize the Gaza Strip. 

His suspicion is based on his reading of Middle East realities and on Israel’s experience. When Israel attempted to engineer a new Lebanon in the 1980s, it failed. When it meddled in Palestinian politics, in the 1990s, it also failed. When other nations attempted to democratize other countries or regions in the Middle East, the result was often disastrous. By making war, President George W. Bush didn’t make Iraq a better place. By making speeches, President Barack Obama didn’t make Egypt a better place. Netanyahu knows that in this region, intervention often leads to chaos and anarchy — the rise of ISIS, the civil war in Syria. These are examples that Israel doesn’t want to copy in Gaza. They make the rule of Hamas, as bad as it is — and it is bad —  better than the alternatives. 

And thus, a sour cease-fire. There is no glory in the compromise with Hamas, and no promise for a better future. Netanyahu is buying time and will keep buying time until one of two thresholds is crossed: Either violence forces him to act, so as not to give the impression that Israel is willing to tolerate an even more aggressive Hamas, or someone comes forward with a plan that convinces the highly reluctant, highly suspicious, highly cautious prime minister that Israel has a viable way for igniting a long-term improvement in Gaza.

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

Karsenty: Jewish Leadership Unequipped to Tackle Anti-Semitism in France

Philippe Karsenty: Photo by Sandrine Gluck

In 2004, Philippe Karsenty, a French Jew of Moroccan descent, took a break from his work as a stockbroker to self-fund a 10-year venture challenging France 2 Television for what he believed was one of the worse blood libels in modern history. Proponents regarded him as a David fighting Goliath, while his detractors viewed him as a conspiracy theorist.

The case in question is that of Muhammed al-Dura, a major flashpoint at the start of the Second Intifada, which saw an estimated 1,000 Israeli and 3,000 Palestinian lives lost. In 2000, France 2 aired footage that showed 12-year-old al-Dura dying in the arms of his father, allegedly the victim of Israel Defense Forces bullets. At various judicial levels, Karsenty sought to prove, based on an original German investigation, that the act was staged. Karsenty won in France’s appellate court, then a higher court overturned the verdict. He was fined 11,000 Euros for defamation.

While Karsenty made a splash in the media and Israel-advocacy worlds, this small victory, (despite the ultimate trial loss), of raising awareness about alleged French media bias has not fundamentally transformed French media culture toward more balance when reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Karsenty believes this serves as incitement against Israel and, by extension, Jews.

“If there is no political counterweight and willingness to tell the truth about Israel in the media, it’s a declining community,” Karsenty said at a Parisian café near the Arc de Triomphe.

“We’re a community that suffers every time something comes to Israel because the media defames Israel and sides with the Arabs, and that’s terrible. We’re losing Jews here. Some are going to Israel. Some are going anywhere else, and some are getting completely lost. They’re assimilating and don’t want to be associated with the ‘criminal state.’ ”

Karsenty continues to advocate for Israel as a private citizen and, to an extent, as the former deputy mayor and a current councilmember of Neuilly-sur-Seine, a well-to-do suburb outside Paris. These days, he directs his anger less at the French media and more at what he considers an impotent Jewish-French and American leadership. He believes Jewish advocacy groups put parochial interests above actual community concerns.

“They need to keep access, and in order to keep access, they forget their mission statement,” he said, reserving his harshest criticism for the American Jewish Committee and its leader, David Harris, who not only shunned Karsenty’s al-Dura efforts but branded Karsenty an “extremist.”

For Karsenty, the real Jewish threat comes from a media hostile to Israel and a political brass that speaks correctly when discussing the need to combat anti-Semitism but doesn’t take enough action to stop it.

More recently, Karsenty served as a media commentator on the destructive fire of the Notre Dame cathedral. Fox News cut him off about an hour into the fire when he questioned the unanimity of the French media outlets that quickly concluded the fire was accidental.

