[Livecast from] Jerusalem, CAP and Molad host “Israel, the U.S. and the Middle East: New Visions”

[Update: This conference will now be livecast to those of us in the Diaspora. Watch here on Tuesday, April 1st from 8 am - 1 pm ET.]

Jewschool has mentioned previously the work of Molad: The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, a new progressive institution in Israel aiming at rebuilding and rebooting the Israeli progressive camp. It’s no accident that Molad, as a “think-do tank,” resembles some of the preeminent progressive think tanks in America, like the Center for American Progress. CAP, among others, successfully injected progressive policies into American public debate.

Now movers and shakers in Israeli society have seen the need to combat the damage done by Israel’s lop-sided political conversation. Right-wing and far-right think tanks like the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, the Shalem Center, the Center for Strategic Zionist Studies and others, funded largely by American right-wing money, have operated uncontested for years. Now, bold Israelis are anteing up to provide the body of policy research, media monitoring and intellectual backbone to halt Israel’s march towards anti-democratic and anti-peace policies.

Thus Molad and CAP invite you to their first policy gathering, “Israel, the U.S., and the Middle East: New Visions.” Moderated by Matt Duss and Eric Alterman, the day-long event addresses the two largest American-Israeli shared interests: an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and a deal with Iran. Speaking are Knesset opposition leader Labor MK Yitzak Herzog, social protests leader MK Stav Shaffir, founders of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, security and human rights experts, and more.

Full details below, RSVP here.

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Secret deal funnels $43 million in Israeli taxpayer funds to settler political groups

This just in: the Israeli government has been financing the political institutions of the settler movement. Shocking, I know. That it was secret? Shocking, I know. That the overseer of those funds was a now-central minister of government? Shocking, I know. That the original use was called a “security grant” but actually paid settlement municipalities as compensation for property taxes not collected on illegal houses not built yet? Mind boggling…and yet totally unsurprising.

At least Finance Minister Yair Lapid ordered all public monies to the settlements frozen, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni called for an investigation. We have long known that the Greater Israel movement entrenched itself in the halls of Israeli governance. And yet the settler movement has failed abysmally in one very important respect: the settlements, SodaStream kerfuffle aside, are still totally dependent on taxpayer funds for economic sustainability. According to Molad: The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, the think tank that broke the fund funneling scandal, 90% of settlement residents work within Israel proper or are employed as settlement staff. Without the flow of public funds, they would dry up and wither on the vine.

The Israeli TV report below in full:

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A diversity of progressive views on Open Hillel

The Open Hillel campaign has continued to garner headlines as it continues to raise questions of whether political exclusion. Here’s a summary of our contributors’ commentary to date:

Stay tuned for more discussion.

Ariel Sharon, 1928-2014

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon passed away this Shabbat, still under the coma that took him in 2006. He leaves behind a deeply mixed legacy, both beloved and reviled by many, and perplexing in his final years. I am not ambivalent about Sharon’s legacy. He goes down in history as a reluctant late-comer to peace and, unfortunately, as a military commander condemned by his own country for permitting the massacre of innocent civilians in Qibya and in Sabra and Shatila. His legacy upon Israeli history is less honorable than I prefer for a leader of the Jewish people.

As a young minister, he satisfied the settlement movement’s horrible appetite by unearthing the bygone Turkish-era law that allowed the seizure of Palestinian land. Defeated at first by the Israeli High Court from building openly on privately-owned land, a Sharon confidant recounts in the documentary The Law in These Parts, Sharon discovered he could appropriate property if he could prevent the owners from farming it for a year. That legal gimmick, aided by a snaking security barrier and countless checkpoints, would dispossess thousands of Palestinians of land upon which today sit the red tile roofs of Israeli settlements. More »

Social justice-y Israel fellowships

Three good fellowships for young people interested in social justice in Israel (or broaching those issues here at home), two in Israel and one in the Bay Area:

New Israel Fund’s Facilitation Fellowship is proud to invite Bay Area Jews in their 20s and 30s to apply for its second year. The Fellowship will train a cohort of 8-10 leaders to foster meaningful, direct conversations on Israel and social justice for the Bay Area’s Jewish community. Israel remains one of the most polarizing issues in the American Jewish community, and NIF’s New Generations aims to address the need for meaningful dialogue and deliberation by cultivating safe spaces throughout the Bay Area’s young Jewish community where honest and inclusive public conversation on Israel is not only welcome, but celebrated. Applications are due on January 12 by 5 pm.

