April 25, 2019

Israel Is a Country, Not a Cause

If you’re like a lot of American Jews, you’ve gotten pretty worked up lately about the Nation- State Law, the questioning of Peter Beinart at Ben Gurion Airport or the LGBT protests about surrogacy. Before that, there was the Kotel controversy, and the Jerusalem embassy, and before that the Iran deal—and so on.

There is no country on earth whose domestic and foreign policy grips American Jewish attention like Israel. Because it’s the “Jewish state,” and American Jews care.

But there’s something wrong with all this caring.

In America, where many Jews don’t know Hebrew, arguments about Israel tend to be shallow and shrill mirrors of debates in Israel—after all, what do people use to interpret the news other than what Israeli right-wingers and left-wingers are telling them?

This kind of second-level arguing, however, is usually a waste of breath.

Why? In part, because it’s stripped of context. Israelis shout when they argue, even when they write. A writer from Haaretz can declare the rise of Israeli fascism, and another one from Israel Hayom can scream about treason against the nation, yet it’s a small Middle-Eastern country—when they’re done shouting, they still go to the same bars, the same family meals, listen to the same radio news, or run into each other at the gym or the boardroom.

A columnist for Haaretz once told me: “Of course I overstate the threats to Israeli democracy. If I don’t scream, nobody will hear me.”

Another reason American Jews are so breathless is that they feel powerless to affect the country they care about. They don’t vote in Israel, they don’t participate in the Hebrew-language policy debates, and no matter how much they feel Israeli decisions might affect them, they really don’t, at least not in the way they affect Israeli voters and taxpayers.

In fact, the disconnect between American-Jewish adrenaline about Israel and the actual, objective success and stability of the country is so enormous that it forces us to ask: What are you really worried about, American Jews?

The short answer, the only one that makes any sense, is this: It’s about you.

American Jews want desperately to care about something Jewish, but don’t really want to face the fact that their kids aren’t continuing the identity, that they have lost a sense of belonging, that their synagogue-based communities are dissolving into infinite WhatsApp groups and Facebook groups and political action committees, that their kids are, in some cases, getting blamed on campus for things that Israel is accused of doing.

Meanwhile, over here in Israel, something totally different is happening. Under the radar, Israel has turned itself from a cultural backwater into something vibrant, edgy, and increasingly influential. Remember Start-Up Nation? Now it’s happening with culture: Israelis are changing the face not just of hi-tech but of music, architecture, film and TV, of design and art and dance.

When will American Jews notice? When will they tell their kids: Go to Israel because something amazing is happening there. Forget Left and Right—it’s not important. Forget BDS—it doesn’t matter. A nation’s creative spirit, its deep Jewish soul, its language and culture—all these are much bigger and more important for you than anything you read in the news.

This is not about Whataboutism or going “Beyond the Conflict.” Israelis don’t live in the conflict and don’t need to go beyond it. Israeli reality is mainly about what everybody else’s reality is about: Work, family, vacation, entertainment. In short, life.

But it’s also a different reality—an incredible life, full of creative energy, new thoughts, big gambles and brass tacks. This can be a lot more interesting to young American Jews looking for something to anchor their identity in than all the endless political sword-fighting.

The point is: A government is not its people. For Americans to get worked up about Israel based on who is in power makes no more sense than for Israelis to decide whether to visit or do business with the United States based on the latest tweets coming out of the White House.

Instead of showing your caring by reacting to headlines, there’s a different way to care—a much healthier way, one that will take you farther and bring your kids closer: Find the Israel that adds value to your life.

Visit. Learn the language. Meet the people. Listen to the music. Drink the wine. Enjoy the country. Treat it like an exotic foreign land, not a rotting shack in your backyard that used to be pretty but now is full of dung. Israel is not rotting, it has only gotten more beautiful, and it’s frankly not your backyard.

In an important essay last year, David Hazony made this point about “Israeliness” as a key to the Jewish future in America. He ended by saying that the path to Israel means “rediscovering Israel as a country, not just a cause, and yourself as someone searching rather than acting out of certainty…  to see the Israeli other not as a threat but as a resource for your own journey.”

Bring to Israel your sense of exploration and wonder rather than anxiety and anger, and you’ll be shocked how much more it has to offer. Your kids will be grateful, too.