Several incidents in recent years have triggered that perception. France is no longer a safe place for Jews: The 2015 Hyper Cacher supermarket attack that occurred in conjunction with the massacre of staff at the Charlie Hebdo publication; the 2006 murder and kidnapping of Ilan Halimi by  African Muslims; the 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi in her home; and the allegedly anti-Semitic burning of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll, in 2018. More recently, anti-Semites affiliated with the “Yellow Vests” movement verbally attacked French Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut.

After coffee, Karsenty and I walked down the Champs-Elysees, where two weeks earlier, Yellow Vest vandals trashed and looted luxury retail shops. Hugo Boss and Bulgari had to close temporarily. Louis Vuitton was boarded up as a precaution. ATM machines were tampered with and burned. Since November 2018, the Yellow Vest movement has staged protests every Saturday in various locations in Paris.

“Most of the Yellow Vest protesters are French Christian people and see all these high taxes for decades while public services decline. They’re upset,” Karsenty said. He thinks the movement draws as many anti-Semites as are proportionate to France’s population, including those trafficking in old stereotypes about Jews controlling banks and the media. Some have legitimate concerns about economic justice, but anarchists, vandals and opportunists have infiltrated the movement. 

As for the rising right-wing National Rally party under Marine Le Pen, Karsenty is cautious. “Even though I disagree with her on many issues, she hasn’t been caught on anything on Israel or the Jews. Of course, in her party, you have many who are anti-Jewish, but they are the same in other parties,” he said. While Le Pen has not publicly denigrated Israel, she has not come out in support of the Jewish state.

For Karsenty, the real Jewish threat comes from a media hostile to Israel and a political brass that speaks correctly when discussing the need to combat anti-Semitism but doesn’t take enough action to stop it. For example, on the list for elections to the European Union parliament this month is Pascal Durand, a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, who sought to visit convicted Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti, in an Israeli prison. “Even the Israeli ambassador in Paris tweeted and said he was surprised and worried to see him as a candidate on [French President Emmanuel] Macron’s list.”

As for physical safety, it all depends on where Jews live and travel. In metropolitan Paris, Jews should anticipate no trouble when wearing kippahs and religious symbols, although some take precautions. In areas known as the “banlieues,” or suburbs, a growing, low-income Arab and North African Muslim migrant population have spurred a Jewish exodus because of anti-Semitic attitudes and general disregard of Western values.

I joined Karsenty for Friday night services in his neighborhood. No heavily armed guards were visible, and men put on kippahs right before entering the multistoried shul.

Signs inside the synagogue hardly hinted at a community in decline, with advertisements for Hebrew lessons, Jewish educational programs and the self-defense and fighting discipline Krav Maga. Pews were filled with young and old alike. Young, stylish women sang hymns from the balcony. Most of the congregants were of Sephardic (Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian) descent, as they make up the majority of France’s estimated 500,000 Jews.

Karsenty said looks can be deceiving. Even this community is on edge. 

But there’s an unexpected ray of light. French leaders traditionally have forged strong ties with Arab countries at the expense of Israel, in part due to economic reasons tied to oil. With demand for Arab oil lessening and the energy market diversifying, the time may be ripe for effective pro-Israel lobbying in France.

“Even Saudi Arabia and other countries are now getting closer and closer to Israel because technologies are moving away from oil,” Karsenty said. “It can be a game changer.”

Corrections: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ilan Halimi was abducted in 2016 by North African Muslims and that Marwan Barghouti was the founder of the BDS movement. Omar Barghouti founded the BDS movement. Palestinian 2nd Intifada Leader Marwan Barghouti has been in an Israeli prison since 2002, serving five lifetime sentences for murder.

Orit Arfa is an American-Israeli journalist and author based in Berlin. 

Volunteering During Israel’s War of Independence

Initially, the “Anglo-Saxon” 4th Anti Tank Unit didn’t have an actual antitank gun so they trained on a wooden dummy gun. Tom Tugend (fourth from left without a cap) was the squad leader.

Editor’s note: This article was written in 1948, during Israel’s War of Independence, when the author was serving as squad leader in an anti-tank unit composed of volunteers from English-speaking countries. His unit was part of a force encircling an Egyptian regiment in the Negev’s Fallujah Pocket, commanded by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who would later become Egypt’s president.  

