August 18, 2019

Israel On the Road: What I Learned from Israeli Taxi Drivers

Umbrella season on Yoel Solomon Street in Jerusalem. Photos by Sarah Tuttle-Singer

I love to take taxis in Israel.

I love to move from city to city, through the hills, across the plains, stuck in snarling traffic or flying down the highway. I love the winding roads through emerald green forests, and the long, flat stretches through the vast, white deserts.

And mostly, I love to take taxis because I love to talk to the drivers — like Gila, who wears turquoise rings, smells like coconuts and brays when she laughs; or Yossi, who knows all the words to every song by Tina Turner; or Ahmed, who prays five times a day facing Mecca and speaks fluent Yiddish.

I love that in an Israel that is often divided between religious and political differences, we get to share space.

I love how all the taxis smell the same — like cherry air freshener and cigarettes. I love how all the drivers complain about the cost of living, love their families and can’t wait for their next cup of coffee. And mostly I love how each person on the road has such different stories about who they are and what they’ve seen and where they want to go.

Above all, I love that I get to share some of these stories with you.

From Tel Aviv Central Bus Station to Jaffa Port 

“Taxi?” the man with the gold teeth asks.
“Yes. Jaffa Port, please.”
“Seventy shekels.”
“Nu. B’emet. Oh, come on. We’re 10 minutes away.”
“Fine. I’ll do it for 60.”
I roll my eyes and start to walk away.
“I’ll take you for 40,” another driver says. “I can see you aren’t a sucker.”
“Sagur. Deal.”
I get in the taxi.
“Where are you from? You look Swedish but you are too short to be Swedish,” he says.
“I’m from L.A.”

“I could fall for you,” he says. “Women bring down the world. Samson from your Bible, right? And the president of Israel, too. And Bill Clinton.” He sighs. “You look a little like the Swedish girl I saw in the Sinai many years ago when I was still too young to not know better. She was sitting there — without a shirt, without a bra, just … wow, wow, wow. I was staring and walking and staring and walking, and boom, I fell down the stairs and broke my leg. My friend laughed and said, ‘Well, you got something special, and now you pay for it.’ ”

I laugh.
We are close to the water now.
“Do you see that place?” he says. “That’s where the Dolphinarium was. Do you know it?”

I know it. I know about the kids blown to bits inside the nightclub in a horrific terror attack in June 2001.

“Those kids should have kids by now,” he yells out the window, shaking his fist. “They should have three kids each and be living in Ramat Gan. My God. Kids. They should be doctors and teachers and lawyers and maybe some would be getting divorced, but my God, they should be alive.”

“Yes, they should.”

“And now they’re tearing it down. Right. Left. It’s all bull—-. The government is bull—-.” He lights another cigarette. “Jew, Arab. It’s all bull—-.”

He takes a call and yells at someone.
“I’m sorry,” he says, hanging up. “It’s all bull—-.”
We curve around a hill. The old houses of Jaffa hug the terrain, the sky a deep blue.
“Look at this place,” he says. “It’s all bull—, but it’s my home.”
We get to the port and I hand him 50 shekels.
“Keep the change,” I say.
“Why? We said 40.”
I smile. “You gave me something special and I paid for it.” 

He laughs with all his teeth showing, and gives me a high-five. “Everything comes from above,” he says. “Even the bull—-. But especially mornings like this.”

A small road in central Israel.

From Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem to Kibbutz Gezer in central Israel

In the taxi with Raed, he says to me all the things I want to hear about peace and coexistence. “We all have to live together,” he says.

“You’re right,” I answer. 

“It isn’t easy in Jerusalem,” he says. “We don’t meet each other. Even if we are sitting at tables next to each other at the same restaurant.”

“Why is that?”
“Because the Jews are afraid to mix with us.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“Because they’re afraid we’ll sleep with their women and marry them and have babies with them.”
I start to interrupt.

“Wait,” he says and holds up his hand. “I had a girlfriend — a beautiful Jewish Israeli girl. She was even in the army. I had no problem with this. I brought her home on some weekends and she would stay with me. My parents took it fine, even though she was working at a checkpoint near my cousin’s village. They didn’t care. She was nice. So it was OK. In our culture, it’s fine for me to marry someone who isn’t Muslim. OK, my sister can’t. She has to marry a Muslim, but men can marry Jews, Christians. It’s fine.”

“Because Islam is passed through the father, right?”
“Yeah. It isn’t that way for Jews, though.”
“I know. My dad isn’t Jewish. My mom is. So I’m Jewish.”

“Right. OK. So I go out with this girl and it’s fine with my family, but her family? Wow. They were so angry. We weren’t going to get married or anything. I liked her. She liked me. But they hated the idea that she went to sleep with me at night and woke up with me in the morning. And her family weren’t even those crazy extremists who beat up Arabs. They vote for the left: Avoda B.S. Meretz, Shmeretz. They’re all happy to be left wing and eat our hummus and talk about coexistence until their kids are playing with our kids or their daughter is dating one of us.”

“I guess they’re afraid.” 

“Yes. But why? I’m a nice guy. I met her father. I tried to shake his hand. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. Do you know how that feels?”

I do know. I’m Jewish and I’ve traveled in countries where it isn’t always comfortable to be a Jew, and I tell him that.

“It hurts,” Raed says. “It makes me not want to even try to talk to people from your side because you’ve drawn lines and you’ve made sides. OK. Not you, but most Israelis, when they look at me, they see a dirty Arab. I’m sorry but I have to say the truth. Don’t they remember what it was like to be a ‘dirty Jew’? ”

I don’t know what to say, except, “I’m sorry this is happening. I want it to be different.”

“Me, too. I saw something I’ll never forget. There was an attack by the Damascus Gate. A cop was stabbed and the guy who did it was shot. There was blood everywhere. Red blood. All over. And I couldn’t tell where the Jewish blood stopped and the Arab blood began. We all bleed the same color. So why does it matter so much where we come from? We all are born the same way and we die the same way, too.” 

David Street in the Old City of Jerusalem.

From Latrun Junction in  the Ayalon Valley to Jerusalem 

The driver is really, really happy. The radio is on. “Infected Mushroom.” He’s bopping along. “What’s today?” he asks me. “Sunday? Monday?”

“Sunday.”
“OK. So I still have to wait two days for my weed.”
I laugh.
“Do you smoke, kapara?”
“Not really.”
“Too bad. It’s great for parties, you know?”

He tells me about the desert, about dancing all night at raves, about this girl he loves with pink hair and tattoos all up and down her arms. He’s wearing a yarmulke, and there’s a sticker on the dashboard with a picture of the Rebbe.

I check the news. My stomach drops when I read the headline: 1 Israeli killed, 2 critically injured in a terror attack. 

“Oh, my God.”
“What?”
“There was a terror attack.”
“When?”
“This morning.”

He sighs. “This is why I don’t listen to the news. I don’t smoke weed because it’s fun. I mean, OK, it’s fun. But I smoke because I have to, I swear. I even have a doctor’s note. After what I went through in Gaza, I have to smoke.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“When I hear the news, I can’t function. I get so thin because I won’t eat. You wouldn’t believe it. I mean, I look good, but I feel like hell. I just stay in my house and turn off all the lights and I don’t watch TV and I just check the windows. No one can get near me. The only thing that helps is smoking.”

“That sounds so awful and I’m so sorry.”

“What a mess,” he says. “You know, when I was a kid, before Gaza became what it is, my dad used to take me there for shopping and for hummus and we would go to the beach. He would carry me on his shoulders and then he would put me down and sometimes I played with the Arab kids while he smoked cigarettes.”

“It was different, wasn’t it?”

I love to move from city to city, through the hills, across the plains, stuck in snarling traffic or flying down the highway. 

“Yeah, it was. It’s a mess now,” he says again in English. “And then when I was a soldier, I was a commando on the beach and we had to shoot and I remembered that I used to be there playing, and maybe I shot one of the kids I played with.”

He lights a cigarette. “What a mess. Now I smoke weed and I put on tefillin and I pray just to get by. I can’t listen to the news. It’s too much.”

“I understand.”

“But this is my country and I need to know what’s happening to my country.”

He fiddles with the dial and switches the station.

A dirt road on a moshav in central Israel.

From Herzl Boulevard in Rehovot to my home on the moshav in central Israel

The taxi driver calls me Saraleh because he can see my name is Sarah from the Get Taxi app. He also can see I used a profile picture where my hair is blown out all shiny, and he says, “It still looks like you in the picture but I can see you had a busy day today and didn’t do your hair. But thank God you’re busy. Being not busy is the worst. I retired 10 years ago and I almost lost my mind until I became a taxi driver, HaShem Yishmor — God protect you.”

My 9-year-old son coughs.
“Here, have a candy,” the driver says. “It’s a candy for coughs.”
“We don’t take candy from strangers,” my son replies.
“It isn’t really candy. It’s medicine for your cough.”
“We don’t take drugs from strangers, either,” my 11-year-old daughter says.
“I’m not a stranger. Right, Saraleh? Tell your kids. We are all Israeli. We are all family.”
We all take a candy. They’re sealed. I make a mental note to talk about this with my kids at home.

“Stay busy, Saraleh,” he says. “Remember, being busy is better than good hair.” He rubs his bald spot and laughs. “And don’t forget to give Uncle Pinchas 5 stars and a tip.”

From Ramle in central Israel to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

The taxi driver has a tattoo on his right bicep of St. George slaying the dragon. His name is also George. And he also has an Israeli flag decal stuck on the dashboard.

I’m leaving the shuk in Ramle with my groceries, and the whole backseat of the taxi smells like mangos and fresh mint.

“I like your tattoo,” I say, and I show him the Coptic mermaid on my arm.
He asks if I’m Christian.
“No, I’m Jewish.”
“I’m a Christian. You’re lucky you’re Jewish.”
“How so?”
“This is your country. OK, I know outside of Israel it’s different but you can come here. This place will take you in no matter what.”
“That’s true,” I say. “This place is home.”

“You’re lucky,” he says again. “I wanted this place to be my home but it isn’t. I have no home. I was born here in Ramle and I am an Israeli but because I am not Jewish, Israelis look at me like I am an Arab and not a real Israeli. But most of the Arabs don’t accept me as a real Arab because they are Muslim and I am a Christian, so they call me a Zionist. Do you see? I want this place to be my home but it isn’t.”

“I’m sorry.” 

“You wouldn’t believe how hard I’ve tried to make it home. When I was in high school, I even begged the army to let me join. I sent letters. I even went to the offices in Tel Aviv. They said they have no record of me even applying. I wanted to join so badly to fight for this country and defend it but they don’t want me. Why? Because even though I am an Israeli, all they see is an Arab.” He sighs. “And now? I’ll tell you the truth. The first chance I get to leave this place, I am gone. Why should I stay where I’m not wanted? I would rather wander in the desert.”

We stop at a traffic light. He reaches over and peels the Israeli flag decal from his dashboard, crumples it, rolls down the window and throws it out.

A hot wind blows through the car. 

From Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv back home 

I think this must be the last taxi out of Tel Aviv on erev Yom Kippur. The streets have mostly emptied and already a few bicyclists are on the Ayalon freeway speeding toward the sunset.

That’s the thing about Israel. The whole country grinds to a halt on Yom Kippur. A stillness falls. Shops shutter, the radio goes silent. There’s nothing on TV unless you pay extra for satellite television. But the other thing about Israel is this place isn’t monolithic. There are people who fast. And people who don’t. There are people who pray. And people who won’t. Sometimes, people can’t.

And while the cars hold their parking spaces for 25 hours, in places like Tel Aviv, out come the bicycles. It’s amazing to see. From old men in neon orange short-shorts to little girls in pink helmets, to fathers and mothers chasing their kids who are riding three-wheelers, to teenage boys in Maccabi Tel Aviv jerseys trying to keep up with their pretty girlfriends, the highway becomes the Tour de France.

But that means we have to get off the road before sunset, before the holy day begins.

“Are you fasting?” the driver asks. “Eh,” he says, before I can answer. “Fast if you want. Don’t fast if you don’t want. Let me tell you a story. Every year on Yom Kippur, me and my army buddies would barbecue on the beach. Every single year. I brought the steaks. Sometimes chorizos after Yossi got back from Argentina. We drank beer and listened to music and smoked cigarettes from noon until three stars. Except one year, Yossi got a little religious on us and he said, ‘Halas, let’s go to synagogue this year.’ So we did. We all went.”

“How was it?” I ask.
“Ahh … first, ask me what year it was?”
“What year?”
“1973, kapara. 1973. Do you know what happened on Yom Kippur in 1973?”
Do I know what happened on Yom Kippur in 1973? 

While most of Jewish Israel — including these army buddies — were in synagogue on the holiest day of the year, Egypt and Syria launched a strike against Israel. 

Do I know what happened on Yom Kippur in 1973? 

There are men who held their friends in trenches and watched them die. There are women who never saw their husbands after their last kiss. There are babies who were born just a few months later with no fathers. 

Do I know what happened on Yom Kippur in 1973? 

We were almost brought to our knees. We almost lost that war. We almost lost everything. Even the right to fast on Yom Kippur. Or not fast. The right to stay in  synagogue or ride bikes down the Ayalon.

“Wow,” I say.

“So. You see? We never fasted again. We never went to synagogue on Yom Kippur. And every year since, we meet on the beach and barbecue like we did every year before that one terrible Yom Kippur when we went to synagogue like everybody else.” 

“Wow,” I say again.

“Eh,” the driver says as he slows for the exit. “That’s just how it is. Israel depends on our diversity. It’s why we keep surviving.”

Agripas Street outside Shuk Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem.

From Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station 

“I went to high school in the Old City,” Mahmoud tells me in Hebrew when we pull out of the taxi stand by Damascus Gate. “It was the school just inside the gate, near Al Wad by the mosque.”

“What was the school like?” I ask.
“Just a school. It was closed half the week, though.”
“Why?”
“The army would come in and shut it down.”
“Why?” I ask again.
“Do the years 2000-2004 mean anything to you?”

“Oh.” The bloody, terrible years here when every siren was followed by another and another, when Jerusalem smelled like smoke and burning flesh. 

“Yeah,” he says. “It was the [Second] Intifada and the army would come in and just shut us down, and so, instead of sitting in the classroom and learning math and history, we would all go up on the roof and chuck stones off the sides; not little pebbles but real stones.” He shakes his head.