Adam Bellos is the founder of The Israel Innovation Fund, whose goal is to create culturally relevant initiatives that showcase Israel’s diverse culture. Its flagship program, Wine on the Vine, enables people to support Israel’s wine industry by planting grapevines and supporting charities. 

Poll: Israeli and American Jews Divided on Trump, Israeli Policy

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A new survey from the American Jewish Committee (AJC) shows some stark differences between Israeli Jews and American Jews on President Trump and Israeli policy.

The June 10 survey found that 77% of Israeli Jews strongly or somewhat approve of Trump’s handling of United States-Israel relations and 10% disapprove somewhat or strongly; for American Jews those figures were 34% and 57%, respectively.

There were also differences between the two when on Israel policy matters. Eighty-five percent of Israeli Jews approve of the Jerusalem embassy move while only 46% of American Jews supported the move. On the two-state solution, 44% of Israeli Jews favored it and 48% were opposed; for American Jews those numbers were 59% and 30%, respectively.

Additionally, differences were stark on the mixed gender prayer area on the Western Wall, as 42% of Israeli Jews supported it while 73% of American Jews supported it.

The survey was conducted from April 18-May 10 for American Jews with a margin of error of 3.9%; for Israeli Jews the survey was conducted in May with margin of error of 3.1%.

“The main factor predicting how people will respond is how they identify religiously,” AJC CEO David Harris said in a statement. “The more observant they are on the denominational spectrum, their Jewish identity and attachment to Israel is stronger; skepticism about prospects for peace with the Palestinians higher; and support for religious pluralism in Israel weaker.”

Harris added that differences in “political affiliation” were also part of the divide.

“The majority who identify with the Democratic Party and voted for Hillary Clinton are less attached to Israel, more weakly identified with the Jewish people, and more favorable to religious pluralism than the minority who are Republicans and report that they voted for Donald Trump,” Harris said.

The full results of the poll can be seen here.

Four Israeli Jews, including two minors, arrested for attacks on Palestinians

Four Israeli Jews, including two minors, have been arrested on suspicion of hate crime attacks against Palestinians.

One of the two minors was arrested Monday, according to reports, while the other minor and the two adults were arrested last week. Israel Police said the minors are 16 and 17.

Details of their cases are under a gag order.

One of the adult suspects, Dana Shneur, is accused of  burning a Palestinian car, affiliation with criminal activities and involvement in an illegal organization. The detention of the other adult, Pinhas Shandorfi, has been extended for a week in order to investigate suspected “security offenses,” Ynet reported.

When Palestinians kill

My current foray into Israeli-Palestinian coexistence efforts began a year and a half ago, in the summer of 2014, when a group of Israelis and Palestinians in Gush Etzion marked a joint day of fasting on the 17th of Tammuz, which fell that year during Ramadan. At the height of Operation Protective Edge, a month after the abduction and murder of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, and two weeks after the revenge killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, groups of Jews and Arabs cropped up around Israel with a simple but powerful message: Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.

It isn’t that I’d never tried to get to know Palestinians before. I tried to bridge the Israeli-Palestinian divide almost immediately after making aliyah in 1994. In contrast to many Orthodox Jews, and especially to many Orthodox Israelis, I’d been an early supporter of the Oslo process and was hopeful that the political process would create the conditions to make real interpersonal relationships possible. But my efforts had consistently dissipated — I quickly discovered that “dialogue” in this part of the world consisted of Palestinians blaming Israel for every ill known to man, and left-wing Israelis agreeing with them. 

In that atmosphere, and especially in light of the Palestinian explosion of September 2000, I shared the view of most Israelis:  Israel’s peace overtures had been met with little more than Palestinian terror, and Israel was left with little choice but to construct the West Bank security fence and to wait for Palestinians to get sick of living behind it. As Golda Meir said, when they decide they love their children more than they hate us, they’ll come around to make the sort of peace that doesn’t include blowing up Israeli buses. 

Back to 2014: Six months before Gilad, Naftali and Eyal were murdered, I’d interviewed Ali Abu Awwad for a story about Palestinian nonviolence. I’d walked away from our two-hour interview deeply inspired and hopeful; now, the sight of Palestinians praying together with Israelis for the boys’ safe return filled me again with hope. Once again, I began spending time with coexistence activists, this time in Gush Etzion, and allowed myself once again to hope that Jews and Palestinians were not doomed by some outside power to be enemies forever. 