The sergeant hands out hard fruit candies from a tin container. We move out by a narrow trail through the mountain-ringed circular valley across the Fallujah-Hebron road, past the last Israeli guard.

“Good luck, boys.” 

Final remarks always sound artificial in books or movies, but in our mood of slightly heroic renunciation, the words feel singularly appropriate.

We turn left, cutting through our minefield. It is a cool night with a half -moon. Some 1,200 yards in front of us looms the trapezoid-shaped hill that marks the village of Iraq al-Manshiyya, protecting the western approaches to Fallujah.

We are through the minefield and cut to the left, walking along the side of the wadi. In the center of the file, immediately behind the lieutenant, the radio operator listens intensely to the instructions coming over his walkie-talkie. Once in a while, he moves forward a few steps and whispers to the lieutenant.

The man in front of me drops suddenly and before he hits the ground I am down, too. The lieutenant crouches forward and checks the file. We wait 10 minutes. Then we slowly move forward again.

I am intensely alert and aware of everything around me. Every movement or noise makes a sharp impression on my senses. Everything I see, hear and smell etches itself into my memory.

Eight hundred yards ahead of us, our searchlights play their beams on the top of the hill. Suddenly they are turned off and the file of men is etched sharply against the skyline. The scene reminds me of screen shots from various bad war films.

The man behind me silently passes forward a box of machine-gun ammunition. I shift my rifle to my left shoulder and recover the distance.

Some 140 yards from the bottom of the hill, we walk around a clump of prickly pears. This is the landmark. I look at my watch: 10:45 p.m., so we’ve covered 1,200 yards in three-quarters of an hour.

I am intensely alive and aware of everything around me. Every movement or noise makes a sharp impression on my senses. Everything I see, hear and smell etches itself into my memory.

The lieutenant whispers to me in English. He lies down beside the radio operator and the first-aid man. Two riflemen, 10 yards to his right, two riflemen two yards to his left. We are 50 yards from the Egyptian bunker. We can hear the voices of the Egyptian guards across a slight rise to our left.

Tom Tugend in Israel in 1948.
Photos courtesy of Tom Tugend

Four of our men peel away and slowly crawl forward: The sergeant with a PIAT (Projector, Infantry Anti Tank) rifle, two machine gunners and one man with wire cutters. Forty yards from the bunker there’s a sharp click and they are through the wire, inching forward. Suddenly, a flash and a shell explode. A few rifle shots from across the rise, but no fire from the bunkers. Either the enemy guards are dead or too clever to give away their position. Our Spandau machine gun opens up. Silence. One more round from the PIAT.

The four men crawl back. The sergeant whispers and we move back, too. Fifty yards farther, a red flare goes up. We drop to the ground. A few rifle shots. The flare dies. We jump up and immediately drop down again as a green flare rises above us, curves and drops beside me.

We are walking very fast now. After a few hundred yards, my stomach muscles loosen, the tension slowly drains from my body and in its place creeps a profound tiredness. My senses are dulled; the box of ammunition gets heavier with every step. I put one foot in front of the other automatically.

Our first guard challenges us: “How was it? Did you hit anything?” “Nothing much,” we say depreciatingly, and a bit contemptuously, as soldiers talk to those who stayed in the rear.

There is lukewarm tea in the tent. No jubilation or self-congratulations. It is part of the daily job. Only the talk, a little too intense, and the laughter, a little too loud, hint at the tension of the last two hours.

There will be another patrol tomorrow night, and another a day after that, and so on. n

Tugend served in the Israel Independence War after serving in World War II, during which he fought with the U.S. 25th Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the First French Army during the fighting in France and Germany.

Uncle Sam recalled Tugend at the start of the Korean War, during which he was in a less combative position as editor of the Foghorn at the Letterman Army Hospital on the grounds of the Presidio in San Francisco. The Foghorn was a weekly newspaper for GIs wounded in the Korean War. Tugend was named to the French Legion of Honor, holding the rank of Chevalier (Knight).