I feel my stomach twist. Stones thrown from that distance could pulverize your skull and turn you into pink and grey and red, sinew, bone and blood if you were underneath. They were children and the stones were the heaviest weapons they could find.

“It was messed up,” he says. “Stupid kids all of us, and we did stupid stuff. But I was angry. My big brother was shot in the back by soldiers and he couldn’t walk or eat and had to pee through a tube.”

I think of my kids and their childhood spent with no real uncertainty, no barbed wire, no forced closures, no anger, no reasons to climb a roof and throw things.

And then I also think of how we spent a summer sleeping in bomb shelters and running over parched earth, and how, like every Israeli, we all know someone who was killed or injured in a terror attack or war.

“It was hard,” he says. “The soldiers would also come into the classroom and just look at all our faces and, if they didn’t like one face, they’d pull the kid out even if he didn’t throw stones. Even if all he did was just sit there without blinking. That made them mad, when we would stare back at them with no fear.

“But I don’t blame the soldiers. They had their job and we had our job and I really just blame the school for letting them in and letting them shut us down, and letting us have all that free time to do stupid and terrible things. Someone should have been the grown-up and made us stop. But no one did.”

He takes a sip of coffee.

“How’s your brother now?” I ask.

“He’s still alive, but not really. He’s just a ghost in a dried-out husk with a tube for peeing.”

We sit in silence for a while and he offers me a sip of his coffee. I take it. It smells like earth.

“Those kids should have kids by now,” he yells out the window, shaking his fist. “They should have three kids each and be living in Ramat Gan. My God. Kids. They should be doctors and teachers and lawyers and maybe some would be getting divorced, but my God, they should be alive.”

From King George Street in Jerusalem back home 

I am sharing a taxi with this woman on a frigid, moonless night in Jerusalem.

She is on her way back from working late in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim. I am heading out of the city, exhausted. The last bus had come and gone, belching down King George Street, probably an hour before. We are stranded but I have enough for a taxi, and I ask if we can drop her off.

“No, it’s OK. I’ll walk,” she says.
“No way. It’s freezing and it’s late.”
A taxi pulls over and we get in. She gives him directions and I shut my eyes.

I had never met her before but we are both American, which means we’re landsmen, which is as close as family some days, and we talk about her work and about the friends we have in common and about the things she cares about.

“I just read a horrible article about the Yemenite kids who disappeared,” she says. “I want to believe it isn’t true, but …”

All those Yemenite babies who vanished when they were born. Their parents were told they were born blue, but there were no bodies and no graves, and a mother never forgets the cry her child makes when he is born pink and healthy.

This was years ago and Israel had a terrible track record of treating non-European Jews as less than human in the 1950s. Evidence is inconclusive. Maybe these babies really died. But many people believe these kids were taken away and adopted out to Ashkenazi families that couldn’t have children and would do anything to be parents. Some speculate that the babies went to grieving and childless Holocaust survivors. That’s the best-case scenario, and it’s still the worst.

“It’s awful. The worst,” I say. “I don’t even want to imagine.”

We drop her off.

The taxi driver doesn’t charge her for the ride. “And don’t worry,” he says. “I won’t charge extra for you. It was nice of you to make sure she got home.”

“Thanks.”
“It’s Israel. We take care of one another.”
I smile and close my eyes. The taxi driver clears his throat. “Pardon?” I ask.
“The girl we just took home. What she said about the babies. It’s true,” he says.
He looks at me in the rearview mirror.

“I’m a Yemenite,” he says. “And my aunt had two babies. Two beautiful little girl babies. And the doctors told her one of them died when she was born. She grieved for her dead child and she threw her whole heart into raising her living one. That girl — my cousin — got older and got her draft notice for the army and she went to the army and she saw a girl who had her exact same face. And they had the same birthday, too. But her name was Weiss or Gold or something Ashkenazi, not Yemenite like her name should have been.”

“What happened?”

“My cousin tried to talk to her but the girl pushed her away and told one of the officers that she was harassing her, and so they moved her to a different unit and we never knew what happened to her. Her twin sister.”

“That’s heartbreaking. I’m so sorry.”

“Sometimes the truth is too horrible to face. She couldn’t face it. My aunt never got over it. Neither will I. Please tell people so they know, too.”

I shiver. 

And it’s Israel, and we take care of one another. So I’m telling you, just like he asked.

From home to the Terem emergency clinic in Modi’in

It’s 6:30 a.m. and my son’s arm is red and swollen and tingly from a bug bite he got yesterday at a friend’s house. I call Uncle Pinchas the taxi driver, and as soon as he answers, he says, “What’s wrong?” because it’s 6:30 a.m.

I tell him I need to get to Terem Urgent Medical Care with my son, so he says, “I’m already on the way.” 

He rolls up 10 minutes later in his pajamas with his flag from Independence Day still waving from the window, and he drives us 15 minutes to Terem, and while my son and I wait for the doctor, he goes to get us coffee because everyone needs coffee, especially when your kid is in Terem, HaShem Yishmor — God protect you.

By the time we are finished with the doctor and everything is OK (except my son has That Kind of Jewish Mother who freaks out about bug bites), Uncle Pinchas the taxi driver is sitting in the waiting room still in his pajamas reading Israel Hayom and muttering to himself. 

He hands me the coffee and tells me to drink it in the waiting room because I shouldn’t spill on myself in the taxi — HaShem Yishmor.

My son wanders over to the vending machine and stares at it longingly.
Uncle Pinchas folds his newspaper, gets up and says, “What do you want me to buy you?”
“No, it’s cool,” my son says.
“But you are like a son to me,” Uncle Pinchas says, and he buys him a Snickers bar, the breakfast of champions.
“But don’t eat in the taxi because you could choke — HaShem Yishmor,” Uncle Pinchas says.

He drives 15 minutes back to the moshav through the sweet morning.
“Thank you for taking such good care of us,” I say when we arrive.
“Of course, you are like family to me,” Uncle Pinchas the taxi driver says.
“That’ll be 480 shekels.”

From Jerusalem back home 

It’s evening and the driver is laughing.

“What?” I ask, my one earbud still in an ear while I listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
“That guy. Menachem.” He points to the driver in the taxi next to us. “He makes me laugh.”
He rolls down the window.
“Shalom! Ma koreh? How are you?” he shouts in Hebrew, his “k” hard and his “o” guttural.
Menachem in the other taxi, waves. “Kif Halak?” he replies in Arabic as he adjusts his black yarmulke.

We drive off.
“Do all the taxi drivers know each other?” I ask.
“Of course. We are family. We all look out for each other. When Menachem’s wife died, I came for shivah, and we break the fast together at least once every Ramadan.”

“Wow, that’s great.”

“La. It’s just reality. We have to be gentle with each other. At the end of the day, everyone just wants to get home.”


Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the new media editor at The Times of Israel and the author of “Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered: One Woman’s Year in the Heart of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish Quarters of Old Jerusalem.” She also speaks with audiences left, right and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau. Sarah is a work in progress.

Middle East the Subject of Many Teaching Approaches

Imagine you are standing in the front of a classroom — not at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion or American Jewish University, but a classroom whose students come from different countries, religions and cultures — and it is your job to teach your students about the modern Middle East. What words do you use when each one is loaded? “Teaching the Arab-Israel Conflict,” edited by Rachel S. Harris (Wayne State University Press), a collection of three dozen essays by educators who have been there and done that, offers some highly practical and often equally provocative answers to that question.

Harris, associate professor of Israeli literature and culture at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, opens the book with an authoritative essay that surveys the long and complex history of the encounter between Arabs and Jews in the place that both of them called Palestine until 1948. She confronts us with the fact that makes it so damnably hard to teach it or even talk about it — the problem to be solved is not one conflict but many, not merely a regional conflict but a global one, not only a matter of rival Arab and Jewish nationalisms but also the tectonics of war, religion and geopolitics. “Hence, the Arab-Israeli conflict should not be regarded as an inevitable, long-standing and unresolvable historical conflict but a dynamic, complex, constantly changing engagement whose parameters are dictated by issues of the day,” Harris insists.

Indeed, Harris herself — and many of the contributors to the book — have adopted a multidisciplinary approach in their own teaching. “That is to say that there are a wide number of ways to approach the study of the conflict and the region,” she explains. “There are courses in many fields including religion, conflict resolution, demography, economics, comparative literature, Jewish studies, film studies, gender studies, security studies, geography, tourism, education, peace studies, food studies, Mediterranean studies, international relations, urban planning, dance, music, and law.” Virtually all of these points of entry into the Arab-Israeli conflict are mentioned, sometimes in passing and sometimes in depth, in her important and enlightening anthology.

Virtually all aspects of the Arab-Israel conflict are subject to misunderstandings and false assumptions among students. “For example, until someone gives a presentation on Christian Palestinians, many students are not aware that there are substantial Palestinian and Arab populations who are not Muslim,” explains Janice W. Fernheimer in the essay “Comics and Conflict.” “Until someone gives a presentation on Ethiopian Jews and the Israeli Black Panthers, some students may not know that all Jewish Israelis are neither phenotypically ‘white’ nor culturally Ashkenazi.”

The sheer complexity of the curriculum, in fact, is the primary challenge to the instructor. “Teaching the conflict immediately brings to the forefront one problem students often have with needing absolutes,” writes Caitlin Carenen in the essay “Why Can’t We Just Create New Sacred Holy Sites?” “They crave universal truth, absolutes, and clear ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ Throughout the semester, I witness students struggling to determine ‘whose side they are on.’ ” Carenen’s measure of success, as she describes it, is “the students’ improved sense of perspective and appreciation of the conflict’s complexity.”

And yet, even if instructors aspire to an evenhanded approach to the subject, they remain at risk of provoking the students who bring their own points of view into the classroom. That’s why Donna Robinson Divine issues a warning that appears in the title of her essay, “Teaching Students How to Think, Not What to Think, About the Middle East Conflict.” She goes on to explain that “[t]he initial readings, including excerpts from books or articles by Edward Said, Fawaz Turki, Hillel Halkin, Amos Oz, and Aaron Soloveichik, encourage students to confront the fact that this conflict is not only about a piece of real estate; it is also about different and competing conceptions of national identity. And on that topic, Zionists and Palestinians disagree as much within their own communities as across the national divide.”

Some of the contributors bring wit and wry humor to their pedagogy. Ari Ariel, for example, uses hummus as the focus of his classes on the Arab-Israel conflict precisely because both Arabs and Israelis claim it as a national dish. “Food is among the best tools for unsettling static notions of identity and for humanizing others,” he explains in “Feeding Minds.” “Ironically, this is because we tend to think about food in fixed ethnic terms. The more we study food ways, however, the clearer it becomes that they are among the most hybrid of practices. This realization then helps us to question other ways we categorize foods and the peoples who eat them.”

One principle, above all, serves as the guiding light for the three dozen contributors, including scholars from various religious and national backgrounds who teach in the United States, Israel and the West Bank, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere in the world. “Though one may make pretensions to study Israel without Palestine or Palestine without Israel,” writes Liora R. Halperin in an essay titled “Teaching Israel/Palestine Studies,” “the practice of scholarship requires facing both Israel and Palestine.” Anyone who enters the conversation, no matter where it takes place, overlooks Halperin’s healthy caution at his or her own peril.


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

AOC Agrees with Radio Host About Israel’s Treatment of Palestinians Being ‘Very Criminal’

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, seen in a photo from March, has taken criticism from the right and from some on the left for comparing U.S. detention centers to concentration camps. (JTA/Lars Niki/Getty Images for The Athena Film Festival)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) agreed with a radio host about the Israeli “occupation” being “very, very criminal.”

Ocasio-Cortez made the remarks in a July 30 appearance on the “Ebro in the Morning” show based in New York. 

Host Ebro Darden said there are “multiple corrupt governments working together” worldwide, citing Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States. He then said that “there are a lot of young Jewish people I know that are against the occupation” and that “what’s going on with Israel and Palestine – while it’s very, very deep – it is very, very criminal and it is very, very unjust.”

Ocascio-Cortez replied, “Absolutely. I think to where we’re at as a country when it comes to Israel-Palestine is very much a generational issue.” She added that “young Jews in Israel” are tired of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said that the Netanyahu government is just like the Trump administration.

“The Right wants to advance this notion that if you engage and critique an Israeli policy you are anti-Semitic. But it’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Ocasio-Cortez said, adding that “criticizing the occupation doesn’t make you anti-Israel… it means that you believe in human rights.”

She also said, “I don’t think that by marginalizing Palestinians, you create safety. “I believe that injustice is a threat to the safety of all people, because once you have a group that is marginalized and marginalized and marginalized — once someone doesn’t have access to clean water, they have no choice but to riot, right? And it doesn’t have to be that way.”

She went onto praise the liberal Jewish group IfNotNow, who were behind the boycotts of Birthright trips, and defended calling the migrant detention facilities concentration camps, saying that she wasn’t referring to the Holocaust and that her use of the term fueled the conversation about the facilities.

Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks in a phone interview with the Journal.

“The PA has good relations with Venezuela, North Korea, Cuba, China, but they’re not interested in connecting real dots, they’re just interested in linking up Israel to right-wingers and right-wing extremists and criminal in so far as their interaction with the Palestinians,” Cooper said. “She wasn’t just saying ‘Amen’ to the main charge of criminality, she went onto compare the Netanyahu and Trump administrations and that’s an automatic signal to her followers that you can discount any criticism launched by people seeking to defend Israel at a time when it’s led by Bibi Netanyahu.”

He called on Democratic activists and leadership to “be responsive to these kinds of unwarranted, over-the-top attacks that just legitimize defaming Israel and her supporters.”

The Progressive Zionists of California (PZC) said in a statement to the Journal, “A simplistic understanding of the conflict gets one easy district votes but managing the heart of the conflict requires commitment to a multitude of narratives and priorities. PZC is concerned about the spectrum of interests represented in the conflict. We encourage American diaspora policy makers to seek out Mizrahi and former Soviet Union Jews on narrative creation and policy making decisions concerning disputed territories and final status negotiations. These communities form most of the Israeli electorate, are increasingly important but often misunderstood constituencies of the American Jewish community, and no security agreement exists without them.”

H/T: Washington Examiner

This article has been updated.

Sephora Faces Controversy Over ‘Palestine’ Comment

Sephora makeup store. Photo by Wikipedia Commons

Sephora, the Paris-based multinational chain of beauty stores found itself in hot water June 2 after a customer asked on Instagram whether they ship to Israel.