Since then, I’ve met terrific people and made important friendships with both Israelis and Palestinians who believe that a different future is possible. Ali and I have become close friends, and his generous spirit and deep understanding have allowed me to open up to Palestinian emotions in a way that years of reporting from the Palestinian arena have not. Sami Awad, founder of the Bethlehem-based Holy Land Trust, has challenged me to consider new lenses for Zionism (sorry, Sami, I know this was not your intention!) and models for coexistence. Abdallah (a pseudonym for a senior Fatah activist who I’ve become friendly with, but who does not want to become known for “normalizing” with Judea and Samaria Israelis) has asked serious, probing questions about the nature of Judaism, Zionism and the Jewish relationship to the Land of Israel. There are many more, too many to name here, but all have opened windows into Palestinian society and forced me to connect with a deep sense of empathy within myself, even as I have not become sympathetic to traditional Palestinian arguments about the ongoing conflict with Israel. 

And yet, despite the presence of many inspiring individual Palestinians, the realization that there really is no Palestinian society with which Israel can make peace has been devastating. Whereas Palestinian Israelis work and shop freely in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Netanya, my visits to Bethlehem and Hebron must be shrouded in secrecy by removing my kippah and bearing in mind at all times not to lapse into Hebrew. Palestinians insist there is a sharp imbalance of power between Palestine and Israel, and here they are correct: When Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians in cold blood in 1994, Israeli society was rocked to the core by the horrible thought that such a depraved terrorist could emanate from our midst. Same for the killers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in 2004 and for the Dawabsheh family last summer. 

Palestinian society has no such reticence about killers that emerge from their families. Poll after poll confirms one of Israel’s greatest fears: that Palestinian society as whole remains deeply supportive of murdering Israeli civilians. In December, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research indicated that two-thirds of Palestinians support knife attacks against Israelis, a sharp rise from a 2011 poll that reported one-third of Palestinians said they approved of the murder of the Fogel family in Itamar. The simple fact is that our society is defined by the revulsion and deep sense of soul searching that has followed each incident. Theirs, simply, is not. 

That realization (or, more correctly, that re-realization) is a thousand times more painful this time around, specifically because I know so many Palestinians with deep moral convictions and close relationships with Israelis. But too many individuals and peace organizations — including Israeli-Palestinian organizations in which I am active — have remained silent. Last summer, we Israeli settlers prayed for the Dawabsheh family, but the response by the Palestinian peace community to the murders of Dafna Meir, Yaakov Don, Eitam and Na’ama Henkin and more than two dozen more innocent Israelis has been silence. I’m not sure where to go with all this. 

And so we continue. Ultimately, there is little choice but to forge ahead, if only in the hope, however forlorn, that our Israeli commitment to justice and peace for all residents of our tortured, holy land, will one day create the necessary conditions for Ali, Sami, Abdullah and so many others to sound their brave voices, and that one day their messages of peace and reconciliation will penetrate the values of their society.

Inshallah.


Andrew Friedman is a member of Shorashim/Judur, a grass-roots movement of local Israelis and Palestinians creating relationships and friendships in Judea and Samaria, as well as of the Interfaith Encounter Forum.

European liberal left leaves Europe in decay, blames the victim for failed policies

Recent incidents highlighted the dangerously failed European left-wing politics that has draped itself in the false cloak of morality and judgment.

Israel has been hit by over a thousand terror attacks perpetrated by Palestinian Arabs in a four month period.

With knifing, car ramming, fire bombing, rock throwing and occasional shooting attacks, about thirty Israelis have been killed and another two hundred hospitalized. Fortunately, the rapid response of armed Israeli citizens and the presence of highly trained security personnel managed to neutralize hundreds of attackers both in their terror acts or immediately after, thereby successfully reducing the number of victims.

Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, a regular anti-Israel provocateur, however demanded an international investigation into what she called “extrajudicial killings of Palestinians” in order to bring about “possible accountability.”

Her demand was yet another of her public acts of anti-Israelism. As with her past statements, she ignored Palestinian-incited mass terrorism against Israel and, instead, targeted the Israeli victim for possible prosecution.