New Israel Fund/SHATIL Social Justice Fellowships send 6-8 post‐college Jewish young adults to spend 10 months immersed in the movement for social change in Israel. Fellows receive a modest stipend and work for a year in Israeli NGO. Additionally, the fellowship includes monthly enrichment programs, professional development  and site visits to further develop their understanding of Israeli activism and their role as activists both in Israel and at home. Successful applicants must have excellent Hebrew language skills, or good Hebrew with strong Arabic skills. Deadline: January 20, 2014.

The Abe and Gert Nutkis Scholarship seeks to enable high-school graduates and other young adults to study full-time for an entire academic year in Israel. Recipients will receive up to $5,000 for study in a co-educational institution committed to Zionist engagement while volunteering a minimum of four hours a week with ATZUM or an organization approved by ATZUM. Priority will be given to applicants with financial need and those who have little or no previous experience in Israel. The application deadline is March 15, 2014.

Eli Valley airs our dirty laundry on MSNBC

Eli Valley, comic artist and official satirist on behalf of progressive Jewry, explained his hilarious and irascible comics on MSNBC’s talk show “The Cycle” last week, airing for all America our dirty, smelly, intermarried laundry. Kol hakavod, Eli.

Obama makes Thanksgivingukah statement

Whether you love it or hate it, “Thanksgivingukah” has reached the highest political echelon of America: President Barak Obama issued a Thanksgivingukah best wishes. Complete with recipes for the dual holiday by Susan Barocas of DC-based Jewish Food Experience! Full message pasted below the fold.

Michelle and I send warm wishes to all those celebrating Hanukkah.

For the first time since the late 1800s – and for the last time until some 70,000 years from now – the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving. It’s an event so rare some have even coined it “Thanksgivukkah.” As we gather with loved ones around the turkey, the menorah, or both, we celebrate some fortunate timing and give thanks for miracles both great and small.

Like the Pilgrims, the Maccabees at the center of the Hanukkah story made tremendous sacrifices so they could practice their religion in peace. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, they reclaimed their historic homeland. But the true miracle of Hanukkah was what came after those victories almost 2200 years ago – the Jewish Temple was cleansed and consecrated, and the oil that was sufficient for only one day lasted for eight. As the first Hanukkah candle is lit, we are reminded that our task is not only to secure the blessing of freedom, but to make the most of that blessing once it is secure.

In that spirit Michelle and I look forward to joining members of the Jewish community in America, in the State of Israel, and around the world as we work together to build a future that is bright and full of hope. From my family to yours, Chag Sameach.

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Action alert: Tell Israel to halt bill to imprison African refugees

I’ll never understand why Israeli leaders — who annually welcome some 150,000+ migrant workers into the country from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe — are continually trying to deport, imprison and make life difficult for a African refugees from genocide.

These Africans are not recognized yet as refugees before any authority, who are seeking that recognition as they flee horrible war in Sudan and nearby countries. They have often been trafficked into Israel, tortured and raped, and owe thousands of dollars to criminal ransomers in the Sinai Peninsula. Instead of granting them the quarter that Jews wanted and did not find in Europe or America in the 1940s, they are refused any status or work permissions, and treated as criminals.

Recently, Israel’s supreme court ruled unconstitutional a law allowing their mass arrest and incarceration. Now, the Knesset is going to pass another law that tries to flout the ruling. Instead of mass arrests and imprisonment without trial with a jail sentence of 3 years, now it will just be 1 year. The prison in the Negev will further cost the Israeli public 440 million shekels and necessary firing 560 public sector jobs.

The alternative is easy — grant them work visas just as Filipinos and Ukrainians are, grant them the same Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process as in other western countries, and work with the international community to repatriate those that Israel cannot handle itself. But until Israel offers a RSD process, no country will allow Israel to flout the international refugee system that the Jewish state itself fought to create in the 1950s.

It’s an ongoing shonde against the Netanyahu government that we would treat survivors of genocide so heartlessly. Action alert [by Right Now: Advocates for Asylum Seekers in Israel] beneath the fold.  More »

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Fear-mongering on Iran meets LOLcatz

They say mockery is highest form of flattery, right? A web commentator (who prefers to remain anonymous) forwarded around this graffitied explanation of The Israel Project’s latest infographic. This is the same pro-settler advocacy group that brought you faked hundreds signatures on their last Iran petition and teaches their advocates to accuse Obama of “ethnically cleansing” Jews from Israel while arguing that settlements were necessary for Israeli security. After the Pew study on American Jews’ views of settlements (news flash: we’re not fans), you have to wonder whether this group is still within the mainstream.