Sephora responded, stating, “No we do not ship to Palestine at this time.”

Instagram comments about Sephora’s new products quickly transformed from compliments and heart emojis to criticism and Israeli and Palestinian flag emojis.

Sephora commenting on Instagram.

Sephora posted a statement on their official Twitter account June 3 saying, “@sephora was asked on Instagram if we ship to Israel, and then asked if we ship to Palestine. Our US-based dotcom does not ship to Israel or Palestine. We responded as such. Our responses were about shipping capabilities only and should not be interpreted as anything else. For more information on international shipping for Sephora US, please visit https://www.sephora.com/beauty/international-shipments.”

The Journal reached out to Sephora via email asking the company for more information on the situation. Sephora responded on June 10 with the same statement that appeared on Twitter. The Journal could not find any reference to Sephora’s statement about a request regarding its shipping policy to Palestine on any of its social media platforms.

Following a claim made on Twitter on April 30 by R&B singer SZA who said she was racially profiled while shopping for Fenty Beauty products at a Sephora store in Calabasas, the company apologized to the singer on Twitter and later decided to close more than 400 stores across the U.S. on June 5 for a diversity and inclusion training for its employees.

Screenshot from Twitter

Asked about the diversity training in light of the Instagram controversy, Sephora sent a statement via email to the Journal on June 13 that read in part, “Sephora is a client-centric company and creating a welcoming space for all our clients is our top priority. The ‘We Belong to Something Beautiful’ campaign has been in the works for a year, and the plan to close our U.S. stores, distribution centers, call centers and corporate office for a one-hour inclusivity workshop with our 16,000 employees has been in development for over six months, timed with our first campaign chapter debuting on June 6th. This store closure is part of a long journey in our aspiration to create a more inclusive beauty community and workplace, which has included forming employee resource groups, building Social Impact and philanthropic programs, and hosting inclusive mindset training for all supervisors.”

Sephora continued, “While it is true that SZA’s experience occurred prior to the launch of the ‘We Belong to Something Beautiful’ campaign, the campaign was not the result of this Tweet. However, it does reinforce why belonging is now more important than ever.”

Where Is Jewish Pride?

The flag in question looked like this. Via WikiCommons

Perhaps the most surprising part of the D.C. Dyke March, which sought to ban rainbow flags embossed with the Star of David, was how surprised many people were by it.

I mean, where have they been for the past decade? 

Demonization of Israel, and by extension Jews, has now been fully normalized on the left, as part of a broader campaign to replace Israel with “Palestine,” in the false name of social justice.

The decision of the organizers to explicitly allow the Palestinian flag was far from incidental. “We choose to prioritize Palestinian lives and justice in Palestine over lazy symbols,” wrote the organizers. What sentence better sums up what “intersectionality” has become, or perhaps has always been? Does anyone really think a similar message won’t prevail at the Democratic National Convention in 2020?

I fully respect how A Wider Bridge, Zioness and the Anti-Defamation League chose to deal with the Dyke March’s ban: call it anti-Semitism and essentially force their way in. But I don’t think it’s ultimately effective — the problem of leftist anti-Semitism grows exponentially every day — and it is not, in my opinion, the dignified liberal Jewish response. 

Jews should not be groveling to be part of groups that hate us — we should not be forced to pray to the false god of identity politics. 

Moses gave us a blueprint on how to deal with situations like this. Throughout most of our history, we were not in a position to follow this blueprint. Today we are.

But in the name tikkun olam, many of us have forgotten that in order to be a light unto nations we first have to be a light for ourselves. We have come to tolerate hate against Jews that we would never tolerate against any other group. But we can’t help anyone else until we strongly unify ourselves against hate from both the left and the right.

“Jews should not be groveling to be part of groups that hate us.”

The normalization of anti-Semitism on the left is based on an easily refutable set of lies about Israel and Jews repeated over and over again on campuses, in the media and, now, in Congress. The Jewish liberal response is not to beg the perpetrators and pawns of these lies to be part of this pre-genocidal hatefest. The liberal Jewish response is to correct the lies — to tell the truth over and over again; to pull funding from any group or university that continues to employ anyone who perpetuates the lies; and perhaps most important, to stand tall throughout the process.

The purportedly Jewish organizer of the D.C. Dyke March didn’t know that the Star of David has been a symbol of Judaism for thousands of years. Many on the left apparently don’t know that Israel is a bastion of freedom for women and the LGBT community — that gay Palestinians flee to Israel for protection. Meanwhile, criminalization of homosexuality is the norm in Muslim countries, with nine retaining the death penalty. Beheadings and stonings are common responses.

A truly liberal left would hold Israel as an example of what LGBT rights would look like in the Middle East. Instead, Israel is falsely condemned, and citing Muslim homophobia is considered Islamophobic. Clearly, much work needs to be done — and it should be done in tandem with the Muslim Reform Movement.

Second, liberal Jews should walk away from hate groups and create truly liberal spaces — spaces that reteach liberalism through tolerance, respect, justice and compassion. Personally, I would also walk away from the word “progressive” — let the haters have it — but I understand the argument not to do so. For years, I’ve been told to walk away from the word “liberal,” but I refused. Today, most media outlets use leftist to refer to the illiberalism on the left.

Finally, there has never been a better time to enhance our Jewish pride through wearing those “lazy symbols” — the Star of David, the kippah — that have kept us as a people through centuries of persecution.

When we stand up with dignity against our oppressors, we show oppressed groups all over the world how to face lies, bigotry and ignorance — how to act as a free people. Liberalism stems from the essential principles of Judaism, and Zionism is a subset of liberalism. It’s time to fully own that.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.

NYC Councilmember: ‘Palestine Does Not Exist’

Screenshot from Twitter.

New York City (NYC) Councilman Kalman Yeger created some controversy on March 27 when he tweeted that “Palestine does not exist.”

It started when Yeger, a Jewish Democrat, tweeted in response: to Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) Twitter thread criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahy for singling her out in his AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference speech.

A Twitter user responded to Yeger by pointing out that the councilman has previously said that “Palestine does not exist” and has used the term “so-called Palestinians.” Yeger tweeted in response, “Palestine does not exist. There, I said it again. Also, Congresswoman Omar is an anti-Semite. Said that too. Thanks for following me.”

Yeger’s tweet drew rebukes from Women’s March, Inc. co-leader Linda Sarsour and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Former Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind defended Yeger:

According to Jewish Virtual Library, the term “Palestine” originated from the Philistines, who were ancestors of the Greeks. Palestine was loosely used to refer to southern Syria under the Ottoman Empire; after the empire fell, the word “Palestine” was used to refer to the land that eventually became Israel and Jordan. Today, Judea and Samaria and Gaza are referred to as the Palestinian territories, however an official state called “Palestine” has never been established.

Middle School Map Shows Israel Labeled As ‘Palestine’

Screenshot from Twitter.

A map that was displayed at a March 7 Georgia middle school multicultural event featured all of Israel labeled as “Palestine.”

The map was part of a table on Palestinian culture at Autrey Mill Middle School’s Multicultural Night in Fulton County; the map was not provided with any sort of context. The Palestinian cultural table also featured a tapestry of a Handala, a Palestinian refugee child.

Several Jewish parents expressed anger to the 11Alive local news outlet.

“Israel wasn’t mentioned on that map at all,” one mother said. “They basically wrote Palestine in the place of Israel. They, the Palestinians, talk about from the land to the sea, which means having all the Jews wiped away and the Palestinians on the land instead of the Jews.”

Another mother told 11Alive, “Nobody in the school was going over the content of the materials that is being presented.”

The school’s principal, J.E. Trey Martin, sent a letter to parents on March 8 stating he was “extremely disappointed and disgusted with the individuals who presented an insensitive political and geographic representation.”

“This display does not represent our school culture which is one that values inclusion and unity,” Martin said. “Let me be clear, we condemn this attempt to use our Multicultural Night for one’s own political or religious agenda. Please know that this type of display is not acceptable nor supported by the faculty and staff of Autrey Mill Middle School. This school is here for kids, not politics.”

Martin added that the school district would be investigating the matter.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) Georgia chapter, said in a March 12 press conference that the map was representing “the real history of Palestine from 1920 to 1948 under the British government” and that the Palestinian students have been subjected to harassment as a result of Martin’s statement.

“By publicly condemning these students before gathering the facts, Fulton County Schools validated an online smear campaign, turned a simple misunderstanding into a public spectacle, undermined the guarantee of free speech, and put a target on the back of the school’s Palestinian-American students,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell also said that the school approved the map and the principal visited the Palestinian cultural display during the event.

Fulton County Schools District spokeswoman Susan Romanick said in a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “FCS district leaders and local administrators are working with individuals, parents, students and groups at Autrey Mill Middle School on a personal and individual basis, in an effort to create a better understanding of different cultures.”

According to Jewish Virtual Library, 1922 Mandate for Palestine authorized Britain to establish a Jewish state on the land that is now Israel, citing “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine.”

Hard Lessons Before Steps Toward Peace

War and conflict are a messy business that rarely corresponds to the tidy accounts taught in schools. That certainly can be said about Israel’s struggle to be born and exist. Intellectual honesty demands a hard look at all aspects of the turmoil and its effects on Israelis and Palestinians.

Conflicts are always messier when opinions are fueled by religion. For many Jews, resettling the land of Israel after an absence of 2,000 years marked by wandering, persecution and near annihilation represents the attainment of a safe haven and the chance of becoming a “normal” nation.

From childhood, Palestinian children are taught that their ancestors had been living on the land for thousands of years and were uprooted by a European-Asiatic people with no valid claim to the land, displacing their parents and grandparents. The world stood idly by, they are told, and allowed this to happen because of guilt over the Holocaust. It is a sacred duty of every Palestinian to devote their lives and perhaps even to be martyred to drive out the “Crusader imperialist Jews,” they are taught.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is exceedingly complex. To couch it simply in terms of “an occupation of a land by a people who have no claim to it and the subjugation of its native people who have the sole rights to that land” completely negates the possibility that the other side has a narrative that ties them to the land, or even the possibility that the other side has a right to a narrative.

Lost in the war of ideas that underlies the conflict is the simple notion that this is simply a land dispute between two peoples who lay claim to all of the area referred to by some as Israel and by others as Palestine.

“Each side is taught to regard the other as stereotypical evil, the ultimate “other,” people to fear and loathe.”

In my view, the Israeli-Palestine conflict will never be resolved at its root cause until each side reaches a profound conclusion that the other has a valid narrative that binds them to that land.

Each side eventually must come to the realization that the other side “isn’t going anywhere.” Only then can the process begin toward true mutual respect, coupled with the understanding that in no way, shape or form can one side hope to exert total control over all of the land. After that is understood, both sides are left with three options: unending conflict, division of land where each side must compromise deep-seated religious beliefs, or living as equal citizens in one multiethnic society.

Teaching students only one side of the story, something that is becoming increasingly prevalent in American universities today, is not only intellectually dishonest but will ultimately perpetuate the conflict indefinitely.

At the root of this conflict is prejudice in its purest form. Each side is taught to regard the other as stereotypical evil, the ultimate “other,” people to fear and loathe. Very little effort is expended to bridge the gap by trying to meet as people on a large scale in good faith.

Much ink has been spilled over the years on the terrible cancer that is prejudice, which we all experience to a greater or lesser extent. Mostly, we read about the victims of prejudice and rightfully so, but not enough is said or written about the corrosive effect that being the target of prejudice has on its perpetrators. There are many forms of bigotry and the terrible cost that is paid by all involved. Most of us, when asked what prejudice is, describe racial prejudice. Although that is the most pervasive form of prejudice, especially in the United States, prejudice, in general, is about judging a  person without having sufficient facts about that person.

Studying the effects of prejudice is becoming increasingly important during a time when there’s an upsurge of its ugly impact all over the world. Until both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict move beyond their prejudice, the shootings, stabbings and bombings will never end.


Leo Rozmaryn is a reconstructive hand and microvascular surgeon and author of “Lone Soldier,” a historical fiction novel of romance, mistaken identity, war and politics set during the tensions between the U.S. and Israel during the early 1970s. For more information, visit lonesoldierbook.com. 

Why Would Bibi Make a Deal With Kahanists?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

“The embodiment of hillul ha-Shem [profaning God’s name] in Judaism today is the Kahane movement, whose latest political incarnation … has just been brought into the Israeli mainstream … with the active encouragement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

— Yossi Klein Halevi

“We aren’t talking about an ideological partnership with the far-right but rather a legitimate ad hoc merger to establish a bloc that can prevent the left from taking power.”

— Dror Eydar

So which is it?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to push for a political deal that could help bring representatives of the far-right Kahane movement into the Knesset has prompted widespread anger and condemnation, including a rare rebuke from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The organization, retweeting a stronger condemnation of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), said it had “a longstanding policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party.”

AIPAC did not mention Netanyahu by name, nor the parties involved, but the message was clear: Netanyahu crossed a line.

Yair Lapid of the Kahol Lavan party called it a “shameful deal.” Well-known Israeli Rabbi Benny Lau likened it to “a destruction of the temple.” Roni Milo, a former minister of Netanyahu’s Likud party, argued that “no real student of [Zeev] Jabotinsky” — Likud’s ideological pillar — “can accept this.” 

Was this condemnation justified? That depends on whether you think it is crucial for Israel to keep Netanyahu in his job as prime minister. 

To understand this issue, one must begin with the scenario leading up to the deal — a product of Israel’s complicated electoral system. It goes like this: A coalition must have at least 62 seats in the Knesset. According to current polls, the Netanyahu coalition has a slim edge of one or two seats. Moreover, this edge is fragile because of Israel’s electoral threshold, which requires that a party must receive a minimum of 3.25 percent of the vote — about four seats — to even get into the Knesset. Two weeks ago, some of the parties that Netanyahu relies upon were dangerously close to coming up short of the threshold. In such a case, the votes they gain would be split proportionally between all parties based on a complicated formula.

So, Netanyahu faced a dilemma: If he did nothing, the right-wing parties could end up fighting and splitting apart, risking the majority that has kept him in power. But the prime minister has strong ambition and a long memory. He still remembers 1992, when the right was split and lost control of the Knesset when a few parties in its coalition failed by less than a percentage point to meet the threshold. 