Wallstrom has a talent for finding Israel guilty for all of Sweden’s woes. When, according to Swedish intelligence, over two hundred Swedes were reported to have joined ISIS, Wallstrom pointed at Israel when she said, “Clearly we have a reason to be worried not only here in Sweden but around the world because there are so many who are being radicalized. Here again, you come back to situations like that in the Middle East where not least there isn’t any future. The Palestinians either have to accept a desperate situation or resort to violence,” implying that Israel is responsible for the radicalization that is driving so many Swedes into the arms of Islamic terror groups.

Wallstrom is typical of the political sickness that has swept Europe and America. Her attitude of blaming the victim makes her a kindred political spirit to the Mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, who told the women of her city that they should have kept an “arm’s length” distance of the thousand migrant men that raped, sexually abused, and robbed almost two hundred German females in the central Cologne square on New Years Eve.

This is yet another example of a left-wing pro-immigration politician blaming the victim.

Swedish leftist politicians also advocated a badly flawed policy that allowed masses of unverified migrants into their country. As in Germany, one result has been the rapid rise of violent and disturbing crimes committed by this flood of undisciplined humanity, mainly from the Middle East.

Under politicians like Reker and Wallstrom, European nations have shifted from being homogenous countries into dysfunctional societies. In Sweden in 2104, there were 80,000 requests for asylum and leftist politicians allowed them to enter in the name of cultural tolerance.

Last year, the number of accepted migrants rose by 150% to 190,000 in Sweden, this time in the name of compassion. The Swedish Prime Minister said at the time, “My Europe doesn’t build walls.” 

Sweden’s Socialist generosity grants welfare benefits to non-Swedes. It also grants permanent resident status to stateless persons after four years, and citizenship after a number of years as residents. Little wonder that this has attracted hundreds of thousands of migrants to target Sweden. When the growing flood stormed over the Oresund Bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden and homeless people began camping out in Swedish town squares the same prime minister changed his tune by saying, “Sweden is no longer able to accept the high number of asylum-seekers we’re seeing today.”

Compassion, it seems, has its limits even in Sweden.

Wallstrom-style compassion for terrorism will also find its limits in Sweden, it seems, only after it experiences murderous terrorism on its soil.

Only then will a Swedish Foreign Minister, perhaps, understand how to fight terrorism and allow citizens and security forces to neutralize the killers in the same manner that Israel has done.

The only other way that countries such as Sweden and Germany will change the dangerous misguided and failing leftist socialist politics and rhetoric is by a frustrated and beleaguered population rising up and electing right-minded politicians able and willing to shift both domestic and foreign policies in defense of traditional and core values.

Israel is finding that countries that “get it” and shift to the right suddenly discover the way to solve their terrorism and migrants problems is to follow Israel’s examples.

Barry Shaw is the Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is also the author of ‘Fighting Hamas, BDS and Anti-Semitism.’ www.barrysbooks.info

Purported ISIS video threatens to wipe out Jews, in Hebrew

Israeli media circulated an online video that features the symbol of the Islamic State terror group and an armed militant, as well as vocal threats in Hebrew aimed at Israeli Jews.

The video, which surfaced online earlier this week, was described by some media as the Islamic State’s first message in Hebrew, but Army Radio reported Friday its authenticity could not be immediately confirmed.

YouTube has since taken the video down for violating its content policies.

The militant seen in the video is wearing a black balaclava that obscures his entire face, including his mouth, except for the bridge of his nose and his eyes. The video’s soundtrack consists of a man’s voice speaking colloquial and fluent Hebrew with a slight foreign accent and some minor grammatical errors, laced with Arabic religious expressions.

The Arabic spoken in the video is pronounced with guttural sounds absent from the Hebrew-language segments.

As the man faces the camera wearing a combat vest and strapping what appears to be an AK-47 assault rifle, the voice is heard saying: “This is a message to all the Jews, who are the Muslims’ No. 1 enemy.”

Soon, the voice promises, “not a single Jew will be left in Jerusalem or across Israel and we will continue until we eradicate this disease from the world.” The voice does not name the Islamic State but does contain boasts about “our conquests in Syria and Iraq.” The voice urges Israelis “to think for just a few seconds what will happen when we come from all over the world to slaughter you.”

It adds: “We see your crimes every day, and we will settle scores,” before the man pulls out a knife from his vest and cites a verse from the Koran promising victory to all Muslims.

According to Ynet, in recent months several dozen Arab Israelis have joined the Islamic State, with at least five dying in combat in Syria.