Hamas Rockets Won’t Stop Eurovision

Croatia rehearses for Eurovision at Expo Tel Aviv. Photo by Thomas Hanses

When Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon last year with her hit song, “Toy,” the triumph earned Israel the right to host the 64th annual contest. In tune with Netta’s empowering anthem, the Jewish state is not playing around with preparations for the spectacle. Even rocket attacks from Gaza are not impeding plans for the event, which runs May 14-18 at Expo Tel Aviv.

“For months, we have prepared for these kinds of scenarios and responses,” Sharon Ben-David, head of communications for Eurovision for KAN, the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, told Army Radio.

In a May 6 statement, the European Broadcast Union (EBU) said: “We continue to work alongside KAN and the Home Front Command to safeguard the well-being of everyone working at and joining us at Expo Tel Aviv. The rehearsals have been unaffected and continue as normal. The artists, delegations and production crew are working hard, and everything is running to schedule and going well.”

Located 20 minutes from Ben Gurion Airport, Expo Tel Aviv is overhauling pavilion 2 for Eurovision’s 41 competitors, with a dynamic stage, audience seating, and everything needed for television monitors to broadcast foreign-language commentaries from other countries. The Tel Aviv-Jaffo Municipality is creating an official beachside welcome site. KAN and the EBU will broadcast the event to an expected audience of 200 million. Israel will broadcast the semifinals on May 15 and 16, and the finale on May 18. Meanwhile, the city is promoting the event with an emphasis on sustainability and climate-friendly initiatives.

Local organizers are billing Tel Aviv as the most sustainable and climate-friendly Eurovision location to date, and city officials say instead of relying on plastic, catering will use perishable paper, bamboo plates and utensils, and reusable glasses. The Expo has installed power-saving LED lights to conserve energy and is recycling gray water from air-conditioning units to water lawns, Expo CEO Tamir Dayan said.

Israel’s representative this year is Kobi Marimi, who will perform “Home” by Inbar Wizman and Ohad Shragai. The song is an expression of self-esteem for Marimi, who struggled with childhood obesity, and includes the refrain, “I am someone.” The official video already has garnered more than 1 million views.

“We continue to work alongside KAN and the Home Front Command to safeguard the well-being of everyone working at and joining us at Expo Tel Aviv. The rehearsals have been unaffected and continue as normal.”

— European Broadcast Union

Israel’s involvement with Eurovision dates to 1973, with Ilanit performing “Ey Sham.” Israel was the first non-European country granted permission to participate. Israel’s broadcaster, the former Israel Broadcasting Authority, was an EBU member, thereby allowing participation. Israel’s first win was in Paris in 1978, when Izhar Cohen and his backup band, the Alphabeta, triumphed with “A-Ba-Ni-Bi.”
Israel won the following year when Jerusalem hosted, with a performance of “Hallelujah” by Milk and Honey. Dana International made headlines in 1998 when she became the first transgender singer to win Eurovision, with “Diva.”

The competition returned to Jerusalem in 1999 and Israel has made it to the grand finale every year since 2015.

Expo Tel Aviv has a history of staging large-scale international events and hosts hundreds of concerts that bring in 2.5 million visitors per year. Past performers include Lady Gaga, Iggy Pop and Nine Inch Nails. “But this will be a first for Expo Tel Aviv to be hosting one of this scale, scope and size,” Dayan said. He estimates approximately 80,000 people will attend Eurovision.  

To bring Expo Tel Aviv up to international standards for Eurovision, Expo Tel Aviv invested more than 8 million shekels (roughly $2.3 million U.S.) to improve the facility. Crews have installed more than 500 new signs, most of which are in Hebrew, English and Arabic, and overhauled the website to be “inviting, convenient, accessible and international,” Dayan said. A newly inaugurated plaza offers an expansive background for television journalists.