The result was the Yitzhak Rabin government, which led to a sharp turnaround in Israel’s policies, in particular the Oslo Accord with the Palestinians — a turnaround Netanyahu and most Israeli voters came to regret and reject.

As one watches the recent developments in Israel’s political arena and ponders Netanyahu’s actions, one must keep 1992 in mind. Because sometimes, a few percentage points have great consequences. 

“The Arab Balad Party had representatives in the Knesset that assisted terrorists, supported Hezbollah and rooted for Syria’s Bashar Assad. Still, the Meretz party opposed the move to deny a state-funded pension from the founder of the party.”

The leaders of Otzma Yehudit, a marginal entity on the far-right outskirts of Israel’s political system, consider themselves the disciples of Rabbi Meir Kahane, a Brooklyn-born activist known for his radical views. Before he was assassinated in a Manhattan hotel in 1990, Kahane served one term in the Knesset before Israel’s courts ruled him unfit to run again and the United States government declared his Kach party a terrorist group. His successors continue to call for the annexation of greater Israel and the expulsion of people whom they consider disloyal to Israel — by which they probably mean most Palestinians.  

Kahane’s disciples have followers. Not very many, but not as few as one would hope. Their followers tend to be religious and right-wing. They are on the margins of the camp that holds Netanyahu’s coalition. To their left — yes, the term “left” is a little awkward in such context — is the right-wing religious party, Jewish Home. It is a party in crisis. Its two charismatic leaders, Ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayeled Shaked, departed to form the New Right Party, and some voters are going to leave with them. 

Enter Netanyahu and his long memory of political disasters. If the Jewish Home party doesn’t cross the threshold, the right could lose close to four seats. Netanyau’s coalition currently does not have two — let alone four — seats to spare. So, he took action: He leaned hard on Jewish Home’s leaders to include two Kahanists on their list. If all right-wing religious parties join forces, their list will surely cross the threshold. No votes will be lost. And Netanyahu will get his coalition. 

What is the meaning of all this?

When Kahane was elected, many members of parliament made sure to excuse themselves from the main hall when he was making speeches. Then they changed the law, forbidding parties that reject democracy or support racist ideas from running for the Knesset. In 1988, Kahane could no longer run. The Supreme Court sealed his party’s fate by declaring that its purposes and actions were “clearly racist.”  

Kahane did not have much impact when he was a Knesset member, nor did any of his disciples. They formed new groups and parties and are allowed to run, unless or until the courts say otherwise. Michael Ben-Ari, one of two Kahanist activists who could become Knesset members thanks to the deal, was a member from 2009 to 2013 and no one seemed to notice. From time to time he would make a controversial comment or stage a provocative protest, but his impact on Israel’s policies was marginal and his presence was contained. Netanyahu probably believes that if Ben-Ari were to become a Knesset member again, the same scenario would likely be repeated. 

Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1984

No serious observer suspects that Netanyahu is a supporter of the Kahane ideology. He is not. For him, the question is one of balance: Which would be worse — one Kahanist in the Knesset or a government headed by someone other than Netanyahu?

Let me suggest an answer: Neither will be the end of the world.

This is not the first time a Kahanist will be in the Knesset. Israel survived Kahanists before, including the original. Similarly, Israel existed before Netanyahu and, hopefully, it is going to survive his departure from office. 

Obviously, not all people agree with this assessment — namely, the prime minister. 

Netanyahu believes that keeping him as the leader of the government is essential for Israel’s future — so essential that he is justified in forging a dirty deal with the Kahanists. If one agrees that the country will be in grave danger without him, an ugly deal with a marginal faction of extremists would seem a small price to pay.

Does anyone believe such foolishness? Does anyone really think that Netanyahu is so essential to Israel?

You might be surprised to learn that the answer is yes. About half of Israel’s population is going to vote for a Netanyahu coalition, despite the Kahane deal. These Israelis are not happy about having a reprehensible Kahane ideology in the Knesset, but they accept it as an ugly political reality preferable to the alternative.

They accept it because they remember Oslo and understand that political purism can be dangerous to the practitioner. They also accept it because they believe the attack on Netanyahu is hypocritical. Parties that are denouncing the prime minister for letting in Kahanists were not so keen to censor problematic political elements on the left when such opportunities presented themselves. The Arab Balad Party had representatives in the Knesset that assisted terrorists, supported Hezbollah and rooted for Syria’s Bashar Assad. Still, the Meretz party opposed the move to deny a state-funded pension from the founder of the party, who escaped Israel when the authorities realized he was a Hezbollah spy. 

But even without going so far as blaming the left for relying on supporters of terrorism, Israeli right-wingers have reasons to giggle when the left accuses them of cutting dirty deals. Was not Oslo a result of a dirty deal?

Netanyahu can still recount in detail how the Rabin government, struggling to form a slim majority to pass what is known as Oslo B — an agreement that gave the Palestinians self-rule in some areas — essentially bought the votes of two Knesset members (they got positions and benefits in exchange for their votes).

Gonen Segev, one of the two politicians who gave Rabin his 61-59 majority, was just sentenced to 11 years in prison, having been convicted for spying for Iran. That’s right, the man without whom there would be no Oslo Accord is now a convicted spy.

Of course, a large group of people see the Kahane deal as a red line that should not be crossed, no matter the circumstances or consequences. 

“There’s a difference between a racist party entering the Knesset — the fringes of Israeli democracy can unfortunately contain such elements — and their being encouraged by the prime minister,” said Yohanan Plesner of Israel’s Democracy Institute.

Rabbi Lau made a similar point: “In the name of love for the land of Israel and maintaining sovereignty over it, the prime minister enticed the followers of Rabbi Kook [from the Jewish Home party] to make the abomination of racism kosher and enable it to enter the gates of the Knesset.”

Both are right. The involvement of Netanyahu in cutting such a deal potentially could confer a grain of legitimacy on an abhorrent ideology.

So what would opponents of the deal expect?

Apparently, they expect Netanyahu and his supporters to tolerate the prospect of a loss in the next election — and much more. “Jewish safety and sovereignty cannot come at the expense of Palestinian rights, freedoms and dignity,” wrote Batya Ungar-Sargon, the opinion editor at The Forward. She is extremely angry at Israel and at the deal. She also has her priorities set: Palestinian rights first, safety second. That is, the safety of me and my children. Naturally, with such priorities, condemning the Kahane deal is quite easy, as it allows for no argument in favor of the deal. 

“No serious observer suspects that Netanyahu is a supporter of the Kahane ideology. He is not. For him, the question is one of balance: Which would be worse — one Kahanist in the Knesset or a government headed by someone other than Netanyahu?”

Right-wing Israelis are not receptive to complaints about dirty political deals, even less so when those arguments come from people in the United States — people who won’t suffer the consequences if Israel’s election produces a bad outcome.

Israel Hayom, Israel’s most popular newspaper, which is highly supportive of Netanyahu, was critical of AIPAC’s tweet: “For years, the left has counted in every coalition calculation the pro-Palestinian radical left along with it. This included Arab parties working to destroy Israel’s Jewishness by claiming that it was ‘racism.’ … Where was AIPAC so far, why did we not hear this moral preaching to the Israeli left about this alliance?”

On social media, as usual, the response was sometimes more brutal.

Irit Linur, a very well-known, controversial and popular Israeli novelist, radio personality and commentator, posted: “If the righteous Jews of the United States have the will and the energy to fight abhorrent racism that operates under the auspices of parliamentary legitimacy, let them refer to Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, two anti-Semitic congresswomen, both of whom doubt Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and recently accused AIPAC of bribing American politicians to support Israel. In my opinion, it is a scandal that a legitimate party accepts two anti-Semitic racists such as Omar and Tlaib. … So if AIPAC is already at the preaching mode, take care of your party first, in the country where you are a citizen, and mess with our parties when you become citizens of the State of Israel.”

Many Israelis liked the post, giving it 2,100 likes, 268 comments and 323 shares.

For most Israelis, politics is not always easy. Had they been told in advance that the only way to ensure their safety was to have two Kahane representatives in the Knesset, I assume most of them would have grudgingly accepted the deal. And in fact, that is exactly the message conveyed by the prime minister’s actions: “It’s either the deal or your safety — because a coalition other than mine is not going to keep you safe.”

Do I buy this argument? No. I abhor the Kahane deal. 

But for the reasons I’ve attempted to explain, I understand why other Israelis do.  


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

The Fyre Festival and the ‘Palestinian Cause’

Fyre Festival turned out to be one of the biggest marketing scams in history — what concertgoers called a “living nightmare.”

The Fyre Festival and the “Palestinian cause” have a lot in common.

In 2017, the Fyre Festival was promoted to the American public on social media as the ultimate destination music festival, to be held in the Bahamas and attended by the world’s top models and celebrities. It turned out to be one of the biggest marketing scams in history — what concertgoers called a “living nightmare” after they spent tens of thousands of dollars on a ticket package and then found out there was no festival. Billy McFarland, the 26-year-old founder and CEO of Fyre Media, the company promoting the festival, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and in October a federal district court judge in Manhattan sentenced him to six years in prison and ordered him to forfeit more than $26 million. Hulu and Netflix are now showing separately produced documentaries about the scam. 

The “Palestinian cause,” as promoted by far-left activists, likewise paints a much sexier portrait of the situation than the reality. Fyre Festival ticket buyers were seeking a glamorous destination where they would be part of an exclusive in-crowd, even if their daily lives bore little resemblance to the luxury-lifestyle experience offered. In the case of the anti-Israel cause, often well-meaning but naive young people are attracted by a similar longing — to be a part of a movement they don’t understand and have not looked into, but that offers to give them a sense of purpose and belonging. Unfortunately, the reality in both cases is not even remotely close to the “goods” they have been sold.

I oppose discrimination against Israelis and Palestinians, based on my morality as a progressive Israeli. It is disturbing and bizarre that some Western activists on the far left, completely disconnected from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are so fervently dedicated to tearing down my people. This almost obsessive passion and fetishization stems from the poorly conceived notion that this cause represents their values. On the one hand, they feel very bad for oppressed people, support the LGBTQ community, fight for gender equality, and advocate for racial and economic justice. On the other hand, they ignore the fact that if you actually go to the Palestinian territories, you will find the values there are not the same. The promise of a left-wing utopia in Palestine, for the time being, is just as false as the Fyre Festival’s promises.

At the international level, the European Union, the United Nations and many countries pour billions of dollars into the Palestinian leadership, all stemming from the belief in a false reality that the money will lead to a peaceful and more progressive Middle East. As a matter of fact, the Palestinian Territories receive more aid per capita than any country in the world, yet the reality for Palestinians is far from peaceful, even at the hands of their own leaders. Similarly, at the grass-roots level, if you support Palestine, if you fight against Israel, if you support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, you are promised to be a part of something greater, even if no one knows what that actually means (hint: it’s not peace). 

As a digital-marketing professional, I know full well that marketing these ideas in the age of digital media isn’t difficult. It doesn’t even matter how bad your product is in a world of digital and social media influencers, because any nobody can be a somebody with the right retweets and likes. Any post has the potential to go viral and reach millions. Any tweet could make you a celebrity. To many, it doesn’t matter what the truth is, they’re buying the feeling that the marketing gives them, and oftentimes even the marketers themselves aren’t aware of what they’re selling.

“At the grass-roots level, if you support Palestine, if you fight against Israel, if you support the [BDS] movement, you are promised to be a part of something greater, even if no one knows what that actually means.”

Fyre Festival’s marketing team had almost no idea what was going on throughout the planning of the festival. Their focus was on marketing a concept, which they did remarkably well, using influencers like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid to promote the festival. The influencers, too, had no idea what was actually going on with the product they were promoting, but they were paid handsomely to do so — much like the countries who provide financing to Palestinian leaders with little to no knowledge of where their money actually ends up — or if it’s being used to pay terrorists.

Similarly, the naive supporters of the BDS movement who present Palestine as a cause that LGBTQ people should get behind, almost never know that 93 percent of Palestinians hold homophobic views (according to Pew research). The activists who say Palestine is a cause for the black community to support often do not know that the term “black person” in Palestinian Arabic literally translates to “slave.” The ones who say Palestine is a cause for feminists do not know that Hassan al-Laham, “the mufti of Gaza” who is a top spiritual adviser appointed by the Palestinian Authority, encourages domestic violence. Al-Laham stated in a TV interview that a husband is allowed to hit his wife, but “not hitting that will bring the police, and break her hand and cause bleeding, or hitting that makes the face ugly,” he said. The hitting should “be like a joke,” he added, “ … a kind of reminder that the love and friendship that Allah commanded is still found between [the couple].”

While there certainly are Palestinian voices on the ground fighting these problems, the fact remains that Palestine is a far cry from the progressive utopia that some activists believe it will become, if only they pressure Israel enough. Similarly, what the BDS movement is marketing will not bring justice to the Palestinian people.
The devastating reality for us as progressives is that those values we hold dear are not represented in Palestine today, and we cannot have genuine change unless we are willing to acknowledge that reality as our starting point.

The Fyre Festival was a concept of an experience, not an actual experience. Palestine as it’s presented in the far left is also a concept of a cause, but the reality is far from the expectations of this subgroup of activists.

Victoria’s Secret model Shanina Shaik, one of the celebrities paid to promote the Fyre Festival, said: “It is really horrific what happened. The girls and I were just kind of dragged into it. We would never want to promote something like that.”

If they only knew.

So, too, we must do our own due diligence and be honest about the reality in the Palestinian Territories.

Palestinian statehood is a worthy and just cause, and I hope it can also lead to progress within Palestinian society over time. But advocating for Palestinian rule over Israelis, as the anti-Israel movement does, means supporting a Middle East that is less free for all people who live here.


Hen Mazzig is a digital-media and strategic communications consultant and a writer from Tel Aviv.

Rep. Tlaib’s D.C. Office Map Has ‘Palestine’ Sticky Note Over Israel

Screenshot from Facebook.

A map in newly sworn-in Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-Mich.) office has a “Palestine” sticky note where Israel should be.

 

 

 

 

Here is the photo of the map:

The note was roundly mocked and condemned on Twitter:

Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper told the Journal in an email, “There is no country called Palestine.”

“The territory upon which the word ‘Palestine’ is affixed on this map is called the Palestinian territories,” Cooper added. “Palestinian statehood will be achieved, if and when, the Palestinian leaders are prepared to recognize the validity of the Jewish State as their neighbor.”