Author, psychologist delves inside ‘The Israeli Mind’

Alon Gratch practices psychology in New York but was born and raised in Jerusalem, which puts him in a unique position to tell us how Israelis see the world. Indeed, as he writes in “The Israeli Mind: How the Israeli National Character Shapes Our World” (St. Martin’s Press), “I came to see that since I’d left Israel, scarcely a day had gone by that I was not somehow, however vaguely, aware of my Israeli DNA.”

Gratch’s book comes at an opportune moment. Never before have the distinctions between the world views of American Jews and Israelis been more fraught with conflict and misunderstanding. The debate over the nuclear deal with Iran is the flashpoint: “At the time of my writing, no one knows if the West’s negotiations with Iran will slow down or stop its apparent race to develop nuclear weapons,” he observes. “Thus, in the next year or two, whether or not a deal is reached, the whole world will be watching Israeli behavior.”  

So Gratch assumes that the whole world has a stake in understanding what he calls the Israeli national character. Thus, for example, he seeks to explain why former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, among other American politicians and diplomats, have characterized more than one Israeli prime minister as “aggressive, arrogant, defensive, unyielding, intransigent, obstinate, argumentative, rigid, brusque, bullheaded, unreasonable, negative, mistrustful, obstructive, disruptive, and provocative.” Gratch sums it up as a manifestation of “the unique Hebrew word davka,” which he defines as a “naysaying tendency to disagree for the sake of disagreeing.”  

Gratch may be a psychologist, but history, diplomacy and politics provide him with the key to the davka phenomenon and how it reflects the Israeli national character. “A quick excursion into Zionist history would readily explain why the Israelis needed to develop this type of naysaying defense mechanism,” he explains. The pioneers of the Jewish state said “no” to all of the failed coping strategies of the Diaspora and “no to the local Palestinians who didn’t want them there; no to the Arab countries who vowed to drive them out of Palestine; no to depending on foreign governments and their police forces for protection.”

In his search for the commonalities of Israeli character, Gratch is compelled to point out the long and sometimes bloody history of conflict within Zionism and the Jewish state. Even so, he insists that the naysaying of one Jew to another Jew is consistent with his findings. “In light of this history, it is hardly surprising that many Israelis on both sides of the political map agree on only one thing, which is that they have nothing in common with each other,” he writes. “But paradoxically, because both groups have emerged from the same polarized environment, they do, in fact, have a great deal in common in their psychological make-up.”

Using the tools (and sometimes the jargon) of a psychologist, he looks at two versions of the mythic Israeli narrative — “the old, religious chosen-people variant” and “the new, miracle-in-the-desert Zionist variant” — and declares them both to be a kind of narcissism. Yet he does not see the duality as wholly dysfunctional. “Both play a role in how Israelis interpret the world,” he writes. “To a large extent, they are also responsible for the Israelis’ extraordinary record of achievements, as well as their failures and their persistent, potentially tragic denial of certain Middle Eastern realities.”

Not every example in “The Israeli Mind” is drawn from geopolitics. He describes how he witnessed a lighthearted conversation in a Jerusalem coffee shop between a graduate student and a young teacher about classroom cheating. “Well, if I caught a student cheating, I wouldn’t view it as a negative,” the teacher said. “I would see it as an indication that he wants to succeed.” Gratch concludes: “The Israeli mind’s failures at empathy, its lack of regard for reality, and its relentless drive for success, all produce a predilection for cutting corners, bluffing, and lying.”

The values and behaviors that make up what Gratch calls the Israeli national character can be seen as a form of psychological self-defense. “Israeli psychologists … have noted that everyday belligerence in Israeli society is rooted in unconscious anxiety,” he writes.

“Ever fearful of suicide bombings, rockets, bad news from the front lines, and even car accidents — driving on Israeli highways can be unsettling — Israelis live in a hyper-vigilant state of mind, often exercising a first-strike option in anticipation of an attack. Collectively, they can’t quite believe that the miracle of the Jewish state will endure.”

Throughout “The Israeli Mind,” Gratch demonstrates a mastery of the delicate inner workings of the human mind and, at the same time, a profound insight into the epochal movements of history — a rare but essential balancing act. He is a compassionate but exacting observer of the Israel character at a moment of great peril and consequence. That’s why his book is not only a work of genius but also, and more important, a beacon of light and hope. 

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