But the Israel Project nevertheless wants you to help them undermine President Obama’s current success with Iranian negotiations. You know, only the first President in, oh, 40 years to reopen diplomatic relations with that country, halt several Israeli strikes that would have cost Israeli and American lives, and put a permanent, peaceful solution within reach. So yeah, infographic notwithstanding, I think I’ll support Secretary of State Kerry’s amazing accomplishments in the region.

Young American Jews arrested in Hebron on Shabbat Hayei Sarah

This just in, just in time for this year’s Project Hayei Sarah:

Members of All That’s Left, a collective of activists committed to ending the occupation, marked the eve of ‘Shabbat Chayei Sarah’ by staging a protest against segregation in the city of Hebron. During Shabbat Chayei Sarah, thousands of Jews gather in Hebron to celebrate the reading of the biblical passage in which Abraham purchases the Cave of the Patriarchs, a site located in the center of modern-day Hebron.

The activists intended to erect a tent on the city’s segregated Shuhada Street, adorned with signs reading, “Segregation is not my Judaism,” and to hold an alternative study session examining the Chayei Sarah text. The tent was to resemble Abraham’s Tent, which according to traditional Jewish exegesis was open on all four sides so that any passing stranger would know s/he was welcome.

Police prevented them from erecting the tent and confiscated their signs but allowed them to continue a discussion of the parsha for an hour and a half. The activists were then arrested.  +972 Mag reported that Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On intervened for their release later that night with all charges dropped.

All That’s Left member Talia Krevsky said, “Our signs are a direct response to counter some of the appalling graffiti we have seen in and around Hebron, with images of Jewish stars alongside racist statements such as ‘Death to Arabs.’ That is not our Judaism.”


This event would be hilarious, if Sheldon Adelson weren’t totally serious

Israel mishegas: Tel Aviv’s gay Shoah memorial, new fellowships, and fascists

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Anthony Weiner and angry Jewish voter discuss forgiveness

This via our friends at HEEB, just in time for Rosh Hashanah, an exchange on the nature of forgiveness, leadership, judgement and God between an angry Jewish voter and New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner.

Two Prayers for Syria (and updated with more)

What can we pray about Syria? As the United States looks to enter the fray of a Syrian civil war, concerned American Jews and Israelis are penning responses in prayer. Shared here are two recent liturgical creations, by very different authors: The first is by Rabbi Barenblat, a Renewal rabbi at of Congregation Beth Israel in Massachusetts and the author of The Velveteen Rabbi. The second is by Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a leading figure in the religious Zionist movement and head of the Petach Tikvah hesder yeshiva.

Both rabbis ask for both sides to display compassion, mercy, humanity and brotherhood to forestall further loss of innocent life and unnecessary revenge upon the other. That said, the Cherlow prayer leaves me a mite uncomfortable by invoking Number 35:33, that killers be killed. Nevertheless, his draft is reportedly being read by the Bnei Akiva youth movement across the religious-national world. Movement secretary-general Danny Hirshberg said on settler media, “The Israeli public needs to look beyond the screen of hate and enmity to see the pain of those civilians being hurt by the Syrian tyrant.”

Read both below the fold… More »

This is Not an Ulpan

While I deeply love learning Hebrew, ulpan often hurts my heart. I can’t help but bristle at prejudicial Israeli attitudes that go against the anti-oppression work that bring many of us there. Be they prejudices against Arabs, Jewish religion, President Obama or anything else, most of ulpan classmates take on those prejudices without question. Sadly, even enthusiastically.

Truthfully, the successful Hebrew ulpan model began under the need to assimilate huge numbers of immigrants and forge collective identity. Its very purpose was to be doctrinaire. But today, it’s apparent that parts of this model are inappropriate for the needs of some. American Jewry especially has the highest failed emigration rate, due in part to the values and worldview gap between how Israelis and Americans see society. Better dialogue between Israelis and American Jewry is crucial these days, so why would we want to enter a learning environment aimed at assimilation and affinity-building instead of engagement and equal exchange?

That is why this past year a group of American and Canadian learners banded together in Tel Aviv to launch This is Not an Ulpan, the first explicitly lefty Hebrew learning community. More »

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Naftali Bennett interrupted at MASA bash by anti-annexation chants

Thirty young MASA participants and other young Diaspora Jews stood up at their program’s end-year bash to interrupt the address of Minister of Knesset Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party. The participants chanted “Diaspora Jews say ‘end the occupation,’ Diaspora Jews say ‘no to annexation.’” After being removed from the event, they distributed flyers and answered questions by other participants.