Tlaib was sworn into Congress on Thursday, with Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour attending. Tlaib supports a one-state solution and is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

‘Palestine From the River to the Sea’ Has Always Been a Call for Annihilation Not Liberation

Screenshot from Twitter.

On November 28, 2018, Marc Lamont Hill, a well-known anti-Israel activist, frequent CNN commentator and Temple University professor, who previously crowd-funded to help a terrorist convicted of planting a bomb near a Jerusalem hospital that wounded nine  Israelis, spoke in front of the United Nations. There, he expressly called for the boycott of the world’s only Jewish state, excused and even encouraged Palestinian Arab violence directed at Jews (which he euphemistically characterized as “resistance”) and also saidWe have an opportunity to not just offer solidarity in words but to commit to political action, grass-roots action, local action and international action that will give us what justice requires and that is a free Palestine from the river to the sea.

When numerous Jewish organizations objected to Hill’s endorsement of Palestinian Arab violence against Israelis, and  the oft-used Hamas Jihadists rallying cry that plainly refers to the annihilation of the state of Israel, Hill focused on refuting that his use of the “from the river to the sea” refrain is a call to wipe Israel off the map:

Set aside that there was nothing “just” about a speech where Hill completely dissembled about the Arab-Israeli conflict, placed all blame for the conflict on the Jews, romanticized “resistance” terror attacks (which include intentionally blowing up and stabbing Jewish children) and gave a complete pass to the corrupt and despotic Palestinian Arab leadership for the lack of peace (or justice). Hill’s call at the United Nations to “free Palestine from the river to the sea” was a case of a well-known Israel-hater repeating a call to destroy Israel, as well as a chant harkening to a return to a time when all Jews in the Middle East lived as “Dhimmi” second-class citizens (and often much [much] worse) under Arab rule. And it is particularly not credible for someone like Hill to issue this denial, given that he has for years given full-throated support to Anti-Semitism, and has even buddied up to one of America’s most vicious purveyors of Jew-hatred, Louis Farrakhan.

The reality is that “free Palestine from the river to the sea” is as retrograde racist, and as much a call to violence, as someone who supports the KKK saying “make America White again.”

Hill’s argument is also incredibly dishonest because of those who purport to support Palestinian Arabs, and in particular, their leaders, have never sought to actually “free Palestine” from anything other than Jewish sovereignty.

After World War I, when the Allies carved up the defeated Ottoman Empire, which controlled the entire Levant for most of the previous 400 years, the Allies created the “Palestine Mandate.” At that time, the Palestine Mandate included all of what is today Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan. In 1921, however, the British Colonial Secretary created – with the stroke of a pen – a new, never before heard of in history country called “Transjordan” out of 78 percent of the Palestine Mandate in order to give a “kingdom” to a foreign tribe of Hashemite Arabs fleeing defeat and likely death at the hands of Ibn Saud — in what became Saudi Arabia.

Despite it being 78 percent of the original Palestine Mandate (and now having a population that is more than 70% Arabs who identify as “Palestinian”) there has never been a call to “free” the overwhelming majority of the Palestine Mandate from a foreign kingdom transplanted into the region by the British. Because, no Jews, then no need for war-like chants or endorsing violent “resistance.”

Same thing for the areas of the Palestine Mandate west of the Jordan River. When the smoke cleared from the Arab League’s failed effort in 1948 to annihilate Israel and toss the Jews into the sea; the Jews had survived, and had also secured sovereignty and independence in a significant part of their indigenous homeland. However, the Arab countries of Jordan and Egypt had taken control of Judea and Samaria (aka the “West Bank”) and Gaza. Jordan, in fact, annexed Judea and Samaria.

Meanwhile, the first recorded use of the phrase Hill is now defending -“free Palestine from the river to the sea” – was used by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) when it was formed in 1964. Notably, back in 1964, much of the land west of the Jordan River was controlled by an Egyptian dictator in Cairo and a sham Jordanian Hashemite King in Amman.  But the PLO’s 1964 Charter specifically excluded both the “West Bank” and Gaza from the territories it sought to “liberate.”

In fact, if anything puts the lie to Hill’s “blame the Jews for everything” narrative, as well as his claim that the call to “free Palestine from the river to the sea” is not about destroying Israel and Jewish sovereignty in every inch of the Jews’ indigenous, historical and religious homeland, it is the fact that the 1964 PLO Charter — and the 1968 PLO Charter — are identical with the exception of only one thing. Article 24 of the 1964 Charter defined the territory the PLO sought to “liberate” as only those under Jewish sovereignty at that time. After the Six-Day War, Article 24 was amended to include the West Bank and Gaza Strip as suddenly new parts of the “Palestinian homeland” needing “liberation.”

Of course, Hill’s claim that his use of the “river to the sea” chant was somehow not consistent with a genocidal call to wipe Israel off the map, because “the phrase dates back to the middle of the British Mandate and has never been the exclusive province of a particular ideological camp” doesn’t make sense for anyone who is familiar with who has used that phrase.

Before Hill even started elementary school, this was how that phrase was used by the PLO leadership, specifically Abu Iyad, the head of the Black September terrorist group, which in the name of “freedom” and “resistance” in 1972 kidnapped, castrated and then murdered 11 Israeli Olympians:

The Jihadist/Islamist Supremacist Hamas Charter published in 1988, when Lamont Hill was barely 10 years old, expressly states in its preamble that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam obliterates it, just as it obliterated others before it.” And, in Article 6, it says that Hamas “strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine …” Since then, Hamas leaders, such as Khaled Mashaal, has repeatedly echoed the genocidal and eliminationist “river to the sea” sentiments expressed by Abu Iyad, such as during his speech in Gaza in 2012, when he said: “Palestine is ours, from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land.”

Hill’s claim that he did not understand the clear meaning of the “river to the sea” chant and that this phrase has had other meanings in the past, is not only wrong, it is irrelevant. It is the equivalent of a Nazi sympathizer using a swastika, and then claiming he did not mean it as a symbol of genocidal hate because at one point the Swastika was used as a symbol of divinity and spirituality in Indian religions.

Nor is Hill saved by the claim some have made in his defense that the Likud party platform founding charter from 1977, provided that “between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.” 

Anyone positing this defense, like Hill, is either being remarkably disingenuous about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, or just ignorant. Since 1937, Jewish leadership in the land of Israel has repeatedly accepted partition plans and offered peace plans, which included the creation of the first independent Arab state in history west of the Jordan River. All told, a first-ever independent Arab state west of the Jordan River has been either accepted or offered at least 6 different times by Israeli leaders. The Palestinian Arab leadership, on the other hand, because their goal has always been the elimination of any Jewish state “from the river to the sea,” has always rejected all partition plans and peace plans offered to them. And it was one of Likud’s all time most conservative leaders, Ariel Sharon, who unilaterally withdrew every Israel soldier and citizen from Gaza, effectively giving the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza the first opportunity to demonstrate to the world what an independent Arab state west of the Jordan River might look like. And what did they do with that opportunity? Elected Hamas, to the legislature, which then promptly – as one would expect of a despotic terrorist group – staged a violent coup, murdered and exiled its PLO rivals in Gaza, and turned Gaza into a terrorist state whose main purpose has always been to destroy Israel, “from the river to the sea.”

Ultimately, this is what Hill is arguing for when he says he wants a “free Palestine from the river to the sea.” A land where Jews are once again second-class citizens to the descendants of the colonizing Arabs who conquered the Jews’ indigenous homeland and imposed their Islamist and Arab supremacist rule on the entire Middle East and North Africa.

After all, if anyone wants to see what it would be like for Jews if Hill got his wish, then all one has to do is see what life was like for Jews under Arab rule before Israel’s independence (where, for centuries, Jews were perennially subject to discriminatory laws and frequent massacres) or what life is presently like for other minorities (Yazidis, Copts, Kurds, …) in Arab-controlled lands.

The good news is that it appears that most people, including apparently the bosses at CNN, understood exactly what Hill was advocating for.

Newsflash for Hill: the only Arabs who are actually “free” in the region of the world that was named “Palestine” by colonialist Greeks and Romans, are the ones who are Israeli citizens. If Hill really wants freedom for Palestinian Arabs, then he should be advocating for democracy in Jordan, Gaza and those under the Palestinian Authority.


Mitch Danzig served in the Israeli Army and is a former police officer with the NYPD. He is currently an attorney and is active with numerous organizations, including Stand With Us, T.E.A.M. and the FIDF. He is a frequent guest on the One America News Network, where he is called on to discuss matters related to Anti-Semitism, Israel and the Middle East.

Bolton Tells Reporter That ‘Palestine’ Isn’t A State

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton answers a question from a reporter about how he refers to Palestine during a news conference in the White House briefing room in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, declared that “Palestine” is not a state in an exchange with a reporter on Wednesday.

The reporter asked Bolton during a press briefing if it was “productive” for him to refer to “Palestine” as a “so-called state.” Bolton interjected that it was “accurate” to call it that.

“It’s not a state now,” Bolton said. “It does not meet the customary international law test of statehood. It doesn’t control defined boundaries. It doesn’t fulfill the normal functions of government.”

Bolton added, “It could become a state, as the president said, but that requires diplomatic negotiations with Israel and others. So calling it the ‘so-called State of Palestine’ defines exactly what it has been, a position the United States government has pursued uniformly since 1988 when the Palestinian Authority declared itself as the State of Palestine.”

Bolton also noted that both Republican and Democrat administrations have been against the United Nations recognizing “Palestine” as a state.

Additionally, Bolton stated that Iran has “pursued a policy of hostility toward the United States:

Israel, the U.S. and Partisanship

There’s a trendy view these days that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has committed the grave sin of turning support of Israel partisan. This is the view of many on the Democratic left, who seem perturbed at Netanyahu’s close relationship with President Donald Trump. “Netanyahu refuses to even pretend that he cares what liberal American Jews think or feel about Israel,” sneers Eric Alterman of The Nation. 

But what, precisely, is Netanyahu supposed to do in the face of the left’s gradual move against Israel over the past two decades? Alterman, for all his sneering, is a harsh anti-Israel critic — he says that Israel is either practicing apartheid today or on the verge of doing so, and has endorsed the idea behind boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel on the international stage. Can that be attributed to Netanyahu?

The left’s anti-Israel move has been brewing for decades. Republicans have been somewhat more pro-Israel than Democrats since the Six-Day War — Israel’s victory in that war led to an onslaught of Soviet propaganda against the Jewish state as the Soviets attempted to consolidate the support of Muslim states. Still, until 2001, the two parties remained largely pro-Israel; in 2001, 38 percent of Democrats supported Israel against the Palestinians, with 50 percent of Republicans doing so.

Then 9/11 hit. Suddenly Republican support for Israel began to climb and Democratic support for Israel began to drop. That drop was exacerbated by the advent of former President Barack Obama’s administration, which took the line that Israel’s failure to achieve peace with the Palestinians lay at the heart of broader conflicts in the region. The American left began to parrot the line of the European left that Israel’s intransigence represented the root of imperialistic Western power politics. 

After 9/11, Republican support for Israel began to climb and Democratic support for Israel began to drop.

I attended the Democratic National Convention in 2012, where constituents booed Jerusalem in the Democratic National Committee platform; there was no doubt in the room which way the Democratic Party was moving. The Obama administration established a “daylight with Israel” policy and ran roughshod over Israel’s concerns about Iranian terrorism in promotion of a hollow Iranian nuclear deal. Today, just 27 percent of Democrats say they support Israel as opposed to the Palestinians — even though the Palestinians are governed by a three-headed terrorist monster in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Islamic Jihad — as compared with 25 percent who support the Palestinians. Controversial Louis Farrakhan acolyte Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) nearly became the head of the DNC last year with the support of supposed pro-Israel advocate Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). 

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader in Britain, is openly anti-Semitic. He took tea with Raed Salah, a man he called an “honoured citizen” despite Salah’s use of the actual Blood Libel; he wrote a letter defending Stephen Sizer, a now-retired vicar who blamed Israel for the 9/11 attacks; and he hosted “his friends” from Hamas and Hezbollah in parliament. Now, Corbyn has attempted to cover his tracks. But he’s fooling no one.

Meanwhile, the American right continues to embrace Israel at record rates. Republicans favor the Israelis over the Palestinians at a rate of 79 percent to 6 percent. Contrary to self-flattering left-wing opinion, that isn’t because of Christian millenarianism — it’s not because Christians think that support for Israel will immanentize the eschaton. It’s because religious Christians in the United States truly believe that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed; they see Israel as a representative of Western ideals in a brutal region of the world; they recognize in Israel ideological allies and religious kin. Even those on the right who aren’t particularly religious support Israel because they recognize that Israel represents the canary in the coal mine for the West; Israel’s battle against Islamic terror is part of a broader battle the West must fight.

That’s not Netanyahu’s fault. Perhaps those on the left who remain pro-Israel ought to consider that the problem isn’t Israel or Netanyahu: It’s a left wing that has lost touch with reality in favor of multicultural utopianism and flattered itself into believing that sympathizing with some of the world’s worst regimes represents standing up for human rights.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author and editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire.

Why Are Israeli Voters So Stubborn?

Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Critics of Israel have trouble understanding why Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu remains the most popular politician in Israel. He is under constant threat of indictment; his unsavory compromises with his coalition partners have led to policies that have alienated many Jews of the Diaspora; and he shows no signs of resolving a century-old conflict with the Palestinians that continues to hurt, fairly or not, Israel’s reputation.

On top of that, there’s Bibi fatigue. The man won’t go away. He’s the only prime minister in Israel’s history to have been elected three times in a row, and if his current government lasts a full term, he’ll become the longest-serving Israeli prime minister.

How to explain such staying power?

For many of his critics, it’s simple: Bibi is a “fearmonger” who exploits the fundamental human need for physical safety. Instead of practicing the politics of hope, they say, he practices the politics of fear. That is a powerful argument because, in the abstract, hope is always more noble and inspiring than fear.

But if you listened to his speech last week at the United Nations, you could see why so many Israelis support him. When Bibi laid out in excruciating detail the growing security threats against the Jewish state, his supporters didn’t see fearmongering, they saw reality.

Bibi’s genius has been to convince enough Israelis, year after year, that he understands their reality better than anyone else.

“We in America may hate their choices, but they are the ones who have to live with the consequences.”