In addition to the improvements at Expo Tel Aviv, the city is constructing a companion site called Eurovision Village. This official festival area is located at Charles Clore Park, in the southern part of Tel Aviv at the end of the beach promenade.

A new main entrance to the compound now is titled the Rokach Gate, which cost NIS 500,000 (approximately $139,000). The gate bears the logo of the “Flying Camel,” designed by artist Aryeh Elhanani when the complex was constructed in 1932. Drone aficionados and passengers in a nearby hot-air balloon will discover the roof of the Expo’s pavilion 1 now boasts the same image.

In the 1930s, Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, promoted the idea of “Levant Fair.” Based on the popular World’s Fair, Dizengoff envisioned bringing together cultures and the region’s produce at an international festival.

At the time, 20-year-old Tel Aviv was home to 100,000 inhabitants, most of them recent immigrants. Lore has it one of the event’s many critics dismissed the fair as a crazy concept, saying, “The Levant Fair will happen when camels will grow wings and fly … .” The event was a success, and the Flying Camel was transformed into the facility’s mascot. It has remained in honor of those who, the Expo suggests, “dare to dream.”

Fittingly, those three words double as the theme of this year’s Eurovision.

The reporter received a tour of the facilities, courtesy of the European Israel Press Association.

Lisa Klug is a freelance journalist and the author of “Cool Jew” and “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe.”

Former Israeli National Security Adviser Discusses Islamic Jihad, Gaza Options

Streaks of light are pictured as rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Israel May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Yaakov Amidror, former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) general and national security adviser for the Israeli government, discussed the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and how the Israeli government should response to the recent rocket attacks in a phone call Tuesday with reporters.

Amidror told Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) President and CEO Michael Makovsky during the call that Hamas and the PIJ are the main terror organizations in the Gaza Strip; they both teamed up to fire rockets against Israelis over the weekend after a PIJ sniper fired at IDF troops on May 3. Hamas is the “Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood” and is “stronger” than the PIJ. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has political responsibilities, while the PIJ is a “pure military terrorist organization,” Amidror said.

He described the relationship between Hamas and the PIJ as a “big brother-little brother” relationship. The PIJ is “more extreme” than Hamas, but Hamas has little interest in curbing the PIJ’s extremism because they don’t want to be seen as cooperating with Israel, Amidror argued.

Amidror speculated that the PIJ sniper incident that triggered the most recent violence was either due to an undisciplined PIJ member or a way to advance the Iranian regime’s interests.

“I don’t have proof for that but my assessment is that the Iranians’ interested will be the basis of this,” Amidror said, arguing that the Gaza rockets could result in forcing Israel to reallocate its resources from curbing Iran and Hezbollah in Syria toward Gaza. Iran funds both Hamas and the PIJ.

On the matter of if the Israeli government should work to completely eradicate Hamas from Gaza, Amidror said, “It can be done, but it would be a very costly war.” He pointed out that Gaza is “densely populated” and that Hamas has a vast network of underground tunnels. “We don’t have good information” on the extent of those tunnels, Amidror said.

If Israel removes Hamas from Gaza and then retreats, there’s a risk that Islamic terror groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS or the PIJ could take over Gaza. Therefore, Amidror argued, the Israeli government would have to rebuild Gaza.

“Israeli will have to take care for two million Palestinians in the most dense area in the Middle East,” Amidror said. “We will have to provide them everything.”

He speculated that it could take four years for the Israeli government clean up Gaza after a potential war, at which point Gaza would likely resemble the West Bank today.

The best way for the Israeli government to respond is to target Hamas’ weapons capabilities so Hamas knows it’s in their “best interests” not to attack, Amidror said.

Islamic Jihad Confirms Their Rocket Killed Pregnant Palestinian Woman, Baby

A view shows the remains of a building that was destroyed by Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City May 6, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) confirmed to a Hamas-run media outlet May 6 that it was one of their rockets that killed a pregnant Palestinian woman and a 14-month-old baby, not an Israeli rocket.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry claimed May 5 that Israeli airstrikes were responsible for killing the woman and the baby the day before; the woman is a relative of the baby but not her mother. IDF spokesperson Ronen Manelis tweeted that their deaths were actually due to a Gaza rocket. According to the Jerusalem Post, Islamic Jihad leaked to al-Risala News that “a rocket of the resistance exploded inside the family’s home due to a technical failure, and prematurely exploded.” The report added that “there is no doubt that the baby’s death has nothing to do with the enemy’s [Israel’s] planes.”