This was the first protest by a new activist group dubbing themselves “All That’s Left” comprised of North American young Jews united against the occupation. According to All That’s Left member Joshua Leifer, “The dialogue following the action led to frank and open discussions that aren’t being held enough in Diaspora Jewish communities.”

From a statement, the group wanted to draw attention to Bennett’s central leadership in the settlement movement, opposition to a Palestinian state, proposal to annex 60% of the West Bank, and racist statements against Arabs. “MASA’s choice to invite Naftali Bennett as a keynote speaker to the event does not reflect my Zionism and reasons for coming to Israel,” remarked demonstrator Isabel Frey. “It was necessary to make clear that there also are young Zionists that do not support the occupation, Bennett and his position.” More »

Service learning programs in Israel will widen the generation gap — thankfully

Spotted in Jerusalem, advertising for human rights tours for North American Jews

At the Forward, Repair the World and the Jewish Agency present their new study of service learning opportunities for young North American Jews. They argue that addressing societal needs in Israel — a context of service to others in a Jewish place with other Jews — is “unparalleled” in successfully attracting young people to visit Israel for longer than ten days, feel Jewish, and get involved back at home in North America.

But after eight years working at the intersection of the Jewish social justice sector and pro-Israel organizations, allow me to issue the Jewish community a warning: Social justice trips to Israel will widen the generation gap. So please, continue straight away. More »

A Newly Feminist Knesset — Sort Of (Updated)

Updated: New ministerial positions were appointed since time of publishing, including two more women.

There are 53 new faces in the 19th Knesset — 16 of them women. With the 11 women who retained their seats, this is one of the highest women’s representation in Israel’s parliament at 27 MKs. But it’s not just because four more women got elected than last time. Former lawmaker Naomi Chazan was wont to lament last Knesset that barely a tenth of MKs were female and even fewer were feminist. Not the case any longer. Just a week ago, all but one banded together in a new women’s lobby.

The inaugural speeches of Ruth Calderon and Merav Michaelli went viral in Israel. Other new faces include the first female Ethiopian MK, a leader of the 2011 social protests, the former CEO of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, a city council woman from Tel Aviv, the former mayor of Herzliya, professors, print journalists and famous TV hosts.

But the road to a more feminist-friendly legislation isn’t assured as only four will hold ministries and key leaders sit in the opposition. To boot, Netanyahu didn’t attend their inaugural event.

Which is the most feminist party?

MKs will have time to prove their feminist credentials, but as far as numbers go, seven parties have female representatives. Yesh Atid has both the highest number and the second-greatest proportion with 8 all-new women among 19 total party seats.

But we can’t rely on just quantity over quality: could Likud Beiteinu’s 7 reelected women MKs possibly be more pro-women than the life-long women’s activists on Labor’s 4 MKs? Don’t be ridiculous, Labor includes both party chairwoman Shelly Yachamovich, feminist crusader Merav Michaelli, pluralism pioneer Dr. Ruth Calderon, and the leader of the 2011 social protests Stav Shaffir. Together, they’ve already submitted 18 women’s interest bills for discussion.

Meanwhile, half of unabashedly lefty Meretz’s six seats are held by women and Zahava Gal-On is reigning party chairwoman. And what about the HaTnua party, widely regarded as a one-woman party of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with five (male) coat tail riders?And last but not least, we shouldn’t forget the Arab public’s loudest voice, Balad party firebrand Hanin Zoabi.

Who are the most powerful women?

Power can be in the eyes of the beholder, but here’s where matters are least ideal. The new cabinet was reduced to 20 ministers and 8 deputy ministers — only 4 are women when there should proportionally be at least 6-7. The four ministers are Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni (HaTnua), Minister of Health Yael German (Yesh Atid), Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beiteinu), and Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat (Likud).

[Update: Final results since yesterday show that two more women received secondary ministries -- Fania Kirshenbaum and Tzipi Hotovely, both of Likud, who will be Deputy Ministers of Interior and Transportation, respectively. That certainly gives Likud Beiteinu's slate of four women them most formal power, even if only the Ministry of the Interior is a key agency.]

This is disappointing given Israel’s below-average track record in women governmental leaders. As Ynet detailed, the country’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commission called on International Women’s Day for the government to appoint more women. Women have never chaired any of the most important committees like defense or economics, usually comprise barely 7% – 16% of committee members, and only one woman has ever been Speaker of Knesset.

And we’re left wondering how effective the most familiar of our heroines will be from the opposition, where both Labor chairwoman Shelley Yachamovich and Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On sit. Hopefully, the new women’s caucus will allow them to work collaboratively beyond their outsider positions.

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