His U.N. speech was brutal and factual. Even the leftist Haaretz called it “one of his most convincing and effective performances,” which included “a precise and credible indictment against Iran.” In fact, the speech included precise and credible indictments against all kinds of threats facing Israel, from terror rockets pointed at Israel to European appeasement of Iran to anti-Israel lies at the U.N. 

It’s difficult for Americans to fully comprehend the transcendent importance Israelis place on their security. From a safe distance, while we may see conflicts to resolve, Israelis see enemies at their doorstep sworn to their destruction. While we may preach democratic ideals, they see their democracy in a continuous state of war.

This kind of existential danger has a tendency to elicit visceral, primal reactions rather than the civilized, sophisticated reactions we much prefer in America. After all, it’s difficult to be quite so civilized when you are walking down a street fully aware that, at any moment, an enemy may stab you in the back. 

If you ask me, the real miracle of Israel is precisely that it has managed to create a thriving and open civil society despite being under siege from genocidal enemies. This is a resilient society whose culture of innovation influences virtually the entire planet and that consistently beats the U.S., the U.K. and France on the U.N.’s annual “Happiness Report.” 

As Zev Chafets wrote earlier this year on Bloomberg, “Even [Bibi’s] enemies concede that Israel is more secure and prosperous than it was when he came to power.” 

I know that this contextual view of Israel is not popular among American Jews who are sick and tired of an Israeli government that constantly disappoints them, that can’t make peace with the Palestinians, that allows a power-hungry chief rabbinate to ignore non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, and that is often accused of threatening the democratic ideals in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

These are genuine grievances, and American Jews haven’t been shy about publicly criticizing the Israeli government to redress them. Whether these protests actually influence Israeli policies is secondary to the right of American Jews to speak up and hold Israel to account. 

But while we speak up here in America, let’s not forget all those who speak up in Israel through the ballot box. These are the Israeli voters who, for better or for worse, have put their faith in Bibi and his government. Isn’t it time we show a little deference to these voters and their democratic choices? We in America may hate their choices, but they are the ones who have to live with the consequences.

“Bibi’s genius has been to convince enough Israelis, year after year, that he understands their reality better than anyone else.”

We can rail, for example, against the failure of Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, but it’s not as if Israelis don’t want peace. Maybe they’re more in tune with the existential danger of the West Bank turning into another terror state, or the reality that Jew-hating Palestinian leaders are loath to sign any deal that recognizes a Jewish state, regardless of where the borders are drawn. It’s OK to respect these views, even as we challenge them.

Israelis are hardly blind to Bibi’s flaws, but they also see how he has led their country with a steady hand under extremely difficult and treacherous circumstances. That’s why so many Israelis stubbornly continue to support him.

Considering the dysfunctional state of America these days, I wonder if, when Israelis hear all the criticism of Israel coming from American Jews, they ever feel like responding: “Hey, why don’t you look in the mirror?”

We should be grateful that they’re sophisticated enough to go easy on us.

Letters to the Editor: Sukkot Invitation, People With Special Needs and Ford Versus Kavanaugh

Sukkot Invitation
Concerning who I’d invite to Sukkot: hands down my maternal grandparents (“Ushpizin: Who Would You Invite Into Your Sukkah?” Sept. 21). My grandfather died when I was 7, so I never knew him well; I want that remedied. My grandmother died when I was 21, so I knew her much better, and in addition to seeing and talking with her, I want her homemade chopped liver again.
Stephen Meyers, Woodland Hills

Editorial Cartoon
The liberal bias of most alternative and mainstream publications, including the Journal, extends to editorial cartoons.

For example, the Sept. 21 cartoon by Steve Greenberg depicts a dutiful Gov. Jerry Brown at his desk, decked with an inbox filled with “Climate Change Action” and an outbox, occupied by a scowling President Donald Trump.

The outbox should have been stamped “Immigration and Population” — the engines that drive every economic, environmental and social problem in a sanctuary state that is predicted to have 65 million people by the year 2050.
Les Hammer, via email

People With Special Needs
Michelle K. Wolf wrote about a 72-year-old man named Steven who needed help from Jewish Family Service (“People With Special Needs Also Need Trusts,” Sept. 14). She stated that Supplemental Security Income rules prohibit single beneficiaries from having more than $2,000 in assets. That is true. As a 72-year-old, he would be collecting Social Security, either from his work record or his parents’ record. And he would be covered by Medicare. Medi-Cal would be paying the premiums. And if you collect Social Security, there is no limit to assets with Medi-Cal. Social Security pays more than Medi-Cal. Yes, it is impossible to live on the small amount of money disability insurance pays. The Jewish Los Angeles Trust is most necessary.
Barbara Polisky, Westlake Village

Why Jews Succeed
Writer Henry Ong speculates on why Jews are successful out of proportion to our numbers (“Finance Lessons for the Whole World,” Sept. 21). He concludes that Jews have had to prove their worth despite millennia of persecution.  I think he omits another reason, perhaps two.

Christians have historically valued celibacy and have therefore selected smart, young men for the priesthood, taking them out of the gene pool. By contrast, Jews have valued scholars of the Torah who became preferential marriage partners in villages and cities throughout Jewish Europe.

In ancient times, everyone valued tall, fierce warriors with long arms for hand-to-hand combat. Even the Hebrews did so, as told in the David-and-Goliath story. A disciplined army carrying swords and shields (e.g., Roman legions) would defeat an army armed with projectiles (Agincourt being an exception). After Jews lost title to their lands, they no longer selected big warriors. Modern Israel, as do most technological countries, fights  wars with smart men and women.

Another reason Ong did not cite is that Judaism emphasizes action to improve the world while most other religions have elaborate doctrines to be learned by adherents.
Myron Kayton, via email

Israel Benefits From Republican Leaders
David Suissa is supposed to be a conservative voice for the Journal, yet his holiday message was dripping with anti-Donald Trump hatred, spreading the “resistance” message of prominent left-wing rabbis and adding his own “march on Washington” comments (“Speaking Truth to Power — Ours,” Sept. 21). As the old year wraps up, we are grateful for a pro-Israel president, who opened the American Embassy in Jerusalem; a president who is giving Iranians sanctions instead of planeloads of cash; a president who has an Orthodox-Jewish daughter and Jewish grandchildren; a Republican-majority Congress that blesses Israel and funds Israeli military; and an administration that defunds the PLO so it can’t use our money to pay terrorists’ families. My heart breaks that Suissa and his ilk can’t see the blessings that are right in front of his eyes for this country and for Israel.
Marsha Roseman, Van Nuys

Love the new Jewish Journal, developed under the wise and creative guidance of Editor-in-Chief David Suissa. As a now-devoted subscriber, I always look forward to reading Suissa’s engaging “Editor’s Notes,” which are so elegantly written and so filled with warmth, compassion, understanding and welcome truths. Thank you for this exceptional publication.
Susan Ehrlich, via email

SJP at UCLA
Regarding “SJP to Host Anti-Zionist Event at UCLA” (Sept. 14), when the speakers preach Jew-hatred and Holocaust-denial as expected, college administrators probably won’t interfere, since criticism of Islam is forbidden on the left, while demonization of Israel is common.
Rueben Gordon, via email  

Stabbing Death of Ari Fuld
The Palestinian AARP is not like our AARP (“Remembering the ‘Lion of Zion,’” Sept. 21). It’s an abbreviation for Arab Assassins Retirement Plan.

Under this plan, if you murder a Jew, any Jew, and you are killed in the process, your family members are compensated for the rest of their lives for having done the world the favor of giving birth to a child who rid the planet of an undesirable person.

If the murderer doesn’t die in the attack but is imprisoned for life, then a lifetime monthly pension is paid. The killer’s family gets the money anyway because it can’t be spent in prison. The latest beneficiary of this ghoulish system will be the suspected killer of Ari Fuld (z”l).

It doesn’t stop there. Thanks to the generosity of many governments, including ours, this blood money costs the Arab Palestinians nothing because it comes from donations by others.

The educational system that feeds hate to Arab-Palestinian youth, and of course parental support, gives wings to this system. And thanks to the gullibility of millions, and an unhealthy dose of anti-Semitic sentiment around the world, the funding of the Palestinian “AARP” seems destined to continue unless Donald Trump stays in the White House. How awkward.
Desmond Tuck, via email

Ford Versus Kavanaugh
In the ongoing battle of professor Christine Blasey Ford versus Judge Brett Kavanaugh, one seems to be faced with the challenging decision on which “conspiracy” to believe.
To liberals/Democrats on the left, the saga of Kavanaugh is “obviously“ a conspiracy by old, Republican, white men to fail to protect women from sexual predators and thoroughly investigate such charges.

To conservatives/Republicans on the right, this is an obvious “ploy” by anti-Donald Trump operatives, and the “usual suspects” (leftist/activist citizens and lawyers) to drag up some obscure “accusation” of 30-plus years ago, and try desperately to give it some authenticity; hence, railroading or at least delaying installing a new judge until after the midterm elections.
Pick your poison?
Rick Solomon, Lake Balboa


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Does Israel Need Bipartisan Support?

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

It is not easy to ditch orthodoxies — and not always advisable. This is as true for the political arena as it is for religion. Consider, as one example, the orthodoxy of the two-state solution. It is an orthodoxy that many, if not most, Israelis are willing to let go. On the other hand, what is the alternative? What happens when the two-state orthodoxy is gone? 

Enter Donald Trump. He is, of course, a prime example of the unorthodox. 

Trump destroyed many orthodoxies of presidential decorum. He might have destroyed some orthodoxies of diplomacy. He painted a question mark above the orthodoxy of the two-state solution. And one must wonder whether his unorthodox manner is about to end another orthodoxy: “Bipartisan support for Israel.” 

Rabbi Eric Yoffie seems to think he is. But he doesn’t blame Trump. It is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, Yoffie said, “allowed Israel to get caught up in the hyperpartisanship that now divides Republicans from Democrats in America.” And Yoffie is not alone in that view. An institute I work for, The Jewish People Policy Institute, warned in its annual assessment “that Israel was becoming increasingly politicized in the United States.” A Jerusalem Post editorial reminded its readers that “Israel cannot count on one president and one party.”  

The list goes on, but the point is well taken: Bipartisan support for Israel is better than partisan support. Duh. This is like a company saying that having people of all ages buy its product is better than having just young people buy its product. Countries, much like companies selling product, prefer the many over the few. A dilemma begins when having it all becomes impossible or very pricey. As in, if you get the old buyers, many youngsters will abandon the product; and if you sell to everyone, you must sell cheap and lose profitability. 

These are the questions one must consider as one deals with the orthodoxy on bipartisan support. First, is it possible to keep this orthodoxy alive, or is it just an empty allusion to a more politically benign past? And, what is the benefit for Israel, and what is the price Israel must pay for bipartisanship? 

“What if Israel actually believes that the U.S. cut of Palestinian aid is a positive move?”

Observers who assume these questions are easy to answer usually overlook a key side of an argument. For example, in his article, Yoffie asks: “Why in heaven’s name is Bibi applauding” the American decision to “drastically cut social and economic aid to Palestinians?” When Israel applauds such moves, he argues — and I agree — it leads to a loss of bipartisan support.

So where is the problem with Yoffie’s argument? He sees only downsides. He detects no dilemma. 

Yoffie (for whom I have great respect) assumes that the U.S. decision “will likely lead to a third intifada, a Hamas takeover of the Palestinian Authority, or a massive humanitarian crisis for which Israel will ultimately be responsible.” If that’s the case, Israel looks quite dumb. It will get an intifada and erode bipartisanship. Indeed, it is not clear why anyone would choose this course of action.

But what if Israel actually believes that the U.S. cut of Palestinian aid is a positive move? What if it believes that it can tame Palestinian irrational expectations or make Palestinian leaders reconsider their positions? You see the dilemma. It is not a choice between “do the dumb thing and lose bipartisanship” and “do the right thing and win bipartisanship.” That’s no dilemma. It is between “do the right thing and lose bipartisanship” and “do the wrong thing and win bipartisanship.”   

So what should Israel do when such dilemmas occur? Make sure to weigh the real costs (of losing bipartisanship) against the real benefits (of the specific move under consideration). In other words: Beware orthodoxy. 

For a Reform rabbi such as Yoffie, this should be easy to accept. 

Tufts University to Offer Course Taught by Pro-BDS Professor

Photo from Wikipedia.

Tufts University is going to be offering a course this fall called “Colonizing Palestine” that will be taught by a pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) professor and teaches that Israel “illegally occupies Palestine.”

Under Tufts’ Colonial Studies program, the course description for “Colonizing Palestine” states that the class “will explore the history and culture of modern Palestine and the centrality of colonialism in the making of this contested and symbolically potent territory” and will familiarize themselves with the likes of the late professor Edward Said, who once referred to Yasser Arafat as “a much misunderstood and maligned political personality” and poet Suheir Hammad, who wrote in a poem following the 9/11 terror attacks, “if there are any people on earth who understand how new york is feeling right now, they are in the west bank and the gaza strip.”

“Students will address crucial questions relating to this embattled nation, the Israeli state which illegally occupies Palestine, and the broader global forces that impinge on Palestinians and Israelis,” the course description states. “Themes covered include notions of nationalism and national identity, settler-colonialism, gender and sexuality, refugee politics, cultural hybridity, class politics, violence, and memory.”

The professor teaching the course, Thomas Abowd, is an avid supporter of the BDS movement and has accused Israel of implementing “apartheid-like” policies against Palestinians and that Israel supporters use the Old Testament as a “real estate guide.”

Additionally, in a 2015 thread on Tufts’ Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) Facebook page, Abowd wrote, “I missed all the ‘so much anti-Semitic hate here’ – sounds quite delusional to me.” The thread he commented on featured comments that accused Israel being “a state built by White Jewish men for White Jewish men” and that Israel engages in “ethno-religious oppression.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt condemned the course in a statement sent to the Journal.

“We support academic freedom but Tufts University must ensure that classes examining the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not one-sided platforms for propaganda that demonize Israel and empower anti-Israel activists,” Greenblatt said. “Political bias is best left out of the classroom.”

In a phone interview with the Journal, Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper called the course “indoctrination” said the fact that “a leading American university” is offering such a course is “shocking” and “deeply disturbing.”

“If this is the trend of where this school is going, I wouldn’t give them five cents,” Cooper said.

Tufts Hillel called the “Colonizing Palestine” course “prejudicial and unnecessarily provocative” in a statement sent to the Journal.