Islamic Jihad also offered to pay the family to keep quiet on the matter, per the Post.

StandWithUs tweeted, “Terrorist group admits that IT WAS THEIR OWN ROCKET FIRE that killed a #Palestinian pregnant woman & baby Where’s the international media coverage now??”

U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer criticized the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and others for blaming Israel for the deaths:

The nearly 700 Hamas and PIJ rockets killed at least four Israeli civilians and injured several others. A tentative ceasefire agreement was reached between Israel and Hamas on May 6.

Thousands of Jews Around the World Participate in Masa Israel Journey’s Yom Hazikaron Ceremony

Bougie Herzog, Chairman of the Jewish Agency and his wife Michal; Ilan Cohen, chairman of Masa Israel; Liran Avisar Ben Horin, CEO of Masa Israel Journey; Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs, and Minister of Information; and M.K Zvi Hauzer. Photo by Yossi Zamir

Masa Israel Journey hosted a ceremony May 7 ahead of Yom Hazikaron, a day where Jews remember Israeli fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

The event in Latrun was the only predominantly English-speaking ceremony in Israel and was broadcast to thousands of Jews in communities and schools throughout the United States, Canada, South Africa, Uruguay, Ukraine, France, Germany, Australia and England, as well as on Masa’s Facebook page. It was also translated in three different languages including French, Spanish and Russian.

Four thousand Masa participants,1,000 global Jewish community leaders from Federations, synagogues, schools, government officials and families of fallen soldiers were in attendance.

This year, the stories of Alejandro Hoffman, Sean Carmeli, Jordan Ben Simon among others who were killed while serving in the IDF or in terror attacks, were highlighted through videos and anecdotes from their families and friends. IDF Captain Yair Alkalai also spoke.

“In an age where terror targets our homes and synagogues, and when we face new and old forms of anti-Semitism on the streets and on campuses, the home front has become the front line, and we stand on that line together,” Israel’s Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said in a statement to the Journal. “We are always and forever committed to the core Jewish principle, ‘kol Yisrael aravim ze la ze’ (we are all responsible for one another). And we have a special responsibility to our missing and captive soldiers.”

He continued: “We will never rest until we bring Hadar Goldin, Oron Shaul, and all of our missing and captive soldiers and civilians home. I believe this is our highest moral duty and a sacred oath we take to our soldiers and their families. To our enemies I say, the long arm of the IDF and security forces will reach you anywhere and everywhere, on our borders and far beyond them. We are watching you and we will act forcefully to defend ourselves against any threat.”

Isaac (Bougie) Herzog, Chairman of the Jewish Agency and Masa’s honorable guest talked about the anti-Semitic events taking place all around the world including recent attacks in Pittsburgh, Poway and Israel and Paris.

“We can never put the fragments back together,” Herzog said “but we can renew our resolve to cherish their memory and honor their legacy.”

IDF Calls Out Hamas: ‘What Have You Accomplished?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) released a video on Twitter May 6 going after Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) for attacking Israelis instead of helping their own people.

The video began with the message that children should not be targeted, yet Hamas and the PIJ fire rockets and Israeli schools and kindergartens while using civilians as human shields.

“Hamas and PIJ, we ask you: what have you accomplished?” the video asks. “You spend millions on missiles and rockets instead of on your own children. You spend millions on terror tunnels instead of building homes. You spend millions on training militants instead of on education.

“You have proven again to the world that your desire to attack the Israeli people is greater than your will to help your own.”

Hamas and the PIJ fired around 700 rockets toward Israel over the weekend, killing four Israelis and injuring several others. A misfired Hamas rocket also killed a pregnant Palestinian woman and her 14-month-old baby.  Israel retaliated by targeting hundreds of Hamas and PIJ sites.

The IDF also tweeted that targeted Hamed Ahmed Khudari, who was responsible for funneling from Iran to Hamas and the PIJ.

Transferring Iranian money to Hamas & the PIJ doesn’t make you a businessman. It makes you a terrorist,” the IDF tweeted.

Posters Accusing Israel of ‘Killing Children’ Found in London

Photo from Pixabay.

A handful of anti-Israel posters were found in London May 5, including one on a bus stop stating, “Israel’s killing children again. Enjoy your weekend.”

The posters are seemingly referencing the death of a pregnant Palestinian woman in the Gaza Strip over the weekend; Hamas has blamed the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for her death, but the IDF tweeted that a failed Hamas rocket killed the pregnant woman.

Pete Newbon, a romantic and Victorian-era literature lecturer at Northrumbia University, tweeted, “The Assad regime has murdered hundreds of thousands of its citizens with illegal weapons in eight years of war. In Venezuela people are literally starving under a kleptocracy. Russia is occupying Chechnya, and parts of Georgia and Ukraine. But only one state gets these posters.”

In September, various London bus stops were plastered with posters that read, “Israel is a racist endeavor.”

How Should We Respond to the Terror Rockets from Gaza?

Streaks of light are pictured as rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Israel May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

It’s important to get one thing out of the way: Firing rockets at civilians with the intent to maim and kill is not an act of resistance. It is a vile, evil, cowardly act.

Never mind Startup Nation. Israel is Shelter Nation. One thing that struck me on my recent visit there is that bomb shelters are literally everywhere. When the bombs start falling and sirens start shrieking, Israelis know exactly how many seconds they have to reach their shelter. A combination of sirens, shelters and the Iron Dome is what minimizes casualties.

The nearly 700 rockets Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired at Israel over one ghastly weekend aimed to kill as many Jews as possible. The fact that four Israelis were killed instead of hundreds or even thousands is not a function of enemy restraint, but of Israelis’ brilliance at protecting and defending themselves.

For those of us in America who are not used to running into bomb shelters, what is an appropriate response? What should we do when our brethren in Israel are terrorized around the clock, even if for only a few days? Should we focus on their suffering or try to be more even-handed?

Here was one response from the Jewish activist group IfNotNow:

“18 Palestinians, 4 Israelis dead. In the last 48 hrs. While Israelis run to bomb shelters, Palestinians have nowhere to run or hide, trapped in the open air prison of Gaza. We pray for the safety of Israeli & Palestinian civilians, whose leaders treat their lives as expendable. We cannot look at this in isolation. This latest flareup is the result of years of deliberate Israeli political decisions to keep Gaza on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. The indifference of Israelis, Americans — Jews and non-Jews alike — to this is appalling.”

The fact that four Israelis were killed instead of hundreds or even thousands is not a function of enemy restraint, but of Israelis’ brilliance at protecting and defending themselves.

This response is perhaps more than “even-handed,” as Israel seems to be held responsible for Palestinians who “have nowhere to run or hide” and for putting Gaza “on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.”

Another attempt at an even-handed response came from Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who runs T’ruah (the rabbinic call for human rights):

“Came out of Shabbat to more news of needless loss of life. Praying for the families of the Israeli and the Palestinians killed today, and for political leadership with the courage to seek political, not military solutions. … Hamas has actually proven able and willing to negotiate and maintain ceasefires in the past. Unfortunately, they’ve learned that rocket fire is the best way to get concessions from Israel.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, chose a different direction and unequivocally condemned the bombings:

“Shabbat ends in the US with news of hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas into Israel leaving 1 dead & scores injured. This indiscriminate firing at civilian population is inexcusable and must be immediately condemned by the international community.”

I understand the Jewish instinct to appear even-handed. It feels less tribal, more complex, more elevated. But let’s imagine that Israel’s security precautions had been less effective and, instead of four casualties, hundreds of Israelis had died. Faced with such horror, would it still be appropriate to appear even-handed and explain that terrorists have learned that “rocket fire is the best way to get concessions from Israel”?