“We continue to work actively with university leaders and colleagues across Tufts to create a setting where opposing views on contentious issues can be shared in dignified and constructive dialogue,” Tufts Hillel said.

Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of public relations, said in a statement to The College Fix, “As an institution of higher education, Tufts is committed to the free exchange of ideas. The university’s courses represent a broad spectrum of ideas and topics that enable students to become familiar with a variety of perspectives on important and complex issues facing our global society.”

Collins also pointed to a class called “Negotiation and Mediation in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Past Lessons and Future Opportunities” as an example of a differing perspective of the Israel-Palestinian conflict provided by the university.

When the Fix confronted Abowd on if he would ensure that his class wouldn’t turn into “a one-sided, anti-Israel screed,” Abowd replied, “Do not contact me again or I will call the police.”

Other instances of hostility to Israel on Tufts includes a September 2017 “disorientation” guide created by students that called Israel a “white supremacy state”; in April 2017 the university’s student senate passed a resolution on the day before Passover calling for Tufts to divest from companies that conduct business with Israel.

H/T: Campus Reform

U.N. ECOSOC Votes Down Amendment Calling for Hamas to Release Captured Israelis

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) overwhelmingly voted down an amendment to a resolution calling for Hamas to release captured Israelis.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the resolution heavily criticized Israel and called on the Jewish state to stop building settlements and allow unfettered crossings at the Gaza border. No blame was placed upon Hamas for its role in the conflict.

In response, Israel proposed a one-line amendment that advocated for Hamas to release the two Israeli civilians they were holding in captivity, as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon argued that the two Israelis held by Hamas “mentally disabled and in need of immediate medical attention.”

The amendment was voted down 18-5, with 23 abstentions.

Every member of the European Union (EU) abstained from the amendment, prompting Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon to tweet that the EU’s move was “disappointing.”

The EU instead put forward text that called for all bodies being held in the Israel-Palestinian conflict to be released. That text was subsequently approved by ECOSOC.

The resolution passed by a margin of 45 votes in favor and two against, with the only countries voting against it being the United States and Canada.

U.S. ECOSOC Ambassador Kelley Currie slammed the resolution for being “unbalanced” and “unfairly” criticizing Israel

“This document only serves to inflame both sides of the conflict and complicate our shared goal of advancing Israeli and Palestinian peace,” Currie said.

Hamas acknowledged that it was holding the four Israelis in 2016, two years after they captured them. The two Israeli civilians, Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, were captured after climbing the Israel-Gaza fence. Mengistu’s family has described him as “unwell” due to his mental health issues; similarly al-Sayed “has mild psychological issues and has a history of entering Jordan, Egypt and Gaza,” per the Times of Israel.

The two Israeli soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, were killed in the 2014 Israel-Hamas conflict.

According to U.N. Watch, ECOSOC is the gatekeeper body that decides who goes on the U.N. Human Rights Council Countries with documented human rights violations, such as China, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, are represented on ECOSOC.

Rob Long: Hollywood Writer Talks Trump

Award-winning Hollywood showrunner Rob Long talks about happiness, craziness and, of course, Donald Trump.

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Ocasio-Cortez: ‘I Am Not the Expert’ on the ‘Occupation of Palestine’

Screenshot from Twitter.

Twenty-eight-year-old Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez admitted that she was not an expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict after being asked to expand upon her criticisms of Israel.

The July 13 interview, which took place on PBS’ Firing Line, featured Ocasio-Cortez lamenting the “occupation of Palestine” and the “increasing crisis of humanitarian condition” there. Host Margaret Hoover then pressed her to elaborate on what she meant by the “occupation of Palestine.”

“Oh, um… I think what I meant is like, the settlements that are increasing in some of these areas and places where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty in access to their housing,” Ocasio-Cortez replied.

Hoover again asked Ocasio-Cortez to further elaborate, prompting Ocasio-Cortez to chuckle, “I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue.”

Ocasio-Cortez has also accused Israel of committing a “massacre” at the Israel-Gaza border during the May riots.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center tweeted in response to Ocasio-Cortez’s comments:

Rabbi Andy Bachman, the executive director of the Jewish Community Project of Lower Manhattan, wrote in a Journal op-ed that Ocasio-Cortez’s past statements on Israel suggest that she has “a less than nuanced perspective” and encouraged her to come to Israel with him.

“Jewish people have had a 3,000-year connection to the land. One can walk around Jerusalem’s ancient settlements that were inhabited by Jews from the era of King David to the prophet Isaiah; from Alexander the Great to King Herod and Jesus; through the pain of Roman exile and a thriving Diaspora; and finally to the modern era’s 19th-century Zionist movement, which revitalized the Hebrew language, established a state (through U.N. acclamation) and won independence in 1948,” Bachman wrote.

Bachman added toward the end of the column, “I’ll take you and there introduce you to leaders across racial, ethnic, religious, class and generational spectrums who are working each day in a positive and constructive way to build the two-state solution and the chance for peace for Israelis and Palestinians.”

No Rabbi – It’s Not Jewish Love for Our ‘Historical, Religious Narrative’ That Prevents Peace

Photo from Pixabay.

On the 10th of Tammuz (in the Hebrew calendar) the last king of Israel, King Zedekiah, was captured by the Babylonians, who had conquered Jerusalem the day before. Zedekiah was captured after he fled Jerusalem through a subterranean tunnel to Jericho. Exactly 2,606 years later, an article was published in the Forward by American Rabbi Philip Graubart titled “‘Letters To My Palestinian Neighbor’ Is Not The Book We Need Right Now.

I have to admit, when I first saw the title, I thought the article would be about how even though most “moderate” elements of Palestinian leadership: (a) engage in blatant Holocaust denial; (b) promote vicious anti-Semitic canards, such as Jews poison water wells; and (c) deny any Jewish historical connection to the land of Israel — all while promoting and rewarding the murder of Jews (such as through the Palestinian Authority’s “Pay to Slay” program), that this article would argue that we need to wait for a massive sea change in Palestinian Arab culture and leadership before Yossi Klein Halevi’s “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor” could make a credible difference and help advance the peace process.

Instead, this article took the opposite approach and actually accused Halevi of being too jingoistic, too stuck in the Jewish “narrative.”

Imagining a “Palestinian moderate,” who has never assumed leadership among the various Arab groups representing the Palestinians, Graubart posits that after reading Halevi’s book, this imaginary Palestinian Arab moderate might say to Halevi “why waste time with you? … we already agree on the basics.

Reading such a statement raises the question, what “basics” does Rabbi Graubart think Palestinian Arab “moderates” agree on with Halevi? As should be clear from Halevi’s scholarship, he believes Jews have a deep historical, religious and national connection to the land of Israel. As should be also clear to anyone paying attention, the “moderate leaders” among the Palestinians who run the Palestinian Authority (who are also sadly the least rabidly Jew-hating and extremist among the various Palestinian Arabs factions who have any chance of ruling any Palestinian state in the near future), do not believe the Jewish people are even a people, let alone a people who have a deep 3,300 year old love affair with the land of Israel.

As recently as January 15, 2018 Mahmoud Abbas, the “President for Life” of the Palestinian Authority, gave a speech where he said: Israel is a colonial project that has nothing to do with Jews.” This same “moderate” leader not only wrote a thesis back in 1982 at the Russian Academy of Sciences, which denies and trivializes the Holocaust, and is a featured part of the current curriculum in Palestinian Authority schools; he also, on April 30, 2018, gave a speech where he once again trivialized the Holocaust and said that to the extent the Nazis murdered Jews, their murder was not caused by anti-Semitism, but by … “Jewish financial behavior.”

So again, what “basics” does Graubart think the “moderate Palestinian” and Halevi agree on?

Then apparently ignoring the last 100 years of history (at least), Graubart claims that the main problem with Halevi’s book is that it makes claims – mostly about Halevi’s “loving embrace of religious biblical narrative” – that “no Palestinian could accept” and that the “biblical impulse to build settlements in the West Bank [Judea and  Samaria] is precisely what’s sabotaged an agreement.”

So the “moderate” Palestinian Arab leadership turn down offers in 1937, 1948, 1967, 2000, 2001, and 2008 to have the first-ever independent Arab state west of the Jordan River, and it is the desire of Jews to establish and live in Jewish communities in their biblical homeland that “sabotaged” a peace agreement? It wasn’t Arafat’s rejection in 2000 of an offer to have an independent Palestinian Arab state in all of Gaza and over 90% of Judea & Samaria, and his decision to instead launch the Second Intifada, which led to the murder of more than 1,000 Jews? It wasn’t Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection – without a counteroffer – of an even better offer from Israel in 2008? It wasn’t the decision to turn land Israel fully relinquished (the Gaza strip in 2005) into a terror state run by a genocidal organization whose very Charter calls for the murder of every Jew on the planet, including Graubart?

No. According to Graubart, it isn’t Palestinian anti-Semitism, the Palestinian dismissal of any Jewish connection to the land of Israel or even the Palestinian rejection (in favor of violence) of offer after offer to have an independent Arab state in a land where there has never been one before in history that is to blame for the absence of a peace agreement. It is the Jews’ “biblical impulse” to live in Judea that is the problem.

Graubart even disparages the “impulse” of Jews to live in Hebron, one of the most holy and historically important cities for the Jewish people. Hebron, a city where Jews have lived for centuries and where our ancestors in 1929 were literally massacred, ethnically cleansed from and prevented from returning to (by the Jordanian Army after it illegally conquered and controlled all of Judea and & Samaria in 1949). Per Graubart, however, it is the “religious longing” of Jews to live in places like Hebron that is the obstacle to peace, all while 1.5 million Arabs can live among more than 6 million Jews in Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv Yafo, etc. without their presence “sabotaging” peace.

There is so much that is problematic with this perspective it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps the most obvious problem is that, just like most arguments of the “blame Israel” camp, Graubart’s open letter to Halevi implies the Palestinian Arabs have no agency or responsibility for their actions, and that peace (or the lack thereof) is solely a function of what we Jews choose to do (or not do). The other problem is that this article completely whitewashes nearly 100 years of Arab rejection of peace in favor of violence and more than 1,400 years of Arab persecution of Jews throughout the Middle East, as well as the widely held belief among far too many Arabs that Jews can only be second class (dhimmi) in Arab conquered land, never sovereign and independent.

What Graubart’s piece (albeit likely unwittingly) does a great job of capturing, is the growing divide between many secular Jews in the United States  and the overwhelming majority of Jews in Israel. Jews, like Yossi Klein Halevi, who are in Israel considered quite moderate or even left-leaning.

This divide is represented most strikingly in Graubart’s article where he writes the following illuminating and astonishing paragraph directed at Halevi:

“In fact, if your book taught me anything, it’s that we must begin the admittedly difficult process of privileging basic values over national, religious narratives. In discussing Arab rejectionism after the Six-Day War, you write, ‘What people, in our place, would have resisted reclaiming land it regarded as its own for thousands of years?’ But the answer to this question is obvious: a people who valued peace and democracy and human rights over historical/religious narrative. People who weren’t willing to sabotage future peace negotiations by giving in to religious longings, no matter how deeply felt. People who loved peace more than they loved the ancient stories of their people. In other words, people like you and me and many Jews, in Israel and out. But not, sadly, enough.”

Wow. I agree with Graubart on one thing for certain. This is “sad.” It is sad that it is becoming more and more evident that many Jews living in relative safety in the United States  have not internalized the lessons most Jews in Israel have learned from the history of the last 100 years. It also becoming more and more evident that many of today’s secular leaning Jews in America are not very different from the many Jews in America who before 1940 rejected the very idea of Jews seeking sovereignty and independence in our indigenous homeland.

After all, if we just “privileged basic values” (depending – of course – on whose “basic values” we are talking about) “over national, religious narratives,” then why drain swamps, irrigate deserts, establish fence and stockade kibbutzim all over the land of Israel (where you were certain to be plagued by malaria and were almost always immediately attacked by your Arab neighbors)? Why revive Hebrew from being not only our religious tongue but our national language? Why even fight for our freedom and independence against five Arab armies and nearly a half-dozen Arab militias sworn to snuff out our independence before it even happened?

After all, if we value “peace” above everything else, then we could all just give up on our indigenous faith, stop being “stiff-necked” Jews, and convert to either Christianity or Islam or perhaps to the new pseudo-religion of “secular-humanism.” If only, our forefathers had thought of this solution … Plainly, that would have made the Jew-haters much happier and much more “peaceful” toward us.

Thankfully, most of our forefathers didn’t think abdicating our religious values and our “religious longings” to live in Zion was the way to go, as not only would there be no modern state of Israel today, but Graubart would also have needed to find a very different job; as by now the world would have been Jew-free and Judaism would be like the ancient faiths of Minoanism, Mithraism, and Ashurism After all, if we valued “peace” above everything else, including the justice of Jews being able to live anywhere in the land of Israel, then is there anything worth fighting for?

Of course, by Graubart’s definition, the Maccabees would also be disparaged as people who were “willing to sabotage future peace negotiations by giving in to religious longings.” A people unwilling to “love peace more than they loved the ancient stories of their people.” After all, the Hellenists “just” wanted us to accept their “narrative” and to stop insisting on our sovereignty and freedom in our religious, historical and indigenous homeland; just like so many Hellenized or Islamized people do today.

Today, most Palestinian Arabs reject the idea that there were ever Maccabees who fought to liberate the land of Israel and Jerusalem from the yoke of the Hellenists. And this is where Graubart is the most mistaken in his rejection of Halevi’s book. Graubart assumes it is the Jewish respect and love of our “historical/religious narrative” that is somehow the obstacle to peace. The reality is that it is, and has always been, the Arab rejection of Jewish history and our deep connection to the land of Israel that is the obstacle to peace. The Arab rejection of the fact (not “narrative”) that 2,606 years before Graubart published his article that there was a Jewish king named Zedekiah fleeing the Babylonians and their destruction of the first Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

And that is the ultimate message of Halevi’s book. In order for there to be peace, the Palestinian Arabs are going to have to meet us halfway and stop asking us to accept that their relatively new Palestinian identity deserves two independent Arab states in the former British Mandate for Palestine (as Jordan is the first); all while they reject more than 3,000 years of Jewish history and Jewish sovereignty anywhere in the land of Israel.

As should be painfully apparent, there are many other things wrong with this open letter to Halevi, but the most glaring problem is the willingness to disparage the “historical, religious narrative” of our people, which is at the core for why we finally have an independent and sovereign state in our indigenous homeland after 2,000 years of recurring persecution, oppression and mass murder of Jews in the Diaspora.