When a neo-Nazi commits mass murder in America, we don’t try to be even-handed or nuanced. We are firm and unequivocal in our condemnations.

Of course, because Israel is so good at defending itself and Hamas couldn’t care less about protecting its people, casualty figures will always be higher on the Palestinian side. Activists who bash Israel because of those figures ignore the fact that they’re a direct result of Israel being attacked and forced to defend itself.

The reality is, we are slaves to our narratives. Groups like IfNotNow are invested in the belief that Israel is the prime culprit in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No fact can change that narrative. Any event that comes along — even indiscriminate bombing of Israeli civilians — is an opportunity to strengthen their narrative.

When I saw the unrelenting firing of rockets from Gaza, I had only one narrative in mind. It was neither tribal nor elevated, but simply common sense: If terrorists fire rockets to murder people, they deserve no even-handedness.

When a neo-Nazi commits mass murder in America, we don’t try to be even-handed or nuanced. We are firm and unequivocal in our condemnations. The corrupt Palestinian terrorists who have betrayed their own people while firing rockets at Israeli civilians deserve no less.

StandWithUs Calls on Williams College to Formally Recognize Pro-Israel Group

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

StandWithUs co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein and Legal Department Director Yael Lerman sent a letter to Williams College May 5 arguing that the college needs to formally recognize Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI) as a student group on campus.

On April 23, the Williams College Council rejected WIFI’s request for recognition as a Registered Student Organization; clubs that are not recognized as RSOs are not allowed to have access to campus funding and resources and they cannot use the college’s name. President Maud Mandel said in a statement May 3 that the council denied recognition to WIFI on “political grounds,” and in doing so the council violated their bylaws.

We’ve always expected the Council to follow its own processes and bylaws,” Mandel said. “I’m disappointed that that didn’t happen in this instance. College leaders have communicated to the organizers of Williams Initiative for Israel that the club can continue to exist and operate without being a CC-approved RSO.”

Rothstein and Lerman wrote in their letter, which was obtained by the Journal, that WIFI needs to have official RSO status.

WIFI complied with all procedures required to form an RSO and therefore should receive such status, as well as all, not most, services available to Williams RSOs,” they wrote. “Denial of any benefit granted to RSOs is a form of de facto discrimination and should be rejected outright by your administration.”

Rothstein and Lerman argued that WIFI’s denial of recognition was the result of anti-Semitism, not “political grounds.”

“Zionism is the movement supporting Jewish rights to self-determination, and the Council’s rejection of WIFI as an RSO seeks to denigrate this vital aspect of mainstream Jewish identity for many Williams students,” Rothstein and Lerman wrote. “Williams’ student newspaper reported that this is the first time in over ten years that a group applying for RSO formation, and which complied with all applicable regulations, has been denied RSO recognition. Much of the debate for granting RSO status centered around WIFI’s refusal to take a stance on highly controversial issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in language that couched anti-Semitic slurs in the form of anti-Zionist rhetoric. This matter is clearly beyond the scope of Council protocol, violates viewpoint neutrality and ultimately stifles students from participating in an important component of campus life due to bias and discrimination.”

Therefore, they argued, the council’s actions violate the college’s code of conduct and non-discrimination statement.

“it is imperative that your administration take all necessary steps to reject and reverse the Council’s discriminatory decision,” Rothstein and Lerman wrote. “We understand that President Mandel is trying to empower Williams’ students to right their own wrong. However, if this outcome had occurred against any other minority group, we strongly question whether her tone would remain as conciliatory toward the students who made that choice. While we recognize and appreciate the right to student governance autonomy and shared government, so too do we see the tremendous need for oversight to prevent abuse of that autonomy. The Council has patently abused its authority by discriminating against WIFI and denying it RSO recognition. We urge the administration to exercise its own authority within the College’s system of shared governance to correct this misstep.”

A university spokesperson did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.