Micha Danzig served in the Israeli Army and is a former police officer with the NYPD. He is currently an attorney and is very active with numerous Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, including Stand With Us, T.E.A.M. and the FIDF. He is also a frequent guest on the One America News Network, including shows like The Tipping Point and The Daily Ledger where he is called on to discuss matters related to Israel and the Middle East.

Shmuel Rosner: In the Mideast, a dangerous summer ahead

Jewish Journal Political Editor and New York Times contributor Shmuel Rosner helps us make sense of a Middle East that is getting more dangerous and complicated by the day.

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Amanda Berman: Can progressives also be Zionists?

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

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When Truth Comes Marching In

The pesky truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict finally came out last week — and hardly anyone noticed. After decades of hearing that the key obstacle to peace is the Jewish presence in the West Bank, the “March of Return” protests from Gaza exposed a more fundamental obstacle — the Jewish presence in Israel.

These violent protests had nothing to do with the Jewish “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza, where Palestinian leaders have long claimed they want to build a Palestinian state. No, the thousands of Palestinians gathered at the Israeli border with Gaza were dying to return not to Ramallah — but to Tel Aviv and Haifa.

This is the first time we’ve witnessed such a concrete expression of a Palestinian demand that is an absolute deal-killer: The “return” of up to 5 million Palestinian refugees to Israel proper. Even the most leftist peace groups concede that Israel could never allow that. This delusional “right of return,” which Palestinian leaders have nurtured for decades as a sacred right, has always been a ticking time bomb. Sooner or later, it was bound to explode.

Last week, on the eve of Israel’s 70th anniversary, the truth exploded. There was no more pretending. When Palestinian rioters did everything they could to breach Israel’s border fence, it was not a Palestinian state they were after, it was the Jewish state.

This is the first time we’ve witnessed such a concrete expression of a Palestinian demand that is an absolute deal-killer: The “return” of up to 5 million Palestinian refugees to Israel proper.

The mainstream media hardly noticed this sea change, instead focusing on the same old formula we’ve seen a million times — Palestinian demonstrators plus violence equals dramatic coverage. Never mind that, this time, the demonstrators were trying to invade Israel.

To his credit, Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, picked up on the change right away in a letter to The New York Times:

“This was by no means a peaceful protest,” he wrote. “It was organized with the theme of the ‘right of return’ and featured literal calls by Hamas leaders in the crowds to march ‘on to Jerusalem,’ a theme consistent with the ideology of Hamas, which is to destroy the Jewish state and to reject any efforts at reconciliation or peace.”

Remember, we’re talking about Gaza here — a coastal enclave that Israel completely evacuated in the summer of 2005, in a heart-wrenching action that nearly tore apart the country after 7,000 Jews were expelled from their homes. Because there was no more “occupation” for the Palestinians to rail against, their leaders had to find something else.

They found Israel.

As Ben-Dror Yemini wrote on YNet:

“This wasn’t resistance to the settlement enterprise. This was the desire to annihilate Israel  —  as the march’s organizers publicly declared … ‘Khaybar Khaybar, ya yahud,’ which is the Muslim battle cry, from days of old, to slaughter Jews. Not Zionists. Not Israelis. Jews.”

Don’t be fooled by the anti-Israel propaganda that Israel is still “occupying” Gaza because of its “blockade.” In one week alone in March, Israel’s Defense Ministry reported, 2,728 trucks entered the Gaza Strip from Israel, carrying 74,202 tons of supplies, including 87 tons of medical supplies, 15 tons of agricultural products, 1,506 tons of food supplies, and 51,044 tons of building supplies.

Had Arab leaders accepted the UN Partition Plan of 1947, there’d be no such thing as Palestinian refugees, and we would be celebrating two national birthdays next week instead of just one.

In addition, Israel supplies electricity to Gaza via 10 power lines and water via two pipelines. Of course, now that Palestinians burned 10,000 tires at the border to create havoc for Israeli forces, they’re complaining that Israel is not allowing tires to enter, just as they complained that Israel wasn’t allowing the entry of materials that would further a terror infrastructure.

Israel has made its share of mistakes over the years, but here’s a mistake it never made: Stopping Palestinian leaders from creating a “Gaza Riviera” in the Gaza Strip that would have become a world-renowned tourist destination. Had Palestinian leaders taken advantage of Israel’s evacuation to create a decent life for their people, Israel would have been the first country to help out.

It was not Israel’s decision to invest all that money in bombs and tunnels instead of schools, hotels and industrial parks. It was not Israel’s decision to teach the hatred of Jews in Palestinian schools rather than the love of life and peaceful co-existence.

While the media focus on the hell emanating from Gaza, Israelis imagine the hell that would emanate from the West Bank if it were controlled by a terror group like Hamas. Can you blame Israeli voters, who already see a genocidal Iran installed next door in Syria, if they dread the thought of a second Gaza on their doorstep?

Israel is not the enemy of the Palestinian people. The real enemy is their corrupt leadership that peddles hatred and pipe dreams instead of real hope.

Had Arab leaders accepted the UN Partition Plan of 1947, there’d be no such thing as Palestinian refugees, and we would be celebrating two national birthdays next week instead of just one.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin: curiosity and other values

Prolific author Joseph Telushkin discusses some of the most pressing issues in the Jewish world, including a need for more curiosity.

“If people are only going to read things that reinforce what they believe… they’re going to end up demonizing the people that disagree with them.” -Joseph Telushkin

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

From left: David Suissa and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

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Dr. Micah Goodman: Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Israeli scholar Micah Goodman weighs in on the world’s most intractable conflict — and his ideas for a solution. He explains it all in his bestselling new book, Catch 67, which uses philosophical insights to tackle the Israel–Palestinian conflict.

“Everyone always talks about solving or not solving the conflict. What about shrinking the conflict?” -Dr. Micah Goodman

 

David Suissa and Dr. Micah Goodman in the studios

From left: David Suissa and Dr. Micah Goodman

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U.N. Human Rights Council Calls for Ending Arms Sales to Israel

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a series of anti-Israel resolutions on Mar. 23, most notably one that calls for an arms embargo against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the arms embargo resolution asserted that Israel was in violation of international law for their supposed occupation of East Jerusalem, therefore the international community should follow international law and “end users known or likely to use the arms in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian and/or human rights law.” The resolution passed by a margin 27 to 4 and 15 abstentions.

Other anti-Israel resolutions passed by the UNHRC on Mar. 23 included declaring that Israel should withdraw from the Golan Heights, ending the building of settlements in Judea and Samaria and a return to pre-1967 borders.

The United States opposed all of the anti-Israel resolutions and countered with a resolution that nixed the UNHRC’s required weekly bashing of Israel.

“When the Human Rights Council treats Israel worse than North Korea, Iran, and Syria, it is the Council itself that is foolish and unworthy of its name. It is time for the countries who know better to demand changes,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said in a statement. “Many countries agree that the Council’s agenda is grossly biased against Israel, but too few are willing to fight it. When that happens, as it did today, the Council fails to fulfill its duty to uphold human rights around the world.”

“The United States continues to evaluate our membership in the Human Rights Council. Our patience is not unlimited. Today’s actions make clear that the organization lacks the credibility needed to be a true advocate for human rights.”

Haley has repeatedly criticized the U.N. for singling out Israel while ignoring the likes of North Korea, Iran and Syria. U.N. Watch has noted “that the UNHRC is filled with representatives from countries like Cuba, China and Saudi Arabia that are swimming in multiple human rights abuses.”

In February, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) called for a boycott against the UNHRC.

“Putting it in context with the lack of attention to nations such as North Korea, where you have more starvation and torture and the ultimate totalitarian regime, where you have in Cuba a lack of freedoms and the abuses of human rights and dignity, and sadly this particular council has focused I believe in a very anti-Semitic and anti-Israel way of focusing condemnations on the democracy of Israel,” Wilson told the Free Beacon.

Melanie Mayron: From ‘Thirtysomething’ to Sixtysomething

Actress and director Melanie Mayron has managed to carve out a long career in Hollywood. Now 65 years old, she landed her first role in a significant film in “Harry & Tonto” in 1974. She is best known for her performances in Claudia Weill’s critically acclaimed independent feature, “Girlfriends” (1978), for which she was nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Award (BAFTA); “Playing for Time” (1980), a CBS special starring Vanessa Redgrave; and Costa-Gavras’ film “Missing” (1982), with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. She won an Emmy Award in 1989 for supporting actress in a drama series for her role as photographer Melissa Steadman on ABC’s “thirtysomething.” She has directed episodes of “thirtysomething” as well as many other well-known shows, including “In Treatment” and “The Larry Sanders Show” on HBO, “Dawson’s Creek” on the former WB Network, and “GLOW” on Netflix.  Recently, she’s had a recurring role in and directed several episodes of The CW Television Network’s “Jane the Virgin.”

What part has your Jewish upbringing and heritage played in your work and life? 

A huge part. My father is from Palestine. He fought in the war in 1948 to make the State of Israel. He was a medic in the air force and army. My grandparents lived there. So I visited Israel all through my childhood. I spent half of fourth grade there. My great-great grandparents’ names are on a monument in Tel Aviv as among the founders of Tel Aviv — David and Rosa Mizrahi.

How did you land the role of Melissa Steadman on the ABC drama “thirtysomething”?

Ed Zwick and Marshal Herskovitz, who created “thirtysomething,” had seen me in “Girlfriends” and were interested in me from that film. I think once Ken Olin and I were cast — and we were the only Jewish actors in the cast — they decided to make us cousins. And Jewish.

What inspired you to direct?

[I had] a side business. I shot actors’ headshots for extra money when I was starting out as a young actress. I knew lenses, as I shot with a 35 mm camera.

“All actresses seem to get put out to pasture in their mid-40s, and then, if they are lucky, appear again as grandmothers or in senior roles later in life. There is a black hole as an actress from mid-40s to 70. And then, hopefully, you are right for roles again.”

Have you encountered ageism in Hollywood, and if so, how have you dealt with it?

All actresses seem to get put out to pasture in their mid-40s, and then, if they are lucky, appear again as grandmothers or in senior roles later in life. There is a black hole as an actress from mid-40s to 70. And then, hopefully, you are right for roles again. As for directing, there hasn’t been any ageism yet, for me anyway. I mean, it is tougher to get work, and there is so much competition for directing work, but for some people, they value your experience.

Any thoughts or experiences you’d care to share about the current #MeToo movement?

I think it is about time. Women have been second-class citizens forever. But as we raise our voices together, we will raise each other and raise the consciousness of the world. And we all, women and men, will be better off because of it.

What’s coming up for you?

I just completed a film called “Snapshots,” which is playing film festivals now. It is picking up awards, which is so exciting. It stars Piper Laurie, Brooke Adams and a wonderful cast of actors. We are looking at an August release, I am told.

Any charities close to your heart?

Planned Parenthood. The National Women’s Health Network. The SPCA. The Humane Society.


Mark Miller is a humorist and journalist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written for various sitcoms. His first book, a collection of humorous essays about dating and romance, is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

Jerusalem: What Comes Next?

There were many things that President Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem was not. It was not the start of the apocalypse. It was not the start of a successful political peace strategy. Nor was it earth-shattering in terms of its actual practical effects.

So, what was it? It was an international humiliation for a Palestinian community that believed in negotiations. It was an abdication of the role of sole arbitration by the United States. And it was a reality check for everyone concerned.

The United States, at least for the next three years, will not be able to singlehandedly bring the parties back to the table. Of course, even before this, the reality was that even if negotiations had — by some miracle — restarted, few were confident that the societies or their respective leaders were ready for a credible process.

If the Jerusalem announcement has stopped the fake horizon of talks, what replaces it? What credibly fills the vacuum?

There are many who would like to use this moment to push a pressured or coercive approach — the idea that with more force the decision-making calculation will change and a different outcome will result. Given the extreme violence of the Second Intifada and the structural violence that the occupation brings daily, the evidence does not indicate that what we need is more force. If there were a coercive solution to this problem, it would have happened already.

Coercion is seductive, as it puts all the pressure on the party on the other side of the equation. Supporters of both Israel and Palestine can point to the pressure points they feel are most effective and motivate others to apply pressure there while ignoring the significant challenges within their own communities.

Ignoring the power of coercion within decision-making is a mistake, but so is fetishizing it. If this isn’t the moment for pressure, what is it the time for?

To confront the generational challenge, we need a long-term strategy.

Israeli and Palestinian young people truly mistrust one another. With limited or no interaction with one another, they rely on their media and leadership to inform them about their counterparts. The result has been anything but positive. Annual polls of Israelis and Palestinians show that large majorities believe that the opposing community harbors extreme exclusionist or genocidal views.

To confront the generational challenge that the conflict presents, we need a generational long-term strategy to re-engage the communities — something broader than traditional people-to-people programs. We need an agenda that considers how to create community resilience against violence and develop leaders to create constituencies for peace when a credible political process eventually occurs.

As the executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, I have been pushing for the creation of a multilateral international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace that can help answer the question, “What are we doing to make sure that the next generation does not hate one another?” The need has never been higher.

Beyond the fund, however, we need to move beyond the politics of demographics. For the past few years, more and more voices in the center and left of both Israel and the Jewish Diaspora have been pushing the politics of separation to make their case for peace now. The American-Jewish community funds shared-society programing in Israel while also paying for billboards that bemoan the demographic threat posed by the Arab community. That needs to stop.

This is not a moment for coercion but for laying a solid foundation.

One could make the spurious argument that you can use racism to motivate voters if you believe that peace is just a vote away. It is not. If we are in a generational struggle, then we need to tackle the educational challenges created through ethnic conflict, not exacerbate the worst fears of the populations.

The uncertainty of the moment should lead all of us to return to the basic values and principles that motivate and guide us. There are hundreds of opportunities to invest in values we can all stand behind, whether by investing in the bilingual communities of the Hand in Hand school network, working with youth across Jerusalem’s faith communities with Kids4Peace or supporting agricultural cooperatives with the Near East Foundation.

This is not a moment for coercion but for laying a solid foundation. We should support young people as they build communities that demonstrate that a different future is possible, one of collective humanity and mutual dependence. This is a generational struggle, but one that depends on people themselves rather than the geopolitical currents that are buffeting our global society.


Joel Braunold is executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace.